Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Rammelsberg Mine

It all started when a knight, Ritter Ramm, was sent by Emperor Otto I to find game while visiting Harzburg. It was winter, with snow everywhere, but Ramm saw a track to follow. The track went high up a mountain into dense forest. When the trail became too steep for the safety of his horse, he decided to go on foot, tying the horse to a tree. Ramm found plenty of game, and returned to his horse. The horse, restless, had scraped the ground with its hoof, exposing a vein of something shiny. Ramm dug up a few pieces of the ore to take back to the Emperor. (Not the first time a horse led to an important place.)

Otto sent miners to to dig and open shafts; they settled in Goslar, the town just north of the mountain. Thus were the silver mines of Rammelsberg established in 968 (according to Widukind of Corvey, a Saxon historian). The mine became such an important source of imperial wealth that Henry II of Germany in 1005 had an Imperial Palace built in Goslar. The mines were used as an imperial bargaining chip and captured/destroyed/rebuilt over the years during different political disputes, but eventually became the responsibility of Goslar in 1359. Possession/control would keep changing over the centuries, including by the Hanseatic League, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, Henry V of Brunswick, the Kingdom of Hanover, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Nazis in the 1930s.

The ores from Rammelsberg produced silver, lead, copper, and zinc. An estimated 30 million tons was extracted over the thousand-year period since its discovery, providing the silver for countless millions of coins, etc. It was closed down on 30 June 1988. Goslar has turned the Rammelsberg mine complex into a museum.

While on the subject of precious metals and coins, I said yesterday that I would tell you about a man with "too much" gold, and I will: tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Silver and Gold

Roman gold mine
The Roman Empire was a far-reaching entity that gave the northern Mediterranean and Western Europe access to resources from the East and Africa. Spices come to mind, but gold is another resource that became more scarce after the Roman Empire started to crumble and its territories further from Rome became independent kingdoms. A lot of gold came from Nubia in the upper reaches of the Nile. Egypt was an enormous source of gold for the ancient world. (By far the most gold mined these days comes from North and South America.)

Europe hungered for gold, but did not have mines in which to find it. It did exist, however, in smaller amounts in rivers, where it could be panned.

What Europe and Britain did have was silver, and so silver coins dominated Western European currencies, especially after the 938CE discovery of enormous deposits of silver (along with lead and copper) in Rammelsberg in eastern Germany. Further discoveries of silver in the Black Forest, Freiberg, Bohemia, and the Alps fed the appetite for coins and jewelry for much of the Middle Ages, boosting the economy. It is estimated that in the 1220s, England minted 4,000,000 silver pennies, rising to 40,000,000 between 1279 and 1281.

Gold was found in 1320 in Slovakia, and smaller amounts were found later in France, Germany, and Britain. The High Middle Ages began to see gold used for more artwork, particularly ecclesiastical items, chalices, reliquaries, etc. Gold coins could also be minted outside of the Byzantine Empire.

Too much gold, however, can be a problem for the economy. Soon I'll tell you about a man who had too much gold. First, however, a little more about Rammelsberg.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Other French Currency

The franc was coined by King John the Good in 1360 to help stabilize the currency in France and try to generate the millions he needed to pay off Edward III of England for his ransom (he had been captured during the Battle of Poitiers). It was used for almost 300 years, then reintroduced post-Revolution (in 1795) in decimal form, remaining popular up to (and including) the introduction of the euro. In 1960, the unit of currency was re-named "new franc" and declared worth 100x the "old" franc. Eventually "new" was dropped and it was simply "franc" again.

Prior to the franc, there were many currencies used in France, many of them based on the livre tournois (the "Tours pound"). There was no livre tournois coin, because it was the equivalent of one pound of silver; it was used as a unit of measurement for accounting purposes. Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne, created a long-standing system of currency for the French (and English) when he made the livre (pound) equivalent to 20 sous or sols (shillings), each of which was divided into 12 denier (pennies, seen in the illustration). The only coin minted in this system was the denier; the other two "coins" were simply used for convenience to describe larger numbers of denier.

Around 1000 CE the Capetians introduced the French Mark as a unit equivalent to 16 sols or 192 denier. Kings tried to establish a fixed standard for the livre and the Paris pound or livre Parisi was born, but the livre tournois became the standard for accounting during the reign of Louis IX in 1266.

The Hundred Years War saw the livre depreciating, and King John tried to correct this with the franc. It was called that as the short form of the inscription Johannes Dei Gratia Francorum Rex (Latin: "John by the grace of God king of the French"). The franc was now worth an entire livre tournois.

For most of the history of French currency, silver was used, while gold was more common in Byzantine currency. Did Western Europe have less accessibility to gold than other parts of the world? Let's talk about getting gold next time.

Monday, June 27, 2022

King John the Hostage

King John the Good of France was captured during the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and taken to England as a hostage, hosted by King Edward. He was given grand lodgings along with his son Philip, where he could have horses and pets, travel the country, dine in grand style, and have a court astrologer and musicians. As a king and peer of Edward, he was going to be treated royally.

The Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 exchanged John for 83 other hostages while waiting for cash payments totaling three million écus. Edward would renounce his claim to the French throne, and France would allow him to hold several areas without owing allegiance to the French throne. John also gave over to England two of his sons: Louis I the Duke of Anjou, and John, Duke of Berry; they were held in Calais, under English control.

In 1362, Louis of Anjou decided he had enough and escaped captivity, against the terms of the treaty. King John was appalled, and felt honor-bound to return to captivity in England. He ultimately was hosted at the Tower of London, where he died in 1364.

Every account of John's captivity and freedom and return mentions that he minted the franc when he first was released in order to stabilize the French economy. Since I've been talking about currency recently, I suppose it's fair to give the franc its moment in the spotlight. See you next time.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Give and Take of Hostages

Probably the easiest way to sum up the medieval view of hostages is a line from Adam Costa's Hostages in the Middle Ages:

In medieval Europe, hostages were given, not taken. They were a means of guarantee used to secure transactions ranging from treaties to wartime commitments to financial transactions.

The word itself has caused debate among etymologists. Some sources think it is related to the Latin hostis, "stranger." It seems more likely it is from Old French ostage, which was used for both pledge or bail and kindness or hospitality. In turn this was from Latin obsidanus, meaning literally "to sit before" and meaning people who were hostages.

A hostage was a pledge of financial payment or cooperation. One example was Philip of Courtenay. Another was William Marshal. William served five English kings, starting with Henry II. When he was a boy, his father, John, opposed King Stephen in favor of the Empress Matilda (this was during "The Anarchy"). Stephen was besieging John's Newbury Castle, and John promised he would eventually surrender the castle and offered William as hostage/surety for his promise.

John used the time it bought him, however, to reinforce the castle and send word to Matilda's forces of what was happening. Stephen found out, and ordered John to surrender immediately, or else William would be hanged. John called Stephen's bluff, saying "I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!" Stephen started to arrange to have William catapulted at the castle, but could not do it. Harming a hostage and harming a child were not easily done.William was released only after several months went by and a peace treaty was signed to end the war.

Another famous hostage was King John of France (26 April 1319 – 8 April 1364) during the Hundred Years War. The English under Edward, the Black Prince, dominated at the Battle of Poitiers, although the French army was probably twice the size. John was captured by a French exile who had sided with the English, Denis de Morbecque, who promised to lead John to the Prince of Wales. John surrendered by handing over his glove.

John was taken to England, where he lived in high style for years. He was allowed to travel the country, and had a budget that included buying pets and clothing and having his own court astrologer and a court band. He would be a hostage while a treaty (including ransom) favorable to the English would be negotiated.

His son, the Dauphin, had great difficulty arranging things back in France. The Estates General, a consulting and legislative body of the various estates in France, were angry over the mismanagement of resources (taxes and men) in a disastrous military engagement. They demanded political concessions in exchange for money, which the Dauphin refused. King John would remain a hostage, hosted by King Edward, for a total of four years. How he was able to go home, and why he then went back to England to place himself in captivity, will be explained tomorrow.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Mortgaging Children

This is the story of Philip of Courtenay (1243 - 15 December 1283). He was one of the Latin Emperors of Constantinople—the empire was established after the disastrous and mis-guided (literally) Fourth Crusade—even though the Byzantine Empire had re-established control in 1261. Technically he was an "Emperor in Exile."

He was born in Constantinople, the child of Baldwin II and Marie of Brienne. Baldwin was the last of the Latin Emperors who actually ruled from Constantinople. The difficulty with the "Latin Emperors of Constantinople" was that they didn't have the resources they would have enjoyed at home. They weren't landowners living off rents. Baldwin's "territory" was essentially the city itself, and he did not have the resources to control the country around him, where life just went on.

Baldwin went westward to beg for money, asking Rome and France to help support him financially. One plan was to supplant the Marchioness Margaret of Namur (a sometimes independent state, now basically a city in Belgium) to have the Namur revenues. It didn't matter to him that Margaret was his sister. Baldwin didn't stay to manage Namur, however, and after it was invaded by the Count of Luxembourg, Baldwin sold the rights to his cousin, Count Guy of Flanders.

Baldwin left Marie and a regency council behind while he traveled Europe begging. In 1238 they sold the Crown of Thorns to Venice for 13,134 hyperpyrons. Around that time Baldwin got money from Louis IX of France in exchange for some other relics, of which Constantinople had many.

But this is about his son, Philip, and you can guess where this is going. Baldwin and Marie borrowed 24,000 hyperpyrons from Venetian merchants. The mortgage, the surety for this loan, was their son, Philip of Courtenay. Philip was five years old at the time. He was sent to Venice to live in the household of two merchant brothers. He was there from 1248 until he was 17, in 1260, when the mortgage was paid with the help of Alfonso X of Castile.

Mortgaging your child seems like a cruel act by a desperate parent. As difficult as it is to argue with that, as usual, medieval sensibilities were different from ours, and never more so than in the idea of a hostage. In fact, the meaning and practice of "hostage" is my next topic.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Mortgage

"Mortgage" is a Late Middle English word from Old French, and literally means "dead pledge"; folk etymology will say the name signifies the debt dying when it is repaid. The use of "mort" originally had a different meaning.

When the Normans invaded the British Isles, they introduced an item of Norman law called a "gage of land." Say I was a landowner in need of money; for a sum from a lender, I (the gagor) would give possession but not ownership to the lender (the gagee) until I paid off the loan.

There were two types of gages: living and dead. In the living gage (Norman vifgage) and the dead gage (mortgage). With the living gage, any profit made by the lender while in possession of the land—such as selling the produce from it—went toward reduction of the debt. The dead gage did not reduce the debt, however much the land might have produced for the lender.

During Henry II's reign (1154-1189), he tried to right some wrongs that occurred under his predecessor King Stephen (1135-1154), during which many properties had been improperly seized. In the Assize of Clarendon, Henry created the right of novel disseisin ("new/recent dispossession"), by which the gage could go to the royal court and claim improper dispossession. The cases were dealt with swiftly, which was a plus, but they did not actually determine proper ownership: they merely judged whether the land should go back into the original landowner's possession, and the question of ownership was left for later. Yes, it could get messy.

Novel disseisin made the lender's life difficult, since the gage could at any time make a claim to repossess the land. The practice could easily be abused by a gage.

A frequent use of mortgage after 1095 was for the money needed to afford to go on Crusade. But who had the money to lend? Surprisingly, because of generous gifts, monasteries often had the cash to offer—interest feee, of course. Because so many Crusaders came back with less money than they started with, or no money at all, or never came back because they died on Crusade, monasteries gained lots of land for grazing their sheep or planting vines.

Keep in mind, however, that mortgages were not as common as they are today when everyone wants to own a house. Things were different when generations of families stayed in one building, and cottages could be built by one's own labor, or with the help of friends and family.

Speaking of mortgages and family, however, have you ever heard of mortgaging your children? You will, if you come back tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

A Living Wage

I've talked about different jobs here and here. What could you earn in different professions?

First, we need to know the currency:

1 pound (£) = 20 shillings (s)
1 shilling = 12 pence (d)
1 pence (penny) = 4 farthings
Additionally, 1 crown was only 5 shillings, and 1 mark = 13 shillings and 4 pence
The £, s, d symbols are from French Livre, sou, and denier, which are in turn from Latin liber, solidus, and denarius.

Lists of wages are not readily available; the information must be gleaned from various sources found in various time periods. For comparison's sake, I will keep to wages in the 1300s.

An unskilled laborer in 1300 could make £2/year, or 40s; by 1390 that had doubled to £4.

A manservant in 1390 could make 20s/year; a maidservant half that, 10s.

A swineherd made as much as the maidservant.

In 1351, as the Black Death was reducing the labor pool, a mason could earn 107s/year; by 1390, that had risen to £8, or 160s!

A carpenter in 1300 could make 53s/year. By 1351 (Black Death killing off workers!), that had risen to 80s/year, and a master carpenter could earn 107s. A little later, in 1400, the carpenter's apprentice would be worth 40s/year.

While the carpenter might be hired to help build a house, the thatcher might be needed for the roof. Collecting sufficient reeds, binding them, making them secure so that the roof is thick enough to keep out inclement weather and secure enough that high winds don't destroy it—these arduous and skilled tasks probably explain why the thatcher in 1390 could make £6/year, or 113s!

Of course, building a house took a lot more than one's savings. A two-story cottage in the early 1300s could cost £2, four times what the swineherd makes. A house with several rooms could cost £10-15! So what did the typical person/family do to afford it? Why, get a mortgage, of course. Did mortgages work the same way they do now? Let's find out tomorrow.

The Medieval Sourcebook has a lot of pricing information ranging from the 11th to 15th centuries, if you'd like to explore further.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Cost of Things

When I taught high school English Literature, students were aghast at the small sums (a few hundred pounds) that a successful poet might have to live on. They had a difficult time grasping not only that prices were much lower, but also that the Age of Reason household did not use expensive machines for washing, cooking, preserving foods, calling friends, watching or hearing entertainment, etc.

I've tackled this topic at least once before, but mostly focused on food prices. Let us look at some other economic data. First, however, we have to know the currency:

1 pound (L) = 20 shillings (s)
1 shilling = 12 pence (d)
1 pence (penny) = 4 farthings
Additionally, 1 crown was only 5 shillings, and 1 mark = 13 shillings and 4 pence

The L, s, d symbols are from French Livre, sou, and denier, which are in turn from Latin liber, solidus, and denarius.

Now let's get dressed in the 1300s:

A fashionable gown (for upper class) could cost as much as 10 pounds.
A simple tunic for a working class man could cost 3-4 shillings
A landless serf's tunic anywhere from 1-6 pence
Highest quality wool for making clothes was 5 shillings/yard in 1380
If you wanted silk, it was 10-12 shillings/yard (but more easily available a century later)
(A loose-fitting tunic required 2.5 yards; a doublet (a lined tunic, so "doubled" fabric) needed 4 yards
Shoes and boots could be 4 to 6 pence
Accessorize with a hat (10 pence to 14 pence) and a purse (1.5 pence), and you were ready to hit the town

How affordable were these? Tomorrow we will look at what people earned in different professions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Golden Coin

Let us talk about coinage, specifically the solidus. Its plural was solidi; also known as the bezant (named for Byzantium, the earlier name of Constantinople, now Istanbul), and sometimes simply as nomisma, Greek for "coin."

It was introduced by our old friend Emperor Constantine the Great. He designed a gold coin weighing 4.45 grams. (As of this writing, gold is worth US$59.54/gram.) That weight stayed consistent from Constantine's time (early 300s) right up to the 1030s, after which Byzantine emperors started to make it with less gold because of a suffering economy due to military and civil problems. By the time of Alexios I it was being made with very little gold. Alexios eliminated the solidus in 1092, replacing it with the hyperpyron nomisma ("super-refined coin").

This hyperpyron was the same weight, though of slightly less purity because the debased solidi were recalled and melted down with gold to make the new coin. This coin was the standard until the mid-14th century, although it also suffered from succeeding emperors using less and less gold in it.

What was it "worth" in terms of buying power? Well, prices fluctuate over time and place, of course, and the day-to-day need for and value of goods is very different from how we live today. In Constantine's time, for instance, the average Roman would consume two pounds of wheat bread daily. In 320 CE a loaf of wheat bread could sell for two nummi (a silver coin, later made of copper or bronze). An early (pure gold) solidus at one time was worth 7200 nummi. A Roman cavalryman made 180 nummi per day. A solidus would be worth a month and a half salary for him. There's also a little more insight from this old post.

Next time, let's look at some prices closer to our time.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Deeds of the Franks

Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum (Latin: "Deeds of the Franks and the other pilgrims to Jerusalem"), also known simply as Gesta Francorum (you can figure it out), is an account of the First Crusade, from the viewpoint of an anonymous member of the group following Bohemund of Taranto who later joined Raymond of Toulouse. This account gives us many details not always available elsewhere.

As well as accounts of some specific sieges and battles, there are details of some of the more mundane trials and tribulations. One anecdote is about the arrival of the "People's Crusade" led by Peter the Hermit, who departed early with a band of common people and families:

The Emperor had ordered such a market as was in the city to be given to these people. And he said to them, "Do not cross the Strait until the chief host of the Chritians has come, for you are not so strong that you can do battle with the Turks." The Christians conducted themselves badly, inasmuch as they tore down and burned buildings of the city and carried off the lead with which the churches were constructed sold it to the Greeks. The Emperor was enraged thereat and ordered them to cross the Strait. After they bad crossed, they did not cease doing all manner of evil, burning and plundering houses and churches.

Ultimately, these pre-crusaders were destroyed by the Turks. Part of their problem was not being wealthy enough to provision themselves, and winding up in a land where they had no access to resources. Locals, knowing their great need, were quick to take economic advantage:

When the Armenians and Syrians, however, saw that our men were returning utterly empty-handed, they counselled together and went away through the mountains and places of which they had previous knowledge, making subtle inquiry and buying grain and other bodily sustenance. This they brought to the camp, in which hunger was great beyond measure, and they sold a single assload for eight perpre, which is worth one hundred and twenty solidi of denarii. There, indeed, many of our men died because they did not have the means wherewith to buy at such a dear price.

Crusading was not an easy undertaking. Strange lands, no support,y chain, constantly being attacked (or attacking); it is astounding that they managed to accomplish any of their goals.

It occurs to me that readers of this blog will have no modern point of reference for a solidi, so I think it's time to talk about money next.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Guibert of Nogent

Guibert of Nogent, a Benedictine  was not remarkable in his time, but his extensive writings and autobiography have more recently provided insight into daily life in the Middle Ages.

Born c.1055 to minor nobility, his was a breech birth. His family made an offering to the Virgin Mary the he would be dedicated to a religious life if he survived. Guibert's father (according to his autobiography) was violent man who died while Guibert was still young. Guibert believed his father would have broken the vow and would have tried to get Guibert to become a knight.

At the age of 12, after six years of a strict tutor for the boy, his mother retired to an abbey near saint-Germer-de-Fly. Soon after, Guibert entered the Order of Saint-Germer, studying classical works. The influence of Anselm of Bec inspired him to change his focus to theology.

The first major literary work of his was the Dei gesta per Francos ("God's deeds through the Franks"). It is a more polished version of the anonymous Gesta Francorum. His additions give us more information about the reaction to the Crusade in France.

His autobiography is also patterned after another work, the Confessions of St. Augustine. It is a lengthy work dealing with his youth and upbringing and his life in a monastery. There are references that give us insight into daily life, such as when he denigrates someone for their manner of dress:

But because there are no good things, that do not at times give occasion to some wickedness, when he was one day in a village engaged on some business or other, behold there stood before him a man in a scarlet cloak and silken hose that had the soles cut away in a damnable fashion, with hair effeminately parted in front and sweeping the tops of his shoulders looking more like a lover than a traveller.

Guibert's criticisms tell us something about attitude toward certain fashions. 

He had a skeptical view on saints:

I have indeed seen, and blush to relate, how a common boy, nearly related to a certain most renowned abbot, and squire (it was said) to some knight, died in a village hard by Beauvais .on Good Friday, two days before Easter. Then, for the sake of that sacred day whereon he had died, men began to impute a gratuitous sanctity to the dead boy. When this had been rumoured among the country-folk, all agape for something new, then forthwith oblations and waxen tapers were brought to his tomb by the villagers of all that country round. What need of more words? A monument was built over him, the pot was hedged in with a stone building, and from the very confines of Brittany there came great companies of country-folk, though without admixture of the higher sort. That most wise abbot with his religious monks, seeing this, and being enticed by the multitude of gifts that were brought, suffered the fabrication of false miracles. [Treatise on Relics]

...and on saints' relics:

Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, eagerly desired the body of St Exuperius, his predecessor, who was honoured with special worship in the town of Corbeil. He paid, therefore, the sum of one hundred pounds to the sacristan of the church which possessed these relics that he might take them for himself. But the sacristan cunningly dug up the bones of a peasant named Exuperius and brought them to the Bishop. The Bishop, not content with assertion, exacted from him an oath that these bones brought were those of Saint Exuperius. "I swear," replied the man, "that these are the bones of Exuperius: as to his sanctity I cannot swear, since many earn the title of saints are far indeed from holiness." [Treatise on Relics]

He died in 1124.

Speaking of deeds of the Franks, there should be some interesting items to glean from the aforementioned Gesta Francorum. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Other Accounts of Clermont

How do we know what happened hundreds of years ago? Sometimes we have an archaeological finds that are subject to interpretation. Sometimes we have direct records, like coroner reports or exchequer accounts that we assume are straightforward. Sometimes we have histories written by contemporaries, or eyewitnesses, but even those we have to look at with a critical eye. Did the author have an agenda? Did the author have an accurate memory of the event? Did the author know how to interpret events?

For example: what did Urban actually say at Clermont on 27 November 1095 to announce the (First) Crusade? Six accounts have survived.

First, we have a letter Urban himself sent to Flanders. He says "a barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted and laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient" (because he has had a request from the emperor in Constantinople for help with the Turks) and makes a passing reference to Jerusalem by saying the barbarism has "even grasped in intolerable servitude its churches and the Holy City of Christ, glorified by His passion and resurrection." Interestingly, there is no indication that this Crusade has as its main purpose taking over Jerusalem from non-Christians.

There is also the Gesta Francorum ("Deeds of the Franks"), an anonymous history written only a few years after 1095, that simply says Urban called upon people to "take up the way of the Lord" and be prepared to suffer in the undertaking. This account suggests that Urban was calling on the Franks specifically for this task, and caused the Franks to sew crosses onto the right shoulders of their garments to indicate their willingness.

Two eyewitness accounts exist. Fulcher of Chartres was a chaplain whose detailed account of the Council of Clermont (in the week preceding the announcement) gives an account in which he claims to record only things that he saw with his own eyes. He is the best (we think) account of what Urban actually said.

Robert the Monk is the other account. Robert says he was an eyewitness to Urban's speech, and he may have been: Robert has been identified as a former abbot of Saint-Remi who lived from c.1055 - 1122. Writing more than ten years after the speech, he embellishes it (compared to Fulcher's version) and makes it more dramatic. It is Robert who claims that the crowds as one shouted Deus vult ("God wills it!") at the conclusion of the announcement.

Two more accounts that do not claim to have been present exist. Guibert, the abbot of Nogent, adds his own emphasis on returning Jerusalem to Christian possession to fulfill prophecies about the Apocalypse. Baldric, the archbishop of Dol, seems to re-write the account from the Gesta Francorum and emphasize the Crusade as an appeal to chivalry. Part of Urban's focus during the Council was to reign in violence caused by Christian knights in the West.

We take what we can get from the historical record and hope we can assemble the jigsaw puzzle of historical events.

Tomorrow I'll tell you a little more about Guibert of Nogent and his very "modern" skepticism about something that scholarship definitely agrees with, no matter what people in the Middle Ages believed.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey (c.1060 - 18 July, 1100) was the second son of Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, and therefore was not in line for much inheritance. His godfather, however, was Godfrey the Hunchback, Duke of Lower Lorraine. The Duke had no children, and named Godfrey his heir. The old Duke died in 1076, leaving Godfrey the duchy--if he could keep it.

Lower Lorraine was an important buffer between France and Germany, but that made it important to a lot of people. In 1076, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (of the Investiture Controversy) wanted there Lower Lorraine for his son, confiscating it and leaving Godfrey with Bouillon and the land around the cities of Antwerp and Breda. Godfrey's land was also being nibbled at by his aunt Matilda of Tuscany, his cousin Albert III of Namur, and a couple others. His brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, supported him, and eventually he won the Lower Lorraine back by 1087.

Having a larger territory made it possible to gather a larger force to join the First Crusade, which set off in August 1096. Godfrey mortgaged his estates to the bishops of Liège and Verdun, and he and his brothers led a group of 40,000 overland to Constantinople.

"Crusade fever" sparked a new wave of antisemitism. While passing through Mainz, word went out that Godfrey had vowed to avenge the Crucifixion by eliminating all Jews. Emperor Henry prohibited this, and one report (written 50 years later) says Godfrey relented after the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne each paid him 500 marks (1 mark=8 ounces of either gold or silver).

The army reached Jerusalem in June 1099 (after many other events and encounters). On 14-15 July, they got over the walls using siege towers made from lumber from Italian ships, intentionally dismantled for the purpose. Godfrey was one of the first to enter the city. They had left home three years earlier, but they had set foot in Jerusalem (after conquering other towns along the way), and could claim success.

The next step was to determine how to rule the new Christian kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey was chosen to rule (after Raymond of Toulouse, the oldest and most experienced warrior of the Crusade had turned it down), and chose to be Calle Defender of the Holy Sepulchre rather than king. Among other acts, Godfrey endowed the Jerusalem hospital.

What we know of the Crusades comes to us from various chronicles. They do not always agree, and their general reliability must always be examined very carefully. Tomorrow we'll look at a couple accounts of the First Crusade.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The First Crusade Commences

It can be argued that the First Crusade, announced in 1095, could not or would not feasibly have been undertaken much earlier than the end of the 11th century. A few different trends combined at the right time.

One was that the political power of Western Europe had recently grown; kingdoms were becoming more sophisticated with fewer border squabbles, and the church and the secular powers had the organizational ability to manage a large undertaking. Also, there was an eschatological air ever since the year 1000, and the end of the world could be nigh, sparking a religious fervor not previously seen. The end of the world in Biblical terms involved Jerusalem, and so freeing Jerusalem from infidels was important. A request from Alexius I Comnenus of Constantinople to get help from the West with his infidel problems was a catalyst for Urban II to declare this undertaking.

Assembling armies takes time, however, and joining the Crusade was expensive. There was no large standing army in any country capable of taking on such a huge military operation, so citizens from all walks of life were recruited. The prospect of a plenary indulgence from the pope that would remove the need for penance was a strong inducement to join. Individuals sold goods and sought donations to be able to afford food, armor, weapons, passage, etc.

The main forces (there were four major organized groups) were ready to depart Europe in August 1096. A fifth and smaller force led by the King of France's brother, Hugh of Vermandois, left early and was shipwrecked in the Adriatic. (There was also an impatient "People's Crusade" that left early and, well, see the result here.)

The major group was led by Godfrey of Bouillon (1060 - 1100), the duke of Lower Lorraine. Much of the story of the First Crusade relies on his actions. We can look at how the Crusade went through the point of view of the first European "King of Jerusalem" next time.

[map source]

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The First Crusade Announced

Christianity in the Middle Ages did not approve of Islam and its swift growth. It was not many years after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE that the Islamic occupation of Jerusalem was established in 638. Even though Jews and Christians were allowed in the city, and a treaty was signed between the caliph and the Patriarch of Jerusalem guaranteeing protection of Christian holy places, Western Europe and the papacy saw Jerusalem as a problem to solve.

Pope Urban II decided it was important to restore Jerusalem to Christian rule, and to that end he announced there would be a special gathering at Clermont in France in 1095. Clermont was the site of a couple religious councils. He was holding one on 18 November, 1095. Urban had received a request for aid from Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus against the Muslim Turks

On 27 November he spoke from a wooden platform to a crowd of thousands of the faithful that had gathered. On each of four sides of the platform were men with leather conical "megaphones" who repeated his words so that they could reach as far as possible to the crowds. (I have read this in the past, but cannot now find a reference for it, so take it as literary license for now.)

In short, he called all Christians to join in a war against the Muslims to free the Holy Land. This would also be an important pilgrimage for any involved, and would include a plenary indulgence (a remission of all penance for sins) to those who partook. When Urban finished his announcement, he concluded Deus vult! (Latin for "God wills it.") The crowd erupted, repeating his Deus vult.

The result of all this? We'll see tomorrow whether they succeeded.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

What Did Horseshoes Look Like?

The figure to the left is a horseshoe; or rather, it is a hipposandal. This was the Classical Roman method of "shoeing" a horse. Nails were not involved; a leather strap went around the hook in back and tied through the ring in front. It was sturdy for the cobbled stone roads for which Rome was famous, and could be easily removed when no longer needed and fitted to another horse. The suggestion that the Romans brought circular horseshoes to Britain during their occupation, and that the existence of extra horseshoes led to the pastime of throwing them onto a stake, inventing the game of quoits, seems suddenly less likely.

So when did the horseshoe that was shaped like a ... well, a horseshoe, come into being? You could buy A History of Horseshoes, or read on.

One fact to start with: iron was a valuable material: if an iron object got old and worn, it was likely reforged into something new, so old iron horseshoes were not likely to be found in the archaeological evidence. So far as we can tell, references to shod horses in the classical era may be to the hipposandal seen above. References to shoes that are nailed into a hoof don't appear until about 900 CE, which doesn't mean they didn't exist earlier. An 1829 work by Bracy Clark with the wonderful title Hippodonomia, or The True Structure, Laws, and Economy, of the Horse's Foot tells us there is a reference to "crescent figured irons and their nails" in 910.

Encyclopedia Britannica's entry "Horseshoe" mentions a horseshoe with nails found in the tomb of Childeric I (c.437 - 481), King of the Franks. So it appears that at least part of the medieval world used such horseshoes by the 5th century. We will never know who invented the shape that needed to be nailed on.

Around 1000, horseshoes cast from bronze were known, and by the time of the First Crusade (1096), horseshoes were common. They were valuable enough to be a substitute for money when paying taxes. By the 13th century in Western Europe, horses and their needs were so common that there was mass-production of horseshoes by blacksmiths. The Worshipful Company of Farriers was founded in 1356, one of the Livery Companies (trade associations) in the City of London. The name Farrier comes from Middle French for blacksmith, ferrier, from Latin ferrum, "iron."

To my surprise, when I searched my blog for the "First Crusade" to provide a link to its mention above, I discovered two references to someone being away on it, but no explanation of it or why a Crusade was started at all. Looks like I have some explaining to do...

Monday, June 13, 2022


The idea that quoits—a game in which players toss rings at a stake, hoping to encircle it—originated with the "Greek or Roman discus" does not seem to me to hold up. The discus was flung for distance; quoits is a game of accuracy. The fact that each is circular is not sufficient to link the two historically.

Those who subscribe to the Greco-Roman origin use it as a basis for quoits coming to Britain during the Roman occupation. The game of quoits ("coiting") in England during the reign of Edward III, and again during the reign of his successor, Richard II, was outlawed in favor of pastimes such as archery, which would translate to readiness in battle. This was duplicated in the Statutes of Kilkenny (see here and here) by Edward's son, Lionel of Antwerp, in his rôle as viceroy of Ireland.

(Ironically, quoits was referred to as "manly and healthy amusements" in 1836 in a Washington, DC, advertisement for the available amusements at a nearby coffee house.)

The similarity between quoits and the game of horseshoes suggests that the game might have started with people idling their time by throwing spare horseshoes at a stake or peg. That assumes, however, that "horse shoes" in the past were the ring- or U-shaped pieces of metal they are now.

And that is something worth looking into in more detail.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Irish Apartheid

The Statutes of Kilkenny, established in 1366 by Prince Lionel of Antwerp, were designed to keep Irish and English peoples and cultures so distinct from each other that I think it is fair to compare it to Apartheid.

Not only did they forbid English from adopting any Irish customs, manner of dress, language, or names; not only did they forbid Englishmen from riding horses in the Irish manner, and forbid intermarriage and even friendships, they even...

Forbade playing Irish sports:

VI. Also, whereas a land, which is at war, requires that every person do render himself able to defend himself, it is ordained, and established, that the common [people] ... do not, henceforth, use the plays which men call hurlings*, with great sticks and a ball upon the ground, ..., and other plays which men call coiting**; but that they do apply and accustom themselves to use and draw bows, and throw lances, and other gentlemanlike games, whereby the Irish enemies may be the better checked by the liege people and commons of these parts; and if any do or practise the contrary, and of this be attainted, they shall be taken and imprisoned, and fined at the will of our lord the king.

Forbade allowing Irish to become priests or monks: 

XIV. Also, it is ordained and established that no religious house which is situate amongst the English be it exempt or not, shall henceforth receive any Irishmen to their profession, but may receive Englishmen without taking into consideration whether they be born in England or in Ireland;

Forbade Irish entertainment, lest they be spies in disguise: 

XV. Also, whereas the Irish agents who come amongst the English, spy out the secrets, plans, and policies of the English, whereby great evils have often resulted; it is agreed and forbidden, that any Irish agents, that is to say, pipers, story-tellers, babblers, rimers, mowers, nor any other Irish agent shall come amongst the English, and that no English shall receive or make gift to such;  

These and others created a line between the English and Irish that could not be crossed. Punishments of fines or imprisonment were severe. An Irishman who pastured his livestock on English-owned land could have his livestock seized.

Lionel did not have enough men to enforce these statutes; also, he left Ireland a year later to get married in Italy, and never returned. They did, however, help to keep the English and Irish at odds with each other for centuries.

Next: what about that "coiting"?

*"hurlings" as described clearly refers to the sport of hurling, still played today.
**"coiting" likely refers to quoits; Edward III had banned quoits in England in 1365 and urged the practice of archery instead. Even with the signing of the Treaty of Brétigny which (so far as anyone knew) ended the Hundred Years War, Edward still wanted the country prepared to go to war. In fact, he was planning to make Lionel King of Scotland, and that would require soldiers.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

English-Irish Hybrids?


When King Edward III sent his son Lionel as viceroy of Ireland, there were issues on the agenda regarding the presence of the English in Ireland. Many English had been living in Ireland for generations, and they were, shall we say, "going native":

Whereas at the conquest of the land of Ireland, and for a long time after, the English of the said land used the English language, mode of riding and apparel, and were governed and ruled, both they and their subjects called Betaghes*, according to the English law, ...; but now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion, and language of the Irish enemies; and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies aforesaid...

This is the opening of the Statutes of Kilkenny, addressing the grave concern that English folk were acting more like the Irish in whose land they were living. Established by Lionel in 1366, the 35 statutes were intended to keep the English true to their heritage. Some samples follow.

II. Also, it is ordained and established, that no alliance by marriage, gossipred**, fostering of children, concubinage or by amour, nor in any other manner, be hencefoth made between the English and Irish of one part, or of the other part; and that no Englishman, nor other person, being at peace, do give or sell to any Irishman, in time of peace or war, horses or armour, nor any manner of victuals in time of war; 

III. Also, it is ordained and established, that every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish; and that every Englishman use the English custom, fashion, mode of riding and apparel, according to his estate; and if any English, or Irish living amongst the English, use the Irish language amongst themselves, contrary to the ordinance, and thereof be attainted, his lands and tenements, if he have any, shall be seized into the hands of his immediate lord, until he shall come to one of the places of our lord the king, and find sufficient surety to adopt and use the English language, and then he shall have restitution of his said lands or tenements, his body shall be taken by any of the officers of our lord the king, and committed to the next gaol, there to remain until he, or some other in his name, shall find sufficient surety ... 

The desire to create an Irish-English Apartheid was so remarkable, it is worth looking at more examples tomorrow.

*A note on "Betaghes": the word come from Old Irish bíattach "providing food," and refers to those workers who provided food for the ruling class.
**A note on gossiprede: the noun gossip referred to a close friend or confidant; rede means advice or counsel. The English and Irish were not allowed to be partners in any manner.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Lionel of Antwerp

Lionel of Antwerp, like many royal children, was obligated to be a political tool as well as a person. Born 29 November, 1338 in Antwerp (his parents were there temporarily because of the start of the Hundred Years War), he was the second son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault to survive infancy. 

On 9 September, 1342, he was married to Elizabeth de Burgh, who as a ten-year-old was six years his senior. The year after Elizabeth was born, her father died. He had been the Earl of Ulster, and marrying Elizabeth allowed Edward III to grant Lionel that title as early as 1347; Lionel also gained possession of vast estates in Ireland. In 1352 the couple lived together as husband and wife, aged 14 and 20 respectively. They had one daughter, Philippa, born 16 August 1355.

While Edward was heading to the continent as part of the Hundred Years War, he appointed Lionel as his representative in England in 1345 and 1346. Lionel was old enough to join his father and brothers on military campaigns to France in 1355. He grew to be about 6'10" tall, and would have been an imposing figure on the battlefield.

Lionel was present in 1360 for the signing of the Treaty of Brétigny, during which time he sent his page, Geoffrey Chaucer (then in his late teens) back to England with letters (discussed here). With the war with France "settled" (little did they know), Lionel went to Dublin in 1361 to be governor of Ireland. The following year, Edward created a dukedom and named Lionel Duke of Clarence. Edward also hoped to make Lionel King of Scotland, but that was less successful even than trying to control Ireland. In 1366, the Statutes of Kilkenny made an attempt to control some of the issues in Ireland that were disturbing to England.

Prior to this, however, tragedy struck with the death of Elizabeth in 1363. This left Lionel open to another advantageous marriage. This time, ties with Italy were sought through marriage to Violante Visconti. Arrangements had been made earlier by, among others, Geoffrey Chaucer, who traveled to Italy (mentioned previously here); the marriage itself was mentioned here.

Lionel and Violante were married in June 1368, kicking off months of festivities. Lionel took ill and died 17 October of the same year. His father-in-law, the ruthless Galeazzo II Visconti, was suspected of poisoning him, but it could not be proven. Visconti wanted the alliance with England, and Violante was not going to inherit anything of value with the death of Lionel, so there is no rational reason for Lionel's father-in-law to have him killed.

His body was buried in Pavia, but later returned to be laid to rest beside his first wife at Clare Priory in Suffolk. His daughter, Princess Philippa of Clarence, inherited the earldom of Ulster.

What was the perceived need for the Statutes of Kilkenny? It addressed the concern about English residents of Ireland becoming "too Irish." I'll tell you about that next.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Mailing a Letter

Large empires such as the Roman Empire needed ways to communicate quickly and efficiently with their far-flung domains. For the Romans, it was the cursus publicus, a series of stations along the main Roman roads where messages were passed along to fresh couriers. After the decline of the empire, the value of the  cursus publicus caused it to be maintained. Theodoric maintained the Roman postal system in his own domain, as did the Carolingian Empire in theirs.

When the Carolingian Empire ended (888 CE), however, there was no longer any organized attempt for a postal system throughout any part of Europe. Kings and popes, of course, had the large staff available and could appoint someone to deliver a message, but outside of those official types of correspondence, what were the options?

One of the more efficient systems was created by Italian merchants centuries later. A lot of travel and trade used the Mediterranean, and the Mediterranean was dominated by Genoa, Florence, and Venice. Italian businesses became so large that branches were created, and the owners could not be everywhere that needed them. Orders and messages needed to be sent to subordinates, customers, deliverymen, etc.

The large businesses set up posting stations with fast horses and riders at several points along their trade routes, but eventually they realized they were duplicating each others' work. In 1357, seventeen companies in Florence collaborated on a single message delivery system. Florence to Paris was 700 miles, and ideally a message was delivered in three weeks. Weather could be a mitigating factor, but their system was the best option.

Couriers were not worthy of being named historically, but we do know one. Geoffrey Chaucer was paid nine shillings by his master, Lionel of Antwerp, to deliver letters from France to London while Lionel and his father (Edward III) took part in the Treaty of Brétigny. (Footnote: Chaucer was in London for two weeks before Lionel returned. What can an unattached page do in a fortnight? That is the frame for my mystery novel A Death in Catte Street, available via the links in the upper-right of this blog's main page.)

Lionel, a younger son of Edward III, does not get the attention given to Edward's other progeny like the Black Prince or John of Gaunt. He will get a little more of what is due him next time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Making Ink

When the oak gall wasp lands on a species of oak, it secretes a chemical that interferes with the tree's normal growth, producing a bulb, or gall, into which its eggs are inserted; they will grow to be wasps that crawl out of the gall.

Somewhere along the way, folk learned that the galls could be used for something other than a wasp hatchery. Pliny makes a vague reference to oak gall ink. The typical way to make ink from oak galls was to crush the galls, add water, and boil the concoction; sprinkling in some iron sulfate turns the mixture black.

Too much iron could be problematic, however. It turned the ink corrosive, and too much iron could destroy (over time) the document for which it was used. But oak gall ink was the popular ink for 1400 years, and some of the oldest manuscripts have easily survived. The Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest Bible known (from c.325 CE), used oak gall ink.

Oak gall ink, sometimes called iron gall ink, was prevalent for at least 1400 years. The majority of manuscripts from the Middle Ages were made with oak gall ink, which dries to a light brown. Great Britain and France mandated oak gall ink for legal records. The popularity extended to the Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci used oak gall ink. Even later, the U.S. Postal Service had its own prescribed version of oak gall ink at their branches.

One of the reasons the popularity of iron gall ink faded was the rise of the fountain pen. The ink was suitable for dip pens, but dip pens hold only a little ink on the tip, and the writer had to constantly re-dip the pen point into the ink and be careful not to splatter ink drops while traveling from the ink bottle to the page. Fountain pens were developed that stored more ink and released it slowly, as the ink was drawn from the tip. The fountain pen uses capillary action to raw the ink along a thin barrel, and the iron in iron gall ink could create deposits in the barrel that would impede the smooth flow of the ink. The development of other ink formulations made fountain pens more useful.

Oak gall ink is still manufactured for those few who want it. The U.S. Postal Service no longer uses it. But that suggests a direction for tomorrow: how did mail service work in the Middle Ages?

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

A Brief History of Ink

You see it everywhere, yet we never give it a moment's thought. Almost everything printed uses ink. (There are heat-sensitive labels/receipts, and photocopiers don't use liquid anymore.) Carving in stone or wood, pressing into clay—these were sufficient ways to make records, but the result was a cumbersome piece of material to lug around or deliver. Once we started using thin, flat sheets of light material, we needed something to create images on it that would be durable and neat, not become illegible over time.

Just about every culture in the early stages of writing developed lampblack, carbon mixed with a liquid that would allow it to be spread neatly. Egypt added iron and ocher for red ink. China was grinding graphite mixed with water and applied with brushes. China also used soot and animal glue as of the 3rd century BCE.

India ink has been around for thousands of years, having been invented in China. A mixture of fine soot and water, it was used at least a thousand years BCE. It became known as "India ink" (in British English, "Indian ink") because the materials were sourced from India. It is still used for comic books and other purposes.

Countless materials were experimented with to create cheap and Latin inks. Ferrous sulfate and oak galls produced an ink that dried to a dull brown and is familiar on numerous medieval manuscripts.

During the time of Gutenberg, most inks were of two kinds: a mixture of soot, water, and glue as a binder, used since the Classical Era; and the medieval combination of ferrous sulfate, gall, water, and gum as a binder. (The binder was to make it water-resistant and therefore more durable.) Unfortunately, while fine for writing, they were unsuitable to the printing press because of their tendency to "blur" when applied with pressure. Even worse, iron gall ink can be corrosive to paper; the presence of iron causes oxidation of the cellulose in the paper. Johann Sebastian Bach's original works are being eaten away by the ink he used. 

Gutenberg's innovation was oil-based, mixed with lampblack (soot), varnish and egg white. This combination made a sharper impression when pressed onto paper or vellum, producing a clear image that did not blur or fade over time.

Oak gall ink, however, was popular in the Middle Ages and even used by Pliny. It might be worth taking a closer look at. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Movable Type

Movable type—the process of using interchangeable parts to create a page rather than carving/casting an entire page—revolutionized the production of the written word.

Prior to using movable type, pages were printed by carving an entire wooden block...backwards. One mis-carved letter would prompt the carver to start with a new block. Even without typos the process was time-consuming, and a block could only be used for that one page. Moreover, the ink would eventually soak into the wood, not just sit on it, softening the wood so that the letters lost their sharpness.

The invention of movable type is credited to Bi Sheng, whose process was described by a Chinese scholar, Shen Kuo:
During the reign of Chingli ..., 1041–1048, Bi Sheng, a man of unofficial position, made movable type. His method was as follows: he took sticky clay and cut in its characters as thin as the edge of a coin. Each character formed, as it were, a single type. He baked them in the fire to make them hard. He had previously prepared an iron plate and he had covered his plate with a mixture of pine resin, wax, and paper ashes. When he wished to print, he took an iron frame and set it on the iron plate. In this, he placed the types, set close together. When the frame was full, the whole made one solid block of type. [Dream Pool Essays, 11th century]
As seen in the illustration above, Chinese needed many more individual blocks to accommodate the characters in the Chinese writing system.

Korea developed movable type, but the process was more laborious than Bi Sheng's carving into clay:
At first, one cuts letters in beech wood. One fills a trough level with fine sandy [clay] of the reed-growing seashore. Wood-cut letters are pressed into the sand, then the impressions become negative and form letters [moulds]. At this step, placing one trough together with another, one pours the molten bronze down into an opening. The fluid flows in, filling these negative moulds, one by one becoming type. Lastly, one scrapes and files off the irregularities, and piles them up to be arranged. [Thomas Christensen (2007). "Did East Asian Printing Traditions Influence the European Renaissance?" Arts of Asia Magazine. 2006-10-18.]

The large number of individual characters needed for Korean—Korean used Chinese characters in a system they called hanja—made this process laborious. A solution was found several years before Gutenberg: Sejong the Great created a simplified alphabet of only 24 characters—called hangul—that would speed up the process of setting type. This did not catch on, however, as the elite refused to give up hanja in favor of making things easier for the masses. Another reason why movable type did not take off in Korea as it would in Europe under Gutenberg was a Confucian prohibition: the new printing method was only to be applied to government publications.

Johannes Gutenberg is described as having perfected movable type because of his experience with metals: he figured more efficient ways to make the numerous letters he needed to be able to compose many pages at once.

Although the oldest books extant made with movable type are Asian—the oldest extant book printed with movable type is Korean, made 78 years prior to Gutenberg's invention—there is no evidence that Asia influenced Europe. Gutenberg's method that produced cheap copies of books revolutionized scholarship and learning.

There was one more thing Gutenberg did that changed printing, and it never gets mentioned although in its way it is significant as part of the printing process. Tomorrow I'll tell you about something you see and use every day and don't give a moment's thought: ink.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

1453-The End

Historic periods rarely have well-defined dates, unless they can point to a specific event that created definitive change. One can say there's an "Atomic Age" that started with the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, for instance. Human history is divided into three periods: Classical Antiquity, The Middle Ages, and Modern History. There is, of course, "pre-history" where we have evidence of human beings but no written records (we are ignoring cave paintings).

The Middle Ages itself spans such a long time that it is convenient to split it into Early (late 5th century to 10th century), High (1000 CE to 1300s), and Late Middle Ages (about 1250 CE to 1500). You can't help noticing that High and Late overlap by at least 100 years.

For me, the Middle Ages ends in 1453. That year is not quite as arbitrary as the "official" year of 1500, picked (I assume) because it was a nice round number. I like 1453 because there are events—two specific and one approximate—that make large enough changes politically and culturally that it seems to me things in Europe will never be the same.

The first is the final end of the Hundred Years War. The economies and cultures of England and France were dominant through much of the previous centuries; their political alliances and hostilities affected several other countries, their trade partners as well helped create a "global" economy. With the French victory at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, a long period of instability that had started in 1066 came to and end. (Yes, there were military conflicts between France and Great Britain afterward, but no large or sustained campaigns. They are sometimes referred to as "The Second Hundred Years War." In fact, there was a period of 1159-1259 referred to as "The First Hundred Years War." [sigh])

The second specific event is the final Fall of Constantinople. (I feel obligated to designate it "final" because of the disastrous Fourth Crusade, which for some reason I have avoided discussing. Some day...) The result of a 53-day siege by the Ottoman Empire, it not only altered the history of one of the constants of history—Constantinople had never lost its reputation the way Rome did after the Goths—but it also marked a change in siege warfare. Until then, strong walls/ramparts had prove effective against siege warfare, and Constantinople had very strong ramparts. They were defeated, however, by the use of gunpowder. Defeating a well-defended city became easier. Constantinople became the new capital of the empire. There was a secondary result of this conquest: an influx of new (and classical) learning through Greek texts brought to Western Europe by scholar fleeing Constantinople. The Renaissance had already started in Italy and elsewhere, and now would be enhanced by the new scholars and scholarship.

My third (and the "approximate" event) was a development brought about by a German named Johannes Gensfleisch, whose expertise with metal work helped him perfect a process that had actually been around for 200 years—just not in Europe. We know him now as Johannes Gutenberg. The famous Gutenberg Bible took about two years to set and print, and was completed in 1454. We are certain his press was in operation as early as 1450. The cultural sea-change brought about by the relatively easy method of providing the world with books without fear of scribal errors cannot be calculated. There were fears that learning would not be appreciated properly or used wisely—once you let just anyone have a book, the less-educated could misinterpret it and spread misinformation. It is likely that an elite class would oppose widespread dissemination of learning in order to maintain their elite status (which is why movable type did not become widespread two centuries earlier). The cat was out of the bag, however. It is likely that the choice of printing an impressive Bible helped some see the beauty and utility of mass-produced books.

...and that, for me, is why post-1453 would never be the same in Europe and the very-near East. Now, as much as I want to talk about that "First" Hundred Years War, you may be sick of that topic and the petty fighting between England and France. For a change, let's look at the "failure" of movable type to catch on in the 13th century, and for that we have to turn to a country never before mentioned in this blog: Korea.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Hundred Years' War, Part 4

(If you want to see parts one and two and three.)

If we follow Shakespeare's themes, King Henry V surprised his subjects when his coronation transformed him into an able and savvy ruler, as compared to the frivolous youth he had recently been.

He had plenty of military experience, however, prior to his father's death. He had commanded the English forces in Wales during the revolt of Owain Glendower. By 1410, with Henry IV ailing, the 24-year-old young Henry had been running much of the government (albeit with the help of his uncles, Henry and Thomas Beaufort; Thomas was named Chancellor at this time).

Still, Henry might have been content to rule England when he was crowned on 9 April 1413, but for the situation in France. Charles VI—whose first bout with delirium happened at the age of 24 in 1392, when he attacked his own men during a military expedition—was becoming increasingly unstable. Placed under the regency of two uncles, the Dukes of Berry and Burgundy, he became a pawn between them and his own brother, the Duke of Orléans, who wanted control by being a regent. These opposing forces created the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War that lasted from 1407 until 1435.

A France in military and political turmoil looked ripe for a resumption of hostilities; and France had given support to Owain Glendower. Meddling in England's affairs was reason enough.

Henry sailed for France on 12 August 1415. His first target was the principal seaport of Harfleur. The siege took weeks, and dysentery hit the English troops hard. Henry had to leave a part of his army in Harfleur while he marched toward Calais, but an approaching French army forced him inland, away from his ships and his target. Unfortunately, this move by the French forced the encounter at Agincourt, where the French soldiers were bogged down in the muddy fields, making them easy targets for the longbow men commanded by Henry. The victory of the English was sufficient to lead to the Treaty of Troyes, in which Charles "disinherited" his son: Henry V would become King of France upon Charles' death. Charles' daughter Catherine de Valois married Henry in 1420. They had a son, Henry.

The deaths of both Charles V and Henry V within two months of each other in 1422. Henry VI became king of both England and France; he was nine months old, and the only English king to have been officially named King of France. Skipping over decades of rocky reign, the English lost control of France decisively at the Battle of Castillon on 17 July 1453, which lost Gascony/Aquitaine, the English throne's major territory on the continent for the previous three centuries.

This has been (necessarily) a much-abbreviated look at the Hundred Years War, which ended in 1453. Next I want to explain why I think 1453 is a good year to say the Middle Ages were well and truly over.

Friday, June 3, 2022

The Hundred Years' War, Part 3

(If you want to see parts one and two.)

The second part of the Hundred Years' War was the Caroline Phase, named after Charles V of France, who ignored the Treaty of Brétigny and started reclaiming sections of land from the English-held territory.

Charles had a reason to think the time was right for this move. Problems in Castile caused Pedro the Cruel to ask England for help in restoring him to his throne. Edward, the Black Prince, spent a lot of money raising an army to help. Once Pedro was restored, he broke his promise to repay Edward. Edward decided the best way to recoup his losses was to raise taxes in Aquitaine.

The people of Aquitaine, since they were French citizens, appealed to King Charles for aid, who summoned Edward to Paris in May 1369. When Edward did not appear, Charles declared war. An ailing Black Prince had returned to England in 1371 where his father was also elderly and in poor health. While Aquitaine was in turmoil, Edward's forces were no longer helping Pedro, who was once again deposed. His enemy was his half-brother, Henry of Trastámara. Henry was now more than willing to throw his military power behind the French forces against England. The English fleet was defeated soundly in the Battle of Rochelle in June 1372.

The Black Prince died on 8 June 1376; his father died 21 June 1377, leaving the throne to the Black Prince's son and heir, crowned Richard II, who was 10 years old. A pre-teen king was not going to conduct a war, so England's territory on the continent was mostly the town of Calais.

We should also remember the the Black Death struck between 1348 and 1351, killing up to 33% of English and 40-50% of the French. Raising and outfitting armies could not have been easy. Moreover, the Plague returned every several years, although it did not kill as many each time.

The war would be renewed by Henry V. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Hundred Years' War, Part 2

In what can be called the Edwardian Phase of the Hundred Years' War, King Edward III of England fought to keep what territory he had on the continent. Much of the war was guided by his son Edward,  now called The Black Prince.

(About the nickname: there is no record of that label during his lifetime; the first recorded use is around 1540 by an antiquarian who claims he was known as "The Black.")

England took years to gather its forces, sailing for France in July 1346. Prince Edward was 16 years old, but upon landing, his father knighted him. On 26 August, the first big battle of the War took place at Crécy. The two Edwards commanded different flanks; when word came to the king that his son was in dire straits, having charged bravely into the French troops but then being surrounded by a fierce counter-attack, he declined to send help, wanting to give the prince an opportunity to prove himself.

The prince was in trouble, however, being thrown off his horse. His standard-bearer dropped the standard and stood over the prince, defending him while he recovered. Help did arrive, and the English ultimately were the victors.

The next big event was the taking of Calais, after which the prince burned and pillaged several square miles of the surrounding area. Calais would stay in English hands until 1558. The Battle of Poitiers in 1356 was another success for the English.

The Edwardian Phase took several years, and overlapped with the first appearance of the Black Death. It also experienced a devastating storm called Black Monday. This phase ended with the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, leaving England with a large section of southwestern France as well as hostages captured in battle who needed ransoming. John II of France had been captured and his ransom set at 3,000,000 crowns. England was content. A few years later, however, Charles V ( trivia about Charles here) became King of France, and he had no intention of adhering to the treaty.

His phase comes next.