Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Distrust Any Historical Anecdote Offering an Explanation for Allusive Heraldry.

This is, of course a subset of David Friedman's good advice: "Distrust any historical anecdote good enough to have survived on its literary merit." This is only compounded when the tale is told by descendants of the protagonist, who can be expected to particularly enjoy tales of the awesomeness of their ancestors.
That the father of Agnes Hotot, (who was afterwards married to Dudley,) having a dispute with one Ringsdale, about the title to a piece of land, they agreed to meet on the disputed land, and decide it by combat. Hotot, at the day appointed, was laid up with the gout; but his daughter, Agnes, rather than he should lose his land, or suffer in his honour, armed herself cap-a-pee, and mounted her father's steed, went and met Ringsdale, whom, after a stubborn light, she dismounted; and when he was on the ground, the loosen'd her throat-latch, lifted up her helmet, and let down her hair about her shoulders, by that and her breasts, discovered to him she was a woman. In memory of which heroick action, the Crest aforementioned, his always been used by her descendants.
The historical anecdote of Agnes Hotot triggers the Friedman warning from the beginning, because it's like Eowyn with discovered breasts for added literary value. That the story first appears in Collins' The baronettage of England; in 1741, about 350 years after the supposed event, gives additional reason for distrust. Anyone that has worn a good reproduction of late 14th c. armor, or who knows others that have, will have still further reason to distrust the account: discovering breasts in such armor is logistical challenge.

So we should not be surprised to learn that the Visitations of 1564 and 1618 record arms for the Dudleys of Clapton, but no crest, or that the College of Arms in 1826 recorded their crest as "On a wreath of the colours, a woman's bust in profile wearing a helmet of leaves, and wreathed round the temples with alternate leaves and roses, all proper."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Tale of Ladies at Hastiludes, 1348

In those days a rumor arose and great excitement among the people because, when hastiludes were held, at almost every place a troop of ladies would appear, as though they were a company of players, dressed in manly equipment of striking richness and variety, to the number of forty or sometimes fifty such ladies, all handsome and beautiful, though not of the kingdom's better sort. They were dressed in parti-colored tunics, of one color on one side and a different one on the other, with short hoods and liripipes like cords about about their heads, with belts of gold and silver clasped about them, and even with the kind of knives commonly called daggers slung low across their bellies, placed in pouches from above. And thus they went on fine destriers and other well-arrayed horses to the place of the hastilude, and consumed and spent their substance, and wantonly and with disgraceful lewdness displayed their bodies, as the rumor resounded among the people.

And thus, neither fearing God nor blushing at the outcry of modest people, they slipped the traces of matrimonial modesty. Nor did those whom they accompanied consider what grace and outstanding blessings God, the fount of all good things, had bestowed upon English knighthood in all its successful encounters with its enemies, and what exceptional triumphs of victory He had allowed them everywhere. But God in this as in all things made a marvelous remedy to dispel their dissolution, for at the times and places appointed for those vanitites He defeated them with cloudbursts, thunder and flashing lightening, and the fury of diverse astonishing tempests.

Knighton's Chronicle, translation Will McLean 2013

Other translations have the ladies "dressed in men's cloths" or in "the cloths of a man" but that's not really what Knighton's Latin says.

He condemned the ladies because:

They wore the manly equipment of daggers, stowed in a particularly phallic way.

They displayed precious metal ornaments and horseflesh that they could not afford

They wore parti-colored clothing which made them look like minstrels, who were not nearly as respectable as proper ladies.

They wore hoods with liripipes, which Knighton might have scorned either as masculine dress inappropriate for women or because he thought liripipes were useless ornamental frippery.

Knighton is pretty clearly repeating a rumor: note the absence of the locations of any of these hastiludes. 

I can imagine a pretty prosaic kernel of truth to Knighton's account: some ladies go to a tournament in the newfangled fashions that the older generation doesn't approve of, and some of the ladies are wearing their husband's daggers while they are on the field so they don't get lost or stolen, and the event is spoiled by bad weather. And a Friar goes home and writes a sermon about it, exaggerating for effect, and reuses it every stop on his rounds and the tale grows in the telling.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Medieval Time

Temperance adjusting a clock. Christine de Pizan, Épître d’Othéa. Paris, c.1406

By the late 14th century, mechanical clocks were common enough to be used as metaphors for temperance in poetry, but the first recorded use of minute as a unit of time is 1392 in French and 1393 in English, although the word had been used to describe a 60th of a degree since Ptolemy in geography and astronomy.  It is probably not a coincidence that the usage appeared not long after clock dials began to appear in Europe.

It's important to remember this if you're doing first person medieval living history. Earlier, men would speak of a paternoster while, the time it took to say a paternoster, for a short period of time. It takes me about 20 seconds to say it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

More Camp Beds

BL Add 15277 f.51 The Israelites with the Moabite women in their tents, c.1350-99, Death of Louis IX, BL Sloane 2433 vol. 3 fol. 7v, 1410-1420, Agnolo Gaddi: The Dream of Emperor Heraclius ca. 1385-87, Above: Piero della Francesca: Vision of Constantine 1452-66

Martinus Opifex: Achilles weeps in his bed and Briseis tending the wounded Diomedes 1445-1450 The Trojan War ÖNB 2773

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Folding Bed, ca. 1600

Probably from Augsburg, now in the Bavarian National Museum, which has another image and more information here. The sides fold in, the ends fold down and something cunning presumably happens to the canopy and legs through folding and/or disassembly. Image from WikiMedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pavilions in the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland: 1538

Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane pavilʒeoun of grene dames, . . . . . v frs.
Item, gevin for ane girth (hoop, usually the hoop of a barrel) of irne to the said pavilʒeoun, xx s.
Item, gevin for ane goldin knop to the samin, . xx s.
Item, gevin for ane cleik (hook) to the said pavilʒeoun, x s.
Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane pavilʒeoun of gray dames, . . . . . . vij frs.
Item, gevin for ane goldin knop to the samin, . xx s.
Item, gevin for ane girth of irne to the said pavilʒeoun, ' xx s.
Item, gevin for ane cleik of irne, . . . x s.

Since each pavilion is equipped with a hook and the hoops only cost twice as much as the hook, these are probably canopies for a chair or bed rather than tents.

Scotland, Thomas Dickson, James Balfour, Paul, C. T. McInnes, and Athol L. Murray. 1877. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland = Compota thesaurariorum Regum Scotorum. Edinburgh: H.M. General Register House.

15th and 16th Century Camp Beds

The French term lit de camp to describe a camp bed appeared in written records by c. 1450, and became assimilated into Scottish by the end of the century in many variants. In contemporary English it would be called a trussyng bedde, a term in use as early as 1392. The following, except for the last two records, are all from The Records of the Royal Treasurer of Scotland.

1494: Item, gevin for the making of ane harnes to turss (pack) the Kingis letacampbed, . . . . iij li.

1495: Item, for the tursing (transporting) of the Kingis letacampbed, and othir gere for the see, to Dunbertane agane his passing in the Ilys, . . . . . . xv s.

1527: Item, ij lokkis to letacamp cofferis . . . v s

1529: For tua lang malis (traveling cases, usually leather) with four lang brassis (straps) to thame to cary the Kingis leittacampt, ane stule to the oist, (host) of sindry pricis … iij li xiiij s

1538: Item, gevin for the treis (timberwork) of the said littecamp, xij frs.

Item, gevin for vij merkis iij uncis of fyne gold and cypir (yarn for cloth of gold?) for the gold and fassoun of ilk merk xxij frs.;…

Item, gevin for vij li. xij uncis of grene silk, the price of ilk pund ix frs.; summa . . iijxxix frs. xv s.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of thre compterpuntes (counterpanes) of grene taffateis, and ane of holand claitht, price of ilk ane xx frs.; summa .... iiij  frs.

Item, gevin for iiijxxxvj pund of caddes (cotton wool) to mak twa matres to the said bed, price of ilk pund viij s.; summa ..... xxxviij frs. viij s.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of the said twa matres and for the carding of the caddes, . . .xij frs.

Item, gevin for xx pundis of fyne downis to fill ane bostar (bolster) and twa coddis, (pillows) price of the pund ix s.; summa ix frs..

Item, gevin for the fassoun of the bostar and coddis, x s. Item, gevin for xxiij elnis 1/2 of holland claith to be the quhit compterpynnt price of the elne xx s.; summa xxiij frs. x s.

Item, gevin for xxxix elnis of grete lynyng to mak twa chetis (sheets) to ane palʒes (palliasse) to wynd (wrap) the said matres in, price of the elne iiij s.; summa . vij frs. xvj s.

Item, gevin for x elms of grete bukrame to lyne the ruff of the said littecamp, price of ilk elne vj s.; summa ...... iij frs.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of the said ruff and courtingis, and for the fassoun of twa chetis of cammes palʒeis and ane cheit of quhit fustane and rybbanis to the samin, . . . . . xxiiij frs.

Item, gevin for twa grete kow hidis to put the treis of the said littecamp in the gidder (bundle collection,gather) witht twa lang furreons (?) and twa cofferis to put the graith (furnishings) pertenyng to the said littecamp, price maid with Gilʒeam Petit, liiij frs.

1538-9: Item, for putting in twa gabellis (gables?) and mending of thame, of the malis to turs the liticamp beddis, . vj s.

Item, gevin for ane littecamp of ane wannet (walnut) tre, vj frs.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane steikit (quilted) covering, and for silk and caddes to the samin, . . xij frs.

Item, gevin for stuffing of ane matres weyand xxviij pundis, price of the pund v s.; summa . . vij frs.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane matres, iiij frs. x s.

Item, gevin for ane grete male to turs the littecamp in, and for ane scheith (sheath) to put the treis in,. xviij frs

Item, gevin to the tapischare to pay ane wricht (carpenter or joiner) for ane liticamp bed to thame to turs about with the quenys grace, . . . . iij Ii.

Item, deliverit to him, to be ane matt (mattress) to thame, xvij elnis 1/2 elne of quhite fustiane, price of the elne iij s. ; summa . . . lij s. vj d.

Item, for viij elnis of canves to lyne the matt witht, price of the elne xvj 6. ; summa . . x s. viij d.

Item, for the making of the matt and boustare and ane palʒas of canves servand to the said bed, . xx s.

Item, to ane stane of fedderis to put in the said boustare, x s

Item, for xxx poundis of noppis (wool flock) to put in the said matt, price of the pound v d; summa. xij s. vj 6 d

Item, for ane cover to the said bed, iij Ii. v s. Item, deliverit to the tapischer the xxiiij day of Februar, v elnis of braid quhite to be thame blancatis, price of the elne iij s. viij 6.; summa . xviij s. iiij d.

Item, deliverit to him the xx day of Februar, xxxvj elnis of reid and ʒallow serge to be ane cannabe (canopy) to thame, price of the elne v s.; summa . . ix Ii.

Item, for the making of the said cannabe to thame, deliverit to the tapischer, . . . xl s.

Item, for ane knop of tre (wood) to bere the said canabe, (canopy) xviij d.

Item, for ane cleik (hook) of irne to hing it be quhar thai travell, . . . . iiij s.

Item, for ane soume (strap or possibly saddlebag) of leddir to beir the said matt, bowstare, coveratouris, and blancatis witht, twa malis of ledder to bere the liticamp of tre, price of all v Ii.

1548: Of xviij clekis, xviij eine, xj gret buklis, xj staplis of thair awyn irne to my lord governoures lytecampe bed;

Item: Foure stanʒe (sic, but probably skanʒe meaning skein was intended: girths were purchased by the skein and a similar price per skein is mentioned in 16th c. documents.) of gyrthis to his grace lytillcampe bed; price of the stanʒe xviiij d....summa vi s.

1556: Liticampt bed of fir (1)

1562: ane litucampt of aik (2)

1. Grote, Gilbert, and William Angus. 1914. Protocol book of Mr. Gilbert Grote, 1552-1573. Edinburgh: Printed for the Society by J. Skinner.
2. Great Britain. 1870. Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. London: [H.M.S.O.].

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Death in a Camp Bed

Jael and Sisera, from the Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240, Jael and Sisera, follower of Van Eyck, 1440-1450, Death of Du Guesclin 1455-60, and Death of Du Guesclin 1479-1480. The second Sisera isn't in a bed, but I included it both for the clear depiction of the tent peg and the gap between the bottom of the tent wall and the ground. You can click on these images to enlarge them.

Anna Nenarovoa has Pinterest board devoted to many, many images of Judith and Holofernes. The virtue of these images as that the artist is depicting the kind of beds that might be plausibly used inside a tent. These are also relevant to other tent furnishings, such as horizontal rods for curtains and other things to hang from.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A 14th Century Rope Bed

Agnolo Gaddi, Detail of Legend of the True Cross, ca. 1380.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Camp Bed, 1803

This camp bed is found in Sheraton's 1803 The Cabinet Dictionary, which describes the construction under Camp Bed, starting on page 123. This is an elegant design that requires no technology unknown in the 14th century.

When trying to figure out how medieval people solved a particular problem and you don't have enough information, going back to the earliest era when you do have enough information is often a productive strategy.

Update: here's a picture of one of Washington's beds folded. This may be a reproduction rather than the original. You can see that that instead of offsetting the side rails horizontally when folded, this design has them hinge slightly upwards or downwards so that they clear each other. And here's good picture of Anthony Wayne's camp bed, showing how the sacking bottom is secured by rope passing through eyelets and over pegs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Kazuhiko Kakuta has been building ornithopters: pterosaurs, raptors,, seagulls and puffins, a bat and Myazaki flying machines. Also, fixed wing Miyazaki flying machines and a radio controlled Totoro.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Charny and the Law of Arms

For Geoffroi de Charny, writing around 1350, there were three elements to the law of arms.

The first was custom: what did experienced men at arms think would be expected, absent an explicit offer or agreement otherwise?

The second was explicit agreements or promises: such as the mention of specific rules in the announcement of a particular joust. In the 14th century these left so much unsaid that Charny must have expected customary precedent to do most of the heavy lifting, and that an experienced jouster would have a mental template of more or less how a formally announced joust would be run.

But just like judges of Common Law today, Charny's judges would often encounter disputes where neither unwritten precedent nor written rules gave a clear answer, and they would be forced to decide by a combination of analogy and their own intuition of what was just. This would then become part of the body of precedent used by future judges.

Interestingly, the branch of modern law most like Charny's law of arms may well be the law of war, which is still strongly rooted in customary norms.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How Jousts Were Structured Ca. 1340

I was asked how jousts were structured around 1345. Since I'm answering, I'll share the answer.

It's understandable for a modern reader to think that the winner was chosen by something like the modern elimination tree or round robin tournament.

Understandable, but wrong.

Here's what we know. Although jousts were individual contests, the contestants were always divided into two sides, typically called dedans and dehors, literally within and without but perhaps best translated as the home team and visitors. 15th and 16th century English joust announcements would refer to challengers and comers.

The traditional division dated back to the time when jousts were preliminary events attached to mounted melee tournaments between two teams, and persisted when jousts became independent contests in their own right.

Once jousts became an independent event, the sizes of the two teams were often asymmetrical: the home team was often determined in advance, but the visitors were who turned up on the day of combat. Each visitor could run some number of courses, that is to say attack runs with the mounted lance, against a defender. At the end of the jousts, winners were chosen.

We have one set of rules for scoring a joust from Spain ca. 1330. Different regions almost certainly ran jousts somewhat differently. Geoffroi de Charny's Questions suggest that choosing a winner in a French joust was somewhat more subjective, although it probably followed a roughly similar ranking of achievements.

Charny's Questions, translated in Steven Muhlberger's Jousts and Tournaments, is a valuable but frustrating source on French jousts and tournaments around 1350: frustrating because Charny lists various debatable questions about the martial sports without providing answers.

Still, his questions make it clear that in some, but not all, French jousts a man who unhorsed an opponent would win his horse, and that there were jousts for knights and jousts for squires, and that they involved different equipment. It seems likely that as at the later Smithfield jousts of 1390, the knight's joust was run in full armor and the squire's joust used a saddle that protected the legs and made leg armor unnecessary.  Flemish records from the 1340s list prizes given to the best knight and best squire on each team.

Interestingly, Charny examines the question of a squire entering a knight's tourney and vice versa. He regards this as somewhat irregular, but not so much so that the interloper would clearly forfeit his winnings. He might or might not: he thought the question worth debating

Often the home team would be dressed in matching livery.

Charny describes a very informal process for assigning opponents: the visitors would line up on one side of the field and as soon as one of the home team rode forward one of the visitors would charge him. Because of their limited visibility with helmets on, sometimes two visitors would unintentionally charge at once.

The biographer of the Castillian knight Pero Niño noted the same informality when he jousted in France around 1405, contrasting it with what was presumably Spanish custom. "There is neither one that holds the lists, nor joust of one man against another by champions assigned"

There seems to have been a general agreement that someone that killed or injured another's horse usually owed compensation. For Charny, the possible exceptions seem to have been insufficient promtness in presenting a claim, the injuring party possibly acting as an agent for another person, damage to a borrowed horse, and damage from a dropped lance the jouster no longer controlled.

Monday, October 07, 2013

A Compromise Is When Both Sides Give Up Something They Want

In contrast, the House Republicans are offering to give up something they say they don't want, shutting down the government and/or defaulting on our debt, in return for the House minority, the Senate majority and the White House giving up various things that they do want.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Changing Laws

Under the U.S. Constitution, there's a minimum requirement for passing a new law or changing an old one. You get a majority in both houses of the legislature, and consent of the President as executive. If the Senate thinks it's very important, you need a supermajority there (Currently, the Senate seems to think that very important=almost everything.) If the President objects, you need a 2/3 majority in both houses. Even so, a law that passes can later be declared unconstitutional by the judiciary.

At this time, the Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing an exception to the above going forward: that as long as a party with a  majority in only one house wants something badly, they can refuse to pay for any non-mandated spending, in hopes that everyone else will give them what they cannot get through the regular constitutional process.

Whatever you may think of our current Constitution, with its potential for gridlock and lack of clear accountability, the House Republican variation is much worse.