Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Poor Alice de Lacy, Part 1

Recent posts on the Tutbury Hoard led to a discussion about Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who is the likeliest candidate for losing such an enormous amount of coinage. His wife was Alice de Lacy, whose fortunes were potentially as high but ultimately as low as his.

Alice was born on Christmas Day in 1281. She was the only surviving child of the Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, and the Countess of Salisbury, making her an heiress to two sizable estates who would be greatly desirable on the marriage market. When she was nine years old, she was betrothed to the 14-year-old nephew of King Edward I, Thomas (whose father the Earl of Lancaster made him potentially rich and powerful as well). They married when she was thirteen.

Alice's father chose to allow his titles to pass, upon his death, to his son-in-law rather than his daughter. Perhaps her father was sexist. Perhaps the king pushed this arrangement to bring those lands into the royal family in exchange for a prominent husband. At any rate, Henry could expect that his grandchildren would enjoy significant inheritances.

But there were to be no grandchildren. Either Alice was barren, or Thomas was not interested in procreating with her. He had other children: two sons out of wedlock. Alice and Thomas started to live separate lives. It was easy, therefore, for her to be abducted from her own manor of Canford, Dorset. This abduction, carried out by knights under John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, seems not to have been for romance, but to insult Thomas, who had done Warenne wrong in an earlier matter. Thomas went to war with Warenne (settled by the king), but never asked for Alice's return.

When Thomas was executed (see here), Alice could have become wealthy since he had no legitimate heirs, but her titles were confiscated by the Crown and the king (now Edward II) imprisoned her at York as the wife of a traitor. Alice was not released until she handed over much of her inheritance and the sum of £20,000. She was given the Constableship of Lincoln Castle and allowed to remarry.

That next marriage, the second of three, was happier than the first. But then came another abduction, and a rape, and another marriage. We will continue her story next.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Thomas Lost a Treasure

This is about Thomas, the 2nd Earl of Lancaster. He was born about 1278 to Edmund Crouchback (the second son of King Henry III). His life was not without problems.

He had an unsuccessful marriage to Alice de Lacy. They had no children, although Thomas fathered two illegitimate sons. Alice was abducted in 1317 by a knight under the Earl of Surrey. Thomas divorced Alice and started a conflict with Surrey which was ended by King Edward II. During the coronation of King Edward II, Thomas carried the royal sword Curtana in the procession. Like many nobles, however, he turned against Edward when Edward showed favor to Piers Gaveston, reputed to be the king's male lover.

Thomas led two revolts against Edward. One, in 1310, led to Parliament putting limits on Edward's spending. The second, in 1321, led to defeat and his execution for treason on 22 March, 1322.

Thomas had been given Tutbury Castle, which he renovated and made into his primary residence. His presence benefitted the surrounding countryside, stimulating the local economy. The famous Tutbury Hoard—the largest collection of found coins in history—was so large it must have come from his treasury. Historians assume he had gathered it to pay his allies and Scottish mercenaries, probably during his second revolt against the king. It was lost while crossing the River Dove, however, leaving it to be found by workmen in 1831.

But poor Alice! In her life she was married three times, abducted, widowed twice, imprisoned, raped, and had her in hesitance stolen. I'll tell you more about her next.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Staffordshire Hoard Conflict

Some of the pieces from the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard.
The largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver coins was uncovered in Staffordshire, England in 2009. The 3500 metal pieces added up to 5.1 kilograms of gold and 1.4 kilograms of silver.*

The hoard dates from the 7th century when the area was the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. The items are all of high quality and appropriate for a military man—swords, helmets, hilts, pommels, buckles, scabbard loops, etc. Commonly, Anglo-Saxon finds include jewelry, cooking vessels, and eating utensils—items related to a household or suitable for a woman. The few items that break this pattern are three crosses. This hoard seems likely to have been the collected possessions of a soldier or military leader who stashed it away for safekeeping and then failed to live long enough to retrieve it.

Another piece of evidence that these were the possessions of a military man is a small golden strip, approximately 7" x 0.6"; it is inscribed with a passage from the Old Testament: "Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee." [KJV, Numbers 10:35]

The Hoard is now on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. You can see more stunning pictures here.

Next, we return to the Tutbury Hoard and talk about, not the finder, but the person who likely lost it.

*The farmer on whose land it was discovered agreed to split the value with the man who found it with a metal detector. They split the £3,300,000 value, but other issues turned them into enemies. You can read about it here.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Tutbury Hoard, Part 2

Part of the Tutbury Hoard
The sudden acquisition of wealth can change people. When coins started to be found in. the River Dove in 1831—ultimately amounting to 360,000 medieval coins uncovered by scores of treasure seekers—some lucky people found themselves in possession of silver worth more than they'd ever held before.

John Blackburn was one such person. Rather than turn the coins in to the Crown for monetary reward, however, he cashed in only enough to buy a horse and trap, and a gun to protect the rest. He then returned to his farm with his wife, Jane. They started living off their own private stash now, neglecting the farm and letting their hired labor go. They avoided people, even their own sons, Thomas and Henry.

Then, in October of 1852, would-be rescuers rushing to the Blackburns' burning house found John and Jane murdered. For the Staffordshire police, suspicion fell on the sons, who might have wanted an inheritance. Evidence was lacking, however, until a scrawled anonymous letter, written by someone who knew unpublished details about the murder, implicated Henry Blackburn.

Henry would not have implicated himself, so the police made inquiries to find the scribe. They found Charles Moore, a former laborer on the Blackburn farm. He had talked several times about the treasure hidden away on his former employer's land, and had also mentioned being hired by Henry Blackburn to kill the old couple in return for a share of the silver. Four men were taken into custody: Charles Moore, Henry Blackburn, and two Irish associates of Moore, Edward Walsh and Peter Kirwan. A three-day trial included a witness who heard Moore discussing how to start a fire with resin and pitch. It was determined that Henry Blackburn's name in the letter was designed to throw suspicion off the real culprit, Moore. Kirwan and Blackburn were declared innocent. Walsh was declared a conspirator, and sentenced to transportation for life (being sent out of the country, likely to Australia).

Moore went to the gallows, proof that (in the words of Chaucer's pardoner, Radix malorum est cupiditas. [Latin: "The root of evil is love of money"]

The Blackburns' silver hoard was never found.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the largest Anglo-Saxon find in modern history, which also happened to end a friendship.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Tutbury Hoard, Part 1

The coins were found in casks in the River Dove
Workers in 1831, while repairing a mill-race on the Dove River, found a chunk of mud-caked coins from the 13th and 14th centuries. Curiosity was piqued, folk flocked to the area, and searches of the river turned up 360,000 silver coins in total. It would be impossible to put a value on a hoard that huge. When only 26 were sold at auction in 2010, they were evaluated at £3000.

More and more people with picks and shovels descended on Tutbury, digging in and around the river. One contemporary account claimed about 300 people at any one time could be seen wading through the river. Digging in and around the river was declared off-limits and the coins designated Crown property by King William IV. That law is still in force.

The Duchy of Lancaster ultimately stepped in to maintain control over the area. Tutbury Castle was owned by the Duke of Lancaster, and it was assumed that the treasure had once belonged to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (more on him in the near future). Approximately 100,000 coins were turned over to the Crown, but the majority remained in the hands of the finders.

Two of the finders, neighbors John Blackburn and Hugh Barber, had located a large cache. Barber cashed his part in immediately, receiving £100. Blackburn sold enough to buy himself a horse and cart, and a gun. But he kept a lot of the coins. He and his wife became reclusive, even from their own sons. They stopped working their farm, and kept people away.

In 1852, the Blackburns were found murdered. We'll take a 19th century side-trip next to talk about that.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Coin Hoards

Edward I penny from the Colchester Hoard
Among the treasures found accidentally by digging or deliberately by people wielding metal detectors are hoards of old coins, jewelry, and other ornamentation.

Why were these hoards hidden in the first place? Valuables get stashed away for several reasons. In times of political or economic uncertainty, it might be prudent to hide wealth to avoid confiscation. One might also bury a hoard due to the lack of a banking system (see below re: the Colchester Hoard). In any case, the owner presumably intended to recover his wealth but was prevented by death or an inability to return to his land due to occupation by hostile forces.

Some of the notable finds are:

The Abergavenny Hoard, consisting of 199 silver pennies from the 11th century reigns of Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. It was found in 2002 and currently is owned by the National Museum in Cardiff.

In 2000, 448 pennies and 27 half pennies were found in Beverley, East Yorkshire. The Beverley Hoard dates from the mid 13th century and sits in the British Museum.

The British Museum is also home to the Colchester Hoard, dug up from the High Street in Colchester during routine public maintenance work in 1902. Workers found a lead canister holding about 12,000 silver pennies from the time of Edward III. That area was the Colchester Jewry, where Jews congregated to live. One theory is that the lead canister was intended as a safe, built into the floor.

The largest hoard ever discovered in England was found in 1831, long before there were any laws governing the disposition of such things. It was found in Tutbury, Staffordshire, and the 360,000 silver coins were widely dispersed. The discovery of so much value in one place caused the nearest thing England ever experienced to a "gold rush."

I think it's worthwhile to go into detail on the Tutbury Hoard. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Found Treasure

Roman hoard found at St. Albans
Speaking of digging up old things...

Every once in awhile we hear of someone finding a hoard of coins or other treasure from centuries past. The Treasure Act of 1996 in England was created to answer the question: to whom does this find belong? How should it be handled? The Act applies to England, Ireland, and Wales; Scotland has its own laws regarding found treasure.

The rules for a find are simple: within 14 days, you must report your find to the local coroner. The coroner will conduct an inquest to determine if the find is, in fact, "treasure." The legal definition of treasure is based on whether it has real world (not just sentimental) value. The presence of a large number of items and the presence of a certain percentage of gold or silver figures into the definition. Also, the find must be at least 300 years old.

If the find is determined to be treasure, it must be offered for sale to a museum after being evaluated by a board of experts, called the Treasure Valuation Committee. If no museum wants the treasure, then the finder/owner can retain it or sell it to someone else.

What if I use a metal detector and find a hoard of coins in a farmer's field? Does it belong to the finder or to the property owner? The Treasure Act declares that the finder(s) and land owner(s) share the wealth in a ratio (usually 50/50) determined by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

Next I'll share some of the most notable treasures that were hoards of coins.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Finding Bodies in Peat Bogs

Tollund Man, found in a bog in Denmark
You have no doubt seen articles of bodies and artifacts found in peat bogs, such as the Gundestrup cauldron from the previous post. What exactly is a peat bog, and why is it suited for preserving things, especially bodies?

Peat is a brown, soil-like material that forms from decaying plant matter in a wetland whose water is acidic. The acidic environment inhibits  nutrients and therefore limits the flora and fauna usually found in either bodies of water or fields. Peat can be cut into blocks, dried, and burned as fuel. Peat bogs are found in temperate latitudes. Some of the largest peat bogs are found in Siberia (1,000,000 square km), souther South America (44,000 square km), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (130,000 square km).

The acidic and oxygen-poor environment, and the tannic acids that develop from the slowly decaying plant matter (usually mosses), helps to preserve organic material—so much so, that over 500 bodies have been found in bogs, remarkably intact (not just skin, but also hair and stomach contents) and ready for analysis. Tollund Man, found in Denmark in 1950, still has a three-days growth of beard. (Ironically, the "tougher" teeth and bones are more susceptible to being dissolved by acid.)

Even their clothing is preserved. Huldremose Woman, found in Denmark in 1879, had a leather cape and woolen scarf that clearly were not made in Denmark.

Many of these are assumed to have been human sacrifice, especially because so many are found with slashed throats, or with rope around their necks. Of course, they could also simply be the end result of treating criminals. A bog body found in Donegal, Ireland dates to the 1500s, and is believed to be a suicide. Because suicide was forbidden by the Church, perhaps her body was thrown into the bog because proper Christian burial was denied to her for her sin.

Not all finds in the ground are bodies, however. Next we will talk about some of the medieval treasures that have been dug up.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Gundestrup Cauldron

On 28 May, 1891, a worker digging in a peat bog near Gundestrup in Denmark made an extraordinary find: a shallow bowl holding a dozen curved panels (five large and seven smaller) and a couple short metal strips. Analysis showed the material to be 97% silver and 3% gold.

A Danish archaeologist realized that the pieces could be assembled into a deeper bowl, the silver strips forming a rim. Originally thought to be Celtic, careful examination of the figures carved on the silver panels revealed a mixture of images from different cultures. One of the images—an antlered male figure holding a torc in one hand and a serpent in the other—is identified as Cernunnos, the "Horned God" of Celtic folklore.

Who would have created something like this? The work resembles that of Thracian (Thrace included Bulgaria and parts of Turkey and Greece) craftsmen from the 2nd century BCE. Thracian metalworking would have been happening at that time in the Balkans. It is assumed that someone with Celtic leanings created the artwork. How it made its way to northern Denmark is anyone's guess.

The images on the Cauldron represent several themes: fertility, destruction, life and death. One of the most intriguing images is a bull hunt, depicted on an oval medallion. Three dogs are part of the hunt, and above the bull is a woman warrior, leaping to strike the bull with a sword.

Another panel shows two rows of warriors, one of which is mounted on horses with horse tack seen in Eastern Europe. The other row is followed by three men playing a Celtic musical instrument. A giant appears to be dipping a man into a cauldron, possibly representing rebirth.

Was the Cauldron a gift to a warrior or ruler? Was it created to be part of some magical ritual? A great deal of wealth and effort went into creating it; it is unlikely it was used as a fruit bowl. And why was it disassembled and buried in the peat bog? To hide it from enemies? As a sacrifice to gods? We will never be sure.

Actually, sacrificing by throwing things into peat bogs was a common occurrence up through the 2nd century CE. We should look at some of the things that archaeologists have recovered from peat bogs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cernunnos

From the Gundestrup Cauldron
The figure to the left—a man with antlers, often holding or wearing a torc, often holding a snake—is not unique. It is considered a representation of a Celtic deity, called "The Horned God," who is possibly the god of nature, wilderness, animals, fertility, the underworld, wealth, etc. The earliest images were found in Northern Italy and on the Gundestrup Cauldron in Denmark from the 1st century BCE. We call him Cernunnos because of a single recorded reference on a carved stone called the Pillar of the Boatmen, referred to in the previous entry.

Looking for the origin of the name has led to some curious theories.

In the Ulster Cycle of Irish folklore, the hero Cuchulainn has a foster brother named Conall Cernach. One story of Conall involves him attacking a castle that is guarded by a serpent. The serpent does not attack Conall; rather, it drapes itself around his waist and is worn by him afterward. The odd relationship between Conall and the snake is linked by some to the image of the snake in Cernunnos iconography.

Another depiction of Cernunnos, a bronze figurine from Autun in France, shows two serpents around his waist, similar to the Irish story. Stories of Conall Cernach-Cernunnos may be a rarity: memories in literature of Celtic deities, of whom we otherwise have no details.

The Gundestrup Cauldron needs its own entry, which I will talk about next.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Pillar of the Boatmen

The figure shown here is called Cernunnos. He is  the "horned god" of ancient Celtic culture, representing fertility, the natural world, the underworld, and wealth. (Deities of the underworld are linked to wealth because precious things are dug up from the earth; Greek Hades was the same.) The image of the male figure with horns/antlers is found in over 50 carvings, one of which is on a stone pillar linked with the location of Notre Dame.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris was built over the site of an earlier church of St. Stephen (actually, since this was in France, "St. Etienne"). St. Etienne was built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple. A carved stone pillar with the image to the left—and several other images—was found in 1710 while excavating a crypt under the nave of Notre Dame. The pillar had been broken into pieces, the blocks used to reinforce foundations. When reassembled, it was clear that it had been part of a much earlier pagan temple on the site.

It is now called the Pillar of the Boatmen because it was erected by a guild of Gaulish sailors, who dedicated it to Emperor Tiberius (which dates it between 14 and 37CE). The carvings show sailors and several deities.

One interesting fact about the pillar and the horned figure is that this is the only recorded use of the name Cernunnos in any early source. The name is unusual, and next we will see if we can figure out whence it comes.

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Note on Notre Dame

Artist's conception on what buttresses
would have looked like early on.
On 15 April, 2019, a fire ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. There was no question that re-building was necessary. The important question, however, was how it should be re-built? Should they use recent 3D scans of the structure to restore it to the same look as just before the fire? Or should it be altered to reflect current culture? After all, all buildings are a reflection of their times. Even without the benefit of a class in architecture, we can tell if a building is "old" as in outdated or "old" as in historic or antique.

So how should Notre Dame be rebuilt? Re-designed for a new age? Or restored to an earlier version; if so, which version? Because it hasn't always looked the way it did on 14 April, 2019.

Before it was Notre Dame, the site (rather, right next to it) in the 7th century held an Early Christian basilica dedicated to St. Stephen. There is evidence that a church had existed there since the 4th century, but we are not certain if St. Stephen's was that church, or if it replaced the earlier building. It was 230 feet long—large for that time. This building was renovated in 857 and became a cathedral; that is, the residence of a bishop. After that, a Romanesque-style renovation and enlargement took place; even that was soon deemed too small, given the speed with which Paris was growing.

In 1160, therefore, Bishop Maurice de Sully decided to demolish the Romanesque structure, recycling the stone for his plan of a cathedral in the Gothic style. This new style had already been put into service in St.-Denis, and de Sully was keen on it. The cornerstone was laid 25 April, 1163, but the cathedral was not completed until many decades later, after several phases.

Even so, the new cathedral's transepts were already being remodeled in the mid-1200s, and separately in 1240 the north transept received a gabled portal with a rose window. The flying buttresses were not part of the original plan, being added in the 1200s. They were replaced with larger ones a hundred years later.

1699 saw the decision by King Louis XIV to make extensive modifications. The French Revolution claimed Notre Dame for the public, and removed much of its artwork. In 1801 Napoleon returned it to the Catholic Church, which then began restoration. By 1831, it was in such need of repair that Victor Hugo wrote a novel, now called The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to raise interest and funds for the restoration.

The building has always been changing, and will again. What it looks like after the next round of restoration will be eagerly awaited (and no doubt criticized).

Even before the basilica to St. Stephen, however, there was a pagan temple on the site. There is no record of this; its existence has been extrapolated from a single sculptural find connected with Notre Dame. I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Medieval Architecture

7th c. Asturian Church of Santa Cristina de Lena, Spain
This will be a brief introduction to the styles of medieval architecture that existed over the centuries. They are given names to represent the eras, but keep in mind that there was no firm dividing line between the different eras. In order to compare apples to apples, we will look at church architecture for examples of the evolution of building styles.

Early Christian
Prior to a uniform style of architecture for churches, christian churches often simply appropriated pagan temples of worship. One of the most famous buildings of antiquity, the Parthenon, was converted to a christian church just before 600CE, becoming the Church of the Parthenos Maria [Greek: "Virgin Mary"]. A common style was the basilica [Greek "royal"], which was originally a large building for public gatherings. Basilicas had a long main aisle (the nave), supported by columns and flanked by side aisles. A wide area at one end, the apse, became the location of the altar. A basilica often had a dome. This basic floor plan became popular for churches, especially in the Eastern Empire. The most famous basilica is the Hagia Sophia [Greek: "Holy Wisdom"] in Istanbul (was Constantinople).

Pre-Romanesque
This term is often used to denote the collection of different styles that arose during certain dynasties or in different cultures, such as Merovingian, Carolingian, Ottonian, Asturian, Norse; it is a catch-all term that includes the Early Christian as well.

Romanesque
Romanesque is a modern term that describes the style that was prevalent in the 11th and 12th centuries throughout Europe. Brought to England by William the Conqueror, there we call it "Norman." Romanesque buildings are known by their massive stone structure with barrel vaults and round (or sometimes slightly pointed) arches. Tourists can experience Thanksgiving in a Romanesque building described here.

Gothic
Gothic architecture has appeared here. Its chief elements are soaring height, large glass windows allowing more light than previous styles, pointed arches, (often) flying buttresses to support the thin walls. The first church to combine several of these elements into the first truly "Gothic" church was the Abbey of St.-Denis. This style is what folk most often picture when they think of medieval churches.

About eight miles south of St.-Denis is the world's most recognizable Gothic cathedral, Notre Dame, which suffered from a devastating fire a couple weeks ago. I want to say something about that next.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Saints, Obscure and Otherwise

One purpose of the Daily Medieval blog is to bring to light knowledge of characters and events that do not reach the mainstream culture. Everyone has heard of King Arthur, Merlin, jousts, etc. There was so much more, so many more lives and events and customs, that made up that time we romanticize as the Middle Ages.

Columbanus, discussed in the previous post, set sail with 12 companions to preach to the world. Their names are known, and some of their stories.

Saint Attala was one. He was dissatisfied with the less-than-strict discipline at the abbey at Lérins, and joined the monastery of Luxeuil, which had just been founded by Columbanus and had a much more rigid discipline. He succeeded Columbanus as abbot of Bobbio in Italy and maintained a strict rule. Several monks rebelled against his rules and left. After some died in the outside world, the rest thought it a punishment from God and returned to his monastery. He died in either 622 or 627, depending on your source; his feast day is 10 March.

Saint Deicolus (born c.530) followed Columbanus all over western Europe. Even at 80 years old, he was determined to follow Columbanus on further travels, but age and infirmity forced him to give up the wandering life and settle in Lutre in Besançon, where he was the apostle of his district until his death in 625 at the age of 95.

Deicolus' younger brother was not quite so obscure, having appeared in this blog many times already. He is known as St. Gall, or Gallus. You can search this blog for him, but my personal favorite historical link to him is here, with the only known architectural plan (such as it is) extant from centuries of medieval buildings.

I think we will have a few things to say about medieval architecture in general in the next post.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

St. Columbanus

Recent posts about the differences between Irish Christianity and other practices in the early medieval church are due largely to the work of Saint Columbanus. From his birth West Leinster, Ireland in 543 to his death on 21 November, 615 in Bobio, Italy, he traveled widely.

A handsome man in his youth, filled with temptations of the flesh, he took advice from a religious woman who was living as a hermit. She told him:
Twelve years ago I fled from the world, and shut myself up in this cell. Hast thou forgotten Samson, David and Solomon, all led astray by the love of women? There is no safety for thee, young man, except in flight.
Over the protestations of his mother, he went to Lough Erne to Abbot Sinell, and afterward to Bangor to Abbot St. Comgall where he developed the Rule of St. Columbanus, a more strict set of rules than the widely used Rule of St. Benedict. During this time, he strongly promoted aspects and practices of christianity like private confession and strict penance, etc.

When he was 40, he had the inspiration to preach in foreign lands. Assembling 12 companions, he set sail, stopping a short time in England, then went to France about 585. Their modesty, patience, and humility stood out in a country that was suffering from a dearth of religious people after being ravaged by barbarian invasions.

Her managed to perform many miracles (so his chronicler tells us):

  • Made a blind man see
  • Caused a bear to abandon a cave so Columbanus could live there
  • Escaped a pack of wolves
  • Cured sick monks so they could work at harvest time
  • ...and more
He passed away peacefully in his hermit's cave.

Some of his original 12 followers were interesting characters in themselves. I'll tell you about them next.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

British vs. Irish Christianity

The previous post discussed some aspects of Celtic Christianity found in the British Isles that differed from the "mainstream" Rome-based Christianity. There were "local" differences between practices in Ireland and England as well.

Monasteries in Ireland adhered to a much stricter rule than the typical Rule of St. Benedict. Fasting and corporal punishment were more common in Ireland than British monasteries or elsewhere. By the 9th century, most monasteries were conforming to the Benedictine style.

Baptism was also different in Ireland, although we do not have a clear description of it. Bede claims that Augustine of Canterbury found the Irish baptismal rite to be "incomplete" compared to the Roman custom, although what was left out is not explained.

One of the biggest differences was the practice of "Judaizing": observing Jewish rites instead of the newly developing Christian versions. One of the biggest examples was, of course, the observance of Easter on a date more closely conforming to the Jewish Passover. This was one of the main points of contention at the Synod of Whitby. Adhering more closely to laws found in the Old Testament could be a problem. In the mid-8th century, an Irish preacher named Clement Scotus was condemned for heresy, partially because he promoted Old Testament laws such as requiring a man to marry the widow of his brother. Paul's Letter to the Romans in the New Testament made clear that Christians were absolved from following the old law through Christ's sacrifice. Rejecting the Old Testament's list of injunctions and rules was therefore an important part of distinguishing Christianity from Judaism.

Much of what was different about Irish Christianity was inspired by the preaching of Columbanus, and we should talk about him next.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Celtic Christianity

We have discussed the Synod of Whitby in 664, which debated whether Roman-based or Iona-based Christianity should prevail. "Celtic Christianity" might be a better term for what was being followed in the British isles, since it was a collection of practices that was found among the Celtic-speaking peoples of the early Middle Ages. We've discussed the Easter date controversy, but there were other differences: how monks should be tonsured, how the sacrament of penance should be performed, etc.

The typical method of tonsure to denote your status as a monk is seen in artwork, and clearly represented the crown of thorns: it shaved a circle at the top of the head and below the ears, leaving a ring. We do not have artwork from the time depicting the Irish tonsure, but it appeared to run from ear to ear over the head, rather than around.

Regarding penance, the Irish form was a private matter: the penitent Christian confessed to a priest in private and was given a form of penance to undergo privately. This does not seem strange to modern Roman Catholics, whose churches have confessionals: a small room for the penitent with a grill connecting it to a small room where the priest sits, so that the two can speak with anonymity. On the continent, early Christian penance was a public affair, with those wishing to participate appearing in sackcloth and confessing as a group.

Another practice that found expression in Britain and Ireland was the idea that one must travel away from one's home as part of the religious life. This peregrinatio pro Christo [Latin: "exile for Christ"] became popular later when St. Augustine of Hippo claimed one should be an exile in this world while awaiting the Kingdom of God.

The term "Celtic Christianity" is a convenient one, and should not be construed as evidence that there was a formal set of rules for all of the Celtic world as opposed to the Roman world. Ireland had some of its own preferences. Britain, like the rest of the world, placed religious authority with the bishop of a diocese. In Ireland in the early Middle Ages, the abbot of a monastery was considered a more significant authority than the bishop.

I'll talk about some additional divergence between the early Irish and British churches next.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Date of Easter

Easter is the "floatiest" of floating holidays in the Western calendar. The 7th century saw a very serious debate over how the date should be determined. The debate was between the Ionan and the Roman traditions. The Ionan tradition is so-called because it was promoted by the Irish monks on the Isle of Iona.

According to John 19:14, Pilate presents Jesus to the Jews on the "day of the preparation of Passover."  Early Christianity probably celebrated Easter based on Passover, which is always the 14th of the lunar month of Nisan. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 decreed that Easter should be divorced from the Jewish calendar and celebrated on a Sunday. An 84-year lunar-solar cycle was used to calculate the date for awhile.

Developing an accurate calendar based on the actual length of the year was an ongoing problem until the Gregorian Calendar, and the date of Easter was calculated in several different ways for centuries, resulting in different dates being used by different Christian factions. There was a time in Northumbria when the king and queen actually celebrated Easter separately.

Eventually, the differences became too important an issue to allow to exist, and the Synod of Whitby was conferred in 664 to resolve the issues. The strongest voice for the Roman tradition was Wilfrid, who argued:
  1. it was the practice in Rome, where the apostles SS. Peter and Paul had "lived, taught, suffered, and are buried";
  2. it was the universal practice of the Church, even as far as Egypt;
  3. the customs of the apostle John were particular to the needs of his community and his age and, since then, the Council of Nicaea had established a different practice;
  4. Columba had done the best he could considering his knowledge, and thus his irregular practice is excusable, the Ionan monks at present did not have the excuse of ignorance; and
  5. whatever the case, no one has authority over Peter (and thus his successors, the Bishops of Rome).
Both sides agreed that Jesus had "given Peter the keys"; after that, both sides had to agree that Rome should lead the way.

How exactly do we calculate Easter? It's simple: Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. If the equinox takes place on 21 March, and is a full moon and a Saturday, then Sunday the 22nd is Easter. This actually happened in 1818, but won't happen again until 2285. If the full moon falls on the day prior to a March 22nd vernal equinox, and 28 days later the full moon falls on Sunday, then Easter is the following Sunday. In 1943, this happened, and Easter happened at its latest possible date, 25 April. This will happen again in 2038.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Frankpledge

The oath of frankpledge (mentioned here) was a promise of mutual aid between members of a community, used throughout several centuries of the English Middle Ages. When I say "members of a community" I really mean male members over a certain age, exempting clergy and knights, who owed allegiance to different authorities.

Pursuing a sheep stealer
Early Anglo-Saxon society had a practice known as frith-borh ["peace pledge"]. The borh was a way for certain individuals to take responsibility for those under their care, assuring that they would be turned in for crimes or appear before the court if accused. A master was responsible for his slaves, or a person for his family members, or a lord for those living on his land. This was a very informal system of appointing responsibility.

A little later came the Anglo-Saxon custom of tithing, which meant a "thing of 10." Ten men would agree to be a tithing, which existed primarily to agree that they would promise to surrender to the authorities one of their group who broke the law. It was a voluntary grouping, and only local men were eligible. To be eligible, you had to possess property that could be forfeit if you were deemed guilty of something. Women, children, slaves, people passing through—none of these needed to join a tithing since they had no property that could be confiscated if they neglected their duty.

It was not until the reign of King Henry I (c.1068 – 1 December 1135) that the frankpledge gets mentioned in his codified laws. It was originally an informal method of creating civic obligation. Unlike the London Wardmote of a later date, the frankpledge was administered by a sheriff on his bi-annual tourney around the country. At this time he was to be paid a token penny, but also he took the opportunity to fine infractions of the law. The potential for corruption was great enough that the Magna Carta included limitations on the sheriff's exploitation of frankpledge.

The Black Death (1348-50) disrupted the use of frankpledge by reducing the numbers of the oath-taking groups through death and re-location in the pursuit of jobs. Although it survived in the 1400s, a growing national structure of constables and justices of the peace took on more and more responsibility for maintaining order. There is still a holdover of the tithing and frankpledge in the Riot Act of 1886 in England, which indirectly levies damage costs on the local population after damages from rioting.

The Oath of Frankpledge shown here comes from the Liber Albus, the White Book of the laws of London, which was discussed here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Anonymous IV at Notre Dame

[Mindful of the tragedy at Notre Dame of Paris on 15 April, 2015, I re-present this post from 2012.]

In the post on the Las Huelgas Codex I mentioned that many of the pieces in the codex were new to scholars, but some were familiar. Where else had they been seen?

Notre Dame Cathedral
The collection of recorded polyphonic music produced by composers working at Notre Dame Cathedral from c.1160-c.1250 is referred to as the Notre Dame School of Polyphony. A majority of medieval polyphonic music up to this time was committed to parchment by the Notre Dame School.

This does not man, sadly, that we can set a manuscript in front of a modern musician and have the notes played as they were intended to be heard. Differences in musical notation and rhythm make it close to impossible to know precisely how these pieces were performed centuries ago. For us to make an attempt is only feasible because of analyses of music written by a handful of people. Franco of Cologne was one, John of Garland another (best estimates are that he was keeper of a bookshop in Paris who edited two treatises on music), and the later writing of the industrious student known only as Anonymous IV.*

The "Alleluia nativitatis" by Pérotin
Thanks to Anonymous IV, we have contemporary definitions of what is meant by organum (a plainchant melody with one voice added to enhance harmony), discantus ("singing apart"; a liturgical style of organum with a tenor plainchant and a second voice that moves in "contrary motion"), the rules for consonance and dissonance, and other terms and rules of polyphony.

One "ironic" result of the writing of Anonymous IV is that. through him, we know the names of two composers who would otherwise have been lost to obscurity. He writes about Léonin and Pérotin with such detail and feeling that, although Anonymous would have lived several decades after they lived and composed, they were presumably so famous that their reputations lived on in the school. Léonin and Pérotin are some of the earliest names of artists that we can actually link to their works.

As much as we have been given by the treatise of Anonymous IV, his own identity and details of his life are unknown. Two partial copies of his work survive at Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England; one is from the 13th century, and one from the 14th. Clearly, his work was considered important enough to copy and preserve—but not his name. He was likely an English student who was at Notre Dame for a time in the late 13th century. Thanks to his interests, we understand more about the development of medieval polyphonic music than we otherwise would have.

*His name is the inspiration for a modern female a capella group.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Dick Whittington and His Cat

Dick Whittington buying his cat
A popular figure from English folk tales is Dick Whittington. He is based on Lord Mayor of London Richard Whittington (c.1354-1423), who started as a wealthy mercer, became a money-lender who helped the King, was elected to several positions, and donated a great deal of money to good causes.

More than 150 years after his time, his name started getting used for ballads, a play, and numerous stories of the "rags to riches" variety. There are different versions of his story, but we can present the main elements:

A poor orphan, Dick Whittington, seeks his fortune in London. Falling asleep on a stoop of a wealthy family, he is given a place to sleep and work as a scullion, cleaning the kitchen. He lives in a rat-infested garret, which is made safe because he has a cat (which he bought for a penny that he earned from shining shoes). Eventually, glad of a room but resentful that he is not paid money for his work, he leaves the house. During his journey, he hears the "London Bells" ringing, and they seem to be telling him to "Turn again, Whittington" and tell him he will become mayor. He returns to the house.

Skipping over a bit (a great deal, actually), there is a situation overrun by rats and mice. Dick's cat turns out to be exemplary at dealing with the rodent problem, and he is subsequently offered a great deal of money for the cat. Whittington becomes rich, marries his master's daughter (Alice Fitzwarren, which was the name of the real Whittington's wife), joins his new father-in-law in business, and is later elected mayor of London three times. (He was actually mayor four times, but once was when the king appointed him.)

The folk tale of a man with a useful cat is not unique to England. Two Italian versions are known. A German version is known from the 13th century. A 14th century Persian chronicle tells the same story of a widow's son who made his fortune because of his cat's hunting ability. Although the motif is found much earlier than the English version, the Aarne-Thompson classification system calls it the "Whittington's cat" motif.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Mayor Richard Whittington

One of the most prominent mayors of the City of London in the Middle Ages (and perhaps of all other eras) was Richard Whittington. He was born sometime in the 1350s into a well-to-do family, but as a younger son would not have expected to inherit anything substantial; he was therefore sent to London to learn to be a mercer (a merchant who deals in cloth). Fortunately, he was good at the trade, and by 1388 he was selling to the royal court. He used his growing wealth to become a moneylender, rather than buy property. This ingratiated him to many prominent people; King Richard II was borrowing from him in 1397.

By that time he had been a councilman, an alderman, and a sheriff as well as a powerful member of the Mercers' Company. In 1397, Mayor Adam Bamme died. London and the King were in the middle of a serious dispute: asserting mismanagement, King Richard had appropriated London's real estate. Richard forced London to accept Whittington as mayor. Richard owed Whittington money, and could simply default on the loan. If Whittington wanted his money, he would work with Richard to resolve the dispute. Within days, they struck a deal by which London would receive back all its real estate and right to self-government in exchange for £10,000. That was in June; in October, the citizens elected Whittington mayor in his own right.

In all, he was elected mayor 4 times (though not consecutively). When Richard II was deposed in 1399, Whittington's situation did not suffer: he also had business dealings with Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV, and so he remained on good terms with the (new) King. He also loaned large sums to Henry V, and continued to be successful, as a member of parliament representing London, and even as a judge in usury trials in 1421! Henry V also appointed him supervisor of the funds for rebuilding Westminster Abbey.

He was a magnanimous figure. Money from him helped to rebuild the Guildhall (used as town hall for centuries). He financed drainage systems for parts of London, a ward for unmarried mothers at a hospital, the rebuilding of his ward's church, and "Whittington's Longhouse," a public toilet that seated 128 and was situated so that high tide in the River Thames would flush it out. His will left £7000 to rebuild Newgate Prison, repair St. Bartholomew's Hospital, install public drinking fountains, and more.

Historians know him well, but schoolchildren in England know the name for things he never did, and we will look at that next.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

John Carpenter's White Book

The Liber Albus or White Book was the first compilation of the laws of the City of London. It was assembled in 1419 by one John Carpenter, the Town Clerk of London, with whom it is so closely identified that a statue of Carpenter in the City of London School for Boys shows him holding the book!

The earliest firm date for Carpenter is 18 December 1378 when he was baptized in Hereford Cathedral. Later information says he was 45 in 1417, when he became Town Clerk of London, which would mean he was born about 1372. Records frequently list him as John Carpenter the younger, to distinguish him from two other men of that name who were active at that time. Oddly (to modern sensibilities), one of the other John Carpenters was his older brother, to whom he left much property when John the younger died in 1442.

The White Book was completed in 1419, the first time all of English Common Law (at least, as it pertained to the City of London) was compiled in a single document. A large part of it is given over to the regulation of the food trade and civic order. One scholar discusses how the document was put together with a specific agenda; Carpenter and the mayor who ordered the work were aiming to establish the City of London as the recipient of "ancient and sacrosanct privilege" not enjoyed by the rest of England. (This may have been partially because the King seized London's real estate in 1392, claiming that the City had been mismanaged.)

The mayor who ordered the work was Richard Whittington, one of the more prominent mayors of that century. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, you may be recalling the English folk tale Dick Whittington and His Cat. Yes, this is that Dick Whittington! And he—if you did not suspect already—deserves his own entry next.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Local Government, Part 2

A modern Aleconner [link]
We know that, in medieval London, an alderman held an assembly called a Wardmote every other year, at which attendance by every male in the ward over a certain age (with some exceptions) was required. The purpose of these meetings was manifold.

One major occurrence was to administer the "Oath of Frankpledge"; this was an oath that imposed upon each attendee an obligation to civic duty. (Knights and some others were exempt, since they owed allegiance to different authority.) The oath:

You shall swear, that you shall be good and true unto the King of England and to his heirs, Kings, and the King's peace shall you keep; and to the officers of the City you shall be obedient, and at all times that should be needful, you shall be ready to help the officers in arresting misdoers, and those disobedient to the King's peace, as well denizens as strangers.  And you shall be ready, at the warnings of the Constables and Beadles, to make the watches and other charges for the safeguard of the peace, and all the points in this Wardmote shown, according to your power, you shall well and lawfully keep. And if you know any evil coven within the Ward of the City, you shall withstand the same or unto your Alderman make it known. So God you help, and the Saints.
Regarding the line "as well denizens as strangers": A "citizen" was a native; a "denizen" was a foreigner residing locally; a "stranger" was someone present without a fixed local address. The potentially disruptive behavior of strangers (who of course had no oath of obligation to the municipality) was a constant concern. Since visitors had to stay somewhere, innkeepers were made responsible for the actions of their temporary tenants. In 1384, in London, innkeepers were required to answer for the customers' actions if the customers stayed longer than a single day and night. A guest whose behavior required the attention of the authorities could cost the innkeeper a fine of £100.

After the oath came the elections. Various positions needed to be filled by the male citizens. The Beadle [Old English bydel: "a person who makes a proclamation] was responsible for disseminating information orally in a society without Twitter or newspapers. He was the first "social medium." Also elected for a two-year term were aleconners, whose enviable job was to test bread, ale, and beer for quality. Scavengers had the less enviable task of finding and removing trash from public spaces.

These practices helped to maintain order in a large city such as London, by dividing it up into Wards of a more manageable size and putting responsibility into the hands of people who were neighbors of those they policed and served. Although written laws and contracts were used at this time, the verbal contract of the frankpledge served to bind the men to their obligations. The frankpledge quoted above comes from the Liber Albus, the White Book. We should talk about that next.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Local Government, Part 1

A village meeting.
What was the level of communication between the typical medieval citizen and the authorities? What role did the citizenry play in legislation?

Municipalities in the Middle Ages were much smaller than what we usually have now. Considering that 95% of the population was agrarian and needed land for sustainability, there might be only a few dozen families in a couple square miles, looking to each other for trade and the mutual benefit that comes from knowing all your neighbors. Everyone, or representatives of families, could easily spread the word to gather at the village square to discuss matters that applied to the entire community.

What happens in a town the size of London, however? Estimates for the middle of the 14th century (post-Plague) put London at 25,000 to no more than 50,000. How do you keep that large a population involved by "scaling up" the village model of meeting in the square?

Well, you break it down into villages, or rather, "wards."

London was divided into 24 wards, 12 on each side of the Walbrook. (The Walbrook is/was a river that flowed north to south and emptied into the Thames. It is one of the "lost rivers" of London. Yeah, I'll explain that some day.) A 25th was added in 1394 due to post-Plague growing population.

Each ward had an elected official, the alderman. Every other year, the alderman was required to hold a "ward mote" (from the Anglo-Saxon moot = assembly) of the residents of the ward. Well, not all residents. Everyone over the age of 15 was required to attend, including servants. Unless you were a woman (your husband or father would represent you), or a knight (your allegiance was to the king, not the ward), or his squire (you do what your knight tells you), or a clerk (university students were not yet trusted to be useful members of society), or an apprentice (the master you were apprenticed to would handle it, thanks).

For convenience, meetings were held in the principal church in the ward. A beadle would call the roll—two rolls, actually, to separate freemen from servants—to make sure everyone was there who was required. Those absent were fined four pence.

What was on the agenda? We will look at that next.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Population Density

In the Middle Ages, how many people lived in how much space? An economist who writes about cotton, migration and other topics (and has written a piece on why Westeros has gone millennia without an Industrial Revolution) has compiled data on what we know about populations in medieval countries and tried to produce estimates of population density.

The first point he makes is that sustainable population in 800CE is not the same as that of 1000 or 1300. Conditions change all the time in a society that does not have control over disease or natural disaster. He cites a widespread previous figure of 30-120 people per square mile and rejects it. Taking the total area of a country and our best knowledge of that country's population, the math works out to far fewer people.

Therefore, he offers figures such as France with about 68/square mile in 1300, Italy with between 60 and 95 folk per square mile, England and Wales with 11-30, Scotland with somewhere between 4 and 8, and Sweden and Norway with 1-4. This, of course, neglects wide swaths of a country that might be uninhabitable.

Also, what about the tendency of people to cluster together for mutual benefit? Well, in the many villages that dot the land, populations of a few hundred dominate. In fact, it looks like self-sufficiency in a typical medieval village averages about 300 people. (Incidentally, this is the same figure a 2010 government study determined the average person has in the "personal network": the number of people you know well enough to say you "know" them. link) Also, a country that is 95% agrarian needs space for crops and livestock, and so population density is still fairly low.

But what about urbanization? Let's look at London.

Best estimates for London in 1000 CE are 5000-10,000; three centuries later it is ten times that number. That changes radically because of the Plague, however, and in 1350 the population has dropped by half, say 25,000-50,000. This presents enormous challenges for governance. How do legislative decisions get made and disseminated when you cannot get the whole village in one place?

We will look at that next time.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Albert of Saxony & Impetus

After the previous post on impetus, I wanted to introduce you to Albert of Saxony, who took Avicenna's idea a step further.

Albert of Saxony (c.1320 - 8 July 1390) was the son of a German farmer who became a bishop of Halberstadt after studying at the University of Prague, the University of Paris, and the Sorbonne. He went to Pope Urban V as an envoy of Austria to negotiate the founding of the University of Vienna, whose rector he became in 1353.

A pupil of Jean Buridan in his youth, he was influenced by Buridan's teachings on logic and physics. He worked out his own theory of impetus, based on his predecessors and adding the third or "final" stage of a moving object. Prior to this, it was accepted that
1. the initial force causes the object to move in a straight line (A-B)
2. the object deviates from its path as impetus fades (B)

To this theory, Albert added the third stage:
3. the impetus or force which causes the initial movement is spent, and gravity draws the object downward vertically (C), where it stops (D).

Modern physics would describe this progression as an example of inertia. It seems obvious to us, but these ideas and their descriptions had to start somewhere!

The careful, methodical way in which he laid out his thoughts, and his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics, made him more widely read in the Middle Ages than Buridan. The widespread distribution of his works spread the ideas of the University of Paris throughout Italy and central Europe.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Theory of Impetus

1582 woodcut demonstrating
impetus with artillery
Impetus is the force or energy with which a body started to move. The term itself entered the English language in the 17th century, but the concept was studied long before that.

Aristotle thought that, for an object in motion to continue to move, it must have a continuous force behind it. John Philoponus in the 6th century thought rather that the initial force was necessary and did not need anything else, but that the initial force would therefore be only temporary; hence an object in motion's observed tendency to slow and stop. Avicenna in the 11th century agreed with him, calling the phenomenon "projectile motion."

In the 12th century, an Islamic philosopher, Hibat Allah Abu'l-Barakat al-Baghdaadi, recognized (finally!) that the motive force diminishes with distance from the mover.

Jean Buridan, writing in French in the 14th century, called this force "impetus" (from Latin impetere, "to assail"), and even expressed it mathematically: impetus = weight x velocity. Even he, however, treated impetus as if it were momentum. Modern physics distinguishes the two thusly: impetus is the initial force behind a moving object, momentum is "the quantity of motion of a moving body." It seems universally understood by anyone who has ever thrown a ball that Aristotle's option of a continuous motivating force is simply quaint.

Buridan understood that there was resistance (such as the air) that caused the impetus to fade. There was a case, however, in which impetus did not have resistance. God, when putting the celestial spheres in motion, did so in a way that created infinite impetus so that they would (obviously!) never stop moving.

To which the medieval world replied: Thank Heavens.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Birth of a Medievalist

This is a slightly different tack for DailyMedieval, but many fans of his fiction are unaware of his career as a medievalist.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 - 2 September 1973) graduated college with a specialty in Old Norse before he went not fight in World War I. After the war, his first job was working for the Oxford English Dictionary, reviewing the history and etymology of Germanic words. He became an expert in Old Norse, Old English, Middle English, Old Icelandic, Gothic, and Medieval Welsh. He also taught himself some Finnish.

Later, at the University of Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a translation of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that is still in print.

One of his most significant additions to medieval studies was his long essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics." Delivered as a lecture in 1936, it argued for the beauty of the poem as Early English literature. Up to this point, Beowulf had been used largely as a primer on the language of Old English/Anglo-Saxon, and picked apart for its references to places and names that could be matched to historical facts.

He describes the attitude toward the poem with a parable:
A man inherited a field in which was an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in building the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest he took some and built a tower. But his friends coming perceived at once (without troubling to climb the steps) that these stones had formerly belonged to a more ancient building. So they pushed the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to discover whence the man's distant forefathers had obtained their building material.
His essay created an atmosphere in which Beowulf could be seen as a poem worthy of being treated as a poem, not as an old document to be studied simply for clues to language and criticized as a dish-mosh of paganism and Christianity, mingled stories of heroism and monsters, history and myth.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ultima Thule

A 1537 rendition of Thule
On New Year's Eve 2018, a NASA probe transmitted pictures of Ultima Thule, an object 4 billion miles from Earth. "Ultima Thule" is not your typical astronomical naming convention.

Ultima Thule, or the "ultimate Thule," was first described about 300BCE by a Greek explorer named Pytheas. It was supposedly about six days north of Britain, a place so far from the natural world that land and sea and air were no longer separate substances, but instead formed a strange mixture in which one could not survive.

A thousand years after Pytheas, Isidore of Seville (mentioned here, also involving astronomy) explained Ultima Thule as being so far north that there was no daylight beyond it, making the sea cold and sluggish.

As stories of explorers (verified or not) appeared, Thule was identified and re-identified with lands farther and farther from mainland Europe. St. Brendan's voyages suggested new lands that historians thought might refer to Thule. The later Middle Ages decided it must refer to Iceland or Greenland. In early modern times, Norway became the candidate to explain early stories of a land that far north.

In the 20th century, the idea of Thule was co-opted by certain German writers and politicians as the legendary origin of the Aryan race. Fortunately, the 21st century has given it a new connotation.