Friday, February 12, 2010

Them good old days


From the Chronicle of the Good Duke, describing an expedition against English soldiers in the Bourbonnois country, late 14th century.

So it was agreed to go to besiege La Bruyère in order that, when the Duke their lord came he would have to do only one siege. And in this way La Bruyère was besieged, and that was where the common people of the Bourbonnois they came to the siege, a d2000 of them; and the Count of Sancerre broke its ditches and the water ran out and the good people made so many faggots that they filled up the dishes and they made a "cat" to go to the foot of the wall, which was mined, and after that they threw fire inside, which burned everything. That way the great captains of those inside were all taken, Messire Richard Mauverdin and Jacques Sadellier; and the remaining English in the garrison inside were handed over to the commoners, who turned them into a big barbecue (qui en firent de grosses charbonées).
Another episode in the ages-long war between peasants and townspeople (on one side) and professional warriors.

Image: I don't know if this counts as a "cat" or not.

Update: Will McLean suggests that the movable shed below in the foreground is a "cat."

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Monday, February 01, 2010

The Chronicle of the Good Duke and "modern times"

For some fans medieval history and some medieval reenactors in particular,the 14th century is "The One True Century." It certainly is flashy, but there are times I find it difficult to think of this period as a medieval one. Here's just one point: they had guns, and throughout the period that Froissart, (who was wildly popular as the historian of chivalry) wrote about, 1330-1400, they used them more and more routinely.

What follows is a rough translation of a passage in The Chronicle the Good Duke, written in the 15th century about events of the previous one. The ostensible hero of this book, Duke Louis of Bourbon, is taking part in an expedition to retake Normandy from the King of Navarre, Charles the Bad:

The Duke of Bourbon, the Constable and the Admiral went with their people to Gavre', the finest castle in Normandy, and they set up their siege, and opposed to them was Ferrandon, who had left Evreux, inside the castle; it happened one day that he went to check out powder for the cannons and artillery in one tower and when he was checking a candle fell on the power, which burned Ferrandon's whole face, of which he died and two others with him.
Image: a manuscript picture of a gun from 1400.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Muhlberger speaks at the International Congress of Medieval Studies: Kalamazoo, May 15, 2010

I have been kindly asked to give this year's Journal of Medieval Military History Lecture, which I consider quite an honor. Its title, which I even think I can live up to, is Chivalry: Military Biographies and other Tales of the Later Middle Ages.
It will take place in Fetzer 1010 at 3:30. This scheduling has a lot to be said for it, since I will undoubtedly work up a good thirst, as will Kelly DeVries, who is the commentator.

If you are coming to Kalamazoo, please consider dropping in.

To see the whole Congress schedule, go here.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A barrier fight in time of war, as told by the Chronicle of the Good Duke


This incident took place about 1363, and the writer's chief informant was the John de Chastelmorand mentioned as the standardbearer below. He told this story in the 1420s.
Two days before the English came before Troyes, a gentleman named John de Nedonchel, captain of Plancy, spoke to the Duke of Bourbon, saying "If you, my redoubtable lord, wish to grant me fifty men at arms, gentlemen, I will make for you a fine adventure, for the English ought to pass by this path along the river."

The Duke of Bourbon immediately had those of his household whom he loved the most mount up to go there, including John de Chastelmorand, who carried his standard, and many others of his household, and they went to Plancy where they remained for two days before the English came, and the people of the Duke of Bourbon made before the gate the most beautiful barrier that anyone had seen for a long time, and they called it La Barrière amoreuse, and it was convenient for the English to pass by.

So it happens that the English came to pass by Plancy, and all the companions were armed outside their barrier, and the English seeing them put foot to the ground to come and fight; seeing this, those of the garrison of Plancy, because there were so many English opposed to them, withdrew inside their barrier where they were well stocked with shot; and immediately the English advanced, thinking to gain the barrier, and those of Plancy and of the Duke of Bourbon vigorously defended against them by their shot and their lances, and there were performed the most beautiful arms lasting nearly two hours; for when those inside saw their advantage they came out all at once, and charged in among the English, and their charges succeeding to their honor, they withdrew inside, and these charges which those of the barrier made kill seven English men at arms and the shot injured a large crowd of them. And in enduring this danger there died at this barrier [three men of the Duke of Bourbon; and one was seriously injured.]
Image: an SCA barrier fight, with no "shot" (French, trait) involved.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Wit and wisdom of the Hundred Years War


I am working on my translation of the Chronicle of the Good Duke and am at the part where the author's informant is remembering the Breton campaigns of the 1360s. Some memorable lines seem to have stuck in his mind.

If we are to believe the Chronicle, Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France and a Breton himself, used this local proverb to convince Duke Louis of Bourbon ("the good duke") to attack the castle of Jugon early in their joint campaign:
He who has Brittany without Jugon
Has a cloak without a hood.

The Chronicle also describes the siege of Brest, also in Brittany, where both sides were in trouble. The French outside could not find anything for their horses to eat because of continuous heavy rain; the pro-English garrison were worse off -- they were eating their horses.

The garrison commander, the famous Englishman Robert Knolles, made this observation during negotiations with his French counterparts :
You have made me eat my horses here in this castle of Brest, as I made you eat yours at the siege of Rennes; so go the changes of fortune and war.
And he didn't surrender.

Image: Brest, showing surviving fortifications, historic vessels, and modern infrastructure

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Real, odd 14th-century names


The Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval historical re-creation I have been part of for a long time -- a shockingly long time -- has as a pioneering role-playing environment, some contradictory elements. SCA culture encourages research and serious re-creation, especially in regards to artifacts; at the same time there has been a "do your own thing" ethos, right from the very beginning.

When it comes to SCA members adopting personas and names, you end up with a mishmash of fantasy and non-medieval elements, because new members tend to pick names and identities before they know much of anything about medieval naming practices. There are established members who know quite a bit about this subject, but getting new members to listen to them is not so easy. People want to do their own thing.

One of the peculiar things about the situation is that in the real Middle Ages there were large numbers of oddball names. In fact, in today's SCA you are not safe in thinking that a weird name is necessarily the result of an ignorant mistake. Maybe the bearer knows things you don't know. I've been caught making premature judgments more than once.

Today I was reading a passage from a French work of the 15th century, The Chronicle of the Good Duke, which tells the story of Duke Louis of Bourbon and his military companions over decades of the Hundred Years War. The passage concerned a period in the 14th century when Louis and his gang succeeded in keeping English and mercenary troops from riding and raiding over the French countryside. But one of the English leaders was a little more daring and he had to be hunted down. He was named "Michelet."

What is odd about that? One of the most famous French historians ever is a nationalist-romantic 19th century scholar named Jules Michelet (above) whose interpretation of the Hundred Years War is particularly famous. He was quite a storyteller on top of his tireless reading of sources and archives, so he is still influential today.

"Michelet" looks to be a diminutive of "Michel," so I guess I should not have been surprised, but I found it astonishing to have that name staring out at me from an account of the Hundred Years War.

A few lines later I found out that one of the Frenchmen who hunted down "Michelet" was named "Odin." Perhaps this name had nothing to do with the pagan god of earlier centuries, but there it was. Odd.

Someday I will have to tell you about my friend who owned Odin's bowling shirt. Until then I leave you a depiction of Odin with no bowling shirt, nor any references to the Hundred Years War.

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