Map. The Carolingian Empire in 843.
Q&A

The Political Structures of the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France (from the 9th to the 16th Century). A Brief Overview

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

How were the Holy Roman Empire and Middle Ages France different in term of political structure? What led to those differences?

I always hear about HRE being a loose confederation of minor kingdoms (for lack of a better word). But wasn’t middle age France much the same? Strong dukes often controlling the king? How did the HRE and medieval France differ and how where they same? Why did the HRE becomes a looser confederation of minor kingdoms than France?

~ posted by u/daimposter on the r/AskHistorians subreddit.

My Answer

The political structure of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) and the Kingdom of France both derive from the political structure of the Carolingian Empire. So let’s have a quick look at that first 😉

A Very Short History of the ‘Origins’

Our contemporary society recognizes three forms of power: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. The Carolingian Empire only had two: the temporal and the spiritual (the executive, legislative and judicial powers were all bundled up together). The emperor ruled over both. Charlemagne and his son, Louis the Pious, had a total control over the lords and the Church. They could grant lands, titles, bishoprics or revoke them as they see fit.

On the one hand, Charlemagne only had one heir: Louis the Pious. On the other hand, Louis had to split his Empire, according to the Frankish customs, between his three sons. He also didn’t have the charismatic aura of his father, who went from conquest to conquest, and he was left with an Empire practically impossible to rule. It all concluded in Louis’ three sons (Charles, Lothair and Louis/Ludwig) splitting the Empire into three parts. Lothair’s share was ultimately absorbed into his brother’s realms and from that point onward, West Francia and East Francia evolved into very different countries.

In the meantime, the Church which had greatly benefited from the leadership and protection of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and their predecessors gradually became an independent political body. The Church had obeyed and served the Carolingian emperors, but it had grown so much that it was now able to confront their heirs and come up with its own political agenda. The spiritual power was free from the temporal power by the end of the 9th century and the pope became a major political player by the end of the 10th century.

The Implementation of the Feudal System in West Francia

It is often written that Charles the Bald, who inherited and ruled West Francia, gave birth to the Feudal System with the Capitulary of Coulaines (available online on the marvelous MGH website). Though the direct effects of the capitulary were not as dramatic as historians used to say, it nonetheless recognized that lands given by the King to his vassals could be inherited by their progeny. It meant that not before long every region of the realm had its own local blue-blood dynasty. Therefore the Capitulary of Coulaines was a substantial stepping stone for the implementation of the Feudal System (reminder: the word ‘feudal’ comes from the Latin word ‘feudum’ which is a type of ‘beneficium’ (a gift from a king or prince to a faithful ally) that implies the gifting of a piece of land). By the 10th century, it became obvious that the aristocrats held the real power over most of the land, ensuring it by the building of motte-and-bailey castles and by getting the Church on their side through charity. Founding and donating to monasteries became a regular political play for powerful laymen although it greatly benefited to the rise of the Benedictine Order and the network of the Cluny monasteries more than anything. Nevertheless, anyone inheriting a fief still had to pay a ‘homage’ (Latin, homagium; German, huld) to the king and formally recognize his temporal authority. It was a very significant ceremony that reminded everyone their role and the proper hierarchy within the structure of society.

The Capet Dynasty

The progressive loss of a central and strong seat of power rendered the Carolingian dynasty of West Francia unable to enforce the peace in the realm and to properly protect the northern coasts from new invaders: the infamous Vikings. It became clear to the magnates that they were better off without a king. However, they had to maintain some kind of puppet on the throne to prevent the Carolingian kings of East Francia to march on Paris and conquer the kingdom whole. Several attempts had already been made in the past to reunite the West and the East Francia. While invoking the old Frankish principle of elective monarchy, the great vassals of the realm put a new dynasty on the throne: the powerless House of Capet.

The Capet, however, followed a clever strategy. They would always make sure that two kings were simultaneously elected and anointed, the rex coronatus and the rex designates, so that matters of succession were always settled from the start and there was never any leeway for another dynasty to rise on the throne. Moreover, the Capet gradually extended their personal demesne so that they could eventually compete with their vassals and enforce their law. At the very start of the 14th century, Philip IV the Fair even instituted the ‘États Généraux’, a general assembly of the people gathering representatives of the three orders, to counter the meddling of the pope over the spiritual matters in their realm. It also served him to kill the Order of the Knights Templar and confiscate all their possessions. The kings of France therefore became strong political figures, capable of handling both the temporal and the spiritual power of their realm. They were feared and respected by their vassals and treated on an equal footing by the emperor of the HRE and the pope.

The Plantagenet Problem… and the Valois Solution

The Capet, however, were far from all powerful. Remember those Vikings I mentioned above? They had carved a duchy for themselves, the duchy of Normandy, and no one dared to oppose the duke of Normandy. The guy minted his own money. He was so powerful and relentless, in fact, that he conquered a kingdom. I’m talking of William the Conqueror and the 1066 conquest of England, of course. Eventually, all his possessions were inherited by the Plantagenet dynasty, who also inherited the duchy of Aquitaine through clever matrimonial alliances. At some point, the Plantagenet ‘empire’ included half the kingdom of France! And the Capet kings were totally powerless against such a mighty force, until King John of England rose to the throne, faced revolts at home, bad luck abroad, was dragged into signing the Magna Carta (1215) and saw most of his French possessions confiscated and redistributed by the king.

Nevertheless, the king of France retained a vassal who was a king and everywhere he went he was faced with fierce resistance from the great dukes of the realm. The royal demesne was slowly expanding but the Parliament (the highest court of Justice in the land) had to relentlessly keep on fighting against its dismemberment by the king himself, who often wished to grant a land or two to any of his courtier or captain who provided him a great service. Eventually, after many political intrigues, the king of England said, “Enough!” and claimed the throne for himself when the Valois succeeded to the Capet.

What is really interesting is that at that point, the idea of electing a new king crossed no one’s mind. The quarrel was a quarrel of succession. The realm was an inheritance. It was traditionally passed down from one generation to the other. Since the straight line of male successors was extinct, the only question to answer was to know if a woman could inherit and pass down a kingdom or not. The long game Capet strategy had worked like magic!

Eventually, the Valois stood strong on the principle that the kingdom itself could only pass through male hands and could never be inherited or transmitted by a woman. The Hundred Years’ War came close to an end when Charles VI and Richard II became best buddies, but their terrible fate precipitated the start of new conflicts. Henry VI of England legally and effectively became the king of France but he had a strong opponent, who held on and kept the fight alive mostly despite himself, Charles VII. The latter ultimately passed on heavy taxation reforms and instituted the first permanent non-feudal but professional royal army. He won the war. His son, Louis XI, killed the dreams and ambitions of the great vassals with that very army. No one could contest the king’s authority anymore, but his own Parliament.

The Holy Roman Elective Empire

Whereas the Capet managed to turn the kingdom of France into a hereditary monarchy, which would become the most powerful centralized state of Europe, Germany remained a conglomerate of semi-autonomous states. Maybe it is worth being reminded that Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor, only took on the title to challenge the authority of the emperor of Constantinople, especially on spiritual matters. First and foremost, Charlemagne was and stayed the king of the Franks. He never had the centralized administration capable of holding an empire together. He only became a powerful imperial figure through his military charisma but the institutions of the old Roman Empire had since long collapsed and what was left of them couldn’t carry the political weight needed for an actual empire anymore.

Louis the German, Charlemagne’s grandson and Charles the Bald’s brother was not able to keep the dream alive. His dynasty was very short-lived and the imperial title quickly fell out of use. The political crises of the 9th and 10th centuries, the expansion of Christianity and the Magyar and Viking violent immigration waves prompted a ‘strong man’ to take charge and restore the imperial charge around the same time that the Capet were elected on the throne of France. This man was Otto I ‘the Great’ and he was the actual founder of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’. However, unlike the Capet, the Ottonian didn’t implement a hereditary system of succession. Too many people were fighting for the honor to wear the imperial crown. Otto III, Otto I’s grandson, was already faced with an ‘anti-king’, elected by his political rivals! The Staufer tried to make the imperial title a hereditary one. Frederick I ‘Barbarossa’ had his son elected to the imperial throne at the same time as him, which made him his uncontested father’s successor but it remained an absolute exception and the general rule was that stuck through the centuries was that the emperor was elected. It was also interpreted as a direct intervention of God in political matters and it helped to keep unworthy heirs away from the throne.

The HRE around 962

The emperors had little to go with, however, when their authority was challenged. They didn’t have access to an “imperial army” or to an “imperial administration” to help them out. The very idea that the HRE could ever become a centralized state actually scared all its neighbors and many attempts were made to prevent it from happening, though Germans hated foreign political meddling more than anything.

Several cities were placed under the direct rule of the emperor, but it was more of a way for those cities to manage themselves. Therefore the emperor could only rely on his personal demesne and diplomatic wits to assert his authority. However, contrarily to the French situation, it was not like an Imperial demesne could grow like the French royal demesne since a new dynasty could be put on the imperial throne every time an emperor would die. That’s why emperors ended up mostly benefiting of their title to boost up their personal demesne, instead of sacrificing their own resources to pass on any imperial reforms.

The Cezaropapism Crisis

The temporal power of the Holy Roman emperors was very limited and the feudal system was slowly implemented in Germany, although it developed its own specificities. In 1037, Conrad passed the Constitutio de feudis and extended the benefit of hereditary possessions of fief to the lesser lords. The 11th century also saw the emergence of the ministeriales, a group of unfree knights and vassals promoted by the imperial clergy that had no matching concordance in France, where all vassals were free men with hereditary rights and claims.

Bishops and abbots selected able men of unfree status and enfeoffed them with resources to enable them to serve as knights or administrators. The Salians also began employing ministeriales to administer royal domains and garrison the new castles built in the 1060s. The ministeriales gradually acquired other privileges, embraced an aristocratic ethos, and eventually converted their relationship based on servitude into one of more conventional vassalage to fuse with other lesser nobles as knights and barons by about 1300.

It would be wrong to interpret the ministeriales as the potential staff required to create a centralized monarchy. They were indeed used to verse more intensive management of royal domains, notably in Saxony.

Source: Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Roman Empire (2016).

The HRE around 1050

Meanwhile, the pope had become a real political player. The rise of the Benedictine and various religious orders resulted in many reforms within the papacy. The pope was no longer elected by the most powerful Roman families, for a start. Monks also got elected as pope, and popes that were formerly monks loved to live by strict rules. The papal chancery also became a proper administrative center of power: every king or prince soon flocked towards the pope or sent emissaries at least to see their privileges and titles granted and renewed. It is with a papal banner that William the Conqueror battled at Hastings.

It had to happen that the emperor, faced against rebellious vassals, turned to the pope for help and that the pope asked for something in return. In particular, the pope didn’t like that the emperor could still appoint bishops personally and it was interpreted as a violation of the Church. Henry IV (HRE) and Gregory VII (papacy) couldn’t see eye to eye on that matter. This led to the Investiture Dispute that the emperors ultimately lost. What was left of his temporal and spiritual power? Not much…

The Rise of the Hapsburg Dynasty

The imperial electoral college remained undefined until the 13th century. Eventually, three ecclesiastical electors came on top of the others: the archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne. As for the secular electors, they were settled by Emperor Rudolf who chose his four sons-in-law: the count Palatine, the margrave of Brandenburg, the duke of Saxony and the king of Bohemia. In 1356, Charles IV, from the Luxemburg dynasty, who had a great personal relationship with the papacy, fixed those electoral votes with the Golden Bull.

Thanks to a very thorough matrimonial strategy, the Hapsburg dynasty managed to lock on to several of the electoral secular fiefs. It also gave birth to some of the most inbred rulers of Europe, but by the election of Maximilian I to the throne in 1486, the Hapsburg maintained a firm grasp over the imperial title.

Nevertheless they were never able to create a centralized state like the Capet and the Valois did and the HRE never had a regular and professional army of its own. Charles V himself, who owned the kingdom of Spain, the former Burgundian dominions and all of the Hapsburg lands, proved unable to face the rise of the Protestant Reform whereas it was murderously quashed in France.

The dominions of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and Bohemia, etc.

In Conclusion…

I hope this short overview has helped to figure out how different the HRE and the kingdom of France were in regards of their political structure. The principle of a hereditary monarchy helped the French kings a great deal to progressively implement a centralized state. Meanwhile, the elective imperial title and lack of proper imperial institutions made the German emperors often powerless to shape Germany into according to their political views. That is why the HRE is often described as a ‘loose confederation of minor kingdoms’ that share a same common Germanic culture, whereas medieval France is a properly united kingdom despite the impulse of autonomy expressed by the great dukes of the realm.

Medieval Meme. Drunk Angel
Medieval Memes

Medieval Memes #5

Go Home! You’re Drunk!

Medieval Meme. Drunk Angel
Lausane, University Library, U. 964, f. 10v.

Anxiety? What Anxiety?

Medieval Meme. Facing Unemployment
Paris, BnF, fr. 12399, f. 24r.

A Regular Day for a Historian

Medieval Meme. Dismantling Fake News
[Right] Paris, Arsenal, MS 5060, f. 242r [Left] Paris, BnF, fr. 2608, f. 381r

Awkwardness Can Be Cute, Right?

Medieval Meme. An Awkward Introduction
Paris, BnF, fr. 1303, f. 49v.

Posh Meme

Medieval Meme. Logical Contradictions
Los Angeles, Getty Museum, MS 46, f. 61v.

Feminism 101

Medieval Meme. Feminism
Paris, BnF, lat. 9473, f. 190r.

The True Origin of the Bagpipe

Medieval Meme. The Origin of the Bagpipe
Paris, BnF, lat. 9473, f. 165v

Battling Rape Like a Saint

Medieval Meme. Battling Rape
Paris, BnF, lat. 9473, f. 165v.

When I Can’t Browse Manuscripts…

Medieval Meme. Martyrdom
Paris, BnF, lat. 9474, f. 179v.

Never Give Me A Compliment

Medieval Meme. Compliments
London, British Library, Add. 18850, f. 22r.
Varia

What Should Be Tarantino’s Next And Last Movie?

Disclaimer: This blogpost is nothing but free mindless rambling. Don’t mind it.

This blogpost also contains spoilers. Be warned.


I bet Tarantino gets all riled up when he reads history books. Why? I’m gonna tell you why.

Have you seen Inglourious Bastards, Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood or did you live under a rock for the past few years? Well, if you’ve seen those movies, you’d understand that Tarantino is not a big fan of how History actually played out and that he’s got a lot to say about it.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

I walked into the theater not knowing who Sharon Tate was and how she died. If I did, I would have been clinging at the edge of my seat like my father did next to me, dreading every scene where we see her living carefree and having a good time. Mindhunter, season 2, should have put me on the right track, though. Alarm bells would then have ringed in my head. Instead, I just witnessed Margot Robbie living the ultimate bourgeois life and I was like… ‘Uh, yeah. She’s rich! We get it! Can we go back to Leonardo now?’ I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Roman Polansky, Sharon Tate’s husband, was Rick Dalton’s neighbor—Rick Dalton being the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Let me brush out the story for you in case you didn’t see the movie.

The Synopsis

Rick Dalton was a big time Western actor who’s now reaching the end of his rope. His best bud, personal chauffeur and stunt double, Cliff Booth, drives him everywhere. As Rick Dalton tries to make the most out of his roles as a ‘heavy’ despite strong addiction issues towards alcohol and tobacco that turns him into a living mess, Cliff Booth remembers the time he fought off Bruce Lee and lets young girls entice him into borderline hitchhiking drives. Meanwhile Sharon Tate goes to the movies and enjoys watching herself in The Wrecking Crew being a goof and a bad ass.

Cliff Booth eventually drives a teenage girl back at Spahn Ranch, where Rick Dalton used to shoot his prime-time TV show Bounty Law. Of course, Cliff Booth knows the place. He also knows the owner. That’s why he feels there’s something fishy when he witnesses lots of teenagers, mostly young girls, squatting the place and living an obviously shady lifestyle. It all ends up with Cliff Booth knocking someone’s teeth out and driving away.

Six months later, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth come back from Italy where Rick starred in spaghetti westerns, made some money and met his new wife, Francesca Capucci. They plan for one last night out together. Rick doesn’t have the money to support his friend anymore and he has to let him go. They go to the restaurant. They come back home. Cliff goes walking his dog, a gorgeous pit bull, and he smokes an LSD cigarette he bought six months ago to the hippie girl he drove to Spahn Ranch. On the other hand, Rick mixes himself some margarita. He’s far from over his alcoholism. That’s when four ‘hippies’ from Spahn Ranch drive up to his house in a noisy old car. They intend to get into the Polansky residence and kill everyone they find up there, but Rick gets on the porch and starts to yell at them. He orders them to drive away and smoke pot someplace else. We see that they have weapons but they do drive away. Rick then goes to relax on his swimming pool, listening to music with a head set on.

Cliff comes back from his walk and the LSD starts to work its magic on his brain. He gets into the living room and prepares food for his beautiful big dog. All of a sudden, three of the four hippies who’d driven up to Rick’s house barge into the living room. Cliff finds himself surrounded. He laughs it off as the LSD keeps messing up with his brain, then he summons his dog to kill two of the three hippies. It all turns into a very gory scene. One of the wannabe murderers ends up in the pool and scares Rick to death, who retrieves a flame thrower from his shed and crisps her to death.

It is all very enjoyable.

The Historical Significance of the Movie

Right after I was the movie, I walked my father back to the tramway station. That’s when he revealed to me that Sharon Tate had been actually killed by indoctrinated hippies led by the infamous Charlie Manson.

Charlie Manson! The serial killer at the head of the Manson Family that we see being interviewed by the FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench in Mindhunter? Wait. Wait-wait-wait!

Before I continue, can I address Rick’s awesome flamethrower for a minute?

Inglourious Bastards: Killing Nazis Is Always Fun!

At the beginning of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood we have a short summary of Rick Dalton’s cinematic career. Among other things he’s depicted handling a flamethrower in a movie where he kills Nazi officers from up a ledge. Who cannot be reminded, watching that scene, of the ending of Inglourious Basterds, when Brad Pitt (who plays Cliff Booth in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and was Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds) rained bullets on Nazis from box seats in a burning movie theater? It all weaves together very well. It also starts to redeem Leonardo DiCaprio within Tarantino’s own cinematographic universe.

When a Villain is Not the Villain

Remember Django Unchained? Leonardo played the despicable Calvin Candie in that movie, a true villain at heart.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood shows strong meta-cinematographic language. In the opening scenes Al Pacino, who’s cast as a movie producer, tells Rick/Leonardo that when people see him on screen, they don’t see the role he plays, but they still remember him as the hero of Bounty Law.

It’s a bit like when we say ‘Hey! That’s Frodo!’ when watching Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

Anyway, that dialogue is basically Tarantino telling us, the spectators, that since we see Leonardo DiCaprio on screen in one of his movies, we could think that he plays a villain again. But, no! This time around, he’s not a villain. As Rick/Leonardo tells it to Al Pacino, he was asked to play the ‘heavy’, the bad guy, but he’s a good guy himself and we quickly pick up on this despite his high-functioning alcoholism.

It is all ‘justified’ when we see Rick on set for his next Western movie whilst Cliff drives his hippie hitchhiker back to Spahn Ranch. Rick portrays a villain and he plays it very, very well! Ian McShane would be very proud of DiCaprio’s Swearagen look-alike. At least I got some closure from the open ending of Deadwood and I hope Timothy Oliphant did too.

I got sidetracked there for a second, but yes, people, Leonardo is a good guy in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and even if he was a most convincing villain in Django Unchained, he was only so convincing because he’s a damn fine actor! Do you get it? Leonardo/Rick is a good guy now, and so is Brad/Cliff, but you knew that already. You love him since Inglourious Basterds.

The same thing kind of happened to Christoph Waltz. He was a villain in Inglourious Basterds. He became a hero in Django Unchained. However, the meta-text around that villain-hero shift was maybe not as sophisticated as what we witness in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. By the way, did you know that Leonardo DiCaprio was supposed to play the villain in Inglourious Basterds? Yeah, so there are some good reasons for Tarantino to pause the story and tell us that DiCaprio is only a ‘pretense’ villain.

I hope I haven’t lost you there. Anyway, let’s proceed.

The Chekhov’s Gun of Justice

Rick had a role where he killed Nazis with a flamethrower. It reminds us of Inglourious Basterds. It is also some strong foreshadowing! It means that divine justice, again, is going to be served, and it is indeed when Rick flames down one of the Manson Family members who broke into his house to kill him instead of attacking the Polansky residence. Also, by the time we see him pull out the flame thrower from his shed, we’ve totally forgotten about it and that, people, is a great take on Chekhov’s gun. It was especially effective on me as an unaware spectator. I didn’t know Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family. I didn’t know why she was in that movie as Rick’s neighbor. I was just enjoying DiCaprio play his role like a motherf*cking wizard. I believed every single scene he played, every single one of his spits.

The Typical American Hero

American tomb. Omaha Beach.
Tomb of an American Soldier at the Omaha Beach Memorial Cemetary, 15/08/2010 (c) Stéphane Bloch

We’ve now dealt with the superficial layer of meta-cinematographic language within Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: forget about Calvin Candie, Rick/Leonardo is not an actual villain. Now, let’s dig deeper and see why and how he’s an actual American hero in its purest form.

Rick biggest acting job ‘back in the old days’ was to star in Bounty Law as a bounty hunter. Welcome to the Tarantino Cinematic Universe, who else was a bounty hunter? Django! So, not only is Tarantino telling us that Rick/Leonardo shouldn’t be mistaken for his role in Django Unchained as Calvin Candie, he also tells us that Rick is Django.

Now, who was Django do you ask? He was a slave-owner killer, pretty much like Cliff/Brad/Aldo was a Nazi killer in Inglourious Basterds—in case I should I remind you that Nazi enslaved millions of people to boost their military industry when they didn’t send them straight to death camps (you really must watch La Vita È Bella in addition to the Schindler’s List in case you didn’t know).

Also, have you seen The Longest Day? That’s kind of a big deal here. Let’s forget for a minute that John ‘The Duke’ Wayne had poor political views, as Trumbo reminds us, and let’s track back to his Western movie roles as John Ford’s favorite lead actor.

John Wayne was cast in The Longest Day as Lt. Col. Benjamin H. Vandervoort, CO, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. As such he had the duty to pep talk and prep the troops for D-Day. Ha! That good old D-Day… Did you know that The Longest Day, the movie, was actually drafted from a book of the same name, written by the non-historian-Irish-journalist-married-to-an-American-novelist Cornelius Ryan? When he wrote The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan built the D-Day into a three-act storyline which cast the American soldiers as trueborn freedom fighters. This take on the D-Day was basically written out to become an all-star movie and John Wayne just had to star in it. He’d been the typical cowboy American hero for years at that point and he couldn’t miss out on the morphing of the typical American hero from cowboy, to private. The cowboy had conquered and tamed the Wild West and brought civilization to a savage land. The private was to pursue the cowboy’s work by taking the Frontier a tad further and ensuring that all the people on Earth were enjoying the bliss of democracy, law and freedom. The cowboy faced the barren lands and built a perfect country from the ground up. The private now faced the wicked who threatened what the cowboy built. John Wayne, who’d been the cowboy, was now the officer telling the private how to carry on a long legacy of heroism.

Despite the fact that he has to play the ‘heavy’, Rick/Leonardo ticks all the boxes of the typical American hero. From within the Tarantino Cinematic Universe (since we’ve stated that it was actually a thing), Rick/Leonardo is a bounty hunter and that equates him to Django, the ultimate Tarantino freedom fighter. However, Tarantino is also weaving threads that link his movie to the overall history of cinema. Rick/Leonardo is portrayed as a Golden Age Western actor, pretty much like John Wayne, even though he delves into starring into Spaghetti Westerns (and hates it). Therefore Rick/Leonardo is both the American hero who brings civilization and who safeguards freedom. He is a pioneer (therefore that is no coincidence that he actually settled in Hollywood) and a gatekeeper (which is why his house is next to the Polansky’s residence gate).

The Gates of Heaven

It brings me to my next point. In Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Sharon Tate played by the delightful Margot Robbie stands as the allegory of freedom. Her house on the top of the Hollywood hills is basically the biblical ‘City on a Hill’. Everywhere she goes, she’s carefree. She does whatever she wants. She doesn’t even pay to enter the theater. It actually means that even money has no grasp on her. Her lifestyle embodies the idea of freedom. When they kill the member of the Manson Family, Rick and Cliff don’t only symbolically avenge Sharon Tate on screen, they also avenge the very idea of freedom.

What do we do to Nazis and slave owners? We kill them. And we make it fun!

In case you didn’t notice, freedom is kind of a big deal to Tarantino. Also, he’s the one who ties it to the Middle Ages in Django Unchained. So, let’s talk about that too.

Django Unchained: Freedom is a Medieval Dream

The Middle Ages saw the birth of an amazing literature that influenced Western culture, I would argue, to a far bigger extent than mythological stories inherited from the Romans and the Greeks. I will try not to go full geek on you, because I could just as easily pitch in the Lord of the Rings in this blog post with the literature masterpiece I’m about to mention, but among the great works of literature that the Middle Ages gave us, there is the Nibelungenlied. It includes a magic ring that makes you invisible. Do you catch my drift? It is also the story that Dr. King Schultz narrates to Django around their campfire when he learns that Django’s wife is called Broomhilda.

Broomhilda was a princess. She was a daughter of Wotan, god of all gods.

Anyway, her father is really mad at her. She disobeys him in some way. So he puts her on top of the mountain.

It’s a German legend, there’s always going to be a mountain in there somewhere.

And he puts a fire-breathing dragon there to guard the mountain. And he surrounds her in a circle of hellfire. And there, Broomhilda shall remain … unless a hero arises brave enough to save her.

As a matter of fact, he does. A fella named Siegfried. He scales the mountain, because he’s not afraid of it. He slays the dragon, because he’s not afraid of him. And he walks through hellfire … because Broomhilda’s worth it.

Tarantino takes quite a few liberties from the original story. It is not totally innocent also that the Niebelungenlied became a famous Wagner opera but I’ve already piled up enough Godwin points in this blogpost that I don’t need to stray on that. All that really matters is that Tarantino directly sets up Django Freeman as a modern Siegfried through the parallel of their respective love interests.

So.

Tarantino likes it R-rated.

He likes heroes that battle against true-life villains (Nazis, slave owners, Manson family members) and right wrongs by providing an alternative ending to upsetting historical events.

Tarantino also somehow traces the quest for freedom back to medieval legends.

Why, then, wouldn’t he go medieval on our eyes for his last movie?

He could, I don’t know, avenge Joan of Arc and have La Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles free her from her prison, killing everyone on their path, evil English and treacherous French alike.

I mean, if he needs a historical consultant, he can always call me!

It’d be better than any Star Trek movie, that’s for sure…

Paris, BnF, français 134. Enluminure. Illuminated manuscript. Bartholomeus Anglicus. De proprietate rerum. Jean Corbechon. Propriété des choses.
Fun Fact

Medieval Gender Roles: Boys Will Be Boys. How A Boy Saved His Life By Toying With A Weapon

The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11, f. 235r.
Augustine, City of God. Raoul de Presles
Gender Roles. Falconer. Weaver
Photo montage of the Gender roles as defined in the City of God, translated and edited from Latin into French by Raoul de Presles in the 14th century. (The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11, f. 235r)

Happenstance

If you follow me on Twitter you’d know that I’ve been on a little book shopping spree. I went to the second hand bookshop to sell youth novels that my fiancé had lying around. I came back home having sold almost none of them… plus carrying in a bag some history books that caught my eye. I mean, I just can’t help myself.

One thing lead to another. I showed my new findings on Twitter. One book was about the earl of Warwick. Not Richard Beauchamp as I first expected, but his son-in-law, another Richard, son of a third Richard who’d been earl of Salisbury after Thomas Montagu passed away at the siege of Orléans, in 1428. How can you not be easily confused when shopping compulsively?

My sickness followed me home. Once on my computer and looking for a manuscript that I knew had been made for Richard Warwick Jr. by his mother and displayed the story of Richard Warwick Sr., I found out that it hadn’t been digitized yet by the British Library. At which point my heart almost broke. I looked online for the Cotton MS Julius E IV, or the “Warwick Manuscript” as it is also called, and found out that some of its illuminations were reproduced in a 2017 monography on male education in the Middle Ages: From Childhood to Chivalry, by Nicolas Orme. Some extracts were available on Google Books and, since I was still hazy from my shopping spree, I freaking bought the damn book. You’re right I did!

As a matter of fact I’m annoyed with a statement found in the Age of Empires 2 in-game encyclopedia about Chivalry. It reads as follows:

Becoming a Knight

At the age of 7 or 8, boys of the noble class were sent to live with a great lord as a page. Pages learned basic social skills from the women of the lord’s household and began basic training in the use of weapons and horsemanship. Around the age of 14 the youth became a squire, a knight in training. Squires were assigned to a knight who continued the youth’s education. The squire was a general companion and servant to the knight. The duties of the squire included polishing armor and weapons (prone to rust), helping his knight dress and undress, looking after his belongings, and even sleeping across his doorway as a guard.

At tournaments and in battle, the squire assisted his knight as needed. He brought up replacement weapons and horses, treated wounds, brought a wounded knight out of danger, or made sure of a decent burial if needed. In many cases the squire went into battle with his knight and fought at his side. A knight avoided fighting a squire on the other side, if possible, seeking instead a knight of rank similar to or higher than his own. Squires, on the other hand, sought to engage enemy knights, seeking to gain glory by killing or capturing an enemy knight of high rank.

In addition to martial training, squires built up their strength through games, learned to at least read, if not write, and studied music, dancing, and singing.

By the age of 21, a squire was eligible to become a knight. Suitable candidates were “knighted” by a lord or other knight of high standing. The ceremony for becoming a knight was simple at first, usually being “dubbed” on the shoulder with a sword and then buckling on a sword belt. The ceremony grew more elaborate and the Church added to the rite. Candidates bathed, cut their hair close, and stayed up all night in a vigil of prayer. In the morning the candidate received the sword and spurs of a knight.

Paris, BnF, fr. 134, f. 92v.
Bartholomeus Anglicus, De Proprietatibus rerum. Jean Corbechon
Childhood. Teenage years. Adulthood.
The four steps of a man’s life, illustrated in the De proprietatibus rerum of Bartholomeus Anglicus, translated from Latin into French by Jean Corbechon in the 14th century. (Paris, BnF, fr. 134, f. 92v)

I have yet to break down that statement and I will surely do it in another in-depth blog post. But this is a fun fact. Let’s only scratch the surface on this one.

What bothers me with this statement is that it displays a very linear step-by-step narrative of how young aristocrats became knights. It’s much too easy. History is messy. Medieval History especially. Knighthood is a concept that evolved over time. It wasn’t even a thing before the 12th century. It became a heavily ritualized process by the end of the 15th century. It was loaded with religious meaning. Plus, I’m really not sure about that classic 7-14-21 years old progression. I know that I’ve read about it myself when I was a kid, and not only on the Age of Empires 2 in-game encyclopedia.

To keep it short here I’ll simply quote Nicolas Orme on the matter, to bring more perspective and nuance:

[Giles of Rome] reproduces the outlines of Aristotle’s threefold scheme of movement for babies, light exercises for boys and strenuous training for adolescents. But he has little to say about boys, except that they should play at ball, and centres his treatment of physical education almost wholly on military training in adolescence. This begins at 14, earlier than Aristotle had recommended for strenuous exercises. It lasts for four years and involves learning the kind of riding and fighting required for a knightly career, before embarking on the career itself at 18.

To keep quoting Nicolas Orme, he wrote down a little further something that really grabbed the attention of my 2019 post-gender studies and LGTBQ+ rights mind.

Medieval writers criticized children for indolence, oaths and insubordination, but not for aggression.

This… used to be funny? I laughed at this piece for what seems to be a lifetime ago…

He carries on to tell us a few stories that exemplify that statement. Those stories are the purpose of this blog post. Enjoy!

History

Charles the Bold

First of all, I cannot not remind my dear and attentive reader of a former blog post of mine, in which I explain how Philip the Good wished for his son, Charles, to prove his manhood by risking his life jousting against the most renowned knight of their time: Jacques de Lalaing. I thought it was “funny” because whilst Philip the Good was pushing his son to take deadly risks, Isabella of Portugal, Charles’ mother, heavily frowned upon it and argued with her husband. It looked like a typical “boys will be boys” story.

William Marshal

The story that Nicolas Orme tells is another one yet. And a pretty much enlightening one!

Fast track back to the 12th century and meet William Marshal, the best knight of his own time, because there is a Jacques de Lalaing for every new generation of knight. Just as a book was written to narrate the life and deeds of Jacques de Lalaing, William Marshal saw his life turned into an epic poem. This biographical poem starts with William’s childhood and tells how he became King Stephen’s hostage while his father, John FitzGilbert, lead a rebellious life. King Stephen was ready to kill the young boy, who was only 5 or 6 years old, in order to teach his treacherous vassal a lesson. John answered that he could forge a better son if needed with an anvil and a hammer. Talk about toxic masculinity!

How boys became men, in a galaxy far… far away.

Yet, as he was unknowingly lead to his most certain death, a weapon caught the eye of young William Marshal. It was a javelin that the earl of Arundel was toying with. “Sir! Give me that arrow!” pleaded William.

Nicolas Orme concludes:

The kindly Stephen was so touched by this that he changed his mind, and led William back to his camp where they played ‘knights’, each holding a plantain and trying to knock off the head of the other’s.

I can’t resist the urge to share you the poem itself (I don’t really care if you don’t understand a word of it—maybe you do!—it’s just too damn pretty):

E li emfes ke l’on portout,
Ki de sa mort ne se dotout,
Si vit le cunte d'Arundel
Qui teneit un bozon molt bel;
Si li dist o simple reison:
"Sire, donez mei cel bozon."
Quant li reis oï ceste enfance,
Por trestot l'or qui est en France
Nel laisse[s]t il pendre cel jor.-,
Mais par simplesce e par doçor,
De quei sis cu[e]rs esteit toz pleins,
A pris l'enfant entre ses meins.

We cringe today when we see young boys playing with make-believe fire-weapons in kaki suits right in the middle of the school yard. It was already the case when I was a kid in the 90’s, here in good old Belgium. It must most certainly be the case in many U.S. schools! However, boys and young men were more than heavily encouraged to play with weapons in the Middle Ages. Royal rolls actually testify that my all-time favorite medieval figure, the bad-ass-poleaxe-berserk-gallant-husband-and-patron-of-the-arts-founder-of-the-university-of-Caen John Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, Regent of France, was given swords at the prime age of 11 years old in 1400-1401. His elder brother, Henry V of England, received his at 9 years old, in 1397. No wonder they beat the shit out of the French from 1415 to 1435.

Louis de Saint-Pol

I will conclude this fun fact with another 15th century figure: the most infamous Louis of Saint-Pol, who became no less than ‘Connétable de France’ and yet was beheaded for high treason.

Louis learned the art of war from his uncle, John of Luxembourg. This one was not blind, we shouldn’t mix him up with the King of Bohemia, yet he lost an eye in battle and we could call him “One-Eyed John”. He’d been La Hire’s fiercest foe if we don’t take John Talbot into account. I like to call them the Three Hounds of War. I swear I’ll write about them one day. They were just too epic to be overlooked.

Here is one of the most shocking sentence I read in Monstrelet’s chronicle:

That day the young count of Saint-Pol was introduced to warfare for his uncle, the count of Ligny, had him kill a few men. The young count took great pleasure in it.

When I first read this line in 2015, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Monstrelet was not even the kind of chronicler to promote violence. He laments several times about the state of the kingdom and the misery of the little people. He brazenly blames the Flemish urban militias to be too hasty in matters of war. What the hell? A few years later down the way, though, I understand Monstrelet better.

London, BL, Add. 18850, f. 5r.
Bedford Hours. 
Month of May. Gemini. Falconer
Another gender scene? A falconer on the right, two naked women bathing on the right. This illumination illustrates the month of May in the Bedford Hours: the two women are a representation of the Gemini. (London, BL, Add. 18850, f. 5r)

Last Words

I will conclude this fun fact on the following oversimplified statement.

Young men were encouraged in the Middle Ages to develop a taste for war from a very young age, but only as long as they were aristocrats (and there was such a thing as going too far).

Next time I should also present you a few anecdotes about noblemen that turned away from violence and embraced more peaceful or spiritual ways of life, much like Henry VI of England or Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire, who were both sons to great warriors, respectively Henry V and John the Blind. Because as always, with History… it’s messy!

Medieval Meme. Unhooking a Bra
Medieval Memes

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What happens when I look for a very particular manuscript on Gallica? I end up on the KBR website and fall upon the most memeable German manuscript of Tristan & Iseult. A few hours later… well, see for yourself what I came up with!

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