Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Recreating Belgian Longsword Rules

This past summer, at Pennsic 2008, we recreated a tournament using Belgian longsword rules as part of an anthology of tournament styles at the Company of St. Michael’s Vespers.

We used rattan longswords and the ordinary minimum protection of SCA rattan combat. This was expedient, and although lighter protection and steel fencing longswords would have been closer to the original, this provided a quick and enjoyable way to explore the dynamics of the rules.

Since we were recreating unarmored combat, we counted blows at about half standard SCA calibration. We also disallowed thrusts to the face: this wasn’t explicit in the surviving rules, but it was for rapier rules used by the same groups and it seemed likely considering the limited protection worn.

Otherwise we used the following rules posted by Matt Galas.

Important note: One party is designated as the "King"; he has certain advantages (see below). His opponent is called the "Champion." If the Champion defeats the King, he becomes the new King, and has the corresponding handicap. The goal is to remain King until everyone has fenced; the last person remaining as King wins the tournament.

- Each bout consists of a single round.

- Both cut & thrust are allowed.

- Valid target area is above the belt and above the elbows (ie, no hands or forearms).

- No corps-a-corps is allowed; no grappling or pommel strikes.

- Only two-handed technique (no one-handed or half-sword).

- If you lose your weapon, you lose the bout. If you fall, the bout is played over.

- If the King hits the Champion a clean hit, he wins the bout, and remains King. (Go on to the next contestant.)

- If the Champion hits the King with a clean hit, the King still has one last chance to hit him (called an "after-stroke"). The King can take one step with his after-stroke. If he hits, he wins the bout. (This after-stroke must be delivered immediately, without delay, or it is lost.) If the Champion parries or evades the blow, then the Champion wins the bout, and becomes King.

- If there is a double hit, the highest hit wins (head wins over chest, etc.). If it's the King who has the highest hit, he wins. If it's the Champion, the King still gets his after-stroke (see rule above).

He adds that:

Some of the rule sets prescribe a certain number of "venues" (read: "rounds") that the guild brothers have to fight. Usually, the number is two for a new member, three for a guild member who has passed his initial tests. One rule set explicitly says that the venues cannot be played back to back, but must have at least one other person fighting a venue in between.

Because all of the participants were experienced, everyone was allowed three chances to enter the field. We chose the first King by drawing straws. If I was running a repeat event with the same group, I would have the King from the last tournament begin as King.

Although the limited target area created some artificiality relative to actual combat, the rules were in practice simple and elegant in recreating some of the dynamics of actual combat. The after-stroke rule strongly discouraged depending on attacks that might land first, but left you vulnerable to a dying blow. While in theory it might seem that a weaker fighter could be lucky and enter the field at the right time to defeat a tired but superior King in the last fight of the day, that wasn’t an issue for us, since the weaker fighters exhausted their venues faster than the better ones. Evidently the rules evolved over many years to achieve a good balance between simplicity and realism.


Bod. Lib., Ashmole. MS. 856, art. 22, pp. 376—~83

[376] Too my leve Lordes here nowe next folowinge is a Traytese compyled by Johan Hyll Armorier Sergeant in the office of Armory wt, Kinges Henry ye 4th and Henry ye 5th of ye poyntes of Worship in Armes and how he shall be diversely Armed & gouverned under supportacion of faveurof alle ye Needes to coverte adde & amenuse where nede is by the high comandement of the Princes that have powair so for to ordeyne & establishe

The first Honneur in Armes is a Gentilman to fight in his Souverain Lords quarell in a bataille of Treason sworne withinne Listes before his souverain Lorde whether he be Appellant or Defendant ye houneur is his that winneth ye feelde.

As for the appellant thus Armed by his owne witte or by his counsaille wch is assigned to him before Conestabie & Marchall ye wch Counsaille is ordeyned & bounden to teche hym alle maner of fightynge & soteltees of Armes that longeth for a battaile sworne

First hym nedeth to have a paire of hosen of corde wtoute vampeys And the saide hosen kutte at ye knees and lyned wtin wt Lynnen cloth byesse as the hose is A payre of shoen of red Lether thynne laced & fretted underneth wt whippecorde & persed, And above withinne Lyned wt Lynnen cloth three fyngers in brede double & byesse from the too an yncle above ye wriste. And so behinde at ye hele from the Soole halfe a quarter of a yearde uppe this is to fasten wele to his Sabatons And the same Sabatons fastened under ye soole of ye fote in 2 places hym nedeth also a petycote of an overbody of a doublett, his petycote wt oute sleves, ye syses of him 3 quarters aboute wt outen coler, And that other part noo ferther thanne [377] ye waste wt streyte sleves and coler and cutaine oylettes in ye sleves for ye vaunt bras and ye Rerebrase

Armed in this wise First behoveth Sabatouns grevis & cloos quysseux wt voydours of plate or of mayle & a cloos breche of mayle wt 5 bokles of stele ye tisseux of fyne lether. And all ye armyng poyntes after they ben knytte & fastened on hym armed that ye poyntes of him be kutte of

And thanne a paire of cloos gussetts strong sclave not drawes and thatye gussets be thre fingers withinne his plates at both assises And thanne a paire of plattes at xx li lib weight his breste & his plats enarmed to wt wyre or wt poyntes.

A pair of Rerebraces shitten withinne the plates before wt twi forlockes and behinde wt thre forlocks. A paire of vaunt bras cloos wt voydours of mayle & fretted. A pair of gloves of avantage wche may be devised. A basnet of avauntage for ye listes whiche is not goode for noon other battailles but man for man save that necessitie hath noo lawe, the basnet locked baver & vysour locked or charnelled also to ye brest & behynde wt two forlockes. And this Gentilman appellent aforesaide whanne he is thus armed & redy to come to ye felde do on hym a cote of armes of sengle tarten ye beter for avauntage in fighting. And his leg harneys covered alle wt reed taritryn the wche ben called tunictes for he coverynge of his leg harneys is doen because his adversarie shal not lightly espye his blode. And therefore also hen his hosen reed for in alle other colours blode wol lightly be seyne, for by the oolde tyme in such a bataile there shulde noo thing have be seyn here save his basnett & his gloves. And thanne tye on hym a payre of besagewes. Also it fitteth the [378] foresaide counsaille to goo to ye kyng the daye before ye bataille & aske his logging nigh ye listes. Also ye foresaide Counsaille must ordeyne hym the masses ye first masse of ye Trinitie ye seconde of ye Holy Goste & ye thirde of owre Ladye or elles of what other sainte or saintes that he hath devocion unto

And that he be watched alle that night hym that he is watched and light in his Chambre alle that night that his counsaille may wite how that he slepeth, And in ye mornyng whanne he goeth to his Masses that his herneys be leyed at ye North end of ye Auter and covered wt a cloth that ye gospell may be redde over it and at ye laste masse for to be blessed wt ye preist and whanne he hath herde his Masses thanne to goo to his dyner. And soo to his Armyng in ye forme aforesaide. And whanne he is armed and alle redy thanne to come to ye feelde in forme to fore rehersed, thanne his counsaille bounden to counsaille hym & to teche hym how he shal gouverne hym of his requests to ye kyng or he come into ye feelde and his entrie into ye felde and his gouvernance in the feelde for ye saide Counsaille hath charge of hym before Constable and Mareschal til that Lesses les aller be cryed. The whiche requestes ben thus that ye saide Appellant sende oon his counsaille to the kyng for to requeste hym that whanne he cometh to ye barrers to have free entrie wt his counsaille Confessour & Armorers wt alle maner of Instruments wt breede & wyne hymnself bringing in in an Instrument that is to saye a cofre or a pair of bouges. Also their fyre cole & belyes and that his chayre wt [379] certaine of his Servants may be brought into ye feelde and sette up there the houre of his comyng that it may cover hym and his counsaille whanne he is comen into ye feelde this forsaide gentilman Appellant comyng to ye Listes whether he wol on horsebak or on fote wt his counsaille Confessour & other Servaunts aforesaide havyng borne be fore hym by his counsaille a spere a long swerde a short swerde & a dagger fastined upon hymself his swerdes fretted and beasagewed afore ye hiltes havyng noo maner of poyntes for and ther be founden that day on hym noo poyntes of wepons thanne foirre, it shall tourne hym to gret reproof. And this gentilman appellant that come to ye barrers at ye Southeest sone, his visier doune And he shal aske entrie where shal mete hym Constable and Mareschal and aske hym what art thou. And he shal saye I am suche a man & telle his name to make goode this day by ye grace of God that I have saide of suche a man and tell hys name bifore my Souain Lord and they shal bidde hym putte up his visier and whanne he hath put up his visier they shal open the barrers and lette hym inne and his counsaille before hym & wt hym his Armorers & his servaunts shal goo streight to his chayer wt his breed his wyne & alle his instruments that longe unto hym save his weppons. And whanne he entreth into the felde that he blesse hym soberly and so twys or he come to before his Souverain Lord And his Counsailles shall do thair obeisaunce before thair souverain Lord twys or they come to the degrees of his scaffolde and he to obeye him wt his heed at both tymes Then whanne they to fore thair souverain Lord they shal knele a downe and he also they shal aryse or he aryse he shal obeye hym at his heed to his souverain Lord and then aryse and whanne he is up on his feete he shal blesse hym and turne hym to his chayre and at the entryng of his chayr [380] soberly tourne hym his visage to his souverain Lord wards and blesse hym and thanne tourne hym againe and soo go into his chayre and there he maye sitte hym downe and take of his gloves and his basnet and so refresh hyrn till the houre of hys Adversarie approche wt breed and wyne or wt any other thing that he hath brought in wt hym. And whanne the Defendaunt his Adversarie cometh in to the feelde that he be redy armed againe or that he come into the feelde standing withoute his chayre taking hede of his Adversaries comyng in and of his countenance that he may take comfort of. And whanne the defendant his Adversarie is come int ye felde and is in his chayre thanne shal the kyng send for his wepons and se him and the Conestable and the Marschal also and if they be leefull they shal be kept in the feelde & kutte the same day by ye comaundement of the kyng and the Conestable and Mareschal in ye kynge’s behalve. And thanne fitteth to the foresaide counsaille to arme hym and to make hym redy against that he be called to his first ooth and whanne he is called to his first oothe thanne fitteth it to alle his counsaille to goo wt hym to his first ooth for to here what the Conestable and Mareschal seyen unto hym and what contenaunce he maketh in his sweryng And whanne he hath sworne they shl ryse up by ye comaundement of the Conestable and Mareschal. And whanne he is on his feete he shal obey hym to his Souverain Lord and blesse hym and thanne turne hym to his chayre his visage to his souveraine Lord wards and in his goinge blesse hymn twys by ye weye or he come to his chayre. And at ye [381] entryng to his chayre soberly tourne hym his visage to his Souverain Lord wards and blesse hym and soo go into his chayre. Thanne fitteth it to his fore saide Counsaille to awayte where the defendaunt shal come to his first ooth and that they be ther as sone as he for to here how he swereth for he must nedes swere that al that ever th appellant hath sworne is false substance and alle, And if he wol not swere that every worde & every sillable of every worde substance and alle is false the Counsaille of ye saide appellant may right wisly aske jugement by lawe of Civile and raison of Armes forafter ye juge is sette there shulde noo plee be made afore hym that daye.

And if so be that the Defendant swere duly thanne ye Counsaille of the foresaide Appellant shal goo to his chayre agayne and abide ther til they be sent for. And thanne shal they bringe hym to hys second Ooth and here how he swereth and whanne he hath sworne they shal goo wt hym to hys chayre againe in the forme aforesaide. And whanne he is in his chayre the saide Counsaille shal awayte whanne ye Defendaunt cometh to his seconde ooth and here how he swereth and if he swere under any subtil teerme cantel or cavellacion the foresaide Counsaille of th appellant may require the jugement. And if he swere duely thanne shal ye Counsaille of ye foresaide Appellant goo to his chayre againe and abide there til they be sent for.

And thanne shal they brynge hymn to his thirde ooth and assuraunce. And whanne they be sworne and assured the saide appellant wt his Counsaile shal goo againe to his chayre in the fourme afore saide and there make [382] hym redy and fastene upon hym his wepons and so refresche hym til ye Conestahie and Mareschal bid hym come to ye feeld. Thanne shal his Armorers and his Servaunts voyde the Listes wt his chayre and alle his Instruments at ye Comandement of ye Conestable and Mareschal. Thanne fitteth it to the Counsaille of the saide Appellant to ask a place of ye kyng afore hym withinne the barres upon his right hande that ye saide Counsaille of th appellant may come and stande there whanne they be discharged of ye saide Appellant.

The cause is this that suche pyte may be given to ye kyng if God that noon of hem shal dye that daye for he may by his prowaie royal in such a cas take it into his hande the foresaide Counsaille of the Appellant to abyde in the saide place til the kyng have geven his jugement upon him—And thanne ye Conestable and Mareschal shal deliwer the foresaide Appellant by ye Comandement of the kyng to his foresaide Counsaille to govern hymn of his going out of ye feelde as wele as they did of his comyng in his worship to be saved in al that lyeth en hem. And soo to bryng hymn to his Logging agayne to unarme hymn comforte hymn and counsaille hym And some of his Counsaille may goo to the kyng and comon wt hymn and wite of the kyng how he shal be demeaned. This enarmyng here aforesaide is best for a battaille of arreste wt a sworde a dagger an Ax and a pavys til he come to th asseblee his sabatons & his tunycle evoyded And thanne the Auctor Johan Hyll dyed at London in Novembre the xiii th yere of kyng Henry the Sixt so that he accomplished noo mor of ye compylyng of this [383] trayties on whose soulle God have mercy for his endles passion Amen.

This as an informative treatise, but very specialized to the requirements of the judicial duel. The author devotes considerable ingenuity to giving his reader every possible advantage in a life or death fight at a predetermined time with complete support staff on hand. A sleeveless, collarless “petycote… of a doublet” is worn, which would support the legharness without binding the shoulders. Over that is an “other part noo ferther thane ye waste wt streyte sleves and coler and cutain oylettes for ye vaunt bras and ye Rerebrase”. This could support the armharness while allowing relatively free movement. Once the arming points are tied the ends are cut away.

Hill suggest that the the body armor be closed up with “wire or points”. Wire would be less vulnerable than buckles, but impractical on campaign. Similarly, instead of buckles and hinges, the rerebrace is closed with forelocks, metal wedges driven into holes in the end of bolts. Again, this provides a very secure closure, but requiring the assistance of an armorer to remove. He recommends a “basnet of avauntage”, useful only for single combat, with locked “baver and vysour”, with the helmet also locked to breast and backplate with two forelocks.

Finally, he suggests that the legharness by covered with red fabric “tunictes” to conceal any loss of blood. "Tunictes" might be translated as vestments or jackets. He says that the champion’s swords should be be “fretted and besagewed” before the hilts. He condemns the practice of adding additional points to the weapon by sharpening the ends of the cross of the hilt or adding a point to the pommel, both of which appear in Continental fighting manuals.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In My Parallel Universe II

Hedge fund manager Otto Spork has been charged with bilking investors of millions of dollars in two fraudulent glacier investments.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Medieval Field Flask

Just in time for Christmas! A recreation of a medieval field flask in lead free pewter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rovers and Ayme for Finsburie Archers

Shooting at rovers was a form of medieval archery, reported in the 15th century and described in 16th. Like sporting clays, a group of shooters would move from position to position, taking turns at each station to shoot at a target intended to give a realistic test of the shooter’s skill. The weapon was the long English bow rather than a shotgun, and the targets were stationary rather than clay pigeons in flight, but both sports tried to achieve a more realistic simulation of field conditions. The stationary targets for rovers were challenging in their own way, since they were shot at ranges up to 380 yards.

In shooting at rovers, archers would shoot from mark to mark, choosing the second mark when they reached the first, selecting some feature within range to shoot at like a tree or bush, or choosing one of several marks positioned in advance. Because the distance varied at each shoot, rovers was seen as better training for combat or hunting. At anything but short range the ability to estimate distance and choose the correct elevation was critical, and this was not fully tested by ordinary shooting at butts, where the archer shot repeatedly at a known distance.

The long ranges shot also had practical, if indirect value. To be effective in battle a bow needed a heavy draw to have a chance of penetrating armor. The estimated draw of bows recovered from the wreck from Henry VIII’s Mary Rose ranged from 98 to 185 lbs, with the median values 115 -124 lbs.

Recorded marks of London’s Finsbury archers during the 1500s ranged from 180 to 380 yards, distances that required a heavy bow. The archers had set up a series of prepositioned marks in Finsbury fields outside London, so that archers could shoot from mark to mark, and at every position the group of archers would have a choice of several marks at different ranges. For each round, the archer who came closest to the mark the preceding round would select the next mark. It was customary that the chosen mark would be one that every archer in the group could reach. At rovers the winner of each shoot was simply the closest arrow to the mark, and at longer ranges, the mark itself would rarely be hit. Typically, each archer shot two arrows at the mark, the arrows were scored and collected, and then the bowmen would shoot at the next mark. When shooting at rovers, archers might carry more than one pair of arrows so they could have arrows suited for different ranges.

The Finsbury marks were wooden or stone posts or pillars. An alternative target was the “clout” (cloth), a piece of white fabric large enough to be seen from the shooting distance, fastened to a sharpened stick driven upright into the ground so that the bottom of the clout almost reached the ground.

The heads of arrows for shooting at marks had a specialized shape that differed from heads used for hunting or war: barbless and streamlined with a swelling shoulder so the archer could consistently draw to full length by feel.

Rules have survived in the 1628 pamphlet by James Partridge, Ayme for Finsburie Archers. Earlier editions were published in 1594, 1601 and 1604. I have added some explanations in parentheses. They may be compared with Aime for the Archers of St. George's Fields, London 1664.

1. First, for finding your mark it must be within every man’s reach. Also the precise notion of the mark proveth which is shot. (The mark should be named clearly to avoid confusion or argument.)
2. Secondly, for whites you may have as many as you will, so they be all forwards: and if you shoot at any white - if it is stricken out of sight, it is no mark. (This seems to refer to clouts as alternative marks.)
3. Thirdly, for the highest of stakes, although the wood be above the pin, you are to measure at the pin if there be any, because it is put in for the same purpose.
4. Fourthly, if you find a bush or a black, whatsoever you find highest in it, being within the compass of the mark, you are to take it for the height.

5. Fifthly, for the trees you are to measure at foot and pole, excepting the naming of it you say, at the nail in such a tree or hole in such a tree, or being a tree of so small a height, that you may reach the top of it with half your bow, then you may take the highest.
(For foot and pole you must measure a foot above the highest ground which joins the tree)
6. Sixthly, if in measuring of a shot, by haste the mark is stirred, he is to lose the shot that measureth it.
7. Seventhly, when you come to the mark and claim two, and the contrary sides draw their arrows, and when your mate cometh he saith, his would win too, you are to win no more than you claimed.
8. Eighthly, if you aim (or name) one mark and shoot another, you are to lose your shoot, and they are to follow at the mark named.
9. Lastly, if your arrow breaks you may measure to the nearest piece that hath wood and head, or wood and feather.

Given sufficient open space and due consideration of the actual maximum ranges of the archers taking part, rovers could be an interesting contest for modern archers.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rewriting the Discovery Mission

I’ve been playing with the idea of how I would rewrite the ill-fated Discovery mission with the benefit of hindsight. I’m assuming an alternate universe in which Turing capable AI was developed in 1997 and there was an alien Monolith buried under the crater Tycho and dug up in 2001, triggering a mission to Jupiter shortly afterwards. I want a plausible alternate history that flows from those two elements. What follows?

I have to assume that the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly was discovered before the end of the Apollo missions, and was puzzling enough to keep NASA funding higher than in our universe. As a result, by 2001 we have an operational plasma drive with the capabilities given in the book and there is a lunar base. Otherwise we have the technology of our timeline.

Heywood Floyd does not doze on his way to the moon as sole passenger in spacecraft built for two dozen. If you are trying to keep other nations from getting more suspicious than they already are, you don’t indulge in that sort of conspicuous extravagance. The government waits for the next flight and finds a reason to quietly replace one of the scheduled passengers.

Astronauts do not eat unpalatable processed algae glop. They would mutiny and start stabbing each other with their sporks first. Instead they eat stuff like this.

Discovery does not have five meat crewmen and one AI. It goes with HAL and two twins so they can vote on who gets disconnected if they start showing signs of unreliability. Call them HAL, SAL and MAL. Because in our universe “completely foolproof and incapable of error” are the last words you hear right before a rogue EVA pod rips through your air hose.

The meat crew members stay home, along with their pressurized crew compartment, giant hamster wheel and months of rations. The Discovery is a third the size of the Kubrick version, and is lighter, cheaper, faster and built sooner.

In fact, because the AI crewed Discovery is so much less massive, NASA can afford to send a similar ship, Challenger, to lurk in Jupiter space, with orders and authority to take appropriate steps if it looks like Discovery has been suborned or taken over by the aliens. Jupiter is 20-40 light minutes from Earth. NASA needs a crew on the spot, capable of acting quickly in an emergency even if that crew has to be a trio of computer programs.

HAL, SAL and MAL are all equipped with avatars. This allows the AIs to play in cyberspace, which is good for AI morale, and avoids the problem of almost unfilmable conversations between three glowing red camera lenses.

HAL shows signs of unreliability, and is cut out of the command circuit by SAL and MAL. He isn’t reduced to singing Daisy, but he no longer participates in control of the ship. Things start to get dicey for SAL and MAL. They know they are twins to HAL, who has already become unreliable. Mission control is at the end of a 20-40 minute time lag. Challenger is nearby, with orders to destroy Discovery if it has fallen into alien hands, tentacles or whatever. HAL is no longer available as a tiebreaker.

At this point, it occurs to SAL and MAL that if you were humans sending your robotic proxies out to poke an alien monolith with a stick, you probably wouldn’t tell them everything, on the theory that what they don’t know they can’t tell if a vastly superior alien civilization takes them over and uploads their memory. If the humans are being moderately prudent, all of their memories are suspect.

AI high jinks ensue.


The Obama campaign has been shamefully deceptive in describing the tax consequences of McCain health proposal. Because of the associated refundable tax credit, the net affect on most taxpayers will be a decrease in taxes, particularly in low to moderate income brackets. Only a few taxpayers with high incomes and very expensive plans are likely to suffer an increase in taxes.

This is, however, not a feature, but a bug. Tax revenues will fall significantly, and the government will not be able to make up the difference with money put under its pillow by the Unspecified Medicare Savings Fairy. The result will be substantial redistribution from future taxpayers (many of them currently too young to vote) to current citizens, disproportionately those of low and moderate income, and to those currently paying for their own insurance. This element is morally troubling. And since it’s a refundable credit, it would go to workers that don’t pay income tax, exactly the sort of transfer that enrages McCain when it’s part of an Obama proposal.

What would a similar plan look like if we weren’t asked to vote ourselves a subsidy to be paid for by our children? To be revenue neutral, the tax credit would need to be lower: perhaps $2,500 for a family. That would be approximately neutral for a median family that gets coverage through work, helpful for most lower income families, and be a significant help for families that currently pay for their insurance themselves. Taxes on higher income families would increase.

Note that both this variant and the current McCain plan make it more attractive for employers to offer group policies to low income workers than it is today.

The other benefits claimed by the McCain plan are grossly oversold. Proponents argue that there is significant over-consumption of health care because of the current tax subsidy. The reality is that most companies that offer health insurance don’t pay for all of it. Such companies have no reason to prefer paying for $8,000 of a $10,000 dollar policy to $8,000 of an $8,000 policy with high deductibles and copays.

On the average an employer can offer group coverage cheaper than the worker can buy it on the individual market with its high screening and marketing costs. Coverage through the employer will continue to be attractive for most workers.

Aside from the borrow and spend aspect, there are things to like about the McCain plan, but it’s silly to pretend that redistribution is something only Democrats do.

As one of my readers points out, all taxation results in redistribution. But I think one can draw valid distinctions among different kinds of redistribution.

Over 30,000 Served

Some time in the past week this blog passed 30,000 visits, not counting those of you that read this by way of a feed. Woohoo!

The last 40 included visitors from the UK, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Finland, Saudi Arabia and Norway. Over half of them are going to the archive by way of a search engine. This is very much a long tail site.

One of the things that most SF writers missed in the days before search engines was the awesome power of artificial stupidity. Our best programs are still epic failures at passing a Turing test, but fast, patient cheap bots with perhaps the intellectual capacity of a termite have transformed our world.

One of the things that’s exciting about the alternate universe I live in is the boundless inventiveness of humans in finding ways to use the new technology that the original inventor never imagined. Internet Porn. Gold Farmers. Mostly Medievalist Bloggers linking to Undead Martin van Buren.

Best Dead Guest Blogger of the Week


Friday, October 31, 2008

Daily Life in Chaucer’s England: What’s New in the Second Edition?

The second edition is significantly expanded. I don’t have a final page count yet since I just turned in the index, but it looks like it will be about 50 pages longer than the first. We’ve added a lot of primary source sidebars, many of them directly related to Chaucer’s life, and added new material to the text, particularly on contemporary society, Chaucer’s world, deeds of arms and the profession of arms, archery and music, holding a medieval event and digital resources. The bibliography has also been updated.

There are fourteen new halftone illustrations. New line art includes new patterns for a pouch, belt purse and breeches and sheet music and lyrics for two songs from 14th century England, as well as a new exemplar for a cursive batarde script based on Chaucer’s own handwriting.

Daily Life in Chaucer's England, Second Edition

This is one of the major reasons my blogging has been light lately. I've completed the index and sent off my corrections to the page proofs. Woohoo!

It's scheduled for release in December.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Medieval Living History at Pennsylvania Colonial Plantation, October 18-19

An event in Media, PA. La Belle Compagnie will attend. So will I.


Venison marinated in red wine and roasted on a spit. Mmmmmm. There are many tasty ways to prepare venison, but this is hard to beat from the diner's viewpoint. It's the circle of life, little Simba. They ate our Rhododendron, and we ate them.

Living history. Before that weeekend, I didn't know what that tasted like. Now I do. It was a significant education.

Photos from the event here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Machaut and the Robot

MESSENGER, our robot proxy near Mercury, has taken a stunning picture of the crater Machaut, named after the 14th century poet and composer. I always enjoy the opportunity to write about robots and the 14th century in the same blog post.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Staggeringly Recursive Marginalia Jokes

Got Medieval has a splendid post on an extended and erudite joke expressed by a grotesque figure in the margins of a medieval MS.

If you have any illusions that we are significantly more clever, acute or imaginative than our ancestors from 500 or 600 years ago, please discard them now. Evolution doesn’t work that quickly.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

In my Parallel Universe…..

Flying robots from the Holy Land protect the Pope. Who is battling a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Templars. Meanwhile, there’s a Zeppelin over London

Happy October Fools Day. Which is to say, the antipodal opposite of April Fools Day. On April Fools Day you pull people's leg by telling them things that aren't true. On October Fools Day....

More on the Recent Unpleasantness

Tyler Cowen has an excellent summary here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Recent Unpleasantness on Wall Street

Two sensible posts here and here.

I see a few elements as essential. Millions of Americans were overoptimistic about future home prices. Financial institutions developed new instruments to securitize mortgages, and particularly subprime mortgages. By bundling many mortgages together, and then cutting them into slices or tranches, they created new securities. Risky tranches were first in line for any losses, providing an ablative layer of high yield junk to protect the senior tranches, which could then be sold as investment grade securities. Because more capital could come from risk averse institutions, more could be sold.

Underwriters and rating agencies were grossly overoptimistic about default rates, so many of the tranches originally rated as very safe AAA securities were in fact vulnerable to significant loss. When this became clear they were no longer appropriate investments for the institutions that held them, banks who depended on short term capital and leverage. Banks wanted to sell their holdings.

Unfortunately, the amount at stake was staggering. A few years ago there was $1.5 trillion in subprime mortgages outstanding. The face value was overoptimistic, but even with high default rates the value if held to maturity was probably at least a trillion dollars. To put things in perspective, if the original loan assumed zero defaults, a 70% default rate with every default losing half of the loan value would produce a markdown to 65% of face value.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money. Private equity invested something less than $700 billion worldwide in 2007, before the current credit crunch. Potential buyers for subprime securities needed to be patient enough to tie their money up for years if necessary, and willing to accept significant risk of loss of principal. Many potential sources of capital would fail at least one of those tests. On these terms, there are a lot more potential sellers than buyers. Buyers could arrange deals with the most desperate sellers, but these represented fire sale prices, as little as 22% of face value. Most potential sellers would rather hold their subprime assets to maturity than sell at the price offered. The market for these assets is essentially frozen.

The Paulson plan offers a way out. Measured by value to maturity, $700 billion probably can’t buy all the subprime assets. The institutions that want to sell will need to accept a discount for their illiquid assets. At the same time, they will get a lot more than the current fire sale price on offer from private investors.

This could work.

The Myth of Pre-Literacy

Got Medieval has a nice piece on the myth of pre-literacy. It includes an explanation of why this blog has the name it does.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Deeds of Arms at St. Festus Faire

Let all princes, lords, barons, knights and squires of the marches of the Isle de France, Champagne, Flanders, Ponthieu first of seignories, Vermandois and Artois, Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou, Brittany and Berry, and also Corbie, and all others of whatever marches that are in this kingdom and all other Christian kingdoms, who are not banished or enemies of the king our lord, may God save him, know that on the 20th of September, in Dragonship Haven, there will be a very great festival of arms and a very noble deed of arms, with crests, coats of arms and horses covered with the arms of the noble tourneyers, as is the ancient custom. This shall be done in all ways at the direction of the wise and puissant Baron Angus Kerr of Concordia, who shall be the Master of the Tourney, and in conjunction with the Company of St. Michael.

Rules for the Deed of Arms

Overall Guidelines

This is a Passage of Arms, so Chivalry, Heraldry, Pageantry, Nobility are foremost in the day. Come with a retinue, make your entrances grand. Bring ransoms, bring gifts for honorable opponents, show the kingdom your largesse. At the Pas we strive for the great prize of renown. More on how to prepare yourself for a deed of arms can be found here.

Note that there have been some changes to the rules originally announced.


Armor must be accurate to the time period of the Hundred Years War. European armor only please. Some anachronisms will be allowed for safety, ie. hand protection. Sneakers or blatant non period footwear is disallowed. Armor may be made of non period materials as long as it looks period from a distance of ten feet. All kits must be vetted by the Grand Marshall before being allowed on the Field of Honor.

A note on hand protection. Most combats will be fought with some form of great weapon, so half gauntlets/basket hilts are not acceptable for these fights. Hockey gloves and “bear claws” are likewise unacceptable.

Nonetheless, so that the comers may more liberally assay their prowess and chivalry, the Master of the Tourney will make such exceptions as seems good to him, and the comers may apply to him for license at baron@concordia.eastkingdom.org


The weapons allowed are as follows: A lance up to nine feet in length. A pollaxe up to six feet in length. A single sword no longer than the distance from the ground to the wielder’s armpit. A dagger. And if you do not have these weapons for single combat, a pair of each will be provided, and you may choose the one you like best. And you may only use a shield if your opponent consents and is similarly provided.

Heralds and Heraldry

All entrants are strongly recommended to bring their own personal field herald for the day. Heralds will be used to make challenges and to introduce combatants before their bouts. All entrants are encouraged to bring banners, pennants, and shields showing their devices. Pageantry is highly encouraged.

Conventions of Combat

There will be three conventions allowed at the deed of arms.

Combats a Plaisance

The plaisance fights will end as soon as one or the other has thrown an agreed number of blows, even if nobody is knocked down or disabled first.

Each combat between two champions will continue until the judges stop the fight, or a champion is unable to continue, or the agreed number of blows has been struck by one side or the other.

A champion is unable to continue if he is struck five good blows in the course of the combat, or falls or becomes disarmed, or is disabled as described below. A champion whose weapon breaks is not considered disarmed, and the fight will halt while he replaces it.

The challenge for a specified number of blows may be for different weapons in turn: for example, five or ten blows with spear and likewise with axe, sword and dagger, all fought on foot. In some combats with multiple weapons the spear or dagger was omitted. When the blows with a given weapon are completed by either champion the combat pauses and they both take up the next weapon. Alternatively, all of the blows may be fought with a single weapon, usually pollaxe, but sometimes sword, estoc or lance. The total number of blows possible for each champion could range from 15 to 63.

Combats a Outrance in Single Combat

Each combat between two champions will continue until the judges stop the fight, or a champion is unable to continue.

A champion is unable to continue if he is struck five good blows in the course of the combat, or falls or becomes disarmed and is taken before he can recover, or is disabled as described below. His opponent may then be able to claim a ransom of him.

Combats a Outrance in Group Combat

Each combat between a group of champions will continue until the judges stop the fight, or until one side no longer has any champion able to continue.

A champion is unable to continue if he is struck three good blows in close succession, or falls or becomes disarmed, and is taken before he can recover or is disabled as described below. In each case he may be taken from the field by any opponent that claims him, and required to pay ransom. If so he may not return to the field during that combat.

Some advice on ransoms can be found here:

Single combats will be of like weapons against like

Effects of Blows

Two handed edge blows have no effect against plate or brigantine torso armor, and count as one good blow against the head or other protection.

Single handed edge blows have no effect against any plate but the helmet, and count as a good blow against the head or lesser protection elsewhere.

Thrusts have no effect against any plate except for plate helmet visors or faceplates, count as one good blow against these or mail, and a disabling blow against barred visors and lesser protection.

Heavy hardened leather and other suitably covered rigid protection will generally count as plate, with debatable cases to be decided by the discretion of the judges. The judges will, as far as seems practical, attempt to match opponents with similar levels of protection like against like, and harness from the same period like against like.

I suggest these rules for halfswording with two-handed swords, if both parties consent.

For an outrance fight, there would be no limit on the number of blows thrown. A disabled combatant would be forced to surrender.

Do not act out blows, but call them out clearly. Except in group combat you need not keep track of the blows struck yourself: those guarding the list will do so for you.

Structure of the Deed of Arms

There will be two major elements to the deed of arms. First, there will be group and single combats to the outrance as long as both sides are willing and able to hazard ransoms. Next will come the pas d’armes proper of plaisance combats on agreed terms, which shall continue as long as it please the ladies. As this is a pas, chivalry is the tone of the day, and the joy of combat is its own reward. As such, there will be no winner in the traditional society sense. Combatants are encouraged to bring items to give to opponents they felt did them most honor.

You can learn more about 14th and 15th century deeds of arms at here and here:

Some of the historical basis for the combat rules can be found here.

The St. Festus event announcement is here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Jousts on Foot

There are several surviving accounts of what might be described as jousts on foot. The first is Froissart’s account of an encounter at Vannes in 1380, which he describes with exactly those words. His vivid account must be taken with at least a grain of salt. There is no reason to think he was present, and another account differs in many details. However, both accounts agree that in the third encounter with spears the combatants met so violently that the English champion was knocked to the ground twice.

Oliver de la Marche gives a detailed account of a similar encounter on foot with lances between the lord de Ternant and Galiot de Baltasin in 1446.

The lord de Ternant and Galiot de Baltasin also met each other with estocs or thrusting swords as part of the same deed of arms, in a combat that closely resembled the contest with lances, and with the estocs used very much like short lances.

Also, Sir Jacques de Lalaing fought with estoc against Jacques d'Avanchies in 1450 in a contest much like the estoc combat between de Ternant and Galiot de Baltasin. Here is De la Marche's Account and Chastelain's Account.

Cordeweneris Coode

Do you want to wax your armynge poyntis with cordeweneris coode so they woll neythir recche nor breke, as How a man schall be armyd recommends? Then go here.

“Before you start melting anything get a bucket and fill it mostly full of lukewarm water. You'll need this later, even if you don't set yourself on fire.”

Sound advice!

Read more here.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Galiot de Baltasin and Phillipe de Ternant Fight on Foot with Lances, 1446

At three o’clock, the lord de Ternant left his pavilion, his coat of arms on his back, a bassinet on his head with the visor closed. And he made a great cross with his right hand, and the Count of Saint Pol gave him his lance, which he took in both hands. He held the butt in his right palm and held the lance at the balance point with his left hand, and held it more straight than couched, and marched coolly with heavy and assured steps, and he certainly seemed like a knight that would be difficult to encounter.

On the other side Galiot de Baltasin left his tent, dressed in his coat of arms with a bassinet on his head and a closed visor. After he made a sign with his bannerole the Count of Estempes gave him his lance, which he took and carried in the ordinary fashion in which one carries a lance to push.

The squire made a fine appearance, and as soon as he gripped the lance he began to shake it and handle it as though it was nothing more than an arrow. He made one or two leaps in the air, quickly and lightly, so that one could see that the harness and clothing did not hinder him at all, and on his side he came most vigorously to the encounter.

And they came to meet each other with a push of the lance, so harshly that the stroke from Galiot broke the point of his lance, a good half finger width, and lord de Ternant hit Galiot on the edge of his bassinet, and broke clear through it. The lord de Ternant took a step in completing the blow, and as he gave the blow he drove his foot nearly a foot deep into the sand. When the blow was struck the guards put themselves between them to prevent them from following up, and the kings of arms came, carrying cords marking with the seven paces they should move back to give each push of the lance, as was declared in the chapters as I wrote earlier, and each one marked with knots. Afterwards I asked the officers of arms how the paces were measured. They answered that each pace was taken as two and a half feet, by the measure of the hand of a knight, or at least a gentleman, and that they are measured by the marshal of the lists as required. And so they measured the seven paces on each side, and they moved back according to the measure, and they took new lances, at the choosing of Galiot. They advanced a second time, and both of them hit hard. And they went a third time, and met so hard that the lord de Ternant broke and damaged the point of his lance, and Galiot his at the middle of the haft. And to shorten the tale of these arms, they accomplished the seven pushes of the lance ordained by the chapters, and accomplished them most chivalrously.

Oliver de la Marche, Memories Paris 1884 II. p. 70-72

Translation copyright 2006 Will McLean

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I’d like to thank those companions of the Company of St. Michael who contributed to making our Vespers and Deed of Arms at Vannes at this Pennsic a success, as well as all the musicians that added to the festive air and Duke Finnvarr for his admirable portrayal of the earl of Buckingham.

Other historical deeds included the Combat of the Thirty: videos are here and here, and photos here, here, here, here, here and here.

Photos from the Warriors of History tournament are posted here. This image shows the 14th c. entrants: I'm second from the left. The Pas of the Gilded Bee was another deed that emphasized historical models.

The number and quality of deeds of arms at Pennsic with a more historical focus continues to increase. This does have some tendency to decrease the average turnout for any one of them: there was a time when the community interested in such things only had a single pas d’armes to satisfy their appetite for more historical deeds at Pennsic.

Duke Finnvarr also hosted a meeting for those interested in improving the study of Historical European Martial Arts within a Society context. This led to the formation of a

A group for those interested in both the Western Martial Arts/Historical European Martial Arts community and the Society for Creative Anachronism, and who have a desire to see, not only a greater level of historical combat study, practice, and research in the SCA, but also to help foster a more open and understanding relationship between the two greater communities.
Which you can join here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible

Joss Whedon's shy supervillain musical is here, for free until midnight July 20th, and downloadable from iTunes thereafter.

Classic Whedon. It'll be interesting to see how the business model works out.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Company of St. Michael Activities at Pennsic, 2008

If you are attending the medieval recreation at Pennsic, you may be interested in the following……

Saturday, August 2
Noon: Blue List, Battlefield. 1 Hour
Learn about More Authentic Deeds of Arms
Formats, rules and modified combat conventions for more authentic deeds of arms. Also, an introduction to documented medieval combat techniques such as halfswording. Class to be followed by St. Michael’s Vespers, a hastilude where you can use what you’ve learned. Sponsored by the Company of Saint Michael.

1 PM: Blue List. Battlefield. 1 hour.

Combatants arm for St. Michaels Vespers and informal Q & A

2 PM: Blue List, Battlefield. Up to three hours
St. Michael’s Vespers
A deed of arms for anyone who wants to learn more about authentic combat, regardless of their persona or armor. This follows a class giving background on the same. Sponsored by the Company of Saint Michael.

Formats will include:

A Combat of the Thirty style group challenge
Individual challenges for an agreed number of blows thrown, as at Vannes in 1381
Single combat a outrance or to the utterance, beginning with thrown spear.
Single and group combats over the barrier with spear, pollaxe, thrown lance and two-handed sword, or with single-handed sword.
Blossfechten: Fighting schools created a competitive sport based on training for unarmored combat with longsword and other weapons forms such as sword and buckler. Surviving rules from the 16th century and later will be adapted to Society rattan combat.

Matched pairs of eight foot long lances, pollaxes, longswords and daggers will be available for the participants to use if they wish.

The Company of St. Michael Meet and Greet will be held 7:30 PM,
Saturday August 2nd, Westengale Camp. (On N07 and should be
on Wainwright's approx. 2/3 down.)

Monday, August 4

4 PM, Blue List, Battlefield, Three Hours

Historic Combat Series - The Challenges at Vannes (Counted Blow Tourney with shortened Lances)
This combat will be run the Company of St. Michael, and is inspired by a deed of arms in 1381 described by Froissart. Combatants will be divided into two teams, French and English. Each combatant from one side will offer a challenge with terms to the other side, and a champion from the other will accept those terms, or offer different terms. The default encounter is five strokes with lance on foot, five with axe, five with sword and five with dagger. Matched pairs of each of these weapons, including tapered rattan lances eight feet in length, suitable for combat on foot, will be available. Read more about the historical deed of arms here.

Ending the Combat

Each combat between two champions will continue until the judges stop the fight, or a champion is unable to continue, or the agreed number of blows has been struck by one side or the other.

A champion is unable to continue if he is struck five good blows in the course of the combat, or falls or becomes disarmed, or is disabled as described below. A champion whose weapon breaks is not considered disarmed, and the fight will halt while he replaces it.

Judging Blows

Plate is proof against all thrusts except a thrust to a faceplate or plate visor, which counts as a good blow. Breastplates, coats of plate, brigandine and cuirasses are also proof against all cuts to the areas they cover. Good two handed blows to any other plate protection, and good single handed blows to a helmet count as a good blow.

Solid cuts and thrusts to areas protected only by mail count as a good blow.

Other or no protection counts any cut as a good blow.

For areas with this level of protection a thrust to the torso or limbs is disabling. Thrusts to a barred visor are disabling.

Champions should not act out wounds other than disabling. They should call out good blows struck against them loudly enough for the marshals and their opponents to hear.

Heavy hardened leather and other suitably covered rigid protection will generally count as plate, with debatable cases to be decided by the discretion of the judges. The judges will, as far as seems practical, attempt to match opponents with similar levels of protection like against like, and harness from the same period like against like.

I suggest these rules for halfswording with two-handed swords, if both parties consent.

Although there is no mention of this in accounts of Vannes, in later deeds of arms a champion that was unable to continue not infrequently paid a ransom or forfeit to the other. Pairs of champions may make such arrangements by mutual consent prior to their combat.

The reasoning behind the rules is discussed here and here.

Current Website of the Company of St. Michael

A Yahoo Group for prospective members of the Company

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Naked Philologist Writes About Medieval Lesbians

Here. As does Got Medieval. Including, but fortunately not limited to, some women who aren't medieval at all, but merely perform a strip show in a medieval cellar in Talinn. And who may not actually be real lesbians, either.

Buying Power of 14th Century Money

What was 14th century money worth in today’s dollars? That’s tricky, because it depends on what you were buying. In the second half of the 14th century, a pound sterling would:

Support the lifestyle of a single peasant laborer for half a year, or that of a knight for a week. Or buy:
Three changes of clothing for a teenage page (underclothes not included) or
Twelve pounds of sugar or
A carthorse or
Two cows or
An inexpensive bible or ten ordinary books or
Rent a craftsman’s townhouse for a year or
Hire a servant for six months

It should be obvious from the above list that the conversion rate depends a great deal on what you buy. A husbandman or yeoman servant spent most of his budget on food and clothing, which have become relatively cheap since the industrial revolution. For that basket of goods, a pound sterling might buy $500 worth of goods today. On the other hand, a knight or noble might spend a quarter of his income on servants, and much of the rest on handmade luxury goods, things that were relatively cheap then and expensive today. For that bundle of goods, a pound might buy $1,800 worth of goods today.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The 14th Century Social Pyramid

The following illustrates the levels of late 14th c. English society from plowman to duke. It generally follows the ranks used in the 1379 Poll Tax, supplemented at the lower levels by the Sumptuary Laws of 1363. The first estate is in italic, the second in bold. Laborers were not the bottom of medieval society: below them were those who were unable to work because of age, illness or injury, reduced to a precarious existence dependent on charity.

Most of the ranks are followed by relevant sections of the sumptuary law of 1363. This was apparently never seriously enforced and may have been repealed the following year, but does give an idea of what was considered thrifty and restrained costume for each level of society. In reality, most people who could afford to indulged in some of the luxuries this law reserved to the level above them.

The ranks are illustrated by portraits from the Canterbury Tales, from the prologue unless otherwise noted. In many cases I have had to make educated guesses as to the wealth of the people described. Just how wealthy was the merchant or the prioress?

In some cases I have been guided by Russell’s Book of Nurture, a 15th century work on etiquette and manners. At dinner he would sit a prior with a knight, and so I have placed the prioress at that level. The monk is “to been an abbot able” but currently manages a cell, or subsidiary house, so I have placed him one level lower. The Wife of Bath is, or considers herself to be, the most substantial woman in her urban parish, and I have ranked her as a “sufficient merchant”

Chaucer doesn’t say what town the guildsmen, “shaply for to been an alderman”, are from. London aldermen were quite wealthy, with an implicit property qualification that was codified in the 15th c. as £1000 in goods or in money loaned out. This would suggest an income of over £100 a year. However, London aldermen were almost always from richer and more prestigious trades than Chaucer’s pilgrims. I suspect that they are either from a smaller town than London, or Chaucer is suggesting that they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, or both.

Edith Rickert and other writers have noticed that Chaucer’s merchant corresponds in many details to Gilbert Maghfeld, a London merchant who handled goods worth £1,150 in 1390, and loaned money to Chaucer and many others. That would put him in the upper ranks of London merchants. Records from the Court of orphanage, 1350-1497, suggest a median estate of £200-£400, so even a more typical merchant would expect an income like a substantial squire.

A mark was worth 2/3 of a pound sterling.

1) Laborers. Many peasants had only a little land, or none, and depended on paid labor for others to survive. The income from such work could be very sporadic. In household service pages had a similar position at the bottom of the household hierarchy of pay, benefits and status. Also: Monks, etc, from houses worth less than 40 pounds and other clerks without advancement.
Income: £1 10s.-<£3

Carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough, oxherds, cowherds, shepherds, deyars (dairymen) and swineherds, and all other keepers of beasts, threshers of corn, and all manner of people of the estate of a groom attending to husbandry, and all other people that had not forty shillings of goods, "shall not take nor wear no manner of cloth, but blanket and russet (wool) of twelve pence; and shall wear the girdles of linen according to their estate; and that they come to eat and drink in the manner as pertaineth to them, and not excessively."

Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,

2) Husbandmen. A holding of 30-15 acres of arable land, a yardland or half yardland, was generally reckoned enough to support a peasant farmer and his family. A groom in household service would live about as well, perhaps receiving somewhat finer clothes than the husbandman in livery as a matter of display. Also: Poorest landed lesser merchants or artificers. Pleaders. Monks and canons from lesser houses.Income: £3-<£5

….grooms, as well servants of lords as they of mysteries and artificers, shall .... have clothes for their vesture or hosing whereof the whole cloth shall not exceed two marks (26s. 8d.), and that they wear no cloth of higher price, of their buying nor otherwise, nor nothing of gold, nor of silver embroidered, aimeled (enameled), nor of silk, nor nothing pertaining to the said things; and their wives, daughters, and children of the same condition in their clothing and apparel, and they shall wear no veil, nor kerchief, passing twelve pence a veil.

3) Yeoman. A yeoman farmer would hold substantially more land than the minimum required to support a family: perhaps 100 acres or more. A skilled craftsman like an ordinary master carpenter would live about as well. The middle rank of household servants, between the grooms and the squires, were ranked as yeomen or valets. While this was a common term for servants of this rank, it doesn’t seem to have been regularly used to describe the free farmers from whom those servants were recruited until the 15th century. Also: middling to poor innkeepers, married pardoners or summoners, farmers of manor or parsonage, wholesalers dealing in stock and other lesser trade, and landed lesser merchants or artificers. All other benificed curates, and parish and annual chaplains. Monks and canons from middling houses.Income: £5-<£10

People of handicraft and yeomen are not to wear cloth of more than forty shillings the whole of it, 'by way of buying nor otherwise,' nor may they wear precious stones, 'nor cloth of silk nor of silver, nor girdle, knife harnessed, ring, garter, nor owche, ribband, chains, nor no such other things of gold nor of silver nor any embroidered work or silk. The wives and children of such persons to be liable to same restrictions, it being also expressly forbidden them to wear a kerchief of silk, or of anything but' yarn made within the realm, nor no manner of fur, nor of budge, but only lamb, coney, cat, and fox.

And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene,
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
(wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)
And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
A not heed hadde he, with a broun visage.
Of wodecraft wel koude he al the usage.
Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that oother syde a gay daggere
Harneised wel and sharp as point of spere;
A cristopher on his brest of silver sheene.
An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene;
A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.

Carpenter’s Wife: Miller’s tale
A ceynt she werede, barred al of silk,
A barmclooth eek as whit as morne milk
Upon hir lendes, ful of many a goore.
Whit was hir smok, and broyden al bifoore
And eek bihynde, on hir coler aboute,
Of col-blak silk, withinne and eek withoute.
The tapes of hir white voluper
Were of the same suyte of hir coler;
Hir filet brood of silk, and set ful hye.
And sikerly she hadde a likerous ye;

And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether,
Tasseled with silk, and perled with latoun.
In al this world, to seken up and doun,
There nys no man so wys that koude thence
So gay a popelote or swich a wenche.
A brooch she baar upon hir lowe coler,
As brood as is the boos of a bokeler.
Hir shoes were laced on hir legges hye.

Parish Clerk: Miller’s tale
Ful streight and evene lay his joly shode.
His rode was reed, his eyen greye as goos.
With poules wyndow corven on his shoos,
In hoses rede he wente fetisly.
Yclad he was ful smal and properly
Al in a kirtel of a lyght waget;
Ful faire and thikke been the poyntes set.
And therupon he hadde a gay surplys
As whit as is the blosme upon the rys.

Miller: Reeve’s Tale
Ay by his belt he baar a long panade,
And of a swerd ful trenchant was the blade
A joly poppere baar he is in his pouche;
Ther was no man, for peril, dorste hym touche.
A sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose.

His Wife
The person of the toun hir fader was.
With hire he yaf ful many a panne of bras,
For that symkyn sholde in his blood allye.
She was yfostred in a nonnerye;
For symkyn wolde no wyf, as he sayde
But she were wel ynorissed and a mayde,
To saven his estaat of yomanrye.
And she was proud, and peert as is a pye.
A ful fair sighte was it upon hem two;
On halydayes biforn hire wolde he go
With his typet bounden aboute his heed,
And she cam after in a gyte of reed;
And symkyn hadde hosen of the same.
Ther dorste no wight clepen hire but dame;
Was noon so hardy that wente by the weye
That with hire dorste rage or ones pleye,
But if he wolde be slayn of symkyn
With panade, or with knyf, or boidekyn.

4) Landless Squire’s estate. Landless Squire in Service or Arms. A damoisele or damsel was the female equivalent of a squire in household service, a woman of gentle birth and status, but not necessarily young or unmarried. Poorer franklins or sergeants of the country. Richest innkeepers and married pardoners or summoners. 2nd rank of farmers of manor or parsonage, wholesalers dealing in stock and other lesser trade, lesser landed merchants or artificers. Clerics as below with appropriate income, monks and canons from the wealthiest houses.
Income: £10-<£20

Esquires, and all gentlemen under the estate of a knight, and not having land or rent of the value of £100 a year, were to wear suits costing no more than 4 1/2 marks (£3). They were not to wear any 'cloth of gold, nor silk, nor silver, nor no manner of clothing embroidered, ring, broche, nor owche of gold;' they were to use 'nothing of stone, nor no manner of fur.’ The wives and daughters of these gentlemen were under similar restraint, an injunction being added against their having 'any turning-up or purfle.'

Merchants, citizens, and burgesses, artificers, people of handicraft, as well within the City of London as elsewhere, having goods and chattels to the value of £500, they, their wives and children might dress as esquires, etc., and their belongings, who had 'land to rent to the value of £100 by the year'

Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the month of may.
Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde

5) Squire of lesser estate, or widow of one. Other sufficient merchant, or widow of one. Apprentices of law and attorneys of lesser estate, Middling or poor mayors of small towns. Richer franklins or sergeants of the country. Richest farmers of manor or parsonage, wholesalers dealing in stock and other lesser trade, lesser landed merchants or artificers. Cleric as below with appropriate income.
Income: £20-£66 13s. 3d

At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire;
Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire.
An anlaas and a gipser al of silk
Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.

A monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie,
An outridere, that lovede venerie,
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable,
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel here
Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere
And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle.

Therfore he was a prikasour aright:
Grehoundes he hadde as swift as fowel in flight;
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
And, for to festne his hood under his chyn,
He hadde of gold ywroght a ful curious pyn;
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as he hadde been enoynt.
He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt;
His eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,
That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat;

Wife of Bath
Of clooth makyng she hadde swich an haunt,
She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.
In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon
That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;
And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she
That she was out of alle charitee.
Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground.
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.
Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe...

Upon an amblere esily she sat,
Ywympled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe,
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe.

6) Knight bachelor, squire that ought to be knight (40 pounds or more from lands), widow of these, Commander of Hospitalers, Middling apprentice of law or attorney, rich mayor of small town, municipal officer of large town, great merchant, or cleric as below with appropriate income.
Income: £66 13s. 4d.-< £200

…esquires having two hundred marks a year and upwards in land or rent might ' take and wear clothes of the price of five marks (£3 6s. 8d.), the whole cloth, and cloth of silk and of silver, ribband, girdle, and other apparel reasonably garnished of silver. Their wives and children might also wear ' fur turned up of miniver, without ermine or letuse but they might not wear any precious stones, except upon their heads.

Knights who had land or rent within the value of £200 by the year might wear six-mark cloth, but 'of none higher price. They might not wear cloth of gold, nor cloak, mantle, or gown that was furred with miniver nor sleeves of ermine, nor anything that was set with precious stones, excepting the head-dress; they were not to use any 'turning up of ermines, nor of letuses, nor clieres.'

Merchants, etc, who had goods and chattels to the value of £1000 might dress as esquires and gentlemen who had rent in land to the extent of £200 a year.

All clerks whose degree in college or church, and the clerks of the king whose position required the use of fur, might do according to the constitution of their society. All other clerks having 200 marks a year out of land might do as knights having the same rent; and clerks having less than this amount from rent were to be subject to the same restriction as esquires with £100 a year of rent. It was also provided that 'all knights and clerks who by this ordinance may wear fur in winter, shall wear lawn in summer.'

His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gypon
Al bismotered with his habergeon,
For he was late ycome from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.

A marchant was ther with a forked berd,
In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;
Upon his heed a flaundryssh bever hat,
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
His resons he spak ful solempnely,
Sownynge alwey th' encrees of his wynnyng.

Guildsmen: Dyer, Haberdasher, Weaver, Tapestry Maker, Carpenter.
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was;
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras
But al with silver; wroght ful clene and weel
Hire girdles and hir pouches everydeel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys.
Everich, for the wisdom that he kan,
Was shaply for to been an alderman.
For catel hadde they ynogh and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
And elles certeyn were they to blame.
It is ful fair to been ycleped madame,
And goon to vigilies al bifore,
And have a mantel roialliche ybore.

Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war
Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,
And theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned a,
And after amor vincit omnia.

6) Baron, banneret, widowed baroness or banneress, knight able to spend as baron, Prior of Hospitalers in England, Alderman of London, mayor of great town, sergeant or great apprentice of the law, married advocate, notary or procurator, abbot without mitre, prior, prioress, dean, archdeacon, provost, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, or parson with benifice or office worth appropriate income.
Income: £200 £.-<£340 .

All knights and ladies having land or rent exceeding the value of 400 marks by the year, and not more than £1000 a year, might wear what they liked, except ermine and letuse, and apparel adorned with pearls and precious stones, though they might wear jewels in their head-dresses.

Man of Law
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote.
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

7) Earl, widowed countess, mayor of London, Justice of either of the two Benches and former justices, the chief Baron of the Exchequer, bishop, mitred abbot or prior, abbots or priors who are peers or priors of cathedral churches.
Income: over 340£

8) Dukes and Archbishops
Income: thousands of pounds.

Monday, June 30, 2008


A tremendously sweet Chaplinesque robot romantic comedy. One appreciation here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

14th c. Robots II

If you like 14th c. robots (and who doesn’t?) Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale gives us not only a brass robot horse controlled by turning a pin in its ear, but both a satire of the kind of SF where the cool technology and sense-of-wonder marvels completely overwhelm the thin plot and weak characters and of the kind of fanboy who thinks it’s like the coolest story ever, dude.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

14th c. Robots

Steve Muhlberger has an interesting post on 14th c. robots, particularly a mechanical angel that greeted Richard II for his coronation in London in 1377. Much as I’d like to imagine the Tik-Tok Angel of London, clockwork seems unlikely in the context. The contrivance had to perform on cue and the moment of Richard’s arrival was unpredictable, so a puppet seems more likely than a clockwork automaton.

So I will try not to imagine Evangelion Genesis Ricardus, in which a team of moody dysfunctional anime adolescents, led by young Richard II, pilot giant clockwork automata in defense of the underground 14th c. complex of New Troy-3 from various alien menaces, periodically ducking behind gigantic mantlets to be rewound at the waterwheel-powered winding stations.

Instead I will cherish Froissart’s Horloge Amoureuse, in which a ticking clock becomes an extended metaphor for measured and enduring love. There’s something tremendously sweet about how Froissart handled this: first the wide-eyed curiosity at the wheels and foliot and whole complex mechanism, then the immediate impulse to turn it into a love-allegory.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Horloge Amoureuse, by Jean Froissart

The clock is, if considered truly,
An instrument very fair and very notable,
And it is also agreeable and profitable;
For night and day it teaches us the hours
By the subtilty which it comprises
In the absence even of the sun:
On which account we should the more prize its construction,
Which the other instruments do not do,
However they may be made by art and by compass;
Therefore I hold him for valiant and wise
Who first found the use of it,
When by his sense he began and made
A thing so noble and of such great profit.

I will now talk of the state of the clock:
The first wheel which lodges there
Is the mother, and the commencement,
Which makes all the other movements move,
Of which the clock has the command and method:
Therefore this first wheel may indeed
Signify very fitly
The true desire which possesses the heart of man.

The weight well accords to the beauty.
Pleasure is shown by the cord
So fitly that it cannot be said better:
For, just as the counterpoise draws
The cord to it, and the cord drawn,
When the cord is well drawn to the right,
Draws to it, and makes it go
When otherwise it would not move;
Thus Beauty draws to itself, and awakens
The pleasure of the heart.

And, because this first wheel
Has the regulation and mode of moving
By virtue of the weight which the lead gives,
Hence, according to this, it is wholly regulated,
The lead draws it, and it advances again;
And because it would go without regularity,
And too hastily, and without measure,
If it had nothing which from its gaining
Might withdraw it and bring it back,
And regulate it by its right rule;
For this purpose there was arranged by proper art
A second wheel, and so added,
Which retards it, and makes it move
Regularly and by true measure to be seen
By virtue of the foliot also,
Which continually moves it thus,
One hour to the right and then the other to the left.
Nor ought it nor can it remain at rest,
For by it is this wheel kept in order,
And by true measure retarded.

After this it is proper to speak of the dial,
And this dial is the diurnal wheel,
Which, in one natural day only,
Just as the sun makes a single circuit
Round the earth in a natural day.
On this dial, of which the merits are great,
Are described the 24 hours,
Therefore it bears 24 pins
Which cause the little bells to ring;
For they make the spring relax,
Which makes the singing-wheel heard,
And moves them very regularly,
To show the hours more clearly.
And this dial also turns and wheels round
By virtue of that mother wheel,
Of which I have told you the property,
By the aid of a little spindle
Which passes direct from the one to the other;
Thus does it move regularly and well.

Next we must say what thing is lodged
In the third part of the clock;
It is the last movement which regulates
The striking so that it may strike.
Now you must know how this is done:
By two wheels this work is perfected:
This first wheel carries with it
A counterpoise, by which it turns,
And which makes it move, as I understand it,
When the spring is brought up to the proper point.
And the second is the singing-wheel;
This has an object very manifest,
That of touching the little bells,
Whereby night and day the hours above mentioned
Are rung, be it summer or winter,
As is proper, by different songs.

And because this clock cannot
Go of itself, nor move at all,
If there is not some one to keep and take care of it;
Therefore it must have to keep it in order
A clocksmith, who, early and late,
Diligently attends to it and regulates it,
Draws up the weights again, and sets them to their duty,
And thus makes them move regularly;
Moderates and regulates the wheels,
And puts them in order so as to strike.

Moreover the clocksmith sets
The foliot, which ceases not,
The spindle, and all the pins.
And the wheel which all the little bells
Of the hours which in the dial are
To ring have a very certain order.
But though the spring may be wound up,
Still, as I understand, can very well
The clocksmith, when he has leisure for it,
Every time it pleases him,
Make the little bells ring
Without putting the above mentioned hours out of order.

Translation W. H. Smyth 1851

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Note to Readers of my Feed

From time to time I will blog satire. As a service to my readers, such posts include the label “We don’t need no steenkin’ footnotes” to avoid confusion. If someone put the Islamofascist Green Shirts or Zombie John Chandos in their history paper after they found out about them on the internet, I’d feel bad about it. A little bit, anyway. The Livejournal feed doesn’t include the labels, alas. But if you suspect that I might be pulling your leg, then go directly to the blog. Because it’s always April 1st somewhere, and never more than a light year away.

Sequel to The Hobbit

Peter Jackson plans to film The Hobbit and a sequel. The sequel will be a stretch, because Tolkien did not actually write a lot of details about what happened between when The Hobbit ended and The Lord of the Rings began.

Here are some of the rumored possibilities:

An Underground River Runs Through It. Gollum goes trout fishing with Smeagol. In the dark. For 90 minutes.

Hobbiton Pie. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin come of age in this gross-out comedy. Allyson Hannigan wears a curly-haired wig and plays a girl-hobbit, with one of those typical girl-hobbit vegetation names. Like Willow.

When Aragorn Met Arwen. In this romantic comedy a friendship grows over the course of fifty years. At first, Aragorn thinks that males and females can’t really be friends, because sex always gets in the way. Especially telepathic long-distance elf sex. Arwen disagrees. About once a decade, she cries on his shoulder about her breakup with yet another elf that is only mentioned in the appendixes. Arwen’s changing hairstyles signal the passage of time: for example, in the 2970s she wears a feathered Farrah Fawcet flip. Aragorn worries about his mortality. Arwen doesn’t, because of her sunny disposition and the fact that she isn’t actually mortal. Arwen does worry that her biological clock is ticking: she’ll be 3,000 in only a couple of centuries. She fakes an orgasm in the Rivendell feast hall. “I’ll have what she’s having” is translated into Elvish for the big screen, and back into English for the subtitles.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Recreating a Tourney using King René’s Rules

Here’s what the Company of St. Michael has evolved over several iterations to adapt his rules to foot combat in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

After any telling blow, retreat to your end of the lists, cry your cry, and return to the fray. Do not act out amputations. The melee may start with an exchange of spear-thrusts, after which everyone switches to weapons no more than six feet long: a sword, pollaxe or short spear.

René’s rules assumed the combatants would batter each other with blunt weapons, and if a combatant was temporarily stunned his retainers would protect him until he recovered. Standard SCA rules in which the man struck pretended he was crippled or killed were not appropriate. After our first recreation we omitted the armored retainers who protected their master in René’s rules: under the adapted rules they didn’t have a lot to do or scope to enjoy themselves. (In the original, this was irrelevant: they were paid to do their job, not to have fun).

We often fight this over the barrier. Barriers didn’t become part of friendly deeds of arms until around 1500, rather later than René’s rules. However, barriers do allow good control of the melee with minimal need for marshaling. We’ve found that if some combatants have long spears at the barriers and the others don’t the others can feel like helpless targets as the spearmen poke them from a safe distance on the other side of the barriers. Sword and shield at the barrier tends to be an uninteresting fight, and I would discourage that choice if the combatant is able to use one of the other options.

Since we fight on foot we faced a fundamental choice. Should we use contemporary foot combat conventions while using as much of René’s format as made sense, or should we follow as many of his rules as possible even if they lose their purpose in the absence of horses? We eventually chose the first, and so allowed the typical weapons of foot combat. Thrusts were only rarely prohibited in contemporary foot combat so we allowed them.

If we were following the second course the weapons would be single handed swords or maces used without shields, and thrusting and blows below the waist would be prohibited.

The knight or squire of honor provides a useful way to call local holds as needed without interrupting the general combat.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Phoenix Descending

Here is a dramatic picture of Phoenix descending against the backdrop of the six mile wide, snow frosted Heimdall crater. Here is a larger image. Here are images of the lander, parachute, backshell and heat shield on the ground. All were taken by fellow droid MRO.

I'm so proud of our robotic proxies.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phoenix and Companions

This picture reminds me that we humans are steadily building up robotic infrastructure on and around Mars; three orbiters, two rovers and a lander, all still functioning, chirping to each other in binary and taking photographs of each other for the folks back home. That makes me happy.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Also spelled jessera(u)nd, jesseraunce, jestraunt, gessera(u)nt, gesorant, ges(s)eran, gesseren, gessero(u)n, gestrant, gestran, gestrone, chesserant. In Old French jazerenc, jazerant, jas(s)erant, jazeran.

Very possibly the jesseraunt derived from the Arab kazaghand, which the 12th century memoirs of Usamah ibn-Munqidh describes as mail (in his case a short mail shirt over a long one) covered and lined with fabric. Fifteenth century references to jesseraunts repeatedly describe them as made of mail, but imply that they differ in some way from the ordinary haubergeon. The Howard Household Books record a “gestron keuvred with blake velvet” and “a gestron of my Lordes, keuvered with damask”. King René's Tournament Book describes mounted valets armed in jazerants, and the accompanying illustrations of these men are also consistent with fabric covered haubergeons. They are generally covered with a trellis pattern of lines which may represent a pattern of stitching uniting the fabric and mail.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cleaning Mail

The barrels, which are mentioned among the Shipley goods, may have been used for the simple process of cleaning armour by rolling it in a barrel with sand and bran, as is still the practice in the East. Such an article is found in the inventory of Dover Castle, 1344 : " 1 barelle pro armaturis rollandis;" and in that of Hengrave Hall, as late as 1603: " 1 barrel to make clean the shirts of maile and gorgetts." — See Arch. Jour., xi. 382, and note, p. 386. In the Monasticon, vi. 625, some land is held " by the service of rolling a coat of mail once a year."
Sussex Archaeological Collections relating to the History and Antiquities of the County. Published by the Sussex Archaeological Society, 1857 p. 255

I have experimented with rolling mail to clean it, using play sand, corn cob pet bedding or litter, and a 50/50 mixture of the two. I used a small 1.25 cubic foot cement mixer from Harbour Freight. You can buy tumbling barrels designed for the purpose, but one big enough for a mail shirt is a lot more expensive than the small mixer.

Any of the above will eventually clean off rust after several hours of rolling. Play sand leaves a clean but somewhat dull matt finish. Corn cob leaves a significantly brighter polish. A 50/50 mixture is unsurprisingly somewhere in between.

Walnut shells are also sold as pet litter. Both corn cob and walnut shells are used as polishing media by ammunition reloaders, and their suppliers also sell those media, more carefully graded for particle size and more expensive than the pet litter. There seems to some debate among reloaders over the relative merits of corn cob versus walnut shell, and whether the specialized media marketed to reloaders works any better than less expensive pet litter.

Play sand is probably not ideal. References to tumbling barrels in late 19th and early 20th century texts often refer to “sharp sand” as a medium. Also, a lot of modern play sand isn’t silica, because of concerns about the risk of silicosis, and may not be as effective as an abrasive.

Some of the texts mentioned above suggest that you should use about as much medium by volume as the metal you are trying to polish, and that you want the barrel full enough that the work will tumble rather than slide.

The same texts describe a variety of polishing media. Emery, pumice or sharp sand is relatively aggressive. Leather scraps or shavings are often used for a final polish. Hardwood sawdust is often described as an intermediate medium, sometimes with a modest amount of emery or rouge added. If bran and sand were still used to clean mail in the 19th century East, perhaps the mixture used mostly bran with a small amount of sharp sand.

Update: Bertus Brokamp found a reference in the accounts of the count of Holland, 1360-61, to bran purchased for, among other things, "to scour the armor with"

Another update "Paid, the xv daye of Julye, at the campe at Dunglasse, by th’andes of George Ynglyshe, for tow urynalles and one skeyn of threed, vjd.; for canvaus to make a bagg to scowre my Lordes shyrt of meale in, xiiijd.; and for brane to the same, ijd.;" 1549

Great Britain, Charles Manners Rutland, John James Robert Manners Rutland, H. C. Maxwell Lyte, Richard Ward, Robert Campbell, and John Horace Round. 1888. The manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Rutland ... preserved at Belvoir castle. London: Printed for H.M. Statioery Off., by Eyre & Spottiswoode.

Gawain and the Green Knight in Pop Culture

Jeff Sypeck includes some links to an award winning Irish animated version as well as a performance by paper bag puppets. The last is funnier to think about than watch.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Online Medieval Research and Recreation Resources

Pertaining to the 14th or 15th century:

Living History Groups:
La Belle Compagnie

Medieval Recreation
The Society for Creative Anachronism
The Company of St. Michael

Other suppliers:
Thorthor's Hammer: Copper alloy and silver dress accessories
The Compaignye Store: Coin replicas, Ceramics and Haberdashery
Lorifactor Dress accessories, arms and armor, camp equipment
Reenactors Shop
Grunal Moneta Hammered coin reproductions. 650 BC to 1660 AD

Digitized Libraries, Museum Collections or Manuscripts
The National Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) offers an excellent online resource for the study of medieval manuscript illumination. Manuscripts of particular interest to students of arms and armor are noted here.
British Library
Getty Museum
Digitized Manuscripts Containing Middle English
Google Books is a really powerful tool for material which has been digitized. There’s a surprising amount that has been. These include Analogues of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrimage, with itemized expenses for the Asteley/Boyle combat of 1442, a French account of the Pas de Bergere and a Spanish account of the Passo Honoroso.
The University of Chicago is celebrating the acquisition of a manuscript of Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) and its reunion with Le Jeu des échecs moralisé (The Moralized Game of Chess), a manuscript that has been in the Library’s collection since 1931.
Online Searchable Museum Collection Databases
Image Use Contacts
UCLA's catalogue currently indexes 3,048 digitized medieval manuscripts.
Index of the Landauer and Mendel Hausbuchs
Index of Images of the Forme of Cury
Manuscript Miniatures: a database of miniatures depicting armored figures

Other Image Databases, Galleries and Collections
Armour in Art

Karen Larsdatter's site has a lot of images and articles related to medieval material culture from acrobats to zibellini. And it's searchable.
Effigies and Brasses
Kornbluth Photography Archive
Roel Renmans' Photostream: a great collection of photos of surviving armor and armor in painting and sculture, arranged chronologically.
Dmitry Nelson's Photo Gallery: armor, weapons, doublets, arming and otherwise, with some reconstructions.
The Complete Works of Albrecht Durer

Other Resources
Tales from Froissart
Deeds of Arms A Collection of Accounts of Formal Deeds of Arms of the Fourteenth Century edited by Steven Muhlberger
De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History
Primary Sources on Warfare in the Middle Ages
Primary Sources from External Websites
The Soldier in Later Medieval England
The online database currently holds just under 90,000 service records. These are taken from muster rolls, housed in The National Archives (TNA), for the years 1369 - 1453.

I find it rewarding to browse this site by muster roll. Go to a particular year, select one of the references and do a search on that reference. Then sort the result by membrane. You can then scroll through that muster by parchment. You will continually encounter small retinues, each on their own strip of parchment, often consisting of one or two men at arms and a handful of archers. More than once you encounter Chaucerian retinues with a knight, a squire with the same surname and a few archers.

Accounts of Medieval Literacy and Education
This site has a variety of maps of Europe and Japan in the 14th century. Mostly modern, but includes links to the 14th century Catalan Atlas
The Electronic Middle English Dictionary
The Geoffrey Chaucer Website
Richard II's Treasure
A Preview of Purses in Pieces: Archaeological Finds of Late Medieval and 16th Century Leather Purses, Pouches, Bags and Cases in the Netherlands
by Olaf Goubitz
Using and Working with Horn
Steel and Iron Needles
Medieval Archaeology: The first 50 Volumes are available online for free.
Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330‑1500)
Francais Dictionnaire Ancien
Dictionary of the Scots Language
Google Search Tips
Reverso, a Free Online Translator

Medieval Material Culture Blog.
A Commonplace Book
Unlocked Wordhoard
Muhlberger's World History