Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Re-creating the Middle Ages in the 14th century

It's long seemed to me that the Middle Ages actually ended sometime in the 14th century, and thereafter there were many attempts to recreate the "good old days" of the real Middle Ages.

Even if you don't buy that theory, it's certainly true that there were huge celebrations of the medieval chivalric tradition, including re-creations of scenes from chivalric literature, themselves depictions of the good old days of Arthur and his boys and girls.

One relic of this phenomenon is the painted Round Table that hangs in the Great Hall at Winchester (above; clicking may give you a larger version).

More impressive if less visible are the ruins recently dug up at Windsor Castle by the British TV show Time Team. Thanks to the member of MEDIEV-L who found this news item in the Telegraph and passed it on.

Back in 1344, Edward III of England, an ambitious monarch who liked to see himself as a worthy successor of Arthur, started building a large round building to house the kind of celebrations then called "Round Tables." Scholars have known about this for years from Edward's financial accounts, but the building itself is long gone. Edward soon after decided to spend his money not on playing Arthur at home but by invading France, and the place was dismantled, probably before it was really done.

Reading about an old building in royal records is one thing, but much more exciting is finding the thing itself. Ever notice how archaeology is often given page one treatment? Well, I must admit that this discovery by Time Team is pretty cool: it shows that the celebration site was 200 feet in diameter -- room for 300 knights to feast, talk, or take part in the re-created chivalric rituals of the Arthurian era.

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