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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Plantagenets' LiveJournal:

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Sunday, November 17th, 2013
5:26 pm
Book review: Fitzempress' Law, by Diana Norman

This was Diana Norman's first published novel, and copies of it are extremely rare and usually very expensive. I'd always wanted to check it out, so when a careless bookseller posted an only slightly imperfect copy on Abebooks at about a tenth of the going rate, I pounced on it.

It has the same setting, and a good deal of the same subject matter - Henry II, the predicament of medieval Jews - as the dismal Mistress of the Art of Death series that she started writing a quarter of a century later. The difference is, that it's actually damn good.

It's a time-travel novel, and all time-travel novels have to start with a more-or-less ludicrous contrivance to get the story moving; you just have to hold your nose and swallow it. In this case, three young hooligans assault an old woman, who hexes them so that their motorbike crashes and their bodies lie in a coma in hospital while their personalities are transported into the bodies of three young 12th-century Hertfordshire people, each of whom has a major difficulty that can only be solved by recourse to 12th-century law - Henry FitzEmpress' law. Okay: so far, so hokey. But Norman had really immersed herself in re-imagining 12th-century life in Hertfordshire (she set much of the action in the village where she lived, and it's clear she researched it intensively) and trying to create a mind-set for its inhabitants. You might or might not like the choices she made: for example, she, like Alfred Duggan, found a parallel between the Anglo-Norman knightly mindset and that of public school, colonial Englishmen, and gave her above-the-salt characters dialogue to match; and her Jewish characters talk like New York Yiddisher Jews (Reuben the moneylender of Cambridge says to his wife, 'Momma, today we entertain a goy to dinner'). But they are honest and coherent choices. And it's full of the flavour of real medieval life - asides like a note on not only the rarity of hedges in pre-enclosure England, but their edibility (hazels! rosehips! haws! crab apples! Yum!), and characters with genuinely non-modern attitudes. I would seriously recommend it.

How the hell did Norman simply forget everything she had known in 1980 when she came to write the character and milieu of 'Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar' - who is far less convincing in a medieval setting than the time-travelling heroes of this book?

Cross-posted to oltramar

Thursday, November 15th, 2012
1:45 am
Richard I'sletter to Saladin, 1191 AD
*I* giggled.

Scholars disagree over whether Richard I was really interested in getting to know Saladin over coffee or just looking for one fun night. Those who argue the former insist that organizing a whole crusade just for a one-night stand seems like an awful lot of effort, even if Saladin did carry an exceptionally large scimitar. More likely, Richard I truly was interested in something more serious, but Saladin couldn’t see himself being with someone who couldn’t even conquer Jerusalem.
Saturday, September 15th, 2012
12:27 am
Has Richard III's body been found?
Some interesting news: a body that matches the description of Richard III has been unearthed in what used to be the Greyfriars churchyard, where he was buried.

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
8:17 pm
A previously unnoticed granddaughter of King Harold II
For some years, researchers had noted a peculiar epitaph for one William D'Eyncourt, preserved in Lincoln cathedral records, attesting that the aforesaid William was regia styrpe progenitus (of royal stock) and was raised in the court of King William II Rufus.

The epitaph goes on to name William's father, Walter D'Eyncourt, lord of Blankney, and his kinsman, the bishop Remigius. Charter evidence also shows that William had two younger brothers, Ralph and Walter, and that his mother was named Matilda.

Matilda it seems was an heiress of some manors and lands in Cambs., Suffolk, and Norfolk all formerly belonged to Alain Rufus of Brittany, a companion of William the Conqueror. So here's where it gets interesting.

Alain Rufus and his brother, Alain Noir (their father was evidently not a man possessed of great imagination) were members of the tippy-top of Breton society. Their nephew Alain of Richmond married the heiress to Brittany and *his* granddaughter was Constance who married Geoffrey, son of Henry II. The Alains also were cousins of Alain IV of Brittany who was married to the Conqueror's daughter Constance and who's illegitimate son Brien FitzCount was a prominent supporter of the Empress Maude.

Alain Rufus was involved in quite the scandal, when he attacked the abbey of Wilton and abducted Gunhilda, the daughter of King Harold Godwinsson by his lover, Edith Swan's Neck. Shortly after her father was killed in 1066, Gunhilda's brothers and sister Gytha fled the country. Gunhilda was perhaps too young to leave her mother, and stayed behind. She was sent to Wilton and was seemingly educated there (archbishop Anselm mentions in one of his letters that she wrote to him herself). A few years later, Alain Rufus liberated her from Wilton and Gunhilda never went back.

In 1093, Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to Gunhilda shortly after the death of Alain Rufus, pleading with her to return to her nunnery. He wrote, "You were the daughter of the king and queen [here Anselm was presumably being polite when he refers to her mother as Harold's queen]. Where are they? They are worms and dust. Their exalted rank, their pleasures, their riches, neither preserved them nor went with them. You loved Count Alain Rufus and he loved you. Where is he now? Where has your beloved gone? ... He does not care now for your love in which he delighted while he lived..." Anselm then goes on to scold her for taking up with her dead lover's brother, Alain Noir: "...if you are joined with him, God may condemn him with you by eternal death."

As discussed by Richard Sharpe, author of "King Harold's Daughter" (Haskins Society Journal 19, 2008), the simplest explanation for all this is that Matilda, wife of Walter Deincourt, was a daughter of Alain Rufus and Gunhilda. As her mother was believed to a nun and her parent's relationship was highly irregular, Matilda was likely not considered legitimate. However, her father or her uncle may have made arrangements for her to inherit some of his property. If we assume a date of about 1070 for the start of Gunhilda and Alain Rufus' liaison, Matilda could very well have been old enough to be married by the mid-1090s and the mother of a young son who's rank and parentage entitled him to be brought up in the court of William II in the late 1090s. Her younger son, Ralph, inherited his father's barony and produced a line of D'Eyncourts.
Monday, May 21st, 2012
12:12 am
King Kundafrun of Armaniyah
I posted awhile back about what appears to be an ersatz version of Richard I that appears in Arabic hero epics recorded by M.C. Lyons. I thought I'd post a bit more on it.

Kundafrun, king of Armaniyah (England) seems to be Richard, syncretized with local legends and half-remembered factoids. It reminds me a bit of how old Persian folktales recast Alexander the Great in their own image of a warrior prince. Lyons suggests the name is a corruption of "Comte de ---" (Count of --).

Kundafrun, "lord of all the English isles", appears on the scene after his daughter Runaqis elopes with the Muslim hero Arnus. In a convoluted series of events, Runaqis disappears and Arnus and Baibars (also based off a real person) go in search of her. They track her to her homeland of Armaniyah but are drugged by an old man who is Kundafrun in disguise. Then the "real" Kundafrun appears and killed old-man-Kundafrun, only to turn out to be Shiha, Arnus and Baibars' homeboy, who'd taken on the form of Kundafrun by using a magic mirror.

Rumiya, the sister of Kundafrun, vows revenge. She summons a djinn to spirit away her niece Runaqis, who shortly afterward gives birth to her and Arnus' daughter, Miriam. Many years later Miriam becomes a warrior queen, defeats many men in battle, and wins the heart of Baibars' brother Toqtimur. She is kidnapped by multiple assailants and lusted after by TWO of her own half-brothers, Timurj and Qatalunaj.

Kundafrun reappears, alive, and attacks Aleppo. The hero Ibrahim fights him in single combat for seven days straight, but cannot hurt him as Kundafrun's "bones are like those of a crocodile." Kundafrun is overcome once again by Shiha and apparently dies.

He's alive AGAIN when he invades Muslim lands alongside the Byzantines. There's a sequence dealing with Kundafrun's rivalry with "King Ptolemy of Marjan". He sends an emissary named Uqba to speak with Ptolemy, who instead arrests him. Uqba curses Kundafrun and says that Kundafrun murdered his own father (!). Kundafrun allies with his former Muslim enemies to defeat Ptolemy, and victorious, is converted to Islam by the angel of death in a dream.

Ptolemy and Uqba go to Sextus, "king of the land of the Franks", who is one hundred and twenty years old. They tell him that Kundafrun has turned Muslim, and he joins with them. Kundafrun is captured in battle and spat upon. The warrior princess Fatima rescues him and Ptolemy converts to Islam as well and denounces Uqba.

This whole tale reads to me like some garbled account of Richard's falling out with King Philippe II, perhaps with Leopold V of Austria mixed in, heavily romanticized.
Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
11:24 am
Let me introduce myself...and ask a question!
I am an English history buff--anything from 1066 to 1603 is what I love, though I freely admit to having a decided leaning towards the Tudors.  I believe in Richard III's basic innocence (at least in regards to his nephews' deaths), love Eleanor of Aquitaine, and have a great fondness for the love stories of John of Gaunt & Katherine Swynford and Catherine d'Valois & Owen Tudor.

That all said, I do have a question if anyone can help me.

I recently re-read Sandra Wilson's Alice.  So-so book, though it did have some interesting perspectives on the historical figures.  I was curious about what's listed on the last page--a quote from the Warwick Castle guidebook (I believe) about the Earl of Warwick's death:
"Soon after Gaveston's execution, the Earl [of Warwick] died mysteriously; it has been suggested that he was poisoned by Gaveston's mistress."

Some preliminary research doesn't turn up anything about it except that maybe Edward II had him poisoned.  I'll keep looking, but it seems we have some experts here, with resources I don't have.

Thanks, all!  I look forward to joining the discussions.

Current Mood: curious
Friday, April 20th, 2012
11:31 pm
Ermengarde of Anjou (c. 1072-1147)
Found some info about this lady in Robert of Arbrissel: A Medieval Religious Life by Bruce Venarde.

Ermengarde, born c. 1072, was the daughter of Count Fulk IV of Anjou by his first (of five) wives, Hildegarde de Baugency. Her younger half-brothers were Geoffrey IV Martel (by stepmother #1 Ermengarde de Bourbon) and Fulk V, later King of Jerusalem (by stepmother #4, Bertrade de Montfort). Ermengarde is the same woman who is frequently, and falsely, stated to have been one of the wives of William VIII of Aquitaine. I've ranted about her "Weir'd" treatment before due to this fallacy.

Anyway, Ermengarde did marry Alain IV, duke of Brittany, in the early 1090s and afterward had quite a remarkable career. When her husband left on Crusade, Ermengarde ruled Brittany, a land described by her contemporary Baudri, bishop of Dol, as a "land of scorpions", as regent from 1096-1101. The poet Marbod de Rennes praised Ermengarde as "the glory of Brittany" (decus Armoricae regionis), lauding her eloquence and intelligence. After Alain returned from Crusade, they had three children but he seems to have had problems handling either his marriage or his county.

Ermengarde seperated from Alain about 1109 and petitioned for an annulment on grounds on consanguinity. This was when Robert d'Arbrissel wrote to her, giving her advice on her marriage. I'll quote some relevent bits:

Do not regret too much that you are bound to an infidel husband. Remember the holy woman Esther, who was married to the infidel prince Ahaseurus... And the Gospel says that an unbelieving husband will be saved through a faithful wife....
Concerning your sin of incest
[the marriage to Alain] and the sin of your daughter [Hawise of Brittany, married to Baldwin VII of Flanders] whom you have given over to death: anxious and troubled, humbly and submissively, pray to God that he free you, lest you perish. You cannot be seperated from your husband by ecclesiastical law. You have done what you could; you fled. For your daughter, seek seperation by any means neccesary.

The annulment was denied, as Robert aludes to here. Alain IV abdicated in 1112 and retired to the monastery of Redon. Ermengarde remained at the Breton court, becoming influential in the government of her son, Conan III. In 1130, Ermengarde became a supporter of Bernard of Clairvaux and followed him to Burgundy. From there, Ermengarde set out with a company of nuns to Jerusalem, where her brother Fulk was now king. By this time she was already in her fifties, making the perilous journey to the Holy Land! She sent several years in Jerusalem at her brother's court (and must've known his young sons Baldwin and Amaury). After Fulk's death, Ermengarde returned to France, and died at the Breton court in 1147.

And all she's remembered by is the spurious wife of her first cousin, William VIII of Aquitaine.
Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
12:53 pm
Writing off medieval women as “arrogant” and"infatuated"
Did anyone here watch the first episode of Helen Castor’s BBC series ‘She-Wolves’, about English medieval queens, last Wednesday?


I found it interesting to see an avowedly feminist take on Matilda, and the problem she faced in trying to create the role of queen regnant, previously unheard-of in England. It is an indictment of male medieval historians in general that so many of them, right up to the present day, have taken 12th-century chroniclers’ accounts of her ‘arrogance’ at face value. As Castor said, if Matilda hadn’t abandoned the ‘modest gait and bearing proper to the gentle sex’, she wouldn’t have got far as a ruler.

A parallel case, to my mind, is the way historians have dumbly repeated the chroniclers’ assessment of Constance of Antioch’s choice of Reynaud de Chatillon as a second husband in 1153. Naturally, for a 12th century male writer, it was axiomatic that any woman who refused her male relative and overlord’s choice of husband for her by could only be acting out of sensuality and infatuation; but considering what a high opinion her kinsmen Aimery I, Baldwin IV and Raymond of Tripoli all had of his military talents, you’d think a modern historian might at least consider the possibility that she valued the same qualities in him that they did?

Cross-posted to Oltramar
Friday, December 30th, 2011
3:58 pm
Susanna ferch Llywelyn, granddaughter of King John
I've posted a couple of times about the family of King John's illegitimate daughter Joan, who married Llywelyn Fawr. This post concerns their most obscure child, Susanna.

Susanna was possibly the youngest of Llywelyn and Joan's three daughters together (for evidence that Elen and Gwladys were Joan's daughters, see this post). She had one known full-brother, Dafydd, and several half-brothers.

In 1228, Susanna was in England in the custody of her uncle, King Henry III, who granted guardianship of her to Nicholas de Verdun and his wife Clemence le Boteler. Clemence was almost surely Susanna's maternal grandmother, the mother of Joan. In 1229, Susanna's siblings Dafydd and Gwladys visited Henry III's court, and it's entirely possible she saw them both there.

Malcolm, earl of Fife, died in 1228, leaving as his heir his nephew, Malcolm. This younger Malcolm was now a ward of the Scots king Alexander II. Now, Alexander II was married to Joan, the legitimate sister of Henry III and Joan of Wales, and his relations with the English court during this period were fairly warm. Possibly it was Henry III who hit upon the idea of marrying his niece Susanna to this young earl of Scotland.

Susanna's sister Elen had married the Scots princeling John le Scot, earl of Huntington, in 1222. Therefore, Susanna's family already had strong ties to the premier families of Scotland. Susanna was sent to Scotland to marry Malcolm, which she did about 1230, and anyway certainly before 1237, when a document mentions "Maurice, servant of the countess of Fife"). Together, Susanna and Malcolm had two sons, Colban and Macduff.

There has been some confusion over this point, so I will try to make it clear as possible. Susanna predeceased Malcolm. He then remarried to a woman named Ellen, evidently quite a bit younger than him. When Malcolm died in 1266, his widow Ellen then remarried to Donald, earl of Mar, by whom she had five children. Elen was still alive as of 1295.

Evidently, some exciteable historians and genealogists didn't pay attention to the chronology and thought that if Malcolm married Llywelyn's daughter, and Donald married Malcolm's widow, then the two women had to be identical! Except that obviously its a little hard for a woman who first married before 1237 to be producing a litter of children by a second husband after 1266, then survive to 1295! Susanna and Ellen are two seperate people and should not be confused. There was only one Elen ferch Llywelyn Fawr, and she married John le Scot and Robert de Quincy. The Ellen who remarried to Donald of Mar was NOT a member of Llywelyn Fawr's family.
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
11:44 pm
Scott Lynch's "So Much Less Gay" Henry V
In 'honor' of Orson Scott Card's recent butchering of Shakespeare's masterpiece, Hamlet, Scott Lynch has written "The So Much Less Gay and Not Written With Big Gay Words version of The Cronicle History of Henry V formerly by William Shakespeare".

I sort of love Lynch's reimagining of Henry V as the sort of guy who would tell his bride, "You are very pretty, but from now on you must speak English like Jesus did."
Wednesday, August 17th, 2011
4:57 am
The escape artistry of Nicholas de Segrave
So I came across this funny little letter from King Edward I to Robert Burghesh, constable of Dover, dated April 15, 1304, concerning Burghesh's 'guest', Nicholas de Segrave. The letter instructs Burghesh to allow Segrave to enjoy the meadow at Dover Castle during his stay, nous savons bien qe le chevaler nad mie talent senfouyr [s'enfuir] (we know well that the knight has some talent at running away).

Some explanation of all this is found the next year, Februrary 1205, when Nicholas de Segrave was summoned to parliament in Westminster on the king's orders.

The charges were this: "during the last war in Scotland", Nicholas de Segrave was serving in the king's army when he became embroiled in a dispute against John de Crumbwell. Whatever they were fighting about, it was bad enough that Nicholas challenged John to single combat in the court before the king of France. Jon de Crumbwell accepted this challenge, and a day was set. Nicholas de Segrave then abandoned the king "by leaving him among his enemies in peril of them" and endeavored to cross to France via Dover. Robert de Burghesh, constable of Dover, refused to allow Nicholas to cross, on orders from the king not to allow passage from Dover for anyone who had horses and arms. Nicholas, "feigning that he would obey the prohibition", went to some other port and crossed in secret. When Nicholas de Segrave returned from France, Burghesh captured him and held him at Dover, only for Nicholas to escape!

Nicholas threw himself on Edward's mercy, and Edward was merciful. He released Nicholas from prison. I'm not sure what happened during Segrave and Crumbwell's battle royale in France, or why they were quarreling in the first place. I do notice that Crumbwell's wife was named Idonia de Leyburn, while one of the mainpernors (basically, a surety who agreed to insure that Segrave would appear before the king if called) was Robert de Leyburn. As Segrave was in charge of finding seven willing mainpernors to vouche for him (another of the mainpernors was Henry de Segrave, perhaps a brother of Nicholas), it seems likely to me that Robert de Leyburn was a friend of his. I wonder if it was some kind of personal dispute that got way out of hand.

For further details, check Calendar of the Close Rolls, 1302-1307.
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
1:33 am
Plantagenet ladies and their ABCs
Kim Phillips, in Medieval maidens: young women and gender in England, 1270-1540, has some interesting information on the literacy of high-born girls in Plantagenet England.

Eleanor de Montfort, the daughter of Simon and Princess Eleanor, was about six or seven in 1265 when a friar named Boyun was commissioned to purchase fine parchment and produce a breviary for her.

Leonor of Castile, Edward I's queen, purchased a psalter and seven primers in 1290. These were probably intended for her children: Eleanor (aged twenty-one), Joan (aged eighteen), Margaret (aged fourteen), Mary (aged eleven), Elizabeth (aged nine) and perhaps for little six-year-old Edward.

Henry IV's daughters Blanche and Philippa were given ABCs, a sort of compilation of religious books. The 'A' books contained basic prayers (Ten Commandments, etc.), the 'B' book slightly more advanced material, and the 'C' book being a book of hours.
Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
1:19 am
Constance of Brittany's 1160 letter to Louis VII
I came across this letter, which C. Stephen Jaegar calls "remarkable" in his book, Ennobling love: in search of a lost sensibility (1999), and thought I'd share it here.

Constance of Brittany was the sister of Conan IV, duke of Brittany, and the aunt of the Constance who married Geoffrey of Brittany. In 1160 there seem to have been plans for a double-wedding with the Scots, as her brother Conan married Princess Margaret of Scotland and Constance's letter indicates that she was put forward as a bride for Malcolm IV.

This letter is striking because it's from a woman, first of all, and because it's sort of shockingly... emotional. Jaeger believes it's an example of the 'courtly love' type, but I'm sort of surprised that Constance would send something like this to Louis VII. The letter is so direct and the language doesn't seem flowery enough; I dunno, to me it comes across as the kind of letter a young woman would send to the object of her affections.

I wish your highness to know that I have long dwelt on the thought of you, and that while many men have offered me many gifts of love, I have never accepted any. But if it should please your generosity to send any token of love to me, who loves you beyond what words can convey, be it a ring or anything at all, I would hold that more precious than the whole world... And if there be anything in our parts which you would like to have, a hawk or a dog or a horse, I beg you not to delay sending me word of that through the bearer of this present letter. I swear to you that if fortune forsook me, I would rather wed the least of your servants than become Queen of Scotland. I will prove this by my actions. As soon as my brother, Count Conan, returns from England I will come to St. Denis to pray and to enjoy your presence. Fare well. Your welfare is mine.

At some point between this letter was written and 1167, Constance married Alan II de Rohan. Alan was a long-time supporter of her brother Conan. Judith Everard, in Brittany and the Angevins: province and empire, 1158-1203 (2000) suggests that this marriage was arranged to subdue Constance as much to reward Alan for his service.
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
2:02 pm
An armour-plated turkey: review of ‘Ironclad’, film about the 1215 Siege of Rochester

 If you’ve always wanted to see exactly what if would look like if someone hacked off another guy’s arm and bashed him over the head with the soggy end, then Ironclad is the film you’ve been waiting for all your life. (Yes, you really do see that in the film.)

 Read more...Collapse )

 Jonathan English, the writer and director, was inspired by the interpretive panels at Rochester Castle  and said “Wow! The bloodiest siege in English history! Hands and feet lopped off! Pigs slaughtered! We can make a Really Gritty and Realistic Movie out of this! Show people what medieval violence was Really Like!”

 Except of course they didn’t, and perhaps couldn’t. Because one thing about sieges is that They. Take. A. Very. Long. Time, and very large numbers of people, and you can’t make a gripping film about hundreds of people mostly just sitting about for 50 days unless you are a really gifted and original storyteller, which English and Kastel are not.

 So, they started putting in hero-tale elements, and be damned not only to history but common sense too. Having established at the outset that the rebel barons know they must Hold Rochester At All Costs or John will win and walk all over them, you’d think they’d send all their forces there, no? Er, no. One stray baron collects together four (yes, you read that right: four) oddball fighters who are his Old Comrades, his wet-behind-the-ears squire, and a Templar Knight with a 5 ½-foot two-hand sword who has lost his faith on Crusade; and the seven of them ride off to hold Rochester against John’s army. When they get there, they find that the elderly castellan, in spite of there being a civil war on, has only got six able-bodied soldiers to man it (and a hot young wife, natch). And that John’s army just happens to consist of a bunch of pagan Danes who prepare themselves for major onslaughts by grinding up an ultramarine pigment (presumably lapis lazuli!) in mortars and smearing it over themselves.

Medway Council are pleased as Punch about the film and have even given it a slot on their website. But actually not even Rochester locals are going to be impressed, because - guess what? - there is no Rochester in the film! What you see on screen is, very clearly, a castle next to a stone bridge over a river in a totally empty moorland landscape - no city, no cathedral, no Strood on the other side of the river, certainly no Temple Manor. Not even a cluster of rude huts or any cultivated fields. Nuffin!

 There are some funnies for locals to enjoy in the dialogue: our heroes ride in and tell the half-dozen members of the resident garrison that the castle will be besieged. "That portcullis in working order? Good. How's the water supply?" Fine, says the sergeant, "because our well goes straight down to the river". Which encourages our Templar Hero (but wouldn't me, given that the Medway is a tidal estuary). So all looks sweet till he walks out of the main gatehouse and says "Bugger. Bad news guys, there's no moat." Now (leaving aside the actual real-life fact that on all sides of Rochester Castle that don't face directly on to the river there was and is a moat) how could he possibly have failed to notice that as he rode in???? 

The forty pigs do feature, and fine ginger-haired Tamworth darlings they are – but they don’t get rendered down for fat, they just get driven straight into the mine which is then set on fire; so lots of squeals as they burn alive. Presumably this was done as much for brevity as for shock value.

 The characters are so badly written that even the good actors (they must have raised a lot of funding to employ the big names in this) can only walk through their parts. The Magnificent Seven don’t have personalities, just attributes: the Angry Sexy One, the Foul-Mouthed Brawler, the Unimpressive One with the Special Skill, the one who had retired to farm and look after his kids but comes back for One Last Mission… All the stuff they are given to do is drawn from old tired filmic clichés, such as:

- In interviews both the director and James Purefoy (who plays the Templar) have explicitly called this a “medieval Magnificent Seven”; either not realising or not caring that in MS there’s a good reason why there are only seven assorted misfits holding off the powers of badness, but none whatever in Ironclad. It would pass in a sword-&-sorcery or wu xia flick, but not in what’s supposed to be historical one.

- Hero goes over the wall without a word to anyone, everyone thinks he's deserting but no, he has gone to steal supplies from the enemy? Tick.

- The idealistic young lad is told "kill the women if the baddies get in" but can't bring himself to do it? Tick.

Yawn, yawn, yawn. You don't give a stuff about any of the characters, mainly because you don't for a moment believe in them. It's pure cartoon - but because the makers thought they were making a "gritty" "realistic" film, it's a dull sludge-coloured cartoon - the colour is so washed out it looks like a badly-degraded old print in need of restoration.

 Nobody seems to have made any effort to think medieval. I don’t mean only that they have explicitly rejected authentic medieval reality, although they have (English admitted in our local newspaper that they knew the castle walls would have been plastered and whitewashed, but that would have made it look too smart and comfortable); they just don’t get it even when it would be to their advantage. There’s one point where the besiegers are roistering in their camp while the defenders are sitting in the castle starving - with ranks of candles blazing in those floor-standing iron candelabra. All the history buffs in the audience were muttering “Eat the candles, you bozos! They’re pure calories!” And I think it actually would have made a great scene, to see Brian Cox glumly take a candle from its pricket, blow it out and start munching it.

 In addition to all this there are random packets of stupid:

 - John has a splendid scenery-chewing rant about the Divine Right of Kings in which he claims that his ancestors have ruled England for ‘thousands of years’. Shome mishtake there surely?

 - As soon as the royal forces arrive, the lovely chatelaine puts on a very décolleté metal-studded leather corset, with bare arms, and spend the entire siege dressed like that. I <i>think</i> it’s supposed to be armour, but it just looks like fetish wear.

 “Baron de Albany” twice remarks at random “I’m not a baron, I’m a wool merchant”. WTF is that supposed to mean?

 Archbishop Langton (Charles Dance, doing his best but hampered by a 1520s-style clerical bonnet and proto-ruff that make you think he should be worrying about Dr Luther and Erasmus*) shakes his head sympathetically and says to our Templar hero “I hear you lost your faith on crusade? Yes, that often happens”.

 The characters’ names are utterly bizarre. Two (Marshall and Becket) have names that belong to <i>somebody else</i> in Angevin England. Others are just so weird, inappropriate and un-medieval that it's as though the production team picked them by opening the telephone directory at random, or raised money to make the film by auctioning off the right to name a character after your uncle: e.g. Marks, Phipps, Jedediah. But the prize for weirdness goes to the blue-painted pagan Danish chief, whose name it – wait for it – Tiberius. I mean, why? Why?


* All the costuming is pretty iffy. Partly, again, because the desire to make things look realistically squalid and medieval has clashed with the desire to scatter them with random but cool-looking bits of metalwork and stuff. But also possibly because the designer was a Hungarian; everything looks just not-quite-Western-European. 

Sunday, March 20th, 2011
5:00 am
Another illegitimate child of King John?
I know. Knock me over with a feather.

So I did a post a couple years back about the twelve known illegitimate children of our very busy Plantagenet bad boy, King John. It would appear that John had at least one additional illegitimate child, probably a daughter, who was the mother of Roger de Meulan, bishop of Lichfield, the king's "dear nephew" (delecto nepote nostro; this king is Henry III) elected to the bishopric on January 30, 1257.

Most likely, Roger's mother was a daughter of King John. We know that he was apparently close to his uncle, Richard of Cornwall, who helped him get elected (procurante comite insuper Ricardo, ipsius Rogeri avunculo according to Matthew Paris); and that he was of age to be elected to a bishopric (no mention of a dispensation was made in the letter the chapter of Lichfield wrote to the archbishop of Canterbury regarding Roger's election) so he was aged about 30, with a birthdate at the latest in about 1227. Roger also seems to have had an unnamed sister who married Sir William de Seacourt and had two children of her own named William (a clerk living as late as 1297) and Denise.

It's sort of confusing working out the rest of Roger's family, since there's several Meulans running around who might've been his father. It's really too bad that his own register during his time as bishop has been lost, as that might've provided more clues about his family. But it seems certain, based on Henry III and Richard of Cornwall's testimony, that he was a nephew of theirs, almost certainly through his mother.

This, btw, brings to mind something that I've mentioned before. Out of King John's 12 identified illegitimate children, only 3 are female (Joan, who married Llywelyn Fawr; Isabel who married the lord of Degembris; and Maud, abbess of Barking). I thought that was a bit odd, and it's been my suspicion for some time now that John had more daughters who simply kept a low profile and/or married too far down the food chain for chroniclers to take any notice of them. The mother of Roger de Meulan is likely to have been one of these daughters. Another option was proposed by genealogist Douglas Richardson, that Roger's mother may have been John's illegitimate daughter Isabel, from a second marriage after her first husband died in 1211. This is possible but there's no real evidence for it.
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
8:36 pm
Time Team Bosworth special
I'm just watching this now on C4… Why the hell are they using Philippa Gregory as a 'historical expert'? She's a novelist, and not an accurate one, either…

Current Mood: WTF?!!
Friday, February 18th, 2011
4:47 pm
One reason why medieval people were taller than 18th and 19th century people?

It was recently reported that a study on infant growth carried out in the Czech Republic shows that children reared in homes where coal is the main source of energy for heating and cooking are significantly shorter – 1.3 centimetres less at 3 years old – than children from homes using any other kind of energy (including wood stoves).

 I had always wondered why the fall in average height in 18th and 19th century Britain was so consistent. Of course there was widespread poverty - but not everybody was poor; factories polluted their surroundings - but not everyone lived near a factory. But, on account of deforestation and the consequent shortage of firewood, the vast majority of British people did change from wood to coal for heating and cooking, so if this study is reliable that could very well explain it.

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
2:00 pm
Jean Flori says Henry II was a paedophile: is he justified?

A few days ago I took his Richard the Lionheart: King and Knight  out of my university library. I confess so far I have only been able to skim it, but my attention was caught by his unqualified characterisation of Henry as a “paedophile” on the basis of his alleged relationship with Alys of France.

 Flori says:
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 - p 58: “Henry II, who had probably made Alice his concubine while she was still a child…”

 - p 380-1: “In Alice’s case there were rumours at a very early stage of guilty relations with Henry II. Many chroniclers refer to them. In the thirteenth century, the Minstrel of Rheims was familiar with the main lines of the story, though he confused Richard with his brother and saw the ‘misdeed’ of Alice and the ‘faithless’ Henry II (who debauched the little girl when his son was in Scotland) as the cause of the Young King’s death:

‘But during this period, the faithless King Henry took such advantage of the little girl that he knew her carnally. But when Henry Curtmantle had returned and learned the truth of this, he was so angry that he took to his deathbed, and he died of it. And the little girl was sent back again tot his side of the sea, and she landed in the country of Ponthieu, where she stayed for a long time; because she dared not show herself to her brother, King Philip, because of her misdeed.’

According to Gerald of Wales, Henry II seduced the daughter of his suzerain, still a little girl, when she was in his care and this misconduct contributed to the hatred between him, Eleanor and his sons … We cannot take on trust everything recounted by this scandalmonger with a predilection for ‘spicy’ stories, with which he liked to illustrate his moralising assertions. But other chroniclers, without being so specific, also refer to Henry’s behaviour with the child in a way which effectively presents him as a paedophile. Richard of Devizes simply alludes in veiled terms to the ‘suspect custody’ provided by the king, but the usually well-informed Roger of Howden is very specific about how Richard, at Messina, finally gave Philip Augustus is reasons for not marrying his sister:

‘The king of England said that it was quite impossible for him to marry his sister because his father, the king of England, had slept with her and had a son by her,; sand he brought forward numerous witnesses who were ready to prove it in many ways.’”

OK, let’s unpick these statements.

1. As far as I know – and Flori shows - it was only in 1177 that concerns started to be voiced about Alice. By then she was 16, and of course in 12th-century terms had been marriageable for four years (which was precisely why Philip and his council were concerned that she hadn’t been married years ago). Even by 21st-century standards she would have reached the age of consent in nearly all of Europe and most of North America. I don’t think any reasonable person would call it ‘paedophilia’ for an older man to desire a nubile 15-or-16-year-old*, however wrong it would be for him to act on that desire, especially if he were her guardian.

 2. I have access to a copy of the 1990 Robert Levine translation of the Minstrel of Rheims, which includes this snippet of the original Old French:

 ‘…et vinrent à Londres, et trouverent le roi Henri qui merveilles fist grant fest de la venue à la pucele. Mais Henriiz ses fiuz au Court Mantel, n’estoit mie adonc en Engleterre; ains estoit en Escoe où il avoit grant besoigne à faire. En ces entrevaus li desloiaus rois Henriz ala tant entour la damoisele que il jut charneument à li….

 Now, the words ‘pucele’ and ‘damoisele’ could of course be applied to a pre-pubertal princes; but in themselves they carry no such connotation, and Flori’s translating of ‘damoisele’ as ‘little girl’ is just dishonest*. The more so as the Minstrel also says that the Young King had heard of the beauty and refinement of Philip’s sister and asked Henry to ask Philip for her hand on his behalf, which certainly implies a grown-up maiden and not a child. There is no way the Minstrel’s story can be read as a folk-memory of Henry’s having seduced Alys in her childhood.

 3. On Flori’s own showing, Richard of Devizes and Roger of Howden have nothing to say about at what age Henry seduced Alys; only that he did.

 4. I don’t have access to Gerald of Wales’s De Principiis Instructione (the reference Flori gives is III, 2, p 252): if anyone here has, can they report exactly what he says? Does he really describe Alys as a “little girl” when Henry first hit on her, or say this began before 1177?

Unless the answer to no 4 is yes, I don’t think Flori has a leg to stand on. Even if we take all the chroniclers’ allegations about Alys being Henry’s mistress as documented fact – which he himself admits we can’t – they still don’t show or even imply that this relationship began before Alys was a physical and (at least in 12th-century terms) legal adult.

 I must say that in this book Flori seems to be unhealthily keen to find paedophilia. In a footnote to his discussion of homosexuality in chivalric society he writes (p 395):

‘It is in my view quite mistaken to deduce from the story of the games King Stephen, who held him prisoner, played with William [Marshal], then still a little boy, that ‘tender relations’ existed between them, and ask: “Should we exclude from the attitudes natural to these warriors love for little boys?” Of course we should not exclude them, but no more should we deduce them from accounts which in no way suggest them.’

Indeed we shouldn’t. But is anybody except Flori himself raising the possibility in the first place? It would never occur to me to draw any other inference from the story of King Stephen sparing young William’s life and then joining in his games, than that Stephen was a kindly type with a soft spot for kids. Are there really any historians who suggest that Stephen had ‘tender relations’ (what a creepily icky phrase!**) with William? Or is this purely Flori’s own idea?

 What makes me think it might be, is the bizarre suggestion he makes (p 116) that Humphrey of Toron and the eleven-year-old Isabella of Jerusalem “may have married for love”. There no conceivable reason to think this - no chronicler suggests anything of the kind, and of course the feelings of underage princesses and teenage heirs to important fiefs weren’t consulted when arranging their marriages. Just how creepy is it to invent the idea of an eleven-year-old girl “marrying for love”?



* I’m aware of course that there are lots of people around, including some historians, who would. But I hold that being attracted to a physically mature young person isn’t paedophilic.


** Obviously I realise that this is a translation, and if anyone has the original French edition I’d be glad to know what word he does use here, and whether the translation conveys the same sense as the original French.   

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
2:36 am
Ideal manners for a 13th century lady
I found this interesting information about Chastoiement des dames, a mid-13th century ettiquete book by Robert de Blois, in "Courtly culture: literature and society in the high middle ages" by Joachim Bumke. Here's what was expected of a well-born lady:

1. A lady should walk with a measured pace on her way to church, offering friendly greetings to passersby and giving alms to the poor and sick;
2. "Beware, and let no man touch your breast, except for the one who has a right to [her husband]";
3. A lady should allow no one but her husband to kiss her on the mouth;
4. A lady should not stare at men, otherwise they might think it "done out of love";
5. A lady should not boast that someone has asked for her love;
6. A lady should not bear any skin but for her throat, hands, and her face;
7. A lady should not accept gifts from men who are not her relatives;
8. A lady should not quarrel;
9. A lady should not curse, nor drink or eat too much;
10. A lady should lift her veil when greeted by a great lord and return the greetings. Ladies need only be veiled at church or in the streets, but an ugly lady should be veiled often, and beautiful ones not at all;
11. A lady should drink wine to give herself good color, and eat cumin, anise, and fennel in the morning to cure bad breath;
12. A lady should be mindful of her behavior in church and not talk or laugh;
13. A lady should cross herself at the beginning and end of church;
14. A lady should let others leave church before herself when the service was over;
15. A lady should sing often if she had a beautiful voice;
16. A lady should keep her fingernails neat and trim;
17. A lady should not laugh or talk too much at meals. If she is eating with a man, she should cut the best bits for him. She should not wipe her nose or eyes on the tablecloth. If she is a guest, she should not eat too much;
18. "Nobody will love or serve a lady who lies often";
19. If a man confesses his love to her, the lady should answer seriously and remain faithful to her lord.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
7:35 pm
Richard II's skull
Richard II skull drawings have been found!

Current Mood: curious
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