Monday, August 17, 2009

Birther conspiracies of yore


I can't bring myself to get into the details of the nutty and alarming American "birther" delusion, but if you already know about it, this may amuse you... Thanks to Brad DeLong.

Image: a bed warming pan.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

My favorite story about Richard Lionheart


It comes from Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades Volume 3, pages 37-8. If it comes across as rather Monty Python-esque, so be it:

King Richard decided to travel by land from Marseille. He seems to have disliked sea voyages, perhaps because he suffered from sea-sickness.... he waited until he had heard that his fleet had arrived at Messina and then, it seems, sent most of his escort by ship to Messina to prepare for his arrival. He himself continued on horseback, with only one attendant. When he passed near the little Calabrian town of Mileto he tried to steal a hawk from a peasant's house and was very nearly done to death by the furious villagers. He was therefore in a bad temper when he reached the Straits of Messina a day or two later.

Says a lot, doesn't it?

Image: William of Normandy and Harold of Wessex in happier days.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

14th century economy and society

Over at A Commonplace Book, Will McLean has a couple of short articles on the English social hierarchy at the time of the Canterbury Tales, and the value of money at the same time.

Image:
A Richard II London groat (4d or pence) from a site by Ivan Buck. Alas, no depiction of the golden angel.

Update: Hoisted from comments:
OpenID tenthmedieval said...

Got no golden angel, but can do you a golden leopard... a relevant one too :-)

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Friday, June 27, 2008

More on Richard II's golden angel

In an earlier post on Richard II's Golden Angel, perhaps an automaton or even a robot, in any case a showy part of his coronation procession through London in 1377, I included two source excerpts that describe the angel giving Richard a crown. I have now found a third one and have inserted it in the earlier post.

Image:
One of a number of London pubs called the Angel and Crown.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

What the sources say about the golden angel

With help from Will McLean and Google I am able to post what contemporary writers said about the golden angel which took part in Richard II's coronation.

First, the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, with what is supposed to be straight reportage:

The city was in every way most richly adorned, and the conduits ran with wine for three hours. In the upper end of the Cheap was erected a castle with four towers ; on two sides of which ran forth wine abundantly. In the towers were placed four beautiful virgins, of stature and age like to the King, apparelled in white vestures; these damsels, on the King's approach, blew in his face leaves of gold, and threw on him and his horse counterfeit golden florins. When he was come before the castle, they took cups of gold, and filling them with wine at the spouts of the castle, presented the same to the King and his nobles. On the top of the castle, betwixt the towers, stood a golden angel, holding a crown in his hands ; and so contrived, that, when the King came, he bowed down and offered him the crown.

William Langland, a poet, seems to include this scene (argues Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels) in an allegorical/fantastic view of the kingdom in Piers Ploughman,:

Then looked up a lunatic · a lean thing withal,
And kneeling before the king well speaking said:
`Christ keep thee sir King · and thy kingdom,
And grant thee to rule the realm · so Loyalty may love thee,
And for thy rightful ruling · be rewarded in heaven.'
Then in the air on high · an angel of heaven
Stooped and spoke in Latin · for simple men could not
Discuss nor judge · that which should justify them,
But should suffer and serve · therefore said the angel:

`Sum Rex, sum Princeps: neutram fortasse deinceps;
O qui jura regis Christi specialia regis, hoc quod agas melius Justus es,
esto pius!
Nudum jus a te vestiri vult pietate; qualia vis metere talia grand sere.
Si jus nudatur nudo de jure metatur; si seritur pietas de pietate
metas.'
Then an angry buffoon · a glutton of words,
To the angel on high · answered after:
`Dum rex a regere dicatur nomen habere,
Nomen habet sine re nisi studet jura tenere.'
Then began all the commons · to cry out in Latin,
For counsel of the king · construe how-so he would:
`Praecepta regis sunt nobis vincula legis.

I am not feeling confident enough in my Latin at the moment to translate those passages in their entirety, but it seems that this passage pits the angel and the rich commons of the kingdom (or the parliamentary Commons), who are anxious to give a pious king divine power, against buffoons and lunatics who say "Since the king (rex) gets his name from guiding (regere), he has that name to no purpose unless he strives to keep the law."

Hardly relevant to today's concerns, eh?

Update: Thanks to Scott Lightsey's book (p. 46), I can now include what the Anonimalle Chronicle says:

Set up in the middle of the Cheap stood tower of painted canvas, curiously constructed, over timber support-beams; about the tower were four turrets, in which stood four damsels, exceedingly lovely and beautifully arrayed, and these said damsels threw gold coins in the direction of the prince's coming. Within the said tower had also been built a small belfry, and on the belfry stood an angel bearing a golden crown holding it out towards the said prince, to do him comfort.

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The golden angel and 14th-century robots


Given his other interests, it was perhaps predictable that Will McLean would reply to my previous post on 14th-century robots. And I'm glad he did.

First, I promote his reply to my post:

The mechanical angel at the coronation is described in Thomas Walsingham's history. I think Lightsey is assuming that Langland's angel is a reference to that, and Langland would expect his audience to make the connection.

Then he opined in a post at his own blog, A Commonplace Book:

Much as I’d like to imagine the Tik-Tok Angel of London, clockwork seems unlikely in the context. The contrivance had to perform on cue and the moment of Richard’s arrival was unpredictable, so a puppet seems more likely a clockwork automaton.

Then he tries to avoid speculating further on the blockbuster SF hit that will never be:

Evangelion Genesis Ricardus, in which a team of moody dysfunctional anime adolescents, led by young Richard II, pilot giant clockwork automata...

even though one of his commenters rightly says:

Evangelion Genesis Ricardus would be the BEST THING EVER.

But then he does something less geeky and perhaps infinitely cooler, lead us to real manifestations of 14th century SF and SF fandom:

Instead I will cherish Froissart’s Horloge Amoureuse, in which a ticking clock becomes an extended metaphor for measured and enduring love. There’s something tremendously sweet about how Froissart handled this: first the wide-eyed curiosity at the wheels and foliot and whole complex mechanism, then the immediate impulse to turn it into a love-allegory.

And he includes a translation.

Last, so far, he brings us back to the potential 14th-century audience for Evangelion Genesis Richardus, alas for their loss of what never will be, at least for them.

If you like 14th c. robots (and who doesn’t?) Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale gives us not only a brass robot horse controlled by turning a pin in its ear, but both a satire of the kind of SF where the cool technology and sense-of-wonder marvels completely overwhelm the thin plot and weak characters and of the kind of fanboy who thinks it’s like the coolest story ever, dude.

It's enough to make you intellectually drunk, really, this subject and the spin-off around it. Good as Will's contributions are, the key fact is this:

If you saw a movie in which a robot/puppet/automaton offered a crown to the boy Richard II during his coronation procession, you'd think it was some kind of ironic commentary by a hip (in his own estimation) film-maker. But no, it actually happened, and I at least must work very hard, even though (because?) I know the 14th century tolerably well, to integrate it into my picture of the actual past.

Image: a conservative choice from Google Images and Flickr. Plenty of anime/new age possibilities: search "golden angel."

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

14th-century robots


In a book review by Aleks Pluskowski of Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2007), sent me free by the TMR service , I read the following:


Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels is a remarkable and unique work on a neglected aspect of late-medieval society. Lightsey reveals a world of artificers and technologists, of complex clockwork devices and colourful automata: a
world where supernatural, fantastic and exotic mirabilia were pulled from the imaginary realms of romance, and--literally--brought to life for the entertainment and exultation of war-fatigued courts.Since surviving examples of these machines are incredibly rare, Lightsey draws on literary and documentary sources, complemented bya range of artistic representations.



...His first case study of automata draws on the prologue to Piers Ploughman, which describes a mechanical angel that crowns Richard II during his public coronation in London. Here, Lightsey situates this marvel within a newly established culture of aristocratic visual display; a growing tendency towards luxurious ceremonial which would come to define the Ricardian court. Indeed, this clockwork coronation is seen as nothing less than formative for Richard's own attitude to the calculated display of
majesty.

I looked at a modern version of PP and I must admit that I can't see how the reader is supposed to know that it is a mechanical angel. I'll follow it up.

However, I have no doubt that this robotic messenger was possible, because as an undergraduate I read Huizinga's classic early-20th-century book, The Waning of the Middle Ages, where he talks about a lot of clockwork figures used in princely ceremonies. Yet I
must admit that despite my early exposure to this fact, I've never integrated "mechanical men" into my visualization of the Middle Ages. I suspect that few of my readers have thought about Richard II as King of the Robots (a kind of dressier Dr. Doom?).

For years I've teased friends who think that the 14th century is the bee's knees of medieval history by saying, half-seriously, that the 14th century isn't the Middle Ages at all. Now I can say, "Dude, what about all those robots?"


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