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.
Fun Fact

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

AskHistorians: Tuesday Trivia #2

This week again I was invited by the AskHistorians subreddit to contribute to their Tuesday Trivia event and this week’s theme was ROYALTY!

In 1440, the queen of Hungary and one of her ladies-in-waiting stole the Hungarian crown—the actual, physical crown—to save the throne for her son. Helene Kottanner broke into the vault, snatched the crown, and escaped across the frozen Danube with a sled. Let’s talk about ROYALTY!

I proudly answered the call of duty and found it as another occasion to talk about my favourite non-Disney princess: Joan of Arc.

My Personal Contribution

Again, I’m late. Yet again, it’s still Tuesday somewhere!

Last time I talked about Joan of Arc. This week’s theme is royalty. There’d be no reason for me to talk again about her, right?

Hahaha. 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…

The Truth about Joan. Was Joan of Arc a Royal Bastard Princess?

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

You didn’t think that conspiracy theories would be limited to our contemporary era, did you.

You know how to square the circle: the Earth is flat, climate change is a lie, vaccines don’t work and the illuminati rule the world. If you go back and forth from one to another long enough, it all starts to make sense, but that’s only when you start to seriously question your mental sanity.

The problem is that conspiracy theorists are also trying to colonize the past with the most heretic holy trinity: the holocaust never happened, medieval Europe only had white people and Michael Jackson never died. He’s chilling on some Pacific Island with his buddy Elvis. Someone could swear his sister saw a picture or something, you know, tangible proof.

Among the many conspiracy theories about history the one I’ll tackle down here states that Joan of Arc was actually Charles VII’s sister.

Charles VII of France, an Alleged Bastard Himself?

Philippe Contamine, who knows more than anyone about the 15th century, medieval France, briefly addressed the rumors according to which Charles VII of France was a bastard himself, in his latest biography of the French king (published in 2017; not to brag, but I own a dedicated copy).

See, his father had lost his mind and couldn’t recognize his friends from his enemies. That’s why some people suggested that the queen couldn’t have conceived a child with him. Charles VII couldn’t be Charles VI’s legitimate son! According to Pope Pie II, the king of England advanced that very theory himself to end up seducing the duke of Burgundy. It’d served his political purpose a great deal. He wished to inherit the kingdom of France through his wife, something the Valois dynasty opposed fiercely since the start of the Hundred Years’ War.

Illuminated manuscript. Jean Froissart. Charles VI.
Charles VI, falling to paraonoia, attacks his own guards during a military expedition. (Paris, BnF, fr. 2646, f. 153v.)

“But, what about your wife, my liege? Isn’t she also born from the mad king?”

“Nonsense! He was still sane of mind when he conceived her.”

As a matter of fact, Catherine of France, Henry V of England’s wife, was born on October 27, 1401, a year and a half before Charles VII, and Charles VI (it is heavily documented) lost his mind in the year 1392 during a military expedition where he attacked his own men. Meaning, according to Henry V’s logic, that his dear wife was also an illegitimate child, but hell with the details, right?

Upon closer inspection, accusing the queen of adultery served no real political purpose to the Anglo-Burgundian alliance since she was on their side and that her signature is what made the Treaty of Troyes (1420) valid because of the dementia of her husband. The Treaty of Troyes acknowledged Henry V of England as sole heir to Charles VI of France. Fun fact, Henry V died of dysentery a few months ahead of Charles VI. He never was crowned king of France and he only left behind him a one-year-old child and a wife who quickly consoled herself with a handsome knight.

One question remains: who would have been Charles VII’s father, if it weren’t Charles VI? Well, who else but Louis of Orléans, Charles VI’s brother! After all, the duke of Orléans almost killed the king by burning him alive with a torch, then he attempted to rape the duchess of Burgundy—which explains why John the Fearless hated his guts*.

Illuminated manuscript. Jean Froissart. Charles VI.
Charles VI of France, desguised as a ‘savage man’, is almost burned to death by his own brother and saved in extremis by the duchess of Berry, who covers him with her mantle. (Paris, BnF, fr. 2646, f. 176r.)

Total. Legend.

And you thought Game of Thrones was full of suspense!

*This latter allegation is solely reported by Thomas Basin (d. 1491) in his biography of Charles VII.

Who really was Joan of Arc’s Father? A Shakespearian Tale

A 19th-century pseudo-historian, Pierre Cazet, bragged that he discovered the truth behind Joan’s true social status. How come a young maid from the countryside was ever received by the king? Saint Louis himself, the holiest French king of all, met his subjects regularly in the open air to render justice, according to Jean of Joinville (d. 1317). Therefore it should be totally inconceivable that Charles VII would ever meet an intriguing would-be prophetess that had such a notoriety that the duke of Lorraine personally invited her over and that the bastard of Orléans, while she was in Gien, sent people to meet and inquire about her and her journey to Chinon.

She had to be a secret Disney princess!

Actually, it all comes from a play written by Shakespeare. I mean, this could only be the stuff of great literature. How could a poor and deficient mind come up with such a brilliant twist? Henry VI, act 5, scene 4. A shepherd, Joan’s father, comes up to her as she’s tied at the stake. Since she left, he’s been searching for her everywhere.

Ah, Joan! this kills thy father’s heart outright.

Have I sought every country far an near,

And, now it is my chance to find thee out,

Must I behold thy timeless cruel death?

Ah, Joan! sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with thee.

Joan, however, doesn’t break into tears. She gets all riled up!

Descrepit miser! base ignoble wretch!

I am descended of a gentler blood:

Thou art no father nor no friend of mine.

Then she turns to the men who’ve put her at the stakes.

Let me tell you whom you have condemn’d:

Not me begotten of a shepherd swain,

But issu’d from the progeny of kings;

Virtuous and holy; chosen from above,

By inspiration of celestial grace,

To work exceeding miracles on earth.

Henry VI. Part 1. Joan of Arc. Royal Shakespeare Company.
Henry VI, part 1. A play by William Shakespeare featuring Joan of Arc.

The brilliant literary idea of a royal Joan (I mean, what a twist!*) then inseminated the rotten minds of ill-informed money-grabbing pseudo-historians, who pandered ‘sensational’ books only to fill their purse. Hence Joan was Charles VII’s secret sister. However, who was her father then do you ask? No other than Louis ‘the Legend’ of Orléans.

Joan stated at her trial that she was nineteen, meaning she was born in 1412. How could that be a problem? On November 23, 1407, Louis of Orléans was assassinated in the streets of Paris by John the Fearless (GoT quality, I tell you!). Therefore, Joan lied. She must have been twenty-four and was actually born in 1407.

Oh. And by the way, her mother was Queen Isabeau herself. Why not? It’s not like she gave birth to a child on November 10, 1407. Wait? Is my math right? Do I remember anything from my biology class? It must be right. Right?

More audacious conspiracy theorists, whom websites I won’t link here to deny them the pride of free views to their counter, have now passed the idea that Joan was Queen Isabeau’s daughter. They see as a better fit than her actual mother, Isabelle Romée, was the descendant of Charlemagne. Also, they don’t need any document to prove it to you. You should trust them on their words for it. Jacques d’Arc, who, according to them, is not even Joan’s biological father, is also of noble birth too. Cherry. On. Top.

This is all a bunch of undocumented nonsense.

*Shakespeare was depicting Joan of Arc as an utterly crazy woman. This was not a twist but a foregone conclusion. Upon meeting death, she shows her true ugly colors.

Joan’s Coat of Arms: the Ultimate Evidence?

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

Before the battle of Patay and right after the liberation of Orléans, Charles VII granted a coat of arms to Joan of Arc. On a blue background stands a sword under a crown, flanked by two heraldic lilies. Joan’s judge at her trial at Rouen blamed her for arrogance. Who was she to dare display the ‘fleur-de-lis’, the official emblem of the French crown?

According to our dear conspiracy theorists, Joan’s coat of arms was a clever acknowledgment of her true origin. An acknowledgment so clever, in fact, that Charles VII publicly recognized Joan as his sister but in a way that no one could uncover it. A secret hiding in plain sight!

I … can’t … even.

Heraldry seems only obscure to us because we don’t understand its language. We look at coat of arms the same way Napoleon looked at the pyramid. He knew they meant something. He knew they were the stuff of legends. But he had yet no solid archeological knowledge of their history and meaning.

It so happened that Charles VII granted to other people the right to display the fleur-de-lis on their coat of arms. He especially granted it to the city of Tournai, which so far up north, deep into Burgundian territory, remained unyieldingly loyal to his cause. The fleur-de-lis was a royal honor, a symbolic and powerful mark of recognition for exceptional services and also a way to tie people to the royal house.

What about the crown? Well, what about it? Joan kept saying she was only serving one lord, the Lord. That crown is probably God’s own crown, for Christ’s sake (that is my personal hypothesis). All in all, the coat of arms translates into: “I fight under God’s command for the good of France.” How could that ever be conceived as a secret acknowledgement of common parenthood?

Final Words

Joan of Arc was not Charles VII’s secret sister (and he was not Louis of Orléans’s bastard) but her story is only more beautiful because of it. I understand that some limited minds would only grant great deeds to people of noble breed, I do, but they’re utterly wrong. She was a commoner from the country side with nothing to her name but her faith, her sass and her cold-blooded bravery.

I know Joan of Arc didn’t actually change the course of history. The victory of Orléans was almost a given when we take everything into account beyond her legend. Plus, it took more than a decade to finally boot the English out of France after she passed. However, she stood high and tall on a crucial turning crossroad in medieval history. It all looked gloom then she suddenly shined bright in the middle of the dark. She shocked her contemporaries like a comet burning the sky.

Personally, I find it very comforting that any young woman could achieve such a thing. However, fair warning, anyone tries to imprison and sentence Greta Thunberg to death, I might personally lead the commando to rescue her.

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!

Q&A

Summer Readings on AoE2 Heroes

Book suggestions for Barbarossa/Attila/El Cid?

I love reading about history, …

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

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

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

Thanks in advance if someone has any suggestions!

[Question from u/xGalen on the AoE2 Subreddit]

The hype is real

My answer

Hi there!

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

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

AGE OF KINGS

1. William Wallace

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

2. Joan of Arc

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

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

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

3. Saladin

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

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

4. Genghis Khan

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

5. Barbarossa

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

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

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

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

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

THE CONQUERORS

6. El Cid

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

7. Attila

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

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

Enjoy your summer! 🙂

The purpose to read is to argue. Wololooo!
Fun Fact

Rated R Military Tactic

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

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

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

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

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

Bohemond likes the Happy Tree Friends

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

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

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.

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

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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