Category Archives: Age of Chivalry

The Vatican Artifact I’d Most Like to See

At the Battle of Hastings, on October 14, 1066, King Harold II (Godwinsson) of England and William II, Duke of Normandy led opposing armies in the bloody conflict which irretrievably changed the course of European history and put an end to Anglo Saxon rule in England forever.

Now King Harold was a total dick.  His army was already exhausted from just having engaged and killed Harold’s own brother Tostig Godwinsson, Duke of Northumbria a few weeks earlier on September 25, 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  Then they had to make a forced march to get to the Hastings battlefields, which was actually at Senlac.  (Busy, busy, busy.)

The Normans, led by the furious Duke William, won, after Harold’s army (all infantry) broke their shield wall formation and chased the Normans, when they appeared to be retreating.   Once the English were scattered the Normans’ mounted knights picked them off,  one by one.  Had they simply stuck to their commander’s plan, the outcome might have been different, but, they lacked discipline.

Now, the battle flags/standards were important accoutrements.  William’s battle standard had been personally consecrated by the pope.

Harold’s battle standard was reportedly a magnificent one, woven–possibly by his own mother, Gytha–with silver and gold thread and encrusted with precious gems.  It was captured during the battle.

After Duke William won the battle, he immediately sent the captured standard of King Harold to the Pope, because it was to God that William attributed his victory.  Or, at least, he gave lip service to that notion.

So I was wondering if that battle standard is stuck away somewhere in the papal archives. Even though the popes didn’t start living in the Vatican per se until the 14th century, there must have been a continuous repository for all the snazzy stuff the popes had collected over the centuries and which eventually came to rest in the Vatican archives.

The Vatican Secret Archives weren’t actually built until the 17th century if I remember correctly. But once created surely everything must have been catalogued and an inventory must surely exist.

So what I would really love to see is a photo of that battle standard, if it still exists.  If I could see only one thing from all the vast treasure of the Vatican, it would surely be that battle standard.

Enquiring mind wants to know.


Remember What Happened to Machiavelli

There seem to be a lot of Machiavelli wannabes floating around in the USA’s public life. The arcane–and to my thinking insane–plotting that’s always being referred to in the news seems to take place without regard to consequences.

These folks might wanna read some history.

Machiavelli wound up on the rack.  Robespierre the great orator who rabble roused the French into a revolution, had a smashed jaw and could no longer speak when he went to the guillotine.  His followers got to him before the executioner and after he’d over-promised and under-delivered regarding what would follow the revolution.

Keep it in mind, plotters. People quickly tire of inartful machination.  You’re overdue for a fall. And blindly following a guy with a nose like Steve Bannon’s is a fool’s errand.  There’s only one way to get a nose like that and all you ticked off white males know it.  This is not a guy to follow, he’s tainted. Green meat, not red, to borrow from Chris Rock.

Bannon, Breitbart, Spencer, and their ilk are sellin’ wolf tickets.  Y’know, the kind that can’t  actually be redeemed for goods or services, they’re just pieces of paper.

Faithless leaders of populist movements always wind up on the wrong side of their followers–because they stir folks up and don’t deliver.  Because they don’t have the power or wherewithal to deliver on empty promises, such “leaders” are always doomed to be destroyed at the hands of their followers.

Bannon, et al. should be damn glad that in 21st century USA disaffected followers just leave or possibly protest bitterly at being tricked. They don’t send their faithless leaders’ heads to the successor leader anymore, as was once the custom in medieval times.

A Bit of Arthurian Trivia–the Names of King Arthur’s Weapons

So, upon reading the Giles translation of Roger of Wendover’s “Flowers of History” Vol. 1, I learned a bit of apocryphal trivia about King Arthur.  (The book’s an 1849 translation of Roger’s chronicle of England from the early fifth century to 1235, including contemporaneous account of the signing of the first Magna Carta in 1215.)

King Arthur not only had a great (but not mentioned as magical in Wendover) sword named Excalibur or Caliburn (as Wendover reports). He also had a shield named Pridwen or Prydwyn.  (The old name for Britain was Prydein so it seems likel that the shield was named after the realm.)  It had an image of Virgin Mary on it.

Here’s the part that seems, well, amusing. Arthur’s lance was named Ron. No kidding. Ron.

Of course that’s not the same Ron which is a shortened version of Ronald.

But still. Ron. No kidding.

The Genealogy Project Wasn’t a Complete Bust

So it was back to the genealogy project for a few minutes, to look up the bio
for a many-greats grandfather, Eochaid IV, “The Venomous” King of
Scotland.  What do you suppose someone living in an incredibly violent,
brutal and inhumane time such as the Middle Ages would have to do to earn
the sobriquet “The Venomous” ?  He sounds kinda daunting.  But he was married to a Pictish princess, supposedly, before the Picts got so intermarried/interbred with the Scots that their tribe eventually disappeared.

However, his grandfather had my all time favorite adjectival appendage to
his name–”Fire White”. That would be Aodh Hugh Finn, “Fire White”
King of Scotland, King of Dalriata.  (His grandfather had a less imposing nickname; ‘”crooked nose”.)

But such dilatory/dilettante-ish dabblings were not the extent of the project.
More goal-oriented research had a more worthwhile end.

An old friend of mine was really depressed at the prospect of her daughter
and grandchildren moving from the east coast to Hawaii. She’s a
bibliophile with probably 4,000 books scattered throughout her home.
She’s also a history and genealogy buff whose IT whiz husband has so
fouled her computer with anti-malware/anti-virus software that she can
barely use the darn thing to communicate, let alone do genealogy research.

So I traced some of her family for her–and discovered that one of her
ancestors was with Washington’s force (as a member of the Delaware
Militia I think) at the Battle of Trenton. He also fought in the rearguard
covering Washington’s retreat from Princeton, although I’m under the
impression that there were two engagements between Washington and the
Brits at Trenton. Not sure which one her ancestor was in.

My friend, a retired Army vet, many of whose family fought with the rebels
in the Civil War, is an avid military history buff, so this bit of information
thrilled her. It also sent her scouring through her library to see if she could
flesh out the ancestor’s life story.

This led her to discover a book written by one of the newly discovered

Then I discovered that her family and mine had lived within 13 miles of one
another in the early 17th century, near Amsterdam. In fact, her many greats
grandfather there owned a bookstore near the university. It’s possible that
my ancestor bought books from her ancestor.

From that occurrence in the 17th century, until now, there were several
points at which our families converged abroad and in America, and would
surely have known one another since they were in lightly populated areas.

And, in our childhoods, although we did not know each other, our paths
must have crossed many times. We used the same small, two room library.
We shopped in the same small downtown, we watched the same Christmas

From the 1620’s until today our two histories have intersected again and
again. We’d never have known this if I hadn’t searched for her ancestors to
try and give her some new information which would engage her fascination
with history and her family’s genealogy. Because, of course, I wanted to get
her mind off the sailed-far-away family.

Now she’s passed the new genealogy info on to other members of her
extended family and they have an additional 16 – 19 generations to pore
over. She’s still working on getting her husband to free up her computer
though, so she can use the internet to search for ancestral information.

So, all in all, my extended genealogy project has not only resulted in a ton
of history information about Europe in the Middle Ages, and my own family
history, it also provided my friend with some useful self-therapy to combat
the blues from missing her child and grandkids.

That’s probably a better ROI than, say, playing video games on the internet.

Throwing Shade in Rouen in the Middle Ages

Well, actually it wasn’t just insults,–for poor ol’ John I, Archbishop of
Rouen, it was insults and rocks.  Now, when reading about the Middle
Ages, there’s no avoiding the pervasive role piety and religion allegedly
played in life at all levels of society.  Then, accounts of real life events make
for a clearer understanding of how that actually worked out in real time.

John I Archbishop of Rouen (1067 – 1078, previously Bishop of Avranches)
was “animated with a lively zeal for virtue”.

Not everyone was appreciative.  Volume II of Orderic Vitalis’ “Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy,” mentions John “taking severe measures to separate incontinent priests from their concubines; and when in a synod he
prohibited their intercourse under pain of excommunication,” (he) …”was assailed with stones, and forced to make his escape, on which occasion when flying from the church he intoned with a loud voice the verse:

” God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance.”

What would Jesus say?  “Be fruitful and multiply.” ?  Nope.  “Hey.  Cut it out!  No throwing rocks in the house!”

How I Got My Name and the Conqueror of Ossory

The following incident took place sometime in 1169 or 1170 during
Strongbow’s conquest of Ireland.  Ossory was a petty kingdom of Ireland at
the time.  The occasion of the Irish conquest by Strongbow was at the
behest of Dermot Mac Murchada, King of Leinster who, after stealing
another king’s wife, was dispossessed of his kingdom.  Strongbow was
promised Dermot’s daughter Aoife (MacDermot) by her father, if he would
help him (Dermot) get his kingdom back.  Strongbow‘s real name was
Richard Fitzgilbert De Clare and his wife thus became Aoife MacDermot De
Clare when she married Strongbow.  (And that is from whence comes my
name.)  There is a famous painting depicting the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife in the Irish National Gallery.  Dermot, who was responsible for Ireland
being conquered by Strongbow and held in subjugation by the English from
that time until the 19th or 20th century, depending upon how you look at it,
is one of the great villains of Irish history.

Here’s what happened before the conquest of Ossory during that war,
according to Gerald of Wales in his history The Conquest of Ireland.
(Gerald was not only a medieval historian, he was also the tutor of  two sons
of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, King of England, i.e. Richard the
Lionheart and John Lackland, later King John.)

…Duvenald, the prince of Ossory, was the most implacable of all the
enemies of Dermitius (Aoife Note; Dermot) and some time before,
when the son of Dermitius was his prisoner, having become jealous of him,
he carried his vengeance to such a pitch, that he put out his eyes. …

Dermot’s, or actually Strongbow’s, army assaulted Ossory and won the day.
Dermot wasn’t exactly gracious in victory.

…The victory being thus gained, about two hundred
of the enemies’ heads were collected and laid at the
feet of Dermitius, who, turning them over one by one, in
order to recognize them, thrice lifted his hands to heaven
in the excess of his joy, and with a loud voice returned
thanks to God most High.  Among them was the head of
one he mortally hated above all the rest, and taking it up
by the ears and hair, he tore the nostrils and lips with his
teeth in a most savage and inhuman manner. …

And we think we live in violent times.  Talk about needing an anger management course.

If I could go back in time and speak to Dermot, I think the conversation
would go something like this:

“Now, ya just gotta reel it in a notch or two.  Calm down.  Y’know, attenuate your responses just a tad.  Here, I have something for you.  It’s called Prozac. Really, take one, you’ll feel much better and maybe won’t be so high strung.  No, I am not possessed of the devil, it’s just a pill.  Hey, put down that sword…”


So You Think You Have Marital Strife and In-law Problems?

Here’s an illustrative tale about marriage and family life in the fractious Middle Ages during the Age of Chivalry.   Marcher Baron William deBraose, lord of Abergavenny, was born around 1204.   He was the qunitessential A-lister.  Wealthy, well-connected, well born–what could go wrong?  The Welsh called him “Black William”.   Now before he came along the Welsh already hated his family, the deBraoses, who were, collectively, a powerful marcher lord family (of Norman origin of course) with a history of abuses of the Welsh. His grandfather, William deBraose, 4th Lord of Bramber, was known as the “Ogre of Abergavenny” (“the Ogre”) because in 1175 he invited several Welsh princes to Christmas Day festivities to settle their differences and had all of them and their entire retinues murdered.  Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas indeed!

The aforementioned Ogre had also been suspected of being complicit in the disappearance of Arthur of Brittany, at one time  heir-designate to the English throne, chosen by Richard Lionheart instead of his brother, John.   Arthur’s father  Geoffrey was a son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a middle brother between Richard Lionheart and youngest son (eventually king) John.

Arthur of Brittany was no peach.  He had revolted against his uncle King John in 1202 and besieged his grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, who John had to rescue.  It was for these acts that John captured and imprisoned him the same year, leaving the aforementioned Ogre in charge of the captive.  In 1203 Arthur disappeared, never to be heard of or from again.  It was widely assumed that his uncle, King John was responsible and it was said that he and/or the Ogre had bumped off Arthur, whose body was found by a fisherman.  It had supposedly been weighted down and dumped in the Seine but became entangled in the fisherman’s net.

Subsequently the Ogre/4th Lord of Bramber, alas, had a falling out with King John and had to flee for his life, escaping England disguised as a beggar and leaving behind his wife, Maud de St. Valery de Braose and his eldest son William, both of whom John threw into prison, where they were eventually believed to have been starved to death after being walled up somewhere within Corfe castle.

Compared to that, Black William could be considered only mildly delinquent.  Reginald, Black William’s far less notorious dad, was a son of  the Ogre but William was the one who took after his grandfather.

Against this backdrop of familial dysfunction, Llywelyn the Great (Prince of Gwynedd who eventually ruled most of Wales) was married to Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John, (The Pope later legitimized her. I think money was involved.)  During a visit to Llywelyn’s castle Black William was caught in Llywelyn’s bedchamber with Joan.  Llywelyn had him hung publicly (by one account naked) on 2/5/1230.  William was only 26 and he’s still infamous, so I guess you could say he carried on the family tradition.

Yesterday though, I came across an interesting bit of trivia about that event. After hanging his wife’s frisky lover Llywelyn graciously sent a letter of apology to the wife, Eva Marshall (one of the five daughters of Sir William Marshall “the best knight who ever lived”) for having hung her husband.  His excuse was that his fellow Welsh nobles hated her husband and his family so much and  were so outraged at this public disgrace that he, Llywelyn–basically to keep up appearances–had to avenge/revenge the scandal/offense of  banging the queen and getting caught.  Amusingly (sort of) Llywelyn and the Marshall family had already arranged a marriage of one of Eva Marshall’s daughters to his only legitimate son.  He made some reference in the letter to that contractual arrangement, which went forward despite one of the in-laws having hung the father of half of the bridal couple.  The wedding feast must have been awkward.

Lywelyn seems like a polite guy.  As we all know, you should send your hostess a note after a social engagement gone awry.  Does his letter to Eva  count as socially progressive? Maybe pragmatic?  I guess that’s what passed for being sensitive back in the days of chivalry.

Eva? She inherited all of her husband’s lands, titles and wealth, and became the direct ancestor of all the English monarchs after Henry VIII and several before him.  One suspects she wasn’t all that heartbroken at Black William’s demise.

In view of all this, perhaps the Clintons aren’t really all that high on the family dysfunction scale.  How’d you like to argue with some of these folks at Thanksgiving dinner?