Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chest in Camps 1338-1425

From Agnolo Gaddi’s Dream of the Emperor Heraclius at Santa Croce (1385-87)

Illustrations in the Romance of Alexander (Bodley 264), c. 1338-44; 83v, 124r, 184r, and 198v

Preparations for a tournament; scene with horses and pavilions. Roman du Roy Meliadus de Leonnoys BL Add. 12228, f.150.

Hannibal and the spies, Ab urbe condita (BNF Fr. 261, fol. 25), first quarter of the 15th century

Many of these chests are without feet, which would be liable to damage as you dragged them in and out of wagons or carts. However, having the bottom of the chest lie on damp ground is also undesirable, and some of these have low feet, although they aren’t easy to see in the tiny illuminations: look carefully at Romance of Alexander 198v and the chest on the left in 124v, and the chest furthest inside the tent in Meliadus. Chests with high feet would also consume valuable volume in the carts used by an army on the march.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Froissart, Monstrelet and the Battle of Otterburn Online

The Johnes translations of Froissart and Monstrelet are available in digital form at Google books. Johnes did the only complete translation in modern English of either. His translations are stilted and less than entirely dependable, but they’re what we have if you want an unabridged modern version.

If you can read French, you can go to Gallica.

Extracts from Lord Berners’ Tudor translation are available here, including the Battle of Otterburn

Robert White’s History of the Battle of Otterburn contains extracts from contemporary chronicles of the battle.

There is also an extract from Fordun’s account of the battle here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Humbleton Hill, 1402

Here is a useful account of the battle of Humbleton or Homildon Hill in 1402, with substantial material from Thomas Walsingham (d. c. 1422) giving the English view of the battle, and from Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon, written in the 1440s, more than a generation after the battle, describing the combat from a Scottish viewpoint.

Giving due allowance for the biases in the different accounts, this is what I think actually happened. A Scots army under the Earl of Douglas was returning from a raid into Northumbria when it found a large English army blocking its way home. The English army was about 50% larger. The Scots army took up a defensive position on the slopes of Humbleton hill. The English initially deployed across the road back to Scotland, but then put archers on “a hill facing the Scots”

In the ensuing firefight, the Scots were at a considerable disadvantage. Not only was their force outnumbered, but English armies tended to include a large proportion of archers: Scottish armies tended to have fewer. Further, English archers had a very high reputation for individual strength and skill: Scots archers less so. Walsingham reports that the Scottish archers fled from the storm of arrows. Bower, without mentioning Scottish archers, says that the Scots were smothered by a rain of arrows, and many were killed and wounded. Presumably the Scots archers and other lightly armored troops suffered most of the casualties.

As the most vulnerable Scots began to duck and retreat from the English arrows, a fraction of the Scottish men-at-arms charged the English. Bower claims that a hundred knights charged the English, “contended intrepidly with a thousand English” and were all slain, but “not without great slaughter of the English”.

Walsingham, on the other hand, reports that no English “lord or knight received a blow from the enemy” and that they “remained idle spectators of the battle”.

The two accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. It’s plausible that the bravest Scottish men-at-arms made a mounted charge against the English archers. Some of the Scots would have been wounded or dismounted, but enough probably survived to charge home: that was the normal pattern of attacks by fully armored men at arms against English bowmen. At Agincourt the archers were protected by stakes, but this tactical innovation does not seem to have been used at the earlier battle.

Once the Scots closed to handstrokes, the survivors were confronted with a group of English archers that outnumbered them substantially: by ten to one or more, according to Bower. Further, the Scots would have been disordered by casualties suffered as they closed. Under these conditions a man at arms in superior harness could be overwhelmed by a host of individually inferior opponents. If the Scottish knights fought stubbornly, as Bower reports, they could have inflicted significant casualties on the lightly protected archers before they were themselves overwhelmed.

Unsurprisingly, both Chroniclers omit information that would create a less favorable impression of their side’s performance. Bower doesn’t mention what sort of troops the Scottish knights attacked: “great slaughter” inflicted on lightly armed archers is less impressive than do the same to men-at-arms. Walsingham passes over casualties suffered by the English archers in hand to hand combat

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mesterinde Karen Larsdatter's Site

Karen Larsdatter's site has a lot more than the list enclosures and tournament galleries mentioned in the last post. The very rich site has a lot of images and articles related to medieval material culture from acrobats to zibellini. And it's searchable. Also she has a Medieval Material Culture Blog.

Hat tip to Steve Muhlberger.

Friday, March 14, 2008

List Enclosures and Tournament Galleries

List enclosures and tournament galleries

1381: The Peel Affinity

The Peel Affinity is now available. There are comments and reviews here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

1381: The Peel Affinity builds a portrait of a world long lost, using gorgeous photographs filled with carefully researched and reconstructed clothing, tools, armor, furnishings, and other items, all based closely on surviving artefacts, manuscript illustrations, and paintings. The text draws extensive details from historical accounts, records, chronicles, and literature, as well as modern historical and archaeological research. All this potentially dull and dusty detail is brought to vibrant life with a narrative that follows an English knight and family, his servants, officials and tenants, associates and soldiers through a year in their lives.

The Peel Affinity represents the culmination of years of work by La Belle Compagnie. Founded in 1992, La Belle is a group of independent scholars and history enthusiasts committed to the presentation of history through the medium of "living history." La Belle Compagnie has worked with schools, civic groups, museums, and other organizations to bring a bit of the past to life and has won numerous awards for its presentations. 176p, 163 color illus. (Shumacher Publishing 2007)