Friday, February 19, 2010

Two more rather odd 14th century names from the Chronicle of the Good Duke

How about: Ciquot de la Saigne and Ortingo de Ortenye?

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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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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dr. Michael Cramer's book, "Medieval Fantasy as Performance"

Readers of this blog who have a serious interest in popular historical re-enactment and re-creation, the history of roleplaying, or the SCA might be interested in this note from Michael Cramer. I've seen an earlier version of this work and it is worth your consideration.
This is the first announcement that my new book, Medieval Fantasy as Performance: The Society for Creative Anachronism and the Current Middle Ages, has gone to press and will be available beginning in January from Scarecrow Press.

The SCA is an international organization of medievalists--some academic, some romantic, and some fantastic--who act out their fantasies by adopting medieval persona and interacting with one another at tournaments, wars, feasts, and other festivals, as well as numerous workshops and seminars. Much more than a Live Action Role Playing Game, the SCA is a community of like minded individuals, a group of nearly 100,000 Don Quixotes playing a communal game of make believe. Through the prism of performance studies this book seeks to examine why and how the SCA performs its medieval fantasy, and comes to the conclusion that what the SCA has created, and for more or less the same reasons, is an accidental reconstruction of the medieval King Game.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Pennsic War, July-August 2009

A while back Will McLean posted a video on the most recent Pennsic War. It rather got overshadowed by the Staffordshire Hoard, but now I will embed the video, a classy job by Voice of America. (No, I'm not in it.)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The problems of really serious historical reenactment


Darrell Markewitz was involved in the design of the Viking living history site at L'Anse aux Meadows, and now he hears news that they are trying some ambitious projects there. I am sure he is intrigued, but the most interesting thing about this blog post is his fear that the site is tackling more than it can handle.

Darrell will be on my property on Labor Day weekend taking part in an SCA re-creation event. Last I heard there will be on-site glass bead making. If you come, come dressed in medieval fashion, as best you can do.

Image: see the post.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Pennsic War

During my recent vacation I attended, as I usually do, the SCA's Pennsic War. The Society for Creative Anachronism or SCA is a very large medieval re-creation group -- not a reenactment group because it does not reenact specific events of the Middle Ages, but has created its own Middle Ages for fun. The Pennsic War to give an example is fought between two SCA kingdoms, the Middle Kingdom and the East Kingdom, and their allies, none of which you will find on a map of Europe in any era. Wrapped around this war, which is by far the largest SCA event on the calendar, are a large number of organized and spontaneous activities, martial, educational, and artistic -- not to mention the parties and the various efforts to survive in what is essentially a tent city of 10,000 people or more.

I could go on for a long time trying to convey the Pennsic experience, but I will restrict my remarks to a few. First, reenactment. If neither Pennsic nor the SCA are primarily meant as reenactments, a fact that earns them scorn from many people who are aiming at reenactment, there are moments of reenactment nonetheless. At this Pennsic war I was able to witness attempts to re-create or reenact, with differing levels of accuracy, to deeds of arms of the 14th century which I have written about in scholarly venues, the Combat of the 30 against 30 that took place in Brittany in 1351, and the deeds of arms at Vannes, also in Brittany, of 1381. (The image above shows a few of the French 30 preparing for the combat.) Though one could easily stand back and list deficiencies in these reenactments, I found them enjoyable and even educational. (Here's my kvetch: Armor fans will note in the image above that the participants in this annual event tend to favor late- rather than mid-14th century armor. And many of them seem to be armored like princes instead of mercenary scum.)

More interesting even than the recreations and reenactments of the Middle Ages is the is a freewheeling modern-medievalist (?) culture of Pennsic. Two small examples will give an impression, I hope.

The first is the Pennsic rune stone. Long ago (1981), some SCA members from the American Midwest tried to express what the martial competitions at Pennsic, which are vigorous and sometimes painful but seldom really dangerous, meant to them. They did it in mock- Viking style by erecting stone monument. It is pictured above. The inscription, which I offer without comment, says:

In memory of Pennsic X.
In war we test our honor, courage and strength.
Let no man strike in anger.
Let no man lie in pain.

The work was done by Lars the Fierce, now a professional potter, who still attends Pennsic.


My second example is newer than the rune stone: it is a Turkish-style coffeehouse called Your Inner Vagabond, which is dedicated to the pleasures that can be achieved with such legal stimulants as coffee, sugar, chocolate, and all the spices of the silk road. Not to mention occasional music and dance. The IV, as the worst addicts call it, has been such a success that it now has a permanent location in Pittsburgh, about an hour from Pennsic site. The on-site location is now considerably bigger than shown in the picture above, which is two years old.

Usually my time at Pennsic is entirely devoted to nonliterate pursuits. I tend to avoid the printed page, and I entirely avoid the glowing screen. But this year I did something I've never done at Pennsic before: I wrote a lecture (on the Second Crusade). And I did it while sitting in the Inner Vagabond and sampling its wares. It was pure pleasure.

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