Sunday, December 31, 2006

Arrows vs Armor, ca 1400

Looking at the metallurgical data collected by Alan Williams, and comparing it to the performance of heavy English bows and thickness of surviving harness, it seems there was quite a broad range of armor effectiveness. With a top quality harness of medium carbon steel hardened by effective heat treatment, 1.25 mm plates would need about 120 Joules to penetrate, and would defeat a 140 lb bow generating 100 J hitting dead on at close range. 1.25 mm is the low end of the range for helmet sides and cuisses measured by Hardy from this period.

On the other hand, low quality iron armor of the same thickness might be defeated by about 40 Joules from an arrow striking perpendicular to the surface, and a 70 lb bow could generate over 50 J at close range. Even at 180 yards, with an arrow descending at about 30 degrees, a 100 lb bow could probably deliver enough energy to defeat such plates if it hit squarely in the horizontal plane.

The thinnest value measured by Hardy for the top front of a bascinet was 2.47 mm, which if made of iron would require about 110 J to defeat with an arrow. A 1.5 mm iron breastplate worn over iron mail and padding would probably require at least 130 J to defeat with an arrow, so even an inferior harness would offer excellent protection for the vital organs from a frontal attack.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Armor vs. Muscle

Impact tests:

Williams unless specified otherwise)

Energy to defeat, in Joules:

Arrowhead vs. Buff Leather 30 J
Lance vs. Cuir-boulli 30-20 J
Lance vs. Padding (16 layers linen, 60g for 16 x 21 cm) 50 J
Arrowheads vs:
Modern Mail (mild steel) alone 80 J
Modern Mail & Jack Penetration 100 J
Modern Mail and Tailor's Dummy 100 J (Soar et al)
Modern Mail, Jack Penetration, and 35 mm penetration of Plastilene behind 120 J
15th c. Mail (low carbon steel hardened by quenching) two links broken and jack behind completely penetrated: 120 J
1 mm mild steel plate (perpendicular impact) 55 J for 45mm penetration
1. 5 mm mild steel plate 110 J
2 mm mild steel plate 175 J
1 mm “Victorian wrought iron”: 46 J for 51 mm penetration at 10 m
1.9 mm “Swedish” Wrought Iron 80-75 J

Energy delivered:

Underarm: up to 63 J
Overarm: up to 115 J
(These are maximum values. PSDP testing suggests that a stab resistant vest rated at 43 joules should be able to stop stabs from 96% of the male population. These standards assume typical commercial knife handles. A fighting handle with a well designed guard to prevent slipping might add another 5 J to the effective attack.

English bows:
70 lb bow: 52-55 J (Hardy)
70 lb bow: 46-47 J at 10 m
80 lb bow: 70-83 J (61 J at 50 m)
140 lb bow: 99-104 J (Calculated from Soar et al)

The Mary Rose bows with draw weights estimated by Hardy ranged from 98 to 185 lbs, with the median values 115 -124 lbs. Mark Stretton conducted tests with heavy war arrows suggesting that they had about 80% of point blank penetration against foam targets at 60 yards and 67% at 180 yards. (Soar et al). At longer range penetration of plate would also be adversely affected by more oblique impact.

Olympic level javelin throw: 360 J (Calculated from 30 meters/second)

Armor thickness, from Hardy unless noted
Four bascinets, 1370-1380
Top front: 2.44-4.57 mm
Side or visor snout: 1.27-2.54 mm
Breastplate ca 1400, Churburg 2.6 kg (Williams) This is probably equivalent to an average thickness of about 1.5 mm. The segmented breastplate at Churburg is 2.63 kg but wraps partly around the back, and so would be somewhat thinner. It seems likely that breastplates intended to by worn over habergeons tended to be somewhat thinner than those intended to be worn over arming doublets with mail gussets. The velvet covered breastplate with a skirt of hoops in Munich weighs 4.6 kg (Williams)
Breastplate ca 1470 2.03-2.79 mm
Five Breastplates 1470-1510 1.5-2.5 mm, 2.1 mm median (Williams)
Cuisses 1390 1.78-1.27 mm
Legs and Cuisses 1510 .8-.7 mm, breastplate 1.3 mm (Williams)
The AVANT armor, ca 1440, Glasgow (formerly Churburg 20) 57 lbs (25.9 kg) without tassets, right gardbrace and left gauntlet, a relatively heavy armor for its size and period. Thickness measured by Robert MacPherson:

Gauntlets: 1-1.8 mm
Lower arms, 1.1-1.5 mm, avg. 1.3mm
Upper arms 1.1-1.9 mm, avg. 1.4 mm
Greaves.6-1.55 mm, avg. ca 1mm
Breastplate 2.3-3.2 mm, avg. for center front 2.8 mm

Hardy, Robert Longbow: A Social and Military History New York 1992 ISBN: 0-685-62481-1

Soar, D. H. Hugh, with Joseph Gibbs, Christopher Jury, Mark Stretton Secrets of the English War Bow Yardley, PA 2006 ISBN 1-56416-025-2

Williams, Alan The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period History of Warfare, 12. Leiden: Brill, 2003 ISBN 90-04-12498-5.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

14th c. Armor Metallurgy

The Knight and the Blast Furnace by Alan Williams explores the metallurgy of medieval armor in great detail. While he covers armor metallurgy through the early 17th c., I was most interested in his coverage of the 14th c.

He provided a metallurgical analysis of some 48 pieces of 14th c. armor, as well as three lames from the battle of Visby. 14, or 29%, are simple wrought iron. Most of these are from Northern Europe, which seems to have lagged Italy in metallurgic development: only two of the iron pieces are from Italy. In Northern Europe iron seems to have been still in use even for armor for men at arms: well shaped and finished visored bascinets like the c.1370 bascinet in the Museum de Valere at Sion in Switzerland or Veste Coburg cat. no. 50 c. 1380 were made from iron rather than steel.

These iron pieces had VPH (Vickers Pyramidal Hardness) of 130-175, and the lowest quality iron armor was, according to Williams, perhaps half as efficient at resisting penetration as modern mild steel.

The next step up in quality was low carbon steel: 17 pieces, or 35%. These had from .1% to .3% carbon, and VPH ranging from 108 to 233. Modern mild steel might have carbon content of .15% carbon and VPH of 152. Medieval steel, however, had a much higher level of slag inclusion than modern mild steel. Even high quality 14th c. Italian harness had slag content between .8% and 1.9%. Modern steel is virtually slag free. Williams rated this grade’s resistance to penetration at about 75% of modern mild steel.

Next came medium carbon steel, with .4% carbon or more but without full hardening: 11 pieces or 23%, with VPH ranging from 193 to 276. Williams rated this grade of armor about 10% superior to modern mild steel.

The highest grade was medium carbon steel with successful hardening by heat treatment. According to Williams only six pieces from the 14th c, at least four of them from Italy, fell into this category: with VPH ranging from 366 to 374, or 12% of the total. These had resistance to penetration about 50% better than modern mild steel.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Conversing at a Medieval Recreation

If you are doing a first person recreation of a medieval person, you should try to avoid obvious modernisms. It will improve the experience of those around you, and you may enjoy it more yourself. A truly accurate recreation of premodern speech isn’t necessarily an achievable or even desirable goal. If you are portraying an 11th c. Englishman faithfully, hardly anyone will be able to understand you, even if you could pull it off.

Avoid modern subjects. Here are some alternatives:

Fifty men at arms defeat a hundred. Which would you rather be, the worst of the fifty or the best of the hundred?

At a tournament "Which is to be more highly prized: the one who loses two horses or three in one day while attacking or defending quite openly, or the one who keeps his horse very close the whole day and endures and bears well the pulls and blows and everything that comes his way?"

Knights say they perform deeds of arms for the honor of their ladies. Is that so, or do they really do it for their own honor?

A man's wife is under an enchantment: she will be hideous during the day (when others can see her) but beautiful at night (when he sleeps with her.) Or the reverse can be true, but the man must choose one or the other, forever. Which should he choose?

When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman? That is, since we are all equally descended from that pair, how can nobles claim that they are worthier than commoners?

There are many styles of music, vocal and instrumental. Which is best?

What is the greatest adornment of the mind, nobility of arms or letters?

Is it better for a man to be brave or wise?

Who was the wickedest woman in the Bible?

More examples of possible conversation topics can be found in Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, from which many of the preceeding are cribbed.

Avoid modern slang and contractions.

Avoid false archaicism. Medieval speech didn’t sound archaic to medieval people, it sounded contemporary, because it was.

Some in the Society for Creative Anachronism use medievalish terms when speaking about modern things: dragon for automobile and farspeaker for telephone. Others find these terms jarring, and there are usually better alternatives, like wagon or message. I prefer Head Cook to Feastocrat and Porter to Troll.

Use thee and thou correctly or not at all. The second choice is much easier.

Some people have the talent of picking up the patterns of speech of another period by osmosis. If they read enough Chaucer or Froissart in translation, they are able to convey some sense of the flavor and construction of speech from that time. If you’re one of them, great. If not, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t hurt to give the technique a try. If you’re interested in an era, read some good books written during the period. At worst, you’ll have read some good books and gained a better understanding of your period of interest.

Springtime on Mars

This made me laugh.

And on a related note...

Monday, December 11, 2006

SCA Errata Sheet: Florentine and Two Sword

Florentine was first used as a term for a weapon style within the Society for Creative Anachronism circa A.S.2 (1970 AD) to describe a fighting style involving the use of two pounds of spinach and a pair of salad forks. Later the spinach was either discarded or eaten (feasts often started late in those days) and the term came to denote any two-weapon style, or, alternatively "what medieval knights would have called fighting in tournaments with two weapons at once if they had ever done such a thing, which they didn't". The style is sometimes referred to as “Too many swords.”

While medieval men at arms sometimes carried a second sword in case their primary weapon was lost or broken, there is no evidence they fought in armored combat with two at one time.

There are three main sources of inspiration for the use of two swords or two weapons in the Society’s recreation of medieval armored combat. The Icelandic sagas sometimes describe characters fighting with two weapons. In Njal's Saga, for example one character is bushwacked while cutting firewood, and fights with his axe and his sword. The hero Gunnar often fights with his sword and his magic "halberd". (Since the story is supposed to be happening long before what we think of as halberds appear, it's a little unclear what the weapon actually was). One could argue that these were special cases, and that the Sagas are not entirely dependable as factual evidence. But even taken at face value, they are not evidence for the use of "two weapons" in tournaments, since the action occurs before the first tournaments are invented.

The second is renaissance styles of unarmored combat that used either sword and dagger or, more rarely two swords.

The third is a fighting style using two swords introduced by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi some time after 1600.

The early 15th c. fighting manual Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi does include a brief sequence on fighting with due bastone or two clubs. This seems to be an example of how to improvise a defense in unarmored combat, like a similar sequence on how to defend yourself using only a walking stick and a dagger. The clubs are rude and unshaped tree branches, the attacker is armed more conventionally, and the sequence ends with the defender throwing away one of the clubs.

Fighting with two swords at once can be a reasonably effective technique using Society armored combat rules, but the combat style was almost or entirely unknown in medieval armored combat. The difference probably stems from a mismatch between the combat rules and reality. In SCA armored combat, swords are virtually unbreakable and hands are considered to be invulnerable to attack. Neither was true in the actual Middle Ages.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chaucer in Rap

Baba Brinkman has performed some of the Canterbury Tales as rap. Yeo Yeo Yeo.

But wayte! It gets better. He and Chaucer duel each other in rhyme at Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.

"Noon othir than Baba Brinkman hath taken me to task in a maner that maketh Johannes Gower seme a smal fluffy bunny."

But Chaucer more than holds his own. These are wonderful times we live in.

If you like 14th c. rap you might also enjoy Chevauchee by BlakP....


Sunday, November 26, 2006

..and speaking of Emma Thompson.

Stranger than Fiction is a smart, funny and moving philosophical fable. Emma Thompson gives a fine performance alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Will Ferrell and Queen Lafifah. The last two play their roles with surprising but effective restraint.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Henry V x II

When young Kenneth Branagh directed himself as Hal in Henry V, he invited comparison with young Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film. Let’s compare.

The play explicitly breaks the fourth wall with the prologue’s apology for the gap between the stage performance and the historical reality. Olivier uses this as springboard both for a loving recreation of the original Globe theatre and a chance to comment on how actors create and inhabit the roles they portray on the stage. We see Olivier first as an Elizabethan actor clearing his throat surrounded by a flurry of backstage chaos, next as the same actor portraying Henry V before an Elizabethan audience, and then as Henry V himself.

This is a tough act to follow, and Branagh wisely chooses a different tack. Derek Jacobi, always in a long dark 20th century coat and scarf, reappears as prologue and chorus to provide narration when required.

Olivier’s version edits out many of the darker elements in Shakespeare’s text. Branagh retains much more of the dark side of Henry and his play, although he too omits some of the grimmest elements, in particular the slaughter of the French prisoners.

Although Oliver had some respectable actors, Branagh assembled a stronger cast overall, with Ian Holm splendid as Fluellen, a radiant Emma Thompson as Princess Katherine, Paul Scofield as Charles VI, Brian Blessed as Exeter, Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly and Robbie Coltrane as Falstaff.

Both Branagh and Olivier owe a noticeable debt to better directors. Olivier features a mounted duel between the constable and Henry that owes a visible debt to a similar scene in Alexander Nevsky, and Branagh’s vision of Agincourt owes much to Seven Samurai.

Olivier repeatedly frames scenes and uses stylized backdrops to recreate the look of images from illuminations in the Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry. There’s a clear homage to the February page, although without exposed genitalia.

Branagh clearly ended up with a lower budget for armor. His English men-at-arms are grossly underarmored, and the Exeter, the Englishman with the most complete harness, wears an anachronistic and misshapen monstrosity. Even the French show the usual film reluctance to wear helmets. Olivier does better, but many of his are clearly not wearing a hard cuirass or breastplate beneath their jupons, or showing the characteristic pouter pigeon profile of the era. Recreating medieval armor is expensive, especially when you need to convey a reasonable impression of an army, and given a finite budget I don’t see a lot of places where Branagh could have found savings to do better without sacrificing other elements of the production. This isn’t Braveheart, where resources were lavished on a gratuitous and ahistorical assault on York. The charge of the French cavalry, which was a splendid and expensive tracking shot in the Olivier version, is dealt with quite economically in the Branagh version: a series of reaction shots of wide-eyed English looking offscreen as hoofbeats drum louder and louder on the soundtrack.

Branagh does portray the English heraldry accurately and effectively. The similar heraldic designs repeated on coat armor convey to the educated viewer how many of the English commanders were blood relatives to the king.

Both films err in showing the English men-at-arms fighting on horseback: dismounting all the men-at-arms to fight on foot was a key English tactic at this and most other battles of the war. Both films show men at arms wearing a separate plate neck defense that wrapped around the bottom edge of the helmet and allowed it to freely rotate within it. This is a misunderstanding of what frontal depictions in contemporary brasses were showing: a plate or plates attached directly to the helmet.

Olivier’s other historical lapses include the infamously wrong hoisting of French knights onto their horses with derricks and English bowmen leaping out of trees in the grand tradition of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. He also shows a number of round shields on the field. This may not be entirely wrong: this image from the period seems to show round shields born by two of the foreground men at arms. It is, however, unusual and atypical. It’s difficult to shake the impression that whoever was responsible for the costumes discovered he had several dozen round targes available and found it expedient to decorate them with Agincourt era heraldry. Mail coifs that close at the base of the throat and gap widely below are another annoyance to the purist.

Olivier includes a brief shot of the advancing French reflected in standing water, and after the first encounter pans to show muddy carnage behind the front line, but much of the other combat happens on a green, pastoral and unmuddy battlefield.

Branagh errs in the other direction, showing the battle as total chaos. The different accounts of Agincourt agree that the English men-at-arms kept good order thoughout the battle: this was a key ingredient in their victory.

Branagh only lightly evokes the bowl haircuts of the early 15th c. Olivier is more faithful to the look of the era in this and other ways. In general, Branagh often settled for a rough approximation of the dress, hairstyles and equipment of the period while Olivier came a lot closer to getting the same details right.

Branagh brings wonderful immediacy to Henry V. Courting Katherine, he asks if she can love him. Neither speaks the language of the other well, and when Katherine responds for the third time in the conversation with a baffled “I cannot tell” Branagh’s Hal snaps back with: “Can any of your neighbors tell, Kate? I’ll ask them” When I first heard this, I took for a sarcastic ad-lib added by Branagh, but no, it’s the way Shakespeare wrote it. Branagh’s delivery makes it work as natural dialog.

“..Notwithstanding the poor and untempered effect of my visage. Now beshrew my father’s ambition! He was thinking of civil wars when he got me…” complains Hal to Katherine. Branagh, who does not have a conventionally pretty mug, makes the line work well. Young Olivier, who was not in any sense an ugly man, couldn’t, and didn’t try.

Olivier plays the English clerics for low comedy. Branagh portrays them as deadly serious political players.

Olivier portrays the French nobility as ineffectual and foppish twits. In Branagh’s version they are, with the exception of the Dauphin, more dangerous opponents, but disunited. This is better drama and closer to Shakespeare’s text: a victory is enhanced when it is won over strong opponents rather than weak ones. Charles VI in Olivier’s version is a twitching mental defective. Historically he was, on and off, but Shakespeare chose to show him in a lucid phase, and Scofield’s portrayal is less distracting and closer to the text.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Judicial Duels in 13th-14th c. Guyenne

Steve Muhlberger's Early History blog has a link to an interesting document on the subject on the rich Gallica site.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Spurs or Swords?

Steve Muhlberger’s Early History blog has an interesting quote from Geoffrey de Charny’s questions on war, concerning a combat between two otherwise equal groups of mounted men at arms:

“One of the parties does not have any weapons except for their hands, but they have good spurs on their feet; those in the other party each have a good sword in their hands but no other weapons, but they have no spurs and can’t get any. Which of these would you rather be?”

A hundred years later it was still regarded as an open question. In Tirant lo Blanc, the following exchange occurs:

“….replied the hermit. “Let us see what you, who are young and versed in arms, have to say. Which would you rather be: strong but not skillful, or skillful but not strong?”

There were many opinions among the knights. Then the hermit asked which they would prefer: “To enter battle with sword but no spurs, or with spurs but no sword, for I can tell you I have witnessed such combats. I even saw one, fought before the Duke of Milan, in which two knights chose to joust in equal armor, but one was on horseback with only a sword, while the other was on foot with a lance and dagger. Who do you think had the advantage?”

The obvious implication is that this is a question without an obvious right answer from the 14th or 15th century point of view. I think the initial modern reaction is that being swordless is a crushing disadvantage and however bad being without spurs was, surely being without a sword was worse. But our modern reaction is unlikely to be informed by actual experience of how effective a sword is against an armored opponent fighting in earnest, or how easy it is to get a medieval warhorse to approach other warhorses garnished with men yelling and waving implements of destruction, either with or without spurs as tools of persuasion.

Surviving medieval fighting manuals suggest that even if two armored men start out with swords, the fight is quite likely to come down to wresting in the end: even on horseback. And accounts of mounted deeds of arms suggest that even with spurs getting a warhorse to override its instincts for self preservation is no easy task.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Rovers

Let's give three cheers for NASA, our robots are on Mars
Because we are American they look like shiny cars
They're brave and uncomplaining as they trundle here and there
They take a lot of pictures and they have no need for air
As we go forth into the void our robots lead the way
Put on your 3-d glasses and behold the Martian day!

Read their LiveJournals here and here.

But even robots have their limits...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

2006 Study on Iraqi Deaths Contradicts 2004 Conclusions by Same Authors

The controversial Johns Hopkins study recently published in the Lancet follows up on a 2004 study by many of the same authors. The 2004 study was criticized because the limited sample size meant that the death estimates had a broad range of uncertainty. Nonetheless, the authors concluded that:

In the period of the study, about 60,00 Iraqis died from violence that wouldn't have happened if the prewar status quo had continued.

Most of them were killed by the invading coalition, and most of the victims were women and children.

In addition, another 40,000 Iraqis died from nonviolent causes that would have lived if the prewar status quo had continued, because of post invasion economic disruption, dislocation of the health care system, and so on.

In 2006, the team published a new study with a much larger sample size. The new study suggests that during the period measured by the 2004 study:

About 110,00 Iraqis died by violence. Most were killed either by insurgents or unidentified gunmen. Of the remainder killed by the coalition, most were males of military age.

Nonviolent deaths did not increase in the period immediately following the invasion. On the contrary, they decreased.

In a kinder, gentler universe, we might expect Les Roberts to explain:

"Wow. We really got the 2004 study wrong. In retrospect we should have understood that we didn't have enough data to know if most of the dead Iraqis were killed by the coalition or by local talent. We thought it was obvious that the coalition was using excessive force. In retrospect, we should have asked the coalition to be more agressive than it was. We were wrong and we're sorry"

I don't think we live in such a universe.

Will McLean

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More than 600,000 killed in Iraq?

So says a recent Johns Hopkins study published in the Lancet. Is it true? That's a huge number: somewhat more, as a share of population than the American Civil War, which took longer, and was fought with mass conscripted armies and 19th c. medicine and sanitation.

It's important to point out that this isn't an estimate of civilian dead. The study makes clear that there was no effort to exclude combatants from the death toll, and the study indicates that military age males account for a majority of violent deaths. The New York Times incorrectly described it as an estimate of civilian deaths, and I have not yet seen them publish a correction.

The Lancet's editor does seem to be to be a strong advocate for a particular political point of view with an interest in seeing the invasion of Iraq proved to have been a Very Bad Thing. That may have affected the timing of the study's release, and how vigorously it was reviewed before publication. Ultimately, however, the conclusions will rise and fall on the quality of the study itself.

The vast discrepancy between the estimate and the official figures raises concern, but not necessarily a fatal one. It is possible that local tallies of violent deaths at hospitals and mortuaries are either not making it in to the central government or being suppressed. That they are not being recorded at all seems an insufficient explanation: about 90% of the households in the survey that reported a death were able to provide a death certificate when asked.

More troubling is the discrepancy between the mid 2004 UNDP survey and this one. It used similar cluster sampling methodology to the Johns Hopkins study, but estimated 25,000 killed in the year following the invasion, compared to about 90,000 estimated by the Johns Hopkins study in the same period. It would appear that the UNDP figure was not intended to capture ordinary criminal murders, but that's hardly enough to explain the discrepancy: Insurgency, counter insurgency and sectarian violence seems to account for the lion's share of violent deaths.

Why might the John Hopkins study be wrong? To start with, it relies on dividing the country into equal size clusters, and sampling a group of households in each cluster. Accuracy depends on reasonably accurate estimates of population by region. One challenge is that accurate population estimates are hard to find in Iraq. The last nationwide census was 1993. Further, there's reason to question the accuracy of the Saddam era censuses: the ruling party had strong motives for inflating the number of Sunnis at the expense of other groups. The problem is compounded by the study's use of a two year old estimate.

If the population is overestimated in the more dangerous parts of Iraq, and underestimated in the less, then the more dangerous parts will be overrepresented in the sample. There's good reason to think that this was the case. The Sunni triangle would have benefited from any Saddam era selective distortion, and is generally considered to be one of the more violent parts of Iraq, and indeed this reflected is in the Johns Hopkins study. Further, you would expect the more violent regions to lose population share relative to the rest of Iraq since 2004, both because of flight and higher death rates.

Another problem might be nonrandom sampling of households. As I understand the protocol, the first household in the cluster was randomly chosen, and then the team would go to the nearest neighboring household, and so on. But in a lot of communities, a household will have two neighbors that are equally close. Ideally, the team should flip a coin, but that might not be what happens. "Asking about people killed in the fighting, are you? Then you should visit Widow Tikriti. She's right next door".

How can one confirm or refute the study? I have two suggestions. The first would involve asking local hospitals and mortuaries about the ratio of violent to nonviolent deaths. The other would be looking at demographics. If the study is correct, the violent death rate among adolescent and adult males has been very high since the invasion: 5% among 15-29 year olds, 9.5% among 30-44 year olds, and 7% among 45-59 year olds. Female violent death in the same cohort has been a very small fraction of that. The impact should be very visible in the male-female ratios in the relevant age groups. In doing such a study, one should keep in mind that sex ratios in the 44-59 age groups were already unbalanced by about that amount because of the deaths from Saddam's wars and massacres.

Update: More commentary at Asymmetrical Information, with more elsewhere on the site. And more here and here.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Social Cues in Historical Movies

In the 1954 film Sabrina, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden portray two brothers from a wealthy family. One is a nose-to-the-grindstone businessman, the other a feckless playboy. A few subtle details, such as the angle of Bogart's hat brim, help convey their relative roles and character to the audience. These cues were clear enough to the film's original viewers, and still reasonably understandable.

For a film set 600 years ago, how practical is it to convey similar cues to a modern audience? A few medievalists might know that one style of sleeve denotes a respectable lady, and another that the wearer is a prostitute, but only a tiny minority of a modern audience could be expected to know this sort of detail.

If this information isn't conveyed then the modern audience is missing some important information about the relationship between the characters. What to do?

Ian McKellen's 1995 Richard III represents one solution. Setting the medieval story in a 1930s alternate reality transposes it into a society more comprehensible to modern viewers. The Woodvilles are portrayed as Americans, capturing their status as isolated outsiders in a way that the Olivier version missed. The interfamilial horror of Richard's coup is also underlined and the social relationship between Richard and his henchmen made more accessible.

But transposing a story to another era also has a downside. Shakespeare's Richard III may have manipulated popular opinion to gain power, but he wasn't a fascist. Fitting him into a fascist template is false to the actual Richard III, who belonged to a different era and thought differently.

The director of Knight's Tale followed a related strategy. One of the key plot elements is a romance between a rising commoner who is passing himself off as a knight and Jocelyn, an aristocratic lady. How can the director make the social gulf between them as clear to the audience as it would be to the hero? How can the director convey, not merely "she has expensive clothes" but "one of her dresses costs enough to support an ordinary family for a year?" In the film, Jocelyn wears clothes that evoke a modern couture wearing jetsetter. In one scene she wears a hat that might remind the viewer of one worn by Audrey Hepburn. In another she wears a strategically sheer dress that has more in common with modern high fashion than the Middle Ages. Her hair is the sort of expensive confection that can only be achieved with professional help, and perhaps not at all before the invention of styling mousse.

What she wears isn't necessarily much like what a woman of her rank would actually have worn in the 14th century. But it does convey a sense of expensively conspicuous consumption to the typical modern audience, and probably does a better job of doing so than literally correct costume and hairstyles would.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Knight's Tale

There's a lot that a purist could complain about in this movie, but I still like it. It has a bad case of historical clichés #4 (Real Men Don't Wear Dresses) and #5 (Bad Hair). The armor is mostly 16th c. in a story set in the 14th, and the tourney circuit portrayed in the film was more characteristic of the 12th century. 14th century squires are portrayed as peasants rather than the gentlemen they were. There's a plot hole in the final joust you could drive a Hussite war-wagon through. And yet...

I'm willing to cut the movie a lot of slack on the historical accuracy side because it doesn't pretend to be. When the opening tournament features the sound of air horns, fans doing the wave and "We Will Rock You" as background music, the viewer has fair warning that the movie is not going to be a literal recreation of the 14th century. Fair warning is good.

Having frankly admitted that it isn't necessarily going to be faithful to the actual Middle Ages, the film proceeds to provide nuggets of medieval goodness. William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), squire to the inconveniently dead Sir Hector, decides that he nonetheless has a shot at making it on the tourney circuit. He and his companions shortly encounter young Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany). "Perhaps you've heard of me? Book of the Duchess?...well fair enough, it was an allegory.." Bettany's wonderfully mournful crestfallen expression as it becomes clear that his listener's have not read the Book of the Duchesse was worth the price of admission for me.

The Chaucer subplot proceeds to wind in some characters from the Canterbury Tales and an explanation of the true background to "Chaucer's Complaint to His Purse" This sets up the conceit that the action nominally set in the 1370s thus justifies the high proportion of '70s music in the soundtrack.

Thatcher, pursuing his beloved, the aristocratic Jocelyn, is taken aback to discover that to win her love he must not simply do his best in the tournament, but go against his natural inclination and do his worst on her bidding. I'm happy to see a direct steal from Chrétien de Troyes on this, and the movie actually seems to have a fairly good take on the dynamics of courtly love. "I demand poetry, and when I want it, and I want it now." says Jocelyn, stamping her feet.

In spite of being something of a temporal tossed salad, the movie frequently tosses in highly plausible medieval artifacts. I had joyful moments of saying to myself "Hey! I recognize that aquamanile!"

And the recognition of the social value of a discovered or invented genealogy is an authentic medieval touch. This happens twice in the film. The first time it is clearly fraudulent. The second is nicely ambiguous: at a key point another tremendously convenient genealogy is revealed. Do the powers that be truly believe it, or is it a fiction that they wink at to achieve their ends without directly challenging social norms?

The jousting is splendidly kinetic and, as Jocelyn says, "abrupt", although I cringed a bit at the inadequate neck protection of some of the jousters.

Finally, I think Jocelyn's highly anachronistic hair and clothing are part of a deliberate and legitimate strategy for conveying important information to the audience. But that's fodder for another post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Celebrating National Talk Like a Pirate Day

So, what's every pirate's dream, me mateys? Kiera nightly. Aarr arrr arrr.

To be fair to them Islamic protesters, Manuel II was a bit brusque with the whole "Show me just what Muhammad brought.." thing. Now, we hearty swabs aren't much on theology, arr, what with avoiding priests as unlucky. What stands to reason, with always seeing them at funerals and all. And not bein' much on regular reading of the Bible, on account of generally not being much on literacy, and even if you are you can't hardly open the book without reading something disapproving about wenching and plundering and what not, that leaves you feeling all conflicting about your career choices. Let alone the bits about not eating shellfish. And when you do get to a good nautical part, it's always some swab being swallowed by a whale, or St. Paul being shipwrecked and marooned and the like. Or Leviathans. I hates 'em, I do.

Where was I? Arrr. Well, it seems to a jolly tar like me that there are some of them, what you call 'em, genuine theological innovations to Islam besides the Jihadding about and suchlike capers. It's not like they're just Christians only with cutlasses. I mean to say that you get to be a monotheist but you don't have to be Jewish and you don't have to to keep straight the whole business with the Trinity which is so confusin' to a jolly swab.

Now, seems like poor old Manuel had some reason to be grumpy-like. On account of Bayazid having him as a vassal, and rubbing his nose in it by making him help take Philadelphia for him. No, not the one in the Tom Hanks movie, the one in Asia minor, what was full of Christians that had never done him harm. And then plundering most of what was left of his empire, and besieging him for what seems like an inordinate length o' time. And then they sends off a French army to rescue him, and it being the 14th century and them French he just knows that's goin' to end in tears and it does. Must have fair set him on his beam ends.

And then he starts to write up this dialogue he says he was having with one of them Persians, back when Bayazid is having him make up a fresh pot of coffee while Bayazid is pigging out on the stuffed dates and all. And he starts giving himself all the snappy comebacks that he didn't think of till later, and making the other swab go all stupid like and lose all the arguments, just like he was one of those swabs like Robert A. Heinlein or Socrates.

So that bit what old Manuel wrote wasn't exactly shipshape,but let it go, OK? Arrr. Some people need to put it behind them and move on.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Muslims Enraged by Statement by Byzantine Emperor

CONSTANTINOPLE, September 18, 1391. Ritters News Service.

Muslims around the world continued to demand a full apology after a recent statement by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos.

"The derogatory remarks about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Muhammad have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions," said Ottoman ruler Bayezid I from a siege battery outside the walls of Constantinople.

"It is obvious from the statements that the Emperor doesn't have a correct understanding of Islam." said Grand Vizier Qara Timurtash, speaking from field headquarters in Thessalonica

Gazi Evrenos Beg said on Thursday that Manuel II was "full of enmity and grudge" against Islam. He opposed the Emperor's proposal for a November truce in the ongoing siege of Constantinople.

A spokesman for the League of Jihadists in Anatolia demanded an apology and said. "I am enraged. I am boiling angry. Steam rises from my turban. He should be beheaded, and the head fed to a dog. And then you should behead the dog. It is shameful to say something like: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached........God is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."

"Even to quote such words is shameful, and worthy of death." said the spokesman before pausing briefly in consternation and beheading himself.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

So what if college faculties skew liberal?

....asks Michael Berube in a New York Times article.

After all, he argues, students should expect to feel uncomfortable about their beliefs as a matter of course. So what if liberals are disproportionately represented among the professors?

For starters, because it cheats the students. We all have biases. If we spend most of our time with colleagues that share our views, we get intellectually flabby. Berube cites a study in which in which there are only three times as many self declared liberals as conservatives among college professors.

Now, if he knew any Republicans in his department, they might ask him: Aren't self-declared liberals rarer than self declared conservatives these days? Don't they represent approximately the leftmost 20% of the American political spectrum, while self-declared conservatives represent the rightmost 30% of the political spectrum? And what about the professors who happily describe themselves not as Liberal, but "far left?". Eyeballing the chart they look like about 5% or more of professors, while I expect the number of Americans that describe themselves that way is somewhat less than sampling error.

If he had that advantage, he would need, if intellectually honest, to come up with some reasonable answer to those objections. And his arguments would be the stronger for it.

If you haven't had much exposure to the best arguments of the other side, you have a tendency to depend on being right for the wrong reasons. "Oh poohpoohpooh. Higher marginal tax rates decreasing growth? That's just silly. I just don't see how that could be true."

There are good reasons to argue for more progressive taxation, but this isn't one of them. Someone that rubbed elbows with people from the other end of the ideological spectrum a little more often would know that.

And there are probably good reasons why people from the leftish side of the political spectrum would prefer to work in the closest thing America offers to a government subsidized Worker's Collective with excellent job security, and why aspiring capitalists would rather do something else. That doesn't explain why the liberal tilt in universities is increasing over time.

Berube argues that there's no evidence that liberals are "actively conspiring to keep dissenting voices off the faculty roster". Surely that's a rather low bar. "Well, we didn't have a formal conspiracy to keep out people that thought differently from us. It just mysteriously sort of happened that way, and more and more each year. We didn't keep minutes or anything. It was just obvious that anyone 50 degrees to the left or right of us was an unreasonable person that didn't deserve tenure. That's fair isn't it? Because we're where the center of gravity in American politics would be if Americans weren't temporarily deluded. Surely every reasonable person agrees. Or at least every one I know."

Swords and Thrown Spears

Yesterday I watched a Mythbusters Mega Movie Myths special episode. Mythbusters looks at those questions you've always wondered about. Could a medieval Chinese would-be astronaut have ascended to heaven in a rocket propelled chair? Could methane buildup trigger a port-a-john explosion? And, if not, can we find an excuse to blow something up anyway? "Well, Jamie, it looks from our controlled experiment that it's plausible that someone could have used a stick of dynamite to try and clean the hardened cement out of their cement truck. Looks like a bunch of the cement got chipped off. Now let's see what happens when we use 850 pounds of mining explosive. Folks, don't try this at home." Great fun.

Happily, one of the movie myths they looked at was "the scene where one guy slices through the other guy's sword". Step one demonstrated that none of them were particularly competent at swinging swords. They then brought in an experienced test cutter, filmed him slicing through tatami mats and deeply into ballistic gel, and calculated the speed of the sword's point of percussion at impact. This turned out to be 48 mph. More on this later.

They then built a swinging arm to give the same velocity, which replicated the ballistic gel performance. Cutting to the chase, unless it's a low quality sword, you can't cut it, but you can break it.

Now, we also have data on how fast a modern javelin can be thrown: nearly 70 mph for an 800 gram (1.76 lbs)javelin. The runup is a significant contributor to the difference in velocity. Since kinetic energy increases with the square of velocity, a mass moving at 70 mph has more than twice the kinetic energy of the same mass at 48 mph.

For comparison, Hardy's Longbow claims that a 70 lb bow can shoot a 57.4 gram arrow with a long bodkin point at 97.5 MPH. The javelin has seven times as much kinetic energy.

Which helps explain the persistence of thrown spears in 15th c. deeds of arms. I should caution that we don't know how their technique compares with a modern athlete's, and throwing a spear in armor would have reduced performance to some degree.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Iain M. Banks: Culture Wars

Iain M. Banks is the author of dark and richly written SF novels. As Iain Banks he also writes mainstream fiction. While not exactly light reading he has a streak of humor that reminds me a bit of Jack Vance. Kilometer long heavily armed starships are controlled by whimsical artificial intelligences that give themselves names like: No More Mr Nice Guy, So Much For Subtlety, What Are The Civilian Applications, Frank Exchange Of Views, Ultimate Ship The Second, Poke It With A Stick and I Blame The Parents. The design of spacesuits and other appliances is constrained by the consideration that giving a device too much sentience will qualify it for civil rights.

Several of his works are set in a universe that contains the Culture, a wealthy, technologically advanced society of sexually permissive hedonists. From time to time the Culture comes into conflict with other poorer and less advanced societies: theocratic, autocratic, and/or sexist. These tend to see the Culture as soulless, corrupt, decadent and morally impure.

To their dismay, they discover that the smug Culture has a set of moral values that take a dim view of perceived threats to the Culture, not to mention a dim view of theocracy, autocracy and sexism. The easygoing hedonists maintain a group of hardened professionals to deal with Special Circumstances of this sort, and will descend on your neighborhood with whatever mixture of hardened professionals, drones, missiles, enormous warships, technological superiority and firepower is deemed necessary to result in a satisfactory regime change.

Banks has described the Culture as "exactly the place I would like to live. I can't imagine a better place- it's a utopian society"

I hope the similarities between the United States post 9/11 and the Culture are clear enough that I don't have to beat you over the head with them. Likewise the similarities between the Culture's adversaries and the people the US was changing the regime of during the same period.

Ironically, the Culture novels published so far were all written before 9/11/2001. And Banks has been a vigorous critic of the conduct of the US government since then.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Blame Viagra

The New York Times ran a story on Monday August 28 on falling real wages. They buried the lede, missing the most interesting implication of the data they presented.

They presented a chart, showing wages and salary as a share of GNP. Wages are indeed at their lowest share on record (i.e., the chart goes back to 1947). Scary, yes?

But total compensation as a share of GNP is about where it was in 1966 and the mid nineties, and up from the era of post WWII egalitarian prosperity. Since 1966 it has been fluctuating in a fairly narrow band between 56% and 60% of GNP. Corporate profits have fluctuated in the same period in a similarly narrow band between about 5% and 10%, sometimes up, sometimes down.

However, eyeballing the chart, employee benefits were about 7% of GNP in 1970 and grew inexorably to over 12% today. That's a huge jump. Workers live longer, and that drives up pension costs. Viagra didn't exist in 1970. Today it does, and that's just one medication or treatment that didn't exist in the past but that today's consumer insists on getting. And, living longer, they're more likely to need it.

A longer life in retirement is a good thing, but you still have to pay for it. And if benefits take a larger share of compensation, wages will get a smaller slice of the pie.

Now, higher prices for petroleum products have meant a real decrease in the total buying power of a lot of people. That's a story the matters, although it may not be nearly as important in the long term. Gas prices have already declined considerably from their 2006 peak, and Americans will over time adjust their habits in response to higher prices. Thriftier vehicles will gradually reduce the share of the average consumer's spending that goes towards gasoline.

But the steady growth in benefits as a share of compensation is an even bigger story. Why did the writers underplay it? In part because of a leftish bias that seizes on corporate profits as a convenient scapegoat. But even more because reporters tend to think of news as what happened yesterday. A bigger story that unfolds over decades doesn't fit that model.


One of my readers writes:

"Nevertheless, I don't see the evidence for your point. Real wages are declining while corporate profits are rising. (To make matters worse, compensation gains are concentrated at the top.) The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer."

One of my points is that the appropriate measure isn't wages, but total compensation. Wages are only about 70% of compensation.

Consider this simplified scenario. Over three years CPI inflation is 10%. Productivity is unchanged. Employers are willing to pay 10% more in total compensation three years later. Health insurance costs increase faster than the CPI, but consumers still want it at the new price. Even with shifting some cost to the employee, employer costs for health insurance increase by a nominal 20%. It follows that average wages offered will increase less than inflation. Even though workers are getting what they want.

Note also that keeping total compensation equal in real terms results in increased wage inequality. Suppose that the average cost of health insurance is $6,000 per worker covered and only 60% of median workers get coverage. The median worker whose wages are $30,000 must give up $360 in wage increase to maintain the same real compensation: more than 1% in real terms. In contast, if the top 1% have 100% coverage and $300,000 in wages, they need to give up $600 in wages to maintain the same employer cost in real terms. The impact on real wages for this group is only .2%.

What Happened at Vannes?

Early in 1381 a deed of arms was fought between the English and French at Vannes. Froissart provides a detailed account of the encounter. So does Cabaret d'Orville in his work La Chronique du bon duc Loys de Bourbon, summarized in Steven Muhlberger's Deeds of Arms.

Unfortunately, the two accounts differ in many ways: the parties involved, the number of combats, and the outcomes of many of the combats. Perhaps it is best to start with where their accounts agree.

The English and French agreed to fight a number of single combats at Vannes. Each combat would be for a set number of blows on foot with different weapons, which included spear, axe and sword. Based on similar combats, this meant that when one or the other champion has struck the set number of blows, either five or three depending on which account you accept, that phase of the combat was completed and they would pick up the next set of weapons. The combat could end early if one of the champions was injured or overmatched and the judges intervened. However, at least one Englishman offered to complete the full number of blows for a companion who was unable to continue, and had his offer accepted.

Each contest began with lance on foot. Froissart describes the champions going at each other at "a good pace" and putting their lances to their breasts. Cabaret also describes the contestants "coming strongly against each other" in a way that seems similar to a later lance combat.

In the first combat one of the champions was wounded in the body by his opponent's spear in spite of the plate defenses he wore.

In the third combat Clarins or Glarains, a bastard of Savoy, struck his opponent, Edward Beauchamp, to the ground twice with his spear.
Then came the last, Edward Beauchamp and Clarins de Savoye. This bastard was a tough and brave squire, and as well formed in all his limbs as the Englishman was not. They ran at each other with a hearty good will: both set their spears on their breast in pushing; so that Edward was struck down and backwards, which angered the English greatly. When he was raised up, he took his spear and went against Clarins and Clarins against him, but the Savoyard again struck him to the ground, which made the English very angry: they said, Edward is too weak against this squire, and the devil was in him to joust against the Savorard. He was carried off among them, and said he would not fight no more.*

In the final encounter, Jean de Chateaumorand fought William Faringdon, who wounded him clear through the thigh in violation of the agreed rules for the encounter. The English were enraged by their own champion's misbehavior and made strenuous apologies and other efforts to make amends, which were ultimately accepted by the French.

Who to trust where the accounts differ? Froissart had an attitude more like a docudrama writer than a modern historian. He strove to create a vivid account of events, and if he didn't know all the details he supplied plausible ones of his own invention. We have no reason to think he was present at Vannes.

Cabaret d'Orville had a well placed source, Jean de Chateaumorand, but hardly an unbiased one. And he was writing about forty years after the encounter, while Froissart was writing when memories were fresher.

For some details, Cabaret is simply more plausible. He says that the victim in the first combat was wounded "between the lames and the piece" It seems likely that the piece in this case was the breastplate, the largest piece of the body armor. The articulation between it and the lames that covered the belly would be a relatively weak point in the body armor. Froissart says the breastplate itself was pierced, a much more challenging task.

Cabaret says that in the final contest, there was a special concession. Faringdon had a knee injury that prevented him from wearing armor, and asked that both champions fight without legharness, and that neither would strike at the other's legs. This makes the serious wound that Chateaumorand suffered more plausible: such a wound would be much less likely if legharness was worn. Froissart seems to have heard about the legs being off limit in that fight, and mistaken a specific accomodation for a general rule.

Froissart seemed to think the arms were off limit as well, but this, if true, would be a unique restriction for foot combats in this era. Cabaret, on the other hand, says that one of the English was wounded by a sword stroke that broke the mail between the piece and garde bras** and pierced his shoulder so that the fight was halted, another by a lance stroke that pierced his arm between avant-bras* and garde bras*. In neither case was this seen as a foul blow.

Froissart says there were three blows with each weapon, Cabaret five. In this case Cabaret seems more plausible. Three is a relatively low number of blows for a combat on foot: a contest planned in 1400 expected ten blows with each weapon. Three is exactly the number of blows per weapon specified for a mounted combat that Froissart says he witnessed in person, but the smaller number would be more appropriate to contests that included the particularly dangerous courses with sharp lances on horseback.

Cabaret adds that the planned exchanges would also include strokes with dagger, a common feature of such contests around this time, if the fights lasted that long, but that none did.

In all these things Cabaret seems to provide the more plausible account. However, in another dimension his account seems more dubious. In his version, the French are uniformly more generous, competent and victorious than the English, decisively winning every fight before Faringdon's foul blow. In addition to the combats already described, Cabaret also says that Tristan de la Jaille badly wounded his opponent with his second axe stroke, so that he could do no more. In Froissart's version the honors are more evenly distributed. Chateaumorand was both a principal and a partisan in the events described. Is it possible that he forgot, misremembered or shaded some details of a combat forty years in the past that might have been less flattering to his team? Is it probable that the French put so many fully armed opponents out of action in so few blows?

Whoever we believe, at least the two sources agree on many of the details of the deed of arms. Fought on foot with several opponents and a variety of weapons, it provides a valuable prototype for those interested in creating the foot combats of this period.

*Froissart, Jean, 1867-1877 Oeuvres ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, Brussels Vol. 9 pp. 326-327 Translation copyright Will McLean 2012

**Garde bras: upper portion of armharness. Avant-bras: lower portion of armharness, cognate with vambrace

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Armor Pitfalls: Effigies

While effigies are an excellent resource for researching medieval armor, they must be used with some caution. Effigies represent the equipment of the elite that could afford them, not the great mass of ordinary men-at-arms.

Also, as Steve Muhlberger points out in response to an earlier post, "just because you have a pic of someone in a classy armor doesn't mean that person owned it." While some brasses seem individual enough to represent actual portraits, others are so stereotyped that they may owe more to the craftsman's pattern book than to the deceased's actual equipment and appearance.

While many brasses were ordered shortly after the death of the individual memorialized, this wasn't always so. Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick's plans for his own memorial included a fine new chapel to put it in, and as a result his splendid bronze effigy wasn't cast until two decades after his death. In the other direction, Thomas, Lord Berkeley ordered a brass for himself and his wife upon her death in 1392. He himself survived for another 25 years.

His brass indicates the strain of flattering idealization visible in many effigies. His armored waist is scarcely wider than his helmeted head. It seems unlikely that he had such a slim profile in life. It would be interesting to compare the dimensions of the Black Prince's surviving coat armor with those implied by his effigy.

Effigies can also contain a number of symbolic elements that might never have been worn together at one time. Like many effigies of the late 14th and early 15th c., the head of the Black Prince's effigy rests upon a crested helm. By that period such helms were rarely worn outside the jousting or tournament field. At the same time, he wears a bascinet with a tall pointed skull of the shape often seen on the battlefield, but that couldn't have fit inside the helm. English effigies of this period continue to show conservative sleeveless coat armors even though illuminations from the same period show other designs becoming popular on the battlefield and elsewhere, including the short sleeved coat armor preserved above the Black Prince's tomb. The sleeveless coat armor may have dominated memorial portrayals because it was both traditional and well adapted to displaying arms on a two dimensional brass.

Prince Edward's effigy shows a sword by his side that is the acutely pointed shape of a contemporary fighting weapon. A tournament sword would have had a different shape, and a jouster would not have worn a sword at all.

Effigies were intended to show the symbols of the status, function and ancestry of the deceased gentleman: crest, sword and heraldry. If doing so required combining elements that wouldn't normally be worn together on any given day, so be it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Folksongs Are Your Friends

Things I’ve learned from British folk ballads

To which I'll add:

Don't roughhouse while carrying a wee pen knife, or with someone carrying a wee pen knife. For that matter, don't spend any more time than you have to anywhere near anyone carrying a wee pen knife, particularly if they seem disturbed or agitated.

And don't employ, consort with, or go on moonlit strolls with anyone whose name or job description starts with "False"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tourney Fences

One authentic possibility for recreators of the medieval tournament seeking to provide an enclosure is to sink uprights into postholes, as was done here. Unfortunately, digging the postholes is laborious and slow.

An equally authentic but less laborious option is use uprights of inverted T shape. The most significant drawbacks of this solution are the transport and storage requirements of the fencing, which are significant.

The Company of St. Michael uses fencing inspired by a 15th c. illumination of the jousts at St. Inglevert, which show the lists surrounded by richly decorated fabric, and spectators viewing the action over the waist-height wall this provides.

This may be intended to show a conventional wooden fence of uprights and horizontal bars draped with fabric. However, we thought it was plausible to reconstruct this "a fence of stakes fixed into the ground at intervals" and hung with cloths, a construction used for some early tilts.

Pieces of cloth are stenciled with the badges of the company, and sewn with casings at top and bottom for ropes strung between banner poles decorated with pennons, as shown here. Metal "portable holes" are used to support the poles. To hold the upper rope taut, rope runs either down to metal stakes or across to wooden corner sections.

These are composed of wooden uprights and bars and pegged together. Rebar extends out of the bottom of the uprights so they can be driven into the ground without digging a hole. The cloth enclosure can be used with or without the wooden corner sections. The whole enclosure breaks down into a fairly compact package, particularly when the corner sections are omitted.

In the future, I may look at configuration with less space between each cloth panel.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Belts Worn with Armor by a Late 14th-early 15th c. Man-at-Arms

You have several options: high, low, diagonal, none, none visible, and baldric. Often more than one belt is worn.

High: usually fairly narrow and worn just below the ribs and just below the breastplate if one is evident.

Low: worn very low on the hips. If a fauld is worn, the low belt should sit approximately on the bottom lame. Walter von Hohenklingen, 1386 wears both a high and low belt.

A horizontal belt worn low on the hips may not be a good way to hold up a heavy sword, so it's not uncommon to see a diagonal, often fairly narrow belt instead of or in addition to the low one. Sir Humphrey Littlebury wears both. (I suspect from his gauntlets that he may be somewhat earlier than 1365.) Lord John de Montacute also has a second belt, in this case neatly rolled around his scabbard.

Even when no diagonal belt is visible, it isn't safe to assume that a low belt is supporting the sword. Swords and daggers can be attached directly to body armor. In Altichiero's Execution of St. George the soldier directly behind the saint has both sword and dagger attached directly to his blue brigandine.

In some cases, a belt may be worn, but beneath the jupon or coat armor. Perhaps that's what's happening in this illumination of Richard II meeting Northumberland

Du Guesclin's effigy shows a baldric worn with a high belt. A baldric is also worn by one of the figures on the right side of a miniature of Siege of Melun

The belts of the knightly elite shown on effigies were often broad and almost always richly decorated: 1-2.25" or more wide, compared to diagonal belts that might be .75-1" wide. These low belts are usually made either of linked metal plaques, or of large mounts densely covering a leather or textile belt for a similar effect. Even when large, these mounts were not necessarily very massive. Many large mounts preserved in the Museum of London were stamped out of metal sheet. Three circular armorial mounts, about 2 3/8" in diameter, also in the Museum of London, of silvered copper alloy with armorial designs of enamel or niello weigh between 43.5 and 57.5 grams. Of composite construction, the central armorial rondel is made of engraved sheet, and surrounded by a ring that shows turning marks. For this class, high and diagonal belts as well as baldrics were often lavishly decorated with mounts.

During this period, most fully armored men-at-arms were not knights, but squires and gentlemen. While an ordinary squire was less wealthy than a knight, anyone that could afford full armor and a warhorse was not poor. Their belts were not as richly decorated as a knight's, but contemporary illuminations still show belts on most men-at-arms richly decorated with mounts. Men of this rank could afford mounts of copper alloy or better

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto Not a Planet

The International Animators Union voted on Thursday to declare that Pluto was not a planet but in fact a dog. "It was actually a fairly easy call" said one delegate "Pluto's long nose, tail, and quadrupedal gait made it a relatively easy decision". The upcoming vote on Goofy's status was expected to be more contentious.

"Yes, he has a long nose and floppy ears. And he slobbers. But he's also a biped with opposable thumbs" the delegate continued. The union is debating moving to a more nuanced classification system recognizing animals, funny animals, litigants, mascots and pathetic losers.

Funny animals would officially encompass bipedal anthropoidal animals with opposable thumbs. Litigants would be defined as funny animals sufficiently powerful to be orbited by their own copyright attorneys. An additional category was included, according to one source, because "just because you strap a racoon tail to your butt, that doesn't mean you're a funny animal"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Harness 1385-1415

A period of particular interest to those attempting to recreate the visual effect of a medieval man at arms, since so much of the body can be covered by the jupon or coat armor if your hard kit isn’t 100% presentable. The illuminations show a wide range of sleeve designs: banana, bagpipe, angel-wing, elbow length and so on. The brasses show a much stronger bias towards sleeveless coat armors. I think there are several explanations. The brasses tend to show what I think is intended as jousting or tournament full dress: note the jousting or tournament helms used as pillows. While the illuminations show a full range of men-at-arms, the brasses show the elite subset that can afford expensive brasses. Also, a number of the sleeved designs aren’t as congenial to the display of arms on a coat armor, particularly on a two-dimensional brass, and that would be an understandable priority for the effigy buying upper crust.

Update: The British Library has made my links obsolete. For those images you can go to their search page and paste in the shelfmark or title.

Beheading of St. George, Altichiero 1385

Livy, Histoire Romaine Paris; c. 1380-1390
The Hague, KB, 71 A 16
(The link will take you to a search page, and you can enter the shelfmark, which follows "KB" above, to reach the particular manuscript."Images and Text" will then give you both thumbnail images from the MS and text describing their context)

Hohenklingen, 1386
Another View

Cotton Nero D. VI 1386-1399
Richard II appoints Earl Marshal

Churburg 1390

St. George, Champmol Altarpiece 1390

Calveley, ca. 1394

Hartneid von Pettau, ca. 1395

Bardolf 1395

Bettesthorne 1398

Life of Du Guesclin, ca. 1400
Capture of Don Pedro
Taking of Pestien
Siege of Melun
Battle of Auray

Chroniques de France ou de St. Denis
Royal 20 C. VII ca. 1400
John Baliol before Edward I
Passage of the Seine
Sea fight off La Rochelle
Death of King of Aragon
Battle of the Spurs
English landing in Normandy
Battle in Picardy
Scenes in Hundred Years' War
Austrians and Saracens defeated
Battle on bridge over Seine
Fight outside Meaux
English army with banner
King of Navarre and his army
French destroy Genoa

Histoire du Roy d'Angleterre Richard II
Harley 1319 1401-1405
Henry of Monmouth knighted
Richard II meets Northumberland
Richard II renounces the throne

Russel 1405

Vincent of Beauvais, Le Miroir Historial (Vol. IV) Paris, Master of the Cité des Dames (illuminator); c. 1400- 1410
The Hague, KB, 72 A 24
(The link will take you to a search page, and you can enter the shelfmark, which follows "KB" above, to reach the particular manuscript."Images and Text" will then give you both thumbnail images from the MS and text describing their context)

Jean Froissart, Chroniques (Vol. 1) Paris, Virgil Master (illuminator); c. 1400-1410
The Hague, KB, 72 A 25
(The link will take you to a search page, and you can enter the shelfmark, which follows "KB" above, to reach the particular manuscript."Images and Text" will then give you both thumbnail images from the MS and text describing their context)

Bagot 1407

Burton, c. 1410

L'Epitre d'Othea
Harley 4431 1410-1411
Memnon and Achilles
Hector prepares for battle
Siege of Babylon
Telamon's army enters Troy
Pyrrhus fights the Trojans
Minerva and Pallas Athene

Peryent 1415

Grandes Chroniques de France
Cotton Nero E. II pt.2 ca. 1415
Charlemagne finds Roland slain
Louis VII fights beside his father
England and France at war
Battle of Crécy
Battle of Poitiers
Louis VII fights beside his father
Guesclin appointed constable

Also see:

Gothic Eye
Monumental Brass Society

Serpentes on a Shippe

Geoffrey Chaucer writes about the new drama Serpentes on a Shippe. Where else can you hear dialog like "Aaargh! There is an adder in my costrel!" and "This amphisbena shall notte comme to the fore-castle, maugre my head"?

Already there is talk of sequels: Beehives in a Siege-Tower and Scorpions on a Haywain. Time will tell if the genre of "dramas with refreshingly direct titles" has legs. If so, look forward to titles like Thwacking on a Grail-Quest and Fart Jokes on a Pilgrimage

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Armor Pitfalls: Breastplate Length

In shopping for (or building) a reproduction of a 14th c. breastplate, look for one that's the correct length. Don't expect the breastplate to cover more than the bottom of your ribs or your navel. If the bottom edge is much lower than your elbows it's probably too long.

Some modern armorers sell longer breastplates, perhaps because their customers want more coverage. Avoid these. They won't look right, and they'll hinder your movement. If you want to protect more of our torso with plate, add an apron of lames, or concealed protection beneath your gypon or gambeson.

Armor Pitfalls: the ca. 1400 Italian Harness in the Met

This one.

Beautiful, isn't it? There are so few harnesses surviving from the period that it's important to know that this one was Frankensteined together by Bashford Dean in the 1920s from bits and pieces of several different harnesses, and not all the bits ended up in their original position or shape. The velvet covering, in spite of its worn appearance, is modern.

Imagine him working away in an underground lab, retorts bubbling and sparks climbing the Jacob's Ladder.

"But Mathter, won't future armor hithtorians want that backplate preserved in itth original form?"

"Silence, Igor. Sacrifices must be made. Hand me those shears. Am I not the preeminent armor historian-icthyologist in the world?"

(pause). "But Mathter. You're the only...."

"Enough insolence! Give me the Whitney-Roper punch! And that file! Bwahahaha!"

In particular, the body armor below the waist is reconstructed in a way that gives very little freedom of motion, unlike real armor.

I can understand why the Met has left it as is. It does convey a good general impression of the harness of the period, and if they took it down to the few unaltered bits according to current standards of conservation that would be lost.

But the details are a snare for the unwary. You have been warned.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Team Liveries and Badges for Deeds of Arms

Teams of jousters wearing a common livery were a fairly common feature of festive jousts in the 14th and 15th century, particularly when the team was fielded by a king or great noble. Royal jousts in 1389 and 1399 provide examples. In a 1390 joust, ladies also processed in matching livery.

For group combats on foot during the same period, the picture was somewhat different. Accounts of combats proposed or fought in 1406 and 1449 specify that each of the fighters wore their coat of arms rather than a group livery. In a 1415 combat both sides wore coats of arms, but the Portuguese team also wore a red cross on their coats of arms, which was the national badge of their English allies. These group combats on foot were particularly risky and prestigious, and a gentleman that might be willing to submerge his individual renown in a team livery for a festive joust might not be willing to do so for a higher stakes combat.

Devices were associated with such combats, or at least were worn beforehand by those offering to accept them. However, they differed from the badges usually associated with liveries. Such devices included diamonds and gold rods, plates and bracelets, all forms that were more suitable to portable, valuable and fungible ransoms than to easily recognizable badges. Unlike badges that might also be worn by servants and supporters, the devices seem only to have been worn by the champions themselves.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I'll be near Slippery Rock, PA and away from the blog for about a week. More bloggy goodness when I return.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Around the beginning of the 15th c. there was a fashion particularly associated with deeds of arms to the outrance. Gentlemen who wished to undertake such a deed of arms would wear a conspicuous, distinctive and precious device. The Duke of Bourbon's Enterprise was an explicit example. Challengers who defeated the gentlemen of the enterprise could win the device. If they lost, they paid a similar stake as a ransom. A 1406 challenge and Gerard de Herbaumes' challenge c. 1414 seem to be variants of the same idea. Other devices included diamonds and gold rods.*

Think of it as wearing a gilded chip on your shoulder.

I think it's interesting and significant that none of the elaborately advertised displays of martial ferocity above seem to have resulted in an actual combat. They did, however, enhance the reputation of the gentleman undertaking the enterprise.

*Juliet Barker, The Tournament in England 1100-1400, Woodbridge,1986, pp. 157-158 citing BL MS Additional 21357 fos. 1r.,2r.,3r.

Memo from Usāmah

Dear Martyrs:

You may have experienced some disruption in communications due to recent Western security efforts. Fortunately, the same accursed technology that corrupts our youth with online images of tawdry sleepy-eyed minxes when they should be working on the latest al-Qaeda press release (yes, that means you, Abu) allows updated accurate information like this to reach you with a simple Google search on Homemade Nitro Explosives Jihad. How much more wonderful is Allah than the ungodly’s conception of him!

A key technical update: previously distributed recipes for the above have omitted an important quality control step. If this procedure is neglected, the explosive may fail to explode when required, with the result that the planeload of vacationing families is not sent screaming to their deaths, Allah forbid. After you have completed a test batch, it is quite important to strike the container of explosive vigorously against a hard surface to “settle” the mixture properly. Completing the procedure correctly will result in a subtle but clearly visible change in color for the mixture. Repeat if necessary until the change is observed.

My technical people tell me that the color change is very pleasing to observe, so you may wish to gather your team in a tight circle around the test batch for a good view of the process.

Don’t delay. Eternity waits for you.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gerard Herbaumes Issues a Challenge, ca. 1413 whom the right name is Sir Gerard Herbaumes. A seemly man, and one of the best jousters of France accounted and is one of the fifteen Frenchmen that have now late challenged fifteen Englishmen to the outrance they bearing a plate of gold for their device till their arms be done.

Landsdowne MS. No. 285 in Cripps-Day, F.H. The Tournament in France and England. London, 1918, Reprinted AMS Press, NY, 1982.

Orleans vs. Burgundy: an Aborted Outrance Combat of Seven vs. Seven, 1406

March, 1406

Pages 66-68 in the PDF document.

In 1406 a Burgundian knight wore “the White Lady embroidered on his apparel, and a golden bracelet, to despite the knights of my lord the duke of Orleans”. He said he was willing to defend the device in the lists, seven against seven, to fight “to the very uttermost.” The six surviving members of the 1402 combat against the English accepted, and "challenged the devices" of their rivals. As Guillaume du Chastel had been killed in battle, Pero Nino agreed to be the seventh, to fight as they had “done once already”.

The challenge was a symptom of the increasingly bitter rivalry between the dukes of Orleans and Burgundy, which would lead to the murder of the duke of Orleans in 1407 and open civil war by 1411. The king of France had no desire for a combat that could only inflame “the discord which was already beginning; he had all the knights engaged in the affair brought before him, and took away their devices, and reconciled the dukes and knights” Later that day all the parties ate together. “This peace between the dukes was but feigned, as was manifest thereafter…”

Friday, August 04, 2006

Armor terminology Updated

I've updated 14th Century English Armor Terminology to include more of the cloth components

Calamarrrri, Me Mateys

Trice the puddings athwart the trysail. Unlace the haltertop. Arrrrr.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is jolly fun, but not quite as jolly as the first movie. It’s important to remember the Five Habits of Highly Effective Pirate Movies

1) In a movie with Johny Depp and Kiera Knightley, every second in which a CGI Giant Squid takes center stage is one second less of Johny Depp and/or Kiera Knightly. This is generally a poor trade. Both of them are a lot more interesting to watch than a CGI Giant Squid. Even Orlando Bloom is generally more interesting to watch than a CGI Giant Squid. There’s a reason why the ads for Fellowship of the Ring did not say: “Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, a CGI Giant Squid and Orlando Bloom”. And it’s not that Orlando Bloom had a better agent. When a CGI Giant Squid is not only chewing the scenery, but swallowing and digesting it, it’s hard for the human actors to get a word in edgewise.

2) In a jolly pirate comedy adventure, brutal murders need to be dealt with using a certain amount of tact and restraint. Homicide is not jolly, and undermines a tone of lighthearted screwball pirate comedy. Excessively realistic hurling of screaming crewmen against bulkheads by CGI Giant Squid tentacles is neither tactful nor restrained, and the same general principal applies to most atrocities committed by other partly squamous partly rugose denizens of the deep.

3) If you are running a sinister prison island, dumping coffins into the sea is a ridiculous way to dispose of corpses. First of all, coffins are expensive. Secondly, the inevitable result is pileup of coffins full of decaying bodies at the high tide mark five miles down the beach. The approved traditional method is a burlap sack. Doesn’t anyone read the Count of Monte Christo anymore?

4) The East India Company operated in the East Indies. The Caribbean is in the West Indies. Get it right, OK? These lapses add up, and the goal is to suspend disbelief, not hang it from a yardarm until its boots stop twitching.

5) The genre of “Movies Based on Theme Park Rides” is not so robust that you can afford to ignore items 1-4

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Deed of Arms at Noseroy, 1519

Proclamation of the Deed of Arms

Six gentlemen make known to all noble men the following matters:

Know that the said gentlemen have taken up an enterprise, for the glory of God and the blessed Virgin, his mother, and my lord Saint George, that good knight.

That is, the day after Christmas, on St. Stephen’s day, the said gentlemen will be found in the lists, armed at all points in harness of war, guarding a barrier with lance in hand to fight against all comers with lance strokes, and afterwards turning to the large end of the spear to fight as well as they can. And afterwards, taking up the single handed sword, they will fight as long as my lords the judges wish them to.

Furthermore, the said gentlemen make known that on the day of St. John the Evangelist they will be found in the lists, guarding the said barrier against all comers who wish to throw the partisan, and afterwards take up the two handed sword, and fight as long as the judges wish them to.

The third day, the day of the holy Innocents, the said gentlemen will, for the honor and reverence of those saints, cease their arms for the day .

The fourth day, the day of St. Thomas, the said gentlemen will be found in the lists, armed at all points, with axe in hand to fight against all comers as long as my lords the judges require…

Account of the Deed of Arms

The said day of my lord St. John the Evangelist, at one in the afternoon, six noble men of the enterprise were in arms, lance in hand, sword by their side, richly accoutered and all in one livery presented themselves before my lords the judges, to provide and accomplish their arms, according the content of the said chapters, offering to perform it. And successively they drew to the barrier, to guard and defend it from the encounter of all comers. And later, were found on the other side of said barrier the twenty-six noblemen named earlier armed at all points, lance in hand and sword by their side; which all together presented themselves before my lords the judges and offered to do their true duty, according to the content of the chapters aforesaid. And the judges sent them to their side and place. Who were all to fight, two against two, with strokes of the lance, turning the large end of the said lance; and afterwards they were to fight with sword in one hand, as long as my lords the judges ordered them to.

That day the following were wounded to the effusion of blood by strokes of the sword: Claude de Vienne in the head, and Claude d’Anglure in the arm. Likewise one of the men of arms of the sustainers, named Jean de Chantrans was carried to the ground by a stroke of the large end of the lance, by Claude de Bussy, lord de Vescles. And beyond that there was given a stroke of the sword on the crest of an armet that opened it to daylight. And also there were ten swords broken. And that was all achieved for that day as I said above.

The following day, the twenty-eighth of the said month, the day of the Innocents, to honor them the said gentlemen of the enterprise ceased their arms for that day…..

The twenty-ninth day of the said month, which was the feast of my lord St. Thomas, the said lord prince of Oranges, together with his companions, armed at all points, with a partisan in hand and in the other a two handed sword, presented themselves before my lords the judges, richly accoutered in one livery offering to accomplish their arms and enterprises as contained in that chapters written earlier.

My lords the judges sent them again to the barrier to guard and defend it from the encounter of all comers, to accomplish their said enterprises, according to the content of their chapters.

And successively, shortly afterwards, twenty-four noble men armed at all points, having a partisan in one hand and the two handed sword as described earlier, presented themselves before the said lords, the judges, in offering to fight the noble men of the enterprise guarding the said barrier, according to the said content of their chapters. Immediately my lords the judges sent them again to the other side of said barrier, commanding them to fight in order, two against two of the enterprise, until everything was achieved for the day. To open the pas two of the enterprise presented themselves: the said lord prince of Oranges, and Jean du Vernoy, having a partisan in one hand and in the other, a two handed sword.

On the other side of the barrier two of the assailants presented themselves: the Lord de Montferrant and Messire Louis de Sugny having likewise a partisan in one hand and the two handed sword as described and at the first sound of the trumpet, they marched each against the other and each one threw a stroke of the partisan and afterwards they fought with the two handed sword as long as it pleased my lords the judges.

Jean Genevois and Jean de Chantrans of the enterprise likewise were found at the barrier to provide and fight against two other assailants having partisan in hand and the two handed sword. And on the other side appeared two other noblemen named Claude de Bussy and Messire Hugues Proudon, having a partisan in hand and in the other a two handed sword as aforesaid and they both fought for as long as the judges commanded.

And afterwards two others of the enterprise, named Jean de Falletans, and in the absence of Claude de Visemau, the lord of Ville-le-Pot, as sustainer for the said Visemau, appeared at the barrier as before. And on the other side, Claude de Bussy and Simon de Champaigne who fought as before. Nor to omit that the said de Falletans of the enterprise fought against the said lord count de Bussy, who was one of those without. And after they had thrown the partisan, they fought with a two handed sword; with which the said count gave such a stroke to de Falletans, on the armet, that he kneeled in the sand.

The said lord prince of Oranges on that day fought personally eight men at arms. And I will not omit that he gave a stroke of the sword on the crest of the armet of Phillipe de Falletans so that he had to take three steps back from the barrier and was unable to fight any more that day. Jean du Vernoy one of the sustainers, fought on that day seven men at arms of the assailants breaking with good strokes one sword at the cross another at the grip and another at the pommel bending its cross.

Jean de Falletans, sustainer on that day, fought five men at arms of the assailants, and broke the pommel of a sword.

And afterwards, Messire de Ville-le-Pot sustainer, for Claude de Visemau fought four men at arms
Jean de Chantrans of the enterprise fought two and did not fight any more, because he was wounded in the hand.

Jean Genevois of the enterprise fought on the said day six men at arms of the assailants.

The said lord de Montferrant, as first of the assailants fought against the said lord prince of Oranges, and gave him a stroke of the partisan in the guard of the knee.

To make a long story short all of the comers fought with the partisan and the two handed sword so that there were many swords broken, and many basinets and armets driven in, guardbraces brought down (avalez*), gauntlets cut and many wounded in the hands to the effusion of blood.

And all was done and accomplished for that day.

* The same word is used in other medieval texts to describe hose rolled down below the knee. If the lace or strap that supported the top of a guardbrace was cut or broken, it would tend to slide down onto the rest of the armharness, and “avalez” would be an apt term for such a failure.

Traicte de la Forme et Devis Comme On Faict les Tourneys, par Olivier de la Marche, Hardouin de la Jaille, Anthoine de la Sale, etc. Bernard Prost, ed. Paris 1878 pp. 244-8