turtles. medieval manuscripts. digitised library.
Videos

How to Find Turtles in Medieval Manuscripts Online

This video has been recorded and uploaded on #WorldTurtleDay 2020!

Digitized manuscripts contains mountain of incredible artwork that can’t be found through Google, Pinterest or other regular search engines. You need to know the back alleyways of the Internet to find those gems.

This video introduces you to a few of those little known paths and explains you the shortcomings of mainstream search engines and why you need to look beyond them. Websites introduced in this video:

Don’t forget to subscribe for more content, give a like and leave a comment. If you’ve found a pretty little turtle yourself in digitized manuscripts, gave us the link to it in the comment section 😉

turtles. medieval manuscripts. digitised library.
Long Reads

What Color Is The Devil And Why Is It Black?

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.

Keep in mind that I’m an ass. As advertized!

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!).

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.

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.

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.

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.

* 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.

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.

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!

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.

The Red Wedding (in A Song of Fire and Ice) 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.
Long Reads

Age of Empires 2 | Luring Wild Boars | Tips & Historical Trivia

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.

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.

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.

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.

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  • A Crash Course on Medieval Tournaments
    Tournaments followed the chivalric code of war! Indeed, jousts and tournaments were nothing like modern sporting events. They were true exercises of warfare during peace times more than anything else. It was a way to make war without declaring it.
  • The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
    Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?
  • How to Torture People in the Middle Ages?
    Torture came into fashion in the 13th century for very specific reasons. Namely, the (re)discovery of Roman law and its implementation by the Church. The 1215 Latran council recognised that trials by ordeals were a thing from the past and that since they were rational and modern beings, it was time to move on.

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.

Soon the name “Philip” was just as common as “Eudes” or “Raoul”.

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.

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.

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.

Philip’s fat father and ugly mother also decided to conceive a new child and to name him after their first born.

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?

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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.

In AoE2: Definitive Edition; a villager must only shoot a boar once to get it to chase him/her; a military unit, however, attempting to lame a wild boar, must hit it twice “to make it personal”

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.

[Edit: This is no longer the case in AoE2: Definitive Edition; a villager must only shoot a boar once to get it to chase him/her; a military unit, however, attempting to lame a wild boar, must hit it twice “to make it personal”]

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.

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.

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?

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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.

The fog of war is really what separates the wannabe pros to the real pros.

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.

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!

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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Short Reads

Faltonia Betitia Proba

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

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

St Andrews Classics

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

By Roger Rees

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

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

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

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Devil's 10 Commandments
Short Reads

The Devil’s Ten Commandments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Ratio says:

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

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

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

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

They read as follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short Reads

Short History of the Early Christian Dukes of Bohemia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait…

That’s how the Hundred Years War started!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 19 D I. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Short Reads

Alexander the Great depicted in Medieval Manuscripts

Foreword

Alexander the Great was a very popular hero in Medieval Litterature, nothing short of a Marvel or DC character. As a matter of fact his true story was slightly forgotten and casted away in favor of wonders and legends.

Here under you’ll find my personal best off of medieval illuminations telling the fabulous stories of Alexander the Great in various manuscripts. Expect this best off to grow over time!

How Alexander was Conceived

A great man can only have a great birth. It is said that Buddha was born he looked around and then took 7 paces in the direction of the 4 cardinal points. Just like that. He was born and he could already walk up straight.

The Legend of Alexander’s legendary birth however draws closer to Suetonius’ reported tale of Augustus’ birth [Suet., 12 Caes., 2:94]:

I have read the following story in the books of Asclepias of Mendes entitled Theologumena. When Atia had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colours like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo.

Similarly, Alexander’s birth is linked to a divine figure of the Sun and results of a sexual act with a ‘serpent’. Well, in his case, it was no less than a dragon which got involved!

Nectanebus was an astrologer who predicted to queen Olympias of Macedonia that she’d be visited by Amon in the form of a dragon and that she would give birth out of their union. However, Nectanebus got tired of waiting and turned into a dragon and visited Olympias at night. According to that story, Alexander is therefore a bastard!

Why are you so shocked? So was King Arthur. Read Geoffrey of Monmouth [Hist. Reg. Brit., 8:19]:

After this victory Uther repaired to the city of Alclud, where he settled the affairs of that province, and restored peace everywhere. […] The Easter following he ordered all the nobility in the kingdom to meet, in order to celebrate that great festival, in honour of which he designed to wear his crown. […] Among the guests was present Gorlois, duke of Cornwall, with his wife Igerna, the greatest beauty in all Britain. No sooner had the king cast his eyes upon her among the rest of the ladies, than he fell passionately in love with her, and little regarding the rest, made her the subject of all his thoughts. She was the only lady that he continually served with fresh dishes, and to whom he sent golden cups by his confidants; on her he bestowed all his smiles, and to her addressed all his discourse. […] A whole week was now past, when, retaining in mind his love to Igerna, he said to one of his confidants, named Ulfin de Ricaradoch: “My passion for Igerna is such that I can neither have ease of mind, nor health of body, till I obtain her: and if you cannot assist me with your advice how to accomplish my desire, the inward torments I endure will kill me.” […]

Merlin, therefore, being introduced into the king’s presence, was commanded to give his advice, how the king might accomplish his desire with respect to Igerna. And he, finding the great anguish of the king, was moved by such excessive love, and said, “To accomplish your desire, you must make use of such arts as have not been heard of in your time. I know how, by the force of my medicines, to give you the exact likeness of Gorlois, so that in all respects you shall seem to be no other than himself. If you will therefore obey my prescriptions, I will metamorphose you into the true semblance of Gorlois […]; and in this disguise you may go safely to the town where Igerna is, and have admittance to her.” The king complied with the proposal, and acted with great caution in this affair; [then he] underwent the medical applications of Merlin, by whom he was transformed into the likeness of Gorlois. […] The king therefore stayed that night with Igerna, and had the full enjoyment of her, for she was deceived with the false disguise which he had put on, and the artful and amourous discourses wherewith he entertained her. […] She refused him nothing which he desired.

The same night therefore she conceived the most renowned Arthur, whose heroic and wonderful actions have justly rendered his name famous to posterity.

Oh, because you thought Jon Snow’s story and the ‘R + L = J’ theory was an original idea? You thought works of fiction never saw a bastard prince secretely being the actual heir to the throne prophesied to save or take over the world? Yeah. Sure!

Ever since Jesus, magical bastards that can survive or come back from death tend to be plentiful and rather generic. Yet we love them. We can’t help it.

Nectanebus Prophesies Alexander’s Birth

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 19 D I. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus and Olympias (London, British Library, Royal MS 19 D I, f. 3r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 15 E VI. Talbot Shrewsbury Book. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus addressing Olympias (London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 6r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Olympias enthroned, with attendants, and Nectanebus in a white robe with a case of astronomical instruments (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 7r)

Nectanebus Lays with Queen Olympias

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Harley MS 4979. Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance.
Nectanebus as a dragon and in bed with Olympias (London, British Library, Harley MS 4979, f. 11r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 19 D I. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus disguised as a dragon beside Olympias’s bed (London, British Library, Royal MS 19 D I, f. 4v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 15 E VI. Talbot Shrewsbury Book. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus and Olympias in bed (London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 6r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus practicising enchantments on Olympias, who lies in bed (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 8v)

Nectanabus Keeps Flirting in the Shape of a Dragon

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Harley MS 4979. Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance.
Nectanebus as a dragon kissing Olympias at King Philip’s feast (London, British Library, Harley MS 4979, f. 12v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 19 D I. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus as dragon kissing Olympias (London, British Library, Royal MS 19 D I, f. 4v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 15 E VI. Talbot Shrewsbury Book. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance
Nectanebus as a dragon at Philip’s table (London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 6v)

The Legend Refuted

As the 15th century went by and the Renaissance grew closer, scholars were tired to see fables get the better of the nobility’s knowledge of History. Vasco de Lucena decided to refute the legends regarding Alexander the Great and to translate Quitus Curtius Rufus’ biography of the Macedonian king. Nevertheless, his erudite translation was illustrated with well-known legendary tales. His work states how Alexander the Great couldn’t be born from a dragon. Vasco de Lucena even goes as far as to quote the Holy Scriptures to do so. Yet, the illuminations made to embellish several of the manuscripts containing his work still act as reminders of Nectanebus’ fabled fatherhood.

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. BnF, français 257. Quinte Curse. Vasco de Lucena. Life of Alexander.
Birth of Alexander the Great (Paris, BnF, fr. 257, f. 1r)

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Alexander battles monsters on his way to India

“Go West, young man!” did they say in 19th century Northern America. During the European Middle Ages, however, it was more like “Go East, young man!” And so did Alexander. Did he expect to face dragons, giants and other monsters on his way to conquer India? As you can see, he seemed pretty well prepared, even to meet naked damsels in the woods!

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander battles with dragons (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 49v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander battles with white lions (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 50v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander driving off elephants with pigs and musical instruments (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 57r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander meeting women of the forest (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 58v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander fighting against dragons with emeralds in their foreheads (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 73r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander fights with horse headed men (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 79r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander fights with one eyed giants (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 79v)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Fights with headless men with faces on their torsos (Blemmyae) (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 80r)
Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 20 B XX. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose.
Alexander fighting with two-headed dragons (London, British Library, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 83v)

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

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).