Friday, April 29, 2016

The Brothers-in-law

Among the groups in history that have long since disappeared, there are the Pechenegs. They were a semi-nomadic group that spoke a Turkic language, originally inhabiting the area north of the Black Sea, but being pushed westward until they came into conflict (and cooperation, but more often conflict) with others.

Pechenges versus the Rus, from a 15th century Russian history
The group's name, Pecheneg, derives from the old Turkic word for brother-in-law. We assume that the tribal units comprised people related by marriages. One of their early mentions in documents is by an 11th century Uighur scholar, who analyzed their language and declared it a Turkic dialect. In the 12th century, Anna Comnena described them as speaking a common language with the Cumans (a literary language of Central and Eastern Europe).

An invading group of other Turkish peoples drove the Pechenegs from their homeland. The Pechenegs pushed into Hungarian lands in the mid-800s. Some scholars of the time claimed that some Pechenegs remained in their homeland and were absorbed into the invaders' culture. A Byzantine historian of the 10th century wrote of those who stayed:
...even to this day they live among them, and wear such distinguishing marks as separate them off and betray their origin and how it came about that they were split off from their own folk: for their tunics are short, reaching to the knee, and their sleeves are cut off at the shoulder, whereby, you see, they indicate that they have been cut off from their own folk and those of their race. [Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Imperial Administration]
Moving westward, Pechenegs made an alliance with Byzantium, who used them as allies against other groups, such as Magyars and Rus. Alliances shifted, however. Some Pechenegs attacked Kiev (in 968), while some joined Kiev in attacking Byzantium (970-71). The Pechenegs eventually had no neighbors with whom they did not have a history of hostility. In 1087, a large migration/invasion of Pechenegs (estimated at 80,000) started moving toward Constantinople from the north, plundering as they went. Byzantium, after years of mis-management and weak leadership, was unable to meet this threat without help. Alexios I Comnenos offered gold to the Pecheneg-related Cumans to come to his aid.

In April of 1091, a combined force of Byzantines and Cumans met the Pechenegs at a place called Levounion. The Pechenegs, with their women and children, were not prepared for such strong opposition. The slaughter was extensive, and the few survivors were taken into servitude at Constantinople. Any mention of Pechenegs after this (and there are very few) lists them as soldiers under Byzantine rulers.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

St. Fructuosus of Braga

St. Fructuosus on Braga Cathedral
It is not unknown for rulers who have been harsh to try to "buy their ay into Heaven" near the end of their lives. Chindasuinth, who had been harsh in his dealings as king of the Visigoths, became very beneficent to religion in his final years. One of his accomplishments was financing the building of a monastery at San Román de Hornija in which he would be buried. His remains are there, next to those of his wife, Recciberga. (That may be San Román's only claim to fame; it has only a few hundred people living there these days.) The man who built the monastery was Fructuosus of Braga.

The son of a general, Fructuosus studied religion under Bishop Conantius of Palencia. When his parents died, he became a hermit in Galicia. He attracted others with his knowledge and piety, and thus began a monastery called Compludo. In all, he founded about 10 monasteries, including one solely for 80 virgins under the abbess Benedicta.

The monastic rules he wrote exist in two copies. The rule for his original monastery was extremely strict. Monks were not allowed to even look at each other, much less talk. Any thoughts, visions, or dreams were to be confessed to their superiors. There were bedtime inspections at any time of night. Infractions were punished by flogging and imprisonment for three to six months, on a diet of six ounces of bread.

In 654 he was asked to become Bishop of Dumio and given the job of fixing its finances; previously, the income was being used to help the poor and free slaves. Unfortunately, this rendered the diocese insolvent. Fructuosus was asked to make it solvent, but still be sensitive about the slave issue. Fructuosus, for whom the issue of political prisoners was an ongoing cause, was willing to balance the needs of the bishopric with the desire to free slaves.

On 1 December 656, he was made Archbishop of Braga, but remained a pious man who dressed so poorly that he was often mistaken for a peasant instead of a bishop.

He died on 16 April, 665, age unknown. In 1102, his relics were transferred from the Cathedral of Braga to Santiago de Compostela, but were returned to Braga in 1966.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rebellion Among the Visigoths

In the 7th century, the Kingdom of the Visigoths covered much of the Iberian peninsula and a good chunk of what is now southern France. A Germanic tribe whose ruler was approved by all the nobles, there were some rulers who attempted to create a dynastic succession, so that they could hand the kingdom to their sons.

Chindasuinth
One such was Chintila (c.606 - 20 December 639), who took over from Sisenand at a time of unrest. Chintila was not a bad ruler. He held two Councils of Toledo (the 5th and 6th), in which (among other things) it was determined that the king must be chosen by the nobles and the bishops from the nobility: he could not be a foreigner, a peasant, or from the clergy. Chintila tried to leave the throne to his son, Tulga. This did not sit well with too many people, and so a warlord decided to stage a rebellion.

That warlord, Chindasuinth, may have been as old as 79. Commanding the frontier forces—and with much experience of rebellions from quelling them after the forced conversions from Arianism to Roman Christianity, and dealing with hostile Basques—he had himself declared king by his followers (but without the bishops). He marched his forces to Toledo, captured Tulga, and cut his hair. More specifically, he gave him a tonsure and exiled him to a monastery, because Tulga's father had helped establish that clergy could not ascend to the throne.

With his rebellion a success, Chindasuinth proceeded to rule, being properly anointed king on 30 April 642. But to rule successfully, he realized he needed to guard against—you guessed it—rebellion. So he decided to quell a rebellion pre-emptively. He rounded up and executed 200 members of the Gothic nobility and 500 members of the lesser nobility, without any pretense of a trial or even any evidence that a rebellion against his rule was being planned.

In October of 646, the 7th Council of Toledo retroactively ratified all of his decisions to take the throne and execute potential troublemakers. He then proceeded to make a pretty good king, establishing peace, heavily supporting the church, and refining the legal system.

But then he tried what others had tried: he named his son his heir. He declared Reccesuinth a co-king while Chindasuinth was still alive, so that the people would get used to the idea of Reccesuinth ruling. Reccesuinth was the "front man" for years, doing everything "in Chindasuinth's name." When Chindasuinth died in 653, Reccesuinth simply continued making decisions.

Froya, a Visigothic nobleman who had not been executed 10 years earlier, took exception to this and staged (wait for it) a rebellion, reaching as far as the important city of Saragossa with the support of the Basques (who held a grudge against Reccesuinth's father). Reccesuinth managed to put down the rebellion, execute Froya, and send the Basques back into the mountains. Then he reigned for almost 20 years on his own.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Death of William Rufus

Recent posts have talked about the sons of William the Conqueror: how he left the kingdom to his second son, William Rufus; how the eldest, Robert Curthose, had a temper and was shunted off to Normandy; how the youngest, Henry, took the throne upon his older brother's death during a hunting accident. We haven't yet talked about the hunting accident.

from Ridpath's Universal History (1895) 
If it was an accident.

On 2 August, 1100, King William II, called "Rufus" (probably on account of a red face), went hunting with a party of men that included his younger brother, Henry. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that he was "shot by an arrow by one of his own men." A later reference says an arrow glanced off a tree and went through his lung.

Details are scant. This was somewhere in the New Forest; the exact location is unknown, although later legend has picked a spot. In fact, a few centuries later, a stone was erected purporting to be on the site of the oak tree from which the arrow glanced.

William of Malmesbury claims that an archer named Walter Tyrell was responsible for the errant arrow, despite the fact that he was considered an excellent shot. Rather than carry the king's body back for burial, the hunting party left it there. Henry rushed to Winchester to seize control of the treasury and declare himself king; he was confirmed the next day. A peasant later came across the body and caused it to be brought to Winchester for burial.

Some historians claim that, if Henry wanted his brother killed, he would have waited; that William and Robert were headed for inevitable conflict, and that he merely had to wait until one of them eliminated the other, and assassinate the remaining brother. We know, however, that Robert was still away on the First Crusade, the money for which he had been given by William. At that time, it looked like Henry's elder brothers were getting along. Henry might also have been aware of the agreement between his brothers to be each other's heir. If Henry wanted his chance to be king, he had to seize it and consolidate power while Robert was far away and in no position to assert his claim. Henry also used his coronation charter, the Charter of Liberties, to cement the loyalty of the nobles.

We will never know for certain if William's death was an accident, but the situation so clearly benefitted his younger brother that it is difficult to shake the suspicion that it was engineered.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Charter of Liberties

A copy of the Coronation Charter of Henry I/Charter of Liberties
When William Rufus died, his younger brother Henry assumed the throne. It should have gone to the oldest brother, Robert Curthose, who was away on the First Crusade, because of an agreement between William and Robert. After all, when their father died, Henry was given a chunk of money; he wasn't even given a plot of land to rule the way Robert was given the dukedom of Normandy and William got England. The nobles didn't want to accept Henry at first. It was probably the Charter of Liberties that changed their minds.

The Charter of Liberties is also known as the Coronation Charter. It is the earliest extant coronation charter from England. In it, the new king makes promises to uphold laws. The statements made in this particular Charter were popular because they undid many of the acts of William that were unpopular.

For instance, statement 1 promises that Henry "shall not take or sell any property from a Church upon the death of a bishop or abbot, until a successor has been named to that Church property." (William had left the position of Archbishop of Canterbury lie vacant after the death of Lanfranc, so that he could appropriate the revenue from the archbishop's lands.)

Statement 6 forgives "all debts and pleas which were owing to my brother, except those which were lawfully made through an inheritance."

Statement 8 reverses the practice of being forced to bribe the king: "If any of my barons commit a crime, he shall not bind himself to the crown with a payment as was done in the time of my father and brother, but shall stand for the crime as was custom and law before the time of my father, and make amends as are appropriate."

Other statements put more control in the hands of the barons, and promise that the Crown shall not act rashly. When Robert Curthose went on the First Crusade, William gave him 10,000 marks—the equivalent of 25% of the annual royal budget. William got this money from a very heavy tax levied on the whole of England.

Even though in the normal course of events Henry would not have been part of the succession, the Charter of Liberties presented at his coronation helped to "sell" him to the noble class.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ralph Flambard, Robert, and Henry

The Battle of Tinchebray
When Ralph Flambard escaped from the Tower of London, he fled to Normandy to the court of its duke, Robert Curthose. Robert was the eldest son of William the Conqueror who failed to inherit the throne—twice. The first time was when he rebelled against his father, later seeing the throne going to the second eldest, William Rufus. The second time was when, despite an agreement with William Rufus to be his heir, Robert was on Crusade when William died, giving younger brother Henry the opportunity to take the throne.

Flambard convinced Duke Robert that he should assert his claim to the throne (despite Robert's agreement to not pursue it in exchange for 3000 marks/year). With Flambard organizing the fleet, Robert's army landed in England in July 1101. It didn't go well. Henry's army was larger, and England didn't really want another change on the throne, so the local support was all for Henry.

Within a couple weeks of landing, on 2 August, Robert and Henry agreed to the Treaty of Alton—Alton was where Henry's army met and stopped the advance of Robert's—in which Robert (again) agreed to renounce any claim to the throne of England in exchange for an annual payment. Flambard, no doubt part of the negotiating force, actually got reinstated as Bishop of Durham! But he chose to stay in Normandy for five years: Robert had thanked him for his help by granting him the see of Lisieux

In 1105, however, Henry broke the agreement. Despite the Treaty of Alton, Henry invaded Normandy and fought against his brother in the Battle of Tinchebray. Robert was captured and imprisoned (he died in 1134, in Cardiff Castle). After the battle, Flambard made his peace with Henry, returned to England, and took up responsibility for Durham again.

Back in England, Flambard continued major building projects: a cathedral, a defensive wall around Durham Castle, Norham Castle, and more. He died on 5 September 1128.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The First Prisoner

Ralph Flambard was born in Bayeux, Normandy six years before William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel and became King of England. When he grew up, however, he became intertwined with the affairs of William and his sons.

Depiction of Flambard in stone
for Christ Church, Dorset
He must have been a clever lad, because he was one of the people put in charge of the Domesday Book in 1086, to make an account of all the lands and towns in England. He also became the keeper of the king's seal; documents had to pass through him to be stamped as official. When William died, Ralph chose to serve the new king, William Rufus.

Under Rufus, Flambard showed notable talent at raising funds for the king—and himself. He took control of empty parishes (up to 16 at one point), so that rent from their tenants flowed to him. With the money he was raising for the Crown, he built the first stone bridge in London (but not London Bridge itself). It was at this time that the king's hall was built in Westminster, the walls of which are still standing.

When William Rufus died in 1100, Ralph Flambard, now Bishop of Durham, was made a scapegoat for the financial hardships put on the citizens of England. King Henry I made Flambard the first person to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He also became the first man to escape the Tower of London.

The story goes that his friends sent to him a large jug of wine. (Prisoners in the Tower were not fed well, and food and drink from family and friends were allowed in order to sustain them.) Inside the jug was a rope. Flambard offered his captors wine, and when they were drunk and sleeping, he extracted the rope, tied it to the middle strut of the window, and climbed down to where his friends were waiting with horses to take him and his elderly mother to a boat that would whisk him to safety in Normandy.

Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury arranged a papal trial for the crime of simony. Henry officially confiscated his lands. Archbishop Gerard of York took away his title of bishop. Flambard didn't care: he had had dealings with every important member of William the Conqueror's family except one—the out-of-favor eldest son, Robert Curthose. He made his way to Robert, the Duke of Normandy; he had a plan.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sibling Rivalry

When William the Conqueror died in 1087, he decided to leave the throne of England to his second eldest, William Rufus. To his eldest, Robert Curthose, who had once rebelled against him, he left the Duchy of Normandy. (Robert hadn't even come to his father's deathbed, staying on the continent because of the bad blood between him and his family.) The youngest son, Henry, got £5000 silver (and two smaller provinces in France: Maine and the Cotentin Peninsula). William and Robert, as the two major landholders, agreed to make each other their heir.

Robert Curthose tomb in Gloucester Cathedral
That didn't last.

Months later, several barons decided to revolt against William Rufus in the Rebellion of 1088. Robert joined them. Verbally. He never actually traveled to England to take part in the rebellion with any troops; had he done so, the rebellion might have succeeded. As it happened, William invaded Normandy a few years later, capturing large parts of the Duchy from Robert.

They managed to reconcile, however, when they decided to team up and expand both their property holdings by taking Maine and Cotentin away from their younger brother, Henry. Henry lost the Cotentin (an important coastline on the English Channel) after a two-week siege, retaining only the smaller and now land-locked Maine.

William died in a hunting accident on 2 August 1100. At the time, Robert was returning from the 1st Crusade. He hurried back to England to claim the throne because of the agreement he had with William since 1087. Unfortunately for him, Henry was in a position to claim the throne before Robert returned.

Robert's troops landed at Portsmouth in 1101 to fight for the throne. Henry was awaiting him at Pevensey (coincidentally[?], near where their father had made his landing for the Norman Invasion of 1066), but caught up with Robert before he reached London, and defeated him. Henry convinced Robert to give up his claim to the throne for 3000 marks per year. That might have resolved their conflict—and it did, for a little while.

But then Ralph Flambard escaped from the Tower of London.

[to be continued]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Robert Curthose

Yesterday's post mentioned Henry becoming king of England upon the death of his brother, William Rufus. Their father was William the Conqueror. William had more than two sons, however. In fact, neither Henry nor William Rufus was his eldest son.

His eldest was Robert Curthose (c.1051 - 3 February 1134). He might have eventually succeeded his father to the throne of England, but his own actions got in the way.

Robert had some admirable qualities, as noted by William of Malmesbury in his Gesta Regum Anglorum [Deeds of the Kings of England]:
...considered as a youth of excellent courage... of tried prowess, though of small stature and projecting belly... he was neither ill-made, nor deficient in eloquence, nor was he wanting in courage or resources of the mind. [Note the "small stature" line; the nickname, "curthose" likely derived from his legs being a little shorter than usual]
But he had a temper. In 1077—still a young man—his younger brothers were bored, and dumped the contents of a chamber pot on Robert from an upper gallery. The boys got into a fight, which their father had to break up. Enraged that his father did not punish the instigators, the very next day Robert tried to capture one of his father's castles, at Rouen. He failed, and fled ultimately to Flanders, where his mother secretly sent him money to support him. His mother, Matilda, arranged a reconciliation between father and son from that lasted from 1080 until her death in 1083, after which Robert left court and traveled Europe.

On William the Conqueror's death in 1087, he left England's throne to William Rufus, and £5000 silver to Henry. To his estranged and difficult eldest son, Robert, he left Normandy—a generous gift considering the troubles between them.

Robert continued to cause trouble for his siblings, however; a story for tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Father of His Country

The phrase "Father of His Country" is usually reserved for George Washington, first President of the United States, for his role in the beginning of the system that the USA has today. But Henry I of England (1068 - 1135) was the father of his country in more than a symbolic sense.

As a son of William the Conqueror, his role was to continue the evolution of England to become a mixture of Saxon and Norman culture. When his brother, William Rufus, was killed in a hunting accident, Henry took the throne. He took as his queen Matilda of Scotland, with whom he had at least two children. A daughter, Matilda, was born in 1102 and lived until 1167. William Adelin, born in 1103, died in 1120 in the White Ship tragedy.

Matilda really wanted to be a nun, which may explain why she did not help to fulfill her "duties" to provide many heirs. After her death in 1118, Henry married a young wife named Adeliza of Louvain, with whom he had no children.

Henry had alternatives, however. By several different mistresses (some of whose names we know), he sired several "heirs":
  • Robert Fitzroy ["son of the king"] (c.1100 - 1147), became the first Earl of Gloucester.
  • Richard of Lincoln was raised in the household of the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Bloet.
  • Reginald de Dunstanville (c.1110 - 1175) was Earl of Cornwall and High Sheriff of Devon.
  • Robert
  • Gilbert
  • William de Tracy
  • Henry Fitzroy
  • Fulk Fitzroy
  • William de Dunstanville
...and that was just the boys. He had, by best estimate from references in historical documents, at least 15 daughters, including:
  • Matilda Fitzroy, Countess of Perche (by becoming 2nd wife of Rotrou III, Count of Perche)
  • Matilda Fitzroy, Duchess of Brittany (by marrying Conan III, Duke of Brittany)
  • Matilda Fitzroy, Abbess of Montvilliers
How is that for a tribute to a first wife?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Saluzzo and England and Griselda

Saluzzo, a town and principality in northern Italy, had some interesting connections to England. It was a simple tribal city-state in Roman times, but during the time of the Carolingians it became the hereditary property of the Marquesses of Saluzzo, who extended their control over a wider region in the north. It was frequently in conflict with its powerful neighbor, the Duchy of Savoy, which eventually assumed much of Saluzzo's territory. The Savoys were so powerful that the kings of England and France treated them very well.

Griselda's daughter is carried away [source]
One of the first strategic marriages between English and Italian noble families, however, was with Saluzzo. Alice of Saluzzo (d.1292) married Richard Fitzalan, the 8th Earl of Arundel. The marriage had been arranged by Eleanor of Provence, Queen to Henry III. Alice's father, Thomas I of Saluzzo, was an exemplary ruler under whom Saluzzo flourished like never before. This probably had a lot to do with choosing to form an alliance with Saluzzo by marriage.

Not all Marquesses of Saluzzo came off so well in history—or literature.

In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Clerk's Tale tells of Griselda, whose hand in marriage is sought by Marquess Walter of Saluzzo. He marries her on the condition that she will always obey him, no matter what. She agrees. When she gives birth to a daughter, Walter decides to test her obedience: he has a soldier remove her daughter. Although Griselda has every reason to believe her daughter is being killed (actually, the girl is sent to be raised by Walter's sister), she remains obedient and kind to her husband.

Four years later, she gives birth to a son. Walter chooses a further test: he tells her son has to go as well, that he has permission from the pope to divorce her, and that she is to return to her father taking nothing but the smock she wears under her fine dress. She returns home, showing no signs of distress.

Years later, Walter summons Griselda to him. He tells her he is marrying again, a young wife this time, and wants Griselda to help prepare the house for a new young bride. Unbeknownst to Griselda, the new young bride is actually her now-grown daughter. Griselda patiently asks Walter to be kind to his new bride, who might not be able to endure his tests the way a woman raised in poverty could. Walter, much moved by her patience and faithfulness, confesses that they are still married, that her children are alive, and promises never to test her again. They live happily ever after.

Chaucer did not invent this story. He probably got it from Boccaccio's Decameron, and the folktale of patient Griselda was around for a long time. Why the "villain" is a Marquess of Saluzzo is the mystery. But then, not all Marquesses were as beloved as Thomas I.  In Boccaccio's lifetime, Saluzzo experienced some civil strife. Manfred V of Saluzzo was forced to give up a claim to the throne in 1334 after being caught in a sex scandal with his own mother, then usurped the throne in 1341, but was forced to give it up a year later. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Daily Bread

Bread has all the characteristics of a staple food: the plant is easy to grow, the product is relatively easy and cheap to produce, and it is adaptable to various shapes and uses. Human beings have been eating it for about 30,000 years, based on residue of starch found on tools used for pounding grain into meal.

The earliest breads were probably flatbreads, before rising or leavening agents were discovered. Some leavening would take place naturally, by airborne yeasts landing on dough left out. Pliny the Elder reported that Gauls and Iberians added the foam from beer to make bread that was lighter in texture.

The earliest known Arabic cookbook, The Book of Dishes, by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq (10th century), explains:
Wheat bread agrees with almost everybody, particular varieties made with a generous amount of yeast and salt and allowed to fully ferment and bake well. Such breads are lighter and digest faster. Jizmazaj (thin bread with tamarisk seeds) and ruqaq (very thin bread) are by comparison less nourishing and digest much faster. Bread baked in malla (pit with hot ashes and stones), tabaq (large flat pan) and any other similar varieties that do not ferment or bake well are hard to digest and cause stomach aches. Only people used to strenuous labor can eat them more often.
Bread was considered so important to people and the economy that it was heavily regulated. The Assize of Bread and Ale during the reign of Henry III (1207 - 1272) determined "proper" weight and price and quality of bread.

Bread was such an important part of daily life that the name for someone with whom you spend a lot of time, companion, comes from the Old French compaignon, "one with whom one shares bread" (from Latin com="with" and panis="bread").

Monday, April 11, 2016

Outnumbered!

Memorial to Battle of Näfels
Military engagements between England and France were a large part of the 14th century in Europe, but those countries were far from the only two engaged in war. Much of the 14th century saw conflicts between Austria and the Swiss. The final engagement of that war was the Battle of Näfels in 1388.

The opponents were Glarus (one of the Cantons of Switzerland) and the Old Swiss Confederation against the Hapsburgs of Austria. In 1386, the Old Swiss Confederation besieged the Hapsburg village of Weesen. In 1387, Glarus rose up against its Austrian occupiers and declared itself free of Hapsburg control.

In retaliation, the Austrian army, in February 1388, drove the Swiss out of Weesen. In April, the Austrian army decided to attack Glarus; 5000 men marched toward Näfels, a municipality in Glarus; on the way, they were joined by a column of 1500.

Näfels had for its defense about 400 men. Outnumbered 16 to 1, after a brief resistance the men of Näfels scattered, disappearing off the fortifications and into the snow- and fog-filled night. The Austrians, emboldened, broke ranks and began to pillage the outlying farms.

But the Glarners had counted on that. They began appearing out of the fog and snow, picking off the Austrian soldiers in ones and twos. A quick attempt to pull together the ranks resulted in a brief battle, but the now disoriented and slightly demoralized Austrians decided to retreat, despite their overwhelming numbers. In crossing the Linth River, a collapsing bridge dropped many Austrians into the river to drown. Ultimate losses for the Austrians are difficult to estimate, but some say up to one-third of the army was killed over the course of a couple of days. A monument exists to honor the (only) 54 Swiss Confederation and Glarner men who were killed.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Aprille

It is the first of April, and while you might expect something about pulling pranks and acting the fool, instead we are going to talk about...April. Chaucer's most famous poem starts with a mention of April and its sweet showers, but did he know what "April" meant?

April lovers from the Margaret de Foix Book of Hours
We are not sure why it is called April, from the Latin Aprilis. The Greeks call this month άνοιξη [ánoixé], which means "opening." This is because April is traditionally when the earth starts to renew itself and flowers and buds begin to open. Based on this, April might come from Latin aperture, "to open," from which we get words like aperture.

On the other hand, since the Romans liked to name their months for practical reasons, either after gods (January) or Caesars (July and August) or simply numerically (September, October, etc.), maybe we should see if April fits the pattern. Perhaps Aprilis was actually Aphrilis, as in Aphrodite, the Greek name of Venus. After all, Venus had a festival, the Veneralia, held on 1 April, in honor of Venus Verticordia ["Venus the Changer of Hearts"].

Maybe the Middle Ages knew of this origin, since illustrated calendars and books of hours often had pairs of lovers to represent April, as we see above. (To be honest, this was a later medieval trend; earlier, April just had someone holding a green branch to show life coming back to Nature.)

The Anglo-Saxons called it ēastre-monaþ; we don't know why. Bede tells us that it was named for a goddess, Eostre, and that this is why the Anglo-Saxons called the Resurrection "Easter." Einhard says the same, but he probably got it from Bede.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hug a Medievalist

This is worth knowing.


A bear hunter hugging a bear?
Early 16th c. German "Geese Book"
Sarah Laseke, writer of a medieval blog here, in 2011 decided that if librarians get a "Hug a Librarian" Day, then medievalists should get a "Hug a Medievalist" Day. She started with a Facebook page, from which the idea gained widespread interest.

Folk in the Middle Ages knew about hugging, although it does not seem likely that it was a very public gesture. As one website puts it:
The nobility ... had plenty of space and did not press closely on each other. Gentlemen and ladies allowed a lot of personal space to each other. Hugging and hanging on each other was simply not done in public, especially not by ladies in a broad-spreading double-horned headdress, except with great care. Getting close enough for a kiss required a lady's co-operation... [link]
In the 21st century, however, we do not have the same taboos about personal space—or the clothing that prohibits closeness. Feel free to find and hug a Medievalist today, and we will return to more scholarly (and less self-serving) topics tomorrow.

G+ Followers