Monday, March 31, 2014

The Alhambra Decree

There is an ethnic subdivision of Jews called Sephardic Jews. "Sephardic" comes from the Hebrew Sepharad, which referred to Hispania. More specifically, Sephardic Jews are those descended from Jews who lived in Spain in the 15th century. They migrated from the Middle East to The Iberian Peninsula/Sepharad/Hispania/Spain/ about 1000 CE.

Several weeks ago, the government of Spain passed a law that allows Sephardic Jews—no matter where they live, no matter in what country they currently have citizenship—to receive dual citizenship for the asking. Wherever they live now, they could receive Spanish citizenship without having to renounce citizenship elsewhere or even move to Spain. The reason, as explained in a recent  article in The Economist, is "righting an historical wrong."

The "historical wrong" was the Alhambra Decree.

The Alhambra Decree was issued on 31 March 1492 by the rulers of the majority of the Iberian Peninsula. (The peninsula comprised Portugal, Castile, Granada, Aragon, Navarre.) Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon ordered the expulsion of all Jews from their two kingdoms. The deadline for departure was 31 July 1492.*

Like England in an earlier century, a choice was offered: you may convert to Christianity and stay, or remain Jewish and leave, taking your possessions with you (except for gold, silver, currency, arms or horses). Refusing these choices meant immediate execution, and a non-Jew who aided a Jew through hiding him would suffer the loss of all property and privileges.

The Alhambra Decree, also known as the Edict of Expulsion, was formally revoked by Spain on 16 December 1968, as a result of reforms that came from the Second Vatican Council.

Where did the Jews go? What were their choices for a new homeland? There were a few options, some close by. But that's a topic for another day.

*Columbus departed on his maiden voyage across the Atlantic on 3 August, a mere four days after the Expulsion deadline.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Vikings - Art Imitates Life

A new TV show started in 2013 and has proven popular enough that it has been renewed for a couple more seasons. It is called "The Vikings." Its historicity would not be very satisfying to scholars, but it is very popular with audiences.

It centers on the character of Ragnar Lodbrok (in Old Norse that would look like Ragnarr Loðbrók). The saga of Ragnar is attached to the Norse Völsunga Saga ["Saga of the Volsungs," a clan that included Sigurd and therefore inspired the Nibelungenlied, the "Song of the Nibelungs"]. It tells us of Ragnar's quest for a wife, then for another wife, and of the deeds of their sons.

Ragnar actually had three marriages (in legend, that is: the exact truthfulness of the details of his existence cannot be proven). His first was to Lagertha, a Danish shield maiden. In the history written by Saxo Grammaticus, Lagertha got Ragnar's attention when she dressed as a man to fight against the Swedes who had killed King Siward of Norway. They married and had a son and two daughters.

Ragnar divorced her, however, so that he could marry Thora Borgarhjortr, the daughter of King Herraudr of Sweden. Despite that betrayal, Lagertha came to his aid when he dealt with a civil war in Denmark.*

Even later, Ragnar supposedly married Aslaug, who was the daughter of Sigurd (who killed Fafnir the Dragon in the Nibelungenlied) and Brunhild the Valkyrie. (It gets a little more mythical than usual here.)

Ragnar became a scourge of England and France. The invasion and pillaging of Paris on 28 March 845 is attributed to him.

King Aelle of Northumbria (who died on 21 March 867) was one of the English that Ragnar annoyed.  Aelle captured Ragnar and threw him in a pit of snakes. This would have happened prior to 865: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 865 states that the Great Heathen Army that invaded England was led by Ragnar's sons to avenge their father.

*On the TV show, the marriage between Ragnar and Lagertha didn't survive the first season; the writers had him take up directly with the seductive Aslaug, skipping over the more likely marriage to Thora.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dirty Jobs

Medieval Occupations [source]
In the Middle Ages, the lack of machinery meant any job that needed doing required someone to "get their hands dirty." But were any jobs considered "too dirty" to be respectable? In Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages by Jacques LeGoff,* we are given several reasons for jobs being scorned by the community—even if they were necessary—because of "ancient taboos."

One taboo was about blood. Spilled blood was not a good thing, and so those who dealt with blood were to be kept separate from the rest of the community: executioners and soldiers, of course, but also butchers and surgeons.

Another taboo involved filth and impurity. Dyers and fullers of cloth and textile workers had hands and skin stained by the chemicals used in their trades, and were considered unclean. Those who washed dishes and laundry also dealt with much dirt (even though the object was to make things clean), and were not high on the social ladder.

Money was a taboo, especially thanks to Biblical lessons about a rich man and the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:23-26 and other Gospels), Jesus upsetting the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Mark 11:15-19 and other Gospels), and the injunction against usury (Luke 19:22-23 and other Gospels).

Innkeepers and bath keepers ran places that could be the site of improper behavior. Tavernkeepers sold wine. Cooks were the purveyors of gluttony. Although not outlawed, all these professions were considered with suspicion.

One wonders how the middle class ever grew!

*University of Chicago Press 1980.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


A medieval market [source]
The post on the laws of Maldon mentioned this:
10. On market day no man shall regrate, nor sell meat, fish or other foodstuffs until the hour of prime, when the bell is rung.
A regrator was someone who purchased goods in a market for re-selling later for the purpose of making a profit.

Regrating made sense for the time: a vendor couldn't or didn't always travel around. A public market was in a fixed place and time of day so that people could find it. But what about those who couldn't make it to the market? A regrator who bought up fresh fish or bread in the morning could be the only source of fish when the fisherman or baker went back home in the afternoon.

Some communities considered this unfair to the merchant (brewer, baker, etc.) who produced the original wares. The Middle Ages therefore had many laws to protect those who brought their wares to market from having their business undermined by others. For example, regrators, when allowed by the town, were forbidden to sell at a higher price than the original price.

The assizes (court) had very strict rules about as well as against regrating. In Oxford, for instance, several regrators were actually licensed. Consider the Oxford culture: half of the town population were students—younger, unsupervised after classes were done, staying up late in the Halls. The demand for late food and drink was strong, and those who took on the job of regrators enabled bakers and brewers and others to enjoy their post-market lives and not be bothered at odd times by university students. (And the town took a fee from the regrator shops.) Remember the tradition of reresoper from this post.

In a world without 24-hour diners and fast-food joints with late-night drive-throughs, regrators could be a "necessary evil."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Laws in Maldon

Control your pig! [source]
The town of Maldon was mentioned recently as the site of a disastrous (for the Anglo-Saxons) battle. Maldon also is known for a detailed set of laws. Although the oldest manuscript we have is from the Court Book of March 1444, the laws were developed over centuries. Let's look at some:
1. The heir to a man's lands is to be the youngest son of his first wife. If the man only has daughters, the lands are to be divided between them, but the youngest may have first pick. If the children are underage, their mother (or stepmother, if applicable) shall be their guardian; if she fails to maintain the property, she shall lose guardianship to the nearest friends of the deceased. The widow has dower right in her late husband's property, even if she remarries – although the children are not to lose their inheritance as a result of her remarriage. 
10. On market day no man shall regrate,* nor sell meat, fish or other foodstuffs until the hour of prime, when the bell is rung. 
19. The owner of any pig allowed to run loose shall be fined 4d., of which 2d. to the town and 2d. to the man who finds the pig and drives it to the town pound. 
29. Any resident who places dung or wastes on the common roads shall be fined 40d. 
30. No resident may sell victuals within 5 miles of the town, under penalty of 6s.8d for the first offence and loss of franchise for the second. 
37. No Dutchman or other alien may bear a weapon, on pain of its confiscation. 
38. Every alien must be in his house by 10 o'clock in the summer and 8 o'clock in the winter; any officer or freeman may bring a defaulter to the hall to pay a fine or provide an excuse. 
40. No resident burgess is in anger to call a bailiff or wardemen by any name such as thief, knave, backbiter, whoreson, false, foresworn, cuckold, or bawd.
*"regrators" bought foodstuffs not to consume, but to re-sell at a profit, which took business away from legitimate food-sellers. Regrators were allowed in Oxford.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Happy Birthday, Son

In the Middle Ages, birthdays were not usually marked by the common people. They didn't keep calendars on the kitchen wall. Most people had some idea of when they were born, but "early May in the third year of King So-and-so's reign" was a common way of determining age.

Nobility were more likely to keep track of birth dates.

Bernard Plantapilosa was mentioned briefly once, as the brother of William of Septimania; their mother, Dhuoda, wrote a book of advice for her sons, the Liber Manualis. William did not do so well in his life; Bernard, as well, did not have a stellar career.

Even Bernard's nickname refers to appearance rather than actions. We don't know when he first earned the nickname Plantapilosa, which comes from Old Aquitainian and means "Hairy appearance," but it stuck.

While he was Margrave of Septimania, he married and had a son, William. William had a more distinguished career than his father, but that's not why I mention him. He was born on 22 March 875.

Did the Middle Ages think it interesting to have father and son sharing a birthday? Did they take note of coincidences the same way we do? Is there a good reason for both men to be born on the same date? Is there some significance that the birthdays are on the Vernal Equinox? Nine months prior to the vernal equinox is the summer solstice. In 9th century Francia, did christians still see June 24th, Midsummer's Day, as a time for celebrations?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Anne of Kiev & Culture Shock

Kiev is in the news a lot lately, and it makes me think of Anne of Kiev, whose name at birth was Anna Yaroslavna, an 11th century queen of France.

Statue of Anna in Senlis, France
When King Henry I of France became a widower upon the death of Matilda of Frisia in 1044, he searched for a suitable replacement bride. Unfortunately, because of laws of consanguinity, he could not find anyone in Europe who was both of marriageable age and not related to him! Therefore, he looked further afield, finally sending a delegation to Kiev, whose culture, called the Kievan Rus, was enjoying something of a golden age (before it was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1240).

His years-long search for a new bride over, Henry and Anna married on 19 May 1051, in Reims Cathedral. A year later, she bore Henry a son, Philip I. "Philip" was not a common name in France prior to this; it may be that the Greek name was introduced by Anna: the area around Kiev was identified with Scythia, which was supposedly converted to Christianity by St. Philip, making his name important to that culture.

The political alliance formed by this marriage was fortunate for France: it gave them links to important families in Byzantium and Sweden; it gave them an ally in Kiev on the far side of France's potential rival, the Holy Roman Empire. But the transition from Kiev to France could not have been easy for Anna. In a letter to her father, she says France is "a barbarous country where the houses are gloomy, the churches ugly and the customs revolting."

Anna was accustomed to a very different society. She knew five languages, including Greek and Latin, and considered the majority of Franks illiterate—including her new husband, who signed his name with an "X". She was also used to fancier dining: her wedding feast had only three courses, whereas at home she was accustomed to five courses at dinner.

When Henry died in 1060, she continued to show her intellect by acting as regent for young Philip and impressing many with her political acumen, including Pope Nicholas II, who wrote a very friendly letter to her, praising her for her wisdom and piety.

That piety and wisdom did not prevent her from the emotional act of falling for Count Ralph III of Valois, who decided to marry Anna in 1062. Unfortunately, this upset Count Ralph's wife, who felt that being told "I don't want you any more" was not sufficient as a divorce proceeding. She appealed to Pope Alexander II, who declared Ralph an adulterer and excommunicated the couple. Ralph, who would not return to his former wife, died in 1074. Anna returned to court, forgiven by her son. She died a year later.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Æthelred the Unready

From a 14th century manuscript
Since Æthelred keeps getting mentioned here (most notably the past two days, due to the contested inheritance of the English throne between him and his half-brother, Edward the Martyr), I thought maybe we should mention a little more about him—or at least explain his not-very-flattering nickname.

When his father, King Edgar, died Æthelred was only about 10 years old. His half-brother, Edward, was a few years older. Edward was illegitimate, whereas Æthelred was the legitimate son of Edgar's last wife, Ælfthryth. Ælfthryth and others fought to have Æthelred succeed Edgar, but others fought for the older Edward, who wound up ruling for three years.

It is highly unlikely that the then-13-year-old Æthelred had anything to do with Edward's death on 18 March 978. Æthelred was crowned a month later.

One of the chief problems faced by Æthelred was attacks by the Danes. About a year after Æthelred became king, small groups of Danes began making raids on the English coast; these happened for a couple years. Then, after a six-year span of peace, a Danish incursion caused a battle between them and the nobles of Devon. England was able at this time to successfully defend itself, but there was an interesting side-effect of these raids, and that was the connection to Normandy.

Upon occasion, the Danes would leave England and cross the Channel to Normandy to give themselves time to rest and recuperate. The Normans ("North Men"), being of Scandinavian extraction originally, "took the side" of the Danes and started viewing England as a rival. Relations between England and Normandy started becoming hostile, so much so that Pope John XV decided to step in and broker a peace treaty between the two nations, in 991. A couple generations later, relations between England and Normandy would change radically, in 1066.

991 also saw the Battle of Maldon, in which the Danes did terrible damage to parts of England and the English nobility. After Maldon,  Æthelred decided that England should pay the Danes to stay away. This started a dangerous precedent: paying off one group of Danes was no guarantee that another (or the same group) wouldn't come back and attack your shores in 997, 998, 999, 1000, and again in 1001. There were more payments, but they were followed by more invasions.

This is a runestone in Sweden,
set up to commemorate a man
who received Danegeld three
due to raids in England.
Were the payments a good idea? This idea of Danegeld ["Dane gold"] wasn't new: even King Alfred the Great had seen fit to use money to ensure peace. It was a way to get a marauder to go away and leave lives and crops and property intact. Still, it marred Æthelred's reputation, and may have led to his nickname.

"Unready" suggests to modern readers that he was not prepared for the problems that beset his reign. His Anglo-Saxon name and nickname were Æthelred Unræd, which we translate today as "Æthelred the Unready." The ræd element means "counsel" or "advice." The name Æthelred Unræd would be a pun meaning "Noble advice, no advice." The "blame" (if that is what we should assign due to his nickname) may be imputed to his councilors, who gave him bad advice. It is the modern English understanding of the word "Unready" that makes us condemn him personally for not being prepared for what befell England while he was on the throne.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Edward the Martyr's Death

Edward's murder at Corfe Castle
The death of the 16-year-old Edward the Martyr in 978 was not one of England's finest moments. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described it simply:
“This year was King Edward slain, at eventide, at Corfe-gate, on the fifteenth day before the calends of April. And he was buried at Wareham without any royal honour. No worse deed than this was ever done by the English nation since they first sought the land of Britain. Men murdered him but God has magnified him.” [Entry for 978]
The popular explanation, from later accounts, is that Ælfthryth gave him a poisoned cup, or gave him a cup of mead to drink that distracted him so that others could kill him. One account says that she killed him herself. Her motive would have been to clear the throne for her own son, Æthelred, who was a younger son of King Edgar.

In 980, according to the A-SC, “Alderman Ælfhere fetched the body of the holy King Edward at Wareham, and carried him with great solemnity to Shaftsbury.” Edward's body was found to have the saintly quality of being uncorrupted, and his reputed holiness drew many pilgrims to his grave. He began to be thought of as a saint.

In 1001, his remains were moved to a more prominent place in Shaftesbury. Although he was never canonized, royal decree in 1008 confirmed his recognition all over England as worthy of veneration.

Then it gets interesting.

During the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII (mentioned many times, such as here), Edward's relics were hidden elsewhere in the church in order to save them from destruction.

Their whereabouts were unknown after that for 400 years.

In 1931, an archaeological dig found some bones in a casket under the church. An osteologist in 1970 determined that they were the bones of a young male who had died a violent death; everyone agreed that they had found Edward the Martyr. The director of the ongoing excavation (and owner of the land) announced that he was seeking a final resting place for the bones of this English saint. There were conditions:
  1. that they were recognised as the relics of a saint,
  2. that a shrine would be established for their reception, and
  3. that his feast days would be observed. [link]
The (half-hearted) search was on. Then an odd player joined the negotiations.

In 1979, a schism hit the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece. Unhappy with the current administration by Archbishop Auxentius, the breakaway group called itself the "Orthodox Church of Greece - Holy Synod in Resistance. " They contacted the possessor of the bones and said "We'll do it!" They founded, in 1982, a monastic group called St. Edward the Martyr Orthodox Brotherhood, housed in a monastery inside Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, south of London.

In December 1988, over 1000 years after his death, Edward the Martyr's remains were formally brought to their final (?) resting place in the Church of St. Edward the Martyr, Brookwood.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Edward the Martyr

One of the shortest reigns in the history of England was that of Edward the Martyr, from 975 until 978. Edward, who was born c. 962, was not his father's choice of a successor, but succession wasn't automatic. When King Edgar died, a conflict came about between Edward and his younger brother, Æthelred the Unready. Edward was supported by two archbishops, while other ealdormen (nobles) were for Ethelred.

On of the reasons for the dispute over the choice was that, although Edward was a few years older than Æthelred, Edward's legitimacy was questioned. He was certainly a son of Edgar, but his mother's identity is not clearly reorder; one story is that Edgar seduced a nun.

Edward's reign was marred by a comet that appeared shortly after his coronation. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims that the comet presaged famine and many other disturbances. His father's choices also caused trouble. Edgar had reformed the monasteries, giving them more land so that they could support themselves. This meant taking land away from the nobles that possessed them. With Edgar dead, retaliation by the nobles who would like their land back almost led to a civil war. Nobles forced monasteries to relinquish their extra lands.

Edward was barely a teenager when he was crowned, and the running of the country was probably handled by others. There are very few royal records relating to his reign, suggesting either very little being done or a lot of "under the table" decisions by his councilors.

He was killed on 18 March 978, while visiting the half-brother who became his successor. One story is that Æthelred's mother, Ælfthryth, distracted him with a drink while he was visiting them at Corfe Castle, whereupon men attacked him. Other accounts (not written until later) claim simply that he was martyred, or that he was killed by several supporters of Æthelred while he was dismounting from his horse. Most accounts agree that he was buried with no honors. Later, however, his body was removed to Shaftesbury Abbey, where it became the focus of worship by many because, when they dug him up, his body was found to be uncorrupted, a sign of sanctity. A cult grew up that venerated him as a saint, although he was never formally canonized.

Monday, March 17, 2014

One for Cat Lovers

from Limburg Cathedral
It is 17 March, and normally St. Patrick gets all the attention today, but he is not the only saint whose feast day is celebrated on this date (although, arguably, his feast day is celebrated more heartily than any other saint).

Take a close look at the lower-left corner of the stained glass window pictured here. You will see a rodent gazing up at the saint, who gazes gently down at it. This is Saint Gertrude, patron of travelers and cat lovers.

Gertrude of Nivelles was born c. 626 to Pippin/Pepin of Landen, a 7th century Mayor of the Palace under Dagobert I (previously mentioned here and here). As daughter of a Mayor of the Palace (who was himself very powerful and not just a chamberlain to the king), she would have had some status—at least, as a link to the family. The story goes that King Dagobert wanted to make a political alliance by marrying her to the son of the Duke of Austrasia. She refused, claiming she would take no earthly spouse, but rather Christ the Lord. That she was able to refuse the king's wishes attests to the power of her family.*

After Pippin's death, his wife, Itta, took control of Gertrude's life and career. The biography written about her—Vita Sanctae Geretrudis—tells that her mother tonsured her, cutting off all her hair except for a crown shape, in order to mark her for the religious life and prevent the prospect of marriage. A close examination of the Vita suggests that it as written by someone who was contemporary with Gertrude, and may have witnessed some of the events involved first-hand.

Itta founded an abbey in Nivelles, in the center of what is now Belgium. Itta also contacted Irish monks led by Saint Foillan, who settled at Nivelles. Foillan seems to have been a bishop, whose status helped give authority to the founding and organizing of Nivelles.

Gertrude has miracles attributed to her. The first was when she observed a transparent flaming globe descend and float above her while praying in the basilica. The second is when the invocation of her name by some men sailing on the monastery's business causes a storm and a sea monster both to fade away. This makes her the patron saint of travelers. She and her mother supposedly kept cats in order to control the rodent population in the monastery, which makes her the patron saint of cats and cat lovers; or, at least, the patron saint against mice.

She fasted and deprived herself frequently, which took a toll on her body. She died on 17 March 659, aged only (but symbolically) 33 years. The author of the Vita claims her cell was filled with a pleasant odor at her death; this is the "Odor of Sanctity" associated with saints.

*I have written before of the power of the Mayors of the Palace and their eventual supplanting of the Merovingian kings, creating the Carolingian dynasty. At least one scholar believes that Gertrude's marriage to an eventual Austrasian Duke would have been advantageous for her family and led to a takeover from the Merovingian line even sooner. (Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500-900.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sir Thomas Malory, Crook

Today is the 543rd anniversary of the death of Thomas Malory. While the year 1471 might be a little late for the Middle Ages, Thomas Malory has an important role in our view of things that are medieval—one thing in particular.

from a 1405 French History of Merlin
Malory's claim to fame is as the author of Le Morte d'Arthur [Middle French: "The Death of Arthur"], a collection of romances published by William Caxton about King Arthur and members of his court. Most of the stories existed prior to Malory, but he added some original material to them. The details of the Morte are considered the primary literary source for modern re-tellings of the Arthurian legend. As with many authors, his actual identity has been the subject of speculation. There were several "Thomas Malory"s around the time, but we think we've narrowed down to the right one...

...and he was a criminal.

Probably born between 1415 and 1418, he was knighted by October 1441 and became a soldier under the Duke of Warwick. In 1443 he was accused of attacking a Thomas Smythe and robbing him of £40. Then, in 1450, he was accused of leading an ambush against the Duke of Buckingham. That same year, he stole items worth £40 from a house in Monks Kirby and raped the lady of the house.* In the next year or so, he became an extortionist, trying to get 100 shillings from one couple and 20 shillings from another man.

He committed many other offenses against both people and property, mostly against people we know to have been followers of the Duke of Buckingham, who was a rival of the Duke of Warwick. It is possible (but not, to a modern audience, excusable), that his actions may have been somehow sanctioned by his loyalty to Warwick.

This being the right Thomas Malory would explain the references to him in manuscripts as a "knight prisoner" and the statements at the end of some of the romances. One romance ends with "For this was written by a knight prisoner Thomas Malleorre, that God send him good recovery." Another ends with "And I pray you all that readeth this tale to pray for him that this wrote, that God send him good deliverance soon and hastily." It seems that Malory wrote while he had plenty of time on his hands—in jail.

It is ironic that the author of the collection of tales that exemplify the high ideals of chivalry was himself not a very chivalrous man.

*To be fair, "rape" was also a common accusation for consensual sex with another man's wife.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pagan Pope

Pope Innocent I was an early-5th century Italian pope. The Liber Pontificalis ["Book of Popes"] says he was the son of a man who was also named Innocent. It is believed, however, that the Liber was composed over a hundred years after Innocent's death—and its purpose seems to be one of papal propaganda—and so its accuracy is often questioned. Jerome, who was a contemporary of Innocent and wrote about the popes, claims Innocent was the son of Pope Anastasius I (died 19 December 401), who was Innocent's immediate predecessor as pope—a unique occurrence.

He was mentioned in Daily Medieval previously, when John Cassian appealed to him on behalf of the exiled (St.) John Chrysostom. This opportunity to weigh in would have pleased Innocent: he seemed to be concerned with formalizing and centralizing the authority of the Catholic Church in the person of the pope. He also wrote to various bishops, "confirming" authority they had been granted by previous popes, and thereby establishing the papacy itself as the authority. Through various letters (that still exist), we see Innocent using Roman Catholic practices to settle disputes and establish discipline and policy in far-flung dioceses.

Innocent did everything he could to quell heresies among the faithful, such as Montanism, which seemed to differ from mainstream Christianity in that inspiration received directly from the Holy Spirit superseded any words of Jesus or the popes; and Pelagianism, which taught that Original Sin did not stain each human, that Adam died through natural causes (and not because Sin had flawed him), that good works were possible without God's grace, and other beliefs.

So what's this rumor about allowing pagan practices (reported by the historian Zosimus)?

Well, Innocent was in Rome when Alaric I and the Goths arrived, bringing Arianism. Although the Goths respected Roman culture and wanted to rule it rather than destroy it, they so thoroughly overwhelmed the Roman forces and civil structure that perhaps there was pressure to accommodate their Arianism, and this is what Zosimus refers to. As it happens, Catholic Christianity was so ingrained in Roman society by that time that apparently there was no noteworthy rise in pagan ceremonies.

Innocent died on 12 March, 417. He was succeeded by Pope Zosimus (no relation to the historian), who also struggled with Pelagianism.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The King's Ward/Mistress

Little is known about Ida de Tosny, but she was likely the daughter of Ralph de Tosny (c.1130 - 1162) and Margaret Beaumont. Orphaned at a young age, she was lucky enough to be given to the protection of the King, Henry II.

She first enters the public record in Christmas 1181, when she is married (quite advantageously for her) to Robert Bigod, the 2nd Earl of Norfolk. Robert's father had joined Henry's sons when they rebelled against their father inn 1173-74, so the family lands had been confiscated. The estates—Acle, Halvergate, and South Walsham, all in Norfolk—were returned to Robert (who had remained loyal to Henry) upon his marriage. He did not, however, get his father's earldom until 1189.

Robert and Ida were loyal to the royal family, and provided several (four boys and two girls) loyal children. Their eldest, Hugh, became the third Earl of Norfolk and married a daughter of the powerful William Marshall.

Ida doesn't really become more interesting until long after her death, when a charter is discovered connected to William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury; it refers to Comitissa Ida, mater mea ["Countess Ida, my mother"]. William was known to be an illegitimate child of Henry II, but his maternity was not known prior to this stray comment. It had been assumed (but the rumors came long after his lifetime) that his mother was Rosamund Clifford, Henry's best-known mistress. Clearly, Henry treated Ida as something more than a ward.

And that's all the historical significance we can find for Ida de Tosny, except that she does become, with her husband, a character in the historical novels of Elizabeth Chadwick, most notably The Time of Singing. Immortality can come from very small occurrences, sometimes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

William Longespée

19th c. painting of
The Battle of Damme (mentioned yesterday) was led by the 3rd Earl of Salisbury, a man named William Longespée. William, born about 1176, remained loyal to the royal family throughout his life, probably because they were very good to him.

In 1188, still a teenager, King Henry II gave him the Appleby estate in Lincolnshire. In 1196, the second Earl of Salisbury having just died, King Richard married William off to the Earl's nine-year-old daughter, Ela. This made William the 3rd Earl of Salisbury jure uxoris ["by right of marriage"]. Although it was merely a political match that rewarded William (and put Salisbury into safe hands), William and Ela had several children; the eldest, William II, was born c. 1212.

During John's reign, William was given responsibility for several other positions: warden of the Welsh Marches (this was before Wales was divided into English counties); sheriff of (at different times) Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire; and the very powerful (but now just ceremonial) Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, with authority over  collecting taxes and dealing with crimes at the five important ports on the southern coast.

Besides commanding the expeditions to Wales and Ireland, William led the fleet that did so much damage to the French and brought back so much wealth for the Battle of Damme. He went up against the French again when he was sent to support England's ally, Otto IV of Germany, against Philip. Unfortunately, his efforts in that area failed, and he was captured and ransomed.

Back in England, he sided with John against the rebellious barons that led to the Magna Carta. In the civil war that followed, William led the forces of John in the south. Later, he would be loyal to John's son, Henry III, receiving more honors from him.

The reason he was in such good standing with the royal family is because he was John's half-brother. William was the illegitimate son of Henry II and the Countess Ida de Tosny, who was Henry's ward at the time.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Battle van Damme

A naval battle, from a ms. dated late 13th/early 14th century
We are accustomed to summing up the reign of King John (1199 - 1216) as a failure. His rebellious barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta; he lost the crown jewels; he gained the nickname "Lackland" [Johan sanz Terre] when he lost Normandy. As it happens, however, his reign was  not without successes.

At the end of May in 1213, King Philip II of France (mentioned here) was fighting in Flanders (someday I will get to that story). It was known that France thought John weak, and was planning an invasion of England.  John decided it was prudent to send his forces to Flanders and try to deal with Philip there, while he was already busy in conflict with someone else.

So John sent 500 ships and 700 knights, along with mercenaries and all the extra servants and other non-combatant personnel that a military campaign requires. His fleet made for the estuary of the river Zwyn on 30 May, where they encountered Philip's fleet, anchored at the town known as Damme. The French fleet was over three times the size of England's; rather than present a problem however, the fleet was manned by a skeleton crew, the military all having gone shore to march to Ghent for their battle.

The English captured a few hundred ships, burned a hundred more; the following day, they did it again, as well as disembarking and attacking the town. Unfortunately, Philip returned to Damme that day, and the English had to flee. They were in possession of hundreds of French ships, however, as well as all the goods that the French nobles carried with them while traveling. One writer of the period claimed "never had so much treasure come into England since the days of King Arthur."*

The damage to the French fleet was considerable, and not just from the deliberate actions of the English: there was so much debris from destroyed ships that the estuary was blocked, and the remaining French fleet could not sail out to open water. Philip had to abandon or burn the remainder of his ships.

*The biographer of William Marshall, in L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal ["The History of William the Marshall"]

Friday, March 7, 2014

Reccared's Reign

Reccared chairs he Third Council of Toledo
(you can buy the poster)
Imagine being a king. You do your best for your country:
  • Unite various territories of the peninsula
  • Defend against Frankish attacks
  • Establish a new set of laws that offer equality to all
  • Killing your own rebellious son to preserve your kingdom and its religion
  • Create new currency
...and then your favorite other son changes everything after your death.

Poor Liuvigild, King of the Visigoths on the Iberian Peninsula. A steadfast Arian Christian, when his son Hermengild converted to Catholic Christianity and rebelled he had to deal with it harshly, didn't he?

Upon Liuvigild's death in 586, his other son, Reccared, became king. Bishop Leander of Seville, who had converted Liuvigild's elder son Hermengild and was therefore exiled by Liuvigild, returned to Spain shortly after. Leander convened the Third Council of Toledo in May 589, which Reccared hosted. During the Council, Reccared read a statement—a statement so theologically astute that the assumption is it was written for him by Leander—in which he accepted Catholic Christianity, rejecting Arianism and declaring Catholic Christianity the official religion of his Visigothic lands.

Many nobles followed his example. The Hispano-Roman indigenous population that the Visigoths had conquered in Spain was largely delighted with the change of heart in ruling class. Reccared's reign is considered an important turning point in the history of eliminating one of the major rivals to Catholic Christianity.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Legacy of Liuvigild

Liuvigild on one of his campaigns
detail from an ivory reliquary, 11th c.
Liuvigild was mentioned yesterday as the Visigothic King in the Iberian peninsula who killed his own son, Hermengild, after the son was converted from Arian Christianity to Roman Catholic Christianity. Liuvigild then exiled Bishop Leander of Seville who was responsible for converting Hermengild and preaching against Arianism.

Sounds pretty harsh. There's always at least one other side to a story, however.

Liuvigild ruled Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) and Septimania (a territory in what is now southern France, on the Mediterranean). He was born about 525. He first came to the throne in 568, when his brother, King Liuva I, named Liuvigild co-king and heir. At his brother's death in 571/2, he became sole ruler, and set about to make sure all the Iberian Peninsula was united, a goal he largely accomplished by 577.

One of his acts as king was to revise the Codex Euricianus ["Code of Euric"], a set of laws designed before 480 by King Euric of the Visigoths. The earlier version stratified society between Goths and non-Goths. Liuvigild's version, called the Codex Revisus ["Revised Code"], gave equal rights to both the Visigoths under his rule and the conquered Hispano-Roman population.

He was married twice. His first wife, Theodosia, bore him two sons, Hermengild and Reccared. After her death, he married the widow of Athanagild, who had been king before Liuva and Liuvigild. Reccared became his father's favorite; Liuvigild even founded a city which he named after Reccared: Recopolis.

Liuvigild also minted a new coin, based on a Roman design. The Visigoths, by virtue of moving into and taking over much of the Roman Empire, considered themselves its heirs. Liuvigild struck a coin with a design that resembled one that had just been produced by the Byzantine Emperor Tiberius II.

Liuvigild died in 586. He was succeeded by Reccared.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Leander of Seville

Commentary on Job being given from
Pope Gregory to Bishop Leander of Seville
St. Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636) has been mentioned here before as the author of a popular encyclopedia of information and etymologies. He was not the only saint in the family, however. His brother, Leander (c. 534 – 13 March 600/601), was also made a saint.*

Leander was Bishop of Seville (a position later held by Isidore), using his authority in political ways: he tried to convert Hermengild, the son of the Arian Christian King of the Visigoths in Spain, to Roman Catholic Christianity. Hermengild converted, his father King Liuvigild got angry, and suddenly Leander was exiled.

He traveled to the other end of the Mediterranean, where he continued to oppose Arianism by writing treatises against it. Here he met and became friends with the man who would later become Pope Gregory the Great, (mentioned here). The two remained in contact, and letters that passed between them still exist.

Hermengild, the rebellious son, was put to death by his father (and therefore became a martyr in the Catholic Church). Luvigild died in 589, and sometime after that Leander returned to Spain, convoking the Third Council of Toledo that renounced Arianism. Bishop Leander spent the rest of his life fighting heresy in Spain. When he died, in 600/601, Isidore became bishop in his place.

*As were their siblings, Florentina and Fulgentius.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Crimea

The much-disputed Crimean Peninsula
On the north coast of the Black Sea, a peninsula extends from the southern part of Ukraine. If you look at enough of its history, you will find numerous occupants: Turks and Italians, Greeks and Goths, Huns and Scythians and Bulgars. One of the earliest occupants of the peninsula were the Cimmerians, an Indo-European tribe that lived there long before the Common Era, presumably driven south by the Scythians from their homeland north of the Caucasus. For a long time it was called Taurica after the Taures, a Cimmerian group. The best guess regarding the derivation of "Crimea" is that it comes from "Cimmerian."

Invasions took place throughout the Classical and Medieval Eras. A group now referred to as Crimean Tatars (descendants of the Mongols of Genghis Khan fame) thrived there in the Middle Ages. Despite their numbers, the Tatars did not always control the territory. Venice created several settlements on the coast in order to control trade on the Black Sea; these were taken over by Genoa in the 13th century and controlled by them for the next two centuries.

...and here's an interesting tie-in to one of the best-known events of the Middle Ages. The first appearance of the Black Death in medieval Europe came on twelve Genoese ships coming from the east in October 1347 and landing in Sicily. It is entirely possible that Crimean ports were the source of the Plague.

In the era of Tamerlane, the Crimean Tatars finally asserted control over most of the area—except the Genoese towns—establishing the Crimean Khanate in 1441 under the rule of a descendant of Genghis Khan. The Genoese towns were finally captured, but not by the Tatars. The Ottoman Empire conquered the Genoese towns, then took the current Crimean Khan captive. He was released after the Tatars recognized the sovereignty of the Ottomans.

In the late 1700s, a treaty between the warring Russian and Ottoman Empires left the Crimean Peninsula in the hands of Russia, one step closer to the present controversy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Uniting the Kingdom

It was on today's date, 3 March, in 1284 that Wales was incorporated into England via the Statute of Rhuddlan. Wales had been connected to England prior to this, but as its own country with its own ruler, even though he owed allegiance to the King of England.

Wales experienced frequent rebellions—not just against England, but also internally. See this post for the examples that led to the Statute of Rhuddlan. Dafydd ap Gruffydd (1238-3 October 1282), a Prince of Gwynedd and grandson of Llewelyn the Great, rebelled with the King of England against his own brother, and then against England. Because the King of England was the feudal lord of the Prince of Wales, Dafydd's rebellion against England was seen as treason, and so he was subjected to the "Ultimate Torture."

After the trouble with Dafydd, King Edward I decided to bring Wales more solidly under English rule. It was divided into counties, the governing of which was determined by the gift of the King of England. The King's son would be named Prince of Wales until the time that he would be crowned king in his turn—this would eliminate the need for the Prince of Wales to rebel against England.

After Rhuddlan, England's common law became (for the most part) Wales' laws, except that they were administered from Caernarvon instead of Westminster. Laws of inheritance were one of the areas with the greatest change. In Wales prior to Rhuddlan, partible inheritance was the norm, with property divided amongst several male heirs rather than keeping the property intact. Also, an illegitimate son could inherit. England allowed partible inheritance to continue, but forbade inheritance by illegitimate children. If that meant there was no legitimate male heir to pass property to, women were now entitled to inherit.