Friday, December 02, 2016

Death by overexertion, an English duel of 1380

Some of you probably know that I am writing a source reader -- a book that combines medieval documents with modern commentary -- on the subject of judicial duels.  These were considered to be the most dramatic "deeds of arms" by contemporaries and modern re-enactors are very interested in them.  My book in fact was inspired by Will McLean's collection of sources in his blog, and he will be credited as co-author.

This book includes an account of an English duel between as squire,Thomas Katrington, and Sir John de Annesley.  Annesley, the knight accused Katrington, who had commanded a castle in France, of treason, because, said Annesley, he had surrendered it to the French when he had the resources to defend it.  After a certain amount of political back and forth among major players, including Duke John of Gaunt, a duel was arranged.  There was so much public interest that the crowds who attended were said to exceed those at the recent coronation of Richard II.

An interesting point is the way the duel ended.  It was said to be half an hour long, and very strenuous, with the weapons of either man being destroyed so that (I think) they  were fighting on foot with daggers.  They ended up both lying on the ground with Katrington on top.  The question then arose, what next?
Soon after [Annesley, the knight] was raised up, without any support he eagerly went to the king, while the squire [Katrington]who had been raised, was not able to stand nor go anywhere without the support of two men; and therefore, he was put upon a chair,  and he remained there quietly. The knight therefore came to the king and asked him, and his nobles, that he would grant him the grace, he should be put in the same place as before, with the squire on top of him... he realized that the squire was nearly at his last breath from the excess of [labor] and heat, and the weight of arms which had almost taken the vital spirits from him.
 In the meantime the squire, lacking breath, suddenly  fell off the chair, as if dead, among those who stood around him. Many therefore took care of him, pouring wine and water over the man; but nothing helped at all, until his arms and all of his clothing were removed . This being done  it proved that the knight was the victor and the squire defeated. After a long delay, however, the squire's spirit began to revive, and opening  his eyes he began to raise his head, and terribly began to look at all of those standing around ; when this was announced to the armored knight, (for the knight had not taken off his armor from the beginning of the fight) he approached the squire and called him a false traitor, and asked if he dared to repeat the duel. Since [Katrington] indeed had neither sense nor breath to answer, it was announced that the fight was over and that each should return to his own place. The squire therefore was soon carried to his bed, and he began to rave; and persisting  in his madness, the next day, about the ninth hour, he breathed forth his spirit. 
Interesting that an experienced warrior could end up dying of overexertion caused by among other things the weight of his armor.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Objectivity and the teaching historian

Andrew Holt of Florida State College at Jacksonville recently asked some medieval historians (he is one himself) to comment on the possiblity of "objectivity" in the teaching of history. I was one of them. Here are the answers he received.
Objectivity and and the classroom: ten historians respond.
There are no big surprises, but the similarity of views here might be of interest to non-academic readers.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

American Gods, Supernatural, and Jesus

Recently I have been reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, as well as watching the TV show Supernatural, which has been on for pretty close to 15 years now. I am finding both of them quite enjoyable. They have strong similarities, specifically they both take place in America (Trump's America?) where behind the scenes of ordinary life (a pretty dreary ordinary life mostly in the country or very small towns) biblical or pagan gods, culture heroes, and etc. pursue their own agendas, generally with bad effects on human beings through stumble across them.

American Gods has a high reputation and it is very entertaining and well-written. The specific plot of the story is that many of the ancient gods of European or Middle Eastern origin are trying desperately to make a living, generally by running some kind of scam. They are old and weak because nobody much believes in them anymore more and sacrifices are hard to come by.

There is one very noticeable weak point in American Gods, and that is the complete absence of Jesus in the storyline. When the human hero of the story comes across these gods and goddesses, many of them talk about how things are not nearly as good as they were back in the old days. They are upset about the current condition and talk about it in some detail. But Jesus never comes up. Churches, priests, ministers, huge suburban ministries with a strong television presence likewise. Jesus should be there in that landscape, but he isn't, not even as a figure on whom to blame the sad plight of the old gods. It is fully in line with the tone and logic of American Gods that the old guys should take a new human ear as an opportunity to pour out their troubles.

Supernatural is a bit different. A lot of biblical and semi-biblical mythology is strongly present in the main plot line. You can kind of understand how the makers of the TV series might back off from including any commentary whatsoever on Jesus.

But it is very odd that a novelist who likes think of himself as innovative, would censor himself in this way. Or is there some other explanation for his strong desire to ignore the most important American God?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Onslaught, by David Poyer

David Poyer's publisher sent me a proof copy of this book in hopes I would comment on it. I was a little hesitant since it is a "big war" story, and such books tend to be a bit on the fantastic side, and their authors often seem to be motivated by a smug confidence that they know better than their readers how things really work.

I very quickly became impressed with David Poyer's most recent naval adventure novel. Not necessarily because he knows more about the modern navy than I do, there's no doubt about that, but more because he has got a real talent for taking a complicated situation and showing how many different people are affected by the big events.

Poyer has written fifteen novels about a US naval officer named Dan Lenson and shown his hero dealing with a lot of different crises. In Onslaught, Lenson is in command of a naval squadron in the East China Sea just as the leader of communist China decides to launch a new militaristic dynasty by annexing Taiwan, Okinawa and a slew of other small but strategic islands. The US is caught flatfooted and Lenson has to desperately put together a response to Chinese aggression without clear direction from the political leadershib or adequate resources, such as fuel and ammunition. There's plenty of story in just this scenario, but Poyer doesn't stop there. He uses other characters very deftly to fill out the picture. We see Washington through the eyes of Lenson's wife, a defense expert who is also running for Congress; the complexities of shipboard life by following an NCIS investigator trying to track down a rapist; the extreme dangers of a career in the Navy SEALS and the high price of failure.

Poyer is a good storyteller, with a talent for explaining weapons systems, international politics and a variety of characters. I got hooked and read it at top speed.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Things change

A prominent English orchestra conductor said this on the radio yesterday, about refugee policy:

"It is nice to live in a country where we can do the right thing and not just the politically expedient thing." The country he was speaking about was, of course, Germany. The conductor was Sir Simon Rattle, who leads the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Not so long ago... looked like the world was experiencing an impressive democratic wave, similar to but even more widespread than the one that took place around 1905.  Things don't look too good now.  It is discouraging how in the name of democracy the republican tradition of Turkey, never completely secure in regards to its democratic practice, is being throughly trashed.

Juan Cole has a rather detailed summary of recent developments. Read 'em and weep.

The Turkish government has detained 11 members of parliament from the leftist, feminist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP),including the party’s co-chairs. This step is intended to give Erdogan the majority in parliament he needs to make himself president for life, and to give Turkey (currently a parliamentary government) an imperial presidency on the Egyptian model. The pretext was that these MPs declined to testify in a witch-hunt inquiry. I.e., this is precisely McCarthyism.

Since the failed July 15 coup, the Turkish government of President Tayyip Erdogan has fired 110,000 people–10,000 of them just last weekend– from the police, judiciary and other government offices. He has had 12,000 professors fired. Some 15 private universities have been summarily shut down on the grounds that they have some Gulen link. If all of them were involved in the coup, that action might be understandable. But manifestly, all were not. It is true that the rightwing religious Gulen cult has seeded covert agents throughout the Turkish government and business sector. But surely there are hundreds of them, not 110,000. Among the authoritarian steps he has taken is the lifting of parliamentary immunity, setting the stage or his current coup d’etat.

Erdogan has also closed down 45 newspapers, 16 television channels and all told, 130 media organizations. Some were accused of having Gulen tendencies. Others are pro-Kurdish. Still others are secular. Many are just sometimes critical of Erdogan, which apparently is no longer going to be allowed.

Woodpiles as art

Anyone who has heated a house with wood can't help but pay attention to woodpiles.  Just seeing a good pile ready for use stirs emotion; this kind of creative effort is truly fine.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Big Canada

From Today's Globe and Mail. I ask, was Big Canada even possible?
See this.
Whenever the idea of dramatically increasing immigration comes up, that Sir Wilfrid Laurier line is sure to be trotted out. You know the one: The 20th century will belong to Canada. The actual quote was that just as the 19th century had been the century of the United States, so Canada would “fill the 20th century.” The phrase is always invoked as an indictment against Canada’s present, and its smallness of vision. Laurier told us that one day we’d be big man on campus. And yet here we are, all these years later, somewhere between the 10th and 16th largest economy on earth.
In his 1904 speech to Ottawa’s new Canadian Club, Laurier engaged in more than a bit of hyperbole. It’s an occupational hazard of politics, in any era. But in the years before the First World War, many people really did believe that Canada was on its way to becoming one of the world’s best-governed and richest countries, and one of its most populous.
The first part of that prophecy – call it Model Canada – came to pass. Canada is a world leader when it comes to peace, order, good government and prosperity. But the second prediction – Big Canada – never happened. For some people, it remains a missed opportunity, like a ship that never sailed, but still could.
The thing is, Big Canada is a 20th-century idea. In the 21st century, it doesn’t compute. It’s an anachronism, like going online in 2016 and trying to book passage from the Old Continent to the New World in steerage class, on a steam-powered ocean liner.
But in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the age of hyper-nationalism, Big Canada made a great deal of sense. The size of one’s population mattered. It was one of the attributes that allowed countries to survive, and avoid being conquered by their neighbours. Population was military power. And a little more than 100 years ago, it was widely believed that the British Empire’s centres of population and power would soon be fast-growing Canada and Australia, not Britain.
If that had come to pass, it might have changed history. Back in 1914, the Kaiser would have been reluctant to go to war if Britain and her dominions, instead of having fewer people than the German Empire, had far more.
And in 1939, if Adolf Hitler told his generals of his plan to fight France, Britain and the 100-million strong Dominion of Canada, they would have overthrown him. The Nazis would have had no hope of victory against the overwhelmingly superior wealth and population of the British Commonwealth, led by that industrial colossus, the arsenal of democracy, Big Canada. It’s fun to dream about what might have been. But the problems a much more populous Canada might once have solved are themselves locked in the past.
The main question today for Canadians and their governments should be what can be done to make us and our fellow citizens, and generations to come, safer, freer, happier and wealthier.
The Trudeau government is on the right path in at least asking how to boost incomes in the long run. At the same time, on Monday the government put its recently acquired obsession with Big Canada on hold, at least for now, when Immigration Minister John McCallum sidelined the recommendations of the advisory council on economic growth, and announced the immigration target for next year will be 300,000, the same as this year.
The research shows an at-best tenuous connection between population growth and economic success – and the government’s own polling shows voters expressing little appetite for the large increases in immigration needed to bring about Big Canada, several decades from now.
In his 1904 speech, Laurier pointed out that the Canada of his day was already more populous than “many of the nations of Europe who have filled history with their fame and renown.” His list included Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. A century later, these countries, along with Canada, are among the handful leading the world in quality of life. And Canada already has more people than all of them combined. Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe alone has as many people as Sweden.
Can Torontonians of the future be made more prosperous and happier than the Swedes, simply by ensuring that, in a few decades, Toronto and its suburbs have three or four times as many people as Sweden? Can a Canada that currently has one-ninth the U.S. population be made better off simply by raising our population to, say, one-seventh that of our neighbour?
Other than setting this country up to jump into a time machine to refight the battles of the last century, it’s not clear what Big Canada is supposed to accomplish.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A History of Political Trials by John Laughland

Looks interesting!

The modern use of international tribunals to try heads of state for genocide and crimes against humanity is often considered a positive development. Many people think that the establishment of special courts to prosecute notorious dictators represents a triumph of law over impunity. In A History of Political Trials, John Laughland takes a very different and controversial view. He shows that trials of heads of state are in fact not new, and that previous trials throughout history have themselves violated the law and due process. It is the historical account which carries the argument. By examining trials of heads of state and government throughout history – figures as different as Charles I, Louis XVI, Erich Honecker, Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor – Laughland shows that modern trials of heads of state have ugly historical precedents. In their different ways, all the trials he describes were marked by arbitrariness and injustice, and many were gross exercises in hypocrisy. Political trials, he finds, are only the continuation of war by other means. With short and easy chapters, but the fruit of formidable erudition and wide reading, this book will force the general reader to re-examine prevailing opinions on this subject. Book (Paperback) ISBN:9781906165529 DOI: Availability:Available Subjects:History and Political Science Formats:EPUBPDFPaperback Recommended Retail Price CHF** SFr.20.00 EURD** €17.30 EURA** €17.80 EUR* €16.20 GBP* £13.00 USD* $21.95

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jokerman wins the Nobel Prize


I am extraordinarily pleased that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I am not a hard-core Dylan fan, and I know little of his work from the past 40 years. But I was witness to his phenomenal early career, and that's why I feel confident in concurring with the Nobel Prize committee, probably for entirely different reasons.

Here is a guy who by most standards could not sing worth a damn, was only a moderately good instrumentalist, and whose lyrics by popular or folk music standards were more often than not pretty obscure. When it came to evaluating Bob Dylan's place in the musical universe, Dylan saw himself as a uniquely important singer, and the rest of the world -- at least at first -- saw him as someone who was not even worth listening to, with his terrible voice and his incomprehensible lyrics.

Well, guess who won that confrontation? Guess who was right?

Hat's off to the Nobel committee for recognizing Dylan's unique importance, whatever excuse they offered for doing so.

Their official reasoning for the prize, by the way, is also, quite rightly, a recognition of the importance of the American contribution to the explosive creativity of the late 20th century.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Book of Horsemanship by Duarte I of Portugal, translated by Jeffrey L. Forgeng

A new translation of this fascinating treatise on horsemanship by a fifteenth-century king. This interview with Jeffrey Forgeng comes from Boydell and Brewer's newsletter on their line of medieval history books, the Medieval Herald. Anyone interested in how horses and knights related to each other in the later Middle Ages should have a look.

The Book of Horsemanship by Duarte I of Portugal Translated by Jeffrey L. Forgeng

Jeffrey L. Forgeng is curator of Arms and Armor and Medieval Art at the Worcester Art Museum, and Adjunct Professor of History at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Dr Forgeng, welcome back to the Medieval Herald! Coming so soon after the publication of The Art of Swordsmanship yours is by far the quickest return appearance we’ve had. Does this mean that you were working on your latest publication, The Book of Horsemanship, alongside The Art of Swordsmanship?

I actually finished the initial version of the Art of Swordsmanship more than a decade ago, when I was curator at the Higgins Armory Museum. The museum closed in 2013, and its final years were very challenging for me: writing books was therapeutic, being one of the few things in my life over which I had some control. But what I couldn’t control was the pace of publication, so by the time the Armory closed I had a prodigious backlog of largely completed books. Somehow the backlog started to clear quickly after that: I had two books come out in 2015, two more this year, and I anticipate another in 2017.

When did you first encounter the Livro do Cavalgar?

As the curator of a collection of armor, I am naturally interested in resources that help me interpret these objects for the public. Some years ago a translation of Duarte’s book came out, and I bought a copy. The translation wasn’t accurate enough for me to use it, but there was enough there to make it obvious that the book offered a remarkable window into the material culture of chivalry.

Its author is Duarte I, king of Portugal – did he write it during his reign?

Duarte produced most of the book while he was still crown prince, prior to 1433. As early as the 1410s, when he had only just turned 20, Duarte was playing a significant part in his father’s government, and that role increased over time, but he still found time to work on the book amidst his administrative duties. His first foray into government, helping to administer the country while his father was preparing an expedition to the Moroccan port of Ceuta, brought on a major bout of depression. The Book of Horsemanship seems to have been partly motivated by this episode. Duarte tells us that writing the book helped him occupy his mind constructively during times when his mind might otherwise focus on unhealthy thoughts—I can relate, since translating the work played a similar role in my life. But once Duarte came to the throne he had to set the book aside for a number of years, picking it up again to finish the remaining chapters sometime around 1437.

Was it published and widely read at the time?

Remarkably, no. One might imagine that a book by the king would be well stewarded after his death, but the sole surviving copy seems to have left the country with his widow Eleanor in 1440. The manuscript passed into the holdings of Eleanor’s family, the Aragonese royal house, ending up in the family’s palace in Naples. It was either plundered or purchased by the French crown around 1500, making its way to Paris, where it now resides in the Bibliothèque Nationale. For all those centuries, the Portuguese remembered that Duarte had written a book on horsemanship, but it wasn’t rediscovered until 1804.

How much do we know of Duarte? What sort of man was he and did he make a successful king?

Anyone who reads The Book of Horsemanship will be struck by Duarte’s intelligence and insight. He’s steeped in medieval scholastic culture, yet his insights have a freshness that speaks across the centuries. As a king he was an able administrator, but he seems to have lived under the shadow of his father. In 1437 he tried to repeat his father’s military success with an attack on Tangier, but the expedition was a disaster: the attack failed, and Duarte’s youngest brother was captured, dying in prison a few years later. Duarte himself succumbed to the plague in 1438—though I suspect the stress of the Tangier expedition was a factor as well. The final chapters of the Book of Horsemanship may have been written while Duarte was anxiously awaiting news from Tangier. They are very different from the rest of the book: rushed, breathless, and distracted, and the text breaks off rather abruptly at the end.

The Book of Horsemanship is much more than a guide to riding, it seems to touch on all aspects of equestrianism. Duarte must had had a deep affinity with horses and have held them to be of great significance.

In the past I have always assumed that knights had a strong bond with their warhorses, but Duarte has made me reconsider that. His attitude to the horse is utilitarian: he rarely says “the horse,” almost always a besta, “the animal.” From at least the 1500s equestrian authors have said much about horse psychology, but the subject rarely comes up in The Book of Horsemanship. For Duarte, the horse appears to be comparable to a car today—an object you take reasonable care of, but not something in which you necessarily have any emotional investment.

Do you think that modern riders could still benefit from Duarte’s coaching?

Duarte is a spectacularly insightful analyst of the psychology of riding, addressing crucial questions like fear, confidence, and pedagogy...

The work is singularly important because it’s the sole surviving contemporary source on the definitive skill of the medieval knight. Why do you think this is the only example when many more swordfighting manuals still exist?

Combat manuals are relatively easy to generate: you just have to think of scenarios and come up with possible responses. The permutations are infinite, modular, and easy to illustrate. To write a really good book on horsemanship takes a mind like Duarte’s, capable of seeing through the surface to grasp the underlying principles—while still keeping an eye on material details like whether you should buckle your jousting helmet in front or in back first.

What among Duarte’s advice struck you as most telling of the man himself?

Duarte has a great discussion about how to cultivate and display confidence on horseback. After a lengthy theoretical discussion about confidence, he offers a few specific tricks: if your horse is acting up, he says, deliberately adjust your clothing, as if you were more concerned about the angle of your hood than about your horse. People will think you are a confident horseman, and you’ll start to feel more confident in yourself. But he’s quick to reassure the reader that this kind of deliberate display won’t lead to a habit of lying!

May we ask what your future projects are? Any more translations? I actually undertook the Duarte translation as a waypoint in a long-term project to translate Pedro Monte’s Collectanea. Monte was a Spanish knight working in Italy around 1500s: the Collectanea is a Latin translation by Monte himself of his Castilian treatise on martial arts, sports, military equipment, horsemanship, and other topics important to a knight. But Monte’s Latin is dreadful, and the multiple linguistic layers make this the single most difficult translation I’ve ever done. Duarte has been a huge help: he is another Iberian addressing similar topics from a similar perspective. Coming back to Monte, I find him much easier to understand, and in fact I’m only months away from having the translation ready for press.

The Book of Horsemanship by Duarte I of Portugal

Translated by Jeffrey L. Forgeng

7 colour & 3 b/w illus.; 184pp, 9781783271030, £25/$45, hardback

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Canadian ideals, 1957

This is how the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration greeted a new Canadian citizen in 1957:

Dear Madam,

I wish to take this opportunity of congratulating you personally upon the attainment of Canadian Citizenship. By this certificate of citizenship you have been granted the rights and privileges of the citizen of Canada. These rights and privileges entitle you to freedom of speech, religion, thought and action, the right to vote as you choose, and the right to be secure in your possessions.

Your citizenship carries with it the obligation of defending your adopted country in time of need, of living in peaceful brotherhood with your fellow Canadians, and of doing your part in the preservation of Canadian ideals and institutions.

I extend to you a warm welcome on this solemn occasion and I invite you to share with us the ancient liberties of a free people living together in harmony, under a democratic government which recognizes the rights of all its citizens.

Ellen L. Fairclough,


Note: this certificate of citizenship (?) looks like a letter from the Minister and has no date. Note that the Queen is not mentioned. Nor is the recipient named.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The French Revolutionary Calendar

At a certain point, the dominant revolutionary party in France decided that the new Republic needed to be purged of all traditional, Christian and monarchical symbolism. The new calendar went far beyond a mere renaming of the months. The year and the months were given new starting points, and new names based on the seasons, the weather and the agricultural year were devised.

French historians of the Revolution often use the new calendar when discussing the events of the most turbulent period of the Revolution, in part because that is how dates are identified in the documents they study, but also (I think) because using them gives modern people a feeling for how the Revolution seemed to all concerned as a whole new era of the world. If you are not steeped in this stuff, however, you may find it rather difficult to figure out when the Year II was, or the month of Thermidor.

But wait! Brittanica has an attractively illustrated primer on the months of the Calendar. I think lots of people may find this useful.

Image: One of the great Revolutionary celebrations: the Festival of the Supreme Being 20, Prairial Year II (8 June 1794).

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Purge those evil foreigners

From the Guardian:
Leading foreign academics from the LSE acting as expert advisers to the UK government were told they would not be asked to contribute to government work and analysis on Brexit because they are not British nationals.

The news was met with outrage by many academics, while legal experts questioned whether it could be legal under anti-discrimination laws and senior politicians criticised it as bewildering.

“It is utterly baffling that the government is turning down expert, independent advice on Brexit simply because someone is from another country,” said Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ EU spokesman.

“This is yet more evidence of the Conservatives’ alarming embrace of petty chauvinism over rational policymaking.”

Sara Hagemann, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics who specialises in EU policymaking processes, EU treaty matters, the role of national parliaments and the consequences of EU enlargements, said she had been told her services would not be required.
It's the end of the British Empire, at the hands of its own people. Late Roman historians, think of this.

Image: Stilicho, an obvious evil foreigner.

Review of Woolgar, C. M. The Culture of Food in England 1200-1500

Reviewed by Paul Freedman
Yale University
No longer a neglected field, the study of medieval food has flourished recently. At one time it was the dearth of food, outright famines or food-supply problems that occupied the attention of historians, but taste preferences, the food styles of the Middle Ages and the development of cookbooks are now being investigated as part of an expansion of interest in material culture and in food history generally. Scholars such as Massimo Montanari, Bruno Laurioux and Trude Ehlers have enriched our knowledge of the international and regional fashions and practices in medieval cuisine while the basic standards of living have been explored by Pere Benito for Catalonia or Christopher Dyer for England. A virtue of this new and wide-ranging book by C. M. Woolgar is its treatment of both the effort and business of obtaining food and the manner of cooking and serving it. Food shortages and the difficulties of weather, war and low crop yields are considered, but so are banquets and less extravagant manifestations of festive aesthetics and appreciation. Medical literature and advice is included as are the flexible interpretations of monastic dietary regimens, but the emphasis here is on the gustatory experience of ordinary people, ordinary people with enough prosperity to have some choice in what they consumed, to be sure, but not necessarily nobles.
Woolgar does not rely exclusively on court cookbooks, accounts of great feasts or other evocations of princely entertainments. Those celebrated events, however, influenced the tastes of the other classes, down to the merely modestly well-off. Woolgar emphasizes that while certain effects such sculpted entremets such as edible castles or giant pies, or peacocks cooked and sewn back into their skin and feathers were beyond the reach of all but a tiny elite, aristocratic tastes for highly-spiced food and wine or consumption of game or lampreys were adopted by their social inferiors. Cloves and nutmeg might be prohibitively expensive, but cinnamon was widely used and pepper became so common by the mid-fifteenth century as to be associated pejoratively with the higher peasantry.
Limited to England, the book does not provide a wide-angle view of medieval cuisine as a whole, nor does it concern itself much with regional differences. It is, however, a thorough and fascinating study in depth, imaginatively using sources especially archaeology, household accounts and coroners' records. In an earlier book, The Great Household, Woolgar looked at the aristocratic way of life, including dining, on the basis of the physical remnants of grand houses and castles as well as the records of purchases for these households. Here particular use is made of the records left by officers in charge of supplying the kitchens of ecclesiastical as well as noble houses, showing the organization of large-scale buying a few times a year, more frequent opportunities afforded by regional fairs (especially for luxuries such as dried fruit or spices), and the everyday supplements from markets and urban retailers. Such purchases were in addition to basic commodities such as wheat, malt or meat supplied by dependent tenants or storage centers set up to supply itinerant courts.
New here is the use of evidence of unnatural death to reconstruct what snacks people were munching on or what food-seeking activities they were engaged in just before they accidentally drowned, fell or were burned or scalded to death. The coroners' inquiries provide snapshots of daily life, serene but retrospectively grisly prologues to tragedy. Children and the elderly fell into wells and ditches intending to get a drink of water (43), the consumption of water being more common than historians usually believe. Hot water was also hazardous and we can see brewing and boiling of vegetables in large cauldrons going on through the accounts of unfortunate mishaps (35-36). The results of drunkenness, hunting accidents and falling out of orchard trees are common food-related incidents immortalized by coroners' rolls.
Food has always served as a marker of social distinction, not just dividing those who have more than enough to eat from those who are hungry, but also within the category of the affluent, those who occupy various stages of privilege. Divisions within the comfortable classes were codified less by formal sumptuary laws than by arrangements for banquets whose various tables featured different numbers and types of dishes depending on the social quality of those invited. The exhaustive details of carving and ceremonial are presented here as evidence for a food culture that was regulated, formal but at the same time convivial. In common with the Victorian banquet. the medieval feast featured an intimidating display of precious metal, elaborate décor, fancy dress and remarkable and copious food—but it was organized in an entirely different fashion. Tables were movable and rooms were used for various purposes other than simply dining. Musical and theatrical entertainment was more important than in the nineteenth century. Woolgar is particularly innovative in describing the culinary festivities of regional guilds, particularly in Stratford-on-Avon, whose feasts were ample, immense even, but not as refined or exotic in terms of the actual food served as at those arranged for the aristocracy.
Woolgar mentions aspects of dining that the reader will very likely have wondered about without ever knowing quite the answer: how much meat was consumed in monasteries and with what justification for straying from the Benedictine Rule's austerity; where dining took place (meat-eating was often kept separate in monastic communities), how much in the way of vegetables, fruit, cheese (all considered beneath the notice of court cooks and chroniclers) were consumed by the affluent and in what forms, when spices first became de rigueur (after the 1270s), or the introduction of beer with hops as opposed to the domination of ale.
Woolgar shows diners having a good time together. Food was an important form of social distinction and entertainment. Medieval ceremoniousness in comparison with modern habits is part of an overall regime of commensality. Although not in every respect enviable, the medieval centuries constitute a world in which all chickens were free range, people knew where their food came from, and the company at the table was exempt from some of the distractions that today interfere with our pleasure in dining.


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Review of Will a Frenchman Fight? ed. Steven Muhlberger Deeds of Arms, 4.

I'm grateful for this positive review but I wish the reviewer had said more about the main theme of the book, the often conflicting demands of military effectiveness and individual honor in the minds of men at arms of the time.

Muhlberger, Steven, ed. and trans. Will a Frenchman Fight?. Deeds of Arms, 4. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2015. Pp. viii, 102. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-937439-17-0.

Reviewed by Katherine Hodges-Kluck

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Will a Frenchman Fight? is Steven Muhlberger's third contribution to the Deeds of Arms Series. This sourcebook focuses on the great chevauchée, or raid, led by Thomas of Woodstock, first earl of Buckingham, through French territory in 1380-81. The book opens with an 18-page introduction, followed by selections of Froissart's Chroniques and Cabaret d'Orville's 1429 Chronicle of the Good Duke. As Muhlberger explains, Cabaret received his information from the French knight Jean de Châteaumorand, who recollected the events of his youth. Together, therefore, these chronicles provide two contemporary perspectives on the raid. The book concludes with a short bibliography for further reading.

The 1380-81 chevauchée was a response to duke of Brittany Jean de Montfort's call for aid after he was exiled for opposing the French king's attempts to exert royal jurisdiction over the ducal succession in Brittany. Will a Frenchman Fight? does an excellent job of highlighting the precarious situation which de Montfort faced. Out of favor with Charles V of France and charged with treason, the duke turned to the English for assistance, only to be thwarted by his own lords who refused to accept foreign support against their fellow countrymen. The introduction and primary sources in Will a Frenchman Fight? highlight these overlapping and frequently conflicting layers of leadership and allegiances, which in turn shaped France's military response to the rebellious de Montfort and his would-be English allies.

Muhlberger's introduction begins by outlining some of the major events of the four decades leading up to Buckingham's raid, including the Black Death, the English victory at Poitiers, the capture of the French king Jean II, and the Jacquerie rebellion. Muhlberger effectively demonstrates the economic pressures that shaped Edward III's and Parliament's military decisions on the one hand, and Charles V's struggles to "re-establish royal authority" in France on the other (5). The rest of the introduction then breaks down the sequence of events for the chevauchée and discusses the varied motivations of the French and English soldiers involved in it. The author assumes some basic knowledge of the first phase of the Hundred Years War, and the major players involved. It is not until midway through the introduction, for instance, that the reader learns that Buckingham is the "son of the King of England" (13), and only in the color plate of Buckingham's coat of arms in the middle of the book that the reader finds the earl's full name and titles.

The primary source section of the book presents the events of the chevauchée in chronological order, following the English on their march through enemy territory, their largely unsuccessful attempts to engage their enemy in battle during the winter months, and finally their retreat back to the coast. The primary texts have been thoughtfully selected to highlight the nuances of the complicated political, as well as tactical, situations posed by the English presence in France. As the book's title suggests, the sources shed light on "a variety of different kinds of combat and different motives for fighting" (3). In particular, they depict the tensions between 1) open pitched battles like those of Crécy and Poitiers, which favored the English; 2) the pragmatic but unpopular scorched-earth tactics employed by both the French and the English armies at the expense of the French populace; and 3) the desire of individual knights and squires on both sides of the conflict to demonstrate chivalric honor through individual combat.

The sources are divided into eight sections, throughout which chapter numbers and titles from the original texts are included as subheadings. Six of the sections are drawn from Froissart, while the remaining two (which are relatively short by comparison) are from Cabaret's chronicle. In the first section, titled "Buckingham's Campaign Begins," Froissart describes the exchange of ambassadors between Brittany and England, and Edward III's subsequent plans for an armed expedition into France. The chronicler discusses the deployment of troops, the effects of international alliances on events, and the capture of prisoners of war. The next section, "The Confrontation at Troyes," describes the skirmishes between French and English forces outside that city. The third section, "The Deeds of Arms at Toury and Marchenoir," follows the English army's travels into Brittany and the reception that the English received in various towns along the way, a reception that ranged from lukewarm to outright hostile. This section also includes Froissart's account of the death of Charles V. In "Buckingham in Brittany," Froissart shows the complicated political situation facing Jean de Montfort. He also describes the siege of Nantes and the coronation of the child king, Charles VI. The next passage, "The Siege of Nantes," is drawn from Cabaret's chronicle. It describes how the French defenders of the city used a variety of tactics to drive back and defeat the English besiegers. The next two selections, both titled "The Deeds of Arms at Vannes," give first Froissart's and then Cabaret's descriptions of individual combats between some of the knights and squires of the two armies. The final section, "Nicholas Clifford and Jean Boucinel," turns again to Froissart's text, outlining the peace concluded between Jean de Monfort and Charles VI, the English retreat out of Brittany, and an individual chivalric combat between Clifford and Boucinel.

While English translations of portions of Froissart's Chroniques have long been available, Cabaret's chronicle is less familiar to English readers, and this book makes a welcome contribution by including passages from it (though one wishes they were longer). Muhlberger's translations are clear and appealing to readers of all levels. This book should be a popular one for use in college classrooms, as it is accessible, attractive, affordable, and offers many topics of potential discussion.

The weaknesses of the book are largely structural. There is no index, and although Muhlberger defines specialized terms such as a outrance within the text (17), a glossary of such terms, as well as of important names, would make the book more user-friendly. Moreover, the two maps that the book reproduces (France at the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 and at the death of Charles V in 1380), while in full color, are antiquated--one dates to 1877--and rather difficult to read. The book would benefit from a map that clearly plotted the route taken by the English army during the raid and the locations of important cities and skirmishes specifically mentioned in the text. It would also be useful to have in-text references to the images in the color plates at the center of the book.

Ultimately, this source reader presents a detailed view into an exciting yet lesser-known episode of the Hundred Years' War. Rather than placing attention on the famous battles like Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, Will a Frenchman Fight? shows the more common side of war: one marked by short skirmishes, inconclusive raids, prolonged sieges, individual desire for honor, bad weather and disease, and the vicissitudes of fortune and politics.


Monday, October 03, 2016

Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner

I have read other books by Eric Foner and have yet to find one that I didn't learn a great deal from. One of the things I learned from this one, which is a condensed version of a much larger work, is that the racial politics of the United States shows an amazing amount of continuity. Other works I have recently read have shown the discourse of immigration and religious identity now seen in the United States then was also present in the 1840s and 50s. Thinking about the 1860s and 70s shows a similar similarity between now and then. It just feels so familiar. Years ago when I first started teaching 20th century European history and world history I came to the conclusion that for a great many people World War I did not end in 1918 – large parts of the world were still at war or at least in a chaotic condition until about 1922. I wonder if it makes sense to separate the Civil War from Reconstruction using the usual date of 1865 as a dividing line. The amount of violence that took place in various parts of the South is quite astonishing. The majority of conflicts were in fact initiated by Southern whites, and there are very few violent incidents where white casualties outnumbered Black casualties.