Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Were Bucklers used by Fully Armored Combatants?

Bucklers were often used by unarmored or partially armored medieval combatants. Were they ever used by fully armored fighters? It seems that in battle the answer was sometimes yes.

Some of the iconographic evidence is suspect. Bucklers born by St. Michael or Goliath or ancient Romans may owe more to the illustrated text than to normal medieval practice. However, even eliminating these suspect cases still leaves a number of medieval illuminations of medieval battles. Here is a depiction of the battle of Otterburn.

Here and here and are other incidents from the Hundred Years War. Here is the capture of Charles of Blois in 1347. Here is the elite guard of mounted Scots archers employed by Charles VII cast in an adoration of the Magi by Jean Fouquet. They are armored from head to foot, and at least one wears a buckler. It looks like fully armored men did sometimes equip themselves with bucklers, although the practice seems to have been rare.

Were they ever used by fully armored combatants in tournaments or other consensual deeds of arms? Probably not; I’ve read scores of accounts of such deeds of arms from the 14th to the 16th century, and none of them mention bucklers.

There is one very suspect piece of evidence in favor: One illustration from Maximilian’s Freydal shows him triumphing over an opponent, with both fully armored and armed with sword and buckler. However, the work is not a factual narrative but an allegorical exaltation of Maximilian’s omnicompetence with every conceivable weapons form.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Un Livre Banal

That’s how Google’s robotic translator renders this blog into French, which seems a little harsh. But wait, there’s more:

Les hordes de mutants plier à la volonté de leurs Very Tall Shaved Androgyne Overlord, richement bejeweled et libéralement percé.

Alors, quel est le rêve de tous les pirates, moi mateys? Kiera nuit. Aarr arrr arrr.

Toutefois, l'équipe de Gibson encore obtenir le blâmer pour la anachronique de la peinture bleu qui fait ressembler à des Écossais homicides smurfs.

Geoffrey Chaucer écrit au sujet de la nouvelle sur un drame Serpentes Shippe. Où d'autre peut-on entendre dialogue comme "Aaargh! Il est dans mon additionneur costrel! " Et "Cette nuit comme amphisbena est à l'avant-scène château, maugre ma tête"?

"Au Longstaple!" Il a répondu, avec un air de surprise .-- "Non, je me voyaient Mum dernière au large de la Dry Tortugas, mais notre congé prélèvements ont été précipités sur le compte de la CGI Giant Moray."

Robotic mouton: "L'auteur présumé de moutons contenait une avoine tropique du circuit; À la vue de ces céréales cela jusqu'à brouiller et synchroniseur plus convaincante."

And finally:

Nous ne donnent pas sacré pour votre loi salique
Nous allons vous frapper avec le choc et l'admiration

Yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeoman
Yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeoman

Nous allons rouler ruff, va faire chevauchee
Va monter par le biais de votre droit sacré countree

Yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeoman
Yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeoman

Nous vous battre à Poitiers, nous vous battre à Crécy
Vous pouvez nous battre, si vous voulez, mais sa va être bordélique

Yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeoman
Yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeo yeoman

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Saint Crispin’s Day

But what did Henry really say to the troops?

M.H. Hansen argues convincingly:

What King Henry probably did is what many generals have done from classical antiquity right up to, at least, the Napoleonic Wars:[34] from horseback he shouted some encouraging remarks to the men as he rode along the front, and he may even have addressed some of the men individually. It is reasonable to assume that some memorable parts of his exhortation were remembered and worked into the formal battle exhortation, which later was attributed to the King in accordance with the classical historiographic tradition. The speeches reported by Elmham and Jean le Fèvre can easily be broken down into short apophthegms, whereas the complicated argumentation of the speech printed in Pseudo-Elmham cannot in any possible form have been delivered by a general traversing the line. Consequently, some of the remarks attributed to Henry the Fifth in the speeches reported by Elmham and le Fèvre may well be historical. What has to be fiction is the rhetorical form…

The voice of a person who stands some 50 m before the front line can carry no more than ca. 75 m in either direction. And when the speaker turns to one side, those standing on the opposite side can only catch some scattered words of what is shouted. Furthermore these conditions apply in calm weather when the speech is delivered to unarmed men….

The information reported here stems from an experiment I conducted in the meadow behind Copenhagen University. I would like to thank colleagues and students from the Institute of Classics for their cooperation. Let me add that I have a strong voice and that I was really shouting my declamation of a translation into Danish of Thrasymachos' speech in Xen. Hell. 2.1.13-7. At present, I am negotiating with the Queen's Guard and hope in near future to repeat the experiment, this time with one or more batallions as my audience.

But follow the link for the whole article.

Several contemporary accounts do have Henry V responding to one of his officer’s wish for more men with something very similar to Shakespeare’s: “God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more”, but that exchange is generally distinguished from Henry’s pre-battle speeches to his men. For those we should not imagine Henry climbing aboard a convenient wagon and making a single eloquent speech to the small fraction of the army within earshot, but riding a grey horse across the front of an army stretching for hundreds of yards, stopping from time to time to encourage the men with brief phrases:

Make yourselves ready, companions. I would rather die in the field for my rights than be taken, and put the realm of England to ransom for my person.

Let every man keep himself close and in good order and be of good cheer.

Sirs, think this day to acquit yourselves as men and fight for the right of England

I’ve come to France to recover my rightful inheritance. Fight boldly in that good quarrel, sure in the justice of our cause.

You are all born Englishmen. Think of your families at home. Fight hard, so you can return to them with great honor and glory.

Remember the many times that King Edward and Prince Edward fought for the right of England against the French with small armies and won great victories and the better of their enemies by God’s will.

He then dismounted by his banner, and waited for the French to attack. When the French remained passive for some time, he asked what time of day it was, and was told “prime”. He then shouted:

Then now is a good time, for all England is praying for us. Therefore be of good cheer, let us go into battle.

In the name of almighty God and St. George, advance banners! St. George, give us this day your help!

The preceding is a composite, drawn from the accounts of Thomas Elmham, Jean de la Fevre and different versions of the Brut. They can be found in Anne Curry’s The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk 2000), an excellent collection of the surviving records of the battle. Hansen is also worth consulting for the original Latin and French of Elmham and le Fevre.

More on Agincourt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Channeling Froissart

Froissart, one of my favorite 14th century authors, had an attitude more like a docudrama writer than a modern historian. He strove to create a vivid account of events, and if he didn't know all the facts he added “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative”.

Sometimes even the supposedly factual grain of sand about which Froissart secreted his narrative pearl was in error, leading to a particularly fictional result.

Recently on an online forum I read an anecdote about Sir John Chandos at the sack of Limoges. The poster had evidently misremembered the city or the protagonist, since Sir John had actually been killed ten months earlier. I couldn’t help imagining what Froissart might have done with that same material as a starting point:

And they put Zombie John Chandos in the vanguard, for they said that he would break the array of the French, and take scarcely any hurt from their bolts and arrows and so it came about. And he kept his visor up, which sorely affrighted the French, and cried his cry in a high voice, which was that day: “Cerveaux! Rrrrr! Cerveaux!” And after the intaking of the town, he wandered off to protect the ladies and demoiselles, for he still dimly remembered his courtesy from when he was on live. They say that he was a great aid and assistance to the English in the assault that day, save that he tried to eat the brains of the Bishop of Limoges, but they restrained him.

Celebrate Islamofascism Awareness Week

Few people are aware that Islamofascism was not simply a sloppy epithet, but an actual political movement. An obscure offshoot of the Lebanese Phalangists in the 1930s, the movement advocated totalitarianism, nationalism, anticommunism, corporatism, cool uniforms, parades, Roman salutes and grandiosely chilly monumental architecture. They proposed to revive Islamic economies by an ambitious public works program that would ornament the Mideast with enormously oversized replicas of the Kaaba faced with white marble and situated in the middle of vast dehumanizing colonnaded plazas. They also promised to both complete the Hijaz Railway and run it on time.

Their paramilitary arm, the Green Shirts, wore green shirts, matching green ties and green tasseled fezzes* and roamed the streets looking for Communists and labor union members to beat up and dose with castor oil.

They didn’t catch on.

*(You might not think tasseled color coded fezzes would be the sort of headgear that real fascists would find appealing, but they were, for obscure reasons that date back to the Crimean War.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How Bad is it in Iraq? (III)

The enormous cemetery at Najaf is a favored burial site for Shiites from all over Iraq, and provides macabre evidence for the state of affairs in that country.

Dhurgham Majed al Malik, 48, whose family has arranged burial services for generations, said that this spring, private cars and taxis with caskets lashed to their roofs arrived at a rate of 6,500 a month. Now it's 4,000 or less, he said.

Malik said that the daily tide of cars bearing coffins has been a barometer of Iraq's violence for years. The number of burials rose and fell several times during Saddam Hussein's persecution of Shiites, and it soared again during the eight years of the Iran - Iraq war in the 1980s.

Then in the 1990s, the daily average fell to 150 or less, Malik said. With the current war, the burials again reached 300 daily.

In the early days of the war, some bodies brought for burial had been victims of Saddam, found by their families in unmarked mass graves. Later, there were surges; September 2005 marked a high point after a stampede during a Shiite Muslim festival killed hundreds on a Baghdad bridge. More than 1,300 were buried in a single day, Malik said.

If the preinvasion burial rate was up to 150 a day, and estimates of the preinvasion annual death rate of about 6 per thousand are reasonably correct, then roughly 1/3 of Iraqi dead (and 2/3 of Shiite dead) were being buried there. The increase over the preinvasion rate would be a strong indicator of the level of violent deaths since then.

Malik reported an increase over preinvasion rates of 150 burials a day at their peak, presumably some months in 2006. That would have included unidentified dead from Baghdad. Unidentified dead from Baghdad could exceed three dozen a month pre-invasion, climbed to 140 a month in July of 2005, and peaked at 2000 a month during the worst periods after the Askariya mosque bombing in February 2006. Many of those unidentified dead would have been Sunni: perhaps half or more. It seems likely that Baghdad was not the only place that sent unidentified dead to Najaf. An official reported that 40,000 unidentified bodies have been buried there since the invasion, and the unidentified dead reported from Baghdad would only account for about 2/3 of that total. Some number of the remainder would have been Sunni as well.

When violence was at its peak, then, the cemetery would have received about 2,700-3,300 extra Shiite corpses in the worst months, over and above the normal preinvasion burials, and all or most dead from violence or other consequences of the conflict there. If the prewar burial pattern held, about half that number of additional Shiites killed by violence would have been buried elsewhere.

Surveys have given various estimates of the violent death rate for Sunni Arabs, ranging from about the same per household or family rate as Shiites to twice as high. The same surveys find Kurdish violent deaths per family or household ranging from 1/3 to 1/6 of the Shiite rate. Given their share of the population and assuming similar household and family demographics, deaths from Sunni Arabs and Kurds might have totaled from 1.2 to 2.5 times the number of Shiite burials in Najaf, and total violent Iraqi deaths would have equaled 2.7 to 4 times that number, or 7,000-13,000 a month.

In the spring of 2007 Malik reported 6,500 private burials a month. In addition, about 300 unidentified bodies a month were delivered by truck from Baghdad to Najaf, with a like number going to a new cemetery at Karbala, and perhaps additional unidentified dead from elsewhwere. Applying the same multiples would give a national violent death rate of 6,000-10,000 a month.

These estimates are 2.4-4.6 times the Iraq Body Count tally for civilian deaths in media reports for the same periods. This disparity is unsurprising, since media reports would miss some deaths and total deaths would include a significant number of combatants who were not civilians. There was a similar ratio of 2.7/1 between the ILCS demographic survey, which asked about total war-related deaths in Aril 2004, and the IBC civilian tally for the same period.

Applying these multiples to the IBC tally to date would suggest a total violent death toll of 200,000-300,000.

If the above seems too complicated, let me give you a simplified version that sets a crude upper limit on violent deaths in Iraq.

Pre-invasion, based on reports from cemetery workers at Najaf, it looks like about 2/3 of Iraqi Shiite dead were buried at Najaf. Conditions are more chaotic now, but the relative political and economic position of Shiites has improved, so it seems plausible that a similar or higher proportion holds.

In 2006, up to 2000 unidentified dead from Baghdad were buried at Najaf each month. Many of these would have been Sunni Arabs, so counting all post-invasion burials at Najaf as Shiite would significantly overcount the Shiite death rate. However, let us simplify and ignore this factor.

At their highest, burials at Najaf were 300 a day, 150 higher than the pre-invasion rate. The likeliest explanation for the disparity is an increase in violent deaths post-invasion.

The highest survey-based estimate of Sunni Arab deaths per household is twice the Shiite rate, and most surveys give a lower ratio. It appears that Sunni Arabs are about 75% as numerous as Shiites in Iraq. The highest survey based estimate for Kurdish deaths per household is 1/3 the Shiite rate. Iraqi Kurds seem to be about 1/3 as numerous as Shiite Arabs.

We then have the following upper bound for monthly violent deaths at their peak:

4,500 Shiites buried at Najaf.
2,250 Shiites buried elsewhere.
10,125 Sunni Arabs
750 Sunni Kurds
17,625 total.

This is 5.8 times the highest IBC monthly total. Applying the same multiple to the average of maximum and minimum IBC totals to date gives about 460,000. Since this ignores the problem of double counting unidentified dead at Najaf, and uses the highest surveyed value for Sunni Arab deaths it is likely to be a considerable overestimate.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sense and Studdingsails, by Jane Austen

Chapter 49

Scarcely had she so determined it, when the figure of a man on horseback drew her eyes to the window. He stopt at their gate. It was a gentleman, it was Colonel Brandon himself. Now she could hear more; and she trembled in expectation of it. But--it was NOT Colonel Brandon--neither his air--nor his height. Were it possible, she must say it must be Jack. She looked again. He had just dismounted;--she could not be mistaken,--it WAS Jack. She moved away and sat down. "He comes from Mr. Pratt's purposely to see us. I WILL be calm; I WILL be mistress of myself."

In a moment she perceived that the others were likewise aware of the mistake. She saw her mother and Marianne change colour; saw them look at herself, and whisper a few sentences to each other. She would have given the world to be able to speak--and to make them understand that she hoped no coolness, no slight, would appear in their behaviour to him;--but she had no utterance, and was obliged to leave all to their own discretion.

Not a syllable passed aloud. They all waited in silence for the appearance of their visitor. His seaboots were heard along the gravel path; in a moment he was in the passage, and in another he was before them.

His countenance, as he entered the room, was not too happy, even for Elinor. His complexion, beneath the tropical tan and kohl eyeshadow, was pale with agitation, and he looked as if fearful of his reception, and conscious that he merited no kind one. Mrs. Dashwood, however, conforming, as she trusted, to the wishes of that daughter, by whom she then meant in the warmth of her heart to be guided in every thing, met with a look of forced complacency, gave him her hand, and wished him joy.

He coloured, and stammered out an unintelligible reply. Elinor's lips had moved with her mother's, and, when the moment of action was over, she wished that she had shaken hands with him too. But it was then too late, and with a countenance meaning to be open, she sat down again and talked of the weather.

Marianne had retreated as much as possible out of sight, to conceal her distress; and Margaret, understanding some part, but not the whole of the case, thought it incumbent on her to be dignified, and therefore took a seat as far from him as she could, and maintained a strict silence.

When Captain Sparrow had ceased in speculating that the wind might shift a few points to the southwest a very awful pause took place. It was put an end to by Mrs. Dashwood, who felt obliged to hope that he had left Mrs. Sparrow very well. In a hurried manner, he replied in that he hoped so, considering, a response the Elinor thought troublingly vague.

Another pause.

Elinor resolving to exert herself, though fearing the sound of her own voice, now said,

"Is Mrs. Sparrow at Longstaple?"

"At Longstaple!" he replied, with an air of surprise.-- "No, I last saw me Mum off the Dry Tortugas, but our leave takings were rushed, on account of the CGI Giant Moray."

"I meant," said Elinor, taking up some work from the table, "to inquire for Mrs. JACK Sparrow."

She dared not look up;--but her mother and Marianne both turned their eyes on him. He coloured, seemed perplexed, looked doubtingly, and, after some hesitation, said,--

"Perhaps you mean--my father--you mean Mrs.--Mrs. Teague Sparrow."

"Mrs. Teague Sparrow!"--was repeated by Marianne and her mother in an accent of the utmost amazement;--and though Elinor could not speak, even HER eyes were fixed on him with the same impatient wonder. He rose from his seat, and walked to the window, apparently from not knowing what to do; took up a dirk that lay there, and while spoiling both it and its sheath by cutting the latter to pieces as he spoke, said, in a hurried voice,

"Perhaps you do not know--you may not have heard that my father is lately married to--to the youngest—to Miss Lucy Steele."

His words were echoed with unspeakable astonishment by all but Elinor, who sat with her head leaning over her work, in a state of such agitation as made her hardly know where she was.

"Yes," said he, "they were married last week, and are now heading southwesterly aboard a demon-infested topsail schooner."

Elinor could sit it no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday the 13th Comes on Saturday this Month

On October 13, 1307 the Knights Templar experienced a hostile takeover.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Asteley vs. Boyle, January 30, 1442

And that yere, the last day of…………… save on, there was a batayle in Smythfeld, withinne lystes, aforn the kyng, between the lord Beaufe a Arragonere and John Ashele squyer of the kynges house, a chalange for spere to cast pollex and dagger at the lord aforeseyd in brekynge of his gauntelette and reysyng of his umbrary*, and hadde hym at mischief redy to a popped hym in the face with his dagger, tyl the kyng cried hoo: and there the seid Asshle was mad knight in the feld.


A Chronicle of London, from 1089 to 1483, London 1827

The challenge leading to the deed of arms is recorded here.