In-Depth, Q&A

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 Long Middle Ages
    “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 … Read more
  • Did Joan of Arc actually Lead the French Army?
    Joan of Arc never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. However, she showed promises and at that time women could lead armies.
  • A Tale of Two Colors. Why Was the Devil Colored in Black and not in Red in Medieval Manuscripts?
    Red devils, they are so popular now that they dictate the features of fictional characters when they’re supposed to be threatening, dangerous and evil. Before the 16th century and prior to the Reformation, however, the color red was the noblest of all, second only to gold—and white, maybe. Red is the color of blood and … Read more

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)
Age of Empires 2, AoE2 Campaigns, In-Depth, Q&A

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!!!


  • The Long Middle Ages
    “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 … Read more
  • Did Joan of Arc actually Lead the French Army?
    Joan of Arc never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. However, she showed promises and at that time women could lead armies.
  • HRE vs. France: Political Structures, Emperors & Kings
    How were the Holy Roman Empire and Middle Ages France different in term of political structure? What led to those differences?

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

Did Joan of Arc actually Lead the French Army?

Joan of Arc never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. However, she showed promises and at that time women could lead armies.

A Cold Case of Counterfeit History: Joan of Arc, the Secret Royal Princess.

Buckle up, girls and boys. We’re about to dive into counterfeit history. When historians don’t find authentic documents to prove their hypotheses, what do they do? The honest ones acknowledge their ignorance. There’s nothing glamour about it. That’s why the others fabricate the documents they need to prove their point—when they even bother to fabricate them…


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.”

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!”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

In-Depth

A Tale of Two Colors. Why Was the Devil Colored in Black and not in Red in Medieval Manuscripts?

I was on Twitter the other day and shared a meme of mine in which Plato talks with the devil. The person whom I sent the meme then asked me what I first constructed as a troll comment: “Why is the devil black?” We find many things on Twitter and I first thought that my interlocutor was leaning toward a slightly veiled racist comment. He kept asking, however, why was the devil pictured as black? That’s when I remembered that the devil is mostly depicted in red today and it hit me that it could be a legitimate question to understand why the devil was pictured as black in medieval manuscripts.

The Devil’s Color Today Is Red

I mean, I should have connected the dots faster! I’m Belgian and our national football/soccer team is called the ‘Red Devils’. They’re quite famous nowadays: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid C.F.), Romelu Lukaku (F.C. Internationale Milano), Dries Mertens (S.S.C. Napoli), Axel Witsen (Borussia Dortmund), Vincent Company (formerly at R.S.C. Anderlecht) and Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City F.C.). All of them are international superstars! When I went to Naples recently, I discovered that talking about the Red Devils was actually a great way to connect with locals (thank you Dries Mertens!).

Also, if you look for devils on Google image search, you’ll only see the color red in the matching results. Red is the color of Hell because it is the color of fire and Hell is constructed in our heads as a place full of fire since it is located at the core of the Earth, deep under the surface (whereas angels have white wings since they live above the clouds).

A quick Google search of the Devil will paint your web navigator in red.

However, red was not always the Devil’s color. I remember watching an old documentary—that I’m too lazy to track down—which told how he was depicted in green a long time ago. Nevertheless the color red caught on a bad reputation in the 16th century among Protestants because it was the color of the people who supported the pope*. Protestants also focused on a passage of the Apocalypse read that red was the color of the beast that rides the whore of Babylon. The color that she also wore herself:

I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color.

~ Book of Revelation, 17:3-4.

As the historian Michel Pastoureau reminds us, Martin Luther saw Rome as the new Babylon. Red was therefore the color to avoid at all cost. It comes as no surprise then that the color red gradually became more and more associated with the devil and evil. Even in the Catholic world, only women would later be allowed to wear red, that’s probably why pink is today seen as a color for little girls whereas blue is the color of little boys. But more on that later.

Back to red devils, they are so popular now that they dictate the features of fictional characters when they’re supposed to be threatening, dangerous and evil. I’ll take only one example in that regard and that is the case of Darth Maul in Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. A most scarlet face hides under his black hood. He even has horns on his head instead of hair to fully assimilate him with a demon from the underworld. As soon as the audience sees his face, they know he’s an evil character and can’t be anything else but evil. It is an easy, clever and straightforward representation. If we were to extrapolate about the color red in the Star Wars universe, unless when Queen Amidala wears it (and maybe in a few other occurrences), it is quite clearly linked with evil whereas the color blue, a celestial color, represents the good. As Anakin Skywalker slowly transforms into Darth Vador, though he still wields a blue lightsaber, his eyes turn red. That aesthetic is carried on in the latest episodes of Star Wars and is fairly obvious to spot when Kylo Ren and Rey are facing each other in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

* Michel Pastoureau & Dominique Simonnet, Le petit livre des couleurs. Paris: Points, 2004.

What the Color Red Meant in the Middle Ages

Before the 16th century and prior to the Reformation, however, the color red was the noblest of all, second only to gold—and white, maybe. Red is the color of blood and the only blood that mattered was the blood of Christ, who died to save us all, according to Christian theology. It reminded its martyr. It was holy and sacred.

Seraphs, which are described as the angels who were the closest to God, were depicted with red wings in medieval manuscripts when they were not exclusively red! Various illuminations depicting the hierarchy of angels in Heaven systematically color the seraphs in red, at the very top of the celestial ladder, right next to God. I’m not making this up, look at the illuminations for yourself.

Similarly the highest ranked clerics of the Church wore red gowns. They still do. I’m talking about the cardinals of the Catholic Church, of course, that even have a shade of red, a red bird (the northern cardinal) and fishes displaying red scales (the cardinal tetra) named after them. According to Catholic theology, the Church on earth is supposed to reflect the heavenly Church of God and his angels. The pope equates God in this parallel and the cardinals equate the seraphs. Anyone who’d consider the Church not worthy of this holy comparison—because the earthly Church, reportedly founded by Christ himself, is supposed to be holy by definition—put himself in great danger. Such was the case of John Wycliffe, an English theologian who was personally protected by the King and therefore avoided ecclesiastical prosecution. Wycliffe wrote that the Church on earth couldn’t compare in terms of holiness with the heavenly Church of God. It gave birth to the long-lasting heresy of the Lollards, which would be persecuted and repressed violently.

The point I’m trying to make is that red was seen as a holy and prestigious color in the Middle Ages. As Michel Pastoureau reminds us, in his short and delightful book I’ve already referenced above, red was also the color worn by women on their wedding day, especially by brides from the lower social class.

I’ve done a quick research on that in digitized manuscripts and sure thing, we don’t see a single bride in white! White—as it is commonly known—became the traditional color of wedding gowns during the 19th century. Women were invited to wear their most expensive and lavish dress on their wedding day during the Middle Ages and red pigments were particularly expensive, beyond the fact that the color red carried a highly spiritual meaning. As for jewels, women often borrowed from their relatives on their big day but mostly they wore crowns. I’ve seen a few examples of golden and blue dresses—in one case I spotted a green dress. However, if the bride is not wearing any red herself, the groom or the witnesses would wear it instead. Red was the color of weddings!

Which brings us, naturally, to the infamous “Red Wedding” written by G.R.R. Martin in his novel series A Song of Fire and Ice—adapted for television in Game of Thrones. I will only mention it to stress how that wedding didn’t fit any properly medieval setting. Rarely do we read about weddings ending ugly in medieval chronicles. A wedding was a sacred ceremony, not only a feast but a holy moment well defined and framed by the Church. Any crime committed during a wedding would have resulted in the most pernicious and vicious excommunication. Carrying on sieges and battles on holy days were already the mainsprings of bad reputation to knights and military commanders. Joan of Arc suffered such a fate when she led the siege of Paris on a day devoted to the Virgin Mary. Straight out murders and massacres on wedding days would have caused the utter destruction of anyone’s reputation and it would have cost him all his allies. This was not a smart move. It is funny how sometimes G.R.R. Martin properly draws from medieval history, like when he writes about the death of Robert Baratheon during a wild boar hunting party, yet more often than not he stretches away from historical veracity to come up with his own symbolism. The Red Wedding is red because of all the blood that was shed. Weddings were red in the Middle Ages because most people dressed in red on such occasions and the color red carried a noble spiritual meaning.

Red Beasts and Black Beasts

Red was the color of the divine, a color that carried prestige and meant power. If the Good, the Bad and the Ugly were medieval colors, the Good would be red, the Bad would be black, and the Ugly would be another tale entirely—though he could also be black. Such a definition helps us understand how animals were categorized in the Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio. The author, presumably Henry of Ferrières, divides commonly hunted forest animals into two sorts: the red beasts (the noble ones) and the black beasts (the nasty ones).

The five red beasts are the following: the deer, the doe, the fallow deer, the roe and the hare. The five black beasts are as follows: the boar, the sow, the wolf, the fox and the otter. One could argue that the fox is a red beast but the terminology here carries meaning beyond the sole color of the animal’s fur. The Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio is not only a hunting treatise, it is also an allegorical tale. Every time King Modus explains how animals are to be hunted, Queen Ratio delivers the symbolic and spiritual meaning of those animals according to the Christian faith and the Catholic dogma. That’s why she argues that if the deer has ten pikes on his antlers to defend himself from harm, the Christian has the Ten Commandments at his disposal to shield himself against all evil. The deer not only belongs to the “good beasts”, it is a Christological beast, whereas the boar is an evil animal that guards the satanic tree of the Devil’s Ten Commandments. It all belongs to the rhetoric that our world is merely the projected shadow of a higher one: God’s own realm.

What’s funny though is that in most manuscripts containing the Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio I found out that the boar was represented upon a red background (see above). So there may be more to red that I let on is this blog post. Indeed, as you can also see in the few illuminations depicting St John that I’ve encountered, the devil taunting him as he writes the Book of Revelation is not systematically black, he can also be red! Oh, the flimsiness of cultural and representation studies. What’s funny with the Late Middle Age allegoric literature is that anything could be seen as godly or devilish depending on the author’s intent as long as it respected or reminded the Catholic dogma in any way, shape or form. Even the fornication tales of Jupiter could carry a divine meaning to the more daring of medieval scholars. They wrote several books around that theme—but as Maz Kanata puts it in The Force Awakens: “That’s a story of another time.”

Going Full Circle: Black Beasts as the Beast

Boars, sows, wolves, foxes and otters were all considered as pests to get rid of. They were deemed dangerous. It was indeed a risky venture to hunt the wild boar in the forest, as many romances told and several dead kings proved to be true. Age of Empires 2 players must also be very careful when hunting the wild boars in the Dark Age.

Such beasts, the black beasts, were thought to stink, to bite, to destroy everything in their path. It comes as no surprise then that the Beast, the incarnation of evil, would adopt their features and characteristic. The Beast had to be black. And since it was formerly an angel, it had wings! But not any wings: bat wings.

Illuminated manuscript. Medieval manuscript. Devil. Cistercian lay brother. BnF
A cistercian lay brother cutting down a devilish creature – Paris, BnF, fr. 2608, f. 381r

Bats didn’t have the best reputation during the Middle Ages depending on where they lived. In Northern Spain? They were loved—but more on that in a minute. In Northern France? Not so much. To begin with, bats hairless, which is the reason why they’re called “bald mouse” in French (“chauve-souris”), and it gave way to several interpretations. Not all of them favorable to their kin. Bats are naked as the alcoholics and the gluttons are naked from selling even their clothes in order to give way to their addiction. That’s how the Ovide moralisé puts it*.

Moreover, the Latin word for bat is “vespertilio” (in Old French it was still “vespertille”). It meant “the bird that flies at night” or the bird of darkness. Bats are pleased to live in the dark and they wouldn’t have it any other way. They flee the light. Such are the sinners, who run away from knowledge and the holy beacon of faith and truth that was the Church (supposedly).

The Beast, who’s dark and black and master of evil, only has bat wings as a natural conclusion of the medieval symbolism I presented here to you. It answers the question why the devil was black in medieval manuscripts instead of red but it does not end this blog post. Here comes the bonus section for those who stuck until the end!

The Devil may have turned red, sure, yet he still appears in black today but in disguise, with another name and under another mantle. At night, he roams the streets of a major city that is infested by criminals. He tracks them down and give them Hell. You know that new devil yourself. His name is known to you. Batman, he is called. How did he acquire such a name? The legend says that Bruce Wayne was pondering at night how to inflict fear to criminals. In his office, he gathered his thoughts.

“Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black terrible… a… a…”

As if in answer, a huge bat flied in the open window.

“A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen..; I shall become a bat!”

And thus is born in this weird figure of the dark… this avenger of evil: the Batman.

~ DC #33, Nov. 1939

However, Bruce Wayne was certainly not the first person to have a bat fly in and become an omen. Oh, no! Such a fate happened to King James I of Aragon in the 13th century. Remember when I told you that bats had a good reputation in Northern Spain? Here is why**.

King James was in his tent, just as Bruce Wayne was in his office. King James pondered about the upcoming battle, just as Bruce Wayne pondered about his upcoming crusade against criminals. The word crusade is almost too fitting here since King James was readying himself against Moorish enemies. As he spotted the bat, he figured it was a good omen—just as Bruce Wayne did—and he put the symbol of a bat on the top of his banners the next day. The battle was won and since then bats have been figures of good luck in the region of Valencia and Barcelona, even to this day!

I started mentioning a football/soccer team. It is only fitting that I’d end up with another: the Valencia C.F. which celebrated its hundred-year anniversary this very year! If you look at their jersey, you’d see a bat on the top of their flag. As a matter of fact, it clearly reminds Iberian medieval coat of arms, where bats were not uncommon but very much present (I’ll let you look it up for yourselves).

Oh, the flimsiness of cultural and representation studies!

On a final word, I leave you to reconsider the hypothesis advanced by Gabriel Iglesias aka Fluffy. Could Batman be Mexican? King James spoke a kind of Spanish. Therefore Batman might very well be hispanic! Enjoy the video.

* More on that: Angela Calenda, “La métamorphose des Minéides en chauves-souris dans l’Ovide moralisé”, in Reinardus. Yearbook of the International Reynard Society, 28 (2016), p. 23-30.

** More on that: Denise Tupinier, “Origine et signification de la Chauve-Souris dans les provinces du Levant espagnol”, in Publications de la Société Linnéenne de Lyon, 54-2 (1985), p. 52-56.

Medieval Meme. Age of Meme. Wild Boar. Gaia. Age of Empires 2.
Age of Empires 2, AoE2 Gameplay

Luring Wild Boars

I’ve been meaning to write this blog-post for a looong time. Actually, it is where it all started for me and my online Asinus persona. However, the more I delved into the topic, the more I discovered that the sum of my knowledge was close to nothing… I had to watch more videos and read more. All in all I spent several hundred hours on that very particular subject. I hope you will appreciate my findings. Please, let me know if I’ve forgotten anything! I will update my post accordingly. Thank you for reading and see you soon on my next blog posts.


This blog post is dedicated to _LilTrouble, the kindest of all Age of Empires 2 streamers, who makes her streams feel like you’re in a lounge having a good time with friends.

Check her out on Twitch!


Skip Through the Boarshit!

This is a long post. And there are no potatoes. Sorry. So click on what sparks your interest to skip what you don’t want to read! And have fun 😉

How to Hunt Wild Boars in AoE2?


Intro

The first time I restarted Age of Empires 2 for an online game with my father and his colleagues, I just did nonsense. I sent my scout straight to my allies. I scouted my base with my villagers. I found three turkeys and didn’t look for the fourth one (though you always find cattle in even numbers). I just didn’t what a build order was!

11.

Herb Laugh

I got my ass served to me a few times by my father’s colleagues and I decided that I couldn’t suck at some twenty years old game anymore. My pride was tickled and it had to be answered. I started to learn what a build order was. Matthieu Macret puts it best:

A build order defines the sequence in which buildings are constructed, units are produced and technologies are researched. Build orders target a specific strategy, such as rushing or timing attacks.

Once I acquired that little piece of knowledge, I went on to learn that boars, that I had always ignored, were to be hunted and their food collected. Hunting wild boars is however a dangerous activity in Age of Empires 2. That’s why I had always avoided it altogether in the past. Was it really necessary, though, to change my habits to improve my gameplay?

Yes.

It was.

Sorry to be blunt but first I thought I should serve you with a long ass demonstration. Eventually I decided against it. Age of Empires 2 is a Real Time Strategy game that works on a very simple principle: the more ressources you have, the more military you can produce. There is an element of sheer strategy to the game, but on the long run the player that has the best economy usually wins.

You just can’t ignore the free food boars represent. You need it.

How to get it, however, is another matter… for which I’m fully prepared to go on for a bit and boar you with details.

Back to Top


How to Hunt Wild Boars in Age of Empires 2?

Toying with Danger

Hunting a wild boar is a dangerous business. You can help out your villagers by researching loom and grant them extra hit points and armor. However, loom costs 50 gold and researching it could slow your build order down if you aim for very early aggression. Also, sometimes you just don’t have the time to have it researched before you have to lure boars. It can happen on a Nomad map, for example.

Just watch the following clip from T90 Official YouTube channel and witness how Lierrey turns a bad start around with two successful very early boar lures.

The Shortest Pro-Player AoE2 Game You’ll Ever See

Lierrey is a pro-player and he makes it look very easy though he comes close to lose a villager. However, many a player have lost many a villager in unsuccessful boar luring attempts.

A few weeks back, a new meme was born to mock William McNabb who went on Twitter and asked the following in the wake of two more U.S.A. mass shootings and argued in favor of assault weapons:

Legit question for rural Americans – How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?

I’m not making this up. I found the original tweet back for you.

It became an instant internet success (click on the link to read Joey Cosco’s very entertaining account of this viral moment). Of course, since Age of Empires 2 players have to face the danger of wild boars every early game, they just had to join in on the fun and they came up with some memes of their own.

Not to hit you too hard and too soon with some concrete historical knowledge, but it was actually well-known in the Middle Ages that wild boar hunting was a dangerous business. The sole encounter of a sus scrofa (to call the wild boar by its latin scientific name) could lead to an ineluctable death. I just happen to know of a few stories about muredrous medieval piggies.

Should I briefly narrate two of those stories to you?

The Pigs that Killed Kings

Illuminated manuscript. Bernardus Guidonis. Flores chronicorum.
Death of Prince/King Philip (1131) – Besançon, BM, ms. 677, f. 67v

October 13, 1131. Paris.

The City of Light was still haloed in darkness but the sun was high and bright on that fine and long-forgotten Tuesday. Prince Philip was only fifteen years old but he rode his horse as proud as a peacock.

He had many followers behind him. Not only was he a Prince, you see, he was actually a King. He’d been introduced to the fine art of ruling the realm at the ripe age of three years old. Six years later, he’d been coronated and anointed along his father at Reims. The rolls of chancery called him rex designatus or rex junior. His kingly title was therefore the most official thing.

The Capet Kings had taken the habit of crowning their successors and give them the regal title before their passing to ensure the future of their dynasty and favor the transition from an elective monarchy to a hereditary one.

Prince Philip was born on a windy day. His father was fat and his mother ugly. His Greek name was yet quite uncommon for his time, though he’d been called after his grand-father, Philip I.

Philip I had had a Byzantine princess for mother. Some unverifiable sources state that she descended from Macedonian Kings of old. That’s why, maybe, she gave her son the name of Alexander the Great’s father. It quickly caught up, however, and soon the name “Philip” was just as common as “Eudes” or “Raoul”.

Since he’d been anointed at Reims, Prince Philip was believed to have curing powers that he could channel through his hands. It was a gift that all the Kings of France shared and it made him a holy man despite his youth.

Until the age of seven, Prince Philip remained in the company of ladies, that fed and cared for him. From then on he had the task to educate himself and to become a man. Such a noble achievement could only come through the arts of horse riding and weapon-wielding. It comes as no surprise then that Prince Philip, aged fifteen, ventured outside Paris on a hunting party.

Or maybe did he just escaped the city for a ride in the countryside with his friends? We do not know. Meanwhile, his father remains very busy in the capital, mustering his troops to face a few rebellious lords.

As evening lights dawned on Paris and the sun descended below the horizon, Prince Philip came back from his ride in the countryside and passed through a suburb. That is when the accident happened.

It all flashed in a minute and there was nothing anybody could have done.

A pig ran into the legs of Prince Philip’s steed. The horse panicked. The young King lost balance and fell from his horse. His head hurt a rock. The steed then trampled Prince Philip, fell and crushed him.

The fifteen-years-old King was somehow still alive and was brought to the nearest house but he was certainly doomed. His father was informed of the accident, rushed to his bedside and cursed the devil-sent pig. Prince Philip died overnight. The pope, who was en route to Reims, changed his travel plans to attend Prince Philip’s funerals in Paris.

Never a death was deemed more unjust than this one. It was describe with the all the darkest words known to the Latin language: misera, miserabilis, horrenda, horribilis, atrox, turpis, ignominiosa, invidiosa, sordida, infamis, immunda. It left a stain on the new regal dynasty that was difficult to overcome. However, the Capets managed to get over the dishonor Prince Philip’s death caused. He was buried within the next twelve days and his little brother, Louis, was anointed at Reims by the pope himself, shortly after that.

Philip’s fat father and ugly mother also decided to conceive a new child and to name him after their first born. This second Prince Philip, who never became King, received powerful ecclesiastical charges. Nonetheless he gave up the bishopric of Paris to Pierre Lombard. But that, my friends, is a story for another time.

Do you want to know more about the pig that killed a king? I would advise you to read Michel Pastoureau’s monograph: Le roi tué par un cochon (Paris: Seuil, 2015).

Illuminated manuscript. Giovanni Boccacio. De Casibus Virorum Illustrium. Laurent de Premierfait.
Death of Philip the Fair, King of France (1314) – Paris, BnF, fr. 226, f. 267v

The next story, for now, will tell you how Philip the Fair died, two centuries after Prince Philip, in 1314. It was more epic, however, since this time it happened during an actual hunting party, in a deep dark forest and not in the suburbs or Paris. It also enflammed the rich imagination of several great contemporary novelists of ours, as you shall see.

November 4, 1314. As the cold winds of winter closed in on the kingdom of France, its king chose to lead a hunting party in the cursed forest of Halatte. That is where Louis V met an untimely end in 987. The forest of Halatte had already taken one king. It could take another. Philip the Fair, however, didn’t let it scare him away. He plunged into the forest and hunted a wild boar with the vigor of a young man. He found a beast. He injured it. The beast threw itself under the feet of the king’s steed. Then, just like Prince Philip in 1131, Philip the Fair failed to maintain his balance and fell over. He broke his leg and the wild boar charged him. The beast was slain but King Philip IV proved to be badly injured. He was carried out of the forest and brought to Fontainebleau. He wished to stay alive until the day that a specific holy saint was celebrated. However, he died from his injuries a few days before the date. Many clerics saw that as a form of divine punishment. Philip the Fair hadn’t been very protective of the Church. He’d minted counterfeit money and robbed the Templars of all their belongings after he destroyed their order.

The untimely death of Philip the Fair and his harsh political choices actually gave birth to the legend that he’d been cursed by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar when the latter was burned at the stakes by order of the king. That curse then supposedly ran through many generations and it ultimately led to the Hundred Years’ War.

This legend served as the core concept of the best-selling novel series The Accursed Kings (originally published in French under the following title: Les Rois Maudits) written by Maurice Druon. It is worth of note, moreover, that ‘The Accursed Kings’ served as a major inspiration for ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ novel series, by G.R.R. Martin. The latter doesn’t even hide his admiration towards Druon and compares him to Alexandre Dumas, calling him “my hero”, also stating The Accursed Kings are “the original game of thrones”.

Do you think it is a sheer coincidence, thus, if Robert I Baratheon, G.R.R. Martin’s character and King of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, died from an unfortunate wild boar hunting party?

Back to Top

The Fine Art of Luring a Wild Boar

Well! This is all fine and dandy, but let’s get down to business and talk about wild boar hunting in Age of Empires 2. The best way to collect their food is to lure them.

Legit question for Dark Age villagers: “What’s that all about?”

The Overall Concept

Spirit of the Law’s Tutorial about Wild Boar Hunting in Age of Empires 2

Let’s say you’re new to Age of Empires 2.

How do you hunt a wild boar? Do you send all your villagers right next to it, shoot it down, and transport the food back to your town center like a fresh newbie? Or better yet, do you build a mill next to the boar to facilitate the food gathering?

Meh.

I know the wild boar is dangerous. I know kings have died because of it. I know very well that a single AoE2 villager stands no chance against such a beast. Yet, it is a villager alone that you have to send towards the wild boar from which you wish to collect food in order to create more villagers or early militia units.

There he goes, your villager. Look at him. Look at her! Your villager walks towards the wild boar with a bow in its hand. What do you do next?

Don’t panic.

If you want to lure a wild boar to your town center so that its food can be directly collected there, you villager will have to shoot the beast twice. Not once. Twice. If your villager injures a wild boar with only one arrow, the boar will not follow him or her. You need to tickle the beast for good. However, as soon as the boar has been shot twice, your villager must go back to your town center.

Assume that your villager is stupid because it is, indeed, a fact. Your villager will keep firing at the wild boar until he or she dies unless instructed otherwise. So don’t forget your boar hunting villager as you build a lumber camp, send another sheep to slaughter, or scout the enemy base. It will cost you food and time.

Once nearing your town center, your injured boar hunting villager (for he or she will take a few hits!) can jump into it and your villagers butchering sheep right on that very same spot can now draw their attention to the beastly wild animal and kill it.

The job, finally, is done. However, so many things can go wrong… So here are a few more tricks to add your skillset if you want to become a top AoE2 player.

Seriously, who needs loom anyway?

Back to Top

Exquisite Tips and Tricks

As I’ve stated before, boar hunting is some seriously dangerous business in Age of Empires 2. Many things can go wrong and any little mistake can slow you down by messing up your precious build order. You need to be careful, however, you can’t be solely focussed on your boar hunting business as you’re boar hunting.

I know. It can be confusing but pro-players call it APM. Actions per minute. How many actions can you achieve under one single minute? In RTS games, the more, the better.

While you’re boar hunting, you still have to manage the rest of your economy, keep an eye out for your enemy, build, scout, collect other ressources. The Dark Age isn’t as easy-peasy as it seems, nor as quiet. The five first minutes of a game can sometimes definitevely show if you’ll win or lose twenty to forty minutes later!

The Farm Trick

As far as I’m concerned, Age of Empires 2 is an exploration game as much as a strategy game. I remember spending hours, as a kid, exploring every single corner of the map with my scout. I was pretty devoted to the task. I wouldn’t multitask. I would only scout. I was also super focused on the technologies that widen your line of sight like town watch or town patrol. Because who needs horse collar and double-bit axe?

If you ever play against me online, be sure I’ll outpost rush you before I ever tower rush you. I know. I’m lethal.

I was rather surprised to meet people online who hated the fog of war with their guts. They only wanted to play on all-explored or all-visible maps. And it had to go fast, too.

Hey! Don’t bully my slow villagers. I don’t even pay them any wages. Fifty food is all they get to last the thousand-year span from the Dark Age to the Imperial Age…

However, the fog of war is really what separates the wannabe pros to the real pros. I mean, look at The Viper. Not only is he, like, super cute—Debbie, beware. He’s so cool behind his glasses that he’s like a blond Sakamoto.

The Viper, also, is obsessed with his boars. So much, in fact, that he slaughters them all mindlessly and yet still wonders where they all are every once in a while. Location, location, location. The Viper is always very concerned with finding his wild boars. Now, if you happen to have scouted your entire starting base and you can’t find them, maybe that’s because they’re hidden in a little fog of war pocket. And if that ever happens, The Viper has a trick up his sleeve that can be useful to you: just build a farm over the fog of war to spot your missing wild boar.

The Viper Scouts Wild Boars by Placing Farms over the Fog of War

This is a very neat trick and one does not need witchcraft to conjure it. In order to lift the fog of war by placing a farm foundation, you need to place it on at least one tile of explored map area. That’s all folks!

Back to Top

Gaia’s Line of Sight

Maybe you wonder. Why put a villager in danger if you can send your scout to lure a wild boar to your town center? Poke it twice, turn back and gallop towards your town center: job done! But, is it? The problem with the scout is that he’s too fast for the boar. Meaning a wild boar pursuing a scout will quickly lose sight of it and, at that point, drop the chase to return to its starting position.

The problem is, as T-West the Wise teaches us, that a regular AoE2 wild boar has a three tile line of sight. If you venture out of that three tile radius, the boar stops pursuing you.

However.

The really interesting thing is this.

A wild boar shares the line of sight of every Gaia unit on the map. This includes deer, wolves, birds, and even holy relics! Therefore, once you hit a boar with a scout, as long as that scout remains into the line of sight of any Gaia unit, the boar will continue to chase you.

T-West’s Tutorial about Wild Boar Hunting and Taking Advantage of Gaia’s Line of Sight

It can be quite tricky to master the skill of getting a wild boar to chase you beyond its own line of sight. The following clip shows the pro-player MbL failing at the attempt. And yet, MbL is usually so successful in AoE2 boar hunting that he got nicknamed ‘the Boar Whisperer’ and the ‘Master Boar Lamer’.

What went wrong for him here is that his scout, which tries to lure a second boar to the town center, didn’t enter the three tile line of sight of the first boar that was being lured by a villager. He left the three tile radius of the boar it was supposed to lure and failed to remain into Gaia’s line of sight. Therefore, the second boar returned to its starting position.

MbL Fails at Taking Advantage of Gaia’s Line of Sight

Back to Top

The House Trick

The scout may be too fast for a boar to pursue, but the boar has no problem to chase down a villager and rip it into pieces. Nevertheless, you feel confident enough to send out a villager to lure a boar. You know you won’t forget that villager and make it turn back on time to save his or her life. But, will you? There are many sounds in Age of Empires 2 that can rattle you and distract you from your wild boar lure. I guess you know them all by now.

If you’re sending a villager to lure your second boar, the most probable sound that will distract you is the population limit alert. You’re being housed. Deal with it urgently or fear that your town center will remain idle a second to long.

AoE2 Sound. Limit population reached

You’ve build a house? Nice.

AoE2 Sound. House built

That’s when you hear this…

AoE2 Sound. Female villager death
AoE2 Sound. Male villager death

Because of your bad APM, you couldn’t save your villager on time. He or she’s been killed by the boar. What a disaster, loss of time and resource. You should just call the GG right now and forget about this whole mess.

Something else could have distracted you. If you’ve send a villager to build a forward barrack, you have a 100% chance that this villager is going to be attacked by a wolf.

AoE2 Sound. Wolf attack

By the time you go and deal with it, again, your boar luring villager will be dead.

13. Sure! Blame it on your ISP.

AoE2 Taunt. 13. Sure! Blame it on your ISP.

That’s not all. If you’re playing a team game, or a diplomacy game, maybe another player is trying to show you something on the map, and you hear that sound.

AoE2 Sound. Mark on the map

You check it out, you’re APM is still shit because you’re below the 1.5k ELO despite the fact that you’ve played AoE2 non-stop for six months, bim, you’re boar luring villager is… yet again… dead. Do you feel the rage building up?

“Good. Gooood!”

More seriously, what do you do? Please, follow The Viper’s advice and save your villager’s life with the neat and amazing ‘house trick’. Basically, what you have to do is to place the foundations of a house over a boar to stop it in its course. It is, however, very difficult to achieve properly. Your execution must be on point.

The Viper’s Tip of the Day #2

Back to Top

The Scout Save

What does a diligent scout do? He scouts, he attac, but most importantly, he circles bac!

You can task your scout different missions at the beginning of a game. Scouting your base should be your first priority to find out your starting cattle (sheep, or turkeys, or cows, or whatever), your main and secondary golds, your main and secondary stones, several wood lines to chop wood from and, of course, last but not least, your boars. There should always be two (or more, depending on the map) not too far away from your town center.

Once the elementary scouting is out of the way, here are a few things your scout can do.

First, he can go on and locate the enemy base. An early scouting of your enemy can also inform you of his/her strategy depending of his/her build order. Do you see a barrack already up? Beware of the drush. You’ll soon have militia units heading your way to disturb your economy. Do you spot villagers mining stone in Dark Age? Beware of the trush! You’ll soon see enemy villagers going forward to build towers in order to deny you the access to your own resources. Therefore it is useful to send your scout towards your enemy and see what’s what.

However, your scout can do more.

Once at your enemy base, he can hit one of your enemy’s wild boar and try to bring it back to your own base. It is tricky, though, because you’ll have to cross the entire map. More on that and the laming of boars in the next section of this blog post, though.

Otherwise, your scout can also play the good stay-at-home scout and ‘push deer’ towards your town center. It is very tricky to do. Maybe I’ll develop on it in another blog post.

Eventually, another use of a stay-at-home scout is to save your villagers from boar attacks. If you manage to place your scout between your boar luring villager and the wild boar chasing him or her, you can slow the boar down and save your villager’s life.

Back to Top

The Town Center Fire

At this point, the boar has been located, successfully lured and brought back to your town center. There is only one thing left to master: how to look like a total pro. You can weaken the wild boar you lure with town center fire to prevent your villagers to loose hit points and keep a full health. It is especially practical if you expect early aggression from your opponent and fear that he will ‘snipe’ your weak villagers.

The traditional build order will have you to assign your six first villagers on sheep and the following four on wood. That’s when you’re supposed to go lure your second boar. I don’t wait that long myself: I send my seventh villager straight to the nearest boar I found. I don’t know if it really matters, I’m not a pro-player. However, as you lure your first boar to your town center, you can garrison your six butcher villagers in your town center and weaken the boar by firing it twice. Be careful, though, if you kill the wild boar with the town center its food will be lost! I leave Spirit of the Law give you the full detail of it.

Spirit of the Law’s Tutorial about TC Firing a Wild Boar

Back to Top

Map. The Carolingian Empire in 843.
Q&A

HRE vs. France: Political Structures, Emperors & Kings

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

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

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

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

My Answer

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

A Very Short History of the ‘Origins’

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

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

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

The Implementation of the Feudal System in West Francia

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

The Capet Dynasty

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

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

The Plantagenet Problem… and the Valois Solution

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

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

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

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

The Holy Roman Elective Empire

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

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

The HRE around 962

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

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

The Cezaropapism Crisis

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

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

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

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

The HRE around 1050

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

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

The Rise of the Hapsburg Dynasty

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion…

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

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

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!

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
In-Depth

4 Reasons as to Why Alexander the Great is Depicted like a 15th Century Knight in Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval Meme
Medieval Meme – Revision
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander unhorsing Porrus (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 53r)

I enjoy browsing digitized manuscripts so much that I lose my sleep over it. A few days ago I started a best off of Alexander the Great’s illumination in medieval manuscripts. That when I observed for myself that he is depicted as a 14th-15th century knight in full armour in most of pre-Renaissance manuscripts and we even find him depicted jousting against his enemy, King Porus!

Alexander the Great jousting and unhorsing King Porus. ~ London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, 16r.

Contemporary scholars like André Petit or Frédéric Duval have thought hard and long about those medieval so-called anachronisms. They came up with such complex theories about the concepts and representations of time that I couldn’t properly translate them in here. Not to say that I didn’t understand what they wrote under the obvious influence of crack… But they certainly had a long hard puff of the good shit.

From my readings I can give you four reasons as to why Alexander the Great (d. 323 BCE), Julius Cesar (d. 44 BCE) and King Arthur (supposed to have lived during the 5th and 6th centuries) were depicted as full-on 15th century knights by 15th century illuminators.

Fateful moment when Julius Cesar crossed the Rubicon. ~ Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5088, f. 192v.

#1. Another perception of the passing of time

The people living at the end of the Middle Ages sensed no rupture between the Classical Era and their own times. They didn’t know about our very 19th century fashion of cutting History into three to four main periods. They hadn’t all heard nor agreed to Petrarch’s claim that following the fall of Rome—that he himself dated back to 96 AD, by the way, and not 476 AD—Europe had sunk into some Dark Age… What really differentiated the Renaissance humanists with their intellectual predecessors, who also knew their Classical texts by heart, was that very feeling of rupture, that urge to find again what had been lost for they entertained that proto-romantic idea of loss. Medieval scholars and humanists—for the Middle Ages had its own humanists indeed—had a different relationship with Antiquity. They lived by the metaphor of dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants: they were not as great as their Roman founding fathers, but thanks to them, they could see farther than mankind ever could before.

Washington D.C., Library of Congress, Rosenwald MS 4, f. 5r

#2. Linguistic issues

Medieval scholars knew pretty well that the world was in a different state during Alexander’s times. When reading their books in Latin they were very conscious that some of the words that they were encountering used to describe realities that no longer existed. That was the whole meaning of their numerous glosses. Historical, judicial and literary Latin texts were sometimes heavily annotated. Young university students learning Latin were not only studying a new language, they were also discovering a different world. They could even, I bet, differentiate the various meanings that one single Latin word could cover if written in a classical text or in a medieval texts. That was not a problem. However, to translate Latin texts into vernacular languages came out as quite a challenge from the 13th to the 15th century for French, English or German were “poor” languages when compared to Latin. They didn’t beneficiated yet from a fixed grammar or an extensive scholarly vocabulary. That’s why the pontifex becomes the bishop, the praetor becomes a provost and the miles (originally the foot-soldier!) becomes the knight. Medieval scholars could still tell the difference of course, but this constructed a representation of Antiquity that was “very close from home” for non-erudite medieval readers.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses and its glosses ~ Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. MS 1598, f. 2r.

#3. Capitalizing on a sense of legacy

When noble men read the stories of Alexander and Arthur, they certainly wished to picture themselves along those mighty heroes, fighting side by side with them on their way to immortal glory. As a matter of fact, aristocrats would very often play the part and dress up as Arthurian knights for jousting events or knightly tournaments. They were dressing up alright, but they were fighting for real. Back in the 13th century, when Wace translated into Anglo-Norman Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, he did it with a purpose: to prove that Henry II Plantagenet was the rightful ruler of England as per a translatio imperii, a “shift of power” from East to West which made England the natural heir of both Troy and Rome through the figures of Brutus (the Trojan legendary founder of Britain) and King Arthur. If such characters were to be depicted the same way late medieval Kings of England were, then it would be much easier for the latter to claim their legacy. So that’s what happened. Alexander, David, Caesar, Arthur and Charlemagne were all depicted in a way that made them somehow familiar. It would even further the idea that knighthood was a concept impervious from the passing of time: good Kings and noble knights had always existed. It was up to the new generation to carry on their long-lasting and exemplary tradition.

By the end of the 15th century, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were all given imaginary coats of arms. There was yet no such thing as a coat of arms during the 5-6th centuries. Though they were reenacting the Arthurian tales they loved so much, 15th century knights were mostly carving their favourite knights according to their own customs and fashion. ~ Paris, Arsenal, MS 4976, f. 3r.

#4. History as a set of examples

Eventually, who do we see when we look at Alexander or Arthur in medieval manuscripts? Is it really Alexander? Or Arthur?—Does it even matter? What we actually see is the concept they symbolise: a most perfect King. It is very important to remember that History had a very clear purpose in the Late Middle Ages. It served as a set of good and bad moral examples. The real truth behind every story were not the facts they told, but the message they carried. Our very world was considered to be only the mirror of another and higher reality known as God’s own realm. The Matrix was the shit. Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire believed that himself as we can read in his autobiography. He starts by reminding that we have two faces or two shapes. One, anchored in this very world, means nothing in itself. However, as it fulfils God’s will then it can serve a purpose and escape the void that is the matter. Medieval scholars went as far as to give theological meaning to Alexander or Caesar’s adventures. Such was the real purpose of their story. Factual accuracy had nothing to do with it.

At the ripe age of 12 years old, Alexander the Great was taught no less than the science of astronomy! Much impressive indeed. ~ London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 6v.

When the Portuguese humanist Vasco de Lucena decided to translate Alexander the Great’s biography for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, at the very end of the 15th century, he frowned upon the many tales that surrounded the Macedonian monarch. He bluntly rejected the romances as any kind valid historical source. Alexander was no more to be equal to Lancelot or Tristan. He had to be more. He had to be real, historically accurate. Vasco de Lucena returned to the source that he deemed the most reliable, the biography of Quintus Curtius. He followed a “scientific method” establishing Alexander’s reign period thanks to the Bible and cross-referencing other classical sources. It was the beginning of a new era but it would yet take some time for the classical aesthetic models to impose themselves and cast away the charming gothic depictions of antique heroes, as the Burgundian manuscripts holding Vasco’s translation show.

In this copy of Vasco de Lucena’s translation of Quintus Curtius, Alexander still carries his sentences in a very medieval fashion ~ Paris, BnF, MS fr. 257, f. 192r.

Further readings

Q&A

Medieval Economics 101. How to make a profit out of a ransomed knight?

Wild Reddit Question Appeared!

“If I were a medieval knight and I captured another highborn warrior in battle, a tournament or in single combat, how specifically would I go about ransoming him to make sure I got the money before releasing him?”

[A question by u/fattubaplayer1 on r/AskHistorians: link to the original post]

“And on the other side of the coin, how would I make sure my relative is safely released for the funds I am handing over. Was there a common method of exchange in these situations ?”

My Answer

You may wonder… How did the Lords of Coucy raise the money to build the most impressive castle of whole Christendom in the 13th century? The answer may shock you…

You can go at it ‘Coucy style’ and hang your prisonner by his genitals as an incentive for a higher ransom. Not kidding. Thomas de Marles, Lord of Coucy (d. 1130), reportedly did so.

Now, on a more serious note.

Derived from the concept of Roman law, the custom of ransoming captives taken in battle developed alongside notions of knighthood and chivalry in early Capetian France. […] Though originally a purely personal obligation between captor and captive, by the fourteenth century prisoners’ ransoms were generally recognized as a form of heritable property. As such, the ransoms could be sold to third parties, and the trade in ransoms could be a profitable business for those with the right international connections. […] To a great extent the system relied on trust. It was common to allow a prisonner to go free on parole so that he could organize payment of his ransom, though he would usually be required to provide pledges as a safeguard against bad faith. […] The more effective sanction was the dishonor and notoriety that accrued to defaulters. […] The effectiveness of honor as a constraint is best demonstrated by John II of France. Released on parole in 1360, he returned to England in person four years later when one of his replacement hostages absconded and it had become clear that he could not pay the next installment of his ransom.

Cf. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010), vol. 3, ‘Prisonners and ransoms’.


In order to illustrate this general statement, I’d like to present three cases of ransom, counting one that had already been discussed on this sub 😀 [or previously on my blog]

Bertrand Du Guesclin, Count of Longueville

Captured at the Battle of Auray (1364)

London, British Library, Royal MS 14 E IV, f. 47v ~ Death of Bertrand Du Guesclin

When he was captured at the Battle of Auray, Bertrand Du Guesclin was ransomed alongside Girard Chabot for an astronomical amount: 100,000 golden francs. The King of France was able to pay some of it upfront, yet there was still a lot to cover. Therefore Bertrand Du Guesclin was freed so that he could gather some of the money from his war benefits and other means. In a letter from the 18th January 1365, Du Guesclin acknowledge his debt in the most official fashion, having it written down that he personnaly swore on the Bible. That letter was sealed by the chancelor of the ‘prince of Aquitaine’, meaning Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, who was heir to the kingdom of England. Du Guesclin and Chabot swore that they would pay up 20,000 francs by the next year’s Pentecost or willingly return to captivity. As we saw with the example of John II, that kind of pledges were actually trustworthy.

So here you have your first mean to insure a payment: release the knight against a formal written insurance that he will eventually pay up, otherwise expect him to come back to your custody from his own free will. If he doesn’t come back to you or come short financially, infamy will do its dirty job and tarnish his good name, making it very difficult for him to pursue his military career. It seems counter-intuitive but it is yet effective.

Arthur of Britanny, Count of Richemont

Captured at the Battle of Agincourt (1415)

Paris, BnF, fr. 20360, f. 316v ~ Depiction of the Battle of Agincourt in a 16th century manuscript

This story is one of the most fascinating in my opinion. Hang on to your family tree though! Arthur of Britanny was the third son of Jean IV of Britanny and brother to Jean V. His mother, Joan of Navarre, had remarried Henry IV of England: therefore Arthur was Henry V’s brother-in-law. This is quite remarkable because Henry V of England is the one who won the Battle of Agincourt, in 1415! Yet, for more than five years, the King of England refused to further any negociation regarding the release of his brother-in-law. In this case, political interests got in the way of economical profit. It is also worth of note that Henry V imprisoned in mother-in-law under the suspicion of witchcraft after the passing of his father.

Arthur (and his mother) being held hostage meant that the Duke of Britanny had to think twice before siding with the Valois. In a curious turn of events, though, the Duke of Britanny and his other brother, Richard, were captured by local political rivals, in 1420. The Duchess of Britanny, Joan of France, then sent a letter to Henry V, asking him to release Arthur or to ‘lend’ him so that he could lead the troops that would rescue his captive brothers. Henry V denied the request yet sent some troops of his own to help out.

A few months later, Henry V would marry Katherine of France, Joan’s sister, and sign the Treaty of Troyes, making him heir to the throne of France as per the ‘authority’ of Charles VI, who was known to be crazy since the 1390’s. John V and his brother Richard were eventually freed, yet the Duchess of Britanny decided to hide this information for a few days to help speed up Arthur’s release. Henry V caught up with the events from John V’s personal envoys, who stated that the Duke of Britanny would come and visit him himself, and only then did Henry V agree to release Arthur for two years. There was no talk of any ransom, still, so Arthur would only be ‘on parole’ according to certain terms until september 1422.

Brought from the Tower of London to France in October 1420, Arthur was lead to Henry V in Corbeil where he met his childhood friend, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. From then on, Arthur was put under the custody of the earl of Suffold and followed him a bit everywhere. When lords from Britanny went to meet him in Pontorson and found themselves more numerous than the English, they offered Arthur to help him escape. Arthur refused their help. Suffolk valued Arthur’s sense of honour and allowed him to meet his brother, the Duke of Britanny. From then on it looked like Arthur embraced the party of Henry V and he even received the county of Ivry from the latter. It was even agreed that as long as he respected the terms of his parole he would be freed without ransom. Arthur turned out to become the perfect prisonner: the managed to convince his brother, John V, to join Henry V against the Valois! The Duchy of Britanny, just as the Duchy of Burgundy, was now siding with England in the Hundred Years War…

The sudden passing of Henry V in 1422 didn’t change anything for the Anglo-Brito-Burgundian alliance. However, Arthur took it as granted that he didn’t have to return to London according to the terms of his parole. And he neved did so. He was even granted the Duchy of Tourraine. In 1423, Arthur married a Burgundian princess and he proved eager to serve under the Duke of Bedford, who had been appointed Regent of France on behalf of Henry VI.

Yet, Bedford would only frustrate Arthur’s ambitions, still treat him as a prisonner of war, which suddenly led Arthur to switch sides! He rallied the Valois party and very shortly obtained the highest military title of the Royal French Army, in 1425. He was given the rank of Constable, that Du Guesclin had held a few generations before him. From then on, Arthur was instrumental in the eventual French victory over the English and the definitive closing of the Hundred Years War. Shrewd as he was, he insured that his brother rallied Charles VII very quickly and then he reconciled the Valois party with the Burgundians, in 1435.

This story illustrates very well that a ransom was not always what you could hope from a prisonner. Having a prisonner could also serve political interests. Now, however, you had to beware of your prisonner! Arthur was the perfect hostage up until the point where he felt free from any further obligation to the English crown. Then he quickly turned his jacket and even turned the tables…

John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsburry

Captured at the Battle of Patay (1429)

Almost ruined by the ransom put on him, Talbot still managed to offer a lavish manuscript
to Margaret of Anjou, on her betrothal to Henry VI, in 1445 ~ London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 2r.

After the death of Thomas Montaigu, earl of Salisbury, John Talbot became one of the most important leader of the English army. Yet, he couldn’t hold on the siege at Orléans and was captured at Patay. His ransom was set at an absurd amount. Paying it on his own would have utterly ruined him. A ‘public subscription’ was even organized in England and the King paid an advance on the ransom (the same way Charles V had helped Du Guesclin). Yet Talbot would not be released until Poton de Xaintrailles got himself captured by the earl of Warwick, who was Talbot’s father-in-law. Then a prisonner exchange was negociated which allowed Talbot to be released on parole, in 1433. John V, Duke of Britanny, gave Talbot 2,000 mewes of salt to help pay his ransom, in 1432: Talbot would still be selling that salt in 1439!

This last story also expose that it was sometimes more profitable to release your prisonner so that he could gather money to pay his ransom. In Talbot’s case, the capture of Poton de Xaintrailles certainly helped to speed up his parole.

Depiction of Saint George, patron of the Order of the Garter, to which John Talbot belonged ~ London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 439r.

I also found out that it that it could be customary to forbid a knight to engage is certain fights or to join this or that allegieance while on parole. Most men-at-arms and knights would respect such pledges.

In conclusion, it was customary to release a prisonner of war even before his ransom had been totally absolved. Moreover, money was not the only thing you could get from a prisonner of war. Political and strictly military interests also weighted in the balance and could tip the scale in favour of an early release, if not quite the opposite. Henry V had instructed his brothers never to free Charles of Orléans. Captured at the Battle of Agincourt like Arthur of Britanny, he was only released in 1443 through the intermediary of Philip the Good.

I hope that I helped you to better understand the complexity of the ransom system in the Late Middle Ages 🙂 Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions.

Further readings:
~ Letters, Orders and Musters of Bertrand Du Guesclin, 1357-1380. Edited by Michael Jones. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004, p. 36-37
~ Eugène Cosneau, Le Connétable de Richemont. Paris: Hachette, 1886, p. 45-76.
~ A. J. Pollard, John Talbot and the war in France, 1427-1453. London: Royal Historical Society, 1983, p. 112-115.

Fun Fact

How Philip the Good wished that his son proved his manhood

Comment Philippe le Bon espéra que son fils prouvât sa valeur
[Version française ci-dessous / Read the story in French below]

Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, had quite a string of bastards, but only one legitimate son, who would later be known as Charles the Bold. The latter’s mother, Isabel of Portugal, cherished him. He was the only son she had who survived beyond infancy.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 265r

Charles would later on prove to be a very skilled tactician and fighter. Yet, at the prime age of seventeen, he still pretty much had everything to prove. No surprise there, young noble lads were only supposed to start their proper military training between fourteen and sixteen years old. They usually didn’t launch their chivalrous career before they reached eighteen.

Nevertheless, as Charles was in Brussels with his father and mother, it was decided he would engage in his very first official jousting event. That was well beyond what was expected from someone his age.

One question was on every lips. Who would face the heir apparent to Philip the Good, the mightiest Duke of Christendom? It had to be an honourable knight, for sure. Yes, well, certainly someone of note!

After much deliberation, it was concluded that the young Charles would face Jacques de Lalaing, the most adored knight of the court, but not only that, Jacques was the best knight of his time. His skills were so unparalleled that no-one, in the whole kingdom of France, dared to challenge him when he had called out for people to meet him on knightly venues.

Jacques de Lalaing had had to go all the way to Spain to find worthy opponents!

That day on the Grand’Place of Brussels, which was very different to the one we know today —for the French hadn’t bombarded it yet—, Charles of Burgundy met Jacques of Lalaing on the jousting field.

Paris, BnF, fr. 2644, f. 142r

Jacques of Lalaing was a careful man. On the first charge he didn’t lower his spear, yet the heir of Burgundy shattered his on Jacques’ shield. When he witnessed such a thing, Philip the Good was much displeased. “Don’t spare my son, go at it!” The Duchess Isabel didn’t like such an idea. On one hand she wanted her son to be safe. Jousts were not always the merriest business. On the other hand the Duke wished his son to prove his strength. The noble couple argued. Nevertheless, Jacques of Lalaing fulfilled his Lord’s wishes. The second time he charged the young Charles, he lowered his spears. The heir of Burgundy showed no fear. Both spears shattered on Charles’ and Jacques’ mutual shields. None of them fell from his steed. Philip the Good gloated with pride and everybody applauded at Charles’ prowess, happy to see that their Duke had a strong and healthy successor.

Charles the Bold, depicted by Rogier van der Weyden

Version française

Philippe le Bon, duc de Bourgogne, eut une ribambelle de bâtards. Toutefois, il n’eut qu’un seul fils légitime – que l’on surnomme aujourd’hui Charles le Téméraire. La mère de ce dernier, Isabelle de Portugal, le chérissait particulièrement. Deux de ses fils étaient morts en bas âge, Charles était le seul à avoir survécu.

De son vivant, l’héritier de Philippe le Bon démontra à maintes reprises ses talents de combattant et de tacticien. Néanmoins, au jeune âge de dix-sept ans, il avait encore tout à prouver. Alors qu’il se trouvait à Bruxelles avec son père et sa mère, il fut décidé qu’il se lancerait dans sa première joute officielle. Une question pendit toutefois à toutes les lèvres. Qui aurait l’honneur de l’affronter en premier ? Ce devrait être un preux chevalier, quelqu’un de remarquable. Après moult délibérations, il fut arrangé que le jeune Charles affronterait Jacques de Lalaing en personne, le chevalier le plus adoré de la cour de Bourgogne, un chevalier tel qu’aucun, en France, n’avait osé relever ses défis. Il avait dû se rendre jusqu’en Espagne pour trouver des adversaires dignes de l’affronter. Enfin, donc, Charles de Bourgogne rencontra Jacques de Lalaing sur la Grand’Place de Bruxelles, prêt à en découdre.

Jacques de Lalaing était un homme prudent. Quand il chargea la première fois, il ne baissa pas sa lance, bien que celle du jeune héritier de Bourgogne se rompît sur son écu. Quand il constata la chose, le duc de Bourgogne s’avéra bien mécontent. « N’épargne pas mon fils, va donc ! » La duchesse Isabelle n’appréciait guère une telle idée. Elle eût préféré que son fils restât en parfaite sécurité, mais le son époux désirait que son fils prouvât sa valeur. Le noble couple se disputa. Cependant, au second envol, Jacques de Lalaing respecta les vœux de son suzerain et abaissa sa lance. L’héritier de Bourgogne de montra aucun signe de faiblesse. Les deux lances se rompirent sur les boucliers respectifs de Charles et Jacques. Aucun d’eux ne chut de son destrier. Philippe le Bon exulta de fierté et tout le monde applaudit la prouesse du jeune Charles, bien heureux d’observer que le duc avait pour lui succéder un héritier aussi vaillant qu’en parfaite santé !

Source:
Olivier de la Marche, Mémoires. Edited by Henri Beaune & J. d’Arbaumont. Paris: Renouard, 1883-1888. Cf. t. 2, p. 214-215.

Further reading:
Martin de Riquer, “Les chevaleries de Jacques de Lalaing en Espagne”, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1991), 135/2, 351-365.

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Fun Fact

The Day Joan of Arc Ran Out Of Sass

Joan of Arc never failed to be breezy and impertinent when faced with her social higher-ups. That is one of her predominant character trait which makes her so charismatic. She was blunt. She was fearless. She bowed to no one but the King. She was fine damn ready to kick some ass and to admonish anyone whom she felt had crossed a line. She certainly was one of a kind.

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

Joan Meets Jean de Metz

“Should I lose my feet I’ll walk on my knees.”

When Jean de Metz first met her back in Vaucouleurs, where her journey started, she was wearing a threadbare red dress. “What are you doing here, darling?” he asked. She answered in a straightforward manner: “I’ve come here to talk with the Lord of Baudricourt, so that he would send me to the King. He won’t hear me, but I’ll get there. Should I lose my feet I’ll walk on my knees. No one in the world, nor any King, nor any Duke, nor any daughter of the King of Scotland, nor anyone else, can take back the realm. The King shall have no succour but mine!” Jean de Metz fell head over heels for Joan. He escorted her himself to Chinon after he had her dressed as a man. He would then follow her for several months [1].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Prostituées. Prostitutes.
Joan of Arc chasing prostitutes away from the camp

Joan riles the Duke of Lorraine

However, before they left Vaucouleurs for Chinon, Jean de Metz went with Joan to meet The Duke of Lorraine. The latter had invited the Maid to his court because he thought she could be a healer of some sort. She candidly told the Duke to ditch his mistress and be faithful to his wife. Then she went on to ask if René of Anjou, the Duke’s future son-in-law, could accompany her to Chinon. The ten years old prince belonged to the highest nobility. He was cousin to the King. Joan really got some nerve. Yet her request was unabashedly denied [2].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII.
Joan of Arc convinces Charles VII to go to Reims despite his advisors – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 61v

Joan Flames A Theologian

“I speak better French than you”

Joan eventually made her way to Chinon and met the King as she promised she would. At that point she was requested to meet theologians to vouch for her visions. Pierre Seguin was amongst those theologians and mighty doctors of the Church. He asked Joan which dialect she spoke. “I speak better French than you”, she replied, for he had a southern accent. He carried on to ask Joan to give a sign that she was indeed sent by God. She came out as sharp as a knife. “I didn’t come here to grant you tokens from God. Send me to Orleans. I’ll show you the sign you’re looking for. [3]

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Troyes. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc and Charles VII are given the keys of the city of Troyes – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 62r

Joan of Arc Mocks Dunois

“I come by God’s own guidance, which is far safer and wiser than yours.”

Joan went on to Orleans. On her way over there, the French army rode up to the East of the city to cross the river Loire. It pissed Joan, for John Talbot and his troops were sitting West of Orleans. If there was ever a fearsome captain, it was John Talbot. I found various occurrence of French armies avoiding him or fleeing upon his arrival to avoid to face him. Yet Joan had wished to meet him head on. She walked right to the man responsible of the coward itinerary, the Bastard of Orleans himself. “Is it on your advice that we cross the river here and not where Talbot and the English are?” The Bastard was rather startled to be addressed in such a fashion. “Yes it was!” he boasted. Joan put him back to his place: “Know, Bastard, that I come by God’s own guidance, which is far safer and wiser than yours. Right at that moment, the winds which had been unfavourable to cross the Loire turned and made the crossing possible. The Bastard couldn’t believe in his own eyes. From that moment onwards he had faith in Joan [4].

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5054

Nevertheless Joan got captured in Compiegne, after she helped to liberate Orleans. Once captured and faced with her enemies, however, Joan didn’t tune down.

Joan Knows What Awaits Her

“I know very well that the English will have me killed”

Back in the 15th century, the English already used to yell “God damn!” whenever something displeased them. Therefore the French came up with a derisive and derivative nickname for them: they called the English the “Godons”. Joan hated anyone to call out the name of the Lord in vain, but she called the English Godons herself. She did so, although imprisoned in a cell, right in front of the earls of Stafford and Warwick, who ranked amongst the most powerful men of England. “I know very well that the English will have me killed. Yet a hundred thousand Godons couldn’t take the kingdom.” Stafford got so mad he draw his dagger with the clear intent to kill her. Warwick through herself in front of Joan to protect her. He would later protect her too from rape. You see, Warwick was of a sound state of mind. He wanted Joan killed properly: on the pyre like a heretic after a due trial to rob her from her mystical charisma [5].

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

Joan Faces Her Judges

“Should you tear my limbs apart…”

Joan however kept a full grip of herself when she met her judges: an army of theologians from the University of Paris who longed for her death. They tried to catch her off guard with theological traps when asking her if she believed she had received the grace of God. “I don’t know if God granted me his grace. If he has, I pray that he keeps to do so. If he hasn’t, I pray that he extends it to me,” she answered. Then they asked if Saint Michel was naked when he visited her. She thought the idea utterly ludicrous: “Do you think Our Lord doesn’t have clothes for him?” Eventually she was threatened with torture. She feared nothing. “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.” They ruled out torture. They went for entrapment. At the end Joan was burned because she took on her male clothes after she swore she would not put them on again. If there ever was a thin pretext to kill someone, it was that one [6].

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
Paris, BnF, latin 9473. St Michael. Devil. Satan.
St Michael Facing the Devil – Paris, BnF, lat. 9473, f. 166r

How Joan Ghosted Her Best Friend…

Joan was around eighteen years old when she went on her quest to rescue the King of France. She was no more than nineteen when she died. She answered to the powerful and the wealthy with nothing but confidence and cheek. Yet, there is one person she didn’t dare to face, Hauviette. The latter said: “I’ve known her since I was a child. We grew up together, you see. We had a fun sleeping next to each other in the same bed when we were kids. Joan was good, pure and sweet. She liked to go church. People often made remarks about it and she felt a bit ashamed… She was like any other girl. She’d tend to her house and to her father’s cattle. She could spin wool too. There was a big tree not far from the village. We called it the tree of the fairies. We’d go there, with some bread and some nuts, and we’d play. We never saw any fairies. There was none.” Then, she added: “When Joan definitely left the village, she told me nothing. I only learned afterwards that she was gone. I cried a lot. She was so good and I loved her so much. She was my friend. [7]

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

More About Joan:

Quotes sources:

[1] Jules Quicherat, Procès de condamnation et de réhabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Jules Renouard, 1861-1869. Cf. t. 2, p. 436.
[2] Ibid., t. 3, 87.
[3] Ibid., t. 3, 204-205.
[4] Ibid., t. 3, 4-5.
[5] Ibid., t. 3, 122.
[6] Pierre Champion, Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1921. Cf. t. 2, p. 42, 151, 252-253.
[7] Quicherat (1861-1869), t. 2, 417-419.

Further readings:

Régine Pernoud & Marie-Véronique Clin, Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Fayard, 1986
Philippe Contamine, Olivier Bouzy & Xavier Hélary, Jeanne d’Arc. Histoire et dictionnaire. Paris: Robert Laffont, 2012 (coll. Bouquins).