Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Matthew Paris really did not like the papal court

The great English chronicler and illustrator Matthew Paris is famous for his dislike of foreigners. Among the worst of foreigners were the Romans, the term he used primarily to mean members of the papal court, who used their positions to enrich themselves. In the 1250s, King Henry III of England and the Pope made an agreement which obliged Henry to conquer the kingdom of Sicily at his own expense; which would eliminate the Pope's most dangerous enemies. No one in England thought this was a good idea, except perhaps the King and the son that he was going to put on the Sicilian throne. Matthew Paris's reaction is a great example of his scathing anti-foreigner rhetoric.

In consequence of this [agreement], the Pope's messengers vied with one another, as it were, in coming to England to the king, for the purpose of carrying off his rich presents; for they smelled the sweet savor of his money from afar.

A few pages later, Paris illustrates "Roman" greed:
Master Berard de Nympha, native of the suburbs of Rome, died suddenly about the same time. He was a crafty and wealthy man, had been a clerk of Richard Earl of Cornwall, and had extorted money from the Crusaders on various specious pretexts. Amongst his goods was found in a coffer choose one of blank sheets sealed with the bull [the most important papal seal], which might be filled up at pleasure and applied to any misuse, such as fraudulently extorting money from the poor as if by authority of the Pope.

At first, Matthew's Chronicle struck me as pretty tedious, but it got better as it went along. There's a rhythm to these things, and it eventually caught me. Peres could write almost as well as he could draw.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Some of Matthew Paris's favorite words

Extortions, oppressions, legate.

There's always a bad papal legate practicing extortions and oppressions.

Image: A legate at work, drawn by Matthew Paris.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Hawley and Shakell hit the stage

I have a bad feeling that someone told me about this (Will McLean?) and I can't remember who. But it's not in my blog, or his, as far as I can tell so here goes.

A few of you may remember that back at the end of the year I said that there was a story waiting to be told about , who captured a Spanish count in the 14th century wars and spent decades trying to cash in on their "good fortune." Hawley ended up being murdered in Westminster Abbey (I recall being told it was during high mass) by thugs working for a royal duke, who wanted control of the captive to promote his diplomatic schemes. I said I would make a good medieval murder mystery or maybe a movie...

...little dreaming that there is a stage play from the 1840s online here. I haven't had a chance to read it yet so I can't tell you whether it is any good. But I bet John of Gaunt is the bad guy.

Next: the lost Broadway musical about Hawley-Smoot.

Update: The play Count de Denia, or the Spaniard's Ransom, is pretty dreadful pseudo-Shakespeare. John of Gaunt is the bad guy; otherwise great liberties are taken with history.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Staffordshire hoard website

R.S. Nokes passes on the link for the clearinghouse website.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

More on the Staffordshire hoard

The BBC has a good article.


... there are two main possibilities.

The first is that this treasure has been purposefully deposited, like an offering to a god.

But, from my 21st-Century perspective, I find it bewildering that someone could shove so much metalwork into the ground as an offering. That seems like overkill.

The other possibility is it's a treasure chest that got lost, or they couldn't come back for it.

The material is predominantly associated with war - swords, sword fittings, bits of helmets and the like - but all the precious metalwork has been stripped.

That means they're not treasuring the objects as wholes,they're taking the precious metals off and keeping them.

Most things we find from the Anglo-Saxon period are what we call "chance finds", in other words the things people lost, or hoards purposefully deposited, or finds from burials.

But hoarding is more associated with the Viking period. Things like big coin hoards are more a 10th-Century sort of find. This is a strange phenomenon in this country for the 7th Century.

People will now be working to understand when the material was deposited, then we'll look at what we know of the history - which is not a lot - to tie it down.

The finds date from a wide period, which is unusual, so the first thing this may do is help us improve our dating of the Anglo-Saxon period.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boxes and boxes of gold

That's what one expert said about the biggest Anglo-Saxon treasure trove ever found -- a huge collection of items, many of them stripped off weapons. This has got to be the hidden wealth of a king or a very successful army at the end of a string of luck. The image above, from the BBC story, is engraved with a biblical verse in Latin: "Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face." Says the BBC: "It has two sources, the Book of Numbers or Psalm 67, taken from the Vulgate, the Bible used by the Saxons."

If you want to see more -- lots more -- go to this Flickr page and use the slide show.

Top story in the UK today, I hear.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Women and the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381

Jonathan Jarrett directs me to the blog Bavardess, which I have missed up till now. Its author has an interesting post on the role of women in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, saying, among other things:
While most historical accounts up until the 1980s (at least) discuss the revolt as an almost wholly male enterprise, source documents including trial records and pardons show women were very much active participants, and even instigators and organisers of rebellion.
At left, for example, is an extract from a commission of Oyer and Terminer (‘hear and determine’) held in Essex directly after the revolt to seek out those responsible. Amongst the people accused of riding armed through the countryside and inciting the commons to rise against the king is one “Nichola Cartere who was lately taken as wife by William Dekne of South Benfleet”*. In another case, records from the court of King’s Bench describe Johanna Ferrour as the “chief perpetrator and leader” of a rebel group from Kent who burnt the Savoy and executed Sudbury and Hales**[an extraordinarily important episode--SM].
A good insight -- and there is more good stuff about the gendered language of revolt in the original post. When it comes to women's participation, I am reminded of how much the Peasants' Revolt reminds me of the earliest stages of the French Revolution of 1789. John Ball's list of demands makes me think that he would've loved The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. And of course 1789 was famous for the inspiring/scandalous political participation of women, which was not unprecedented even if they went much farther in 1789.

Then there is Tehran, 1979 and 2009, both times when women's initiative was/has been a key factor...

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Medieval women's magazine?

That is what the Toronto Star called this 15th century manuscript unearthed by Wilfrid Laurier University English professor James Weldon. More properly, it is a commonplace book, an interesting genre of writing not unlike blog writing (or better, diary writing) in some respects. Janice Liedl, a Laurentian University historian who has worked with such things, comments on the Star article:

While the Star’s characterization of the work as a precursor to a modern women’s magazine in the vein of Chatelaine or Cosmopolitan is a little bit over-the-top, it does seem to be a great example of a purpose-assembled collection of manuscript material ranging from medical recipes to literary excerpts, what we might call a florilegia [florilegium sm]. By the sixteenth century, these collections were known as commonplace books. And, contrary to the comments of some of the newspaper readers, literate women were hardly unknown at this time or uninvolved in producing their own manuscripts of either original works or anthologies. So this document is hardly unprecedented but I’d say it’s because of that context that the story seems all the more interesting.

I’ve worked with a number of women’s commonplace books at libraries such as the Folger (and really ought to get back to some of that line of enquiry, one of these days) that have a similar range of subjects, though most of those seem to be in the hand of one copyist, presumably the user who collected the tidbits of particular interest by copying them as they were encountered, rather than literally pulling folio sheaves together. This manuscript, from the images provided, has very different “hands” and might be assembled from different texts produced at many times and places. So it seems as if this set of texts have been more “collected for” an individual reader than “collected by” an individual copyist as most of the commonplace books have been.

So I’ll wait to see if some more information about this manuscript percolates out into the scholarly community. It’s certainly an example that I’ll be using in this fall’s senior seminar when we discuss gender implications for reading and writing in the early modern period!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Robin and Marian (1976): the middle-aged Middle Ages

Robin Hood comes back to England after 20 years away, crusading and fighting in France, and finds that his old love, Marian, is now an abbess. And she is not young, or particularly impressed by his devil-may-care attitude. Everybody else Robin knew back when is old or dead. Nevertheless, he proceeds to try to live up to his own self-image and the even bigger legend that has grown up around him in his old neighborhood. The results are tragic, though derived from an actual Robin Hood ballad.

This is a remarkable movie. It stars Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, and a luminous Audrey Hepburn. The screenplay author is James Goldman, who wrote the Lion in Winter and They Might Be Giants. The director was Richard Lester, who gives this material an unheroic treatment similar to that which he gave to the Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers a few years earlier. The physical setting, the buildings and the costumes are very good if not perfect. What really makes the movie is the psychological reality, of Richard Lionheart dying of his own greed and determination to be a king, or the contradictory impulses that drive Marian's behavior.

I probably should not say that this is a movie about middle-aged people for middle-aged people, but it is, and I mean it as a compliment. I certainly can't think of a better historical movie of this sort.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Down to earth scholarship

Cleaning out my mailbox after the trip to Kalamazoo, I came across a link to this Telegraph obituary for Margaret Gelling, whose work I was entirely ignorant of. But now having heard of it I am very impressed, and you may be able to guess why from the following excerpt.

When Margaret Gelling began her career as a research assistant at the English Place-Name Society in 1946, the field was dominated by scholars such as Sir Frank Stenton, who, as she put it, "empathised with the ruling classes" and were more interested in place-names designated by members of the elite, such as Kington or Knighton ("royal manor" and "estate of the young retainers"), than by names with a popular origin.

The topographical vocabulary of the early Anglo-Saxon settlers was highly nuanced and exact, she argued, because in an age without maps or signposts, the distinctions between a "knoll" and a "creech", a "don" and a "brough" or an "ofer" and an "ora" would have been very important navigational concepts. As a result of her work, place-name scholars no longer indulge in etymological speculation without looking at the landscape first.

Margaret Gelling's work offered an insight into the Anglo-Saxon imagination, and provided an invaluable reference tool for archaeologists looking for previously unknown sites indicated by place-name references to, say, farming or ancient routes. She also showed how a study of place-names can help historians gain a more accurate picture of early history.

For example, she challenged the view – based largely on the writings of the sixth-century historian St Gildas – that the ancient Britons were forced out to the "Celtic fringe" by the Anglo-Saxon invaders. If that were true, she asked, why do so many place names in southern England have Celtic origins? "If you believe Gildas, the Anglo-Saxons would have been chasing the ancient Britons, catching up with one who wasn't fast enough and saying, 'Look here, before I cut off your head, just tell me the name of this place'."

In 2001 new genetic research confirmed that the majority of Britons living in the south of England share the same DNA as their "Celtic" counterparts, suggesting that, far from being purged when the Anglo-Saxons arrived in the fifth century, many ancient Britons remained in England.

Image: Gelling in an appropriate pose.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Effigies and the development of English armor

Will McLean connects us to a webpage where Doug Strong analyzes funeral effigies of armored men in 14th- and 15th-century English churches. Having examined a lot of them in person back in 1972, I am quite convinced that people who commissioned these monuments were paying for the very best they could afford, and were very fashion conscious.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Classic Anglish spam, spam, spam, spam, spamity-spam

From Eileen Joy at In the Middle:

...I am a most esteemed warrior and owner of wide tracts of fenland and I am looking for someone I can trust to accept into their checking account a large sum of silver pieces, roughly in the neighborhood of 5,000,000 silver pieces, or in your economy, a gadjillion dollars...

Image: All this and much more can be yours!

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

It's all around us, all the time

But in some places it's more concentrated and more interesting: I'm talking about trash generated by human beings.

The Medieval Material Culture Blog here reprints an article from the Times Online, which talks about one of the more interesting and accessible sources of historical trash, the Thames estuary in England. I have lots of friends who own medieval artifacts that were recovered from this area. Says the journalist, :

When the tide is low and the weather fine, I sometimes walk the dog on the London Thames foreshore. After a good many years I am still amazed at what you come across if you train yourself to see what you are looking at.

Naturally there are broken pub glasses, plastic bags, bottles and buckets, disposable cigarette lighters, condoms, all the detritus of a string of nights before, but the leavings of the past are often strewn even more thickly. There are the half-decomposed, near-petrified, balks of timber going back to Neolithic times, the remains of barge-beds, medieval bricks, tiles and fragments of glass; rings and medals, pins and nails from many centuries; clay pipes and, more rarely, clay wig-curlers, bones, masses of ceramic shards, shoals of Victorian oyster and mussel shells; and strange fragments of marine equipment, hanks of unravelling rope — even the skeleton of a boat left to moulder a couple of hundred years ago.

Once, on the pebbly strand between Blackfriars and Southwark Bridges, where the Millennium Bridge is now, I interviewed Mike Webber, the archaeologist who headed the Museum of London’s 1998 survey of the tidal Thames foreshore. I thought I knew that stretch, and could guess what might turn up on it, but I was proved utterly wrong when he casually bent down and handed me a short, curved object.

“Have a walrus tusk,” he said. “Look, there,” he continued. “A waster. That’s a London delft floor tile, where the glaze spoiled in the kiln, so they chucked it away. Probably from the Bear Lane pottery over there.

“That pottery ring is the mouth of a sugar mould, like a rhubarb forcer for making sugar loaves. Look, there’s the base. Perhaps there was a sugar wharf here …”

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blood and Oil: Memoirs of a Persian Prince, by Manucher Farmanfarmaian and Roxane Farmanfarmaian

Manucher Farmanfarmaian is a brother of Sattareh Farman Farmaian, author of Daughter of Persia, an autobiography that my students in the History of Islamic civilization are reading is the basis for a paper. Blood and Oil is also an autobiography, and it is at least as well-written as Sattareh's book. Manucher, as a boy, had quite a different experience of their mutual father, and of course quite a different career. Can he ever tell a story! (Roxane, his co-author, is his daughter.)

This book is recommended to anyone who read enjoyed Daughter of Persia, or is interested in Iran, or in global oil politics and the formation of OPEC. Unfortunately, the Nipissing University library does not have a copy. I got mine through interlibrary loan.

Manucher has an eye for telling detail. Here he remarks about the extraordinary generosity of friends in England who, though hardly rich, helped him with a loan when his father's death cut off his fund transfers from Iran temporarily:

Their generosity was all the more poignant because in England at the time racism was rampant. At university foreign students were shunned. We were not allowed to hold student office, and the college deans, at a meeting held at the beginning of each year, went so far as to warn girls away from us, insinuating that we were from base cultures.... it was not just the university but British society in general that held such views, from the foreman of the garage where I worked one summer to the rich lady with the Daimler who had her butler repeat everything I said because it was below her dignity to converse with me directly. All the more extraordinary, then, were the Philipses' confidence and goodwill.

And on his return trip via India during wartime:

Though in England Persians were looked upon as darkies from an inferior race and religion, here [in Bombay] we were regarded as esteemed guests -- of England of course, not India. We were invited to stay in the toniest hotels, and the doors of every chic restaurant were open as long as we wore dinner jackets or tails (which we invariably did)-- though an Indian would be thrashed were he to venture even a glance inside.

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