Long Reads

The Birth of Western Astrology: A Short Story

What Asinus Teaches

  1. Astrology Makes It Into the Hellenistic World
  2. Ancient Greek Astrological Charts
  3. How Ancient Greek Astrological Charts Were Read
  4. A Glimpse Into Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos Textual Tradition
  5. Modern Astronomic Discoveries and their Impact on Astrology

Wild Reddit Question Appears !

How similar is modern astrology to astrology as practiced by the Ancient Greeks?

This was sparked by me wondering if the Ancient Greeks thought it was odd that Aquarius the Water Carrier was an air sign, but that got me questioning if the Ancient Greeks even sorted the signs by element and mode (cardinal, fixed, ordinal).

If an Ancient Greek astrologer drew up a horoscope, would it bear any resemblance to the horoscope a modern astrologer might produce for me? Did they at least associate the same personality traits to each sign?

And if not, how did modern astrology get the way that it is? Is there an unbroken line of transmission back to Mesopotamia, or was it recreated from historical records/mostly made up? Or is the core true to ancient practices, but then a bunch of other stuff was added to it?

My Answer

Jeez! I fell down the rabbit hole fast and hard. I wonder how I ever climbed back up. Is this dust on my jacket? I’m covered with mud.

What is it?

Oh, hi! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you over there. I was so busy looking at the stars that I fell down this pit and found the most amazing things on my way down. I swear, I could have spent hundreds of years down there but I heard my wife asking me what’s for dinner tonight. Let me show you my findings. Thread lightly as we go, I don’t want you to go down as I did and break a hip or something. I barely made it out myself.

Do you mind if I buy some chicken on the way? I’m cooking a Caesar salad tonight.

Astrology Enters the Hellenistic World

When we think of the ancient Greeks, we often think of the 5th century B.C., the “peak” of Greek culture. Athens became a democracy, the Greeks fended the Persians off, Pericles high-jacked the Delian League, Athens and Sparta went to war with each other, Herodotus wrote his Histories, Thucydides the History of the Peloponnesian War and Socrates went on to pester everyone with his philosophical questions… However, this is not when astrology became the intellectual discipline that we know today.

Plato, who lived on the edge of the 5th and the 4th century B.C., made some use of Babylonian astral figures in his writings. However, the priest of Bel Marduk Berossus only taught astrology to the Greeks around 280 B.C. when he dedicated his Babyloniaca to King Antiochus I Soter. By then, the Classical era of the Greek city states was long gone. The Greeks were part of a much wider world since Alexander the Great had died and the many Hellenistic realms had claimed his military and political heritage. The Seleucid Empire, which Antiochus I Soter ruled, encompassed a good chunk of modern Turkey, most of modern Syria, pretty much all of modern Iraq and Iran and it stretched even further East, into the western borders of modern India.

According to the Roman architect Vitruvius, Berossus’ disciples deemed the moment of conception as more important than the moment of birth. This is not the case for astrologers today.

Though Berossus first taught astrology to the Greeks within the boundaries of the Seleucid Empire, it quickly caught on in Egypt, especially at Alexandria where the most advanced mathematical observations about the Earth and the stars were being made. It also found common grounds with the philosophical school of stoicism in Athens, in regards of predestination and the energetic interconnection of all things (call it “the Force” if you want ;-). The Pythagoreans also pitched it. Astrology became a whole shiny new thing and moved quite far from its Babylonian roots. Whereas Babylonian astrologers were mostly concerned with main political or meteorological prognostications, the Greeks turned astrology into a tool to investigate individual destinies. Placed at the crossroad of religion, philosophy, natural sciences and mathematics, astrology took a few centuries to look like what we know today.

A common critic today about astrology is that the twelve constellations have shifted in the sky. Every 72 years, the zodiac moves one degree “backwards” because of the precession of the equinoxes. It means that where the Aries constellation used to stand, a long, long time ago, now stands the Pisces. Critics point that out regularly to assert that astrological signs are nonsense. However, this issue had already been observed by Hipparchus, an Alexandrian mathematician and astronomer, back in the 2nd century B.C. Therefore, astrologers came up with the “tropical zodiac”: a zodiac not fixed by the actual observation of the sky, but determined by the spring equinox and the two solstices. That way, the zodiac became an abstract belt anchored and locked around the Earth. Does it make it more sense? That is a question for another day.

Meanwhile, despite the many works on astrology written and debated throughout the Hellenistic period, the earliest Greek astrological charts that we know of only date back from the 1st century B.C. Most of them, actually, were written by the time that Rome had become an Empire. O. Neugebauer and H. B. Van Hoesen made it noticeable when they published their book, Greek Horoscopes*, a scientific edition of the most ancient Greek astrological charts still at our disposal.

* O. Neugebauer & H. B. Van Hoesen (ed.), Greek Horoscopes. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1987.

Ancient Greek Astrological Charts

The most ancient surviving Greek astrological chart must be the Lion Horoscope Relief of Nemrut Dag. This massive relief depicts an actual lion bearing a crescent on his neck and standing under three stars named Pyroeis Heracleos, Stilboon Apollonos and Phaeton Dios, respectively Mars, Mercury and Jupiter.

Philip of Opus, Plato’s disciple, is the one who labeled the planets as we know them today back in the 4th century B.C. However, the Lion Horoscope, dating from the reign of Antiochus I Theos (ca. 69-ca. 40 B.C.) shows us that his taxonomy wasn’t yet universally embraced several centuries after his death.


On a side note, the “ranking” of the planets underwent many changes since the Classical era and the Hellenistic period. Anaxagoras (4th century B.C.) went for Moon, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn; Hipparchus (2nd century B.C.) preferred Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn; Berchorius (14th century A.D.)—who wasn’t too concerned with astrology—totally reversed the classical order for the following: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Apollo (the Sun), Venus, Mercury and Diana (the Moon). Today, astrological ephemeris place the Sun first, then go Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc.

Nevertheless, the Hellenistic period named the days of the week after planets* to answer the needs and interrogations of horary astrology—more on that later. It still survives very well in Romance languages, like French.

  • “Lundi”: Lunae dies (day of the Moon);
  • “Mardi”: Martis dies (day of Mars);
  • “Mercredi”: Mercurii dies (day of Mercury);
  • “Jeudi”: Jovis dies (day of Jupiter);
  • “Vendredi”: Veneris dies (day of Venus);
  • “Samedi”: Saturni dies (day of Saturn);
  • “Dimanche”: dies Dominicus (day of the Lord)—it used to be Solis dies (the day of the Sun) but went through a needed change with the rise of Christianism.

Not too surprisingly, this naming system also left its imprint on the English language. The Germans replaced several Latin gods by their own around the 1st century B.C. Mars became Ziu (→Tuesday), Mercury became Wuotan (→Wednesday), Jupiter became Thor (→Thursday) and Venus became Freya (→Friday). Monday and Saturday were left unchanged. So did also Sunday, the day of the Sun!

 * It is worth noting that up until the 2nd century B.C., the seven days week was totally foreign to Greeks though common among Semite people.


There’s been much conjecture about the actual day that the Lion Horoscope depicts astrologically. O. Neugebauer and H. B. Van Hoesen computed in their aforementioned book that it could be July 7th, 62 B.C., but Maurice Crijns later argued that it was rather the 14th of July 109 B.C. On either dates, however, it would have coincided with the coronation of a king of Commagene, either Mithridates I Callinicus or his son, Antiochus I Theos—once Pompey acknowledged his regal title despite his military obedience to Rome. I couldn’t find any decisive argument to solve that mystery. Anyway, a coronation placed under the omen of four planets located in Leo, including Jupiter no less, would have been a great one indeed.

The Greek astrological charts that survived on papyri (none of them is as old as the Lion Horoscope) mostly read as lists of planetary placements. There is barely any interpretation and when there is it is rather curt.

There is however one prolific astrologer, Vettius Valens, whose writings survived extensively. Vettius Valens’ Anthology is a long discussion of the various astrological doctrines of his time. He lived during the 2nd century A.D.

By then, astrology was a well-established science of prognostics. Several Roman emperors had had an extensive use of it. Nero’s odd political choices can be far better understood once we know he was educated to astrology by his mother, planned her death thanks to it and lost his mind when his reading of the stars didn’t foresee his fall. Many laws were passed in Rome since the Republic to forbid the practice of astrology but a large number of aristocrats were still hooked on it and astrology, as such, survived until the rise of Christianism and the great Migration Period (better known—sadly—as the “Barbarian Invasions”). 

Back on the topic of Vettius Valens. He recorded hundreds of actual astrological charts from 37 A.D. till his own era and flavored them with unique biographic information. He specified when someone encountered a violent death (beheaded, drowned, hanged, eaten by wild beasts, etc.). He also added when someone was faced with a peculiar destiny regarding the loss or gain of personal fortune, all that kind of things. He actually build what could be the most ancient surviving astrological database!

How Were Ancient Greek Astrological Charts Read ?

The Hellenistic Period laid the ground rules of astrology. Those notions survived very well and are still found in today’s astrological treatises.

The zodiac was already charted and arranged around the concept of cosmic harmony. This is why the constellations, despite their actual placement in the sky, divide the Sun’s course beyond the clouds into twelve sectors of equal dimensions. The Egyptians did count no less than thirty-six constellations. The Hellenistic astrologers therefore adapted their constellation system by splitting every astrological constellation into three decans.

The Sun and the seven planets, amounting for eight astrological bodies/deities, were already invested with their traditional meaning. The geometrical angles they drew within a chart were also imbued with a great significance. They were called apects—among which trines were especially considered as important.

The Houses were also already implemented. The Ascendant (Rising Sign) was called Horoscopos and gave its name to modern horoscopes. The meaning of the Houses turned into a mnemonic Latin verse during the Middle Ages: “Vita lucrum fratres genitor nati valetudo uxor mors pietas regnum benefactaque carcer.” (Life, wealth, siblings, parents, birth, health, spouse, death, rectitude, authority, profits, prison.) Also, planets were assigned as rulers of various Signs or Houses. In effect, planets had a domicile, a state of detriment, exaltation or fall depending on where they were placed on the natal chart. This was referred as the system of dignities.

This sophisticated system gave birth to at least two schools of interpretation. The “Egyptian” school rather focused on planet’s dignities whereas the “Babylonian” school centered more on planet’s aspects. However, astrology was used for far more than the mere study of individual destinies.

The old Babylonian practice of computing political prognostics was still popular, so were annual predictions. Horary astrology—predictions made for a specific event—was rather ubiquitous as was the use of astrology for medical purposes. The idea of a close relationship between the universe and the human body, often displayed in medieval manuscript, was already in effect. Each astrological sign was assigned a part of the human body. There were also attempts to connect and bind everything together into one monumental system, which gave birth to “magical astrology” and would later grow close ties with alchemy.

Astrology really became an overall system, a scientific paradigm of its own. However, its high degree of sophistication and the long years of study it demanded were snubbed by con artists and frauds who only pursued astrology for money or power. Those people indulged into hemerology; they casted predictions and identified propitious days only with the placement of the Sun or the Moon, drawing what would be considered as astrological oversimplifications.

The Tetrabiblos Plays Hide and Seek

Contemporary to Vettius Valens, Claude Ptolemy wrote the most comprehensive synthesis on Hellenistic astrology, the Tetrabiblos.

Contrary to Valens, Ptolemy didn’t view himself as a “soldier of destiny”. He didn’t think that individual destinies were unequivocally shaped by the stars. He argued that here on Earth, change was paramount, so much that it couldn’t always be predicted. Astrology was a guide, at best.

As mentioned before, the rise of Christianism and the Migration Period saw an end to erudite astrology in Europe. Astrology books were burned. Astrologers were hunted down. They even had to flee the Byzantine Empire when Justinian closed the School of Athens in the early 6th century. Actually, everything that vaguely resembled mathematics was prohibited. In medieval Latin, the word “mathematicus” was used to describe sorcerers, wizards and madmen. Geometry was barely tolerated for its practical applications.

As astrologers and other philosophers fled the Roman and Byzantine empires, they sought refuge east. They opened new schools in Persia, India and the Muslim states, where their knowledge grew and matured, to ultimately find its way back to Europe through Spain, like many other Greek intellectual treasures. Those treasures were now augmented with critical and scholarly commentaries or “glosses”. Aristotle was read alongside the running commentary of Averroes and so was Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos with the additions and corrections of Haly Albohazen, a Tunisian astrologer of the 10th and 11th century.

Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos augmented with Haly’s glosses found its way in many European book collections, including Charles V of France’s royal library. Charles V had at least two independent French translations of the astrological volume, still contained today in the manuscripts Paris, BnF, fr. 1348 and fr. 1349. But wait, there’s more. Since we’re on the topic of textual transmission—and since I’m a sucker for it—I’ll shortly explain how Haly’s commentary of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos found its way into Charles V’s royal library.

Ptolemy wrote in Greek. Manuscripts containing his Tetrabiblos still survive to this day, among which Paris, BnF, gr. 2425 and Città del vaticano, Bibl. Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. gr. 1038, which were used for the scientific edition of the text according to modern rules of philology. Franz Boll and Emilie Boer gave a critical edition of the Tetrabiblos in 1940* and according to Simonetta Feraboli** they relied on the aforementioned Vatican manuscript as their model. However, whoever translated the Tetrabiblos into Middle French for Charles V didn’t have access (either materially or intellectually) or knowledge of such manuscripts.

What happened is that Haly’s commentary of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, which was written in Arab—and fully translated the Tetrabiblos from Greek—, was translated into Old Castellan. That Old Castellan translation was in turn translated into Latin by Gilles de Tebaldis (Francis J. Carmody counted 55 manuscripts containing this translation***, among which would be the following: Paris, BnF, lat. 16653). Then, and only then, was Haly’s commentary translated into French by two independent translators, one being identified as Guillaume Oresme (for the manuscript BnF, fr. 1348) and the other remaining anonymous (for the manuscript BnF, fr. 1349). Anyway, both of these translations were found among Charles V’s books.

The textual tradition of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos is quite the maze and I’ve only touched on the surface of it. However, all these layers of transmissions and translations rendered the text almost unintelligible in Middle French. We find many astronomic mistakes. It is only with the Renaissance, the rediscovery of genuine Greek manuscripts and the advances of astronomy that Ptolemy’s work became clear and properly understood. Astrology became a legitimate science—it was taught at the university—until it was fully discredited in the 17th and 18th centuries and viewed as the epitome of superstitions.

* Franz Boll & Emilie Boer (ed.), Claudii Potlemaei opera quae exstant omnia, vol. 3-1. Apotelesmatica. Lipsiae: Teubner, 1940. | ** Simonetta Feraboli, Claudio Tolomeo. Le Previsioni astrologiche (Tetrabiblos). Roma: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1985. | *** Francis J. Carmody, Arabic astronomical and astrological sciences in Latin translation: a critical bibliography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956.

New Astronomic Discoveries and Modern Astrology

The continued advancement of astronomy in the 18th century forward shaped new concepts and rules for astrology. The discoveries of Uranus (1781), Neptune (1846), Pluto (1930) and their inclusion in the astrological system literally changed the way natal charts are read and predictions are made. Mars used to be the ruler of Scorpio, it is now said to be Pluto.

Astrology underwent many shifts and turns through the centuries. Its uses and schools of interpretation have varied greatly. Nonetheless the mathematical system had stayed relatively unchanged if not for the great divide between tropical and sidereal zodiac—the latter being preferred and still used by Vedic astrologers, in India. Planets, aspects, dignities, houses, it remained rather unscathed by the passing of time until Uranus, Neptune and Pluto made their “entry” into the Solar system. Pluto is still considered as a planet by astrologers though it was demoted by astronomers but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Vedic astrologers, in their own cosmic understanding of the universe and their symbolic love for the number nine, had promoted the Lunar Nodes to the rank of planet and their position is still computed in ephemeris tables.

Astrology has also been challenged by the rise of new human sciences. Carl Gustav Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, wrote quite a deal about astrology. As a matter of fact, his psychological theories have been implemented into astrological interpretations by modern astrologers. It gave way to brand new methods on how to interpret native charts.

Therefore, not only because the mindset and cultural background of Hellenistic astrologers would be totally foreign to us, but also because astrology as an intellectual practice has gained new layers through the ages, there would be very little to no chance for anyone to practice astrology today as the Ancient Greek did back then. On the surface, it would look the same. There would be mention of planets, their placements and their aspects, how they’re located into one Sign or one House and how it affects them. The mathematical structure of a natal chart would look quite familiar at first. That is until you consider how much progress was made in astronomy since Copernic, how much was written on and about astrology since Ptolemy and how well astrology actually answers to social interrogations that reflect their own era.  

General reference

Willelm Knappich, Histoire de l’astrologie. Translated from German into French by Henri Latou. Originally published in 1967. Paris: Oxus, 2008.

Long Reads

A Crash Course on Medieval Tournaments

What Asinus Teaches

  1. What Was a Medieval Tournament?
  2. Who Could Participate in a Tournament?
  3. Two Examples of Aristocratic Tournaments:
    1. Chauvency, 1285
    1. Saint-Inglevert, 1390
  4. René d’Anjou’s Treatise on Tournaments

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

I am a 14th century French knight that has just been eliminated early on in a jousting tournament. Do I stay around and watch? Do I leave in shame? How would I proceed with my day?

>>> Link to the original post

>>> My Live Twitter Thread on the Topic

My Answer

Walter Scott is not too far from the truth when he writes the following paragraph in his historical novel Ivanhoe (1820):

“The shouts of the multitude, together with the acclamations of the heralds, and the clangour of the trumpets, announced the triumph of the victors and the defeat of the vanquished. The former retreated to their pavilions, and the latter, gathering themselves up as they could, withdrew from the lists in disgrace and dejection, to agree with their victors concerning the redemption of their arms and their horses, which, according to the laws of the tournament, they had forfeited.”—Chapter VIII.

I would argue, however, that tournaments didn’t follow their own laws but that they actually followed the chivalric code of war! Indeed, jousts and tournaments were nothing like modern sporting events. I get the feeling from your phrasing that you expect knights to face each other off until there’s only two of them left for a great finale. However, jousts and tournaments were true exercises of warfare during peace times more than anything else. It was a way to make war without declaring it.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Knight. Lady. Gift. Elephant. Crest. Elephant Crest. Helmet.Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Knight. Lady. Gift. Swan. Crest. Swan Crest. Helmet.
Two Ladies Each Giving a Helmet with an Animal Crest to a Knight
Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Knights. Armors. Shields. Heraldry. Spears. Jousting. Tournament. Horses. Gallop. Fight. Flowers.
The Joust Between the Knight With a Swan Crest and the Knight With an Elephant Crest – Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bold. MS 264, f. 101v

By the end of the 15th century, jousts and tournaments became heavily ritualized and participants were advised to wield non-lethal weapons but such was not yet the case during the 13th and 14th century.

As in regard of shame, there were little to none if you “lost” in a jousting event or in a tournament. The only one and true shame would have been to refuse to participate unless you were already at war or on a crusade. Also, the only way to be definitively eliminated from a tournament or from jousts would have been to die during the event. Otherwise, the goal of such event was to “capture” the opponent or to force him to admit defeat in order to put him to ransom, pretty much like it could be done on an actual battlefield.

Let’s give it all more context, shall we?

Jousts and Tournaments: What Were They?

As stated, they were not sporting events. They were true moments of warfare, at least until the first half of the 15th century. During the second half of the 15th century, jousts and tournaments became heavily ritualized and death was an unlikely outcome. When Henry II of France died from a jousting event in 1547, it was a most tragic accident. In contrast, if Boucicault had died during the jousts of Saint-Inglebert in 1390, people would have figured it was a risk he’d been more than willing to take. As a matter of fact, he was allegedly put on bed rest for nine days before he could return to the jousts.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Jousting. Knights. The Songe of Pestilence.Horses. Castle. Armors. Spears. King. Queen. Tournament. Heraldry. Fall. Victory. Defeat. Swords. Shields.
Jousts Between Knights on Horses and on Foot- Brussels, KBR, ms. 10218-19, f. 141r

Jousts and tournaments were also two different things. A tournament was a warlike battle between two opposing groups of knights, fighting on horses with swords on a delimited area. Each group had to capture as many opposing knights as possible and put them to ransom. It was deemed a very noble exercise since they were fighting with swords, a most noble weapon. However, it left little room for individual prowess. That’s what jousts were designed for. Knights would face each other, individually, either on foot or on horse, according to well-defined pre-established rules and surrounded by expert witnesses: a high lord (king or prince), other experienced men-at-arms, heralds, minstrels, ladies. Of course, tournaments could also be done in front of an audience.

Quantitative studies show that jousts and tournaments were more often organized from winter to spring when war came to a standstill on most years. The Great Lent was often fully booked for such military events. They were also held at weddings, baptisms or other religious celebrations.

Who Would Participate in Jousts or a Tournament?

The people who participated in jousts and tournaments were actual knights, meaning people who actually fought wars. They were skilled warriors. They often served as ranking officers within their lord’s army. That’s why they required a formal authorization to attend such events. More often than not we see mighty dukes, kings or princes ordering a fight to stop and call it a draw because they don’t want to lose their elite men-at-arms in the process of a joust or a tournament.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Jousting. Knights. Horses. Castle. Armors. Spears. King. Queen. Tournament. Heraldry. Gallop. Fall. Victory. Defeat. Shields.
Knights Jousting on Horses – Brussels, KBR, ms. 10218-19, f. 121r

Ecclesiastic authorities didn’t have much regard for jousts and tournaments but the urban bourgeoisie held its own warlike events, aspiring to live up to the standards of the nobility. Sometimes we find knights and burghers participating to the same event! It is quite rare, though, and certainly not the norm. The peasantry had its own military tournaments. Archery tournaments were often held in England and France and we have found several instances where kings actually prohibited other kind of “games” that would or could distract the population from the daily practice of archery.

Jousts and tournaments were true exercises of warfare during peace times. It was a way to make war without declaring it.

It wasn’t too rare that young knights would partake on a long journey across Europe to fight as many jousts or tournaments they could. They’d often join in on actual wars too. The famous Reisen in Prussia against the Pagans was a hotspot of chivalric “tourism” if we can allow ourselves a little anachronism.

Tournament of Chauvency (1285)

Reported only by a long narrative poem, some scholars suspect that the Tournament of Chauvency may have never taken place. Indeed, historical facts were preferably written in prose during the Late Middle Ages whereas poetry was considered the form of fiction. Nevertheless, we can account for every participant of the aforementioned tournament. None of them is fictional or made up.

This tournament happened at Chauvency-le-Château, a little town in Northern France. Many nobles from the western border of the Holy Roman Empire participated to the event. The event was announced by heralds all around the region and it contributed to its substantial attendance. Every day knights fought on the field. Every night they gathered for a feast: they danced, they sang, they spent a jolly good time together among their wives and ladies. All in all it was a joyful event though blood was spilled and injuries occurred. It is worth maybe reminding that the medieval society conceived war and violence as a natural and necessary aspect of human life. Boys were encouraged very young to play with weapons and to master them.

  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Knights. Armors. Shields. Heraldry. Spears. Jousting. Tournament. Horses. Gallop. Fight. Royalty. King. Queen. Ladies. Admirers. Castle.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Knights. Ladies. Dance. Sing. Play. Countess of Luxembourg.Tournament. Party. Night. Tournament After-Party. Music. Instruments.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Knights. Armors. Shields. Heraldry. Swords. Jousting. Tournament. Horses. Blood. Fight. Battle. Joust. Wound.

Jousts of Saint-Inglevert (1390)

Jean II le Meingre, called Boucicault, ranked among the most renowned knights of the French kingdom at the end of the 14th century. He was so great and so brave despite his short height that his cult following survives to this day.

I wish I was kidding.

On the year 1390, when France and England agreed on a peace treaty, Boucicault received the king’s authorization to organize a 30 days jousting event. He called every knight from the Christendom to meet and challenge him and his two friends at Saint-Inglevert. It appeared French and English knights disagreed on which country had the most chivalrous warriors and this main event was supposed to give an answer to this hot-heated debate.

Boucicault and his two friends had their pavilions out in a field and they were hosting anyone who would challenge them, inviting them to dinner on a large round table (the Arthurian trope was very common during such events). For thirty days, they faced knights from England, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and France. Boucicault was put on bed rest for nine days but he got back on his horse and went right back at it. The jousts followed very strict rules but the losers were expected to pay a tribute to the victors. At the end of the event, however, Boucicault and his two friends didn’t keep anything from their spoils and gave it back to their opponents! Much to their honor.

The concept of chivalry was getting more and more sophisticated. It didn’t only apply to wealthy landowners who fought on horses. It came to define a culture and its elite. Gallantry was becoming the best part of chivalry. Friends or foes, everybody was expected to behave honorably and follow a chivalrous code of conduct.

“Traité de la Forme et Devis d’un Tournoi” (1462-1465)

By the end of the 15th century, René d’Anjou wrote a treatise on jousting and knightly tournaments: how to announce them, how to hold them, how to bring them to a conclusion. This treatise was written in several lavish manuscript that contains vivid and amazing depictions of such events and as a conclusion of this piece, I wanted to give you a few links to browse them at will.

  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. René of Anjou. René I of Naples. Good King René. King. Treaty. Tournament. Tournament Treaty. Heraldry. Lord. Semy-de-Lys. Throne. Sword. Fleur-de-Lys.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. René of Anjou. René I of Naples. Good King René. King. Treaty. Tournament. Tournament Treaty. Heraldry. Lord. Sword. Horses. Knights. Jousting.

In Conclusion: TL;DR

Did knights stay around and watched if they lost a tournament?

Most certainly. And they lost only because they couldn’t keep up with ransoming fees. Or died…

Did they leave in shame?

No. Shame only belonged to the people who didn’t show up or openly refused to join in on the event. It could even be a legitimate military tactic during a siege that had been brought to a stalemate to bait an enemy with a knightly duel. Could they bear the dishonor of denying an open challenge?

How did they proceed with their day?

They most certainly waited for the night to come and the feast to continue if they hadn’t been critically injured. They also had to start gathering money to pay off their ransom or pay back the equipment they agreed to relinquish to their victorious opponent.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Charles VII. King. King of France. Lily. Lilies. The Virgin Mary. The Holy Trinity. God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. Angels. Neumes. Throne. Bible.
Long Reads

The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry

What Asinus Teaches

  1. The Legend of Clovis and the Fleur-de-Lys
  2. The Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
  3. The French “Copyright” on the Fleur-de-Lys

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

>>> Link to the original Reddit post

Of all the medieval motifs to choose from, why is the Fleur-de-lys so popular? Why don’t we see Papal staffs or English lions on fence posts, organisation logos and flags everywhere?

Side question: Where does it actually come from? It’s often listed as the coronation of Clovis in the 6th century, but some sources (not very trustworthy ones mind you) claim that the symbol dates back older than that.

My Answer

Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?

In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, we need to consider a few things.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. King. Kings. King of France. Kings of France. Angels. Angel. Royalty. Power.
Allegory of the French Royal Power – Paris, BnF, fr. 2598, f. 1r

1. Clovis Has Nothing to Do with It

By the second half of the 14th century, Charles V of France was all busy patroning the arts and the writing of many new lavish manuscripts—he wasn’t only bailing out the upcoming commander-in-chief of his army with his royal treasury. He had his own army of translators. They would offer French renditions of major Latin cultural texts; e.g. Raoul de Presles translated Augustine’s City of God.

Why the well would I bring up such pointless trivia?

The fact is that the whole Clovis legend you mention is mentioned in Raoul de Presles’ translation of Augustine’s City of God and that is because medieval translators didn’t only translated what they read, they also augmented their translations with new prologues, running commentaries and full-on exegeses. Don’t ask me why they did it, we’d be here for another hour at least. The fact is that they indulged themselves with such fancy rhetoric.

Raoul de Prelses translated the City of God for Charles V of France, therefore he wrote the latter a letter justifying his scholarly work and placed it at the beginning of it. Raoul de Prelses went on to talk about many things but first he had to remind how great, wise and noble Charles V of France actually was. Therefore he reminded the legend tying Clovis to the fleur-de-lys. Do you remember how Constantine converted to Christianism? Hold on to your seat because we’ve got some major flashback incoming.

According to the legend, Clovis was about to face a Saracen king who cut his way through Germany (not Spain) and was now threatening France. It was on this very battle that the battle-cries of “Monjoye” and “Saint-Denis” were shouted for the first time—just like La Hire would then shout them at Montargis, in 1427.

Montjoye!

On the eve of battle, Clovis had a dream. He dreamt of three fleur-de-lys. The next day, he wiped what was then his emblem, three crescents (this version of the legend makes Clovis a Saracen himself!—in other versions of the tale, his emblem was made of three toads*), and replaced it with three fleur-de-lys. He then marched on to victory.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Clovis. King. King of France. Baptisme. Genealogical Tree. Holy Spirit. Religion. Pope.
Clovis’ Genealogical Tree – Toulouse, BM, 988

Raoul de Presles exposed as an obvious evidence that the legend was true that the Abbey of “Joie-en-Val”, which was allegedly founded after the battle—and is better known as the Abbey of Saint-Denis—still carried three fleur-de-lys on its escutcheon by his own lifetime. Let’s reckon that Raoul de Presles was very creative with archeological and heraldic materials but that he didn’t just made up the legend either. Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, French official and chronicler, first came up with the idea in the 12th century. It was strongly passed on through the 13th century with the production of stained glasses and sculptures. Raoul de Presles merely revived the legend when he translated Augustine’s City of God, by the early 1370s, because around those very years, Charles V of France was changing the royal French coat of arms from “Azure semy-de-lys or” to “Azure, three fleurs-de-lys or”. As such, Charles V of France wished to symbolically tighten the knot between the French monarchy and the Holy Trinity, placing the kingdom of France under the direct protection of God—and himself, the king, as His direct representative on Earth.


 * Michel Pastoureau (“Une fleur pour le roi. Jalons pour une histoire médiévale de la fleur de lis”, in Une histoire symbolique du Moyen Âge occidental. Paris: Seuil, 2004, p.110-124) quotes the manuscript Paris, BnF, fr. 22912, f. 3v and writes “crapaulx” (toads) instead of “croissans” (crescents) but this is a paleographic mistake. However, I didn’t have the time to cross-reference this finding with the latest edition of the BnF, fr. 22912 (Olivier Bertrand (ed.), La Cité de Dieu de saint Augustin traduite par Raoul de Presle (1371-1375), livres I à III, édition du manuscrit BnF fr. 22912. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013).

** The semy-de-lys didn’t vanish, though. However, only the “three fleur-de-lys” came to symbolise the French king as a person and individual once Charles V of France was done with it, whereas the “semy-de-lys” became more of a general emblem related to the royalty.

2. When and How Did It All Start?

If it didn’t start with Clovis? When did the big fashion for fleur-de-lys emblems actually begin? Was it with Charlemagne? Was it with Hugues Capet? None of the above! The first died in 814 and the second in 996. As stated before—we live and die by our mantra, each and every one of us—coat of arms only came into fashion by the 12th century. It is only then that fleur-de-lys emblems started to sprout all over Europe.

The fleur-de-lys had many thing going for it to promote its success. First, its abstract representation was pretty. It matters. Second, it was a flower named in the Holy Bible. In the Song of Songs no less! “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. | As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song 2:1-2) Those verses were picked up in the Middle Age to further the devotion to the Virgin Mary. The lily became Mary’s flower. She was depicted either surrounded by lilies or holding a lily into her hand on several French coins and ecclesiastic seals during the 12th century.

When the time came for the kings of France to choose their own symbol, they liked the idea of placing their realm under the protection of the Virgin Mary. Since the lily was her flower, they would be crowned while carrying great blue coats covered with golden lilies (instead of stars, that other regal figures fancied). That way, as a symbolic gesture, they placed themselves under the protection of the queen of Heaven, the mother of God, Mary. The symbolism was quite long in the making*. It took a few kings to be properly picked up but by 1211, a royal French figure is for the first time depicted on a seal with a shield that displays a “semy-de-lys”.

  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Charles VII. King. King of France. Lily. Lilies. The Virgin Mary. The Holy Trinity. God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. Angels. Throne. Bible.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Jesus. The Virgin Mary. Baby Jesus. Prayer. Lilies. Lily.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Angel. The Virgin Mary. Lily. Lilies.

By then, however, the fleur-de-lys was a proper heraldic emblem, only second in popularity to the lion, the eagle, or a few geometric figures. It was often encountered in various places such as the northern Low Countries, the Rhine valley, the duchy of Brabant, the county of Artois, the duchy of Tuscany, many regions in France, etc. On seals, it ranks among the most used symbols in Normandy, Flanders, Zeeland and Switzerland. It was imprinted on the emblem of peasant families, urban communities (such as guilds) and cities. The city of Lille, in France, bears the lily on its coat of arms because it makes up for a great pun. In Latin, the lily is called lilium, it resembled “Lille” enough to draw a visual parallel.


* Though it was long in the making, the symbolism also lasted very long. In the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which is a 19th century construction, we find a gorgeous mosaic of Louis XIII begging Mary to give him a son and secure the future of his realm. The prayer was heard and a son was born. He grew up to become Louis XIV. The Virgin Mary so appears, on several mosaics of the basilica, to have granted her special protection to the kingdom of France through the ages. Isn’t it amazing? How long symbols can survive?

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Charles V. Books. Books in the Middle Ages. Reading. Reading in the Middle Ages. King of France. Semy-de-Lys. Fleur-de-Lys. King. Heraldry. Bible. Song of Songs.Charles VI. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Semy-de-Lys. Fleur-de-Lys. King of France. King. Heraldry.
Charles V of France and Charles VI with Semy-de-Lys garments and furniture

3. The Fleur-de-Lys, Joan of Arc and the Medici

By the 15th century, the king of France started to share his emblematic fleur-de-lys to people, families and communities that supported him through hard times. I’ve already touched on it in my post about Joan of Arc’s origins but I don’t mind to cover the topic again. It’ll give me the opportunity to pile a few more details on the stack for you insatiable history geeks. 

Joan of Arc's coat of arms.
Joan of Arc’s coat of arms.

Some people have believed, because Joan of Arc was granted the right to carry a fleur-de-lys on her own coat of arms, that Charles VII secretly acknowledged her as his secret royal sister. What a prank! By the 15th century, French kings had already begun a long-lasting political strategy that we could tag as the hostile public takeover of power symbols. Just like they claimed that only them and no other could have inherited their aristocratic title “by the Grace of God”, they wished to monopolize the fleur-de-lys as their own symbol. The fleur-de-lys, despite its wide and ancient popularity, belonged to them, represented them, and was for them to “offer” to their most precious allies.

French kings would grant people the right to bear the fleur-de-lys on their coat of arms as a symbolic gesture of binding friendship. Joan of Arc wasn’t the only one to “receive” the fleur-de-lys from Charles VII. John Stewart of Darnley, Constable of the Scottish Army in France, was also granted the fleur-de-lys on his personal coat of arms, back in 1426, three years prior to Joan’s epic. Two cities at least, Tournay (1426-1427) and Saint-Maixant (1440) were also awarded fleur-de-lys for their valiant resistance against the “English”. Louis XI, who succeeded Charles VII, might have hated his father, but he understood the political finesse behind gifting the fleur-de-lys. He awarded it himself to the Medici family in 1465 for their precious aid.

The fact that two daughters of the Medici family later became queen of France certainly furthered the popularity of the fleur-de-lys. If you happen to visit the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, you will end up in a room which walls are covered with fleur-de-lys.

Conclusion: Charles VI, the Winged Deer and the Fleur-de-Lys

I started with the mystery of Charles VI’s winged deer. I haven’t forgotten about it. Truth is that the deer, just like the fleur-de-lys, carried a religious meaning. The deer had been interpreted by scholars and theologians as a “red beast” (meaning, a good beast) and as a symbol of Christ—for various reasons that would be too long to enumerate here. The lion, too, was a symbol of Christ, though it is a predator. On the contrary, wolves, bears or boars had become devilish avatars.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Winged Deer. Deer. Coat of Arms.
Charles VI’s Armorial: Two Winged Deers Holding the Three Fleurs-de-Lys – Paris, BnF, fr. 2608, f. 1r

To conclude on that note, the popularity of the fleur-de-lys was boosted by its perception as a religious and then regal emblem. It quickly became a popular emblem on coat of arms from the very start, but its political (and spiritual) appropriation by the kings of France only made it more visible, meaningful and desirable.

Medieval Torture. Impaling. Illumination. Illuminated manuscript.
Long Reads

How to Torture People in the Middle Ages?

What Asinus Teaches

Medieval illuminated manuscript. illumination. Torture. Strappado. hanging from the arms.
Medieval torture: The Strappado – Avignon, BM, 659, f. 189v

Wild Reddit Question Appeared!

>>> Link to original post!

What did you have to do to get tortured in the medieval days?

Would they do it to any criminal or did they only use torture for more serious crimes? Would they often torture innocent people for entertainment as well?

My Answer

Ça alors! I was just reading my notes on that very topic earlier today. I hope you don’t mind if I share and translate them 😉

The Introduction of Torture in the 13th century

Torture came into fashion in the 13th century for very specific reasons. Namely, the (re)discovery of Roman law and its implementation by the Church. The 1215 Latran council recognised that trials by ordeals were a thing from the past and that since they were rational and modern beings, it was time to move on.

I was brave enough to conclude that “hard evidence is hard” in a former contribution but what is–you may ask–a proper piece of evidence?

When trials by ordeals where the norm, you were deemed innocent if you won a duel or if you had forty men to swear on a bible that you didn’t do what you had been accused of doing. Things like that. Depending on the case and the local customs.

Roman law, however, doesn’t work that way. You don’t have to prove your innocence. You’re innocent until proven guilty. The law doesn’t wait on someone to blame you for something. State officials have to record a crime to start an investigation. It is their job to find all the evidence that work for you or against you. In that regard, the Common law is a hybrid system.

Since you’re not guilty from the get-go according to the principles of Roman law, how do anyone prove you’re guilty of anything? What could be considered as a proper piece of evidence?

Case number one: you’ve been caught doing the crime you’re being charged with by sworn officials. Your crime is notorious and known to everybody. You head straight to sentencing.

Case number two: state officials find witnesses that can testify you did what you’re being charged with. There needs to be two of them and they must be male adults. This is sometimes quite difficult to find… Therefore medieval legists came with a work-around. A single male adult witness can be replaced by two women or two minors–because women are litterally viewed as minors in regard to the law and they will remain as such in most Western countries until… the 20th century.

Case number three: you CONFESS!

Medieval illumination. Torture. Waterboarding.
Medieval torture: Waterboarding – London, BL, Harley MS 4375-1, f. 70v

Confession, according to Roman law, is the queen of all evidence. However, what can you do when someone refuses to confess? That’s when torture comes into play. Back then, it was called “to put someone to the question.” The first mention of such practices date back from the 13th century. We’re not talking here about sentencing people to a horrible fate, but well about intimidating people with threats of pain or actual suffering in order to get confessions.

In the 16th century, Joos de Damhouder wrote a book about criminal practices (which quickly became a best-seller) and defined the use of torture. Some people couldn’t be put to the question: doctors (of laws, not physicians), knights, officials, children under the age of 14, pregnant women and old people (with exceptions in cases of regicide or witchcraft). Torture had to be done on people who were heavily suspected to be guilty of the crime they were being charged with and common gossip don’t make up for such practices. You must have at least half a proof that the person as commited the crime (which translate into one male adult witness or two minor witnesses).

However, a confession said under torture ALWAYS had to be repeated out of torture. It litterally got Joan of Arc out of it since she maintained to her judges, at Rouen, that “Should you tear my limbs apart or split my soul from my body, I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. Should I tell you otherwise, then I would always argue that you forced me to.” She must have known what the deal was and how torture worked as a judicial procedure. Moreover, if you didn’t confess during the act of torture, the evidence collected against you were exponged and the proceedings had to start from scratch all over again. Meaning you just couldn’t torture someone on and on again just for the kick of it.

Many people had to attend the act of torture for it to be valid too, among whom a physician.

It is not to say that some didn’t play fast and loose with torture or that some tortured souls didn’t enjoyed it. There must have been some cases. However, torture was a heavily codified judicial procedure and the judges who ordered it were well-educated men who dreaded the concept of appeal more than they cared for human lives. Especially by the 16th century, torture to be applied had to be approved by superior courts largely made of intellectuals who didn’t care much for brutality and violence.

Torture was ultimately challenged in the 18th century and deemed as an uneffective procedure. Voltaire led the charge during the “Affaire Calas”. The judicial authorities were already questioning the usefulness of torture. Only 5% of tortured people confessed in France, 30% in the Low Countries and, well, 50% in the Holy Roman Empire. It mostly depended on the legal conditions of torture. In France, by the mid-17th century, someone could only be put to the question two times for an hour and then the torture had to stop. In the Low Countries, someone could be put to the question up to seven times for a total time of 30 hours! In general, protestant countries were more prone to torture than catholic countries. Witchhunts in the protestant principalities of the Holy Roman Empire killed far more people than the infamous Spanish Inquisition.

Furthermore, I will note that the numbers I gave do include two types of torture. Someone can be put to the question to make him confess, that is one thing, but once he’s recognised as guilty, he can be put back again to the question! On that second “torture run”–which was generally far more brutal–he’d be asked to denounce his associates. This was, of course, the perfect occasion to blame someone you wanted to bring with you to the grave and it sometimes led to entire villages being accused of witchcraft and heresy when torture was implemented too quickly and neighbours didn’t like each others.

Medieval illumination. Torture. Bench. Ropes.
Medieval torture: The Bench – Paris, Arsenal, 5080, f. 392r

The 6 Most “Promising” Ways of Torture People in the Middle Ages

#1. The Strappado

Hanging someone by his arms as he is bound behind his back. Weights can also be attached to his feet for good measure.

#2. The Bench

Burning someone’s flesh with the help of ropes.

#3. The Waterboarding

Did you even think we only came up with it? Water was sometimes replaced with oil or vinager.

#4. The Waffle Iron

This was not a Belgian delicacy (for Belgian didn’t exist yet that torture had already been banned in the Low Countries), it involved pincers.

#5. The Spanish Boot

(Widely used in France.) You strap wooden planks tightly to someone’s leg then you hammer wooden wedges between the planks and the leg.

#6. The Collar

(Quite “popular” in Brabant and in the principality of Liege.) Someone stands up with his neck strapped in a piked collar. The pikes, of course, are facing inward. The collard is held up by ropes attached to walls. If you fall asleep… your neck will pay the price.

One Random Fun Fact

People who were put to torture often tried to assuage the pain that was inflicted to them. My “favourite” drug they used was–you can believe me or not, I’ve actually tracked down the source a long time ago (but it took me several days so I won’t do it again)–Marseille soap.

I was so shocked when I heard it from my university professor’s mouth that I stopped everything and said, out loud: “Did they farted soap bubbles?” He looked at me. His face was blank. I honestly don’t remember what he answered–I think he said yes (!?)–but he carried on like a pro.

True story.

One Solid Reference

Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Judicial Torture in Canon Law and Church Tribunals: From Gratian to Galileo”, in Catholic Historical Review. 2015, Vol. 101, Issue 4, p. 754-793.

Long Reads

Age of Empires 2 | Joan of Arc. 3, The Cleansing of the Loire (The Battle of Patay, 1429)| Historical Account, Tips and Guide

The Facts

On this day, today, 591 years ago, La Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles took a decisive victory at Patay over the “English”.

Orléans had been freed from the English siege at the beginning of May. The French army, for once, acted quickly and pressed its luck further. Jargeau, Meung and Beaugency were liberated from Lancastrian rule between the 11th and the 16th June. The lock on the Loire valley broke and the French could push further north.

Three most able captains were still holding the line on the English side. John Falstolf, John Talbot and Thomas Scales were regrouping and waiting for reinforcements at Patay. They still could turn the tide back to their advantage if the French proved slow enough to react, as they’d been several times in the past.

However, the actual leader of the French army had return from exile. In defiance of his many enemies at court and direct orders from the king, he wished to take back his rightful place at the top of the military hierarchy. The connétable of Richemont had learned from his many past mistakes and he knew better than not to trust the skilful captains that were serving under him despite their obscure origins. Now that he was there to lead them, they could finally circumvent the etiquette disputes that had plagued the French military strategy in the past. Now that Richemont was among them, there was no need to sit and wait for this or that duke to show up late and try to claim the spoils of victory for himself. They could charge head on and act upon every tactic advantage they mustered.

A few months ago, La Hire and his brothers-in-arms had encountered an English convoy but the duke of Bourbon had sent them orders not to attack until he’d reunited with them. It left all the time in the world for the English to reinforce their position and turn their carts into improvised fortification walls. Never a defeat had been more bitter-tasting to La Hire and his friends. However, as Richemont, their official military leader, was backing them, they could move swiftly around the Loire valley, track down the English and fall upon them as thunder on a mountain pass. Which they did!

Talbot and Scales were captured. Falstolf managed to flee. Since Agincourt (1415), the backbone of the English army had been made of longbowmen. Most of them were slaughtered and the loss of those many veterans proved to be an invaluable loss for the English army. The Loire valley was definitely secured and Orléans, once and for all, out of reach from Lancastrian grasp. Charles VII of Valois, despite the quibbling of his advisors, had won a decisive victory. He could attempt to retake Paris or chose to march onto Reims.

What about Joan of Arc, you may ask? While La Hire was pushing the vanguard forward as he’d done so splendidly in the past, she remained with the main corps of the army, besides the connétable of Richemont and the duke of Alençon. Louis de Coutes, her personal page, recounted many years later how she felt frustrated to be kept away from the action. She’d been kept in the dark at Orléans and it had driven her mad. She was to repeat the experience. The English were already routed when she arrived upon the battlefield. Falstolf attempted to take refuge at Janville but the city kept its gates shut. The English lord had to push even farther up north, to Étampes, then Corbeil. He’d been cheated from a chivalrous death to insure the retreat of his troops and Talbot, who ended up captured and put to ransom, never forgave him. As a result of the feud, Falstolf lost his status has knight of the Garter for several years, pending investigation, before he was reinstated.

How Age of Empires 2 Plays It Out

Following the siege of Orléans, the battle of Patay is the next installment of the Age of Empires 2 Joan of Arc campaign. If Orléans made you sweat, expect to end up out of breath at the end of this scenario. It isn’t a single castle that you need to destroy this time, but three of them! Moreover, the enemy is more vicious and obnoxious than ever. Building your economy while fighting off endless raids on your base will prove quite the challenge. It is time to wake up the micro-nerd within you, adapt and overcome your adversaries. You can do it! I believe in you!

General Tips to Triumph on your Own

Mind the fact that you actually begin with a large army. Take advantage of it! Time runs against you. The more time you grant the AI, the stronger it will get. Be like La Hire, especially since La Hire is actually among your troops during this scenario: cross the river, scout the enemy, find a weak spot and storm in as soon as possible!

First, micro.

Then, eco.

Once you’ve inflicted a decisive starting blow to your enemy, secure as many resources as possible. Fall back on your classic Fast Castle build order, move up to the Castle Age and build town centers and castles near as many gold and stone mines as possible.

Beware not to over-extend though. You must secure your footing and push back against enemy raids. Don’t neglect your military production. The first strike may have drained your troops and you’ll need to replenish them. This may actually delay your Castle time but you can also build walls to help you in securing your base.

Once your economy is running properly, move on to the next enemy. You can either take down castles directly or attack another adversary player that didn’t feel like hiding behind walls to take him down. Once you attack castles though, you should expect a fierce comeback.

You can’t go beyond Castle Age. Trebuchets are not an option! You’ll need to come up with battering rams. Take advantage of the Frank unique units to counter your enemy’s army compositions. There were no throwing axemen anymore by the time Joan of Arc revived the French cause against the English, but who cares as long as it’s fun?

The Players on the Map

You are now getting into the more detailed part of my guide. Make sure to stop reading and come back later if you don’t want to get spoiled and make it on your own like the true connétable that you are!

You start the game South of the Loire with a substantial starting army made of two hero units (Joan of Arc and La Hire), several knights, pikemen and crossbows. You also have at your disposal three villagers, two transport ships, two demo ships and a scout.

There are very few resources and space South of the Loire (no gold nor stone!), you’ll have to cross the river to establish your base.

North of the Loire, however, you’ll find three enemy players: the English, the Burgundians, and Lord Fastolf (an independant English settlement).

The English have three fortified military bases (with castles) spread all accross the map and one fortified eco base (that also has a castle) at the top corner of the map. You have to destroy three of their castles to win the game.

The Burgundians have an open settlement West and Falstolf also has an open settlement North-East. Those settlements are very vulnerable at the start of the game but they’re quickly infested with defensive guard towers which makes them a nightmare to besiege on the long run.

The English and their allies will hit you with a great variety of military units: knights, longbowmen, battering rams, long swordsmen, onagers, cavaliers… If you remain too long on the defensive, the cost of countering all those units effectively will impede on your progress. Therefore you must act quickly and decisively to win the game.

How to Win Safely?

How to Win… Fast!

Historical Review of the Cleansing of the Loire

The Intro

The Scenario

The Outro

Long Reads

The Scout Rush Build Order: Interview with La Hire about Age of Empires 2

This blogpost is dedicated to PROject_Belgium. Follow him on Twitch!

The Interview

There I was, with my men, my brothers-in-arms. Maybe there was even one of my actual brothers with us—I don’t remember. We’re looking at the English encampment. There’s no way of chasing them away if we go for some fancy open battle. We don’t want to repeat the Agincourt disaster. That’s why we struck them at dawn even before the rooster sang!

A few years back I was ran over by a car. I literally flew over it and landed right back on my feet. My head hit the windshield so hard that when I landed I couldn’t stand anymore. I dropped like an apple from a tree and thumped the pavement on my ass. It wasn’t like in the movies where everything gets fuzzy. I wasn’t disoriented so to speak. I just couldn’t put two and two together anymore. I saw the car drive away but I didn’t notice that the driver had hit the brakes. I looked at my jacket and got mad it was damaged but I didn’t notice the blood on my sleeves. I wanted to jump back up but I only landed once more on my buttock.

Now, the thing I’ve never told anyone up to this day is that during the short time I was flying over the car, my mind actually wandered away in another spiritual realm. Before my ass thumped on the pavement I landed in the Purgatory! Believe it or not but it looks a lot like a giant waiting room, pretty much like what you’d find in an airport. People get in line, get a ticket and then they sit and wait. They just wait. Some of them are playing on their phones. Others take a prolonged nap. The fun part begins when you stray far, far away from the ticket line. That’s when you start to see creative people who turned the waiting room into a massive pillow fort with actual trenches, a Renaissance art gallery or even a jousting field.

I had my ticket, I was waiting for my number to be called out, so I head straight to the jousting fields when I saw them. I felt like I just stumbled on a splendid movie set. The ladies were so pretty in their exquisite dresses. The knights wore shiny armors. It was like walking in a dream. A tavern was abutted the jousting fields, I eventually went to it once I’d seen close to a hundred jousting matches and lost a fair dozen of hours gazing at the ladies around me.

The tavern was wild and loud. Beer and wine were spilled all over the floor. A bunch of unruly men-at-arms were busy binge drinking in the most competitive manner. A monk was walking around with an idol or icon of the Virgin Mary. He was the drunkest of the whole lot! Many things happened in that place that I couldn’t tell you how and why they took place. Eventually I found myself faced with my childhood hero, Étienne de Vignolles, also known as La Hire. I knew him because he stars in Age of Empires 2—the video game—next to Joan of Arc for the Battle of Patay. I couldn’t believe my luck. I told him how much I admired him. He asked me how I knew him. I told him about Age of Empires 2. He was confused at first but I think he got it somehow. I took my chance and asked him a few question.  

Mr. La Hire, my friends and I are playing this videogame that brings us back to the Middle Ages, your original time period, and the goal of the game is to take down our enemies with cunning and cutthroat strategies. I’d love to get your take on those and tell us if they remind you of tactics that you’ve actually done yourself?

Sure. Why the hell not?

So, to begin with I’d like to talk about the “Scout Rush.”

What’s that?

A Scout Rush is a strategy that you go for if you want to overwhelm your enemy, as fast as possible, with light cavalry units. You don’t need too many of them, you only need them to take the enemy by surprise so that it disrupt his plans.

I was wondering if you were some kind of punk, playing videogames instead of fighting on a horse, but I like what I’m hearing. That’s my go-to move!

As I was saying, the English wanted to take Montargis. The castle was very impressive, seating very high on a hill, and Warwick had his men spread all around the city. Facing the castle they’d built a little fortress of their own, a “bastille” as we called them. Warwick had his men in the North and his lieutenants, Suffolk and La Pole, were controlling the roads going South and West out of the city.

Really?

Yeah. Back in 1427, when Montargis was besieged by those bloody English, there was no way to get rid of them, you see? Eventually, the Constable came to me and my friends. We said we had a plan. A good plan! A solid plan. But we needed money! So he found a way to get some money, he gave it to us and then our men were very happy to fight. Motivation is key. Whatever! So we gather our troops, the Constable wants to come with us and we tell him that it is a bad idea. Someone as important as him shouldn’t mingle with low people like us or take unnecessary risks. What if we fail? Wouldn’t that be shameful? He wasn’t happy about it but we got rid of him nonetheless. Going with him meant we had to follow a protocol. However, if winning is what you’re really going for, I say drop the damn protocol and go for the jugular! There I was, with my men, my brothers-in-arms. Maybe there was even one of my actual brothers with us—I don’t remember. We’re looking at the English encampment. There’s no way of chasing them away if we go for some fancy open battle. We don’t want to repeat the Agincourt disaster. That’s why we struck them at dawn even before the rooster sang! What a debacle—for the English I mean. No offense to good old Warwick who was commanding the troops but his men lost all common sense and started to run all over the place like headless chicken, pleading for their lives. It was almost too easy to route them out. Some of them were standing there, idle, praying or hoping that we wouldn’t spot them. It was an utter victory and it brought us a lot of well-deserved glory. The English were pissed. The Constable had something to show for at the court. The good people of Montargis celebrated us. A most perfect win! I’ll never forget it.

It sounds like you struck them real hard! Did you have a lot of men with you? I mean, what was the men ratio between your army and the English army?

What you need to understand is that Montargis was not a big town, but it had a massive castle. It could fit an army of 6,000 men. Easy. That’s why the English wanted to take it. Eventually they got it, even! And we took it back. I mean, I was someplace else kicking somebody’s ass. I couldn’t be everywhere all the time. Who am I? God? No. Though I pray that he’d do for me what I’d do for him if he were me and if I was him. You know, I’m straightforward like that. Blunt and honest. God likes that. I may have committed sins, I’ll admit, but I’ve always stayed true to myself and my king and that must count for something, right? God damn it.

As I was saying, the English wanted to take Montargis. The castle was very impressive, seating very high on a hill, and Warwick had his men spread all around the city. Facing the castle they’d built a little fortress of their own, a “bastille” as we called them. Warwick had his men in the North and his lieutenants, Suffolk and La Pole, were controlling the roads going South and West out of the city. Montargis was surrounded by hills, cliffs and rivers. The English had built a few bridges to communicate more easily among themselves, you see? That’s when the English started to bombard the city.

A common bombard could fire a stone or iron ball weighing around fifty pounds*. The most impressive one, though, they were fifteen to twenty feet long, could fire no less than three hundred heavy projectiles! Sure, you had to take the artillery seriously, I mean, it killed people, but it couldn’t take over a properly defended castle.

Map of Montargis besieged by the English (1427)

I told you that the city was surrounded by rivers, right? Well, the townspeople of Montargis did the most amazing thing. There were sluices in most rivers. They closed them all and flooded the meadows around the city walls. The English couldn’t regroup. They were stuck, unorganized, divided and taken by surprise.

Didn’t that destroy the town and opened a few breaches in the walls?

Oh, no. Bombard cannons were not very accurate. They had more of a psychological effect, if you want. It was a fancy and expensive thing that let people know you meant business. Be loud or go home, am I right? Ha-ha. Cannons could sometimes hit the right spot and open a breach, sure, but that’s why we built “boulevards” in front of city gates to absorb most of the hits and fire back at the enemy. Moreover the English wanted the place. They had no interest in destroying it, they needed Montargis to take control over the region. A common bombard could fire a stone or iron ball weighing around fifty pounds*. The most impressive one, though, they were fifteen to twenty feet long, could fire no less than three hundred heavy projectiles! Sure, you had to take the artillery seriously, I mean, it killed people, but it couldn’t take over a properly defended castle.

* Philippe Contamine, La Guerre au Moyen Âge. Paris: PUF, 1980, p. 265.

So the English were surrounding Montargis and bombarding it. The city was close to surrender but then you arrived with your men and stormed the English positions by surprise, is that it?

Most certainly. That’s what happened. Can I tell you a little secret? Between you and me, we were only supposed to resupply the city with some food and what-not. That’s why we could so easily get rid of the Constable. “Listen, Sir, you’re far too noble to go on a stupid resupply mission, are you?” He bought it! Well, now, our attack had a very tactical value. We needed to find a way for the convoy to get into the city. What better way than to attack the enemy and to create a distraction? That’s why I gathered my lads, gave them a little speech like I liked to do, telling them to kill some Englishmen, you know, then we moved on to La Pole’s position, South-West of the city. It was around noon and the English had a few outposts out in the fields. However, no one was attending them! The English were too busy napping or eating, I don’t know, but I got as close as the ditches surrounding la Pole’s camp that no one had thought to call on the alarm!

It seems like you rushed the enemy very fast!

What’s the point of a light cavalry company, I’ll ask you? It’s to hit the enemy fast! We Gascons were not like the English or most French knights. We didn’t bother with a heavy armor. Our horses were quick. They could zigzag or flip around on a battlefield, no question! We were in the middle of La Pole’s camp that we were yelling “Montjoye! Saint-Denis!” and there was nothing the English could do about it!

Montjoye!

What a glorious battle! Sauton de Mercadieu, can you believe that guy? A spear ran through his mouth and he kept on fighting! He had blood all over his armor. What a mess. He pulled the spear out of his mouth himself. He was like a man enraged.

Por li rei!

They hadn’t spot us despite their outposts. At first they panicked, but they soon figured that we were only a few men-at-arms and that they could get the better of us if they kept their cool and regrouped. It was only a matter of time before Suffolk or Warwick came to the rescue. Good thing the Bastard of Orléans had tagged along! He was protecting the convoy. He saw the battle. He never expected it to be in our favor, let me tell you. But there I was, right in the middle of La Pole’s camp, bringing havoc and routing the English. The Bastard directly joined in on the fun. He prevented the English to reinforce La Pole’s troops. Even better, the townspeople joined in!

Really? What did the people of Montargis do to help?

I told you that the city was surrounded by rivers, right? Well, the townspeople of Montargis did the most amazing thing. There were sluices in most rivers. They closed them all and flooded the meadows around the city walls. The English couldn’t regroup. They were stuck, unorganized, divided and taken by surprise. La Pole’s camp was eventually conquered. La Pole himself is trying to get away on a small boat for the waters are so high around the city. Many of his men drowned. We won just in time for me to reinforce the Bastard of Orléans, along with the townspeople, and we gave it all we had. God! What a glorious battle! Sauton de Mercadieu, can you believe that guy? A spear ran through his mouth and he kept on fighting! He had blood all over his armor. What a mess. He pulled the spear out of his mouth himself. He was like a man enraged. The English, those “Godons” as we call them*, start to flee and try to reach Warwick’s camp. They walk over one of those bridges that they had built. Ha-ha! It broke and they fell in the water. Again, many of them drowned. Well, we may have helped a little. In the meantime, the convoy peacefully entered the city and our mission was accomplished. Warwick and Suffolk were in no position to prevent it or to rally their men, they were stuck because of the flood. Sure, they regrouped on a hill and waited for us to chase them down but we were no idiots. We let them be. The siege had been lifted. Montargis was freed and resupplied. We’d done more than what we got paid for! Even better, we even captured Warwick’s banner since he abandoned his camp in a hurry. What more could have we dreamed about? Personally, I don’t want to brag, but I was given a little “bonus” as a thank you gift. A thousand moutons d’or! A real fortune!

* Englishmen were called “Godons” by the French during the Hundred Years’ War for the common use they had of the colloquialism “God damn!”

This story is frankly amazing and quite incredible. It must have been a spectacular battle. I can’t wait to see a cinematographic adaptation of it! However, I noticed that you first said you attacked at dawn, then you said you attacked at noon? At the beginning you told me you had a plan, but the narrative of the battle let us believe that it was quite improvised actually? How can you account for those discrepancies?

Am I boring you with too many details? Don’t question my recollections. Memory is a funny thing. The only thing that matters is that we won because we caught the English off guard and unaware with our speed and restlessness. We freed Montargis and routed the English*! Hear-hear!

* Later on I was able to cross-reference the facts and most of them were true! The chronicles give contradictory accounts of the details, though. Read: D. Cornet, Le Siège de Montargis par les Anglais (1427). Montargis: Librairie Roger, 1903.

Everybody around us shouted “Hear-hear!” I can’t recall if I was drunk. I mean, I was only seventeen at the time. My head was spinning, sure, but it could have been the unforeseen side effect of being hit by a car. I didn’t hear my number being called out so I kept on questioning La Hire and talk to him about Age of Empires 2. I don’t know why he indulged me but I was certainly most grateful for the time he granted me.

Even better, we even captured Warwick’s banner since he abandoned his camp in a hurry. What more could have we dreamed about? Personally, I don’t want to brag, but I was given a little “bonus” as a thank you gift. A thousand moutons d’or! A real fortune!

The Scout Rush Build Order

The Scout Rush is a standard and classic opening in Age of Empires 2, especially on Arabia. You’ll find many tutorials online. Here’s a short list of video and written tutorials to help you improve your gameplay. However, make sure to check out first how DauT, Our Lord and Savior, turned the overused Scout Rush into a masterpiece! It is casted by Resonance22, one of the most gorgeous voice to have ever comment AoE2 games.

DauT’s Scout Rush Masterpiece

Before he amazed us as Princess Yodit in Hidden Cup 3, DauT was already a strategy mastermind.

Hera’s Scout Rush Tutorial

Hera became very famous for his fast paced Arabia games. Opening with scouts? He knows what’s what!

Nili’s Scout Rush Tutorial

Nili’s an AoE2 pro-caster who recently made it to the Team Secret! His AoE2 knowledge is hippoclopedic.

ZeroEmpire’s Scout Rush Tutorial

Before T90Official became the #1 AoE2 caster, ZeroEmpire pioneered and excelled in casting AoE2 games.
Now, daddy Zack is back to teach us the classics!

Scout Rush Tutorials on Paper

The most extensive written guide I found about the Scout Rush build order certainly belongs to Age of Notes. A must read!

Don’t miss out the Forgotten Empire strategy center and learn the basic principles of the Feudal war and rushes.

Are you being rushed? Well, you’d better learn how to defend yourself. Hopefully the Steam community came up with a few answers that might help you out.

Long Reads

Your Survival Guide To Medieval Siege Warfare

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

>>> Link to the original Reddit post on AskHistorians

I’m your average medieval citizen. My city is under siege; they’re starving us out over months but we’re fine for now. What is my daily life like? Is my coin still worth something? Do people trade or is the guard distributing rations? Do we still have fun to pass the time?

Just trying to get an idea for life during the long months of a siege.

Obviously once food starts getting low and people start getting desperate things change, but to start with, is life relatively normal?

My Answer

The following answer mostly applies for 14th and 15th century western warfare 😉

The Medieval Town

It must first be understood that medieval cities were not “whole”. The total control of a medieval town required a lot of conniving and plot. The bigger the city, the more factions it had. A “standard” town would have at least two seats of power: the bishopric and the city hall. A representative of the king, like the ‘bailly’ in France could be another player. Whoever wished to take Paris had to get the university on their side, too.

I observed that when Amiens was taken back by the Burgundians in 1435 (read Monstrelet’s Chronicle), the ‘city’ (where the bishop ruled) was left untouched. Rebels from the ‘town’ (under the jurisdiction of the city hall and the guilds) actually tried to take refuge with the bishop but he simply sent them on their way and the new bailly took over unchallenged.

Those types of situations gave way to funny happenstances. A medieval town could be taken and re-taken in a very short amount of time if leaders of opposing factions were living in the same city. Funnier were the cases of city defenders having lost their town but kept the control of one or two towers among the city walls.

When the crusaders took Antioch during the first crusade they found themselves in a very difficult situation. They had gained control of the city but not of the fortress. However, a new army was coming to reinforce the defending army. The crusaders were therefore besieged within the city they had just taken yet didn’t totally control. We can find many examples of the like in later centuries.

Urban Planning?

>>> When you say the bishop turned people away, how much of the city did he control? Was he refusing to open the doors of the cathedral? The gates of a walled compound? A large section of the city which just happened to be walled and under his control? Are there any good maps to illustrate how cities were divided in this period?

When I said a bishop turned away people, I made a mistake. The details of the story got fuzzy in my memory and I oversimplified. As it so happened during the 1435 Amiens revolt, the good people of Amiens had gathered behind a captain of their choosing, Honoré Coquin. The city belonged to the royal demesne since 1185 and the king of France was count of Amiens. However, because of the 1435 treaty of Arras, Charles VII gave control of the city to the Duke of Burgundy as part of their pact of alliance. Philip the Good refused to lower the taxes and the townpeople were pretty upset about it. They’d been taxed for many years because of the war and they wished for it to stop. The Duke of Burgundy was no one to be trifled with though. He sent his new appointed bailly to deal with the situation. Honoré Coquin pleaded to the Burgundians military leaders but to no effect. They entered the city and took control of the market square. That’s when one of the leaders of the revolt flead to a nearby church in which a priest was actually officing the mass. Nevertheless he was caught and done for. What amazes me in that story is that a mass was celebrated when a skirmish was about to happen on the market square! I studied the city history a few years back, I checked my notes and I found it very interesting that the town (ruled by the king and the city council) passed on different deals with enemy military companies than the city (ruled by the bishop and the religious congregations). As a matter of fact, the people ruled by the bishop were exempt from the tax that the other townpeople had to pay. It’s as if you had two towns in a single city and everybody knew about it and behaved, even on a military standpoint, accordingly.

Medieval City Maps

Amiens is an old medieval town and I was lucky to find a pretty good enough map about its medieval layout (see below). It shows city walls from the 12th and the 14-15th centuries. Within the old 12th century walls, we find both seats of power of the town and the city: the beffroi (number 8) and the episcopal palace (number 4). Next to the beffroi is a place called the “Malemaison”. It was traditionnaly the place were the mayor and the town council would gather. The market place is marked by a black triangle. The church in which the fleeing rebel leader tried to find refuge is marked by the number 11 on the map. The town and the city seems to fit into two opposing neighbourhoods within the old city walls but the positioning of this church and the central location of the market place shows that it was more mixed up than what we can think firsthand.

https://i0.wp.com/morel.and.co.free.fr/plans/am03.jpg

The city of Laon had a more clearcut layout. Look at the following map from the 17th century. Laon hasn’t changed much through time and this layout, because of how high the hills are, is still what we find today (careful, the North is upside down!). Instead of mills at the eastern end of the city, we find a large clinic centre there nowadays but the cathedral hasn’t moved one bit. When I visited the city with my former research centre, we observed how the streets near the cathedral still showed how they were inhabited by clerics for how straight and square they were. It really looked like an easily fortified neighbourhood. Right behind the cathedral was the citadel: seat of power to the king. The other side of town shows a less organized pattern. It was known as the ‘bourg’. Funnily enough the city and the ‘bourg’ or town would each have streets dedicated to a specific professional association before it was all more or less centralized and the whole town became a one and single urbanistic unit.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8492478h/f1.item.zoom

Brussels today still has streets that bear the name of former guilds and corporations: rue des bouchers, rue des teinturiers, rue des frippiers… Craftmen didn’t spread out. They united and lived by the same rules according to a royal granted chart. They fixed the prices and sticked together. It showed in the urban pattern. However, there were not always clearcut boundaries from one neighbourhood to another which part of the city obeyed to the king’s justice, the bishop’s, or else. You had to live there and know it. It was pretty much on a case to case basis.

Who’s Who In A Medieval City?

>>> I was wondering more specifically about the thing you mentioned with Paris. What were the factions in Paris at this time period, why was the university so important, and how did the university work as a “political player” so to speak at this juncture?

A Short Class On Urban Social Stratification

Everyone had a place to be in a medieval town. Nevertheless people of all background were scattered all over the place more often than not. Medieval cities didn’t follow rationalized patterns. They were not built like ancient greek colonies.

There were other ways to differenciate the people within a town though. Mostly through clothing. Nevermind that, the urban social stratification started to form around the 11th century with the communal movement. Townpeople made more money and were taxed accordingly. In response they fought back to get priviledges. Those very first priviledges created the ‘bourgeoisie’ which was nothing like what it grew to become by the 18th century. Being a bourgeois only meant you had judicial priviledges from being a city-dweller. They could assemble and vote for a mayor who’d represent them to the lord. Craftmen who moved in city walls eventually got their own mayors but they were mostly suppressed in the 14th century in favor of guild associations defined by charts. The lord of a city, either the king or someone else, often had a representative of his own: a prevot, a bailly or a senechal in France. Such a man was in charge of military and police matters. He’d often have a lieutenant too.

A city could also be home to various religious congregations, especially once the mendicant orders were formed. Those congregations didn’t always answer to the bishop. Sometimes they only answered to the pope if they got their priviledges right like the Templars or the Teutonic Knights. They could also answer to their monastic order. Some religious congregations were more like laymen guilds, united under a holy patron. The bishop himself presided a chapter of canons who elected him. Also the bishop had lands of his own and though he was a spiritual lord, he also had temporal power. He couldn’t exercice his temporal power by himself most of the time though, that’s why he had a representative to do so, like a vidame.

Everyone had a specific status within a medieval town, from lord to beggar. There were priviledges and duties for each member of the society. The townwatch was split between the bourgeois and the craftmen. The former would have sitting watch duties, the latter walking watch duties. Boulevards and city walls were built, cared by and watched over by city-dwellers who could gather as militia in times of need under the lawful authority of the prevot, the bailly or the senechal. When the city had a proper fortress it would more likely be guarded by proper men-at-arms or knights under the command of a noble lord.

Political Players Within A City

Governing a medieval city was not an easy task. There were so many centres of power and money that political players only multiplied until the Early Modern Era when the centralization state building process really hit western societes. It was an administrative nightmare too in order to know who you could tax and what?

Which brings us to the university of Paris. The word ‘universitas’ used to design a guild or professional association of people sharing the same priviledges. As a matter of facts, students and teachers at the university of Paris benefited from the same rights. They were equals in the eye of the law and could only be judged by the bishop of Paris. Also, they benefited from several tax exemptions. From the 12th to the 14th century, the university was not properly installed in any buildings. Lectures were given wherever it could. It meant that if university members were unhappy with the way they were treated they could simply scatter through the winds for a few months. Now, since they made up for a lot of the economical vitality of the French capital, the authorities prefered to treat them right. Then Charles VI rose to power and his council saw it a good idea to rationalize the royal treasure and the taxation system. The duke of Orléans was all in on those new reforms when he managed the realm for his brother once Charles VI fell into dementia. Hell! The university and the good people of Paris were not happy. They felt their priviledges were undermined and threatened. That’s when the duke of Burgundy showed up and insured he would protect ans safeguard them. The university heavily turned to John the Fearless for guidance and support. In exchange, the best intellectual of the realm provided the intellectual backbone to legitimize the assassination of the duke of Orléans, who died in Paris in 1407 at the hand of Burgundians hired thugs. What a messy affair…

Locking all the seats of power in a medieval city was a much arduous endeavour. When cities got nearly as big as Paris it was practically impossible to achieve. The merchants, the craftmen, the noblemen, the clergymen, everybody fought for their own tiny bit of power.

To Siege Or Not To Siege

Besieging a city was a very expensive and risky venture. Elite knights and men-at-arms were few. Most battles were fought among a few hundreds of “soldiers”. How can you take over a city where several thousands can show up to defend the walls? You needed to rally the ‘communes’ or the ‘common people’ so to speak to manage an effective siege. Then you’d get along the tens of thousands of men on the battlefield. Commoners lacked the knightly culture though and they were quite unpredictable. That’s why most cities were taken by surprise thanks to some commando type of missions.

Since medieval towns had rivaling political players within their walls, a big part of taking a city over was to seduce those party leaders and grant them satisfaction. Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who managed to take Paris not only once, but twice, first in 1418 then back in 1436, only achieved it because he was good friend with the butcher guild and the university. When Joan of Arc attacked the city in September 1429, there was no friends within the walls to help take over the capital.

Another problem was that towns were very difficult to surround properly. Even when he arrived with something like twenty thousand flemish militia to attack Calais in 1436, Philip the Good couldn’t strangle the city completely. The people of Calais were still going out with their cattle, for example, which gave way to epic or ridiculours skirmishes. It is very rare that we find a siege like the one of Melun, in 1420, when the French starved so close to death that they had to kill and eat their own horses.

The Siege of Rouen, 1418-1419

>>> What are some of the more extreme cases of a city being starved of?

The best example that comes to mind is the 1418-1419 siege of Rouen by Henry V of England. He was not messing around. He had an impressive army of 7,000 men (mostly war professionals, the English didn’t rely on the commoners too much and that really helped them win the war until the Siege of Orléans, where most of their veteran troops were slaughtered at Patay). Rouen had a population of about 20,000 people with 4,000 garrisoned soldiers*. Henry couldn’t take the city by force but he had the authority and the means to starve it to death. His plan followed the three following steps.

Step 1: Surround The City

Rouen ranked among the largest city of France by the beginning of the 15th century. It’s position on the Seine made it a most valuable link between Paris and the English Channel. Nevertheless Henry V had his army build fortified places all over the town (I’ll put a picture on my blog later on when I publish my answers over there). Not only that, he also chained the river to make sure no food would come to relieve the city during the siege AND he sent his guerilla-minded Irish soldiers in the nearby smaller towns to gather all the food there was and keep the population in check.

The French tried to gather some troops to help Rouen but they were much too busy fighting each other. Paris had just been taken by the Burgundians (see above, when Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam took it back in 1418 with the help of the butcher guild). It led to a proper massacre and it overthrew the Armagnac government. The Dauphin, who would later on be known as Charles VII, barely made it with his life and had to exile the Parliament to Poitiers. He couldn’t make peace with the Duke of Burgundy and the latter couldn’t also come in terms with the Duke of Britanny. It was an overall mess and Henry just had to wait. And see.

Step 2: Do Not Bombard The City

Rouen was heavily fortified. It would have taken a lot of artillery power to take it down. It would have been a useless expense however since Henry V hoped to take the city whole and make it his own fortress. He wanted it intact! Had he read Sun Tzu’s art of war? Maybe not. But he was surely following his principles.

Step 3: Wait It Out And Show Mercy

When it became sure the French couldn’t send reinforcement nor food to the besieged city, the townpeople of Rouen received a message from the Duke of Burgundy to deal with Henry V. Eventually, they asked for the women, the children, the priests, the poor and the elderly to be granted a safe passage. Henry sure complied and even more, he gave food to the escapees! They actually started to sing his praise and cursed their French allies who had abandonned them.

Monstrelet writes in his chronicle that most of the food was sold overpiced on the black market around Christmas. Henry V had started to besiege the city in July 1418. The city surrendered completely by January 1419. From that point onward he could easily take Pontoise and threaten Paris which not only survived a massacre but also a good old plague epidemic the same year. In the meantime, the French were no where close to conclude their own civil unrest and Henry V remained unchallenged.

This is really a classic case of siege by starvation. It led to an utter victory but it can’t be taken out of context. Henry V played it very smart in a context in which his enemies were paralysed and militarily powerless to face him.

* According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010).

>>> Didn’t Henry refuse to let the people leave the city, leaving them to starve in a ditch between the city walls and his siege lines?

A Short Study Of Historical Method

Could you be able to source that information? I wrote this short answer after The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology.

What I gather from Monstrelet is that after the townpeople of Rouen learned they had to deal with the king of England themselves, he had a first surrender treaty rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury. To which the townpeople came up with the plan to run for their lives by breaching their own walls and give it a last desperate go. Monstrelet’s narrative may be incomplete though.

In Gerald Harris, Shaping the Nation. England 1360-1461. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005 (The New Oxford History of England), p. 548, I find the following statement though: “The siege, prolonged by the intense cold of mid-winter, became a test of endurance for the English. But the defenders were in a worse plight: as the influx of refugees reduced the inhabitants to starbation, it was decided to expel the non-combatants, wome, childrend, and the old being forced into the town ditches between the walls and the English lines. Refused food by the English, they perished in large numbers.”

The Oxford Encyclopedia states only that food was given to the expelled townpeople by Henry V at Christmas: “At Chrismas, Henry had food brought to them in the ditches. They, according to Page, responded with a hymn of praise for Henry ‘who has more compassion than has our own nation’.”

The encyclopedia entry is written by Anne Curry, who’s a recognized expert of the period. I’d conclude therefore that indeed the expelled townpeople were denied food but were still given some at Christmas by Henry V. Nuance is everything in this case. We could go further and question Page’s account of the event but I don’t have the time (nor the energy) to go that far 🙂

>>> So they had around 6 months worth of food. Was this typical for a city of its size? Was food storage mostly by household or centralized under one or more powers?

This question requires a kind of research that I haven’t conducted. Nor do I know if it has been. Maybe? I couldn’t say without diving deep into my bibliographies. I read recently that it took 10 months for the Normans to take Palermo through a siege of starvation, in the years 1071-1072. The city also resigned in the early winter.

Refugees would flock to the city by the hundreds when a siege of that magnitude was a-coming. On the long run it would not help with the stocks. However, conducting a statistic analysis of such events would prove very, very difficult. We don’t have enough data to define any normalcy in those matters, I’d say.

As for the second part of your follow-up question, chronicles clearly show that the food was not centralized. It was sold on markets and speculation in times of war ran wild. It meant that the poor would starve first if they couldn’t find a patron or didn’t belong to some kind of association (like a guild, a university or the clerical members of a congregation). I hope it gives some kind of answer to your follow-up question 🙂 I’m sorry I can’t give a more conclusive answer at the moment.

Medieval Siege Engines

>>> Were actual battles to take the castle common or do continuous flinging of trebuchet or catapults common?

Is The Trebuchet The Superior Siege Engine?

To give an idea, a single trebuchet required around 60-100 specialized and trained personel to keep it firing 1 to 2 projectiles a hour*. That’s people that you need to feed, pay wages, and everything. Artilery was very expensive and it was especially difficult to move around from one town to the other from siege to siege.

Contrarily to what the trebuchet subreddit advertises, the projectiles weighed around 140 kg (306.7 pounds) and had a range of 220 meters (240.6 yards)*. It was specifically designed to hit weak spots within a city wall in order to open a breach. The solution was to reinforce the weak spot with palissades and earth behind it to absorb the hit. However, the single sight of a trebuchet could incite a fortified place to just give up and surrender directly.

* Renaud Beffeyte, L’art de la guerre au Moyen Age. Rennes: Ouest France, 2010. With a preface by Philippe Contamine, p. 80-81.

“Come In Like A Wreeecking Ball!”

Orléans was bombarded quite continuously by the English in 1428-1429 but it had little meaningful results, especially since the city could bombard back! Jean de Lorraine was the French artillary specialist. More than once he pretended to be dead, was carried back to Orléans, only to return to the battlefield and handle his cannons against the English to their outmost dread and distate. Firing a canon was an art but not everybody mastered it. More often than not it resulted in accidental results. The Earl of Salisbury, who was leading the siege for the English at Orléans, died only a few days after a canonball crashed in the window he was looking through. Similarly, the Earl of Arundel, hit by a canonball (in the leg, I think) at the battle of Gerberoy in 1435, also died but only a few days after the battle from his injury. The uneffectiveness of such canonballs may be explained by the fact that many of them were made out of stone instead of metal.

Canons didn’t have the firepower that they would have later on. And pretty much like trebuchets, they required a lot of trained personel. The people who made church bells were those who forged canons. It is reported that one bombard canon required no less than 20 horses to be dragged across the countryside during the 14th century*. Fire artilery became lighter and more effective during the 15th century, but it couldn’t guarantee a victory yet. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, learned it the hard way when he died at the battle of Nancy (1467). As a conclusion, artilery fire was certainly used for very strategic or psychological purposes, but it couldn’t make up for armed men climbing ladders and siege towers to conquer city walls the “old fashion way”.

* Valérie Toureille (ed.), Guerre et Société. 1270-1480. Paris: Atlante, 2013, p. 161.

>>> How did the besieger Earl of Salisbury die? How does an accident cause a canonball to boomerang back to allied lines 😛

Haha! I love the idea but the reality is more prosaic.

A Shot In The Dark

The canonball was shot from Orléans. No one really knows where from. At that moment, Salisbury was looking through a window from the Tourelles fortress, at the end of the southern bridge linking Orléans to the western bench of the river Loire. Bad luck made it that the canonball hit the window Salisbury was looking through. He didn’t die on the impact but he passed away a few days later from his injuries.

Since he was the master-mind behind the overall English strategy since Agincourt and had pushed himself to besiege Orléans when the Duke of Bedford thought that it was a bad idea, there was little morale left in the English camp after his death. Many men actually thought themselves freed from their military duties since they belonged to Salisbury’s retinue and they left the siege. Once the Burgundians left too, the English were scattered really thin around Orléans and that’s when Joan of Arc arrived with heavy reinforcements from Blois (though most of the French army turned back to Blois… and left the people of Orléans on their own with Joan and about the craftiest captains who were serving Charles VII at the time).

Philip the Good also almost got hit by a canonball when he besieged Calais. As he rode down on the beach with a small party of men, a canonball hit the ground not too far from him. Such events are easily recorded when they concern distinguished aristocrats. The Duke of Burgundy and the Earl of Salisbury were not “nobodies”. However there is a good chance that collateral casualties from such artilary fire were more common than we think. The lack of narrative on the matter only probably relates to the social status of the people casted in the Chronicles of the time. To be counted as a casualty, you had to have a “name”.

Commando Operations

>>> When you say that how do you mean? Am I supposed to imagine a handful of knights crossing the mote in the cover of dark, to open the Door for the rest? Or was it more like smuggling a diplomat into the walls to get him to the [faction] and promise them [something worth promising].

The covert and sneaky operations that led to the taking of a castle, a town or any fortress were very imaginative!

A Timeless Classic: Bertrand Du Guesclin Desguised As A Lumberjack (1340)

The English were holding the castle of Fougeray, near Rennes (France). Robert Pembrough, a renowned captain, was commanding the troops. Bertrand Du Guesclin wished to take it back. He was not yet the mighty connétable, supreme leader of the French army, second only to the king, but this little aventure made him quite a name for himself.

A man of his came up with the crazy idea to dress as lumberjacks and approach the castle under that desguise. They were to pretend that they were coming to work for the castle with a cart full of lumber and wood fagot. Du Guesclin selected a few daring souls to accompany him and risked himself in this crazy venture. The chronicles give quite a vivid sdepiction of the story and the battle that followed.

Du Guesclin made it to the castle. His cart blocked the drawbridge. The men in desguised were close to flee for their lives. They had weapons under their funny clothes but no armour to defend themselves and they risked being made any minute. However, that’s when Du Guesclin called it. He started the fight and called the rest of his men, a whole lot of 60 men-at-arms at most, to join him in the fight.

The battle was nasty and bloody. However, Du Guesclin took the place and his trick became so famous that castles would build TWO drawbridges to protect their entry: one that only a single man could walk through, to check up the upcoming carts, and a second, for the said carts.

It is said that some of the soldiers accompanying Du Guesclin in disguise pushed it as far as to dress as “lumberjills”.

La Hire: Who Takes One, Loses One

La Hire was quite familiar with “commando operations”. That’s how he took Louviers (located between Paris and Rouen, on the river Seine) when Joan of Arc was busy attacking Paris. Under the cover of night, approaching the fortified city with a boat, he took it by climbing a ladder thrown over the city walls. Yet he had a limp! As soon as the English heard the bad news, they sent troops to retake the city. La Hire defended it until he tried to make it out of the town to go fetch reinforcements himself (as mentioned elsewhere in this thread). Meanwhile, Charles VII did grant new privileges to the townpeople to gain their loyalty. La Hire knew! He’d been betrayed by the good people of Château-Thierry, in Picardy, a decade earlier.

Also, having an inside man is often key in taking or losing a city. That’s how he chanced to take back Rouen, in 1436. He had a few friends within the city walls but the English caught them and then came down running at La Hire and his companions to chase them away from Normandy. It was a debacle so funny that Monstrelet tells it three separate times in his Chronicles.

The taking of Marchenoir, in 1427, on the other hand, was a real “coup de maître” orchestrated by La Hire’s proud pupil: Jean de Bueil. The latter came up with a crazy idea. See? A very large pile of manure was abutted the city walls. Jean de Bueil thought that a few men could hide in that pile of manure overnight. Then, during the day, a small group of men-at-arms would ride by the city and lure the garrison outside the city walls. It worked! As soon as it happened, the men-at-arms hidden in the manure got out of it, stormed the gates and helped to take over the city. The lured garrison met its end when the luring party rejoined the bulk of the military company. Because who would hide in a pile of manure? Seriously?! Nothing but highly motivated men.

John Talbot: A Crafty Devil

John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. La Hire himself would run away whenever learning Talbot was coming after him if he hadn’t had the time to properly fortify his positions. Tablot was cruel, crafty and relentless. As the mightily fortified city of Pontoise was kept by an old friend and former ally of his, Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, he chose to take it back. The Burgundians had recently decided to leave the Lancastrian alliance and fight again alongside Charles VII of Valois. Only a few months ago were Talbot and L’Isle-Adam fighting next to each other! Now they were enemies.

The moat of Pontoise had frozen with the winter and no one had thought to break the ice. I mentioned this case in my main answer. Talbot took an opportunity where he found one. A few number of men crawled under the cover of night and beneath a white blanket (!!!) to reach the fortress of Pontoise. No one saw them coming. They were camouflaged as snow! They threw ladders or ropes over the walls, climbed them and took the fortress in the dead of the night. L’Isle-Adam barely had the time to flee and his noble name was certainly ternished by the venture.

A Charming Bastard: Villars’ Shame And The Loss Of Montargis

Villars, who was put in charge with defending Montargis, had a barber. His barber was taking care of a young woman who was neither his wife nor his daughter. At the same time, Villars was himself married. His brother-in-law was an enemy of his, the Bastard of Jardes. Indeed, the Bastard of Jardes was serving under the command of L’Aragonais, a faithful captain of the English party despite his Spanish nickname. This makes up for quite a complicated story but as Berry tells the tale, the Bastard of Jardes seduced the barber’s ward. He promised to marry her if she would help him take over the city. As part of the ruse, she seduced the barber who was taking care of her, beguiling him with a large promise of reward by the English.

Sex and money make up for an ugly combo… The barber and his ward helped the Bastard of Jardes to climb over the city walls. He could come and go within the city as he pleased him since his sister was the governor’s wife. Getting his men inside was another matter. It happened that a house from the suburbs was abutted to the walls (more often than not those houses were destroyed when a city was besieged). From the top of that house, the Bastard climbed over the walls with his men thanks to the barber and his ward. From then on he took over the city, chased away his brother-in-law and didn’t respect any of the promises he made towards the young woman or the barber.

I hope you like this little set of anecdotes? Really, it shows that taking a city through a “commando operation” required a lot of imagination and dedication. It was not as simple as moving under the cover of the night. Men-at-arms had to be creative. However, luring an enemy garrison outside of their walls with a small party only to surprise them with an ambush and take the city gates at the meantime was quite a common tactic. So was getting inside help. I even read a story of maids distracting men-at-arms with pastry! It’s much more entertaining than anything found in fantasy novels in my opinion.

The City And Its Countryside

The question arises: why take a city when you can plunder the countryside? Well, for one, there might be castles and garisoned troops all over the place to prevent such acts of aggression. Jean de Luxembourg, lord of Beaurevoir, had such a system in place to defend the Eastern part of Picardy. However he was a well-respected, renowned and mostly feared overlord with close connections to the Burgundian court. Once the political chessboard was overturned, though, even the Duke of Burgundy thought twice and eventually didn’t risk to mount an army against him. The king did, but that’s another story. (Jean de Luxembourg died before the king’s army reached his lands and his heir and nephew settled the matter by acknowledging the king’s authority.)

Most of the territory wasn’t safeguarded by some Jean de Luxembourg, though. It was quite easy to tear the countryside apart. The English did it several times during the first half of the Hundred Years’ War. They would do it to provoke the French into an open-field battle. Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) were the results of such provocations. Charles V said no more and chose for a war of attrition: no more open-field battles, only skirmishes and surprise city take-overs. It really changed the face of the war.

Pillaging and plundering a countryside was nevertheless a fine way to bring a city to its knees. Medieval cities were directly co-dependant from their neighbouring countryside. If an army were to threaten it then a city would easily pay up in order to safeguard it. Sure, the city was well-defended enough that it couldn’t be taken. But could the citizens chase away a company of men-at-arms without a proper company of their own sent over by their lord? They couldn’t.

Rural Communities Sticking Together

>>> Would it be common to ask the bishop of your church to petition the new lord for repayment for a house burnt by his men. Or a stonemason asking his guild-master to try and find his daughter taken by mercenaries during a sacking of the town. Etc. It’s just hard to imagine that people would be willing to accept that you had no way to protect yourself and your family from roaming armies that survived by “living off the land”. Or were peasant rebellions more common against such occurrences?

Is Charity The Best Insurance Policy?

I’ve read a few medieval accounting records. They are just fascinating because they’re full of little anecdotes! Each expense or income is justified by a short story. Some of them are quite dry. A few of them are full of details! As it happens, you sometimes have the story of people who received compensation money for services given. Like a man climbed a ladder to extinguish the fire which started a-top a Burgundian palace and he was granted a few francs for his bravery. A knight came in, only had to show up and received much more money. I don’t remember the numbers nor exactly where I read it, it was years ago in class, you’ll have to forgive me.

Money as well as judicial pardons were also given to people who suffered in the service of a lord. Now say your house was destroyed because of an enemy military company. Who could help you out? What could you do? You could at first rely on your community. Are you part of a guild? Of a religious congregation? Did you have an extensive family? Joan of Arc had countless godfathers and godmothers. The social ties were really strongs within medieval communites. You could rely on your “people” to help you out, get you some resources, help you rebuild your house, etc. Though private properties were a real thing, communal areas were also very common. Enclosure was not a thing yet. Especially in the countryside, the forest–depending a few strict regulations–was a free source of wood, pasture, hunt and resources for everybody. You could get a fine if your pigs roamed through it too wildly though.

Someone could ask pitty money to a lay or ecclesiastic lord, too. They could expect to get it freely by waiting outside a church on big Christian celebration days, but they mostly ever got anything if they could legitimize it if they officially asked for it. Then it mostly depended on the will of the lord. Some saw charity as a great mean to control the population (like the Duke of Burgundy, from Philip the Bold to Philip the Good). Others rather indulged into extortion and saw their lordship as a mean to get as rich as possible as fast as possible (like the Duke of Berry, John the Magnificent). There was no instituted way for anyone to recover from a war related destruction of property. You had to play creative, rely on your social network and hope for the best.

Law And Order: Medieval Edition

It was the social expected duty of rulers to put pressure on bandits, unruly rogue military companies, and make safeguard the peace in the realm. It was difficult to insure when the centralized power showed weakness. When Charles VI descended into madness and the high princes of the land started a civil war, inviting the English to fight as mercenaries (around 1410-1412) it quickly led to devasted countrysides. It got so bad that countrymen took refuge into the woods and created military companies of their own. Those bandits really posed a threat to the moving of troops on the military chess. They would keep on fighting from 1411 to 1418!

Self-defence often became a necessity to rural communities. During the Écorcherie crisis of 1438-1439 a city closed its door to a military company that was actually charged with chasing down a rogue military company. They eventually let the men-at-arms go through in very little numbers because they mistrusted them so much. The Écorcheurs, or skinners, allegedly commited some of the worst war crimes of the Hundred Years’ War. They destroyed things for fun or so it seems. Their numbers grew exponentially because their ranks swelled with newcomers who wished to avoid plunder and to join in on the loot. Military companies were very exotic things back then: men-at-arms had armed and non-armed servants. Even old women could be part of a company and could serve as support or spy. It saved the French captains trapped at Gerberoy in 1435 to know more about the enemy surrounding them! It would take the 1445 military reform to really define who could or couldn’t join the army or be part of a military company.

The most famous peasant who took up arms to defend his people was certainly Grand Ferré, who fought in the year 1359. He supposedly killed 60 Englishmen by himself with an axe when they attacked his company of two hundred patriots at the Longueil-Sainte-Marie manor, near Compiègne (France). He even resisted an assassination attempt but eventually died from his injuries. His venture had been authorized by proper political leaders! When the “Great Companies” stormed all over France in the year 1360’s and brought havoc with their rogue military depredation, however, such peasant heroes would act more autonomously. Their ventures would more often than not be shortlived.

The real hope for rural population against rogue military companies were to get their ‘bailly’ or any military representative of the king or their lord to muster his troops and chase them down. Sometimes a lord could also call his people to arms and lead them to a cleansing expedition of epic disproportions. Again, however, nothing was systematic and it mostly depended on the people in charge. Who were they? How did they conceive their role? Could they perform their duties effectively? Etc. Peasants rebellions were quite common in the end and often bound to happen in such circumstances.

The Daily Duties Of A City-Dweller

Though city-dwellers were “free men and women” they still had to accomplish many tasks. One of them was the town-watch. It was up to city-dwellers to make the rounds on the walls, to break the ice of the moat around the city (to make sure no one would cross it and make their way to the walls too easily–which happened!), etc. They had to provide material support in times of war, women too, by bringing water, boiling oil, and many other things to the “frontline”.

The roads were guarded by “boulevards”, or road-block fortifications, and they prevented enemy troops to get too close from a city. Besieging a city therefore often began miles away from the city walls. It guaranteed the safekeeping of pastures, agricultural fields and suburbs around the town. Such boulevards had to be built by city-dwellers themselves. Even besieged, a city could keep some kind of normal life unless the situation became too dire. Since a city was not often properly surrounded, exterior communication was not so difficult and food could easily be brought in.

Some people speculated and made a fortune during times of war by raising the price on crops, for example. It was a criminal offense but many got away with it… Money often became an issue for besieged populations and they hoped to rely on the church or their lord to get by. Having a rich protector, serving in a mighty house, was certainly a way to stay on safe side of things. Anyway, it took quite some time for the situation to be really desperate unless the enemy army was actually overwhelming.

When Boulevards Were Medieval Fortifications

>>> About boulevards: how did it help? If we’re talking about a siege done by hundreds or many thousands of armed people, why would something on a road stop enemy so far from the city? I realise it’s not that easy but… why not walk around something that isn’t a single piece of wall?

Is This A Tower? Is This A Fortress? It’s A Boulevard!

When fire artillery started to spread by the end of the 14th century, most fortifications were not ready to endure a copious bombarding. Putting bombards or cannons a-top of city walls was also very difficult to do. The rare case of Beauvais providing its walls with ramps to help push the canons at the top of them, by the first half of the 15th century, shows that it was a very expensive type of construction to undertake.

The ‘boulevard’ was made up in the Burgundian Low Countries to answer the need to protect old fortifications against bombard showers and to provide the town with actual counter-canons. Boulevard were originally made out of wood and filled-in with earth to absorb the shock of canonballs. They looked like hillside slopes that stopped on a sharp cliff and they were put in front of fortification weak spots such as city gates or others. Eventually they were built out of stone and gained massive dimensions! They could spread as wide as 15 to 45 meters (16.4 to 42.2 yards) on each of their sides, pretty much like squares, and be elevated up to 10 meters high (10.9 yards)*! It was quite a bad place to find yourself on if you had the fear of heights. As to how many people it could hold, I’d say as much as they could depending on their dimensions. You needed personel to fire the canons but also a few men-at-arms and archers to defend the place.

*A. Salamagne, Les villes fortes au Moyen Âge. Paris: Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2002.

“Up And Down The Boulevard”

I would invite you to look at the following maps of Orléans during the 1428-1429 siege 😉

As you can see, the walled city is surrounded by a large suburb area. Everywhere you see the letter ‘B’ (first map) also means there was a barrier or fortification of some kind. Getting close to the city implied a prolonged guerilla type of warfare. Neighbourhoods were to be taken one by one.

Then, if you spot the number 37 on the bridge (first map), the “Boulevart de la belle Croix”, you’ll see that there isn’t getting around that specific boulevard unless you dive down for a swim (look at map 2 for a detailed plan of the area).

Map. Orléans. 1429. Bridge. Loire. Jollois.
Plan de l’ancien Pont d’Orléans et de ses abords avec ses bastilles et boulevards, le fort des Tournelles et la bastille des Augustins. Jollois restituit

Roads and paths around a city were not as wide or clear as one might think. Paris in particular had two lines of moat in addition to its fortified walls surrounding the city. When Joan attacked it, one was dry but the other was still filled in with water. The only way to go around a boulevard defending the entrance of a city door was to somehow fill in the moat with wood fagot in order to cross it eventually.

Indeed–I wasn’t clear and I’m sorry–boulevards were mostly built in front of city doors to prevent enemies to knock it down. The boulevards were moreover protected by the higher city walls behind it. Also they were firing canonballs so it proved quite difficult to get close to it safely.

The Art Of Surrounding A City

>>> “Since a city was not often properly surrounded, exterior communication was not so difficult and food could easily be brought in.” Couldn’t that be solved by making a few bands of “raiders” out of soldiers?

When Henry V of England besieged Rouen in 1418-1419 (see my addition somewhere else on the thread on that matter), he made sure to dig trenches all around the city to connect his network of fortified places. His band of Irish soldier policing the neighbouring towns and chaining the river Seine were not enough.

At Orléans, where the English attempted a remake of the siege of Rouen, they didn’t dig trenches and they didn’t chain the river Loire. As a matter of fact, Joan of Arc got around them by crossing the river East and just passing near the Bastille of St Loup (that you can also see on the map). A little band of soldier made it out of Orléans as a distraction and she reached the eastern gate with reinforcement and food for the city without too much problems.

Therefore raiding was not enough to insure the total paralysis of a besieged city. When he was defending Louviers in 1431, La Hire tried to make it out of the city by himself in order to get reinforcements at La Ferté-Bernard. He’s spotted by Burgundians soldiers and captured. The sole fact that he tried though, as experienced as he was, meant that there he had a chance!

About Boiling Oil

>>> Do you have a source for this? I thought that boiling oil was a bit of a common misconception given the cost of pouring boiling oil on attackers was much much more expensive than just pouring boiling water on them

I wrote about the boiling oils by following the subsequent passage from the Journal of Orléans*, which praise how townwomen came to the rescue by providing those who defended a boulevard with many useful things:

Pareillement y feirent grant secours les femmes d’Orléans ; car elles ne cessoient de porter très diligemment à ceulx qui deffendoient le boulevert, plusieurs choses nécessaires, comme eaues, huilles, gresses bouillans*, chaux, cendres et chaussetrape.*”

Technically, it doesn’t say boiling oil but boiling grease (and oils are mentioned) which is pretty much the same I’d say? I perused my copy of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology and I couldn’t find anything about boiling oil as a myth. It deserves more research certainly.

*Paul Charpentier & Charles Cuissard (ed.), Journal du Siège d’Orléans, 1428-1429. Orléans: Herluison, 1896, p. 7

A Short Reading List

>>> May I have your sources you used for the section “The Daily Duties Of A City-Dweller” ?

Here’s a short list of references (almost exclusively in French, sorry…) that talk about townwatch and other duties expected from city-dwellers:

  • Primary source (a total must read!): Janet Shirley (ed.), A Parisian Journal. 1405-1449. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968 (read especially the narrative of the year 1418).
  • Secondary literature:
    • Guilhem Ferrand, “Les Murs, le guet et la communauté : la construction d’un système défensif”, Archéologie du Midi Médiéval, 25 (2007), p. 141-155; URL: https://www.persee.fr/doc/amime_0758-7708_2007_num_25_1_1642
    • Gustave Fagniez, “Essai sur l’organisation de l’industrie à Paris aux XIIIe et XIVe siècles (deuxième article)”, Bibliothèque de l’École des chartes, 30 (1869), p. 80-105, in particular pp. 98-103; URL: https://www.persee.fr/doc/bec_0373-6237_1869_num_30_1_446253
    • A.-M. Hayez, “Travaux à l’enceinte d’Avignon sous les pontificats d’Urbain V et de Grégoire IX”, La Guerre et la paix au Moyen Âge. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1978, p. 119-223.
    • R. Cazelle, Paris, de Philippe Auguste à Charles V. Paris: Hachette, 1994.
    • N. Savy, Les villes du Quercy en guerre : la défense des villes et des bourges du Haut-Quercy pendant la guerre de Cent Ans. Pradines: Savy A.E., 2009.

There must be articles or monographs in English dealing with such a topic but I can’t find them right off the bat without going into a university library or diving too far in additional research.

From Skirmishes To Victory Or Surrender

If a city was besieged and couldn’t be taken over “Rambo style” with a clever, daring an deceitful tactic, it would first open on several weeks of skirmishes around the boulevards and the countryside. Nearby smaller towns would also serve as battlefields. People often found refuge in stone built churches: they were torn apart or put on fire.

Delay was the key words for the defenders. The name of the game was to hold as long as possible for ally troops to find their way to the siege and help. Montargis waited and waited until La Hire arrived and saved the day, in 1427. It is an interesting case, however, because La Hire and his friends wouldn’t help Montargis unless they got paid. Indeed, if besieging a city was a most expensive affair, so was defending it!

Larger cities would hold much longer. They often had pastures and fields within their walls that belonged to this or that abbey. You’d have cattle within the city walls too: cow, pigs, sheep… Not enough to feed the entire population for a prolonged time, but just enough to help the city hold against the enemy.

Renowned knights would then square things off in many skirmishes until one or the other party gathered enough money to push the siege forward or to break it off. Journals and chronicles of the time often mention who fought bravely during the first hours/days/weeks of a siege.

The surrender would always come into the form of a peace treaty between the military leaders of both parties. Often the defender would ask for his people to get a safe-passage accross the enemy territory to get back to an allied city. The military leader of a city was not always taking the city-dwellers into consideration, or just couldn’t protect them, and more often than not he allowed his enemy to pillage and plunder the taken city. That’s why, among so many other reasons, city-dwellers didn’t have men-at-arms to heart and often mistrusted them. There are cases of city-dwellers that actually denied entry to supposedly allied men-at-arms when the countryside was torn apart by roaming rogue companies. Hell, the Duke of Burgundy found himself trapped inside the city of Brugge and had to fight his way out!

Long Reads

Inca Civilization Analysis with Historical Commentary

Foreword

When I play at Age of Empires 2, it’s mostly to meet up with a regular group of friends. Among them Iancu certainly ranks at the top of our little clan. He used to play a lot with Franks, mass paladins and storm in our bases with packs of heavy cavalry.

I. Hated. That.

Therefore I came up with a solution: the ultimate heavy cavalry counter-unit. It’s so good, in fact, that when AoE2:DE was released and steppe lancers were flooding most ranked games, I didn’t fret. I knew the counter already: the deadly Inca long speared kamayuks!

I picked up the Inca civilization to learn how to counter pretty much everything. Indeed, they do counter (almost) everything (except on water):

  • Scary paladins incoming? Kamayuks spamming underway!
  • Some good old fashion huskarls Goth flood? Slingers and kamayuks counter-flood at the ready!
  • Persian or British archers massing at your borders? Send in some eagle warriors and wipe them out!

He used to play a lot with Franks, mass paladins and storm in our bases with packs of heavy cavalry.

I. Hated. That.

Therefore I came up with a solution: the deadly Inca long speared kamayuks!

Incas can counter everything, however, all of their units cost gold and none of them constitutes a powerhouse unit.

  • Kamayuks literally melt against arrows.
  • Slingers can’t deal with cavalry.
  • Eagle warriors are properly butchered by champions.

Moreover, Incas really struggle against siege civilization such as Celts. I would know because that’s what Iancu picked up once he saw how easily I would counter his paladins. Mass onagers and scorpions are very difficult to overcome with Incas since they lack the mobility of a proper cavalry civilization or the range of the British longbowmen.

Nevertheless I love Incas and my father picked them up too. It’s a great civ to start up with and learn how to adapt your strategy to your opponents. It really helped me to get better at the game and whenever I pick them now our band of friends goes “Oh boy… Here we go again!”


  • The Birth of Western Astrology: A Short Story
    The priest of Bel Marduk Berossus only taught astrology to the Greeks around 280 B.C. when he dedicated his Babyloniaca to King Antiochus I Soter. By then, the Classical era of the Greek city states was long gone. Though Berossus first taught astrology to the Greeks within the boundaries of the Seleucid Empire, it quickly caught on in Egypt, especially at Alexandria where the most advanced mathematical observations about the Earth and the stars were being made.
  • A Crash Course on Medieval Tournaments
    Tournaments followed the chivalric code of war! Indeed, jousts and tournaments were nothing like modern sporting events. They were true exercises of warfare during peace times more than anything else. It was a way to make war without declaring it.
  • The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
    Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?

Inca AoE2 Go-To Strategies

Before AoE2:DE was released, the Incas were the #2 civilization by win rate on Voobly. However, they were certainly less popular than the two other Mesoamerican civilizations: the Mayans and the Aztecs. Mayans were often picked for their plumed archers and their insane mobility (that was before they were nerfed and costed more gold) whereas Aztecs rank among the best monk civilization notably thanks to their incredible relic gold bonus. Even after AoE2:DE, Incas remain less popular than their neighboring civilizations.

Since most of Inca strategies are pretty gold expensive, they struggle against civilization that have potent late game bonuses or rely more heavily on wood for post-imperial strategies, such as the Chinese, the Britons or the Celts.

According to AoeStats, Incas win rate is at its peak within the first twenty minutes of a 1v1 face off. That’s because they benefit from great early aggression bonuses. They come in very handy for lame, drush or tower rush tactics. The win rate drops until the reach of late castle age-early imperial age, then it drops back though it remains above average until the hour long plus game. Since most of Inca strategies are pretty gold expensive, they struggle against civilization that have potent late game bonuses or rely more heavily on wood for post-imperial strategies, such as the Chinese, the Britons or the Celts. The Chinese, in particular, really shine in long games thanks to their less expensive technology research cost bonus. That is, of course, if they ever manage to survive the early attacks from Inca players!

Ideal Early Game Tactics with Incas

I was once facing LilTrouble_ on 1v1 Arabia, I don’t remember which civ I had but she had Incas and I certainly regretted it. Oh boy, did our Lady of the Empires teach me a lesson! She started by laming one of my boars. Indeed, Incas as a Meso civ have a formidable advantage when it comes to laming tactics. The eagle scout has a greater line of sight than the regular mounted scout so it spots wild boars more easily. Moreover, it runs a bit slower, meaning it’s easier for an eagle scout to remain within the three tiles line of sight of wild boars and keep them chasing them. Just like that, LilTrouble_ stole my boar and messed up with my build order. I didn’t know yet how to adapt from such a situation and it derailed my strategy.

A great Inca early go-to strategy would be to lame the enemy then to plan out a drush or a militia rush into a fast castle, or to add extra feudal pressure with cheap towers and tanky villagers. Such strategies requires well rounded build orders though but it makes up for great practice!

Then she started to build tower behind my wood lines to lame me from my other resources—as if stealing my food was not enough! Incas have a bonus that their buildings cost -15% stones, it makes it easy for them to spam towers to harass their enemy. It piles up on other bonuses that make their tower rushes even more potent. Their houses support 10 villagers: it means less houses to build which grants more wood for towers (or an early barrack). Moreover, their villagers are affected by blacksmith upgrades: Incas villagers can become really tanky! Not only can they build towers but they can also fight off a counterattack and make the pressure worse.

I managed to destroy LilTrouble_’s tower since they’ve been nerfed in AoE2:DE (they have less HP in feudal age than they used to). However, she’d mess up with me six ways to Sunday. I didn’t know what to go for. I was on the back foot and my economy was a disaster. She won as soon as she hit castle age. GG. It was an honor. To sum it up: a great Inca early go-to strategy would be to lame the enemy then to plan out a drush or a militia rush into a fast castle, or to add extra feudal pressure with cheap towers and tanky villagers. Such strategies requires well rounded build orders though but it makes up for great practice! Try it out. If you don’t win within the first 30 minutes, you can just tap out and move on to your next target for more practice and quickly add up to five games into a single gaming evening.

Late Team Game Strategies with Incas

On the long run in 1v1, Incas become less and less able to build up momentum and take advantage of their flexibility. Their Andean Sling unique technology certainly comes in handy in a full-on trash war, once the gold has totally run out. However, a victory is pretty much desired before that point. Incas can adapt and counter pretty much everything on land but it comes at quite a high cost in gold when you take into account all the blacksmith, university, barrack, archery range and castle technologies required to beef up the Inca units properly.

The gold problem however is easily solved in team games: build markets and trade make up for depleted gold mines! All of a sudden, Incas become a great support civilization in a team game because their counter options, cheaper towers and castles can substantially help defend your teammate bases while they move forward for a knockout. Fully upgraded eagle warriors also constitutes wonderful raiding units to distract your opponents whilst your allies are mounting their attack.



Inca Civilization Bonuses

Incas Start with a Free Llama

It used to be that you wouldn’t always get your four starting sheep from the get go once you started a game. You’d have to scout for a bit or hope to find them by building your houses at the edge of the fog of war. If your starting sheep were playing hide and seek then a free starting llama was certainly a treat. I experienced however that starting sheep were a more reliable food source. They tend to pop up as soon as you start a game on AoE2:DE. Still, the free llama remains extra food you can bank up for an early rush strategy. Otherwise, it can serve as an extra scout to find your wild boars whilst your scout is already searching for the enemy… in case you want, again, to go for an early rush. Never forget, Incas top win rate is below the twenty minutes mark!

The Temple of the Sun (or Qorikancha, “Golden Enclosure”) had real-life sized golden llama statues when the Spanish first set foot into it. It certainly contributed to the myth of the Eldorado! The Incas also named a constellation the “llama dark cloud”, which was supposedly the ancestor of all camelids.

Historically speaking—because that’s what I do after all—it’s very fitting that Incas should start with a free llama. As Terence N. D’Altroy writes*: “Llama and alpaca herding became both a successful adaptation and a source of wealth for mountain peoples.” Llamas were “the principal beast[s] of burden and source of meat for Andean peoples.” It is reported that male bucks can carry a load of 30kg for 20km a day. Not only that: “llamas and alpaca produce useful wool, but the light weight and fineness of alpaca wool make it preferable for clothes and other textiles.”

Just as sheep became part of Christian rituals**, llamas got intertwined with the religious life of the Incas. We’ve found many figurines of llamas in old ritual caches. The Temple of the Sun (or Qorikancha, “Golden Enclosure”) had real-life sized golden llama statues when the Spanish first set foot into it. It certainly contributed to the myth of the Eldorado! The Incas also named a constellation the “llama dark cloud”, which was supposedly the ancestor of all camelids. No animal was nobler than the mighty llama to the Incas.

* Terence N. D’Altroy, The Incas, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2015.

** I’m referencing the 15th century famous Ghent Altarpiece which picture the “Mystic Lamb” or “Lamb of God”.

Inca Villagers Benefit from Blacksmith Upgrades

Never forget, Incas top win rate is below the twenty minutes mark! If it sounds like I’m repeating myself, it’s because I am. Picture the following: your opponent is walling his/her base on Arabia to attempt a Fast Castle. What can you do? Punish him! Or… her. Go in for the infamous Militia + Tower Rush—the militia to rip the palisade walls apart and get into your enemy economy to disrupt it, the towers to prevent the enemy walling behind the palisades and make sure to get in with the added bonus of denying resources like berries, stones, gold or wood.

I observed The Viper go for a full trush (no militia) and when he clicked Feudal he threw no less than eight villagers with loom at the enemy. His build order was the following: 6 on sheep, 4 on wood, 2 on boar, 3 on berries, +4 on boar and sheep; feudal transition: from the 12 villagers on boar and sheep: 1 to wood, 4 to stone and 8 for the trush. He could basically keep on building towers all over the place, from two groups of 4 villagers each. A total pest! I don’t remember clearly if he was playing with Incas, I think he was randomly assigned Koreans, but if he’d been playing Incas, his villagers wouldn’t have been in need of additional militia to protect them. Inca villagers benefit from blacksmith upgrades, meaning you can beef them up and make them extra tanky! Forging and Scale Mail Armor insures that they don’t fear any Feudal military unit as long as you micro them properly and fight in “packs”. Add Fletching to improve the range of your towers and you’re golden!

T90Official actually found a player who loved this all-in Inca strategy and even recorded a few Legend Videos about him. Noburu, as is his screen name, enjoys to vill rush and drop towers into his enemy economy with Incas. It is especially efficient on open maps such as Arabia. If you face an opponent that knows how to push you back, however, you’d better learn how to transition from this very aggressive early rush to a more balanced late game strategy because if you can’t punish a player walling his/her base properly, you’d better believe he/she’ll punish you back! I had a F1re 1v1 Inca mirror match on Arabia I wanted to break down for you here, too, but since this is a replay pre-dating the February 35584 game update, I can’t watch it passed the 17 seconds game time mark… Therefore I won’t say no more on the subject and move on to my historical commentary of this civilization bonus.

I know I keep quoting the guy but that’s only because he writes so clearly: “Soldiers often wore quilted cloth armor that was so effective against Andean weapons [such as slings!] that many Spaniards discarded their own metal plate in favor of the lighter protection.” Isn’t that amazing!?

From all the Pre-Columbian civilizations, the Incas were most skilled at forging and bending metal. It somehow justifies their blacksmith bonus. Terence N. D’Altroy writes that “Inca smiths drew from millennia of Andean knowledge, which was the most sophisticated in the Americas.” Only they were more skilled at dealing with gold, silver and copper. They even forged platinum treasures long before it was possible in Europe*! However, to quote Terence N. D’Altroy again: “the products that they made were primarily symbolic, decorative, and status related, rather than utilitarian.” As a matter of fact: “In Inca cosmology, gold was the sweat of the Sun and silver the tears of the Moon.”

It also means that Incas didn’t wear iron armors! Indeed, they rather wore quilted armors that were more suited anyway to Andean warfare. I know I keep quoting the guy but that’s only because he writes so clearly: “Soldiers often wore quilted cloth armor that was so effective against Andean weapons [such as slings!] that many Spaniards discarded their own metal plate in favor of the lighter protection.” Isn’t that amazing!? If Age of Empires 2 was more historically friendly, it’d mean that the Scale Mail Armor tech should be renamed for the Incas to Quilted Cloth Armor. It’d be a treat and it’d help the sense of diversity within the game.

Every Inca subject was part of a household or tribe called the ayllu. At the top of an ayllu you’d find a chief or kuraka. The kuraka’s duties were to take care of his people and grant them gifts that’d insure a fair redistribution of wealth within the ayllu. In exchange of those gifts, the Inca subjects had to engage into labor duties, or the mita. It’d range from agricultural tasks to military expeditions. Any grown-up subject (meaning any married man who’d started a family) could be drafted for the mita. Somehow, it fits the Age of Empires 2 economy model perfectly!

Another historical merit behind the “villagers benefiting from blacksmith upgrades” Inca bonus is that the Incas didn’t have any regular army and that any Inca subject could be drafted as a soldier. The Incas didn’t have any trade or taxation system, their economy solely relied on labor duties or “corvées”. The technical term is mita. Every Inca subject was part of a household or tribe called the ayllu. At the top of an ayllu you’d find a chief or kuraka. The kuraka’s duties were to take care of his people and grant them gifts that’d insure a fair redistribution of wealth within the ayllu. In exchange of those gifts, the Inca subjects had to engage into labor duties, or the mita. It’d range from agricultural tasks to military expeditions. Any grown-up subject (meaning any married man who’d started a family) could be drafted for the mita. Somehow, it fits the Age of Empires 2 economy model perfectly!

Villagers within an AoE2 empires don’t trade, they don’t have a life of their own, and they only do what’s asked of them. They only comply with unpaid free labor and that’s their life. In exchange, they get… houses… Unless they’re Huns or post-imp Mongols. Then they don’t even get houses or their houses could get destroyed and they wouldn’t get new ones. Male villagers have been asking for clothes on snowy maps for decades but it brought them nothing. They can’t even go on a strike. They can only accidentally go idle for some extended period of time… But that’s what you get from butchering sheep and llama without shearing them first!!!

There was no regular army to speak of, but the Inca Empire certainly had skilled military specialists.

On a more serious note, military duties became the prerogative of a few specific ayllu within the Inca Empire. Once a tribe was conquered, its population could be scattered around the Empire to prevent any further resistance. Unrooted and taken away from their homeland, Inca subjects could then be converted into a permanent military status and be garrisoned at the frontier to insure the borders. Such was the fate of many Chachapoyas, for example. Kañari people also became a major part of the Inca military. “Up to half of the two ethnic groups was dispersed as permanent military personnel.” That’s what’d cost to you to resist and fight off the Inca conquest. There was no regular army to speak of, but the Inca Empire certainly had skilled military specialists, doomed to serve.

* The forging of platinum wasn’t mastered in Europe before 1730, cf. Henri Favre, Les Incas, 9th ed. Paris: PUF, 2011 (Que Sais-Je? no 1504), p. 101.

Inca Houses Support 10 Population and their Buildings Cost -15% Stone

Stonecutting was certainly more than just a science for Inca builders. Not only could they cut perfectly shaped stone blocks, they could also fit together oddly shaped stone blocks into perfectly fitted walls or even adapt their walls to the terrain they were building upon, therefore building “naturally” curved walls.

Incas were not only great metallurgist, they were also amazing stonecutters. So amazing in fact that one could read in the Encyclopedia of the Incas* the following: “How Inca builders—who lacked iron tools and the wheel—cut stone, achieved the tight fit, and transported and hoisted the stones (some of which weigh over a hundred metric tons) has been the subject of wild speculation. These conjectures range from the intervention of extraterrestrials to the use of laser-like tools—and even the application of stone-softening herbs.” I mean, you know a civilization has done great on the tech ladder when modern people blame the aliens for their achievements.

Stonecutting was certainly more than just a science for Inca builders. Not only could they cut perfectly shaped stone blocks, they could also fit together oddly shaped stone blocks into perfectly fitted walls or even adapt their walls to the terrain they were building upon, therefore building “naturally” curved walls. It makes up for incredible construction work! You couldn’t fit the finest sheet of paper between two Inca stone blocks. You couldn’t even rebuild their walls if you dismantled it. Examples of such fine masonry were seldom found in the Ancient Greek world, especially at Delphi, but never to that extend.

Incas were also great urbanists. They really knew how to build a city and make it not only fully functional but properly amazing. The Spaniards were certainly impressed. Their only complaint was that you couldn’t fit two horses side by side in an Inca street. However, Incas didn’t have horses so… you see? It only makes sense, therefore, that Inca benefit from stone reduction cost and housing bonuses in Age of Empires 2. It honors well their stonecutting and architecture skills. I certainly could write more on the subject, but I’d like to save that for a historical analysis of the city of Cuzco in the Pakachuti campaign if you don’t mind.

* Gary Urton & Adriana Von Hagen (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Incas. New York, London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

[TO BE CONTINUED…]

Long Reads

The Long Middle Ages

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

>>> Link to the original reddit post <<<

Is the Long Middle Ages theory seriously considered by historians?

My brother told me about his history teacher when he was at the university telling him that he believed in a theory saying that the Middle Ages should be reconsidered as not ending with the fall of Constantinople or the discovery of America, but rather with the Industrial Revolution/French Revolution. Is this a real thing considered by some historians, or is it some obscure theory from dark places?


My Answer

The Periodization of the Middle Ages

The periodization of the Middle Ages is a historiographical legacy. It should be challenged. It should be revised. However, university chairs and editorial directives are now defined by this legacy and it’d be very hard to change anything about it…

I can’t for the life of me find the historian who first said that the Middle Ages started in 476 and ended in 1453 or 1492. I think I’ll never find him… However, the medieval era is commonly defined between the infamous “fall of Rome” (was it a “fall”, really? was it still “Rome”? who could answer such things?), set in 476, and the less notorious “fall of Constantinople” or “second fall of Rome”, set in 1453. Oddly enough 1453 is also the year that marks the symbolic end of the Hundred Years’ War (it was only put to an end diplomatically in 1475) and some historians would also like to make it a big thing. However, other argued that 1492 served as a better moment to mark the “end of an era” or a “new dawn for mankind” since it’s the year Columbus reaches the America—though he thinks at the time he’s found a new way to China; he’ll actually die without knowing that he actually landed on an uncharted continent. 1492 was also a big year for Spain for another reason: it marks the end of the Reconquista. The last Muslim kingdom of Granada falls to the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

What’s funny with those dates is that they prioritize military achievements and political events above everything else. The invention of the printing press doesn’t serve as a landmark in that discussion. Events from outside Europe are totally ignored. The list could go on for several pages. In the end, the periodization of the Middle Ages is a historiographical legacy. It should be challenged. It should be revised. However, university chairs and editorial directives are now defined by this legacy and it’d be very hard to change anything about it… It’s both a blessing and a curse! It helps us to navigate through history easily but it also blinds us from a lot of different realities.

What in a Date? A Year, by any Other Time…

“Do you think people changed their way of life overnight? Of course not! Why then do we say that 1492 ends the Middle Ages? It’s more a landmark than anything else. People’s life didn’t change all of a sudden. If it did it was through a long process. 1492 is the high note of a long symphony, not some point of no return.”

The 9gag army was here

I distinctively remember my history teacher, Mrs B., telling us about the “great” discovery of America by Columbus, in 1492. She said: “Do you think people changed their way of life overnight? Of course not! Why then do we say that 1492 ends the Middle Ages? It’s more a landmark than anything else. People’s life didn’t change all of a sudden. If it did it was through a long process. 1492 is the high note of a long symphony, not some point of no return.”

I recently wrote an answer about the importance given to the 1066 conquest of England by William of Normandy. Back in the 11th century, 1066 was just another year in the span of a lifetime. It is true that the Norman rule brought a lot of change in the political management of the British Isles. However, those change came slowly and not overnight. It took time to William to assert his authority and deal with the last pockets of resistance. Then he had to know his new kingdom better before he could do anything with it. That’s when the Doomsday Book came to fruition.

The year 1066 became a “big thing” only in retrospect. When 14th and 15th century chroniclers tried to justify the over-expensive and never-ending war led by the kings of England against the kings of France. The latter were defined as a threat for the English people and even as a threat to the English language itself! The Norman conquest of 1066 served as a painful reminder. This was more a construct than anything, though.

Historians still do that when they look back into the past. They elevate a few dates to the level symbolic and meaningful constructs. It becomes a part of their reasoning. A way for them to “make sense” out of the past and put everything into a coherent narrative. In and of themselves, however, dates and years basically mean nothing to the great scale of the universe.


  • The Birth of Western Astrology: A Short Story
    The priest of Bel Marduk Berossus only taught astrology to the Greeks around 280 B.C. when he dedicated his Babyloniaca to King Antiochus I Soter. By then, the Classical era of the Greek city states was long gone. Though Berossus first taught astrology to the Greeks within the boundaries of the Seleucid Empire, it quickly caught on in Egypt, especially at Alexandria where the most advanced mathematical observations about the Earth and the stars were being made.
  • A Crash Course on Medieval Tournaments
    Tournaments followed the chivalric code of war! Indeed, jousts and tournaments were nothing like modern sporting events. They were true exercises of warfare during peace times more than anything else. It was a way to make war without declaring it.
  • The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
    Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?

Petrarch’s “Dark Ages”

Petrarch saw the beginning of the Dark Ages as the moment Rome fell under foreign control. It means that the so-called golden age of the Antonin dynasty marks as the downfall of Rome in Petrarch’s mind. It would backtrack the start of the Middle Ages to the year 96!

Sculpture of Petrarch in Florence (Italy)

Many have attributed to Petrarch the notion of “Middle Ages”. Theodore E. Mommsen wrote convincingly about it in his article: “Petrarch’s Conception of the ‘Dark Ages’” (1942)—available on JStor. As Petrarch roamed through Rome and its ruins he was flabbergasted by the little knowledge that its inhabitants had of those great historical landmarks. Mommsen writes (p. 232): “Petrarch complains bitterly that the contemporary Romans know nothing about Rome and things Roman. In his opinion this ignorance is disastrous. For he asks: ‘Who can doubt that Rome would rise up again if she but began to know herself?’”

As a matter of fact, Petrarch saw the beginning of the Dark Ages as the moment Rome fell under foreign control. It means that the so-called golden age of the Antonin dynasty marks as the downfall of Rome in Petrarch’s mind. It would backtrack the start of the Middle Ages to the year 96! Again, what was “Rome”? How did it “fall”? Cato the Elder, Cicero, Petrarch and Edward Gibbon would each argue a very different point of view on the matter! I chuckled recently when I read that no one actively sought to destroy the Western Roman Empire. It collapsed on its own. There’s actually nothing inherently wrong in that statement. The Western Roman Empire just… died out.

Jacques Le Goff, Inventor of the Long Middle Ages?

The age of mills was only put to an end by the age of machines. Le Goff lists up most of what argue in favour of a continuity instead of a divide between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: means of transportation, economic structures (both material and intellectual), metallurgy, manners and politeness, landscape features, etc.

Picture of Jacques Le Goff
By the way… “Ceci est bel et bien une pipe.”

Jacques Le Goff is probably the most influential French medievalist of the latter 20th century. He still has students and admirers all over the world. His historical biography of Louis IX of France revolutionized the genre. The deeds of a man were not to be taken out of their context from anymore and that context had to be thoroughly studied. It didn’t suffice to enumerate the facts on a man’s life. You also had to understand his era, the social mind-set of his time and the economical structures he grew up in. That’s why Le Goff’s biography of Louis IX is one very heavy book!

Now, not to point out fingers, but Le Goff actually came up with the idea of the Long Middle Ages! He spent many interviews defending its validity before he eventually wrote a book about it. Recently translated into English, Must We Divide History Into Periods? argues in its final chapter that the Middle Ages lasted until the Industrial Revolution. The age of mills was only put to an end by the age of machines. Le Goff lists up most of what argue in favour of a continuity instead of a divide between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: means of transportation, economic structures (both material and intellectual), metallurgy, manners and politeness, landscape features, etc. Alcohol is pointed out as a proper novelty, yet he writes (p. 85): “As Braudel remarks, if the sixteenth created alcohol, it was the eighteenth that popularized it. Brandy, produced especially in monasteries, was commonly prescribed by physicians and apothecaries as a remedy against plague, gout, and loss of voice. It did not become a festive drink until the eighteenth century.” The eighteenth century represents the real “turning point” in history whereas the Renaissance is mostly seen as the medieval demonstration of a somewhat typical spiritual and political crisis.

Therefore we could conclude that, indeed, the Long Middle Age theory is seriously considered by historians. It’s a theory that was propagated by historians in the first place!

Ernest Gellner and the Two Only Real Revolutions

His book Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History argues that there were only two real revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. It means that he sees a very long continuity between late Prehistoric Times or early Ancient History and the Contemporary Era.

Picture of Ernest Gellner

An idea, however great or bad it is, is never the fact of one single man. Ideas float in the air. Anyone can grab them if you keep your mind open. Ernest Gellner, a philosopher who wrote most of his books on how to make sense of history, also argued that the Industrial Revolution more than any revolution or “Renaissance” before it brought a definitive change to human societies. To be fair, his book Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History argues that there were only two real revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. It means that he sees a very long continuity between late Prehistoric Times or early Ancient History and the Contemporary Era. The overthrowing of governments doesn’t mean a thing from a philosophical standpoint. Political or military history are negligible. What really matters is the structure of human society: how people live day-by-day? How do they organize their time? What do they give importance to? How do they run their society? Every pre-industrialized civilization shares a lot of traits with each other. The patterns follow the same rules though they show a lot of variations. Gellner’s theory is quite long and arduous to read. After all, he criticizes the theories of Hegel and Husserl while building upon it. Make sure to understand it fully before dismissing it as “dumb” or “inaccurate”. Many people tend to react poorly when faced with heavy philosophy for they’re suddenly faced with unfamiliar concepts and ideas that critically challenge their daily preconceptions of the world.

In conclusion, not only is the idea of a Long Middle Ages a pretty serious theory among medievalists. It’s also only the start of a greater concept of history for philosophers.


Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Capture of the Tourelles.
Long Reads

Did Joan of Arc actually Lead the French Army?

Wild Reddit Question Appears

>>> Link to the original reddit post <<<

Did Joan of Arc actually fight and lead an army in the battle of Orleans, or was she propped up as a figurehead?

So I’ve always wondered this since I learned about Joan of Arc in grade school. IIRC, she was an illiterate girl whose only real education was in Catholicism. After apparently hearing the voice of God telling her that she’s destined to lead France to victory, she convinced then-prince Charles to give her an army to take back Orleans, and that she would install him as king. And of course, she succeeded in both endeavors.

Here’s my question: in lieu her limited education and experience, did she actually fight in and lead an army/devise tactics for the battle to retake Orleans? Or was she simply “given credit” for political, troop morale, and enemy intimidation purposes?

Make sure to join the AskHistorians subreddit!!!



    Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Illuminated Manuscript. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Compiègne.
    Joan is being captured by the Burgundians at Compiègne – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 70r

    My Answer

    The idea of Joan fighting is not debated. Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg). She was fighting alright!

    Now, what about her commanding the troops? Kelly DeVries wrote a biography on Joan of Arc to argue that she was in fact “A Military Leader” (1999). However he gives Joan too much credit in my opinion. He states that Joan’s rashness inspired other military leaders of her time when I actually observed in the 15th century chronicles that everything Joan “did”, the other captains serving Charles VII were already doing it long before she came to the scene (attacking the enemy by surprise, being relentless, etc.). What mostly held them back was the politics behind the war.

    Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg).

    Philippe Contamine, the most expert French historian about the 15th century, already observed that the English were poorly organized at Orléans. Their forces were too widely spread around the town. It was “easy” to take down one fort after the other. When Joan arrived, the most skilled of Charles VII’s captains were already at Orléans: La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, the Chabanne brothers, the bastard of Orléans… Those people knew how to fight and they had no duke nor prince to overrule them. They could “play ugly” and they didn’t care for the glory or the etiquette. The battle of Patay is an obvious example of that. La Hire and Xaintrailles rushed the enemy as soon as they spotted them, taking them by surprise and routing them out. A few months ago, at the battle of the Herrings, they’d been asked to wait for the arrival of the duke of Bourbon, who wished to claim the glory of the battle. It led to a gory defeat as the English mustered the time to organize their defending position and make themselves impervious to swift and heavy cavalry charges (a French specialty).

    Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Paris. Illuminated manuscript.
    Joan of Arc besieges Paris – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 66v

    Nevertheless, Joan certainly wished to act as a commander. She was quite bossy, and sassy too. She was never given any proper command title, but she certainly became a leading figure in the French army. Though she mostly became some kind of celebrity–people loved and/or hated her, she was on every lips—she also acted as a proper commander. At Compiègne, when she was captured, she was actually insuring the retreat of “her” troops by staying behind. According to the chivalric art of war, a leader was always supposed to be on the front line, the closest to the enemy. Joan of Arc was also the most relentless “leader” at the siege of Paris. She was determined to take the city (which was defended by Burgundian soldiers—she hated the Burgundians). The duke of Alençon actually had to go and fetch her to take her away from the battle when everybody knew the day was lost.

    There was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader.

    The school of war was done on the battlefield at the beginning of the 15th century. We suspect some of Charles VII’s captains of not being able to write or read. Yet they could certainly fight and come up with crazy and daring tactics. Many of Charles VII’s captains were actually “self-taught” (meaning they were schooled by masters on the battlefield through practice and didn’t go to an academy of any kind) and were appointed/elected to their position by their peers since the military institutions of that time fell into total anarchy between 1418 and 1441. Some of them even had pretty obscure origins, pretty much like Joan of Arc.

    In conclusion there was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. She didn’t have any military company of her own (any proper “captain” had his own band of brothers-in-arms). She always tagged along or she was placed, here and there, as a mascot–which infuriated her. La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something. It led to an utter disaster of a battle that, to my knowledge, was only recorded by a Burgundian chronicler (but a reliable one). The endeavor was never repeated. However, Joan of Arc showed promises and at that time women could lead armies. Princesses, Queens or Duchesses actually commanded their troops in some cases when their husbands were away (or dead). Little is known about them actually fighting, though, but they certainly knew how to rule and strategize. The key at that time for any ruler was to surround themselves with shrewd and capable advisors and to listen to them, then only to take decisions and boss people around—well, that’s what I believe at least—but also what people at that time thought of good government!

    La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something.

    For further readings, don’t hesitate to ask, but most of the scholarly work on Joan of Arc was written in French. A good place to start though is the forever great Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.


    More about Joan of Arc

    The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry

    Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?

    Joan of Arc’s Charisma

    People took Joan of Arc seriously because they believed in magic and miracles. She was only human though, but that’s what makes her story even more fascinating.


    Joan of Arc Hero-General in Age of Empires 2

    In a former post I briefly discussed about how Age of Empires 2 wrongly gave Joan of Arc the title of “Commander of the Army of France”. That function actually lied with the “Connétable” (which was the proper title of such a high office) who was chosen for life by the king—once he’d obtained his title, it couldn’t be taken away from him. Back in 1429, the French Connétable was Arthur de Richemont, who has an entry on my blog regarding his background.

    First, I would like to pinpoint where that historical mistake came from. Then I would like to say a few more words about Richemont’s relationship with Joan of Arc as the actual commander-in-chief or the French army.

    Joe Staten, creative director for Microsoft who helped to design the first Age of Empires game stated that his “real passion was history. [He] read a lot of historical fiction and so when Age came around […] it was this perfect melding of the kinds of games that [he] liked to play: real-time strategy games with this history that [he] loved.”

    There we have it: the Age of Empires series doesn’t draw from history books but from historical novels. Building on that fact it becomes quite easy to find out the novel that inspired the Joan of Arc campaign in Age of Empires 2. We just have to look at the most influential of them all: the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, first published in 1896. As a matter of fact, that very novel contains a chapter titled “She Is Made General-In-Chief.” It isn’t too long so I’ll simply paste it here for you to read.

    Mark Twain Creates Joan of Arc General

    It was indeed a great day, and a stirring thing to see.

    She had won! It was a mistake of Tremouille and her other ill-wishers to let her hold court those nights.

    The commission of priests sent to Lorraine ostensibly to inquire into Joan’s character—in fact to weary her with delays and wear out her purpose and make her give it up—arrived back and reported her character perfect. Our affairs were in full career now, you see.

    Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    The verdict made a prodigious stir. Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air. I remembered now what she had said, that time there in our village when I proved by facts and statistics that France’s case was hopeless, and nothing could ever rouse the people from their lethargy:

    “They will hear the drums—and they will answer, they will march!”

    It has been said that misfortunes never come one at a time, but in a body. In our case it was the same with good luck. Having got a start, it came flooding in, tide after tide. Our next wave of it was of this sort. There had been grave doubts among the priests as to whether the Church ought to permit a female soldier to dress like a man. But now came a verdict on that head. Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”

    Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). Joan discovers the disguised king.
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    It was a great point gained, the Church’s authority to dress as a man. Oh, yes, wave on wave the good luck came sweeping in. Never mind about the smaller waves, let us come to the largest one of all, the wave that swept us small fry quite off our feet and almost drowned us with joy. The day of the great verdict, couriers had been despatched to the King with it, and the next morning bright and early the clear notes of a bugle came floating to us on the crisp air, and we pricked up our ears and began to count them. One—two—three; pause; one—two; pause; one—two—three, again—and out we skipped and went flying; for that formula was used only when the King’s herald-at-arms would deliver a proclamation to the people. As we hurried along, people came racing out of every street and house and alley, men, women, and children, all flushed, excited, and throwing lacking articles of clothing on as they ran; still those clear notes pealed out, and still the rush of people increased till the whole town was abroad and streaming along the principal street. At last we reached the square, which was now packed with citizens, and there, high on the pedestal of the great cross, we saw the herald in his brilliant costume, with his servitors about him. The next moment he began his delivery in the powerful voice proper to his office:

    “Know all men, and take heed therefore, that the most high, the most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France—”

    The most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France.

    Here a thousand caps flew in the air, and the multitude burst into a hurricane of cheers that raged and raged till it seemed as if it would never come to an end; but at last it did; then the herald went on and finished:

    —“and hath appointed to be her lieutenant and chief of staff a prince of his royal house, his grace the Duke of Alençon!”

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). Joan's entry into Orléans (from a painting by Scherrer)
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    That was the end, and the hurricane began again, and was split up into innumerable strips by the blowers of it and wafted through all the lanes and streets of the town.

    General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood for subordinate! Yesterday she was nothing—to-day she was this. Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire, Saintrailles, the Bastard of Orleans, and all those others, veterans of old renown, illustrious masters of the trade of war. These were the thoughts I was thinking; I was trying to realize this strange and wonderful thing that had happened, you see.

    Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire.

    My mind went travelling back, and presently lighted upon a picture—a picture which was still so new and fresh in my memory that it seemed a matter of only yesterday—and indeed its date was no further back than the first days of January. This is what it was. A peasant-girl in a far-off village, her seventeenth year not yet quite completed, and herself and her village as unknown as if they had been on the other side of the globe. She had picked up a friendless wanderer somewhere and brought it home—a small gray kitten in a forlorn and starving condition—and had fed it and comforted it and got its confidence and made it believe in her, and now it was curled up in her lap asleep, and she was knitting a coarse stocking and thinking—dreaming—about what, one may never know. And now—the kitten had hardly had time to become a cat, and yet already the girl is General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood to give orders to, and out of her village obscurity her name has climbed up like the sun and is visible from all corners of the land! It made me dizzy to think of these things, they were so out of the common order, and seemed so impossible.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Siege of Orléans (From the painting by J. E. Lenepveu in the Panthéon at Paris)
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    3 Historical Mistakes In Twain’s Narrative

    Unfortunately Mark Twain wasn’t writing a history book but a historical novel. To be good or great novels abide to a set of dramatic rules. Everything seems “bigger than life” though at the same time “oddly probable” in a novel.

    In order to make his novel more enticing or catchy, Mark Twain tweaked a few facts here and there. Nothing much… but just enough to mix the historical truth with pure fiction and sell a few lies as facts.

    There Were No Statistics in the Middle Ages

    Twain really wants to make us understand how crazy Joan’s mission was. How impossible it was deemed to achieve. How incredible it was when it was. That’s what makes her story worthy of being told. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.

    Therefore Joan is not only confronted to a fixed social order but also to cold hard reason. It’s being shown in the novel through the anachronistic use of statistics. There were to statistics in the Middle Age. The mathematical optimisation of the public order was not yet a thing. The mathematical language in itself had not even been constructed yet! However, “numbers don’t lie”. We live today with the deluded notion that numbers reflect the truth and reality itself (as if the production of those statistical numbers wasn’t a problem in and of itself).

    Twain uses that familiarity he expects from the reader with the everyday use of statistics to make Joan’s tale “bigger than life” and even more incredible than it actually is. The anachronism of that literary stratagem doesn’t even pose a problem.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Capture of the Tourelles.
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    Joan of Arc Never Was General in Chief

    Remember the pitch. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. We already have the “bigger than life” element sorted out: her quest defeated all the statistics that could be thrown at her. Now comes the “oddly probable” moment.

    How come that she led the French army to victory? Simple. She was made General in Chief. Twain is starting to pile up lies here. He’s building a proper house of cards. But here comes the wind.

    Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.

    First order of business: Joan was never created General in Chief. Not only did that title not existed at the time, but also Joan wasn’t given any official commanding title of any kind. It was merely agreed that she could accompany the army. Nothing more, although she quickly rose as a moral and religious exemplary figure and natural leader. She made the French army ring the Te Deum on their departure from Blois to Orléans.

    What’s funny is that Twain resorts again to anachronism here, by referencing to modern military grades and titles of command. He talks of “privates” when there was no such thing back then. It could be construed as a literary adaptation, a way to make the subject clearer to the reader. However, it mostly induces a fake sense of the medieval reality…

    Moreover, any basic knowledge of medieval armies at the time makes this “oddly probable” moment another “bigger than life” ingredient of narration. So big, this one, in fact, that we need to resort to a suspension of disbelief to make the rest of the novel any enjoyable. We clearly left the realm of facts for the country of fictions.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Coronation of the French King at Rheims
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    The Duke of Alençon Never Was Joan’s Lieutenant

    Since Twain started to pile lies up, why not top it with a cherry and make it a nice cake with frosting and everything? The duke of Alençon is made Joan’s lieutenant. She has a really bloody prince under her command! What’s up with that?

    Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.

    At that point he was released and could rejoin his wife who, to make things less complicated, was the step-sister of the king of England. You know. Family’s a bitch. Nevertheless he couldn’t fight the English nor the Burgundians anymore as long as he hadn’t settle his ransom. It was not yet the case when Joan left for Orléans. That’s why he didn’t contributed to the city being liberated. He couldn’t have. He was bond by the code of chivalry. The man of the hour at Orléans was the Bastard of Orléans. And he certainly took no order from Joan! He kept her in the dark regarding most of the strategic decisions and meetings which drove her mad.

    Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.

    You’d understand though that for a novelist trying to sell a narrative pitch, those kind of facts would be deemed negligible and wouldn’t make out for a “great story”. They had to be tweaked if not properly erased and presented differently.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Capture of Joan of Arc at Compiègne
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    The Proof that Age of Empires 2 Was Based on Twain’s Novel

    Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc's Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans
    Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc’s Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans

    We have already stated that Joe Staten, creative director for the Age of Empires series, got his inspiration from historical novels. Mark Twain wrote a historical novel about Joan of Arc. We only have to connect the dots now.

    As a matter of fact there is no mention of any statistics in Age of Empires 2 within Joan of Arc’s narrative. We can therefore rule that lumpy anachronism out. There is no connection there.

    The most obvious evidence that AoE2 told the story of Joan of Arc after Twain’s novel lies with the duke of Alençon. Indeed, he greets the player as he/she starts the second scenario: The Maid of Orléans. Not only is it a historical inacurracy. It’s the very embellishment that Twain drew out to make Joan’s story “bigger than life”.

    The duke of Alençon greets Joan of Arc at Chinon as she leaves for Blois in AoE2.

    This is hard evidence if there is any. The fact that AoE2 also gives Joan the title of general could contribute to build our case here but there is much more to say regading the Twain-AoE2 romance about the portrayal of La Hire [blogpost on that topic underway].

    The Real “General” of the French Army: Arthur de Richemont

    Richemont appears in Age of Empires 2 when the players reaches the last scenario in Joan’s story. He’s to lead the French army at the battle of Castillon alongside other heroes among which La Hire who either survived his own death or crawled out of his grave. La Hire dies in 1443 and the battle of Castillon takes place in 1453. I let you work the numbers out. Remember! “Numbers don’t lie.”

    The Medieval French Army … In Theory

    The French Army went under a lot of development during the Hundred Years’ War. It took quite a bit of time for it but waging war became the business of professionals, a small group of people who devoted their whole life to the art of war. Noblemen were slowly being pushed out of the business for their religious worship of proper etiquette led to utter military disasters. The feudal pyramid of old was crumbling from within. Noblemen were more and more focused on administrative matters and less and less prone to the actual exercice of war. This tendency does NOT constitute an absolute however. The Burgundian alliance was renowned for its traditionnalism. The duke of Burgundy found many capable military leaders within his nobility. Just as the French army grew out of the Feudal System, the Burgundian army maintained everything it could from it: the titles of old, the etiquette, the chivalrous ranking system, etc.

    The French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death.

    The shift for the French army started with Charles V (1338-1380). This king properly turned the tables on the English and his son would have put an end to the Hundred Years’ War if he hadn’t gone mad. The French army was put under the ‘managment’ of its constable (connétable): Bertrand Du Guesclin. It followed strict rules: no open engagement on any battlefield, a war of attrition, sneak and surgical attacks, a solid regulation of the men-at-arms roaming the country. The great dukes and princes were pushed out of the leadership of the war but the king feared no real opposition for he heavily relied upon his brothers (the duke of Berry and the duke of Burgundy) and they followed his leadership closely, going as far as copying the royal administration within their own estates to manage it.

    At this point the French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death. Now what happened is that Charles VI couldn’t maintain this neat system intact. He delved into demencia, his uncles took control of the government and the dukes and princes started to fight each other for power. The royal army was dried out of money and the king’s authority came to naught. When Charles VII eventually took over his father, the French army was in a state of utter anarchy. The soldiers were not being paid and resorted to plunder and unregulated attacks on the king’s enemy to make a living. They were often high in debt and roamed the country in search of lucrative ventures. Captains were appointed by their own men and the military military mistruted the mighty dukes and princes for they usually knew better how to take or to defend a city.

    Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed.

    Richemont Falls Into Disgrace

    Richemont was a highborn son of the House of Britanny. Though he was not the firstborn son of his father, he eventually became Duke of Britanny at the end of his life. Since his mother married Henry IV of England, he also had close ties to the House of Lancaster. However, he was raised by the duke of Burgundy and had even closer ties to the Burgundian nobility. He even became himself a Burgundian lord when he married a Burgundian princess. Nevertheless he refused to enter the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and reached for Charles VII through the Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon. She made him constable and from 1425 onwards he became the official “General in Chief” of the French army.

    Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed then he appointed Georges de La Trémoille to watch over the king and gain his favours. However, La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.

    Despite a few splendid military successes, like the liberation of Montargis (1427), Richemont had to go into exile and avoid the king’s court altogether. His brother, Duke of Britanny, had joined again the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and Richemont’s name was utterly ternished by such a diplomatic failure. The English could push forward against a disorganized French army and they eventually reached Orléans. La Trémoille reigned supreme and unchallenged. That’s when Joan of Arc showed up at Chinon.

    La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.

    As Joan convinced the king to take action, Richemont was still in exile. He was even formerly forbidden by the king to join with the French army on the battlefield. However, the captains that were defending Orléans were kind of his good men. The Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, such leaders had formerly found a strong political ally in Richemont when it came to liberate Montargis back in 1427. Richemont had even took out of his own pocket to insure their military services. Moreover they had no love for the high and mighty lords that haunted the king’s court.

    They had had their reservation against Richemont, of course. He was a high born himself and they knew through experience that such people used to look down on them. At Montargis they had bluntly told him to stay behind and leave them deal with the enemy (which they did most successfully! routing John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, himself!). Nevertheless Richemont had recognized their proper value when no one else had and it sure meant something.

    Joan of Arc Meets Arthur de Richemont

    Let’s rewind this story for a minute.

    To make complicated matters quite simple, Arthur’s mother married Henry IV of England when Arthur’s dad, who had been duke of Britanny, died. Do you remember? However, as Henry V rose to the throne, Arthur’s mother was deemed… a nuisance. Therefore she was put on trial for sorcery. She never had to fear for her life though, this trial was more of a way to put her aside politically and make room for the new king. Nevertheless, I think we need to keep that piece of background history in mind when we come to the moment Arthur de Richemont met Joan of Arc.

    Now, let’s jump to this blogpost conclusion.

    Orléans was free! The Maid had achieved her miracle. However, the Loire still had to be cleansed from English rule. At that very moment, the duke of Alençon had finally paid the last chunk of his ransom and could ride back into battle to honour the memory of his ancestors. The king appointed him as his “lieutenant-général”, meaning he was now put in charge of the French army. Jargeau, Meung, Beaugency: those powerful cities were to fall back under French rule!

    Jargeau fell. Then Meung. Joan the Maid, the duke of Alençon and La Hire were heading towards Beaugency but the English were gathering more troops to fight them off. The troops were tired. A victory seemed uncertain at this point. Were the French heading to a new Vae Victis?

    Sensing a change in the winds, Richemont decided to turn up with his personal army. La Trémoille got enraged. The French army led by Alençon was under a great commotion. Joan had been convinced that Richemont had to be defeated. She turned to the captains of the army, the Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles. Their reaction was as rash as it can be: “If you go against the constable, you’ll find someone to talk to! We’d rather serve under the command of Richemont and fight alongside his men than to fight alongside all the maids of the realm!” Joan wisened up fast and convinced Alençon that fighting Richemont was a bad idea. La Trémoille could enrage all he wanted, Richemont reached the French army and both parties met in the most joyfull manner.

    Richemont eventually met the Maid of Lorraine and spoke with her. His words were recorded for the posterity. He said: “Joan, I’m being told you want to fight against me… I don’t know if you are sent by the devil or by God. If you’re sent by God, I don’t fear you. If you’re sent by the devil, I fear you even less.” Then he asked Joan to plead for him to the king to reinstate him in his charge before they went on and took back Beugeancy together whilst Richemont’s reinforcements helped to defend Meung that was under a heavy counterattack.

    I’ll surely write more on those historical events when I ever write my walkthrough + historical commentary of Joan’s third scenario in Age of Empires 2: “The Cleansing of the Loire”.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). Execution of Joan of Arc (From the mural painting by J. E. Lenepveu in the Panthéon at Paris)
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.