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The World Pertaining to King Arthur

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Charlie Hunnam stars in KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, directed by Guy Ritchie – in theaters March 24, 2017

Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne.

When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not.

Starring with Hunnam (FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”) and Oscar nominee Law (“Cold Mountain,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) are Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) as Mage; Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond,” “In America”) as Bedivere; Aidan Gillen (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) as Goosefat Bill; and Eric Bana (“Star Trek”) as Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon.

Guy Ritchie (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” the “Sherlock Holmes” films) directed the film from a screenplay is by Joby Harold (“Awake”) and Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram, story by David Dobkin (“The Judge”) and Joby Harold. The film is produced by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind,” “I Am Legend”), Joby Harold, Tory Tunnell (“Awake,” “Holy Rollers”), and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Sherlock Holmes” producers Steve Clark-Hall, Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram. David Dobkin and Bruce Berman are executive producers.

Ritchie’s behind-the-scenes creative team included two-time Oscar-nominated director of photography John Mathieson (“Gladiator,” “The Phantom of the Opera”), Oscar-nominated production designer Gemma Jackson (“Finding Neverland”), editor James Herbert (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Edge of Tomorrow”), costume designer Annie Symons (Masterpiece Theater’s “Great Expectations”), makeup and hair designer Christine Blundell (“Mr. Turner,” the “Sherlock Holmes” films), and Oscar-nominated VFX Supervisor Nick Davis (“The Dark Knight”). The music is by Daniel Pemberton (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”).

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, a Weed Road/Safehouse Pictures Production, a Ritchie/Wigram Production, a Guy Ritchie film, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Slated for release on March 24, 2017, the film will be distributed in North America by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.

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I am super excited to see Charlie as King Arthur.  This version may not be historic in terms of Arthurian history, but it is historic for a theater release.  I don’t think any Arthurian scholars, myself included, are ever happy with someone outside our circle telling their rendering of the Arthurian legends and/or history, but we should at least try to enjoy it.  Next March I will try to forget what I know, I’ll walk into the theater as an enthusiast instead of an Arthurian scholar and enjoy watching this version of King Arthur.

Arthurian Quote from Le Morte d’Arthur

Now I have warned thee of thy vain glory and of thy pride, that thou hast many times erred against thy Maker. Beware of everlasting pain, for of all earthly knights I have most pity of thee, for I know well thou hast not thy peer on any earthy sinful man.


A recluse to Launcelot, 713

These words, spoken during the quest for the Sangreal, touch on Lancelot’s spiritual failings, and help to define the epic’s shift into a more Christian work. On the quest for the Sangreal, Lancelot has a hard time accepting the idea that he might not achieve his goal. After all, he has always been the world’s greatest knight. However, this pride is precisely what keeps him from fulfilling the goal. Finding the Sangreal requires spiritual fortitude, not just physical strength. The recluse’s words reveal to Lancelot that his best path is to repent of his sins. Redemption, another major theme of Le Morte d’Arthur, proves quite important to Lancelot’s story arc. Here, we see the beginning of Lancelot’s spiritual trial.

139 Old Norse Words in the English Language

Love Of Words

139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language

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When I say “Old English” what comes to mind? The ornate, hard-to-read script? Reading Beowulf in your high school English class? The kinds of figurative compound nouns – or kennings – like “swan of blood” and “slaughter-dew” that have sustained heavy metal lyrics for decades?

Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was a language spoken by the Angles and the Saxons – the first Germanic tribes to settle the British Isles. They were not the first inhabitants, as any Welsh or Gaelic speaker will tell you, but their language did form the basis for the Angle-ish we speak today. But then why can’t we modern-day English speakers understand Old English? In terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Old English resembles its cousins Dutch and German more than it does modern English. So how did English change so drastically?

The short answer…

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6 Trailblazing Women in Medieval Times

Six trailblazing medieval women

Everyone has heard of Joan of Arc or Eleanor of Aquitaine, but which other women were important during this 1,000-year period? As Susan Signe Morrison explains, evidence abounds concerning medieval women who were doctors, musicians, writers, theologians, explorer and scientists…

Submitted by: Emma Mason
Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179). (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), a scientist, doctor of medicine, musician, philosopher and theologian, is “acclaimed as the most accomplished of medieval women”, says Susan Signe Morrison. (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

First female playwright: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (c935–c1000)

 

The 10th-century Saxon canoness Hrotsvit of Gandersheim called herself ‘the strong voice of Gandersheim’. She had many firsts to her credit: first medieval playwright; first female playwright; first female German poet and first female German historian.

Dedicating her works to various members of Emperor Otto’s family, Hrotsvit was highly educated in both the quadrivium (music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy) and the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic), as well as key writings by Christian theologians. Hrotsvit was also well-versed in Roman pagan authors, whose immoral comedies featured love affairs and women of suspect reputation, embodying the worst of misogynist beliefs. Hrotsvit took these well-plotted, but immoral, plays and turned them into morally admirable dramas featuring worthy women and weak men. Girls stood up to those who did not let them lead the lives they chose.

Hrotsvit put to vellum the first-known dramas since the classical period. Her plays extol females, from strong virgins to prostitute saints, willing to sacrifice themselves for God. What could have been happier for a devout medieval Christian than to end up in heaven? Her heroines include young girls, one as young as eight, who stand up defiantly under torture and humiliation from pagan Roman officials.  One holy virgin tells the violent emperor, “I have called him a fool, I now call him a fool, and I shall call him a fool as long as I live.” Nothing frightens her.

Hrotsvit uses misogynistic stereotypes about women – that they are more physically weak than men, for example – to argue the very opposite. Hrotsvit even has two fallen women as her heroines, who exemplify the category of the ‘holy harlot’, as seen most famously in the life of St Mary of Egypt.

Hrotsvit of Gandersheim

Hrotsvit presents Emperor Otto the Great with her Gesta Oddonis, in the background is Abbess Gerberga. Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1501.  (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Fighting crusader: Margaret of Beverley (c1150–c1214/15)

The 12th-century Margaret of Beverley, born in Jerusalem to her English pilgrim parents, returned to the Holy Land just as the great Muslim leader Saladin decided to reclaim Jerusalem from Christian control. Margaret lived in Jerusalem as the city came under siege by Saladin’s troops in September 1187. Mobbed with refugees from other defeated cities, Jerusalem was surrounded by enemy soldiers. No food or water could enter. Everyone living in this urban nightmare had to participate in its defence.

Forced to stay, Margaret willingly set to work. “[L]ike a fierce virago, I tried to play the role of a man,” her brother records her saying. She told how “During this siege, which lasted 15 days, I carried out all of the functions of a soldier that I could. I wore a breastplate like a man; I came and went on the ramparts, with a cauldron on my head for a helmet. Though a woman, I seemed a warrior, I threw the weapon; though filled with fear, I learned to conceal my weakness.”

The heat was blistering. The soldiers inside had to battle continually to prevent their enemies from entering. Women helped by using weapons and machines such as catapults when not enough men were available, filling in ditches and providing food and drink. Once, when Margaret gave water to the men to drink, a catapult sent a millstone over the walls. It burst apart. A small piece of stone flew off and struck her, causing blood to gush out. Margaret carried the scar throughout her life.

About two weeks after the tumult had begun, the siege was over. Later enduring imprisonment, torture and humiliation, Margaret ultimately gained her freedom and returned to Europe, becoming a Cistercian lay-sister in a French nunnery.

Scandalous nun: Heloise d’Argenteuil (c1100–64)

By the time she was not yet 20, Heloise d’Argenteuil was renowned as the most educated woman in Europe. Peter Abelard, arguably the most brilliant philosopher of his time, had already caused an uproar among the intellectual classes. No diplomat, Peter alienated respectable older theologians, making enemies.

Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert, a clergyman at the church of Notre-Dame on the Île-de-France in Paris, hired Peter, who gladly took on the role of tutor to this young girl. Peter later wrote how he intended to break his lifelong chastity with this student entrusted to him.  Featuring a pregnant teenager and the older teacher who seduced her, this scandalous affair stemming from 1118 became the gossip of Paris.

Soon after they met,  Heloise and Peter exchanged amorous glances, looks that transformed into touches. As Peter openly confesses, “My hands strayed oftener to her bosom than to the pages.” They soon were enjoying carnal embraces. “[O]ur desires left no stage of lovemaking untried, and if love could devise something new, we welcomed it”. Heloise’s uncle remained oblivious, until he caught the lovers together. Meanwhile, Heloise was thrilled to learn she was pregnant.

The couple secretly wed. But Peter ignored Heloise after being tragically castrated by the henchmen of her vengeful uncle. In return, Heloise wrote brilliant, angry and passionate letters. Boldly proclaiming, “It would be dearer and more honorable to me to be called your whore,” she understands her passion to be authentically motivated; the true whores are those women who marry for position and money. Amazingly, scholars once refused to believe that a woman could have written such intelligent letters. Ultimately, Heloise became abbess at the Paraclete, a religious hermitage with daughter houses, six of which were set up under Heloise’s rule. She remained abbess until her death.

Héloïse d’Argenteuil with Peter Abélard,

Héloïse d’Argenteuil and Peter Abélard. (© Quagga Media/Alamy Stock Photo)

Audacious innovator: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)

Female scientists were active in both practical and theoretical medicine. The most famous of all is Hildegard of Bingen, who transcends categorisation. Scientist, doctor of medicine, musician, philosopher, theologian, mystic – Hildegard is acclaimed as the most accomplished of medieval women. A resident of medieval Germany, she explained confounding theological notions such as that of the Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Ghost).  Standing up to male superiors in the church, she often succeeded in getting her desires, including founding a new convent.

Hildegard wrote about the human body, even using poetic language to describe reproduction from the woman’s perspective. Her music, much performed today, reflects her view that humans create music in an attempt to recapture the cosmically harmonious paradise lost with the fall, when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. In Hildegard’s Ordo virtutum, a liturgical drama in song, the devil fights with the soul’s virtues; only the devil has a speaking role.

Hildegard’s other writings include theological, cosmological and visionary works. “Let no man be so audacious as to add anything to this writing lest he be blotted out from the book of life,” she asserts. While many medieval women turned to the divine to find meaning in their interior lives, Hildegard also commented publicly on state and church politics.  Creating voluminous letters to the pope and churchmen, she corresponded on issues of salvation and church organisation. Between 1158 and 1170 she also undertook four preaching tours – extraordinary in a time when women were expected to obey St Paul’s injunction to not teach or speak in the church.

Vocal feminist: Christine de Pizan (1364–c1430)

Feminist beliefs were espoused unashamedly by some trailblazing medieval women. The brilliant Christine de Pizan, for instance, was raised by an unconventional father who supported Christine’s desire to study and learn. Her arranged marriage at the age of 15 became a love match. When tragedy struck, cutting down both her father and husband in the prime of life, the 25-year-old Christine was suddenly left in charge of the extended household.

Christine had been left with no knowledge of how the financial accounts were arranged. She was even cheated by people claiming false debts. Initiating a feminist critique of marriage that still resounds today, she laments, “For it was the custom for married men not to talk about or declare the complete state of their affairs to their wives… it makes no sense unless women, instead of being ignorant, learn wise management of such matters.”

Christine had few options. “Now it was necessary for me to go to work, something which I, nurtured on the finer things of life, had not learned”. While initially she copied manuscripts as a scribe, she then became the first European professional female writer. Defying misogynist writers, calling anti-woman invective “hodgepodge, rubbish, and wasted words,” Christine boldly proclaimed to one anti-woman writer, “You have committed a great error without reason.”

In her masterpiece from 1404–5, The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine envisions an allegorical city populated only by women and ruled by the Virgin Mary. In this prose text, Christine asserts how women created all good culture, politics and science. Christine argued that women should be allowed to be what everyone should be given – the right to be human. Her final work extols a young maiden as embodying all that is fine about womanhood – none other than Joan of Arc.

Christine de Pizan, seated on a chair in carved wood. Miniature from a MS in the Burgundy Library, Brussels, 15th century. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Matchless matriarch: Margaret Paston (c1423–84)

With shades of Real Housewives of the Middle Ages, estate manager Margaret Paston protected her extended family’s vast properties during the War of the Roses, a time of violence and disruption. As adept and well-versed in legal intricacies as her male lawyer counterparts who were away in London, she defended the homestead, bidding her husband to send weapons such as crossbows, axes and protective garments should enemies attack.

In addition to protecting her lands and informing her husband of crises, Margaret undertook the activities that any woman would have to do to support an estate or even modest farm: making bread and wine, brewing ale, smoking ham and bacon, and drying fruit for the winter months. She oversaw the care of pigs, poultry and cows.  Needlecraft, such as embroidery, weaving, cloth making and mending, lay within a woman’s sphere. Given the Pastons’ estates and property, Margaret consulted with tenants, negotiated legal claims, and sought out (and gave) judicial advice.

Estate management also included selling products manufactured on the farm, such as foodstuffs, cloth and grain, as well as ordering supplies from larger cities in the area. Making and maintaining connections with powerful individuals who would support her during these political turbulent times, Margaret had to borrow jewellery when she finally met Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI.

Catherine Morland,  Jane Austen’s heroine in Northanger Abbey (1803), laments, “I read [history] a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome….” Poor Catherine! If only she could come back today, when much medieval history focuses on gender and the everyday experiences of the vibrant, dynamic and unexpected lives of women from the medieval period.

 

Susan Signe Morrison is professor of English at Texas State University. Her award-winning historical novel, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, tells the story of the Old English poem, Beowulf, from the woman’s point of view. 

She can be found at amedievalwomanscompanion.com and susansignemorrison.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @medievalwomen.

Book Couples and Weddings that Make Us Believe in Happily Ever After 

  
  Here comes the fictional bride and groom! For Romance week, we’ve invited ourselves back to the book weddings that made us swoon, smile, laugh, and cry. From intimate candlelit ceremonies to blowout bashes, these are the ceremonies—and receptions!—we wished we had been invited to in real life. 
My favorite is Jamie and Claire’s Wedding from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series
    
Why I love it: “The pressure of his fingers on mine increased. I had the impression that we were holding each other up; if either of us let go or looked away, we would both fall down. Oddly, the feeling was mildly reassuring. Whatever we were in for, at least there were two of us.”

Please leave a comment below about your favorite book wedding!

10 Important Medieval Dates

10 medieval dates you need to know…

Don’t know the battle of Bosworth from the battle of Bannockburn? Confused between Magna Carta and the Domesday Book? We’ve got you covered. Here we bring you 10 key medieval dates you need to know…

Tuesday 22nd March 2016    Submitted by: Ellie Cawthorne  from BBC History Extra
GettyImages-142083925 2
Detail from the Bayeux tapestry. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Detail from the Bayeux tapestry, which depicts the Norman conquest of England in 1066. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

 

1066: The battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest

The Norman conquest of 1066 marked a dramatic and irreversible turning point in English history. Events began with the battle of Hastings, in which the Anglo-Saxon king Harold II attempted to defend his realm from the Norman invasion forces of William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror).

Harold’s English troops numbered around 5,000, compared to a well-equipped Norman force of 15,000 infantry, archers and cavalry. Although the English had some initial success using shield-wall tactics, they proved no match for William, who was a formidable warlord. English defences were eventually broken down and King Harold was killed. His crushing defeat and gory death on the battlefield is famously recorded in the Bayeux tapestry, which was completed in the 1070s.

Following William’s success at the battle of Hastings – dubbed by Andrew Gimson the “most durable victory of any monarch in English history”– William the Conqueror set about transforming the face of Anglo-Saxon England. He skillfully secured his hold on the lands he had invaded, replacing the English ruling class with Norman counterparts and building defensive fortresses at strategic points throughout the kingdom.

Under William the feudal system [a hierarchical system in which people held lands in return for providing loyalty or services to a lord] was introduced, the church reorganised and England’s links to Europe strengthened. The legacy of 1066’s Norman conquest can still be seen today in Britain’s language, culture and social structure.

 

William I

A portrait of William the Conqueror from the ‘Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora’. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 

1085: The Domesday Book is completed

The Domesday Book is England’s earliest surviving public record, unsurpassed in depth and detail until the introduction of censuses in the 19th century.

Towards the end of the 11th century England came under threat from Danish invaders. William the Conqueror (who had himself been an invader two decades earlier) realised the need to catalogue the country’s financial resources in order to assess how much taxation he could reap from the land to fund a potential war. He therefore commissioned a massive survey of England’s landholdings and financial assets. The monumental resulting document, the Domesday Book, extensively catalogues the kingdom’s taxable goods and records the identities of England’s landholders at the time.

The Domesday Book is significant because it provides a unique and remarkably rich historical source for medievalists. Its vast amount of information offers historians, geographers, linguists and even lawyers invaluable insights into the nature of England’s government, landscape and social structure at the time.

The book now survives in two volumes: Great Domesday and Little Domesday.

1095: The First Crusade is decreed

Pope Urban II’s official call for “holy war” in 1095 heralded the beginning of centuries of religious conflict. The crusades were a significant and long-lasting movement that saw European Christian knights mount successive military campaigns in attempts to conquer the Holy Land. Religious conflict peaked during the 12th and 13th centuries and its impact can be traced throughout the Middle Ages.

Muslims in the Holy Land were not the only target of the crusades. Crusade campaigns were directed against a variety of people viewed as enemies of Christendom. Military campaigns against the Moors in Spain and Mongols and pagan Slavs in Eastern Europe have now also been recognised by historians as part of the crusade movement.

The crusades had a huge impact on medieval life in Britain. People from all walks of life were involved – everyone from peasant labourers to lords and kings took up the fight for Christendom. Richard the Lionheart (r1189–99) considered the quest to conquer the Holy Land to be so important that he was absent from England for many years of his reign, waging war in the Middle East.

These intercontinental military expeditions also had a much wider impact on global relations. They led to an unprecedented interaction between east and west, which had an enduring influence on art, science, culture and trade. Meanwhile the shared fight for Christendom arguably also helped to foster ideological unity within Europe. In the words of historian Linda Paterson, the crusades “transformed the western world and left a profound legacy in inter-cultural and inter-faith relations nationally and worldwide”.

 

Crusades

A battle during the crusades. Miniature from the ‘Historia’ by William of Tyre, 1460s. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 

1170: Thomas Becket is murdered

Bloody proof of overflowing tensions in the ongoing power struggle between the medieval church and crown, the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 has gone down in history for its shocking brutality.

In 1155, after enjoying a successful career in the clergy, Becket (1120–70) became chancellor to King Henry II. Friendship and rapport developed between the two men and in 1161 Henry appointed Becket as archbishop of Canterbury.

However, following Becket’s appointment as archbishop, his harmonious relationship with the king was short-lived. Trouble began to emerge as it became clear that Becket would now fight for the interests of the church, often in opposition to the wishes of the crown.

Becket began to challenge the king over a wide range of issues and their turbulent disagreements lasted several years. Their relationship disintegrated to such an extent that between 1164 and 1170 Becket lived in France to avoid Henry’s wrath. He returned to Canterbury in 1170 but was soon in conflict with the king again, this time over the excommunication of high-ranking clerics.

This dispute was the final straw for Henry. According to popular legend he lost his temper with the archbishop, asking “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Believing this to mean that the king wished Becket dead, four knights travelled to Canterbury to seek out the archbishop. On 29 December 1170 they brutally murdered Becket in his own cathedral.

In 1173, three years after his death, Becket was canonised. His murder transformed him into a martyr figure and his shrine at Canterbury Cathedral became a major European pilgrimage site. The priest’s murder was extremely damaging to Henry’s reputation and in 1174 Henry visited Becket’s tomb to pay penance for his actions.

Thomas Becket

A late 12th-century illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. (CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 

1215: Magna Carta is signed

Sealed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, Magna Carta (meaning ‘great charter’) has become one of the founding documents of the English legal system.

At the time of its creation, however, the document’s long-lasting significance was not immediately recognised. Following a period of political and military upheaval in England, John was reluctantly forced to sign Magna Carta as part of peace negotiations with rebel barons. Drafted as part of a peace treaty, the initial document contained specific grievances dealing expressly with King John’s rule. At the time the agreement had little impact, as King John swiftly backtracked on its promises, prompting civil war.

Magna Carta’s real significance lay elsewhere. Buried within its many clauses were certain adaptable core values that ensured its influential legacy in English history. As the first document to establish that everyone, including monarchs, was subject to the law, Magna Carta laid the foundation for legally limiting the power of the sovereignty. Its 39th clause, meanwhile, ensured the right of all ‘free men’ to a fair trial.

The fundamental principles laid down in these clauses proved central to the establishment of the English legal system. The original document was adapted several times in subsequent years and three of the clauses from the original Magna Carta still remain on the statute books today. These establish the liberties of the English Church (Clause 1), the privileges of the City of London (Clause 13) and the right to trial by jury (Clauses 39 & 40).

 

1314: The battle of Bannockburn

The battle of Bannockburn saw Scottish leader Robert the Bruce take on the English king Edward II in a pivotal conflict in Scotland’s fight for independence.

In 1296 Anglo-Scottish tensions spilled over into open warfare when English forces under Edward I invaded Scotland. By 1314 the Scottish Wars of Independence had been raging for many years and Edward II’s hold over Scotland had begun to crumble. In an attempt to restore his grasp on the kingdom Edward II amassed a large body of troops to relieve Stirling Castle, which had been besieged by the forces of Robert the Bruce. However, Edward’s attempt to regain control backfired, as the Scots prepared to face the English forces head-on in what became the battle of Bannockburn.

The battle took place on 23 and 24 June 1314. Although the English force boasted greater numbers, the Scottish were well trained and well led, fighting on land they were motivated to defend. Their knowledge of the local land also worked in their favour, as they tactically targeted terrain that would be difficult for Edward’s heavy cavalry to operate on. English casualties were heavy and Edward was forced to retreat.

Bannockburn dealt a significant blow to English control over Scotland and Edward’s withdrawal left swathes of northern England vulnerable to Scottish raids and attacks. Robert the Bruce’s victory proved decisive for Scotland, solidifying the country’s independence and strengthening his grip over his kingdom. In 1324 Robert finally gained papal recognition as king of Scotland.

 

1348: The Black Death comes to Britain

The summer of 1348 saw the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, leading to an epidemic of huge proportions. The disease is estimated to have killed between a third and a half of the population – a devastating and unprecedented death rate.

Known as the Black Death, the bubonic plague was caused by a bacterium now know as yersinia pestis. Without any knowledge of how it was transmitted the disease spread like wildfire, particularly in urban areas. The writer Boccaccio saw the plague ravage Florence in 1348 and described the symptoms in his book The Decameron: “The first signs of the plague were lumps in the groin or armpits. After this, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Few recovered. Almost all died within three days, usually without any fever”.

The dramatic death toll had a significant impact on the social and economic landscape of Britain in the following decades. Writing for History Extra, Mark Ormrod has argued that in the long-run the epidemic led to a “real improvement in the quality of life” for medieval people. He suggests that “the drop in the population resulted in a redistribution of wealth – workers could demand higher wages, and tenant farmers could demand lower rents, giving the poor more expendable income”.

 

Death strangles plague victim

Death strangling a victim of the plague. From the 14th-century Stiny Codex.(Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

1381: The Peasants’ Revolt

The first large-scale uprising in English history, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 threatened to overturn the existing social structure and undermine the country’s ruling elite.

The revolt was prompted by the introduction of a third poll tax (raised to fund the war against France), which had a particularly damaging effect on the poor. Unrest began in Essex, spreading rapidly to East Anglia, St Albans, Bury St Edmunds and London. As events escalated, government ministers were attacked and their homes destroyed. The chaos reached a peak as rioters captured and executed the king’s treasurer and the archbishop of Canterbury.

Soon, the rioters’ demands extended far beyond abolishing the third poll tax. They called for the abolition of serfdom and outlawry, and the division of lordship among all men. They also railed against the corruption of the church, demanding that its wealth be distributed among the people.

Faced with the threat of escalating violence in his capital city, the 14-year-old King Richard II met with one of the central figures of the revolt, Wat Tyler, to discuss the rioters’ grievances. However, violence broke out at the meeting and Tyler was murdered by William Walworth (Lord Mayor of London). Following Tyler’s death, government troops sought out and executed those who had rebelled, and resistance soon died out.

Peasants revolt

A 15th-century image depicting the meeting between Wat Tyler and the revolutionary priest John Ball during the Peasants’ Revolt. (Prisma/UIG/Getty Images)

1415: Henry V defeats the French at Agincourt

Soon after becoming king of England in 1413, the ambitious young Henry V turned his attention to expanding his realm. During his father’s reign he had pushed for an invasion of France, and as the country was undergoing a period of political turmoil under its elderly monarch, Charles VI, it was the perfect time to launch an assault on the vulnerable kingdom.

After landing in France on 13 August 1415 and besieging the town of Harfleur, Henry’s troops marched on Calais. The French army met them at Agincourt and Henry’s men found themselves outnumbered as a bloody battle ensued. Despite this the French death toll was significant and Henry claimed victory.

Agincourt has gone down in history as a legendary victory for England and for Henry. However, historian Ralph Griffiths suggests that it was in fact a close-run and far from decisive battle. He argues that contemporaries exaggerated Henry’s achievements in France.

However, patriotic Agincourt propaganda undoubtedly had sticking power in the Middle Ages. The defeat proved devastating to French morale, while Henry’s reputation on the continent was enhanced dramatically. Henry was welcomed back to Dover with triumph and the story of his illustrious victory at Agincourt was celebrated for centuries to come.

 

Agincourt

A 15th-century image of the Battle of Agincourt. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

 

1485: Richard III is defeated at the battle of Bosworth

The last significant clash of the Wars of the Roses, the battle of Bosworth saw the Lancastrian Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII) defeat Richard III in a bloody fight for the English throne.

Following Richard’s deposition of Edward V in 1483, Henry challenged the Yorkist king as a usurper. In August 1485 Henry launched an attack on Richard in an attempt to seize control of England. Richard’s army of 15,000 vastly outnumbered that of Henry, who had only 5,000 men. Confident of defeating his challenger, Richard was reportedly overjoyed at Henry’s arrival in England and even delayed facing his troops in order to celebrate with a feast day.

However, once the battle began, Richard’s strong initial position was undermined by the desertion of his troops and the defection of Lord Stanley (who had previously fought on the Yorkist side and commanded significant troops). The Yorkist forces were defeated and Richard was killed on the battlefield.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton in Leicester in 2012 has told us much about how the defeated king met his death. Writing for History Extra, Chris Skidmore states that “several gouge marks in the front of the skull seem to have been caused by a dagger, perhaps in a struggle. The two wounds that would have killed Richard include the back part of his skull being sheathed off; if this did not kill him, a sword blade thrust from the base of the skull straight through the brain certainly would have done the job”.

As the last major conflict of the Wars of the Roses and one that heralded the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, the battle of Bosworth marked a significant turning point in British history. It signalled the end of the medieval era and beginning of the Tudor period.

Arthurian Quote from Le Morte D’Arthur

  

Nay, I may not so, for I have promised to do the battle to the uttermost by the faith of my body, while me lasteth the life, and therefore I had liefer to die with honour than to live with shame; and if it were possible for me to die an hundred times, I had liefer to die so oft than yield me to thee; for though I lack weapon, I shall lack no worship, and if thou slay me weaponless that shall be thy shame.


~King Arthur to Sir Accolon, 117

There are many examples throughout Le Morte d’ Arthur of knights refusing to yield out of honor. Such examples provide strong instance of the fame that knights pursue. Here, Arthur will not yield in a fight, even though he is weaponless. He knows there is some trickery at hand, but he also knows that the lives of the knights he is fighting for hang in the balance. His honor is more important to him than his life; at the same time, he would rather die than be shamed by yielding. Thankfully, Nimue steps in to help Arthur regain his sword, suggesting that honor breeds reward.

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Marriage in Medieval times 

Tudor Time

Medieval and early modern marriage was essentially an economic contract. A single person of either gender would find it much harder to build an economically viable life without a partner.

Multiple marriages were extremely common in an era when life expectancy was short. A single life-long marriage is the exception. Most people married at least twice and three and four spouses were quite normal among the upper classes, who married younger.
Poorer widowed men with children usually remarried within months, or even weeks, as keeping a family and working was almost impossible. Widows of childbearing age generally remarried, and older women would remarry if they could, for economic reasons. It was not uncommon for the widow of a tradesman to marry his apprentice and carry on the business.

The Record for Marriage: Not Henry VIII

James IV and Margaret, Queen of Scots

We tend to think of Henry VIII’s record…

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