Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Towards Better Security Theater

The latest recruit to the Terror side of the War on Terror has set fire to his own crotch, provoking yet another spasm of security theater. Something must be done and seen to be done, so something will be done, even if most of the steps taken are hasty, ill conceived measures that inconvenience millions of travelers for a negligible improvement in actual security. At least the most recent set of heightened security measures seem to expire December 30th, 2009. That’s something.

Even small costs add up when multiplied by hundreds of millions of passenger flights. A few seconds to remove shoes for each of 500 million passenger departures totals up to approximately a human lifetime, every year.

If we are going do things because we feel we need to do something, let’s at least do no harm.

Let’s divert some resources to security teams that roam up and down the waiting lines of passengers instead of creating bottlenecks. Uniformed men with vacuum nozzle sniffing devices. Bomb sniffing dogs. Explosive detection ferrets. Uniformed men in high tech goggles staring balefully at suspicious crotches. Seeker teams with detector owls. Orangutans wearing rubber gloves and vests with “Rectum Primate” in large block letters on the back.

Did I mention the Metal Detector Wand Mimes?

It could be like Disneyworld. I’ve always admired the way they tried to provide distractions while you waited in line.

Every now and then the security teams would single out someone from the line and drag them away, screaming and struggling. “What’s that Kiki? A detonator cap? Good Kiki” “So, Snowy, something doesn’t sound right? Please come with us, sir.”

To avoid any inconvenience to legitimate travelers, professional actors would salt the line to be dragged away as a useful example. Or stunt men. Nothing says deterrent like roving teams with equipment prominently labeled “Microwave Detonator Igniter” that from time to time power up the Ominous Hum™ and point the device at the prepared stunt man, whose crotch promptly bursts into flame. Heroic security teams could promptly converge with fire extinguishers and iodine. Lots of iodine.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Living in the Future: The Lake District Isn't Just About North West England Anymore

Sunlight on Kraken Mare

We peered beneath a methane cloud
And took the pictures one by one,
When all at once we saw a crowd
Of waves that caught the distant Sun;
A methane lake that would not freeze
Stirred by the cool Titanian breeze.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Medievalism and Modern Life

Gawain, the Green Knight and Iran Today

Obama, St. Augustine and the Doctrine of Just War. Sometimes pacifism isn't enough. The Peace Prize went to Teddy Roosevelt once, so there's a precedent.

Silent Monks Perform the Messiah

Friday, November 27, 2009

For Your Holiday Shopping Needs

The Medieval Recreations Wall Calendar for 2010 is now available at Commonplace Goods, along with the Carthaginian War Elephant Calendar print and many other fine goods.

The 2010 Kettle Hats Calendar Print is also now available at Kettle Hats.

And there's more paleontological, steampunk and other items at Meateatersaurus

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Edgecote Tournament

A spiffy recreation of a King Rene tournament was held in England in September, complete with viewing stands. Here is the site.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Tournament of the Lily

On November 14th the Tournament of the Lily, a very noble deed of arms was held in the Barony of Ponte Alto of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Several factors conspired to make the event a notable success.

There was a great deal of advance preparation. Planning started 18 months before the event. Five different classes were offered to help attendees prepare for the day. There were an impressive number of 15th c. headdresses on the ladies present

There was clearly a strong effort to create a period ambiance around the field. Not only were all the pavilions and tents around the field reasonably medieval in appearance, but a fabric screen was set up in front of a 20th c. structure near the field to conceal some of its modern details. The wooden fence around the field was based on a medieval design. The principal ladies viewed the combat from an elevated scaffold.

While the setting was the late 15th c., earlier harness was neatly justified as deliberately retro equipment in an antique manner when one of the defenders entered the field as "Godfrey of Bouillon", one of the Nine Worthies. I wish I had known that was going to happen: I still have a banner and pennon with the arms attributed in the Middle Ages to Hector of Troy, created for the Judgment of Paris deed of arms many years ago.

I brought a pair of targes and tapered rattan spears. Several of the tenans had the kindness to meet me with those weapons: Master Kevin of Thornbury, Sir Corby, Duke Cuan and Sir Bryce de Byram, taking the role of Godfrey of Bouillon as aforesaid. The last of these was fought for five pushes of the lance with a runup of seven paces for each pass, measured by a knotted cord as at the combat between Galiot de Baltasin and Phillipe de Ternant in 1446.

The feast reinforced the late 15th c. setting. Service at the high table faithfully followed the etiquette of the era, with water brought for hand washing, trenchers cut from bread laid before each place, and service in messes, with each serving shared by two or three individuals and each pair sharing a napkin. This should happen more often.

My good companions of the Company of St. Michael, Maitresse Muriel and Maitresse Marcele, we also present, and very honorably arrayed.

Here is another thread on the Armour Archive discussing the event.

Sir Corby has a nice album of photos from the event.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The French Onset at Agincourt

From the Gesta Henrici Quinti:

Sed Gallorum nobilitas quae plena fronte prius accesserat, ut de prope conjunctionem venerat, vel timore telorum, quorum adversitas eos reptabat per latera et umbracula cassidum, vel ut citius penetrarent nostram fortitudinem ad vexilla, diviserunt se in tres turmas, invadentes bellum nostrum in tribus locis ubi erant vexilla: et in prima mixtione lancearum tam feroci impetus grassati sunt nostros, quod eos fere ad longitudinem lanceae retrocedere compulerunt.

Here is Anne Curry's translation in The Battle of Agincourt Sources and Interpretations:

But the French nobility who had previously advanced in line abreast and all but come to grips with us, either from fear of the missiles which by their very force pierced the sides and visors of their helmets, or in order the sooner to break through our strongest points and reach the standards, divided into three columns, attacking our line of battle at the three places where our standards were. And in the melee of spears which then followed, they hurled themselves against our men in such a fierce charge as to force them to fall back almost a spear's length.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Numbers at Agincourt II

Having taken a closer look, I don't believe Anne Curry's revisionist numbers for the English, either. If the quotes posted here are correct, she accounts for men invalided home and detached to garrison Harfleur. While the size of the garrison is reasonably well attested, it's not clear how complete the surviving records of those invalided home are.

Another key missing piece is the number that died during the siege from dysentery, what the era knew as "bloody flux". The English administrative records were not set up to record a comprehensive total of deaths by disease during the siege. There is no way to get a reasonably precise number.

What we do know is that the number was high. The English lost a bishop, an earl and at least eight knights at Harfleur. The chronicler Monstrelet believed more than 2,000 died. Less than forty deaths were recorded in the official records, but so much the worse for the official records. We know that many of the records have not survived, and the death toll among the nobility and knights suggests disease deaths at about 10%.

Monstrelet's estimate might be high, or low. Given the deaths among the peerage, I wouldn't bet on 2,000 deaths being an overestimate, and many more were invalided home than died at Harfleur.

If so, the English army at Agincourt was probably closer to the 6,000 of the Gesta Henrici Quinti than the revisionist 9,000 of Anne Curry.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Numbers at Agincourt

Anne Curry has a new revisionist take on the battle, saying the French army was much, much smaller than most historians have believed. Also, that the English army was a bit larger. The change in numbers for the English isn’t as large, so I’ll leave that part of it aside for simplicity.

Here is a forum post covering a lot of her argument.

I am not convinced by her arguments for the French numbers. Let’s start with Berry Herald, who she considers a significant and useful source for the battle, and I think she’s right. Berry was writing years after the battle, and we have no reason to think he was present, but he provides a detailed order of battle of the men-at-arms assigned to a dozen different commanders. 1,200 men at arms are assigned to the mounted wings, 4,800 to the vanguard, and about 3,000 to the main battle. He says the total was 10,000, so that leaves 1,000 for the rear battle.

Most of the sources agree that it didn’t work out as planned, and a significant part of mounted wings were not in position when the English advanced unexpectedly. Presumable they ended up with the rear battle.

But Le Fevre and Waurin were both present at the battle, and they say that the vanguard also had archers, in numbers that work out to one for every two men at arms. In addition, there were crossbowmen equal to a three for every eight archers. The absolute numbers they report are not reliable, but the ratios should be about right.

They add that the main battle had men at arms and archers equal to the vanguard.

We also know that the intent was to raise on archer for every two men at arms for the campaign, and this seems to have been achieved in the noble retinues we have pay records for.

We also know that gros valets were present, but not necessarily listed on the payroll. The original battle plan had them charging in support of the men at arms. Des Ursins suggests they were present in the main battle in addition to the men at arms and archers, and that there were crossbowmen there as well. Le Fevre and Waurin report that some who were struck down in the vanguard and main battle were rescued and led away by their servants. This is only plausible if those servants were no further away than the rear ranks of the same battle.

We don’t know how many valets were well enough equipped to play a useful role as a combatant. Later in the 15th c. it was expected there would be one similarly protected coustilier for every man at arms. A few years earlier, in his campaign against Liege John the Fearless had a bit under 4,000 combatants on his payroll. At the battle of Othee, he reportedly sent 1,000 gros valets in support of a flanking attack by 400-500 men at arms. His pay lists from around this time suggest men at arms were typically about 60% of the men on his army payroll, so a force of 10,000 men at arms might be able to also field at least 4,000 gros valets. And it’s possible that the number was higher, and there were additional gros valets at Othee that were not sent on the mounted attack. That does not seem unreasonable compared to the 1:1 ratio later in the 15th c.

So now we have:

Mounted wings: 1,200 men at arms
Vanguard: 4,800 men at arms, 2,400 archers, 900 crossbowmen, 1,000 gros valets
Main battle: 3,000 men at arms, 2,600 archers, 1,000 crossbowmen, 2,500 gros valets
Rear battle: 1,000 men at arms, 400 gros valets

Total: 20,400 combatants.

It was usual at this time for crossbowmen to be accompanied by pavisers, with about one paviser for every two crossbowmen. If not assumed to be included in the number of crossbowmen this would add another 900 men.

Since making the number of men at arms and archers the same in the vanguard and main battle would give an unusually high number of archers for French army of the period and contradict Berry Herald, I have taken La Fevre and Waurin's statement less literally, and that they meant that the total number of fighting men in the vanguard and main battles was about equal.

There would have been addition non-combatant servants. In the 14th c. two servants per man at arms, seems to have been typical. If we assume that only 3,9000 of them were combatant gros valets, that would have added another 14,000 pages and grooms. Of course, more of them might have been armed gros valets, which would keep the army size the same but increase the combatant numbers. Possibly some of the French servants were armed and carried on the payroll as archers, which would have reduced the total army size somewhat.

If we assume that English men at arms each had one yeoman serving as an archer and one page, that would only increase their total force by about 900 if the yeomen were already counted as archers.

This would then be a battle where an eyewitness could reasonable say that the French army was at least three times the size of the English. The chroniclers report that servants were exercising horses on the field before to the battle, and presumably many were assisting their masters prior to the combat, so they would have swelled the number included in a visual estimate of the army size.

There is another  problem with Curry’s estimate of 12,000 combatants for the French army at Agincourt. This would imply, based on Berry Herald’s distribution of men at arms and the ratio of other troops reported by eyewitnesses, that the vanguard had 3,600 men at arms and 2,700 missile troops.

This would make the vanguard significantly smaller than the English army, and yet all three eyewitness reports say the reverse was true.

To push most of the missile troops in the vanguard to the rear, the men at arms would need to extend their front to cover about 750 yards. On this frontage, 4,000 men at arms would be less than four ranks deep, assuming 27 inches per man. 27 inches per man is within the range of Napoleonic era infantry doctrine, and fits with my experience with efforts to recreate medieval combat.

Four deep is a very shallow formation for a melee infantry unit by pre-gunpowder standards. The classical Greeks and Romans and the early medieval Byzantines all seem to have taken eight ranks as the norm. The English at Agincourt averaged somewhere between 4.5 ranks deep (conventional wisdom of about 6,000 men) and 6.75 (Curry estimate of about 9,000 English combatants.) Both Tito Livio and Pseudo Elmham say the English army was four deep. The English army was mostly archers, and might reasonably accept a shallower formation than a purely melee unit.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Augustine Committee and their Report

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine turned in their final report October 22. They worked hard and had good, smart, dedicated people who did a good job. I don’t know how they were compensated, but it probably wasn’t enough. I’m profoundly grateful for their efforts.

They have some good recommendations. Many may not survive the political process: already representatives from places with major NASA spending are saying that it would be a terrible thing if anything was done that might result in less NASA spending where their constituents live.

And if we do the right thing there will be pain in various places. The Ares I launcher was more plausible when the that project began, but bringing it into operation will now cost a lot for a launcher that will at best fly only a few times: perhaps a dozen, perhaps less. US launchers already flying can carry similar payloads. They have convinced me that Ares I should be canceled. It will harder to convince voters who benefit directly from the survival of the program.

The committee makes a good argument that we will eventually return to our Moon, visit Near Earth Objects like asteroids and comets, the Martian moons Deimos and Phobos, and eventually Mars itself. Our Moon may not be the optimal first destination on the list.

Why Very Long Copyright Durations Are a Bad Idea.

What these guys said.

You might think, as a creator of intellectual content, that I'm in favor of having my copyright last until the Sun is a cold darker cinder. I'm not. There are real costs to us as a Society to keeping content out of the public domain for too long. The free availability of public domain works created when copyright law was more sane is a great boon to me. I love Google Books

Here's my modest proposal. Continue to accept the terms of the Berne Convention, but require individuals to renew every thirty years after original publication to maintain their rights. And allow corporations to do the same, but charge them a fee large enough that they only renew works that still have significant economic value to them. Disney can afford it.

Seven Reasons to Date a Medievalist

Unlocked Wordhoard lists compelling reasons to date a medievalist. Including, of course, our superior zombie apocalypse survival skills

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are We Wimps? Compared to Ancient Athenians?

Provocative anthropologist Peter McAllister says yes.

Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.

The evidence for this can only be the failure of the modern trireme reconstruction Olympias to reach the cruising speed implied by classical authors for ancient triremes.

If we knew that Olympias was a perfect reproduction of an ancient trireme, then the argument might be valid. We don't.

Olympias was a plausible first effort at reconstructing an ancient trireme. The men responsible for the reconstruction now believe they can do better, tweaking some key details to give the rowers more room for a longer stroke while still fitting the surviving evidence. This exactly the sort of thing that experimental archaeology can teach us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Are We Wimps?

Are 21st c. men wimps compared to people "in the ancient past and even in the recent past"?. Peter McAllister, Australian anthropologist, says yes, in his book Manthropology and in this article in The Independent

Steve Muhlberger asks for informed commentary on the article while expressing some skepticism.

I won't say anything about the value of calculating the speed of prehistoric aboriginals from their fossilized trackways, except that it's probably pretty difficult without knowing with some precision how long the legs were of the person that left the footprints.

But this I can speak to:

Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.

This is lazy stupidity on multiple levels. A marathon is a foot race, and currently covers a bit more than 26 miles. "One-and-a-half marathons" would be nearly forty miles. At a run.

The Roman legions did not cover distance at a run. They marched. Marching is much less tiring.

That said, I don't know why McAllister thinks legions routinely covered forty miles a day. I'm baffled.

Assuming that McAllister never noticed that the Roman mile is shorter than the English mile only gets you part of the way there. An Iter Iustum, an ordinary day's march on good roads, might cover 15-17 miles.

Vegetius tells us that the Romans trained by marching ten Roman miles out and the same back (about 18 English miles) but they only did it three times a month. It was a conditioning exercise, not a daily routine.

According to modern US Army doctrine, the average rate of march for trained infantry under favorable weather conditions is 2-1/2 mph over roads and 1 mph cross country. A normal foot march covers 20 miles per day.

Currently, US infantry on the march carries loads comparable to a Roman legionairy soldier.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Gladiatoria Fechtbuch

Medieval German fighting manuals can be frustrating. Typically you either have text without illustrations, or illustrations with minimal text (Talhoffer) or with no text at all (the earliest content in the Codex Wallerstein).

In the mid 15th c. Gladiatoria Fechtbuch , text and image often complement each other. The text explains that you should do thus and so, and the image presents the vital information that your left leg should be forward when you do it.

Hugh Knight has produced a translation of the text of the Gladiatoria Fechtbuch combined with a reproduction of the images. This work is a valuable resource for anyone who wants a better understanding of armored single combat in Germany in the middle of the 15th century.

Thirteen out of the 118 pages deal with unarmored combat, with long dueling shields, bucklers or staves. The rest discuss armored combat.

Combat with Spear and Targe

Here is a video of combat with Codex Wallerstein style targes and spear at our local SCA fighting practice. I built these for the pas de la Belle Pelerine at Pennsic 2009. I'm very pleased with the way these work: they give good protection for the armpit, shoulder and throat while allowing both hands to wield the spear.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Awesome Space Launch Visuals

A Delta IV Heavy lifts off. The camera lens that took this photo did not survive.

Progress M-03M launches in early morning darkness and climbs into sunlight. At about three minutes into the video you can see the four detached booster stages sparkling as they tumble.

Here's a somewhat longer version showing more footage from different cameras.

Here is the trail of the launcher seen from the side from a viewpoint in Kromtau, Northwest Kazakhstanin, where surprised and baffled Australian miners film it on their phone.

More Photos from the Pas de la Belle Pelerine

More photos from the recreation of the pas de la Belle Pelerine at Pennsic 2009 by Tasha.

An additional photo from Jan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation's Medieval Event, October 17-18

This event in Media, PA has been canceled due to weather. Medieval living history goodness would have included La Belle Compagnie and yours truly. It has been rescheduled for November 13-15. La Belle Compagnie will be unable to attend on the rescheduled date.

Update: the rescheduled event has also been canceled due to weather

Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Thing I Learned from Petit Jehan de Saintré

When you have water brought for your guests to wash their hands, let it be warm rose water. It will give them great joy.

15,000 Badges and Ampullae

Kunera, late medieval badges and ampullae

Badges and ampullae are the material witnesses to the rich and fascinating visual world of the late Middle Ages.

Often only unique copies or – in rare instances – some duplicates of the same mould were passed down, even though the objects were mass-produced at the time. The material played a major part in the dissemination of imagery from the late twelfth century to the middle of the sixteenth century. From the middle of the fifteenth century, printing gradually took over. Depictions on badges and ampullae differ from Christ, Mary and the saints to utensils, plants and animals, literary and sexual subjects. In addition, the pilgrims’ souvenirs that were produced in one place and lost in another, give a perception of travel routes. Where did pilgrims go and how many miles did their travels cover? The website Kunera offers access to over 15.000 badges and ampullae of religious and profane subjects. The pilgrimage sites and the sites where the objects were found are mapped out visualizing the dissemination of the objects and the travel routes at a single glance.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fact and Fiction in Petit Jehan de Saintré

In chapter 55, a gentleman from Lombardy, the squire Galias of Mantua enters the story, wishing to perform a deed of arms. He was, the author believes, the same Galias of Mantua who later, as a renowned knight, fought against Jean le Maingre, (called Boucicaut) Marshal of France before the Lord of Padua. This was the son of the elder Boucicaut who is portrayed as Jehan's friend in the romance.

Now, Fiore dei Liberi, master of arms, writing in the early 15th c., records among his students Sir Galeaz or Galeaco of Mantua, who fought against the French knight Bucichardo, and the combat is also recorded as occurring in 1395 in the Cronaca carrarese.

So de la Sale wove the historical Galeaz of Mantua into his fictional work to give it greater verisimilitude, and was careful enough about the chronology to present his Galias as a squire rather than the renowned knight he would be when he fought at Padua.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Petit Jehan de Saintré

Steve Muhlberger posts Phil Paine's review of Petit Jehan de Saintré. I think Paine has misread the story on at least two points. Little Jehan doesn't go off to do deeds of arms when he is sixteen: his lady waits until he is twenty, and fully formed, before she encourages him to distinguish himself on the field. And when Jehan goes to fight the Saracens in Prussia, the geography and anthropology are not "somewhat vague". The author clearly had a fairly informed and detailed sense of where large Islamic armies might be raised, and where Prussia was. He knew he needed to set the fictional Christian victory somewhere on the borders of Christendom. He might have set it in, for example, Bulgaria, where clashes between the Christian and Islamic worlds were particularly plausible. Unfortunately, this theater was the site of a particularly notable Christian defeat at Nicopolis in 1396. Prussia was a setting where crusades happened but that wouldn't remind readers of that great defeat.

Of course, the politics and logistics of delivering enormous crusader and saracen armies to Prussia in the mid 14th century were challenging, which explains why neither actually happened.

Here is a somewhat frustrating 1862 English translation of the work. The translator has a tendency to omit many of the sections I'm most interested in. "The account of this combat is omitted." Thank you very much.

Updated: a recent translation, Jean de Saintre: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry, translates the work into lively and colloquial modern English, unlike the deliberately archaic style of the previous two English translations, and it translates content they omit.  The notes discuss how the novel mixes actual historical figures into the fictional romance.

Here is the the story in the original French.

The work is an early historical novel, set in the reign of John II of France about a century before it was written. The hero becomes a close friend of the historical Jean Boucicaut the elder. At thirteen little Jehan catches the eye of a noble young widow, who spends the next seven years training him into a suitable courtly paramour. She teaches him edifying maxims from Latin authors with a helpful translation, and gives him a reading list. She advises him how to spend largely but wisely on good clothes and horses, and on appropriate presents to gain the good will of others at court, and provides him with the funds to do it. At twenty she sends him off to win renown with deeds of arms, and advises him on the ceremonies and choice of opponents.

His martial career is described in great and generally plausible detail, although the customs are those of the 15th century rather than the 14th.

Eventually his lady transfers her affections to a worldly young abbot, large and muscular, who humiliates Jehan in a wrestling match. We learn that Jehan, although a successful warrior, has not been taught to wrestle, unlike wealthy monks like the abbot who "are adepts at the art, as at tennis, hurl-bat, pitch-bar, and every pastime of the sort. They are their only recreations when among themselves..."

Jehan later has his revenge on the abbot and his former lover with matter of fact cruelty that reminds me of Tirant lo Blanc. Like Tirant, Petit Jehan de Saintré combines chivalric and courtly ideals with frank sexuality and practical detail.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sense and Squamosity, by Jane Austen

Chapter XVI

" Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, " probably looks much as it always does at this time of year—the woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."

" Oh! " cried Marianne, " with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."

" It is not every one," said Elinor, " who has your passion for dead leaves."

" No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are."—As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for a few moments; but rousing herself again, " Now, Edward," said she, calling his attention to the prospect, " here is Barton valley. Look up it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills ! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton Park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see one end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill which rises with such grandeur, is the Barton Folly, with its angles simultaneously acute and obtuse."

" It is a beautiful country," he replied; " but these bottoms must be full of ichor in winter."

" How can you think of ichor, with such objects before you?"

" Because," replied he, smiling, " amongst the rest of the objects before me, I see a broad trail of ichor across the lane. And on either side of the lane some thing has broken through the underbrush on either side, perhaps twice the width of a common hay-wain, and yet proportioned as if such a wain was far, far broader at ground level than at its apex."

" How strange! " said Marianne to herself as she walked on.

In my Parallel Universe VI

Giants from France walk through Berlin, seeking each other.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My Little Cthulu

You know you want one. And he wants you, too. But not in a good way.

And you can make your own. Remember to score and fold the paper carefully, so the angles are simultaneously acute and obtuse!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hey There Cthulu

And you're in your sunken city
and we'll sing a song that's pretty....

Velociraptors: Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong

You probably bought into the conventional wisdom that Velociraptors liked to lurk in the underbrush so they could leap out and disembowel you with their razor sharp sickle-shaped claws while hopping on one leg.

Wrong! Scientists now believe that Velociraptors used those claws like organic crampons to climb trees and leap on their victims from above.

Stay tuned for later updates, when scientists will reveal that they now think that Velociraptors used their mad tree-climbing skillz only to sneak up on Pterodactyl, Pterosaur and Pteranodon nests to devour their young.

Still More on the Staffordshire Hoard: Another Scenario

Then the lord, the mighty Mercian
takes the bag of burnished booty
glistening gold torn from the sword-hilts
of the foe-men that have fallen
from the thegns that thought to fight him
and then lost their war-like wager
gives it to his own sworn servant
greasy Grima, oft called Worm-Tongue.
"Take this hoard and hold it, servant"
says the lord, the mighty Mercian.
"Like it was my own, my master"
Says the servant, greasy Grima,
licks his lips and sidles sideways.
And he edges for the exit
with the bag of burnished booty.
Do you think the trusted treasure
made it to the master's mead-hall?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More on the Staffordshire Hoard

In comments on the previous post, a reader asks if the sword fittings might be pre-installation rather than post-removal, and whether this might be the hoard of a goldsmith.

I think this is very unlikely. The hoard contains no ingots, and only small fragments of wire and sheet. I would expect a goldsmith to have a significant amount of otherwise unworked wire and sheet on hand. I would expect that hilt and buckle plates would not yet have rivets in place, but several of the finds show this. 67 gold sword pommels is an insane amount of bullion tied up in inventory for a working goldsmith. How may swords with gold hilts could he hope to sell in the course of a year? And if you look at the photos of the finds, many of the hilt plates show exactly the sort of damage you'd expect if someone was trying to dismount them in the field with inadequate tools and time.

I also doubt that the hoard ever had time to mingle with the general treasury of the person who possessed it when it was buried. A reasonably successful warlord would have other wealth in their treasury at home: coins, and vessels and spoons of precious metal at least. And probably ingots and more jewelry, both female and male. All of these were absent from the hoard.

Here is what I think happened. A Mercian warlord, who may have been the king of Mercia himself, went on campaign, and won one or more battles. He killed or captured several hundred thegns on the other side, as well as lesser men unworthy of mention. To avoid discord or dissension in his own army, he immediately stripped all the gold and silver from his booty and shared it out by weight according to custom. We don't know what the custom was then, but in the army of Henry V it was a third for the Sovereign, a third for the captain, and a third for the other fighting men. I'd be surprised if the proportion was very different when the hoard was buried.

And now the luck of the Mercian warlord turns against him, and other enemies threaten him, and he wonders if he can get his booty home. So he takes his share of the loot he has won so far, which rides in his saddlebags. He owns a very nice large gold cross: perhaps his chaplain uses it, perhaps it was booty. Until now it had its own wood or leather case, but the case won't fit in the bag. With regret he folds it into a more compact configuration and stuffs it in, and buries it with the rest. And carefully remembers where he buried it, so he can come back for it later.

But he never comes back, so perhaps something unfortunate happened to him.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What Sort of Person Has 67 Gold Sword Pommels?

And removes them from the swords, and buries them in the ground, along with a lot of other pieces of precious metal and never comes back for them? In 7th or early 8th century Mercia?

Whoever buried the Staffordshire Hoard.

The catalogue on the Hoard website says there were 67 gold pommels in the hoard.

Now the thing that strikes me is that the kind of people who owned swords with gold pommels in 7th to early 8th c. Mercia probably took a dim view of other people taking their swords and prying the pommels off. Let's call this class of individual elite thegns.

Here's one scenario. Somebody wipes out a force including at least 67 elite thegns, or several forces resulting in the same total. However, this happens in the middle of a war or other conflict and the issue is in doubt, so they strip the precious metal from the loot and bury it, with the hope of coming back later, but the other side wins. Everyone who knows where the loot is buried dies. Interesting.

Scenario two: a king or warlord has a treasury that includes 67 gold-pommeled swords, available to hand out to followers any time he needs to recruit twenty elite thegns in a hurry. Things go badly, and he needs to condense the treasury and bury it. Also interesting.

Here are more links.
Here is the press pack

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Universal Health Insurance

The Economist's blog Democracy in America, has an illuminating post on how the US political process is turning health care reform into a sausage factory. And how the Netherlands combines mandatory private insurance and universal coverage.

In the Netherlands, the 2006 reform that privatised the entire health-insurance system accomplished most of these tasks through one simple mechanism: a tax-funded risk equalisation fund (REF). The REF subsidises the poor, pays for the subsidies, and equalises the risks to insurers, all at once. The dedicated 7% payroll tax to pay for the REF (paid by employers) covers half the total costs of insurance premiums, so about half of each person's health-insurance premium is paid out of taxes. The system subsidises the poor because they don't pay very much in taxes, while the rich do; in other words, your progressivity comes built into the tax system, rather than through a separate jury-rigged system of health-insurance subsidies funded by unrelated excise taxes, as in the American proposals. With such a large REF, it becomes possible to mandate that all insurance plans must be offered to anyone at exactly the same price, rather than limiting the premium ratio to 5:1, as in the Baucus proposal.

Something like this really seems like a better way to solve the problems of US health care coverage than any of the Frankenstein's monsters of health care bills currently shambling through the US Congress. Read the article, think about it, write your representative.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dinosaurs and Robots

Dinosaurs and Robots is a new blog about objects by Mister Jalopy and Mark Frauenfelder.

Rather than focus on the newest trend, we will seek authentic, handy, rarefied, disgusting, illuminating, delicious, mysterious, intoxicating, commonplace, historic, intensely personal, entertaining and enlightened objects, both priceless heirlooms and exquisite trash.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Three Cheers for JAXA

JAXA, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, had an almost perfect first flight of their HTV spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).

The elite club that can deliver payload to ISS has a new member as of Friday, September 18, 2009. This growing redundancy and more robust transport ability is a good thing.

There's a video of the capture here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paper Automata


Musician Locations at Jousts and Tournaments

In front of gallery on viewer's left:

  • Tournament of the Giant's Pine, Guiron le Courtois (BNF NAF 5243, fol. 55), c. 1370-1380

  • The Beauchamp Pageant, after 1483

    In front of gallery on viewer's left and right:

  • Tournament of Camelot, The Quest for the Holy Grail (BNF Fr. 343, fol. 4v), c. 1380-1385

    In gallery on viewer's right:

  • Tournament, Composition de la Sainte Escriture, 1462

    In gallery on viewer's left:

  • Unidentified 15th c. Illumination

    In each end zone:

  • The competitors are gathered (fols. 97v-98), and the tournament (fols. 100v-101), The book of the tournament of René d'Anjou (BNF Fr. 2695), c. 1460
  • Wednesday, September 09, 2009

    The Last Duel: Channeling Froissart

    Eric Jager's The Last Duel (New York, 2004) is written in the spirit of Froissart. And I don't mean it in a good way. I mean that just like Froissart, Jager likes to present a vivid and compelling narrative full of convincing detail, and he doesn't mind making stuff up to do it. This is from the big fight scene, with Le Gris down and Carrouges trying to finish him off:

    Finally Carrouges stopped and began fumbling instead with the lock that held the visor shut. Le Gris, realizing the knight's aim, struggled all the harder. He rocked from side to side and wrenched his head around to thwart the attempt on the lock, all the while grasping uselessly in the sand for his sword.

    Exciting stuff, but there's nothing like it in the historical documents describing the 1386 combat. Jager is guessing, and guessing badly. No surviving 14th c. helmet visor had a positive mechanical closure.

    The good thing about Froissart was that even if Froissart invented details about a particular medieval deed of arms, he based them on things that he had actually seen.

    That said, the end notes and bibliography in The Last Duel are a useful resource

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    A Letter of Introduction Presented at the Pas de la Belle Pelerine

    Here is a very noble and courteous letter of introduction presented by Alexendre Bautista de la Mar when he entered the field as comer to the pas de la Belle Pelerine held at this most recent great deed of arms at Pennsic. More concerning this pas may be seen here.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Animals with the Same Common and Binomial Scientific Name

    Boa Constrictor
    Tyrannosaurus Rex

    I can't think of any others. Can you?

    The Etymology of the Guinea Pig

    The Guinea Pig is an animal that originated in South America. Guinea is a region in West Africa. Why are they called Guinea Pigs?

    The simplest and most likely explanation is that Guinea was often used in English to describe exotic imports from overseas, even if they didn't actually come from Guinea. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Guinea corn (Indian millet), Guinea duck (Muscovy duck) Guinea hens (sometimes the North America Turkey) Guinea goose (Chinese goose) and Guinea wheat (Indian corn), as well as various plants and animals that actually came from Guinea.

    The character of England's Guinea trade contributed to the confusion, since ships from England to Guinea often sailed on to the Americas before returning to England.

    Speculative etymology based on the guinea coin seems improbable: the coin was first minted in 1663, but William Harvey seems to have referred to "Ginny-pigs" as early as 1653.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    The Pig in the Python

    U.S population distribution, by age, from 1950 through 2050: animated.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Human-rating the Delta IV

    This report by The Aerospace Corporation shows the frequently unquestioned assumptions currently crippling US human spaceflight.

    The US currently has two operational unmanned launchers capable of carrying a substantial manned spacecraft: Delta IV and Atlas V. The Delta IV family has failed to substantially complete one mission out of ten launches, Atlas V one out of fourteen. The Saturn V that carried the manned capsules of the Apollo program had one clear failure out of thirteen launches with Apollo 6, and a close call with Apollo 13 which almost failed to reach orbit before the famous crisis en route to the moon.

    Both launchers are relatively new, and their record should improve over time. More mature unmanned launchers like Delta II, Atlas II-III and Ariane IV had a successful launch rate of 98-97%.

    A launch abort system (LAS) like the ones carried by Apollo and Soyuz could probably allow the crew to survive a launch failure about 80% of the time, so an otherwise unmodified Delta IV with a LAS might kill its crew once every 50-250 ascents. For comparison, the Shuttle averaged a loss of crew every 63.5 launches.

    At the anticipated post shuttle NASA manned flight rate of two spacecraft a year, such a system might lose a crew once every 25-125 years.

    To improve the safety of a manned version, NASA would want take additional steps to "human-rate" the launcher, primarily by improving structural margins, adding redundancy to some systems, increasing the qualification testing of the hardware, and increased inspections.

    Option 6, the most similar human-rated version to the current launcher in the Aerospace report, uses a single RL-10 engine on the upper stage, and costs about $4 billion more for development and the first 14 launches than an unmodified Delta IV.. Other options with more powerful upper stages cost more but also improve payload.

    Under those assumptions, human rating that goes much beyond adding a LAS and the associated hardware and software to allow a timely abort for a crewed capsule seems like an extraordinarily costly way to save human lives. If additional investment in human rating a Delta IV reduced fatal accidents to zero, it might save 1-12 lives over the course of the next 50 years.

    If you are willing to spend $4 billion to save human lives, marginal improvements to a fairly reliable existing orbital launcher are probably not going to be at the top of your choices. Highway safety or infant nutrition will probably save many more lives for less money.

    Much of the added cost seems to come from NASA overhead priced at 27-32% of contractor cost. Given that Lockheed Martin and Boeing are trusted to launch billion dollar spysats and planetary spacecraft with considerably less expensive oversight, it's worthwhile to question just how much value NASA adds for that additional cost.

    And if you are proposing to spend over $300 million per life saved, then there really should be some discussion about how much the different improvements add to reliability, how many lives they save at what price, and how certain you are of your estimates. Probabilistic risk assessments for space launchers have a history of being very wrong and of grossly overestimating the reliability of their conclusions.

    Perhaps the government has a good reason to put a very, very high value on preventing astronaut deaths on their way to space and back. Certainly the US public seems to care a lot more about such deaths than those of most other mortals, very famous celebrities excepted. And the US public is ultimately footing the bill for NASA's human space flight, so their preferences deserve some consideration.

    It might be desirable to align the interests of NASA and a commercial launch provider by making a significant part of the contract conditional on a good safety record. For example, the provider offers 20 launches for up to $5 billion That amount includes a $500 million bonus paid for each ten flights in a row without mission failure, and an additional billion dollars bonus for 20 flights in a row without a mission failure.

    Under this kind of contact, you can expect the launch provider to work very hard to keep mission failures to a minimum,

    Le romant des chevaliers de Thrace, 1605

    Le romant des chevaliers de Thrace

    Memoirs of one of the participants

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    PETA to Provide Sharks with Beach Excursion Vehicles

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) believe that sharks are mostly misunderstood. “Most people never even get to see a Great White in its natural habitat” said Diana “Di” Furwearersdie, PETA’s director of media relations. “And some, because of unfair prejudice, won’t go in the water at all. And so these remarkable creatures are inevitably misunderstood, overfished and underprotected. This needs to change.”

    PETA is taking steps to work for that change by equipping dozens of sharks with Beach Excursion Vehicles: a plexiglass tank of filtered salt water mounted on an all terrain vehicle chassis. The sharks have proved remarkably adept at using their snouts to manipulate steering joysticks submerged in the tanks to move about beaches with surprising agility and speed.

    “It’s all about promoting understanding by giving more people a chance to interact with these magnificent creatures” said Ms. Furwearersdie to reporters as a shark deftly maneuvered his vehicle across a sand dune, lunged halfway out of the tank and snapped up an unwary Cocker Spaniel. “People need to experience the Great Circle of Life for themselves, and understand that they can’t take being at the top of the food chain for granted. That’s what we’re working for.”

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    The Augustine Commission

    The Augustine Commission on US human space flight completed their last public hearing on August 12th. I was impressed by the quality and diligence of the panel and their willingness to take a fresh look at NASA’s plans. Sally Ride put an admirable emphasis on coming up with an approach that was operationally affordable. Which, unfortunately, the current plan is not.

    In 2004, the previous administration decided that it would be an excellent idea for the United States to return humans to the moon by the arbitrary date of 2020. NASA came up with a plan to do so, if given sufficient funds. The plan was to build a big new launcher, using heavily modified hardware from the Space Shuttle and other launchers that would ultimately be called the Ares V. The crew would ride to earth orbit on another, smaller, simpler and hopefully safer launcher based on the same technology called the Ares I, rendezvous in low Earth orbit, and then ride off to the moon. It would be a lot like Apollo, but with a larger crew, more efficient engines and electronics, and lower development costs because a lot of the hardware was taken from existing systems instead of developed from scratch.

    NASA figured this would cost a lot less than Apollo, but substantially more than NASA was getting for human space flight at the time. If the president wanted a bold new initiative and would provide the funding, they would find a way to go to the moon.

    The plan arrived, but the money didn’t. After the US won the Cold War race to the moon, the country has been unwilling to abandon human space flight entirely, but equally unwilling to spend anything remotely like the level when the space race was a key contest of pride and prestige between dueling ideologies.

    The good news is that the current administration isn’t bound by an arbitrary goal of returning a human to the moon by 2020. The bad news is that even less ambitious goals will be difficult to fund and achieve.

    The committee does seem to respect the enormous potential for orbital propellant depots to make the goal more achievable, as well as the advantages of using commercial launch services as much as possible. And the have agreed that the current NASA plan to build Ares I and Ares V is not going to be affordable.

    There's a lot of information on their site, particularly in the related documents. The affordability analysis presented at the August 12th meeting is particularly illuminating (if depressing reading for a human space flight supporter).

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Comparing Health Care Costs in Different Countries

    Comparing the costs of different health care systems can be a challenging problem. In the US, most potential doctors are generally expected to pay for their own education and then charge enough for their services later to recoup the present value of that investment. In some other countries, the state pays to educate most would be doctors, and so they demand less compensation after graduation.

    All other things being equal, the total cost should be about the same. However, the US probably counts more of that cost in the health care category, even if total spending is similar and ultimately devoted to similar purposes.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Paul Krugman and Charlie Stross Discuss Living in the Future

    Here. Stross suggests; "It’s well known that the first real use of any successful new technology is pornography."

    Students of the history of technology will immediately think of the Gutenberg Booke of Saucy Curiosa, Galileo's Optic Device for Looking at Mrs. Viviani Bathing, The Watt Steam Powered Apparatus for the Relief of Tension, the Gatling Reciprocating Vibrator and the Wright Brothers' Mile High Erotic Saloon.

    Sunday, August 09, 2009

    How I Spent My Summer Vacation, 2009

    Pennsic 2009

    The Combat of the Thirty
    Photos by Countess Caryl
    Photos by Baron Eirik
    Photos by James B.
    Photos by Angus MacClerie
    Photos by White Mountain Armoury
    The Armour Archive
    Another video
    Yet another video
    Video of the second combat

    The pas de la Belle Pelerine
    Photos by Countess Caryl
    Photos by Mistress Karen
    Photos by Urdok
    Photos by Tasha
    An additional photo from Jan.

    A Voice of America Video on Pennsic 2009, with coverage of the Company of St. Michael deed of arms starting around 2.25

    Saturday, August 08, 2009

    Panorama painting of the Battle of Morat/Murten

    Here is a site devoted to the recently restored sweeping 19th century panorama painting of the battle.

    Thursday, August 06, 2009

    Jousts Held by King Rene

    The principal tournaments held by Rene were the one at Nancy (1445), to celebrate the marriages of Marguerite and Yolande; the Emprise de la gueule du dragon (1446), held the following year at Ragilly, near Chinon, in which he fought in black armour, mounted on a black horse, being in mourning for his son Louis, and won the prize; the Emprise de la Joyeuse Garde, or the Day of Launay (1446), in which Ferry de Vaudemont was the victor; and the Pas de la Bergere, held at Tarascon in Provence (1449).

    Besant, Sir Walter, Essays and historiettes, London, Chatto & Windus, 1903, pp 56-57

    These were all jousts rather than the sort mounted melee that Rene described in his traictié de la forme et devis d'ung tournoy but apparently never held himself.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    The Passo Honroso 1434


    Don Quijote's readers are aware of the enormous popularity of the romances of chivalry, but they are apt to imagine that these represent a purely ideal state of things. This is undoubtedly the case as far as knight-errantry is concerned, but certain distinctive habits and customs of chivalry prevailed in Spain and elsewhere long after the feudal system and the earlier and original form of chivalry had passed away.

    One of the most curious instances of this survival of chivalry occurred in Spain in the first half of the fifteenth century, and after commanding the admiration of Europe furnished Don Quijote with an admirable argument for the existence of Amadis of Gaul and his long line of successors. The worthy knight had been temporarily released from his confinement in the Enchanted Cage, and had begun his celebrated reply to the canon's statement that there had never been such persons as Amadis and the other knights-errant, nor the absurd adventures with which the romances of chivalry abound. Don Quijote's answer is a marvellous mixture of sense and nonsense: the creations of the romancer's brain are placed side by side with the Cid, Juan de Merlo and Gutierre Ouijada, whose names were household words in Spain: "Let them deny also that Don Fernando de Guerara went to seek adventures in Germany, where he did combat with Messer George, knight of the household of the duke of Austria. Let them say that the jousts of Sucro de Quiñones, him of the Pass, were a jest."

    It is to these jousts, as one of the most characteristic episodes of the reign of John II. and of the times, that we wish to call attention.[4]

    On the evening of Friday, the 1st of January, 1434, while the king and his court were at Medina del Campo and engaged in the rejoicings customary on the first day of the New Year, Suero de Quiñones and nine knights clad in white entered the saloon, and, coming before the throne, kissed the hands and feet of the king, and presented him through their herald with a petition of which the following is the substance:

    "It is just and reasonable for those who are in confinement or deprived of their freedom to desire liberty; and since I, your vassal and subject, have long been in durance to a certain lady--in witness whereof I bear this chain about my neck every Thursday--now, therefore, mighty sovereign, I have agreed upon my ransom, which is three hundred lances broken by myself and these knights, as shall more clearly hereafter appear--three with every knight or gentleman (counting as broken the lance which draws blood) who shall come to a certain place this year; to wit, fifteen days before and fifteen days after the festival of the apostle St. James, unless my ransom shall be completed before the day last mentioned. The place shall be on the highway to Santiago, and I hereby testify to all strange knights and gentlemen that they will there be provided with armor, horses and weapons. And be it known to every honorable lady who may pass the aforesaid way that if she do not provide a knight or gentleman to do combat for her, she shall lose her right-hand glove. All the above saving two things--that neither Your Majesty nor the constable Don Alvaro de Luna is to enter the lists."

    After the reading of this petition the king took counsel with his court and granted it, for which Quiñones humbly thanked him, and then he and his companions retired to disarm themselves, returning shortly after in dresses more befitting a festal occasion.

    After the dancing the regulations for the jousts, consisting of twenty-two chapters, were publicly read. In addition to the declarations in the petition, it is provided that in case two or more knights should come to ransom the glove of any lady, the first knight only will be received, and no one can ransom more than one glove. In the seventh chapter Quiñones offers a diamond to the first knight who appears to do combat for one of three ladies to be named by him, among whom shall not be the one whose captive he is. No knight coming to the Pass of Honor shall select the defender with whom to joust, nor shall he know the name of his adversary until the combat is finished; but any one after breaking three lances may challenge by name any one of the defenders, who, if time permits, will break another lance with him. If any knight desires to joust without some portion of his armor named by Quiñones, his request shall be granted if reason and time permit. No knight will be admitted to the lists until he declare his name and country. If any one is injured, "as is wont to happen in jousts," he shall be treated as though he were Quiñones himself, and no one in the future shall ever be held responsible for any advantage or victory he may have gained over any of the defenders of the Pass. No one going as a pilgrim to Santiago by the direct road shall be hindered by Quiñones unless he approach the aforesaid bridge of Orbigo (which was somewhat distant from the highway). In case, however, any knight, having left the main road, shall come to the Pass, he shall not be permitted to depart until he has entered the lists or left in pledge a piece of his armor or right spur, with the promise never to wear that piece or spur until he shall have been in some deed of arms as dangerous as the Pass of Honor. Quiñones further pledges himself to pay all expenses incurred by those who shall come to the Pass.

    Any knight who, after having broken one or two lances, shall refuse to continue, shall lose his armor or right spur as though he had declined to enter the lists. No defender shall be obliged to joust a second time with any one who had been disabled for a day in any previous encounter.

    The twenty-first chapter provides for the appointment of two knights, "_caballeros anliguos è probados en annas è dignas de fè_," and two heralds, all of whom shall swear solemnly to do justice to all who cometo the Pass, and who shall decide all questions which may arise.

    The last chapter provides "that if the lady whose I [Quiñones] am shall pass that way, she shall not lose her glove, and no one but myself shall do combat for her, for no one in the world could do it so truly as I."

    When the preceding provisions had been read, Quiñones gave to the king-at-arms a letter signed and sealed, which invited to the Pass all knights so disposed, granting safe conduct to those of other kingdoms, and declaring the cause of said trial of arms. Copies of the above letter were also given to other heralds, who were provided with everything necessary for long journeys, and in the six months that intervened before the day fixed for the jousts the matter had been proclaimed throughout all Christendom. Meanwhile, Quiñones provided horses and arms and everything necessary for "such an important enterprise."

    In the kingdom of Leon, about ten miles east of Astorga and on the highway from that city to the capital, is the bridge of Orbigo. Suero de Quiñones did not select Orbigo with reference to convenience of access from the Castiles, but because it must be passed by pilgrims to Santiago; and that year (1434) was especially sacred to the saint, whose festival, on the 25th of July, has always been celebrated with great pomp. The Spaniards having been forbidden to go to Jerusalem as crusaders, and being too much occupied at home with the Moors to make such a long pilgrimage, wisely substituted Santiago, where the remains of St. James, the patron of Spain, is supposed to rest. His body is said to have floated in a stone coffin from Joppa to Padron (thirteen miles below Santiago) in seven days, and for nearly eight centuries lay forgotten in a cave, but was at length miraculously brought to light by mysterious flames hovering over its resting-place, and in 829 was removed to Santiago. In 846 the saint made his appearance at the celebrated battle of Clavijo, where he slew sixty thousand Moors, and was rewarded by a grant of a bushel of grain from every acre in Spain. His shrine was a favorite resort for pilgrims from all Christendom until after the Reformation, and the saint retained his bushel of grain (the annual value of which had reached the large sum of one million dollars)until 1835.

    It was near the highway, in a pleasant grove, that Quiñones erected the lists, a hundred and forty-six paces long and surrounded by a palisade of the height of a lance, with various stands for the judges and spectators. At the opposite ends of the lists were entrances--one for the defenders of the Pass--and there were hung the arms and banners of Quiñones, as well as at the other entrance, which was reserved for the knights who should come to make trial of their arms. In order that no one might mistake the way, a marble king-at-arms was erected near the bridge, with the right arm extended and the inscription, "To the Pass."

    The final arrangements were not concluded until the 10th of July, the first day of the jousts. Twenty-two tents had been erected for the accommodation of those engaged in the enterprise as well as for mere spectators, and Quiñones had provided all necessary servants and artisans, among whom are mentioned kings-at-arms, heralds, trumpeters and other musicians, notaries, armorers, blacksmiths, surgeons, physicians, carpenters, lance-makers, tailors, embroiderers, etc. In the midst of the tents was erected a wooden dining--hall, hung with rich French cloth and provided with two tables--one for Quiñones and the knights who came to the Pass, and the other for those who honored the jousts with their presence. A curious fact not to be omitted is that the king sent one of his private secretaries to prepare daily accounts of what happened at the Pass, which were transmitted by relays to Segovia (where he was engaged in hunting), so that he should receive them within twenty-four hours.

    On Saturday, the 10th of July, 1434, all the arrangements having been completed, the heralds proceeded to the entrance of the lists and announced to Quiñones that three knights were at the bridge of Orbigo who had come to make trial of their arms--one a German, Messer Arnoldo de la Floresta Bermeja of the marquisate of Brandenburg, "about twenty-seven years old, blond and well-dressed;" the others two brothers from Valencia, by name Juan and Per Fabla. Quiñones was greatly delighted at their coming, and sent the heralds to invite them to take up their quarters with him, which they did, and were received with honor at the entrance of the lists in the presence of the judges. It being Saturday, the jousting was deferred until the following Monday, and the spurs of the three knights were hung up in the judges' stand as a sort of pledge, to be restored to their owners when they were ready to enter the lists.

    The next morning the trumpets sounded, and Quiñones and his nine companions heard mass in the church of St. John at Orbigo, and took possession of the lists in the following fashion: First came the musicians with drums and Moorish fifes, preceded by the judge, Pero Barba. Then followed two large and beautiful horses drawing a cart filled with lances of various sizes pointed with Milan steel. The cart was covered with blue and green trappings embroidered with bay trees and flowers, and on every tree was the figure of a parrot. The driver of this singular conveyance was a dwarf. Next came Quiñones on a powerful horse with blue trappings, on which were worked his device and a chain, with the motto _Il faut deliberer_[5] He was dressed in a quilted jacket of olive velvet brocade embroidered in green, with a cloak of blue velvet, breeches of scarlet cloth and a tall cap of the same color. He wore wheel-spurs of the Italian fashion richly gilt, and carried a drawn sword, also gilt. On his right arm, near the shoulder, was richly embroidered his device in gold two fingers broad, and around it in blue letters,

    Si a vous ne plait de avoyr me sure,
    Certes ie clis,
    Que ie suis,
    Sans venture.[6]

    With Quiñones were his nine companions in scarlet velvet and blue cloaks bearing Quiñones' device and chain, and the trappings of their horses blue, with the same device and motto. Near Quiñones were many knights on foot, some of whom led his horse to do him honor. Three pages magnificently attired and mounted closed the procession, which entered the lists, and after passing around it twice halted before the judges' stand, and Quiñones exhorted the judges to decide impartially all that should happen, giving equal justice to all, and especially to defend the strangers in case they should be attacked on account of having wounded any of the defenders of the Pass.

    The next day, Monday, at dawn the drums beat the reveille, and the judges, with the heralds, notaries and kings-at-arms, took their places in their stands. The nine defenders meanwhile heard mass in a large tent which served as a private chapel for Quiñones, and where mass was said thrice daily at his expense by some Dominicans. After the defenders were armed they sent for the judges to inspect their weapons and armor. The German knight, Arnoldo, had a disabled hand, but he declared he would rather die than refrain from jousting. His arms and horse were approved, although the latter was superior to that of Quiñones. The judges had provided a body of armed soldiers whose duty it was to see that all had fair play in the field, and had a pile of lances of various sizes placed where each knight could select one to suit him.

    Quiñones and the German now entered the lists, accompanied by their friends and with "much music." The judges commanded that no one should dare to speak aloud or give advice or make any sign to any one in the lists, no matter what happened, under penalty of having the tongue cut out for speaking and a hand cut off for making signs; and they also forbade any knight to enter the lists with more than two servants, one mounted and the other on foot. The spur taken from the German the previous Saturday was now restored to him, and the trumpets sounded a charge, while the heralds and kings-at-arms cried _Legeres allér! legeres allér! é fair son deber_.

    The two knights charged instantly, lance in rest, and Quiñones encountered his antagonist in the guard of his lance, and his weapon glanced off and touched him in the armor of his right hand and tore it off, and his lance broke in the middle. The German encountered him in the armor of the left arm, tore it off and carried a piece of the border without breaking his lance. In the second course Quiñones encountered the German in the top of his plastron, without piercing it, and the lance came out under his arm-pit, whereupon all thought he was wounded, for on receiving the shock he exclaimed _Olas!_ and his right vantbrace was torn off, but the lance was not broken. The German encountered Quiñones in the front of his helmet, breaking his lance two palms from the iron. In the third course Quiñones encountered the German in the guard of his left gauntlet, and passed through it, and the head of the lance stuck in the rim without breaking, and the German failed to encounter. In the fourth course Quiñones encountered the German in the armor of his left arm without breaking his lance, and the German failed to encounter. In the next course both failed to encounter, but in the sixth Quiñones encountered the German in the joint of his left vantbrace, and the iron passed half through without breaking, while the shaft broke in the middle, and the German failed to encounter. After this last course they went to the judges' stand, where their jousting was pronounced finished, since they had broken three lances between them. Quiñones invited the German to supper, and both were accompanied to their quarters by music, and Quiñones disarmed himself in public.

    The two Valencian knights did not delay to challenge Quiñones, since he had remained uninjured; and, as they had the right to demand horses and arms, they chose those which Quiñones had used in the last joust. The chronicler adds: "It seems to me that they did not ask it so much for their honor as for the safety of their skins." The judges decided that Quiñones was not bound to give his own armor, as there were other suits as good: nevertheless, he complied, and sent in addition four horses to choose from. He was also anxious to joust with them, but Lope de Estuñiga refused to yield his place, and cited the chapter of the regulations which provided that no one should single out his adversary. Quiñones offered him a very fine horse and a gold chain worth three hundred doubloons, but Estuñiga answered that he would not yield his turn although he were offered a city.

    At vespers Estuñiga and Juan Fabla were armed and the judges examined their arms, and although Fabla had the better horse, they let it pass. At the sound of the trumpet Estuñiga entered the lists magnificently attired, and attended by two pages in armor bearing a drawn sword and a lance. Juan Fabla followed immediately, and at the given signal they attacked each other lance in rest. Fabla encountered Estuñiga in the left arm, tearing off his armor, but neither of them broke his lance. In the four following courses they failed to encounter. In the sixth Fabla encountered his adversary in the breastplate, breaking his lance in the middle, and the head remained sticking in the armor. They encountered in the seventh course, and Estuñiga's servant, who was in the lists, cried out, "At him! at him!" The judges commanded his tongue to be cut out, but at the intercession of those present the sentence was commuted to thirty blows and imprisonment. They failed to encounter in the eighth course, but in the ninth Estuñiga broke his lance on Fabla's left arm: the latter failed to encounter, and received a great reverse. After this they ran nine courses without encountering, but in the nineteenth Estuñiga met Fabla in the plastron, and his lance slipped off on to his helmet, but did not break, although it pierced the plastron and the iron remained sticking in it. By this time it had grown so dark that the judges could not distinguish the good from the bad encounters, and for this reason they decided that the combat was finished the same as though three lances had been broken. Estuñiga invited Fabla to sup with Quiñones, "and at table there were many knights, and after supper they danced."

    That same day there arrived at the Pass nine knights from Aragon, who swore that they were gentlemen without reproach. Their spurs were taken from them, according to the established custom, and hung up in the judges' stand until they should enter the lists.

    The succeeding combats were but repetitions, with trifling variations, of those just described. From dawn, when the trumpet sounded for battle, until the evening grew so dark that the judges could not distinguish the combatants, the defenders maintained the Pass against all comers with bravery and honor.

    The third day there passed near Orbigo two ladies, and the judges sent the king-at-arms and the herald to ascertain whether they were of noble birth and provided with knights to represent them in the lists and win them a passage through Orbigo, and also to request them to give up their right-hand gloves. The ladies answered that they were noble and were on a pilgrimage to Santiago; their names were Leonora and Guiomar de la Vega; the former was married and accompanied by her husband; the latter was a widow. The king-at-arms then requested their gloves to be kept as a pledge until some knight should ransom them. Frances Davio, an Aragonese knight, immediately offered to do combat for the ladies. The husband of Doña Leonora said that he had not heard of this adventure, and was unprepared to attempt it then, but if the ladies were allowed to retain their gloves, as soon as he had accomplished his pilgrimage he would return and enter the lists for them. The gloves, however, were retained and hung in the judges' stand. The matter caused some discussion, and finally the judges decided that the gloves should not be kept, for fear it should seem that the defenders of the Pass were interfering with pilgrims, and also on account of Juan de la Vega's chivalrous response. So the gloves were sent on to Astorga to be delivered to their owners, and Juan de la Vega was absolved from all obligation to ransom them, "and there was strife among many knights as to who should do battle for the sisters."

    On the 16th of July, Frances Davio jousted with Lope de Estuñiga, and when the trial of arms was ended with great honor to both, Davio swore aloud, so that many knights heard him, "that never in the future would he have a love-affair with a nun, for up to that time he had loved one, and it was for her sake that he had come to the Pass; and any one who had known it could have challenged him as an evil-doer, and he could not have defended himself." Whereat Delena, the notary and compiler of the original record of the Pass, exclaims, "To which I say that if he had had any Christian nobleness, or even the natural shame which leads every one to conceal his faults, he would not have made public such a sacrilegious scandal, so dishonorable to the religious order and so injurious to Christ."

    The same day the king-at-arms and herald announced to Quiñones that a gentleman named Vasco de Barrionuevo, servant of Ruy Diaz de Mendoza, mayor-domo of the king, had come to make trial of his arms, but as he was not a knight he prayed Quiñones to confer that honor on him. Quiñones consented, and commanded him to wait at the entrance of the lists, whither he and the nine defenders went on foot accompanied by a great crowd. Quiñones asked Vasco if he desired to become a knight, and on his answering in the affirmative he drew his gilt sword and said, "Sir, do you promise to keep and guard all the things appertaining to the noble order of chivalry, and to die rather than fail in any one of them?" He swore that he would do so, and Quiñones, striking him on the helmet with his naked sword, said, "God make thee a good knight and aid thee to live and act as every good knight should do!" After this ceremony the new knight entered the lists with Pedro de los Rios, and they ran seven courses and broke three lances.

    On the festival of St. James (July 25th) Quiñones entered the lists without three of the principal pieces of his armor--namely, the visor of his helmet, the left vantbrace and breastplate--and said, "Knights and judges of this Passo Honroso, inasmuch as I announced through Monreal, the king's herald, that on St. James's Day there would be in this place three knights, each without a piece of his armor, and each ready to run two courses with every knight who should present himself that day, know, therefore, that I, Suero de Quiñones, alone am those three knights, and am prepared to accomplish what I proclaimed." The judges after a short deliberation answered that they had no authority to permit him to risk his life in manifest opposition to the regulations which he had sworn to obey, and declared him under arrest, and forbade all jousting that day, as it was Sunday and the festival of St. James. Quiñones felt greatly grieved at their decision, and told them that "in the service of his lady he had gone into battle against the Moors in the kingdom of Granada with his right arm bared, and God had preserved him, and would do so now." The judges, however, were inflexible and refused to hear him.

    The last day of July, late in the afternoon, there arrived at the Pass a gentleman named Pedro de Torrecilla, a retainer or squire of Alfonso de Deza, but no one was willing to joust with him, on the ground that he was not an hidalgo. The generous Lope de Estuñiga, hearing this, offered to dub him a knight, but Torrecilla thanked him and said he could not afford to sustain in becoming manner the honor of chivalry, but he would make good the fact that he was an hidalgo. Lope de Estuñiga was so much pleased by this discreet answer that he believed him truly of gentle blood, and to do him honor entered the lists with him. It was, however, so late that they had only time to run three courses, and then the judges pronounced their joust finished. Torrecilla esteemed so highly the fact that so renowned a knight as Lope de Estuñiga should have condescended to enter the lists with him that he swore it was the greatest honor he had ever received in his life, and he offered him his services. Estuñiga thanked him, and affirmed that he felt as much honored by having jousted with him as though he had been an emperor.[7]

    A few days after the above events an incident occurred which shows how contagious the example of Quiñones and his followers was, and to what amusing imitations it led. A Lombard trumpeter made his appearance at the Pass, and said that he had been to Santiago on a pilgrimage, and while there had heard that there was at the Passo Honroso a trumpeter of the king of Castile named Dalmao, very celebrated in his line, and he had gone thirty leagues out of his way in order to have a trial of skill with him; and he offered to stake a good trumpet against one of Dalmao's. The latter took the Lombard's trumpet and blew so loud and skilfully that the Italian, in spite of all his efforts, was obliged to confess himself conquered, and gave up his trumpet.

    So far, the encounters, if not entirely bloodless, had not been attended by any fatal accident. The defenders had all been wounded, more or less severely: once Quiñones concealed the fact until the end of the joust in which his antagonist had been badly hurt, and it was only when the knights were disarmed that it was discovered that Quiñones was bleeding profusely. On another occasion his helmet was pierced by his adversary's lance, the fragment of which he strove in vain to withdraw. All believed him mortally wounded, but he cried, "It is nothing! it is nothing! Quiñones! Quiñones!" and continued as though nothing had occurred. After three encounters the judges descended from their stands and made him remove his helmet to see whether he was wounded. When it was found that he was not, "every one thought that God had miraculously delivered him." Quiñones was also wounded in his encounter with Juan de Merlo, and again concealed the fact until the end of the combat, when he asked the judges to excuse him from jousting further that day, as his right hand, which he had previously sprained, was again dislocated, and caused him terrible suffering; and well it might, for the flesh was lacerated and the whole arm seemed paralyzed.

    The wounds received the 28th of July were, unfortunately, sufficiently healed by the 6th of August to enable him to enter the lists with the unhappy Esberte de Claramonte, an Aragonese. "Would to God," exclaims the chronicler, "he had never come here!" In the ninth encounter Quiñones' lance entered his antagonist's left eye and penetrated the brain. The luckless knight broke his lance in the ground, was lifted from his saddle by the force of the blow, and fell dead without uttering a word; "and his face seemed like the face of one who had been dead two hours." The Aragonese and Catalans present bewailed his death loudly, and Quiñones was grieved in his soul at such a great misfortune. Every possible honor was shown the dead knight, and the welfare of his soul was not forgotten. Master Anton, Quiñones' confessor, and the other priests were sent for to administer the sacraments, and Quiñones begged them to chant the _Responsorium_[8] over the body, as was customary in the Church, and do in all respects as though he himself were the dead man. The priest replied that the Church did not consider as sons those who died in such exercises, for they could not be performed without mortal sin, neither did she intercede for their souls; in proof whereof he referred to the canonical law, cap. _de Torneamentis_.[9] However, at the earnest request of Quiñones, Messer Anton went with a letter to the bishop of Astorga to ask leave to bury Claramonte in holy ground, Quiñones promising if it were granted to take the dead knight to Leon and bury him in his own family chapel. Meanwhile, they bore the body to the hermitage of Santa Catalina, near the bridge of Orbigo, and there it remained until night, when Messer Anton returned without the desired license; so they buried Claramonte in unconsecrated ground near the hermitage, with all possible honor and amid the tears of the assembled knights. This mournful event does not seem, however, to have made a very deep impression, for that same afternoon the jousting was continued.

    The remaining days were marked by no unusual occurrence: several were seriously but not fatally wounded, and one by one the defenders of the Pass were disabled; so that when the 9th of August, the last day of the jousts, arrived, Sancho de Ravenal was the only one of the ten defenders who was able to enter the lists. He maintained the Pass that day against two knights, and then the jousts were declared ended. When the decision was known there was great rejoicing and blowing of trumpets, and the lists were illuminated with torches. The judges returned the spurs which still hung in the stand to the owners who through lack of time had not been able to joust. Quiñones and eight of his companions (Lope de Aller was confined to his bed by his wounds) entered the lists in the same manner and order as on the first day, and halting before the judges Quiñones addressed them as follows: "It is known to Your Honors how I presented myself here thirty days ago with these companions, and the cause of my so doing was to terminate the captivity in which until this moment I was to a very virtuous lady, in token of which I have worn this iron collar continually every Thursday. The condition of my ransom was, as you know, three hundred lances broken or guarding this Pass thirty days, awaiting knights and gentlemen who should free me from said captivity; and whereas I believe, honorable sirs, that I have fulfilled everything according to the terms set down at the beginning, I therefore beg you will command me to remove this iron collar in testimony of my liberty."

    The judges answered briefly as follows: "Virtuous gentleman and knight, after hearing your declaration, which seems just and true, we hereby declare your enterprise completed and your ransom paid; and be it known to all present that of the three hundred lances mentioned in the agreement but few remain yet to be broken, and these would not have remained unbroken had it not been for lack of adversaries. We therefore command the king-at-arms and the herald to remove the collar from your neck and declare you from this time henceforth free from your enterprise and ransom." The king-at-arms and the herald then descended from the stand, and in the presence of the notaries with due solemnity took the collar from Quiñones' neck in fulfilment of the judges' command.

    During the thirty days' jousting sixty-eight knights had entered the lists: of these, one, Messer Arnoldo de la Floresta Bermeja (Arnold von Rothwald?), was a German; one an Italian, Messer Luis de Aversa; one Breton,[10] three Valencians, one Portuguese, thirteen Aragonese, four Catalans, and the remaining forty-four were from the Castiles and other parts of Spain. The number of courses run was seven hundred and twenty-seven, and one hundred and sixty-six lances were broken. Quiñones was afterward killed by Gutierre Quijada, one of the knights who took part in the Passo Honroso, and with whom he seems to have had some kind of a feud. Quiñones' sword may still be seen at Madrid in the Royal Armory, No. 1917.

    T.F. CRANE.

    [Footnote 4: Our narrative is drawn from the _Libra del Passo Honroso, defendido por el excelente caballero Suero de Quiñones, copilado de un libro antiguo de mano por Fr. Juan de Pineda, Religiose de la orden de San Francisco. Segunda edicion_. Madrid, 1783, in the _Crónicas españolas_, vol. v.]

    [Footnote 5: In modern French, _Il faut délivrer_--"It is necessary to release," referring to the chain worn by Quiñones.]

    [Footnote 6: "If it does not please you to show moderation, I say, in truth, that I am unfortunate."]

    [Footnote 7: Prosper Mérimée, in a note to his _History of Peter the Cruel_ (London, 1849, vol. i., p. 35), says, referring to the above episode, "I do not think that at that period an example of similar condescension could be found anywhere except in Spain. A century later the _chevalier sans peur et sans reproche_, the valiant Bayard, refused to mount a breach in company with lansquenets."]

    [Footnote 8: Beginning, "Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna," etc.]

    [Footnote 9: The Church as early as 1131 (Council of Rheims) endeavored to prevent these dangerous amusements by denying burial in consecrated ground with funeral rites to those who were killed in tournaments.]

    [Footnote 10: Puymaigre explains this almost total absence of Frenchmen by the fact that in 1434 the wars between Charles VII and the English were being waged. The English pilgrims to Santiago (the large number of whom we have previously mentioned) were probably non-combatants.]

    The Project Gutenberg EBook of Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. XXVI., December, 1880., by Various

    This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net

    Title: Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. XXVI., December, 1880.

    Author: Various

    Release Date: June 24, 2005 [EBook #16124]

    Language: English