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

Medieval Gender Roles: Boys & War

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

Happenstance

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

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

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

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

Becoming a Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History

Charles the Bold

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

William Marshal

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

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

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

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

Nicolas Orme concludes:

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

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

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

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

Louis de Saint-Pol

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Words

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

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

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

Short Reads

Summer Readings on AoE2 Heroes

Book suggestions for Barbarossa/Attila/El Cid?

I love reading about history, …

…and especially about great historical figures, I believe the spark was lit by AoEII especially, since I love both that period and the game (which I still play). I have read the following books and would love to hear suggestions on nicely written books on Barbarossa, Attila, or El Cid, since the AoC are the best campaigns in my opinion.

The books I have read thusfar if someone is interested to read themselves:

  • Joan of Arc by Helen Castor. Bit drier than the other ones, but still a nice read.
  • Saladin by John Man, very nicely written book on how Saladins life played out.
  • God’s Wolf by Jeremy Lee about Reynald de Chatillon (Saladins nemesis which can be found in campaigns 2 and 3 if I am not mistaken). Tells the story of the second crusade from a Western perspective, great read.
  • Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world by Jack Weatherford. Out of all these books the best in my opinion, with not only focussing on Genghis’ life and conquest but also about Mongol life in general including laws, food, customs etc.
  • Attila (3 books) by William Napier, which is historical fantasy, overall a great read but would like to have more of an overview and historically sound read.

Thanks in advance if someone has any suggestions!

[Question from u/xGalen on the AoE2 Subreddit]

The hype is real

My answer

Hi there!

Here are the books I can recommend about our AoE2 heroes. (Thank you u/nimanoe for tagging me in.) Those books are all referenced in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010) so they are quite up to date and provide very solid information. There should be little trouble to find freely available book reviews written about them on JStor, to help you get a summary and a sense of their content 🙂 I will limit myself to one book per historical character, but don’t hesitate to ask for more books if what I suggest doesn’t meet your tastes or expectations! In case you couldn’t find them in retail, don’t hesitate to browse WorldCat to find the library closest to you that has it!

You might think some of those books are ‘old’ because they date back from the 70’s of the 80’s. Don’t worry, History is a slower science than let’s say Physics or Chemistry. 70’s or 80’s monographies can still remain very authoritative secondary sources. You should generally take books from the 19th century with a grain of salt, though… They’re often easily available on Google Books or Archive.org, and they generally offer a very solid fact-driven narrative, but the analysis they bring about the past is most of the time lacking if not totally outdated. Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology hadn’t made their way quite yet within the study of History. Also, the writing of History has shifted post WW2 from the study of “great men” to the study of the economical long-term patterns, the history of cultural representations, and more broadly the study of the masses and/or the minorities (gender studies comes to mind).

AGE OF KINGS

1. William Wallace

  • Fisher, Andrew. William Wallace. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1986.

2. Joan of Arc

  • DeVries, Kelly. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 1999.

/!\ /!\ /!\ Actually, I have that last book at home and I don’t really like the positions taken by the author for several reasons, including over-simplification. Therefore I would go for something ‘safer’ and maybe even more entertaining: Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.

The Joan of Arc campaign weekend is coming to the AoEII:DE Beta early August! Prepare yourselves for exciting news!

3. Saladin

  • Möhring, Hannes. Saladin: The Sultan and His Times, 1138-1193. Translated by David S. Bachrach. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009.

This book was originally written in German if I’m not mistaken. German historians are just pure nerds. It might be a bit dry to read, I don’t know, but this book is a very safe bet!

4. Genghis Khan

  • Ratchnevsky, Paul. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Translated and edited by Thomas N. Haining. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

5. Barbarossa

The Oxford Encyclopedia only suggests German monographies about Barbarossa. I’ll write them down since I know many AoE2 players are from Germany 🙂

  • Eickhoff, Ekkehard. Friedrich Barbarossa im Orient: Kreuzzug und Tod Friedrichs I. Tübingen, Germany: Wasmuth, 1977.
  • Opll, Ferdinand. Friedrich Barbarossa. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenshcaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994.

Now, what I do to find scholarly books easily in any medieval matter is that I browse the Regesta Imperii and if you type in what you search correctly, you’ll just find wonders:

  • Freed, John Beckman. Frederick Barbarossa: the prince and the myth. New Haven, 2016. (This book is from 2016, so it’s normal that it wouldn’t be referenced in the 2010 Oxford Encyclopedia.)

Don’t hesitate to try the Regesta Imperii yourself to find many other titles: books, articles, etc. Then head to JStor to find book reviews, the article themselves sometimes, when they’re not free to download from their author’s Academia page.

THE CONQUERORS

6. El Cid

  • Clarke, Henry Butler. The Cid Campeador and the Waning of the Crescent in the West. New York: AMS, 1978.

7. Attila

  • Thompson, E. A. The Huns. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

If you’d like shorter books with still a great scholarly value, you should turn yourself towards ‘collections’ of vulgarized books published by authoritative institutions. There is the “Que Sais-Je ?” collection in French, for example. The “C.H. Beck” in German. Finally, the “Very Short Introductions” from the Oxford University Press are a great read.

Enjoy your summer! 🙂

The purpose to read is to argue. Wololooo!
Short Reads

Joan of Arc in AoE2: Quick Words

What follows is my reaction to an AskHistorian Reddit thread that states the following:

All of us here, questioner and answerer, are inspired by portrayals of history in popular media, like games, film and tv. The recent release of the HBO Chernobyl mini-series is a great example – we had a sudden rush of interest in the history of the disaster. […] This week, we will look at the Age of Empires game series, from the first to the third and all of their expansions, which cover the ancient world, the medieval era and the ‘age of discovery’ period, and are set in various locations across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Foreword

I, for once, cannot shy away from that one. I’ve started a Twitch channel for the sole purpose to provide historical commentaries on Age of Empires—even though not very succesfully audience wise. Here is a highlight I saved from a former stream where I go on reading the in-game encyclopedia on the « Knights » entry and ramble about it. At first I went on to play Joan of Arc’s campaign and provided commentaries as I advanced in the scenario. That’s on YouTube now, even though I couldn’t make it into a series, along with a few short clips about Vikings [#1, #2, #3, #4, #5]. My latest and probably cleanest video edit is probably the short historical analysis I did on the Battle of Crécy, whilst comparing the longbowmen to the genoese crossbowmen units from Age of Empires 2. It’s only me working on it though, with my poor video edit skills, my full time night job and my social life to juggle altogether #CaptatioBenevolentia. It all started with a top facts on Joan of Arc I wrote on the AoEZone website (and also on Reddit, adding some corrections), in their kinda dead history forum. I’d love to finish a clean and well cut video edit on Joan of Arc’s campaign and provide something better than what Spirit of the Law is producing out of Wikipedia. I mean, I read the chronicles, the trials, the most recent books on the topic. So there it is, my short historical overview of the first scenario of Joan of Arc’s campaign (I won’t have the time to write about them all in one single go, maybe I’ll post one scenario a day since this is going on all week).

Here’s The Viper playthrouhg of Joan’s first AoE2 scenario. Respec’ to the Master. However… just watch that awful map for a second…

The Map of France

Now, the map that we see when we start the campaign is just plain awful, as I’ve complained several times. It basically shows the borders of France today, along with the borders of Switzerland (that becomes Burgundy!?), Belgium and the Netherlands. On that one, I’m sorry, but we can only give an F to Microsoft. One very pretty map that displays the border of France during the time of Joan of Arc is the one drawn by Auguste Longnon in the 19th century. I actually challenged u/Brother_Judas to provide his fresh take on it and he’s at it! It’s going to be beautiful. I can already tell.

I mean… just look how beautifully detailed Longnon’s map is!

An Unlikely Messiah

From the Journal of Guy Josselyne

“February 19, Army Camp near Vaucouleurs”    

“This morning I awoke to visions of fire and steel. These nightmares come more often now that I have seen my beloved France eaten away in years of war.”

“I wandered through camp ignoring the new snowfall, but observing the wounds and weariness of every soldier under my command, observing the desperation in their eyes.”    

“It was then that I first saw the girl. She told us that her name was Joan. She told us she was but a peasant, who did not know how to ride or fight. She told us that she intended to rescue France. The darkness lifted from the men’s souls. ” 

“Her voice rang with conviction, and we drank in her every word. I may have lost my faith, but Joan has not lost hers, and that is enough for me.”    

“Joan has asked our ragged band of soldiers to take her to Chinon, where the rightful ruler of France, the Dauphin, hides from his foes.”    

“The war-torn land between is infested with enemy marauders, and we will lose many men.  Death is by now an old companion, but for Joan, we will face it again.”

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Chinon. Vaucouleurs. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc goes to Chinon to meet Charles VII – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 55v

“As Joan’s footsteps echoed down the marbled hall of the château, the fat and whispering dukes did naught but stare.”

“The Dauphin himself seemed afraid as she kissed his feet. ‘My gentle Dauphin,’ she demanded, ‘why does England claim what is ours? Why are you not crowned King of France as is your right?'”    

“The courtiers began to murmur. The chamberlain whispered lies into the Dauphin’s ear.”    

“But the Dauphin pushed the chamberlain away and rose to meet Joan’s gaze.”    

“She stands only to the shoulder of the shortest man, but all of us must look up to speak to her.”    

“I know not what silent conversation passed between the Dauphin and his would-be savior, but it was obvious that his majesty was in the same thrall as we.”    

Ideology versus reality

What we see in the scenario introduction is nothing short of a build up to depict Joan as a national hero. Well… The young girl was certainly pretty religious, but she had no idea of what a “nation” was in regard of our current understanding of the concept. She saw that the king had not been anointed in Reims, as was the tradition dating back from the Carolingian kings, and she maybe thought of it as the supernatural cause at the source of the wars that were afflicting the French people. I say “wars” because the Hundred Years War was in fact not one single big conflict between two nations, but the many push backs from the French nobility (including the king of England, who was a French nobleman) against the raising authority of their king through the slow building of an actual administrative state, which eventually lead, long term, to the administrative monarchy that ruled Louis XIV. Among the many concerns of the French nobility was the ability to raise their own troops. The king managed to deny them that right when he finally introduced the “Compagnies d’Ordonnances”, the first permanent and professional army in Europe since the Roman times. It brought the end of the Feudal system as we know it, where the suzerain called on his vassals. From then on, the king could rely on a constant military support, but it needed massive tax reforms and he really struggled to pass them on. Many of the noblemen that fought alongside Joan of Arc to “liberate France”, such as the Duke of Alençon, actually turned against Charles VII when the Companies d’Ordonnances were instated. That historical episode was called “the Praguerie” and it happened before the final battle of Castillon, which is portrayed as the final chapter of Joan’s campaing in AoE2.

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc being burned as a heretic at Rouen – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 71r

Basic nitpicking

  • Basically, everything was much more complicated than what AoE2 makes us believe. Also, Joan’s travel from Vaucouleurs to Chinon was not a commando mission. Jean de Metz didn’t like that Joan would stop in every church to attend mass, because he wanted to be discreet about their journey (they also travelled a lot at night), but they didn’t have to force their way through a Burgundian settlement as the scenario suggests.
  • About the scenario introduction, yet again: Paris is misspelled “Pairs”. Also, the game map fused the Seine and the Loire together into one single river.
  • As we start the game, we witness a battle where the French are literally crushed and overpowered by an English army. The problem that the French faced however was not that they didn’t have enough military to counter the English. At that time (from 1410 to 1440), they were poorly organized and divided between opposing factions that couldn’t play well together. The Duke of Burgundy refused to attend the battle of Agincourt, the Duke of Bourbon only sought his own personal glory, the Count of Richemont showed poor political skills when he drowned the king’s favorite courtier, etc. The French army was more than able to push back the English forces, as Charles V demonstrated during his rule with his attrition strategy. It just lacked a proper hierarchy up until the Compagnies d’Ordonnances were put into play.
  • Oh, and by the way, Joan could ride a horse! She wore a red dress when she arrived in Vaucouleurs and was given men’s clothes to go on her journey at the request of Jean de Metz. He stated so himself during Joan’s second trial. #JustRanting
  • Now, it is true that Joan called Charles VII “mon gentil Dauphin” (meaning “my noble Dauphin”). However, Charles VII was already king! He was not the heir to the throne, but the dude on the throne. He only hadn’t been anointed yet. Henry VI of England, who claimed to be Henry II of France and who was Charles VII’s nephew, hadn’t been anointed either. He would nonetheless be anointed in Paris in 1431, as a political answer to Charles VII 1429 ceremony in Reims. So France had two kings just as Christendom, around those very years, had two popes. The question was only who could actually wield the power since both Charles VII and Henry II had very strong legal claims to the crown. Meanwhile, Charles VII and Henry II held different parts of the royal demesne and they offered different political “programs” so to speak. Allied to the Burgundians, the Lancastrian pretenders maintained more traditional and conservative views, whereas the Valois mustered for a better centralization of the unruly state.
Henry VI of England being crowned as Henry II of France by the Cardinal of Winchester… in Paris (1431) ~ Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 76

Needless is to say that Joan of Arc’s AoE2 campaign is what actually gave me my love for History. This campaign is emotionally very important to me and I can’t stress enough how much I love it. Even though I could tear down every single thing from the campaign, from the scenario intros and outros to the gameplay, I freaking love it and would recommend anyone to play it. The only reason I made my master thesis on La Hire is because of that freaking campaign.

By the way, spoiler alert… La Hire was dead in 1453 when the Battle of Castillon took place. So when I replayed that last scenario I actually shed a tear as I found him virtually still alive and kicking, thirsting for blood. He died in 1443 during a military campaign the king lead in the Southern part of France. He was dearly missed by Charles VII himself, as Monstrelet writes in his chronicle. Just as much as Bertrand Du Guesclin and Arnauld-Guilhelm de Barbazan before him, Étienne de Vignolles, La Hire, was nothing short of a hero. He became the Jack of Heart in the traditional French card game.

The blood on La Hire’s sword is almost dry.

Top 7 Facts of Joan of Arc’s Journey to Chinon

7. Joan was very religious. Her quest was more of a spiritual one than a patriotic one. The idea of a “French nation” as we define it today was quite foreign to her.

6. Joan asked to stop in many churches to attend mass. Jean de Metz proved quite reluctant since he prefered to travel unnoticed by Burgundians forces.

5. When she left Vaucouleurs, Joan was dressed as a man (because men’s clothes were more fit for travel) and riding a horse. She was not the average “sheperd girl” but she came from a well off family.

4. Before leaving Vaucouleurs, Joan was invited by the Duke of Lorraine, Charles II, to meet him. He was feeling ill and wondered if she could cure him. She only told him to stop cheating on his wife and asked for his ten years old son-in-law to be, René d’Anjou, who belonged to the highest nobility, to escort her to Chinon. Her request was declined.

3. As she left her native village of Domrémy, Joan lied to her parents. She told them she was going to help her cousin to deliver her child but she then asked her cousin’s husband to lead her to Vaucouleurs. That “white lie” would later cost her dearly during her trial in Rouen…

2. As Jean de Metz slept next to Joan several times on their way to Chinon, he never felt any desire for her. He had too much esteem for her as he would later testify on Joan’s second trial, held by Charles VII to clear her name of heresy.

1. Once she’d arrived in Chinon, Joan was then examined in Poitiers by theologians regarding the validity of her spiritual claims. Prior to that Yolande of Aragon also insured she was still a virgin and that is why she was later called the “Pucelle” (french word meaning virgin).

See Joan’s itinirary (picture it without the modern day highways ^^): click here.

Short Reads

Rated R Military Tactic

“I’m just trolling” is a somewhat polite and cute way to say that you’re just being a dick on the internet. Even though this term, troll, tends to diminish or devalue the harm done by so-called and self-proclaimed trolls, trolls today holds nothing on the ultimate troll master from 1098, Bohemond of Taranto. Only 90’s kids can remember.

The Byzantine princess, Anna Comnena, had already observed that Bohemond was one of a kind when she stated that “a certain charm hung about this man but is partly marred by a general air of the horrible.” However, what he did to insure the capture of Antioch really puts him on another level amongst the great military minds of history.

The rumor spread that Turks had infiltrated the camp and where reporting on the crusaders’ every moves. When it was brought to the kind attention of Bohemond, he said, and I’m making this up for the good of the story: “Fear not, my friends, for there shall be spies no more once I’m done with them.” As a matter of fact, or so the legend goes, they all fled overnight!

What follows is rated R. So hide your kids, you will not find this on Wikipidia.

How did Bohemond manage to get rid of the Turk spies so quickly and effectively? First, he gathered a few of them like sheep you herd for slaughter. Then, he introduced them to his cook. The cook cut down their jaws then proceeded to slide them onto a massive skewer, just like pigs. The Turk spies were roasted over a fire, barbecue style.

Bohemond likes the Happy Tree Friends

People came to look from all over camp at that macabre spectacle and see for themselves if what they said was true. Bohemond had turned cannibal! Horrified at the idea to end the same way, all the spies left in camp ran away once dusk settled into night. That was one less problem for the Crusaders. Bohemond had then no problem to secure his secret commando operation to capture the tower of mount Silpius with the help of an inside man, which lead him to conquer the city of Antioch eventually.

Where did I find this fun fact?
René Grousset, L’épopée des coisades. Paris: Perrin, 2002, p. 35.
Not the best book on the topic, but it’s very well written and therefore quite entertaining while remaining fairly informative.

Short Reads

Faltonia Betitia Proba

The following post found on St Andrews blog briefly introduces you to one of the most fascinating writer of the late Antiquity: Faltonia Betitia Proba. I mentioned her (and mispronounced her name) during my first stream about Pagan Gods in Medieval Manuscripts. Enjoy the discovery if you didn’t know her!

I was first told of Proba by Pierre-Augustin Deproost, teacher at the Université catholique de Louvain, as we shared a train many years ago. Check out his personal webpage about Latin authors, from Virgil to Thomas More (in French).

St Andrews Classics

The first five lines of Cento Probae with a depiction of the author, Faltonia Betitia Proba, holding a scroll. The first five lines of cento Probae with a depiction of the author, holding a scroll.

By Roger Rees

The most famous female writer from Greco-Roman antiquity would have to have been Sappho, the lyric poet from the island of Lesbos, but for womens history month I’m going to shout out for a Latin author by the name of Proba.

Faltonia Betitia Proba was born to an aristocratic Roman family early in the fourth century. This was a period of great religious flux, and Proba herself converted to Christianity. We know of two works by her: a lost work on the war between Constantius II and the usurper Magnentius, and the extant cento Probae. A cento is a work composed of resequenced lines (or half-lines) from an existing work, arranged to create a new narrative.

Proba’s cento of nearly 700 hexameters resequences verses from classical Latin literature’s canonical highpoint…

View original post 231 more words

Vesuvius. Naples. Napoli.
Short Reads

Naples Adventures

Medieval Meme
Medieval Meme – Blog Post in Progress

Chilling by the Sea

Vesuvius. Naples. Napoli.
Crossing legs in view of the Vesuvius, 21/06/2019 “Non gettate alcun oggetto dal finestrino e’ pericoloso sporgersi”, 20/06/2019 © Asinus Docet

We landed in Naples and I chose to take a cab from the airport to the city centre. Sure thing, the cab driver thought we were heading to the port to board on a boat to Capri, then once corrected he texted all the way to our destination.

His eyes though hidden under his sunglasses barely left his phone. He drove slowly and he had a big vehicle. I felt safer than I would have wanted. You don’t take a cab in Naples and don’t expect to die!

When we stepped in our airbnb we discovered our room was right across the conservatory. A young opera singer was practicing her range and it felt like we’d fell into some Halloween theme haunted house.

The room was large, the bed comfortable enough, the street noisy but we didn’t question it. It felt good to be there. We left our stuff and moved on to get a coffee. A real, dark, tasty coffee.

We drank like four coffees on our way to the marina at the end of the Toledo Avenue, where we drank an aperol spritz facing the Vesuvio. We chilled. For real. It was good. I kind of was falling asleep. I had worked all night and hadn’t slept for 24 hours.

Stopping by our favourite risotteria (Valù, go there!) to fill our bellies we made it all the way back to our airbnb where I fell asleep almost instantly. When midnight struck, I woke up.

Passing Shadows in the Night

Che Guevara. Napoli. Centro Storico. Naples.
Che Guevara graffiti in Naples city center, 21/06/2019 © Asinus Docet

Our room was on the first floor. A bar was blasting music right under our windows on the street level. People were out smoking, chanting, talking very loud and not only with their hands. Their vocal cords had joined the party with the utmost yelling fashion. It sounded like a busy Friday night at a cat strangling ritual. That electro music was just not natural!

When a saxophone started to cry in the spark of the night I was briefly reminded my dear old Belgium and I felt better. Yet it didn’t mean we could find any kind of rest staying in this shaggy place! We had to move.

Of course Morgane was awake. She couldn’t find any sleep. Her eyes wide open and her face paler than usual she told me that was okay to stay there for the night. I knew better. Not only would staying there drive her crazy but I’d end up going on a murder spree. I already felt unhinged, ghosts whispering in my souls where to find a butter knife and how to sharpen it.

We had to party all night and forgive about Pompeii for the next day altogether. Or move out!

We chose the latter option and I found us a cozy yet not too expensive hotel on the other side of the Centro Storico neighborhood. I made sure there would still be a receptionist to host us when we’d arrive and we left. Like thieves in the night.

We were but passing shadows on walls as we lurked through the Centro Storico and zigzagged in the narrow streets between the mindless drunkards and the raging scooters. The uneven blue stone pavement made our suitcase spit its rolling sound in a hectic manner. The graffiti all over the walls towered us and the Che spectacular portrait let us walk by without question.

At the end of our trial we were greeted by a cheerful and kind night receptionist. The ghosts who’d follow me told me I couldn’t kill him. He was too cute they said. Therefore I went to bed, sunk into its memory foam mattress and blacked out from exhaustion.

Always on the Move

“Non gettate alcun oggetto dal finestrino e’ pericoloso sporgersi”, 20/06/2019 © Asinus Docet

Morgane had put an early alarm so that we’d be at Pompeii in the morning. A fool’s dream. It rang. We looked at each other. We fell right back asleep. We eventually woke up at 9:50. Ten minutes before check out time. It left me no time for my two hours long get-out-of-bed ritual. I sprung on my feet and ran to the reception. We barely made it in time to eat breakfast, then we headed to the B&B that we’d booked overnight for the remainder of our stay and that settled our lodging predicaments for good.

Noon hit us like a ton of bricks. We were starving but the heat made us oblivious to it. We were now in the Materdei neighborhood and it meant only one thing. Pizzas at Starita! The former cantina that served as decor to the classic movie ‘Oro di Napoli’. It’s only one of the best place in all Italy to eat a pizza. The air-conditioning calmed our senses and awoke our appetite then we ate at full delight. It was therefore time to catch the train to Pompeii.

This very train, however, gave me a glimpse of India. It all flashed in front of my eyes. The crowd. The heat. The sweat. The train would stop at every station but no one would ever unboard. We were stuck together in like peas in a casserole. It’s a good thing I fought my way in and got us some seats at the expense of a granny trying to come down the train with her luggage. She had a ragazzi holding her suitcase and yelling to let her pass. I figured she’d be alright. Morgane confirmed it later to me.

I was left with nothing to do while on that train so my mind started to wander. As my eyes set on a warning on the window that read: ‘Non gettate alcun oggetto dal finestrino e’ pericoloso sporgersi’ the wildest images sparkled in front on my eyes.

This was the story of a train conductor, used to see people throw garbage from the windows of his train on a daily basis. There was nothing he could do about it but to complain to himself about the state of the world. Then one day, he saw something really big being pushed through one of the window. Fast track to the train wagon where it happened. Three macho men were throwing an old man out of the train but he wouldn’t let them do it and fought back. It was quite the scene. A pretty young woman yelled and prayed for the old man to be left alone. He was her lover. The three macho men were her brothers. A lot of arguing was involved until the old men finally let go and just flew away to the stupefaction of the train conductor who just figured out that the thing being thrown out of his train was an actual human being. Damn!

The story doesn’t end there. As the train conductor returns home and is still in total shock from what he saw, someone rings his bell. He opens the window and sees the old man, injured, but pissed. He actually knows the guy. It’s an old pal! He doesn’t figure out, however, that his old friend is the unidentified person that was thrown out of his train. “What happened to your face! – You wouldn’t believe the day I had.” They put two and two together then decide to go on their own vendetta. Guns out blazing. The train conductor is a part time gun trafficker so he naturally hides an armory in his basement.

Not a single shot ends up being fired though. The old man lurks around the house of his enemies in the bushes and catch the sight of his young lover. He loses his nerves and sits on a dead trunk. He remembers his former wife who died several years ago. He sees her face clear as day in his memories. The young woman looks so much like her. She reminded him of his youth. Of his former, happier life. The old man tells it all to his friend. Then, in the dead of the night, they take their leave as they go for a drink, or two.

As I finished to make up this story, our train stopped at Villa de Misteri. That’s where we had to disembark to visit Pompeii.

“Lente Impelle”

Coming soon… Writing in progress!

Devil's 10 Commandments
Short Reads

The Devil’s Ten Commandments

In manuscripts of old lie forgotten truths. Men, beasts and angels alike have turned away from such ancient knowledge.

It was formerly believed that our world was but a mere reflection of another world, a better world, a divine world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Christ to his disciples (John, 18:36). What did it mean? Medieval scholars pierced the mystery, they thought.

Everything we see, touch and feel on Earth would only be the bodily reflection of a pure and divine concept. Once you understand that worldly facts and earthly beings are symbols to decipher, then everything is open to interpretation. The divine truth hides everywhere.

Only the highest scholars and theologians could delve into the exercise of unearthing the word of God beneath the “mirror” that is our world. Nonetheless they tracked God down to the darkest corner of creation. By the 13th century, even pagan myths dating back from the most ancient times were worthy of investigation.

Many ideas were written down. Many manuscripts were compiled. Some of them contained The Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio. A strange work indeed! This is the story of a young man who wants to learn how to hunt. He finds King Modus. The latter teaches him everything he knows. How to pursue deer, how to beware of boars, how to track down wild cats, how to catch birds, how to train dogs and falcons. Everytime King Modus teaches something to the young man, though, Queen Ratio takes it as an opportunity to teach her own bit.

King Modus knows everything about the worldly forest but Queen Ratio perceives God’s actual truths beyond what hides in the forest. Why do deer have antlers on their head? It serves as a symbol of God’s many teachings. The deer defends itself with its antlers just like a good Christian knows how resist temptation thanks to the Ten Commandments.

Queen Ratio says:

Les dis branches que il a sus son chief li furent donnees de Dieu Nostre Sire pour soi deffendre de trois anemis, ce sont des gens, des chiens, des leus. Et ches dis branches representent les dis commandemens de la loy que Jhesu Crist donna a homme pour soi deffendre de trois anemis, c’est de la char, du dyable et du monde.

Brussels, KBR, MS 10218-19, f. 50r

The ten antlers it has on its head were given to him by God, Our Lord, so that it could defend itself from three enemies: the people, the dogs and the wolves. Those ten antlers symbolises God’s Ten Commandments, that Jesus Christ gave to mankind to repel three enemies: the flesh, the devil and the world.”

However, right after she talks about the deer and the “red beasts”, Queen Ratio warns against the “black beasts”, known for their strong and repulsive smell. Chief among them stands the wild boar. It is as abhorrent as the deer is magnificent. It breathes the Ten Commandments, not of God, but of the devil itself. Manuscripts have depicted Queen Ratio’s words as the drawing of a wild boar defending the bottom of a dark crooked tree. On the top of that tree sits the devil and every branch carries one of his nefarious commandment.

They read as follow:

C’est mon premier commandement | Que l’en maugree Dieu souvent.

[1] Here is my first Commandment: swear upon God’s name as often as you can.

Fai a ton corps tous ses delis, | Il n’est point d’autre paradis.

[2] Grant your body as many delights as possible; there isn’t any other heaven.

Visite souvent mon ostel, | C’est la taverne et le bordel.

[3] Come visit me often: I dwell in pubs and brothels.

Se tu veulz estre en mon memoire, | Si t’aflube de vaine gloire.

[4] If you wish me to remember you, cover yourself with vain glory.

Desprise de tout povre gent | Et n’aime rien que or et argent.

[5] Despise all poor people and love nothing but gold and silver.

Se tu n’as du tien, pren l’autri | Sans rien rendrë, ainsi l’otri.

[6] If you have nothing for yourself, take it from another and give nothing back.

Se ton pere te fait riote, | Si li met sus, que il redote.

[7] Should your father argue with you make him fear you.

En lieu du servise devin | Faut jeter hasart sus le vin.

[8] Wine serves a better purpose for witchcraft than it does for holy mass.

Se caraus crois et sorcheries, | Tes volentés sont acomplies.

[9] Believe and witchcraft and violence: your shall be fulfilled.

Se tu as deffaute de mise, | Si te pren aus biens de l’eglise.

[10] Should you be short of gambling money, steal it if from the Church.

Brussels, KBR, MS 10218-19, f. 51v.

Further readings:
~ Michel Pastoureau, Le Cochon. Histoire d’un cousin mal aimé (1999).
~ Les livres du roy Modus et de la royne Ratio, éd. Gunnar Tilander, Paris, Société des anciens textes français, 1932, 2 t.

[This blogpost was originally uploaded on June 18th, 2019, then substantially revised on June 6th, 2020]

Short Reads

Relic Snagging: AoE2 vs. History

Not so long ago, on Age of Empires 2, my father and I were holding our ground against waves and waves of conquistadors. My halberdiers were butchered by the dozens and I noticed my father lacked gold to sustain his military production. Faithful son that I am, I tasked a monk with the perilous duty to deliver my relics to my father’s monastery despite enemy raids between both our bases.

Most of the time, however, we see players snagging relics from each other. On Arena maps, light cavalry and monks rush into the no man’s land as soon as players hit Castle Age and it leads to epic micro-fight. Those well versed into the arcane arts can even teleport their monks to snag relics in the blink of an eye. A blood pact with the Devil is required to gain this wizardly skill, though, since you need two of your monks to shag in a dark alley, which is not very Christian.

Now, I’d like to talk to you about some historic relic gifting and snagging. Since I introduced the early Christian Dukes of Bohemia in a former post, I’ll keep my focus on them for this one.

As you may have read, Václav was the first Christian Duke of Bohemia despite his mother’s Pagan faith. The Přemyslid family strife got to some Game of Thrones proportion, though, when Drahomira, the mother, allegedly had her son Václav murdered by his own brother when he dared to found a rotunda church in Prague. Boleslav, Drahomira’s younger son, was maybe every inch a dutiful son but foremost he was quite the power grabber. With or without his mother’s scheming, he killed his brother without a flinch and took the Duchy for himself. While doing so, however, he also embraced Christianity then he didn’t wait a second to elevate his murdered brother to sainthood.

Go figure.

All this seems weird and fairly unreasonable to us. Yet, there might be a sound political reasoning behind Boleslav’s actions. Not only did he promote Václav to sainthood, he also made him the patron of Bohemia. Every Duke would promote Václav’s cult after Boleslav’s reign and use it as a propaganda of power. However, guilt may not have been the only thing to move Boleslav. Though he abode to Christianity, and therefore had to bow to the Holy Roman Empire, he tried to make Bohemia an independent polity. Sneaky and shrewd as he was, when the Magyars came westwards, Boleslav let them pass through his lands and it took the Duke of Saxony some fierce convincing to bend Boleslav to his will and join him to the Battle of Lechfeld, in 955.

Why does any of this matter? Let’s look at the bigger picture. Capture Age is our friend.

The Holy Roman Empire in 962.

When Václav founded his rotunda church, he acquired a holy relic to dwell it from the Duke of Saxony. That relic was St Vitus’ arm and St Vitus had since become patron of the Ludolfings. What can I say? Two and two make four. The Ludolfings were the Dukes of Saxony themselves. It meant that Prague religious life was enfeoffed to Saxony’s holy patron! Add water to the burned area, the Duke of Saxony was well placed to sit on the vacant throne of the Emperor and that is exactly what Otto I did, eventually, when he was crowned in 962.

Before that fateful year, still in the absence of an emperor in power, and before the Ludolfings claimed and took over the title, Boleslav wished to sunder Bohemia from Saxony’s religious oversight. He murdered his brother to seize the duchy then he made him a local saint so that St Vitus’ cult would not obstruct his personal display of power. This was a very clever move! When Boleslav turned his brother’s cold corpse into holy relics, he insured Bohemia religious life wasn’t overshadowed by a foreign patron. The next step was to elevate Prague into a bishopric and make it as free as possible from Imperial supervision.  

Bohemia’s Christianization was first kicked off by missionaries sent from the bishopric of Passau. Nonetheless, as soon as 895, the bishopric of Regensburg took over the missionary agenda of Bohemia and all substantial religious matters regarding the Přemyslid duchy were settled in Bavaria, Bavaria being nothing but a friend to Saxony.

According to some dubious record in a 12th century chronicle, Boleslav managed to give Prague its own bishopric thanks to the good influence of his daughter, Mlada-Maria, as soon as 967. Nevertheless, it is certain that Prague had its own bishopric in 976 and was freed from Regensburg’s oversight. It was not yet an archbishopric, though, and still answered Mainz. Bohemia would have to wait the Luxembourg dynasty and John the Blind’s reign to see Prague become its own archbishopric. All the credit falls to John the Blind’s son, however, Charles IV.

St Václav (or Wenceslaus) in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 68r

It would be time now to talk about Boleslav II and his epic relic snagging skills. However, I’ll first gloss over the former sentence I wrote, ‘St Vitus had since become patron of the Ludolfings,’ because there are more relics gifting to deal with on that matter!

Little did I know when I started to write this post that St Vitus relics dwelled in ‘France’ before they made their way into Saxony and, from there, found a path to Bohemia’s capital. Even before that, St Vitus’ relics were in Rome! They were moved to St Denis abbey in the 8th century.

Then, what happened?

During the 9th century, the Vikings forced many monks to move out relics from their sanctuary. However, this is not what happened to St Vicus relics. Hilduin, the abbot of Saint-Denis, found himself exiled to the German abbey of Corvey, in Saxony, because he’d allied an enemy of the Emperor, Louis the Pious. Hilduin was quickly reinstated but he made a friend along the way: the abbot of Corvey, Warin. The bound of friendship that united the two abbots is what made the relics transfer possible and moved St Vitus remains from Saint-Denis to Saxony.

First off, this relics transfer hastened the Christianization of Saxony. The German duchy had known very few martyrs: relics mostly had to be imported and St Vitus’ case set up a trend that would only grow stronger. Furthermore, the importation of relics into Saxony tethered its links to the Frankish Empire and helped its integration. Moreover, the chronicler Widukind interpreted the transfer from St Vitus’ relics to Saxony as a translation imperii: the Saxons symbolically inherited the imperial power that the Franks had held for so long when the holy remains entered the Corvey abbey.

A relic transfer was therefore much more than just a symbolic gesture. It could also have deep economic repercussion. Albeit I’ll discuss that in the next installment of this post series.

See you next time for some more relic trivia!

Attack of a monastery ~ Paris, BnF, fr. 2644, f. 142r

Further readings:
~ Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
~ Anne Van Landschoot, “La translation des reliques de saint Vit de l’abbaye de Saint-Denis à celle de Corvey en 836”, in Revue belge de philology et d’histoire (1996), 74/3-4, p. 593-632.

Epic Arena Relic Swipe
Short Reads

Short History of the Early Christian Dukes of Bohemia

St Václav (or Wenceslaus) in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 68r

As promised, here begins a very short history of the early Dukes of Bohemia, from Vratislav to Bretislav. Hang on to your hats, fasten your seatbelts, grab your popcorn and enjoy some Crusader King 2 worthy storyline.

Vratislav, living in the first half of the 10th century, hated the Franks. He married a pagan princess to upset their plan of world domination and she was a fine young woman, but she evolved into a bitter old mother. When Vratislav died, his son Václav became Duke of Bohemia. That’s only logical. However, the latter saw many political upsides to embrace Christianity and he founded a rotunda church, right there in Prague. In doing so, Václav also recognized the authority of the Holy Roman Empire over his Duchy and for many years, Christian matters in Bohemia were overseen by Imperial churchmen. This whole situation enraged Ludmilla, Václav’s mother. She plotted to get her first-born and she enlisted the best man for the job, Václav’s own little brother, her second son, Boleslav.

Boleslav was shrewd. Boleslav was smart. He agreed to murder his brother. He carried the deed. He became Duke of Bohemia, hurray! However, he was too smart to backtrack on his brother’s spiritual choices and he embraced Christianity so hard that he promoted his murdered brother to sainthood. #Paradox

The four Apostles in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 1v

From that point onward, St Václav, better known as St Wenceslaus West of the Rhine, became the spiritual patron of Bohemia. All Bohemian Dukes and Kings had to worship him dutifully to secure their dynastic propaganda of power.

Bretislav was quite the state builder. Beyond handing Bohemia a spiritual patron, he also insured his control of the land by building strongholds all over the country. He built the stronghold in Prague, too. He was nicknamed ‘the Cruel’ when people found out that he had quite an expedite way to deal with his political opponents. To be clear, he gifted them with the same fate that he’d offered his brother. Eventually, Boleslav also tried to free Bohemia from the Holy Roman Empire grasp by reaching to Bavaria and helping the Magyar migrate West. However, Otto I was a bit of a tough nut to crack. The Magyar were utterly crushed by the Imperial Army at Lechfeld in 955 and Bohemia was forced to provide troops. It was clear from that point onwards that Bohemia would be part of the Holy Roman Empire because of its Christianization. There was no escape from it.

Boleslav II succeeded to his father. He maintained friendly relationships with the Holy Roman Empire, but most of all, he secured access and control to the silver mines of Kutná Hora and it would greatly benefit to Bohemia in the centuries to come.

The Biblical Magi in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 13v

Boleslav III was the next Duke of Bohemia. Nicknamed ‘the Red’ because he had red hair—what do you want me to say?—Boleslav was a gentle fruitcake. He reigned only a year or two that he already tried to strangle his brother Ulrich and castrated his other brother, Jaromir. Both fled to Bavaria and the Bohemian nobility chose to overthrow their tyrant by inviting Vladyvoj to the throne. Vladyvoj took on the Duchy of Bohemia as an imperial fief from the German King, Henry II, but he died shortly after that. Jaromir and Ulrich still out of the picture, Bołeslaw the Brave, King of Poland, swooped in and took over. Bohemia was from now on into a personal union with the Kingdom of Poland, and free from the Empire. There was no way Bołeslaw would bow to the Emperor. It would be as if the King of England bowed to the King of France only because he holds a fief of the latter.

Wait…

That’s how the Hundred Years War started!

Bołeslaw’s story as Duke of Bohemia was much shorter. Jaromir was quickly put in charge of Bohemia and the Duchy reconciled with the Holy Roman Empire. Then Ulrich took over and ultimately his son, Bretislav I, inherited Bohemia, which he ruled for twenty years from 1034 to 1055.

Bretislav wished to steal a page from Bołeslaw’s book and refused to pay tribute to the Empire. It cost him dearly. He ended up walking barefoot through Regensburg, wearing a penitentiary sack, begging for pardon. The Emperor granted his pardon and Bretislav swore his total allegiance to his suzerain. Bohemia was definitely part of the Empire, it wouldn’t be contested anymore, yet all those wars forged the Duchy as a stable and powerful polity. It wouldn’t be long before it was elevated to Kingdom. Well, two centuries basically. But who keeps count?

The Crucifixion in the ‘Vyšehradský kodex’ ~ Prague, National Library, MS XIV.A.13, f. 42r

Note on the manuscript introduced in this post (thanks to Google Translate)

The Vyšehrad Codex (National Library of the Czech Republic, XIV A 13) is probably the most valuable manuscript preserved in the Czech Republic. Researchers believe that the manuscript is the coronation evangelist of the first Czech King Vratislav I (as Prince II), or that he has composed it to commemorate this event.

The Czech King Vratislav I (ruled as Prince Vratislav II from 1061) was crowned on June 15, 1086 at Prague Castle. The Evangelist contains excerpts from the Gospels that were read at the Mass during the church year. […] The Visegrad Code was originally created without a specific purpose, into stock. Later, approximately one third of the Code was hastily completed on order from Bohemia. It also contains a reading on the feast of Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, who opens the initial D-ixit with a depiction of a throne prince who, as a gesture of his right, expresses his consent to the act of Vratislav’s coronation and symbolically passed it over to the government.

Further Readings:
~ Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
~ Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe. A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Cambridge [MA]: Belknap Press, 2016.

Short Reads

Why you should NEVER trust your government when it comes to Medieval History—I’m looking at you, Czech Republic!

What you’ll find in this post

So my good friend Brother_Judas texted me on Reddit about some oddity regarding Czech history. He’d been doing some more reading to draw more of his beautiful maps, when he came upon this information:

In 1002, Duke Vladivoj was enfeoffed with the Duchy of Bohemia from the hands of King Henry II of Germany. With this act, what had been a fully sovereign duchy became part of the Holy Roman Empire. After Vladivoj died the next year, the Polish duke Bolesław I the Brave invaded Bohemia and Moravia. In 1004, after the Poles were expelled from Bohemia with help from Henry II, Duke Jaromir received the duchy in fief from the king.

It puzzled my good friend, you see, because I had showcased a map depicting the Holy Roman Empire in 962 that included Bohemia as part of the Empire. Brother_Judas had seen and studied that map. So he came back straight to me, demanding answers in the most gallant fashion.

The Holy Roman Empire in 962

He wrote the paragraph I quoted then reported that he’d found this information on a website belonging to some department of the Czech Ministry of the Interior. It’s a good thing he translated the thing for me because I sure couldn’t have been able to read it! That’s why, dear children, making friends from foreign countries is a most valuable thing.

Well, I was in a pickle, wasn’t I? I mean, you trust me to upload solid and trustworthy historical information on my blog. Then comes along a government full of officials that contradicts me. This is upsetting. If I had lied brazenly, you’d unfollow right away and I wouldn’t blame you.

Now, wait a minute. Who told you any government was trustworthy when it comes to sharing historical information? Have you not read 1984?

I went back to that book I found the HRE 962 map that I had shared. It was published by Harvard University Press. That only should vouch for its intrinsic value. However, it happened more than once that an academic rushed his writing, didn’t check his sources and oversimplified things. Beyond the map itself, what did the text say?

The emperor was rarely able to help missionaries once they set off into the wild north and east. Those sent to Denmark were expelled in the 820s and Christianization made no headway there until the conversion of Harald Bluetooth in the mid-tenth century. The cooperation of local elites proved indispensable, especially as conversion entailed simultaneous acceptance of imperial suzerainty and payment of tithes. The Bohemian leader (and later saint) Wenceslas had been educated as a Christian and accepted imperial overlordship, only to be murdered on his brother’s orders in 929. Bohemia was forced to acknowledge imperial suzerainty in 950, though resistance to Christianity persisted into the eleventh century. Nonetheless, conversion of much of its elite proved significant in spreading Christianity and imperial influence to the East Elbian Slavs and to the Poles and Magyars. Vojtech (Adalbert), a missionary martyred by the Prussians in 997, came from the Bohemian ruling family.

Then I read a bit further down:

Otto III was subsequently criticized for converting tribute-paying princelings into independent kings. It is more likely that Boleslav and Istvan considered themselves the emperor’s primary allies, while Otto regarded himself as king of kings. The relationship remained fluid because of internal changes in the Empire, Poland and Hungary. Boleslav’s successors were not crowned kings, and his son Mieszko II returned the royal insignia to the Empire in 1031. A royal title could mark temporary ascendency over domestic foes, while submission to the Empire was a favored tactic of weaker rulers seeking external backing. In practice, Poland remained a tributary of the Empire from the 960s until the late twelfth century without this infringing its internal autonomy or requiring its ruler to participate in German politics. In this sense, it remained more distinct than Bohemia, which was clearly an imperial fief by 1002.

The author, Peter H. Wilson, is a history professor at the All Souls College of Oxford. I should take his word but I didn’t. I spotted a reference of his: Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. I decided to check that book out too. On the one hand, Nora Berend herself is a professor at the St Catharine’s College of Cambridge. On the other hand, her book is a marvel. The following stellar review had even been written by Christian Raffensperger in Speculum, a top-notch historical review centered on Medieval History:

The arrival of this book is more than welcome for those of us teaching medieval history beyond Western Europe … The work required to produce this must have been immense and the payoff is tremendous for the reader … Central Europe in the High Middle Ages makes the medieval histories of these three incredibly important medieval polities available to an English-language audience of students and scholars, and it will hopefully facilitate the expansion of the idea of medieval Europe throughout college classrooms.

So, basically, Nora Berend’s book is the shit. No surprise there, it’s a Cambridge history book. Therefore I took upon myself to peruse its third chapter on ‘formation of polities and Christianization’ and here’s another quote I can hit you with:

Boleslav I attempted to counterbalance the growing political power of Germany under Henry I by tightening Bohemia’s traditional relations with Bavaria, leading to a long-standing alliance. Boleslav continued his father’s policy of strategic co-operation with the Polabian Slavs, which lasted for more than two centuries. He also tried to take advantage of German–Hungarian conflicts, and allowed the Magyar plunderers to pass freely as they made their way to Thuringia and further west. Nonetheless, he was forced to accept the suzerainty of Otto I in 950, and resume tribute payments. Bohemian assistance was provided to the German king to defeat the Magyars at Lechfeld in 955. Bohemia fell under the permanent control of the Empire, albeit indirectly.

Let’s conclude. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What the hell happened? What the story behind all this? Well, you kind of know it by now. Nonetheless, make sure to check out my short history of the early Dukes of Bohemia, from Vratislav to Bretislav, in my next post!