Wednesday, September 30, 2009
An upcoming article will shed light on the large collection of gold and jewels held by a medieval English king.
"Secrecy, splendour and statecraft: the jewel accounts of King Henry III of England, 1216–72" was written by Benjamin Wild of King's College London. He analyzes a set of accounts which describe the gifts that were given and received by Henry III, the purchase of gems and specie, as well as expensive fabrics, such as cloth of gold.
In an interview with Medievalists.net, Dr. Wild said, "The jewel accounts are not merely a descriptive record of royal purchases. They also describe the flow of gifts in and out of the wardrobe. Gift-giving was ubiquitous in medieval society, helping to make, maintain and mend political and social relationships. The information within the jewel accounts is therefore very useful because it helps us to see who was doing the giving and receiving in and around Henry's court."
These records are part of the larger wardrobe accounts, which Dr.Wild explains, "preserve a record of the English king's personal expenditure. This includes everything from victuals, wine and spices, to clothes, building work and suits of armour."
The Jewel accounts are available for the reigns of Henry III up to Edward III. No other medieval state has similar kinds of surviving records.
The research reveals that the English king owned a surprisingly large amount of these treasures. The first surviving record, from 123, reveals that he had over 2000 items, including 173 rings, 103 gold brooches, 219 cloths of gold and hundreds of gold coins from as far away as North Africa.
By 1272, the collection had grown to over 2500 items, including 1168 rings. The Jewel Accounts also occasionally reveal more indepth information about some of his treasures. One record mentions a great bowl of silver, weighing 117 troy ounces, which Henry used to wash the feet of paupers during the Maundy celebrations. Another entry describes two miniature silver-gilt horses that had been given to King Henry by certain unnamed Jews.
Benjamin Wild's article goes on to reveal information about how the English King gave gifts of these treasures to his family, followers and to other European royalty, and how some of these items were sold off or got stolen.
"I think the most interesting discovery is that the jewel accounts show how Henry III increased the levels of his gift-giving at times of great political moment," said Dr.Wild. "According to the jewel accounts, the king distributed considerably more gifts (belts, cups, rings and brooches being the most common) during three crucial key periods: (1) 1234 (at the start of his so-called 'personal rule'); (2) between 1259 and 1260, when he was in France to ratify the controversial Treaty of Paris (by which Henry and his heirs renounced their claims to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou, in return for Gascony, which was to be held from the king of France); (3) after August 1265, when King Henry was able to revive his authority after the brutal murder of his brother-in-law and former jailer, Simon de Montfort. Henry III is often thought to have distributed gifts and patronage in a rather profiligate manner. The evidence of the jewel accounts suggests Henry was actually much more shrewd."
The article will appear in an upcoming issue of Historical Research. Dr. Wild has recently completed his PhD dissertation and is now preparing to publish several volumes of the wardrobe accounts for the reigns of Henry II and his son Edward I for the Pipe Roll Society. He has also started work on a book, prospectively titled King Henry III and the Power of Aesthetics, which he says "will shed new light of Henry III's use of art, ceremony and architecture. The wardrobe accounts, which provide detailed information about the English king's personal expenditure, will be a major source for this study."
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The 38th Pennsic War was held last month, drawing 10,953 participants. Pennsic is the largest event held by the Society of Creative Anachronism and draws people interested in recreating a little piece of the medieval world.
It looks like the real thing. Knights under the command of kings battle for personal honor and the glory of their kingdoms. While the weapons are wooden and the "dead" leave the battlefield on their own feet, the passions of the warriors are real. Excitement drives them on. They train at home during the year to prepare for these events and go by names of their choosing.
Many return year after year. This commander of a Roman cohort, who calls himself Dominus, is a veteran of 14 such wars. "It gives me and my friends some great stories, some great experiences, some great adventures to share, to talk about and remember together for years to come," Dominus said.
A code of honor governs what happens. The warriors determine for themselves the seriousness of their wounds. Marshals responsible for safety and order declare timeouts to regroup. The Society for Creative Anachronisms organizes the event.
"We work very, very hard at our safety," says, Master Maceanruig, "In 40 years of the society we haven't lost anybody in the battle yet."
A full authentic set of regalia and weapons can cost $10,000. And, in one concession to the modern age, warfare is not only for men.
"You get a real challenge when you go out there," Caecilia Decurion explains, "because when you're wearing a helmet not many people realize you're a girl. You kind of get like a fair fight and that's cool."
But most of the 11,000 people here do not participate in the fighting. They choose less violent pleasures. They go to the bazaar and sample goods that would be available to a person who lived between the sixth and sixteenth century. They learn crafts that were popular in a slower and less complicated age.
"Pennsic - as a whole, is an experience where I can get away from the hustle-bustle of everyday life," Issac Rothstein says, "and get to know the meaning of community with my friends."
There is even a daily newspaper, which publishes news of village life, including news of who is winning the tournaments, which dedicated to honoring women.
"Today our theme is definitely the pleasure of the ladies. In fact, the ladies have directed these gentlemen, who are currently fighting at a barrier, to fight for their pleasure," Mistress Marcele De Montsegur states.
The winner of the war this year was the Eastern Kingdom, comprised of warriors from the eastern parts of Canada and the United States. And as their reward? They had the right to claim the city of Pittsburgh, a claim they understand probably won't be honored by any of the city's modern-day politicians. As for the losers, their pride may have been injured, but they know that they can come back again next year.
See also this video report about Pennsic
Monday, September 28, 2009
Susan Noakes, University of Minnesota professor in the department of French and Italian, will have $70,000 over the next two years to initiate a research project on “Globalization of the Middle Ages.”
The $70,000 grant which will help initiate this project comes from the University’s Imagine Fund. The fund began as the McKnight Arts in Humanities Endowment in 1991 and now gives about $1.3 million to arts, design and humanities scholars each year.
Funds for arts and humanities are often the first to be cut during tough economic times, Jon Binks, who works in the university's academic affairs office, said. The Imagine Fund awards scholars pursuing innovative ideas related to global problem-solving, Binks said.
Noakes’ long-range initiative includes collaborating with international scholars to “globalize approaches to the Middle Ages,” Noakes said.
“The Middle Ages have traditionally been seen as occurring only in Europe,” Noakes said.
However, other civilizations existed at that time. Noakes, alongside other international scholars across academic disciplines, formed the Scholarly Community for the Globalization of the Middle Ages . The scholars aspire to make the events of those civilizations more accessible, she said.
“It’s hard in humanities to get this sort of start-up money,” Noakes said, adding she is “overwhelmed with gratitude” and hopes this will lead to more grants for the project.
Beginning in the Twin Cities area, Noakes also plans to put together a public presentation of medieval works to stimulate conversation and learning, she said.
During the Middle Ages, Noakes explained, Christians, Muslims and Jews were in conflict with each other and each group recorded the disputes. Noakes said she wants to bring the works together for the first time, translate them into English and create a performance.
Ultimately, Noakes said the scholarly community wants to make new research on the Middle Ages available via the Internet. The Web site would include interactive maps and in-depth details of different civilizations at that time, she said.
“The Imagine Fund is happy to seed these kinds of ideas,” Binks said.
Noakes said the grant will be used to hire workers and provide airfare for international scholars to come to the University. The funds provide the first steps the community needs to establish itself. Members will apply for more grants over the next few years.
Standing on a 100 foot sea cliff, visitors to the Castle of Old Wick can’t help but be impressed by its dramatic location. This week an archaeologist and a stonemason will get an even stronger sense of its drama when they abseil over the edge to inspect are area of walling which is at risk of decay.
Due to the sensitive archaeology of the site their ropes cannot be fixed to the castle or even pinned into the ground, and will have to be attached to heavy weights resting on the ground.
Patricia Weeks, Historic Scotland cultural resources advisor, said: “This is an area of walling which seems to be in need of conservation in order to prevent deterioration.
“The archaeologist and stonemason will go over the edge at a point where the cliff is around 100 foot high – certainly not the sort of challenge that everyone would want to take on. They will inspect the walling and take lots of photographs which we can then use to decide the best course of action to protect the castle for the future.”
It is probably the first time that archaeologists will have had a proper chance to investigate this section of walling – as it would normally be far too risky to reach.
The castle, known also as the Old Man of Wick was built in the 12th century when the Norwegian earldom of Orkney included Caithness, and was united under Harald Maddadsson. The castle is thought to have been his stronghold on the mainland of Britain. There is evidence that the site was occupied before the present castle was built.
All that remains today is a tall tower sitting on the very edge of the cliffs, about half a mile south of Wick Bay and of the modern town of Wick, but originally the castle had at least 4 stories as well as extra buildings containing workshops and other quarters.
During the 14th century it was owned by Sir Reginald de Cheyne who was a supporter of Edward I during his attempt to establish John Balliol as King of Scotland, although there is no evidence of a battle having taken place there. It was abandoned in the 18th century.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Hundreds of people have been queuing to see part of the UK's biggest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure in Birmingham.
About 1,300 mainly gold and silver items have been recovered after initial discoveries by treasure hunter Terry Herbert in Staffordshire.
Visitors to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery are able to see a selection of the items until 13 October.
So many people turned up on the first day, the opening was delayed while exhibits were moved to a larger space.
Visitor, John Welsh, a jeweller from Rednal, Birmingham, said the treasure was "so intricate".
"I expected it to be a lot cruder because it's so old, but not at all. They almost look as though they could be modern some of the filigree designs," he said.
Meanwhile, curators at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, in conjunction with partners from across the region including Staffordshire County Council, are now starting the process of bidding for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to allow the impressive haul to remain in the city.
Rita McLean, head of Birmingham museums, predicted it could become a major coup for the city on the same lines as the Book of Kells in Trinity College, Dublin.
“I think it will lift the profile of Birmingham,” she said. “It will be a fascinating display and would become a major tourist attraction.”
Birmingham council leader Mike Whitby said: “It’s only right and proper that the artefacts remain in the region they were found.”
Professor Vince Gaffney, director of research and archeology at the University of Birmingham, said the find placed the West Midlands at the heart of historical debate.
“You can’t exaggerate how important this will be, and as we find out more, this haul will simply grow in importance,” he said.
Birmingham’s heritage champion Peter Douglas Osborn said the discovery is evidence that the Midlands is the birthplace of England.
“This is such an impressive haul that it is clear evidence that Mercia would have been the most important kingdom in Anglo-Saxon Britain and the name of England comes from the Angles,” he said.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The news of the discovery of a massive Anglo Saxon treasure hoard in Staffordshire has been receiving a great amount of media coverage from around the world. We will try to keep you updated with any further news about the find.
Some more information about the find has come out within the last few hours. First is a detailed commentary about the treasure hoard from one of the medievalists who has been working on the artifacts.
Dr Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Kevin is an expert in early medieval metalwork and Saxon craftsmanship. Here are some of Kevin’s initial analysis of this remarkable find:
“The two most striking features of the Hoard are that it is unbalanced and it is of exceptionally high quality. Unbalanced because of what we don’t find. There is absolutely nothing feminine. There are no dress fittings, brooches or pendants. These are the gold objects most commonly found from the Anglo-Saxon era. The vast majority of items in the Hoard are martial - war gear, especially sword fittings.
“The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate. This was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good. Tiny garnets were cut to shape and set in a mass of cells to give a rich, glowing effect; it is stunning. Its origins are clearly the very highest-levels of Saxon aristocracy or royalty. It belonged to the elite.
“Most of the gold and silver items appear to have been deliberately torn from the objects to which they were originally attached. We have over 80 gold and garnet pommel caps, and there also appear to be fittings from helmets.
“This is not simply loot; swords were being singled out for special treatment. If it were just gold they were after we would have found the rich fittings from sword belts. Perhaps gold fittings were stripped from the swords to depersonalise them – to remove the identity of the previous owner. The blades would then be remounted and reused.
“It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the Hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career. We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when. It will be debated for decades.
“We don’t know how it came to be buried in that field, it may have been a tribute to the pagan gods or concealed in the face of a perceived, but all too real, threat, which led to it not being recovered. When we have done more work on the Hoard we will be able to say more about it.
“Despite their war-like nature the decoration on these objects is delightful; Some are decorated in what is known as “Anglo-Saxon Style II” which consist of strange animals, interlaced around each other, their long jaws intertwined. There is a joy to it. Many objects are inlaid with garnets and even covered in earth the colour is still breath-taking.
“There is so much material in this Hoard that we may have to rethink seventh century metalwork. Earlier finds will be looked at in the context of what we find amongst this mass of material. In the past the seventh century has always been looked at from the point of view of East Anglia and Kent. It’s going to be hard to forget the Midlands after this! There are exciting times ahead.
“The discovery of this Hoard in Staffordshire should cause no surprise. It is in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia which was militarily aggressive and expansionist during the seventh century under kings Penda, Wulfhere and Aethelred. This material could have been collected by any of these during their wars with Northumbria and East Anglia or by someone whose name is lost to history. Here we are
seeing history confirmed before our eyes.”
Furthermore, for those interested in what was written on one of the artifacts - a gold strip - the text is in Latin and it is from a Biblical verse - the Book of Numbers, Chapter 10 verse 35 and reads: 'Surge domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua'. The English translation would be: ‘Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face'
We will try to bring you more information about some of the individual pieces from this find.
Please see also our earlier articles: Massive Anglo Saxon hoard discovered and our collection of eight videos about the discovery.
An amateur treasure hunter prowling English farmland with a metal detector stumbled upon what has been described as the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered, a massive collection of gold and silver crosses, sword decorations and other items, British archaeologists said Thursday.
The Hoard comprises in excess 1,500 individual items. Most are gold, although some are silver. Many are decorated with precious stones. The quality of the craftsmanship displayed on many items is supreme, indicating possible royal ownership.
Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, told the inquest in Cannock that the significance of the find was "only beginning to dawn" on the small number of experts who have examined it.
"It is at least as significant as any of the major discoveries of this period that have been made in the past."
"It is assumed that the items were buried by their owners at a time of danger with the intention of later coming back and recovering them."
The inquest heard that the haul was found by metal detectorist Terry Herbert just below the surface of a cultivated field in south Staffordshire in July.
Mr Bland said the hoard - thought to date back to between 675 and 725AD - was unearthed in what was once the Kingdom of Mercia. "I think wealth of this kind must have belonged to a king but we cannot say that for absolute certain," the expert told Mr Haigh.
Herbert, from the town of Burntwood, found the gold on a friend's farm on July 5 and spent the next five days scouring the field for the rest of the hoard.
"Imagine you're at home and somebody keeps putting money through your letterbox, that was what it was like," Herbert said. "I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items."
The hoard was officially declared treasure by a coroner, which means it will now be valued by a committee of experts and offered up for sale to a museum. Proceeds would be split fifty-fifty between Herbert and his farmer friend, who has not been identified. The find's exact location is being kept secret to deter looters.
Bland said he could not give a precise figure for the worth of the hoard, but he said the treasure hunter could be in line for a "seven-figure sum."
Herbert said the experience had been "more fun than winning the lottery," adding that one expert likened his discovery to finding Tutankhamen's tomb.
"I just flushed all over when he said that. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up," Herbert said.
The hoard is in storage at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Some of the items are due to go on display starting Friday.
"The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate," said archaeologist Kevin Leahy, who catalogued the find. "This was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good."
Leahy said there was still much to learn about the treasure, its purpose, and its origins.
"It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career," he said. "We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when. It will be debated for decades."
Bland agreed, saying that archaeologists were still baffled by the function of many of the pieces they found. "There's lots of mystery in it," he said.
Leslie Webster, an expert on Anglo-Saxons who used to work with the British Museum's Department of Prehistory and Europe, said the find was "absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells" — a reference to famous manuscripts produced around the same time.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
From Voice of America: For two weeks every summer, a campground in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is transformed into a medieval village where people dress and act as if they were living back in the middle ages. There are tournaments, musical performances and, perhaps most importantly, battles in nearby fields just for the honor and glory of it all. Our correspondent, Zorislav Baydyuk, reports on the Pennsic War -- a blend of the words Pennsylvania and Punic. Here is his report, as narrated by Julia Taboh.
Here are two more videos from the 2009 edition of the Pennsic War:
To learn more about The Consolidated Medieval Studies Research Group, please visit their website.
The BBC Radio series In Our Time has kicked off a new season with an episode to the famous medieval philosopher St Thomas Aquinas. The program was first broadcast on September 18th, and can now be listened to as a podcast from the BBC Radio website.
Hosted by Melvyn Bragg, In Our Time is a discussion programme that examines the "history of ideas". The series covers many different subjects from history, religion, philosophy, the arts or science, one of which is explored in each programme with the help of three experts on the subject.
For the episode on Aquinas, Bragg has brought in Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews; and Annabel Brett, Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, to be the three experts.
In his newsletter promoting the show, Bragg noted, "I surprised myself by challenging Martin Palmer so early on in the programme about one of his biographical “facts” on the young Thomas Aquinas. But the idea that for two years his parents brought him a beautiful woman a day, in order to break his spirit and keep him a celibate Benedictine instead of allowing him to go off and become a celibate Dominican, seemed to me to be at the wrong, ie: barmy, unbelievable end of the Myths of Great Figures spectrum."
Besides talking about Aquinas' quirky personality and his obesity, the episode focuses on his importance to medieval philosophy and how his ideas continue to have influence over the Roman Catholic Church as well as on the western world's views of human rights and modern law.
You can access the programme from the In Our Time website.
On Medievalists.net, we have posted a complete list of In Our Time programmes that focus on the Middle Ages, which includes episodes on Genghis Khan, the Black Death and Geoffrey Chaucer.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
This year has seen the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession, and the start of the third television series of The Tudors – yet we might so easily have been celebrating King Arthur I instead of arguably England’s most famous monarch.
When Henry VII died 500 years ago, he should have been succeeded by his eldest son, Arthur, who was born 523 years ago this month. Arthur died in 1502, Henry married his brother’s widow, and the rest is history.
But what kind of king would Arthur have been and what do his life and death tell us about the Tudors? Dr Steven Gunn, Lecturer in Modern History at Merton College, is one of the editors of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration, a new book published this week by Boydell Press.
'There would not have been the problem of the king’s debatable marriage and subsequent divorce, for one thing, so maybe no break with Rome and no Church of England,' Dr Gunn said. 'There might also have been a less confrontational, less metropolitan style of rule.
'As Prince of Wales, Arthur lived at Ludlow and was surrounded by servants from Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and the Channel Islands. He had a much better sense than Henry, who once described Warwick as in "the most distant quarters of our realm", of what most of his territories were like and what he could and could not get away with. So he might have been less prone to revolutionary and provocative change.'
However, Dr Gunn says Arthur’s reign might not have been perfect by any means. He said: 'The same brand of hard-faced lawyers and taxmen who gave his father Henry VII a bad reputation worked for Arthur, so maybe he would have found it harder than his brother did to start his reign in a blaze of generosity by disowning his father’s style of rule.'
With the The Tudors back on our screens, combined with the celebrations, Henry VIII is certainly back in the limelight. But Dr Gunn and his colleagues believe his family, such as Arthur and Henry VII, should not be forgotten. Particularly because as well as the anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession, it is also the 500th anniversary of Henry VII’s death.
Dr Gunn concluded: 'Arthur living was the hope of the Tudors, glorified in pageantry and poetry. But Arthur dead was rather an embarrassment. What did that say about God’s providential favour to the new royal family that joined York and Lancaster to end the Wars of the Roses? Perhaps that is why he was buried not at Westminster or Windsor but at Worcester Cathedral, in a chapel covered in Tudor badges, but apparently unfinished and rather neglected from that day till this.'
The treasure was discovered in 2007 in a field in North Yorkshire, and will be on show for a limited run of six weeks before the Museums closes for refurbishment on 2 November.
Andrew Morrison, curator of archaeology at the York Museums Trust, described the Viking hoard as "a wonderful, wonderful set of objects."
The most spectacular single object in the hoard is a gilt silver cup or bowl, made in what is now France or western Germany around the middle of the ninth century.
It was apparently intended for use in church services, and was probably either looted from a monastery by Vikings or given to them in tribute. Most of the smaller objects were hidden inside this vessel, which was itself protected by some form of lead container. As a result, the hoard was extremely well-preserved.
Other star objects include a rare gold arm-ring and 617 coins, including several new or rare types. Overall, the hoard contains a mixture of different precious metal objects, mostly silver, including coins, ornaments, ingots (bars) and chopped-up fragments known as hack-silver (67 objects in total and 617 coins).
"We can certainly say it's an Anglo-Scandinavian hoard because of the contents," Mr Morrison explains. Among the coins are dirhams from Muslim states as far away as central Asia and Afghanistan.
"What they're showing you is trading links. That tends to be very much more the Viking side of life than the Anglo-Saxon side of life," says Mr Morrison. The Scandinavian seagoing peoples travelled and traded far and wide.
These provide valuable new information about the history of England in the early tenth century, as well as Yorkshire's wider cultural contacts in the period. Interestingly, the hoard contains coins relating to Islam and to the pre-Christian religion of the Vikings as well as to Christianity.
A Viking army conquered the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in AD 869. The area remained under Viking control until it was conquered by Athelstan in 927. The hoard was probably buried for safety by a wealthy Viking leader during the unrest that followed the conquest of Northumbria by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan.
The area had another brief period of independence following Athelstan's death in 939, which lasted until the death of the Viking ruler Eric Bloodaxe in 954. The Vikings made a lasting impact in Britain, including place names, sculpture and the influence on the English language, as well as archaeological remains. Yorkshire is one of the areas which shows the strongest Viking influence in the country.
Fleur Shearman, a metals conservator at the British Museum, worked on restoring the silver cup. She said that "apart from soil encrustations and the corrosion related to the lead and a little bit related to the copper in the cup, it's in superb, really outstanding condition."
The lead casing and the encrustation have kept the silver pristine - it has emerged shining when the coatings were removed.
"Under the surface you can see all sorts of finishing and manufacturing marks - even little nicks the Vikings had made to test the quality of the silver,"
When the cup was first discovered, it was caked in mud. "It just looked grey, featureless, " said Ms. Shearman - "in fact it's highly decorated".
Beautifully engraved with animals and foliage, it also turned out to be inlaid with niello - a black metallic compound.
The hoard will be on show in York from 17 September until 1 November. It will return to the British Museum while the Yorkshire Museum closes for refurbishment until August 2010. It will then return to York for "a period of time" - by which time the whole hoard, including all 617 coins, should be ready to go on display.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Look for us to keep adding more news, articles, interviews and videos to the site, and make it the leading internet resource for people interested in the Middle Ages.
As part of our celebration, we just posted a feature report on the Michael of Rhodes project and books that are being released this month. This is a fascinating project that will appeal a wide variety of people. It includes a video interview we did with the three project leaders: Dr. Pamela O. Long, Dr. David McGeey, and Dr. Alan M. Stahl (we are trying to fix the audio on the video, and if you can help, please send us an email). Over the weekend, we will expand this section with a profile of Michael of Rhodes and his book, and a review of the work that has just been published.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Isaac, a medieval historian, will work with fellow scholars at the Center for Advanced Studies of Medieval Civilization at the University of Poitiers on the topic "Urban Experience of Siege in the Twelfth Century." Isaac's main research field is medieval military culture, focusing primarily on Western Europe in the 12th century. In an effort to flesh out the narratives of how people in towns lived during military sieges, Isaac wants to examine documents such as cartularies (collections of deeds and charters) that are not readily available in the United States.
"I am going there to do research, to devour the materials," said Isaac, who will be in Poitiers from January through May. "At the same time, though, I won't be in a library all day, with my nose in a book, and not talking to anybody. I will interact with faculty and graduate students. This should be mutually beneficial since maybe people there can put me in touch with sources I don't know about, and vice versa. My plan is that this experience will lead to a book; one that will straddle that difficult ground between popular history and academic history. I want it to be something that both specialists and our undergraduates would enjoy reading. I have talked with some academic presses, and they are receptive.
"In my Fulbright, I will work with the director of the Center, Martin Aurell, and with all of the various research teams there, which are led by faculty members and involve graduate students. Research-wise, I want to hang out in the intersections between the teams. I have already learned a great deal from Professor Aurell, who also is a member of the Institut du France, which is quite an honor, and is director of the Cahiers de Civilisation Medievale."
His research, he said in his application for a Fulbright, will "bring into sharper relief elements of urban society that either failed or succeeded. Thus, the focus is not one of military history solely, but of all the intersecting dynamics of medieval culture that played a role in townspeople's decisions to resist an attacker or to open their gates. The fault lines of twelfth-century towns...lay hidden to immediate view, but the pressure of siege, of imminent loss, often showed just where they ran."
Isaac's interest in towns under siege in the 12th century grew out of earlier research. His M.A., from Louisiana State University, examined mercenaries during the reign (1135-1154) of King Stephen of England, and his Ph.D., also from LSU, was expanded "to include what we call the 'long 12th century,' which ran up to around 1220, and moved from strictly England to across Western Europe. In studying mercenaries, I got to thinking not only about why they chose this career but also about the towns many of them came from. What was going on in these towns?"
The narratives in this field that he has already come across, he wrote in his application for a Fulbright scholarship, "must be supplemented by trolling widely in...the cartularies of ecclesiastical institutions and the collected charters of kings and magnates. Often enough to merit the researcher's investment, these documents include the back-story to a grant or liberty, thus explaining how a dispute arose, how severe it became, and under what conditions the involved parties accepted a resolution."
He gave a paper related to this topic in 2001, and his contribution to a book due out in November 2009, Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders, edited by Jeff Rider and Alan V. Murray, will touch on the subject. He is active in the Haskins Society, an international scholarly organization dedicated to the study of Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and early Angevin history. Isaac especially credits his colleagues in this society with sharpening his thinking on this subject.
"There isn't much from this period that hasn't been ferreted out; you often wish there was," he said. "We reach a lot of dead ends and blind alleys. Fortunately, though, you can revisit sources and see something you might have missed. The evidentiary record isn't closed off. You learn to read between the lines."
The Center for Advanced Studies of Medieval Civilization (Centre d'Etudes Superieures de Civilisation Medievale) is housed in the Hotel Berthelot, a former residence that dates to the 16th century. "I've been lucky to visit there; for a researcher, the atmosphere just makes you want to dive in all that much deeper into the past," Isaac said.
The University of Poitiers, which has an enrollment of 23,500, of whom 16 percent are international students, was founded in 1431 and is France's second oldest university. Former students include the writers Guez de Balzac and Francois Rabelais and the philosophers Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon. It is in Poitiers, a city in west-central France.
Asked about his command of French, Isaac said "I would describe my French as not fluent but capable. I suspect my French will get a workout when I'm there. Since cartularies are in Latin, my days will be spent in Latin and French. The only time I'll likely hear English is when I mutter to myself."
Isaac has taught since 2004 at Longwood, where, along with Dr. Larissa (Kat) Tracy, a fellow medievalist who is assistant professor of English, he organized the Longwood University Medieval Conference, which has been held in the spring the past three years. Also, for two years he has led the history portion of the month-long Immersion in France program in La Rochelle, France, in July, which also involves the study of French. In addition, he led the Berber Culture program in May 2009 which included 11 days in Morocco and three days in Spain. He expects that study-abroad program to be repeated in 2011.
"My department (History, Philosophy, and Political Science) has been enthusiastically supportive of everything I've wanted to do," he said.
A Texas native, Isaac was born in Odessa, lived in the Dallas suburbs when he was young, and moved in the ninth grade to Nederland, near Beaumont. After graduating in 1991 from Hardin-Simmons University, where he double-majored in history and journalism, he held a public relations job at Texas State Technical College for two years, then entered graduate school. After receiving his doctorate, he taught at LSU for a year, then taught at Northwestern College, in Orange City, Iowa, for five years before coming to Longwood.
"A friend once asked me why I'm interested in the medieval period," he said. "I told him 'Because I read Lord of the Rings and Ivanhoe in the seventh grade.'"
Interestingly, a Longwood colleague, Dr. Raymond Cormier, visiting professor of French and himself a two-time Fulbright Scholar, also is a medieval specialist whose primary research is the 12th century. "If I go to the library looking for a certain book and it's not there, Raymond probably has it," Isaac said with a laugh. "Then we arrange a library drop-off."
The Fulbright Program, administered by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is the U.S. government's flagship international exchange program. Isaac is one of 13 Fulbright Scholars who will do research in France during the 2009-10 academic year. "I made my Fulbright application in summer 2008, then learned in May this year, through a polite phone call, that I'd been accepted," he said. "Official word came a month later."
Isaac is the third Longwood faculty member to receive a Fulbright scholarship in recent years. Dr. David Hardin, assistant professor of geography, did research as a Fulbright Scholar in spring 2005 on Serb settlements in the Western Slavonia region that became embroiled from 1991-95 in what Croats call the Homeland War. Dr. Martha Cook, who retired as professor of English in May 2009, taught Southern literature as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Waikato in New Zealand in 1987
In a remote rural community in northwest Qatar, not far from the sea, a team of French and Qatari archaeologists is slowly bringing a medieval part of the country’s cultural heritage back to life after it lay untouched for centuries under the sands of Murwab.
The 1.6km long and 0.5km wide site they are excavating — a remarkable village of 220 houses, two forts and two mosques — is gradually yielding artifacts from the 9th century Abbasid period. “Murwab is an exceptional site in that the settlement dates exclusively from the 9th century at the very beginning of the Abbasid period,” the Chief for the archaeological campaign, Dr Alexandrine Guerin told to media ahead of its formal London announcement late last month.
An exceptional session on the archaeology of Qatar was held at the British Museum, London in July as part of The Seminar for Arabian Studies 2009. This featured lectures by representatives from universities and academic institutions on recent research and excavations conducted as part of an initiative by the Qatar Museum Authority (QMA).
One of the sessions highlighted the Islamic period archaeology of Qatar. Excavations and the study of ceramics from the 9th century Abbasid period in Murwab was described by the French team headed by Guerin that has been exploring the chronological development and functions of different areas of the settlement.
“The site is remarkable by the number of houses that are concentrated in a very restricted area with different settlement patterns from one neighbourhood to another,” said Guerin.
Guerin has been Chief of the French archaeological mission to Qatar since 2002. With Faysal Al Nai’mi, she is heading the Murwab archaeological campaign. The settlement belonged to ordinary people, uncovering a ceramic kitchenware, bronze oil lamps, shells- dating from a period spanning a century among others.
“There has been exceptional settlement in two phases spanning the 9th century, in the beginning of the Abbasid period which is little known in written historical records,” says Guerin.
So far the finds show that the inhabitants of the area did not live exclusively the desert wanderers’ lives of shepherds but they were also partly fishermen or pearl divers, perhaps alternating the two different ways of life every six months.
“We are excavating the houses that were inhabited by ordinary people. We have excavated more than 20 houses in two years and found marvellous artefacts typically of the 9th century in the same floor, same space, same level which means dating during the same period. This gives us the complete picture of daily lives of ordinary people for which there is little or no historical records.”
Monday, September 14, 2009
The initiative is being led by Historic Scotland and aims to encourage financial investment in the refurbishment of Scotland’s built heritage during the economic downturn. It will also provide advice on the consent process, good practice and previous projects with the aim of revitalising existing buildings.
Scotland's Minister of Culture Michael Russell said: “We have a great tradition in Scotland of successfully bringing these historic buildings back into use. It requires investment, determination and an understanding of the character, history and archaeology of the building.
“This register will show some of the types of properties that Historic Scotland believes can be sympathetically restored and will give the owners access to the most recent guidance on how to go about this. I am delighted to announce that the first castles and tower houses on that list are published today and am sure that as the project continues more and more people will benefit from the advice and guidance it will provide."
As the website develops, it will offer a guide to castle and tower-house restorations, and will show successful past projects. This will allow potential castle owner to understand what opportunities exist in developing these properties.
The Minister added: “This project will support and encourage those people who are inspired to take on the challenge of repairing and reusing our wonderful architectural legacy. It may be that their vision is to create a home, business or heritage attraction, but whatever the end use, this website will allow them to benefit from the expertise of others.”
The initial register of 17 sites can be found at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/scottishcastleinitiative. The register will be updated as the project continues. Medievalists.net will have more details about the medieval castles in our Castles for Sales section.
Over sixty people are taking part in a community dig at Bishop’s Close, adjacent to the city’s cathedral, and have already uncovered medieval pottery and coins.
Site director and archaeologist Charlie Murray said yesterday: “The results to date have been very encouraging. A test pit earlier in the week showed that quite a depth of mediaeval garden soil survives on the site.
“Medieval pottery and two 14th-century coins were found in the pit. Medieval pottery is also emerging on the main part of the excavations so that there is every indication that mediaeval levels are immediately below the 19th-century buildings.”
A spokeswoman for Angus Council said interest in the dig has been “overwhelming” from the local community and visitors passing by.
“Participants of the dig have been from a wide variety of backgrounds, from young to old, many with no previous experience. Many of those who have volunteered so far have acquired the skills needed in basic archaeology as well as about the ancient history of Brechin,” she said.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
The York Archaeological Trust has launched an innovative project to bring history to life in the classroom.
The Skype Experience initiative uses the latest video conferencing facilities to bring the Vikings of Jorvik and their Roman, Tudor and archaeologists into schools.
The online learning resource will allow students who cannot visit the Jorvik Centre to talk to a virtual Viking or Roman.
The Skype Experiences are 45-minute sessions in which costumed characters engage with pupils and teachers via a live web link against a period backdrop, talking about their lives and showing relevant artefacts.
The lessons are intended to engage pupils in an interactive way, and are recorded to allow teachers to revisit the content.
Rachel Tumman, education manager at York Archaeological Trust, said: "We already provide costumed characters for schools to enhance, extend or replace visits. Skype Experiences take this one step further, making educational resources more widely available in a cost effective way.
"The beauty is that they remove the boundaries of geography and enable any school with a broadband connection and interactive whiteboard to take part. The costumed characters can also show and talk about precious objects that are not generally available for public viewing; and children can interact with the characters - in real time, either by speaking with them on screen or via a chatroom facility."
Seven schools across the UK have taken part in Skype Experiences over the six-month trial, including All Saints Primary School in Montacute.
Teacher Deborah Court said: "The Tudor Skype Experience was extremely professionally executed.
"All of the children's questions were answered informatively, with plenty of detail to engage the class. The children really enjoyed the experience of seeing a 'real life' Tudor, and being able to interact with him first hand was very exciting for them."
York Archaeological Trust now plans to launch Skype Experiences across the UK after receiving positive feedback about the lessons.
Rachel Tumman explained: "The trial has shown that the technology works; and the demand is certainly there. The next stage is to roll it out in primary schools across the UK, and look at how we could link it in with more of the trust's activities such as our live Hungate excavations in York city centre and education institutions."
The York Archaeological Trust run the Jorvik Viking Centre, DIG archaeological adventure and Barley Hall medieval townhouse in York.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Cologne's embattled council announced Thursday that the city archives are to be re-housed at last. The council is planning to spend over 97 million euros on a new, purpose-built building which will also provide space for a variety of other cultural institutions.
The announcement comes six months after the original building suddenly collapsed, burying the archives. Two people were killed in the accident and the damage to Cologne's rich collection of historical treasures was devastating.
"We'll experience the effects of the collapse for decades to come," Fritz Schramma, Cologne's mayor, said Thursday.
Cologne's council has come under heavy criticism not only for its handling of the disaster, but also for other building projects in the city.
Plans to expand the Cologne City Museum were abandoned when key donors pulled out. And a widely followed plan to construct a Jewish museum in the city was shelved, also due to lack of funds on the part of the private foundation behind it. Some feel that Cologne should have made this project its priority instead.
Until its collapse on March 3, 2009, Cologne's city archive building was home to one of the largest communal history collections in Europe. Amongst the treasures buried in the rubble were papers left by the composer Jacques Offenbach and the writer Heinrich Boell.
The collection also boasted over 1,800 medieval documents, including a handwritten manuscript penned by Albertus Magnus, the greatest German philosopher and scholar of the Middle Ages.
Much of Cologne's collection has been salvaged from the rubble, but restoration work is expected to continue for decades. No one knows the exact cost of the restoration project, but estimates put it at around 350 million euros.
See also these earlier articles:
Manuscript of Albertus Magnus found in Cologne Archive ruins
Only 30 percent of collapsed Cologne Archives to be saved: Czech expert
An inquest in Bristol has ruled that a 500 year old silver ring, found on a medieval settlement site, must to be sold to a local museum. The ring is thought to have once belonged to a 15th century mayor of Bristol.
It was discovered by 74-year-old Jerry Morris while he was out metal detecting in a field in the village of Alveston, just north of Bristol, on December 21, 2008.
The find came to light at a 'treasure trove inquest' held to determine whether or not it is an official 'treasure'.
Coroner Terry Moore decided it did qualify, and as a result Mr Morris will have to offer it to a museum at a price to be decided by an independent board.
The heavy silver late medieval merchants' thumb ring has a seal with the initials 'WS'. It is believed to have belonged to William Spencer, who was a cloth merchant and farmer in the Bristol area in the 1400s, because he was the only wealthy merchant of the time with the initials 'WS'. He was appointed Mayor of Bristol in 1465, 1473, and 1479.
Mr Morris, from Shirehampton, Bristol, said: "The loss of a personal seal must have been an absolute disaster as he lived in very troubled times with the War of Roses taking place and his seal could have been misused by others at that time."
It is believed the ring, which was brought to Bristol from the British Museum, in London, for yesterday's inquest at Flax Bourton Coroners' Court, would have been worn by the mayor over a glove because of its size.
It will take up to a year to discover the value of the ring. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery are likely to make a bid for the ring, with a percentage going to Mr Morris and the landowner on which the ring was discovered. The name of the landowner was not revealed at the inquest.
The current Lord Mayor of Bristol, Christopher Davies, said: "It is a very remarkable find by Mr Morris. It will take up to 12 months to assess costing. William Spencer was lord mayor on three occasions, and there are records saying it was lost during his time."
Mr Morris took up metal detecting and joined Severnvale Historical Research and Detecting Society when he retired from his job as a logistics manager with British Aerospace 20 years ago.
Among his other important historical finds is the seal of Thomas the Chaplin, from the early 14th century, found at Wedmore, Somerset.
Recalling the day he found the ring, Mr Morris told the court: "I was getting the usual buttons and things and then suddenly in front of me was a 15th century medieval silver thumb ring. The condition was so that all I had to do was wash it under the tap to clean it. I knew straight away that it was a medieval seal thumb ring, but I never thought I would find one."
Mayor Spencer was accused of treason and imprisoned for a few weeks, but was released under the instruction of King Edward IV. He helped fund a number of voyages from Bristol at a time when the famous Matthew journey was being planned.
The court heard that it was likely the ring had been lost and never moved from its location. Mr Moore concluded: "On the balance of probability, I am satisfied with the silver content of the ring, and that it is over 300 years old."
The theological disputes and debates among early Christians that helped shape the church are examined by a Valparaiso University theology professor's new book.
Dr. Lisa Driver, associate professor of theology, is author of Christ at the Center: The Early Christian Era. The book is the third volume in the Westminster History of Christian Thought series.
"Early followers of Jesus Christ called themselves believers in 'the way'," Dr. Driver said. "They sought to understand what they were coming to believe in relation to how these beliefs affected the ways in which they lived."
In Christ at the Center, Dr. Driver illustrates how early Christians' interactions with one another in worship and in their care for strangers and the poor shaped how they came to understand God.
"This interrelation of faith and practice is a clarifying lens through which the story of emerging Christian thought can be understood," Dr. Driver said.
The book covers the period from the earliest formation of Christianity through the fifth century.
Dr. Driver said early Christians rejoiced and marveled that, in a sense, Christ's incarnation brought humanity into God himself.
"Such divinely transformed flesh-and-blood humanity required a commitment to rescuing poverty- and disease-stricken bodies," she said. "Nursing care and eventually hospitals were hallmarks of Christ incarnated in his people. When a Roman emperor unsuccessfully attempted to restore pagan religion, he sought to replicate the array of social services that Christians provided."
Another insight of the past, Dr. Driver said, is that a Christian's worship shapes how and what he or she believes. "Examining the life and thought of early Christians, it is clear that the form, style, actions and content of worship provided a complex and rich matrix for Christians to encounter and be transformed by God and from there to explore the spiritual, intellectual and social implications of that relationship," she said.
Dr. Driver said her interest in early Christianity goes back to her family's decision to enter into the Lutheran church. "That opened my eyes to the idea of 'church' (the people of God) extending beyond a local congregation," Dr. Driver said. "The same liturgy and sacraments joined me to brothers and sisters far and wide in a way I had never considered."
Her studies eventually led her to the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and University of Toronto. "At that point I had my very first theology course and met ancient and medieval brothers and sisters," Dr. Driver said. "Here the chronological boundaries burst and I tasted the fellowship of 'church' that goes beyond time and space. Here I could encounter and converse with my forbears in the faith, even as I had communion with them at every Eucharistic liturgy."
Dr. Driver said her calling to teach arose from a zeal to share the wideness of the church with others who may have had little opportunity to know its riches. "In my teaching I continue to emphasize the experiential encounters with God in worship, prayer and intentional Christian life that lie at the heart of the faith," she said.
Dr. Driver said Christ at the Center is written both for theology students and for Christians, Protestants in particular, who are interested in learning about the roots of the faith and about their kinship with ancient Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.
Dr. Driver joined Valpo's Department of Theology in 2000. Her research interests include theology of the late antique and medieval periods, Biblical interpretation, Christian social thought and action, Gnosticism, narrative theology in early Christianity and Christian prayer, mysticism and ascetic disciplines.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
One of north Wales' great landed estates, the Mostyn Estate, closely linked with the town of Llandudno, is to come under the microscope in a new research project conducted jointly by Bangor and Aberystwyth universities
The Mostyn Project, coordinated by the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Aberystwyth and Bangor universities, will study the archives and impact of the Mostyn family and estate, which has played a central role in the life of north Wales from the middle ages through to the modern period.
To launch the project, Professor Tony Carr has been invited to present a public lecture 'The Five Courts: The Making of the Mostyns' at Bangor University's Main Arts Lecture Theatre at 5.00pm on Friday 25 September. This is a public lecture and is open to all free of charge.
"Given the importance of the Mostyns over centuries, the project can cover a huge and fascinating range of sources and subjects. Our findings should be of interest to many local communities, and also a wide spectrum of academics across the world," said Professor Tony Claydon of Bangor's School of History, Welsh History & Archaeology.
"The documents and artefacts produced and owned by the Mostyn family make up one of Britain's most varied collections of historical and literary records. Studying them will provide fascinating insights into the heritage of Wales. The collection is also significant in the context of Europe-wide work on cultural exchange and social and economic innovation." said Dr Elisabeth Salter, of Aberystwyth University's English Department, who is directing the joint project.
Academics hope that the archive will throw further light on a wide range of subjects including the nature and role of Bardic and poetic patronage from the medieval period to the eighteenth century, the unique and flexible development of Welsh law, the social and economic influence of the gentry in county society. It also includes early industrial development, the cultural construction of elite families through such activities as house building or book collecting, the circulation of news away from London in the early modern period, pre modern estate management, and the development of early manuscripts and printed works.
The material to be studied lies in a number of places, including the Bangor University Archive, the National Library of Wales, and the Mostyn Estate itself, as well as international libraries. The project enjoys the enthusiastic support of the Mostyn Estate and the National Library as well as of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth.
Conference Announcement and Call for Papers
Crusades: Medieval Worlds in Conflict
The Second International Symposium on Crusade Studies
February 17-20, 2010
Saint Louis University
The Second International Symposium on Crusade Studies will be held at Saint Louis University (St Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.) on February 17 to 20, 2010. The title of the Symposium, Crusades: Medieval Worlds in Conflict, will this year place the focus on the “worlds” of the Mediterranean and the impact of the crusades on them. Plenary speakers include Michael Angold (University of Edinburgh), Ronnie Ellenblum (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Eva Haverkamp (Rice University), Ahmet T. Karamustafa (Washington University), Christopher MacEvitt (Dartmouth College), Suleiman Mourad (Smith College), Jonathan Phillips (Royal Holloway, University of London), and John H. Pryor (University of Sydney).
Phase I of the symposium will take place on the evenings of February 17, 18, and 19 when two distinguished speakers will deliver plenary lectures of general interest followed by questions and discussion. Phase II will begin on Friday, February 19. It will consist of scholarly papers of twenty minutes in length delivered in concurrent and plenary sessions.
Call for Papers. Twenty minute scholarly papers will be delivered on February 19 and 20 in concurrent and plenary sessions. All topics relating to the crusading movement are welcome. Phase II will conclude with a plenary roundtable discussion, reception, and a banquet.
Abstracts should be submitted by mail, fax, or email by December 1, 2009 to:
Second International Symposium on Crusade Studies
Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Saint Louis University
3800 Lindell Blvd.
Saint Louis, MO 63108
For more information go to http://crusades.slu.edu/symposium/ or call 314-977-7180.
The International Symposium on Crusade Studies is a quadrennial activity of the Crusades Studies Forum at Saint Louis University. It is sponsored by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University.
Call for Papers:
Trebuchet to Cannon: Military Technology 1000-1600
A conference and workshop to be held at the Danish Medieval Centre, Nykøbing, Falster, Denmark,
26-29 July 2010
For the last two decades the Middelaldercentret in Denmark has carried out research into the construction and performance of medieval military technologies. Since 2001, the Ho Group (dedicated to the study of early gunpowder and gunpowder weapons) has met to experiment with gunpowder recipes and reconstructed artillery. The tenth meeting of the Ho Group will be an international conference to discuss all aspects of medieval military technology, including artillery, siege engines, gunpowder and cannon, and other weapons. The Organizing Committee extends an invitation to all those interested in this area—textual scholars, experimental archaeologists, curators and historians—to attend and present their work and discuss solutions to, and further problems in, the understanding of military technologies in the Middle Ages. The conference will include a series of workshops and hands-on demonstrations by the Ho Group of medieval technologies, including trebuchets, gunpowder and incendiary weapons, and reconstructions of cannon.
The conference will be four days in length, with three days of papers and workshops, one day-long excursion, and a closing banquet with Renaissance fireworks. The venue will be the Middelaldercentret (Danish Medieval Centre) and the adjacent Femern Link Hotel & Conference Centre. The primary language will be English. Presented papers will be considered for publication.
The organizers request a brief abstract for a paper proposal or an expression of interest to attend without presenting a paper by 15 November 2009. Full details of the conference and accommodation fees will be finalized by the end of 2009, with a registration deadline of 15 May 2010.
For more information or to submit your proposal (200 words, along with a brief CV), please contact Robert Smith at <HoX@basiliscoe.fsnet.co.uk>.
Monday, September 07, 2009
Medieval Greenland abandoned but not forgotten, study finds
Medieval pirates plundered the Baltic Sea, study finds
Major Viking hoard acquired by two British Museums
Letter shows another late medieval expedition to Canada
English crusaders settled in 12th century Spain, study finds
Germany spends stimulus money on its medieval castles
A new article on 15th century Valencia unveils a different side to marriage in the late-medieval Spanish city, and shows that women who worked as domestic servants had more independence in choosing who to marry than wealthier women.
"The Project of Marriage: Spousal Choice, Dowries, and Domestic Service in Early-Fifteenth-Century Valencia" was written by Dana Wessell Lightfoot, Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso. The article appears in the latest issue of Viator: Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Volume 40, Number 1, 2009).
Professor Lightfoot, who earned her PhD at the University of Toronto, examined marriage contracts and dowry restitution cases that found their way into the city courts of Valencia between 1420 and 1439. She focuses on women who had immigrated on their own into Valencia and worked as domestic servants.
In an interview with Medievalists.net, Professor Lightfoot said, "I wanted to think about how the experiences of labouring-status women were different in terms of marriage in comparison to elite women. There is a lot of research done on higher status women and marriage for southern Europe but very little on lower status women so I wanted to look at how issues such as status and immigration impacted the ability of these women to make their own marital choices, especially in terms of who they married and the property they brought to marriage."
Her research finds that these women did have greater choice in finding suitable men to marry, unlike elite women who often were married off by their fathers. Moreover, the women were able to bring in their own assets to serve as a dowry for the marriage, and were able to retain control of these assets during the marriage. Lightfoot uncovers 220 cases where the wife regained her dowry from her husband, mostly because he was either broke or heavily in debt.
One example of this is the case of Teresa Dauder, who as a 12-year old, immigrated to Valencia from the rural town of Sogorb. She went to work as a servant to Maria and Francesc Oviet. When she was 19, Teresa had earned 25 pounds. To this her father donated 5 more pounds, while the Oviets gave 10 pounds for a total dowry of 40 pounds. With this she had married Tomas, a barber, in 1429. Five years later, Teresa sought to have her dowry immediately restored, because Tomas had "caused many and diverse debts...owed money to many people and had fallen into penury." Four witnessed testified for Teresa, including her former employer and three neighbours, which led to the judges ordering Tomas to return her dowry.
Janus Moller Jensen, who teaches at the University of Southern Denmark, examines what happened in "The Forgotten Crusades: Greenland and the Crusades, 1400-1523." Greenland was first settled by Icelanders and Norweigians in 986, but during the early 15th century contact between the Greenland settlers and the rest of medieval Europe was cut and the community disappeared.
Jensen's article examines attempts by the rulers of the Kalmar Union (which consisted of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark) to send an expedition to the island, which they considered to be part of their territory.
Chronicles and sources claim that the settlers in Greenland as being at war with a race of people known as the Karelians (or pygmies), who may have been the Inuit. The attempts to return to Greenland was portrayed as a crusade to regain the land taken by heathens.
Jensen also finds evidence that the Kalmar Union and the Portuguese cooperated and may have even lauched a joint expedition to Greenland in the 15th century, with their goal not only to reach Greenland, but also to find a northwest passage to India.
Unfortunately, little is known about what happened in these expeditions. That might be explained by the words of one 16th century Portuguese writer, who noted "But as most of those who made discoveries were ruined thereby, there is no recollection left by any of them so far as we know, particular those who steered northward."
Jensen's article can be found in volume 7 of the journal Crusades, which is published by the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East.