Friday, December 31, 2010

My Ten Favorite Medieval Commonplace Book Posts of 2010

Room and Board: Living with your Parent in 1383
The Ombrellino, Umbraculum or Pavilion and Medieval Tent Construction
The Proper Length for Lances Used on Foot
Ballade Proclaiming Jousts at Paris the Day After the Feast of the Magdalene
That's Fiore
Landing Ship (Horse)
The Challenge of the Seneschal of Hainault: Pennsic 2010
Inflation and Inequality
Abstract: Outrance and Plaisance

I've limited myself to ten, but if you've got another favorite feel free to note it in the comments.

When Sticks Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Sticks

Huzzah for the plucky shopkeeper and his hammer. Alas he did not have a better weapon, like a duck's-foot flintlock pistol or a Nock volley gun or a better stick and appropriate training.

Because that is a seriously suboptimal stick and stick-wielding technique that the young doodlehum malefactor brought to the scene of the crime. Which is all to the good, because the last thing honest citizens need is criminals who are good at their job.

It Turns Out That Polar Bears Are Not Easily Fooled

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Meteor Reported Over MA, MD, VA, NY, DC and PA, 28 December 2010

Here is what I saw:

December 28th, ca. 6.45 PM EST. Malvern PA, outside Philadelphia. A big fireball passed overhead, roughly east to west, crossing near zenith. Illumination on the ground was like the full moon suddenly coming from behind clouds. The fireball quickly broke up into stream of sparks and went dark perhaps halfway between the zenith and horizon.

More observations here and here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bruce vs. Bohun

One of the most memorable incidents associated with Robert the Bruce and the battle of Bannockburn is his encounter with Henry de Bohun.

Here is the Wikipedia version:

Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, was riding ahead of his companions when he caught sight of the Scottish king. De Bohun lowered his lance and began a charge that carried him to lasting fame. King Robert was mounted on a small palfrey and armed only with a battle-axe.[20] He had no armour on. As de Bohun's great war-horse thundered towards him, he stood his ground, watched with mounting anxiety by his own army. With the Englishman only feet away, Bruce turned aside, stood in his stirrups and hit the knight so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two.

This mostly matches John Barbour's account of the encounter, with three significant differences. Barbour never says that the King was unarmored, and explicitly mentions that he wore a bassynet on his head. According to Barbour the king did not stand his ground, but rode straight towards his opponent. Barbour's account makes no mention of the king turning aside, but only says that de Bohun missed. Indeed, it would be difficult to turn aside by much and still reach de Bohun's head with an axe as he passed.

Other sources agree that Henry de Bohun fought Robert the Bruce, who was armed with an axe, and that Bohun died at Bannockburn. All the other details of that encounter come only from Barbour.

Here's the thing. Barbour wrote about 60 years after the battle. He probably wasn't born yet when it happened. He described his work as a romance. His patron was Robert the Bruce's grandson, and the general theme was that Robert the Bruce was Awesome, with Awesome Sauce on the side.

Here's a much more contemporary account, written within a dozen years of the battle:

On Sunday, which was the vigil of St John's day, as they passed by a certain wood and were approaching Stirling Castle, the Scots were seen straggling under the trees as if in flight, and a certain knight, Henry de Boun [Bohun] pursued them with the Welsh to the entrance of the wood. For he had in mind that if he found Robert Bruce there he would either kill him or carry him off captive. But when he had come thither, Robert himself came suddenly out of his hiding-place in the wood, and the said Henry seeing that he could not resist the multitude of Scots, turned his horse with the intention of regaining his companions; but Robert opposed him and struck him on the head with an axe that he carried in his hand. His squire, trying to protect or rescue his lord, was overwhelmed by the Scots. This was the beginning of their troubles! . .

Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm Young, London, 1957.

The advanced guard, whereof the Earl of Gloucester had command, entered the road within the Park, where they were immediately received roughly by the Scots who had occupied the passage. Here Peris de Mountforth, knight, was slain with an axe by the hand of Robert de Bruce, as was reported.

Scalacronica: the reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward II, as recorded by Sir Thomas Gray, and now translated by Sir Herbert Maxwell, Glasgow, 1907

Gray wrote Scalacronica between 1355 and 1362, and his father fought at Bannockburn and was captured during the battle.

The Chronicle of Lanercost doesn't mention the encounter at all.

The earlier accounts are much less romantic, but far more plausible.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Did Someone in Your House Get Radio Controlled Jousters for Christmas?

If so, seriously consider making a scale tilt and counter-lists for them. Those little guys are seriously hard to steer.

They Call Me Dr. Will

I got my author's copy of the Journal of Medieval Military History Volume VIII. I see from the invoice that Boydell & Brewer assumed that I have a doctorate.

To the tune of Dr. Worm:

My name is Dr. Will.
Good morning. How are you? I'm Dr. Will.
I'm interested in things.
I'm not a real doctor,
But I am a real Will;
I am an actual Will.
I live like a Will.

I like to write my blog.
I think I'm getting good,
But I can handle criticism.
I'll show you what I know,
And you can tell me if you think I'm getting better on my blog.
I'll leave the front un-locked 'cause I can't
Hear the doorbell

When I get into it I can't tell if you are
Watching me writing the text.
When I give the signal, my friend
Rabbi Vole will check the footnotes

Some day somebody else besides me will
Call me by my stage name, they will
Call me Dr Will.
Good Morning how are you, I'm Dr. Will
I'm interested in things.
I'm not a real doctor,
But I am a real Will;
I am an actual Will.
I live like a Will.

I like to write my blog.
I think I'm getting good,
But I can handle criticism.
I'll show you what I know,
And you can tell me if you think I'm writing better on the blog.
I'm not a real doctor,
But they call me Dr. Will.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Nothing Says Christmas Like a Knit Amphisbaena Scarf

Isidore of Seville tells us that alone among snakes, the amphisbaena goes out in the cold, so what could be more appropriate for the season than this charming amphisbaena scarf?

If you're trying to find a gift for someone who already has an amphisbaena scarf, perhaps you could get them a jelly wobbler:

And to be completely prepared for the holidays, you may want to watch this instructional video

Abstract: Outrance and Plaisance

Will McLean “Outrance and Plaisance” in Journal of Medieval Military History 8 (2010): 155-170


Modern writers on medieval deeds of arms often use the term à outrance to describe combats fought “using the normal weapons of war” and à plaisance to describe combats using “specially modified weapons with sharp edges removed or blunted”.

However, during the 15th century, when the terms were most often used to describe contemporary deeds of arms, writers in Burgundy, France, Spain and England used the terms very differently. Sharp weapons of war and blunt weapons could be used in both sorts of combat. Instead, arms à outrance were distinguished by the willingness of the champions to fight until one side or the other was captured or killed, unless the judge or judges stopped the fight. This could happen either in the context of a judicial duel or a high stakes combat by mutual consent.

Arms à plaisance were less extreme, and would typically end as soon as an agreed number of blows were struck, or as soon as a combatant was carried to the ground.

The author quotes contemporary accounts of the extraordinary combats that 15th century writers described as à outrance. They show what happened in the rare cases when they were fought to the finish, as well as the less uncommon fights that were halted or proposed but not accepted. He also quotes 15th century accounts of a more limited combat à plaisance that was nonetheless fought with sharp weapons.

Combats à outrance were extraordinary events and their potential to end in legalized homicide presented the judges with a dilemma. Their response gives a measure of how extraordinary these combats were. In deciding whether and how far to allow deeds of arms to proceed under their control, rulers struck a delicate balance among competing goals: displaying their own power, fairness and authority, gratifying noble subjects, entertaining the populace and maintaining good order in their realm.

Potentially more dangerous than any other combats by consent, combats à outrance offered correspondingly greater opportunity for fame, honor and renown. In several cases those offering to do arms à outrance wore devices, conspicuous tokens that signified their willingness to fight in this way, further advertising the courage of the bearer even if no combat transpired.

A more correct understanding of the medieval terms helps us to realize that even in arms à plaisance, the participants could use sharp weapons to create a highly realistic approximation of true mortal combat. Arms à outrance were even more dangerous, and when voluntarily undertaken allowed a small number of the bravest men at arms to win honor and renown by publicly demonstrate their courage and confidence in their own prowess, freely exposing themselves to risks and hazards that were deliberately extraordinary.

De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History

With the launch of our annual The Journal of Medieval Military History, it was decided at our 2002 business meeting to begin an annual membership fee, which would cover the cost of each member’s journal, and to help pay for some of the Society’s other activities. The fee has been set at $35 (U.S.) for individuals, with the first $30 going to cover the cost of each member’s copy of the journal. This price will be significantly lower than the institutional and non-member price. The remaining $5 will go to De Re Militari.

The dues year runs from one Annual Meeting (which takes place at the International Congress of Medieval Studies in May) to the next. Active membership entitles you to receive a copy of the Journal when it is published, usually in the fall (so that, for example, if you pay your membership at the 2009 Annual Meeting, your membership will be valid until May 2010, and Volume 7 of the Journal will be shipped to you in late fall of 2009.) Active members will receive renewal requests about a month before the expiration of their membership.

It is not clear how late in the year you can sign up for membership and still receive the Journal.

You can read a fair amount of my article in preview at Google Books.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Deep

The abyss, populated by metal objects in dreamlike stop-motion animation by PES, who also created the witty short, Moth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sauron, Cthulhu and Paris Hilton

Who is taking market share from the Great Old Ones? You decide.

Friday, December 17, 2010

King Rene's Tournament Field in LEGO here.

And then there's the Reformation in LEGO.

Journal of Medieval Military History Volume VIII

The Journal of Medieval Military History Volume VIII is now available. It includes my article on Outrance and Plaisance, which corrects "the common misunderstanding of the nature of deeds of arms à outrance in the fifteenth century".

Thursday, December 16, 2010


This is an interesting tool.

Pity that it's a lot less useful before 1800.

Above: Realm (red) compared to Commonwealth (blue)

Alexis Madrigal has a great gallery of Google Ngrams at his post Vampire vs. Zombie: Comparing Word Usage Through Time

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

Antwerp, 3/23/2009

Newcastle 2/24/2010

Miami, 4/14/2010

Philadelphia 4/24/2010

Charlotte, 9/17/2010

Philadelphia, 10/30/2010

San Jose, 11/13/2010
Shock and awe, joy and delight.

Lego Replica of the Antikythera Mechanism, Difference Engine, and Other Devices

A 2000-year-old analog computing device reconstructed out of Lego.

From the same crazed genius that brought you a Babbage Difference Engine Made From Lego.

Speaking of mechanisms, may I mention the Artoo and Threepio swimuits? Oh, those bickering droids.

Mystery Payload Revealed

When Spacex's Dragon, the first privately built pressurized space capsule to return safely from orbit did so on December 8, 2010, there was a top secret mystery cargo on board. .

Cheese, Grommit.

I love this story on so many levels. NASA or any other government space agency would never do something quite like this.

They needed ballast in any case. Why not cheese?

What will they do with the cheese? Serve it at the company picnic? Sell shrink-wrapped slices to the highest bidder? I love the eccentric whimsy of an idea that may well turn a profit.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Retreat Without Reproach

Steve Muhlberger writes about Charny and the ethics of retreat for men-at-arms.
What distinguished dishonorable flight from the "safe and honorable withdrawal" which Charny thought all good men-at-arms needed to learn to execute?

Joinville, writing of events about a century earlier, gives a concrete example of the tension between tactical prudence and fear of dishonor, when Joinville and his companions found themselves heavily outnumbered:

I and my knights clapped spurs to the rescue of Lord Ralph of Wanon, who was with me, whom they had pulled to earth; and whilst I was on my way back, the Turks pinned me down with their spears. My horse, feeling the weight, fell on his knees, and I passed on between his ears, and picked myself up with my shield round my neck and my sword in my hand. Lord Erard of Syverey,—God rest his soul!—who was of my company, came up to me, and said, that we had best draw off to a ruined house, and wait there until the King should come. And as we were going along on foot and horseback, a great horde of Turks broke upon us, and bore me down, and passed over me, and snatched my shield from my neck; and when they were gone by, Lord Erard of Syverey came back to me, and led me along, till we reached the walls of the ruined house; and there Lord Hugh of Scots rejoined us, with Lord Frederick of Loupey, and Lord Reynold of Menoncourt.

There the Turks attacked us on all sides. Part of them got into the ruins, and thrust at us with their spears from above. Then my knights desired me to take hold of their horses' bridles, which I did, to prevent the horses from stampeding; and they warded off the Turks so vigorously, that they were praised by all the champions of the army, both by those who saw the deed, and those who only heard it told.

There Lord Hugh of Scots was wounded with three spear-wounds in his face, and Lord Ralph too; and Lord Frederick of Loupey was wounded with a spear between his shoulders, and the gash was so wide, that the blood spurted out of his body as through the tap of a cask. Lord Erard of Syverey got such a sword-cut across his face that his nose hung down onto his lip.

Then I bethought me of Our Lord Saint James: "Fair Lord Saint James,"—I prayed, "Help and save me in this need!" No sooner had I made my prayer, than Lord Erard said to me:—"Sir, if you thought it would be no reproach to me and my heirs, I would go and fetch you help from the Count of Anjou, whom I see yonder in the fields." And I said to him:—"Sir Erard, methinks it would be greatly to your honour, if you were to fetch us aid to save our lives, for truly your own life is in danger." (And indeed I spoke the truth, for he died of that wound.) He asked the opinion of all my knights who were there, and they took the same view as I did; and thereupon he asked me to let go his horse whom I was holding by the bridle along with the rest, and I did so. He came to the Count of Anjou, and begged him to come to the assistance of me and my knights. A rich man who was with him would have dissuaded him, but the Count of Anjou said he should do what my knight asked him; and he turned rein to come and help us, and several of his serjeants spurred on ahead; and when the Saracens saw them coming they let us be. In front of these serjeants rode Lord Peter of Alberive, sword in hand, and when he saw that the Saracens had left us, he charged a whole heap of Saracens who had got hold of Lord Ralph of Wanon, and rescued him, sorely wounded.

This account also gives a sense of why retreat was such a serious issue for men-at-arms: Joinville, dismounted, had to hold the horses' bridles to keep them from running. There must have been many times in battle when a horse began to carry a rider away from the enemy despite the best efforts of the man: how tempting it must have been to just keep going.

Joinville, J., & Bowen-Wedgwood, E. K. (1906). The memoirs of the Lord of Joinville: A new English version. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Epic Fail of Julian Assange

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

That's how Assange said WikiLeaks was supposed to work. How does it work in practice? Leaving aside corporations and individual political candidates, WikiLeaks has released leaks from the governments of Kenya, The US, US, Peru, Iran, Great Britain, the US, US, Germany, the US and the US.

If the United States pegged Secretive Injustice at 11, then Assange would have a pretty good argument. If you believe that there are some countries that are actually rather more secretive and unjust than the US who have yet to be troubled by even a single WikiLeak, you are led to question the thesis.

200 Countries, 200 Years. The Joy of Stats.

Hans Rosling shows the benefits of living in the future. A splendid display of the power of visualization, and how lucky we are to be living today rather than any time in the past.

Mr. Rosling seems pretty tickled at finding a better way to show the data. "Pretty neat, huh?" Yes indeed. Thank you, Mr. Rosling. And thank you, our parents and ancestors, who did so much to push as towards the healthy and wealthy corner of the graph.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I don't know if these still exist, but photos do. These were at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich. You can click on the images for a magnified view.

Inside of the legs. Note how the lower leg laces on the inside for a snug fit over the ankles.
Outside of the legs.

These resemble those worn by a 1490 St. Michael by Juan de la Abadia.

Also see the legs of the soldiers in the arrest of Christ from the Petites Heures of Jean de Berry, in that case worn with plate knees. A soldier bringing Christ before Caiaphas showes similar protection on his thighs.

And similar legs are shown on an emperor in the illumination in this thread, again with plate knees.

I originally read the Munich hose as hose to wear under plate legharness, but I no longer think that’s the case: instead I think they’re actually intended to serve as leg armor themselves.

The mail patches were not located at the back of the knee, where they would cover an inevitable gap in plate legharness, but with two strips of mail on each side and two in front of the knee. All but one of the strips in front are missing, but spotting, the remains of stitching, and the location of the remaining strip in front shows where they were sewn.

The illumination of an emperor shows him going into battle in similar hose, not preparing to arm.

I think the Munich hose was made of non-overlapping metal plates sewn between two layers of fabric, similar in general principal to the kikko used in Japanese armor. The brickwork-like pattern, like the hexagonal shape of the kikko plates, would mean that the gaps between the plates would not present a continuous straight line vulnerable to a horizontal slash.

The spotting of the Munich panzerhose inside and out is highly suggestive of rust from plates bleeding through the fabric.

If I’m correct, this would have been a defense somewhat vulnerable to a thrust because the plates did not overlap, but less bulky than overlapping brigandine and perhaps offering superior protection to mail against edge blows.

It would not have been flexible enough to bend easily at the knee, which would need either mail protection, as on the Munich panzerhose or the Abadia St. Michael, or plate poleyns as shown on the other illuminations above

We do know that hose with mail gussets or voyders was worn under plate harness in the 15th century.

I would have thought that patches of mail sewn down to fabric to cover areas uncovered by plate were a 15th century innovation. But look at these images from Lancelot du Lac ((BN Francais 343) 1380-85

I read these as showing most of the thigh protected by plate, with a narrow portion of the inner thigh showing only fabric beneath cuisse straps. Behind the knee itself, however, there seems to be a patch of mail. Look at these, and tell me what you think they show.


f. 13v Note how his helm hangs from a strap attached to the back of his body armor.

f. 11v

There's some interesting documentary evidence in this thread.

There were other ways to protect legs. Walter von Hohenklengin wore plate harness on his legs, and no mail to cover the gaps.

Sir Guy de Bryan (1391) wore full length mail chausses beneath broad plate splints. The splints on the effigy were probably originally connected by applied straps: there were iron pegs at the appropriate locations (six per splint). There is a similar row of holes for an applied upper arm defense.

The St. George from the Champmol Altarpiece, ca. 1390, has mail protecting his inner thigh, but the row of rivets on the adjacent edge of the cuisse and the lack of a cuisse strap suggest that the mail may have been attached to the cuisse.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Chaucer, the Aeneid, Zombies, and Fiore Banners on the March

Geoffrey Chaucer blogs about the Aeneid and Zombyes and other mashups.

For Ich have founde a newe maner of makynge the which deliteth me wyth greet delite. In thys newe kynde of booke, the writere taketh the weightie werke of an auncient auctor of much renowne (or paraventure a well-knowene romaunce) and mixeth yt wyth whimsical tales of the supernatural.

(Links added)

The Chicago Swordplay Guild marches in the 2010 Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade, with banners displaying Fiore's animals.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

50 Best Blogs for Medieval History Geeks.

Sadly, this blog is not on this list of 50 Best Blogs for Medieval History Geeks. Sniff.

And now they've taken down that content, so I have disabled the link. Hah!

But here is another list of 25 or so best blogs for SCA history geeks.

Laurin Tournament 1398

An impressive European tournament recreation.

Four Galleries of Armor Photos

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.
Effigies and Brasses
Manuscript Miniatures: a database of miniatures depicting armored figures

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One Way to Attach a Scabbard to a Plaque Belt

Here the scabbard is attached to a plaque belt by at least one short strap, shown here in close-up. Here's another example.

I believe there was a second strap that attached to the plaque belt behind the body, where it would be hidden in these views. A second strap would allow the sword to hang at a convenient angle, and without it the sword would hang inconveniently far forward of the hips, and the tip of the scabbard would drag on the ground in both examples.

Monday, November 22, 2010

History for Music Lovers

Macedonia There's nothing like marching through Asia Minor with a sarissa to the beat of My Sharona.
Here Come the Huns Again
Beowulf.. save his people from destruction/ written in alliteration!
Thomas Aquinas
Canterbury Tales

Thermite Thanksgiving

No time to cook the thanksgiving turkey the conventional way?

Tintin Meets Lovecraft

By Murray Groat Nyctalops!, as Captain Haddock would say.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gloves for Gauntlets

Gauntlet of the Black Prince
Churburg Gauntlets
A closer view
Yet another view
Gauntlets of the Black Prince
Another view
Civilian Gloves:
The gloves of Emperor Frederick II, worn at his coronation in 1220
A 15th century mitten in the Museum of London, showing the thumb inset, also here,, here, and here.
A 15th century glove
Medieval gloves and mittens from archaeological finds.
"Glove of Henry VI" However, Alison Weir believes the glove does not predate the 16th century.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Hammaborg Rain Guard Theory

The Hammaborg historic combat study group has proposed that what other historians call rain guards were not made for that purpose, but as a protective device for the hand.

I see three serious objections to the theory. The first is that they demonstrate the theory with blunt swords, showing how the leather could stop or deflect a blade sliding along your blade from the bind that would otherwise hit your thumb. A sharp sword in the same situation would meet the light leather edge on and probably cut through it to slice your thumb.

Secondly, some surviving rain guards don't extend very far beyond the cross, severely limiting their protective benefit.

Third, if the intent was to provide extra hand protection, there were better ways to do the job. A flap or plate that was concave towards the hand, as shown in this 1460 illumination, would provide better protection. So would side rings to the cross.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Scabbard Flaps and Rain Guards

Many 13th and 14th century sword scabbards had triangular flaps at the throat, extensions of the leather that wrapped the wooden core. Why?

If your scabbard has this a flap like this, you can tie a lace around the bottom of the hilt so the flaps are pressed tightly against the hilt, as shown with a modern scabbard reconstruction above. This would greatly reduce the risk of rain flowing over the hilt and down into the scabbard if you were had to wear the scabbard in bad weather.

The lace does not hinder drawing the sword if needed: the flaps slide easily from beneath the lace when the sword is drawn.

Rain leaking into a scabbard was apparently not a trivial issue, since we have considerable evidence for another independent solution to this problem: rain guards or chappes attached to the sword rather than the scabbard. These rain guards could be made of metal or leather.

Scabbard flaps have survived on medieval scabbards, and are frequently shown on effigies and brasses. I know of no evidence for a lace used to tie down the flaps, but if the lace was only used when the owner intended to ride out into bad weather, the lack of iconographic evidence is unsurprising.

I believe the scabbard flaps were supposed to serve a useful function. My current theory is that in bad weather they could be tied down with a lace to reduce the risk of rain leaking into the scabbard. I think that's pretty plausible, and I don't have a better explanation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Plate Back Defenses in the Late 14th Century.

Iconographic evidence is spotty, since body armor is very often covered by a jupon or cote-armure. When it isn’t, rear views are frustratingly rare. Brasses and low relief effigies usually show only the front of the harness. Surviving plate body armor from the period is very rare.

That said, there is some visual evidence for plate back protection of small to medium size plates in the late 14th century.

One piece backplates, however, seem to have been a relatively late development. The earliest illustration of a one piece backplate that Claude Blair was able to trace was the brass of John Ruggewyn (d. 1412) in Standon, Hertfordshire. The effigy of John de Montacute, d. 1400, shows a row of hinges down the right side of his jupon, suggesting a backplate.

When there is a back defense, the body armor can open in several ways. It can open in front, as shown in Altichiero’s Execution of St. George and Battle of Clavijo. These, however, are all infantry armor. Armor that opens in front is easy to put on without assistance, but creates a point of weakness that is exposed to the enemy.

Men at arms, who could afford servants to assist them, seem to have preferred armor that did not open in the front, although a Spanish St. Michael from 1400-25 shows the angel in the leg harness of a man-at-arms and front-opening body armor. One of the front-opening breastplates from Chalcis was equipped with staples for the lance rest of a man at arms. Another originally had holes where a lance rest would have been attached.

A simpler body armor from Chalcis, made of rectangular plates is also preserved at the Met. Aside from using larger plates it closely resembles a similar tubular, front opening body armor buried after the battle of Wisby in 1361. Since even infantry armor was typically shown with a distinct waist in artwork from around 1380 on, I suspect this armor was either made before 1360 or represented a very cheap and low grade product. Note that the lower plates of the line drawing are a speculative reconstruction: see the photo in the same thread for what actually remains.

I should mention that the velvet covered body armor prominently displayed in the Met is an unreliable reconstruction.

An opening at the center back is much less vulnerable, and the Prague St. George is a good example of this sort of design.

The Lincoln misericord shows another approach. One plausible reconstruction is that the main body armor wraps ¾ of the way around the body, overlapping a back defense of smaller plates.

Churburg #13 wraps ¾ of the way around the body.

Finally, the body armor can open at the sides. The Munich fabric covered breastplate probably once had a back defense that attached to hinge plates at the shoulders, one of which survives. A waist belt may have kept the front and back together as on the Churburg #18 cuirass from around 1420.

Or both sides could have been closed with laces, as on many later brigandines. Here is a group of photos of the Munich harness. Note the excess fabric on the wearer's right. There might originally have been eyelets or rings for lacing the sides closed that have not survived.

Alternatively, it may have opened only on one side. The side opening coats of plates from Wisby all open on one side: two on the left and one on the right.

For a body armor with a close neck and plates lining the upper shoulder straps, at least one opening at the shoulder is essential for side-opening armor and highly desirable for center openings. My first coat of plates for this period opened at center front but not the shoulders, and over time several of the rivets at the shoulders tore through the leather covering from the stresses of putting it on and off. Being able to unfasten both shoulders simplifies storage considerably, particularly for side-opening armor.

A body armor at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, dated by the museum to 1380-1410, laces at both sides and shoulders. The museum calls it a corazzina, but an Englishman might well have called it a pair of plates. Here is more on the construction details.

While this armor and many later brigandines lace at the shoulders,  hinges with removable pins as on the Munich covered breastplate might be less vulnerable to penetration and damage.

While the Milan armor is somewhat unusual in combining plates and mail beneath a fabric covering, it is not unique. A late 16th century brigandine in Philadelphia similarly has mail at the shoulders, skirt and sides. The first two would provide flexibility for shoulder movement and sitting, and the mail at the sides would help keep the plates of the front and back from fouling each other.

Dmitry Nelson has posted several pictures of surviving plates that may be from this period or somewhat later. The asymmetrical plates protect the right or left side of the chest, and I believe the others were all part of back defenses. The plates from Paris are inverted.

Here are two dorsal plates from Chalcis in the Met. One of them was also shown in an earlier plate Dmitry Nelson reproduced above, from when it was in Athens.

Here is more detail on the finds at Otepaa castle in Estonia. Note that what the article labels as small breastplates are almost certainly dorsal plates shown upside down. Also, more recent scholarship has cast doubts on the 1396 date for the destruction of the castle, suggesting that it might have been destroyed some time later but before 1420.

Guiron le Courtoise 1370-1380 Body armors with regular horizontal rows of rivets front and back, combined with a tailored outline, rounded breast and narrow waist.

Speculum Humanae Salvationis 1370-1380 Body armor closed with a row of buckles at center back.

This 1387 illumination shows men at arms wearing body armor, and the backs that are visible show a regular pattern of rivets.

Spinello Aretino's 1407-08 fresco depicting a 12th century naval battle shows back views of a variety of body armors.

I think there's some deliberate archaicism in the fresco: some of the combatants are wearing great helms, which I have not seen in contemporary depictions of more recent battles.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Love of Gears II

I have not yet read much of Neal Stephenson's Anathem, although it has insistently dragged itself close to the top of my "read me" list, with only two half-read books ahead of it. I have dipped into it, and can see how the machines in my previous post might, as Steve Muhlberger suggests, evoke the gigantic Great Clocks of the novel, designed to keep time over millennia.

The Long Now Foundation is one of the inspirations for the clocks in the novel, and has produced a prototype for the clock, an orerry and chimes. The foundation hopes to build their clocks on a monumental scale with the works buried underground.

Beautiful machines, but not, I think, as charming as what I think of as Millennium Clock 1.0, the Prague Astronomical Clock or Prague Orloj. It recently celebrated its 600th anniversary, and is more than halfway through its first millennium.

The 600 Years from the macula on Vimeo.

The Orloj has stopped several times since it was made, and each time, it has been repaired. Most recently it succumbed to German shelling during the Prague Uprising of 1945. They fixed it afterward, because it was so wonderful. It has outlived several states that claimed Prague as their capital.

If you want to build for the Long Now, then build something awesome, build something beautiful. Later generations will fix it when it breaks.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Love of Gears

Clayton Boyer Clock Designs

Sweet. I am reminded of Froissart's Horloge Amoureuse, which I commented on earlier.

On a related note, Babbage and Lovelace continues.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Living in the Future. With Talking Giant Pandas.

One of the things I like about about living living in the future is access to CGI giant pandas that mock the odious "Chinese Professor" political ad. These are from Next Media Animation, first noticed for their CGI reenactments of recent news events like the Tiger Woods car crash. New technology lets people tell stories in ways that were not possible earlier. In this case, the result is both entertaining and a sharp critique of their target

And, incidentally, provides an example of how other countries becoming rich enriches us.

The original is eminently worthy of mockery.
Why do great nations fail? The ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the United States of America. They all make the same mistakes, turning their back on the principles that made them great.

Evidently, in 2030, Chinese history professors will be incompetent. OK, one theory is that the Romans turned their back on their former civic virtue. I don't buy it as sufficient explanation. I prefer the theory that as they expanded they found it increasingly difficult to keep powerful generals from seizing power. Also, they eventually reached the limits of what they could effectively administer and defend with contemporary technology, and their later foreign wars were no longer profitable wars of conquest but unprofitable and exhausting defensive campaigns. But some historians believe the decline of civic virtue theory, so it's not absurd.

But the Greeks? They had the misfortune to run into a ruthless enemy with superior tactical doctrine who had already conquered most of the western Mediterranean.

The British? They built an empire by having the best navy in Europe and being located where anyone in Europe that wanted to sail to places beyond the Mediterranean had to get past them. Inconveniently, someone invented a practical submarine, aircraft were developed that could threaten ships far out at sea, and Japan developed a formidable modern navy. Having a better navy than any combination of European nations was no longer enough. Defeating the Axis under those changed circumstances took Britain to the edge of bankruptcy.

Another principle that made the British Empire great was allowing its colonies a relatively high level of freedom and self-government. Its greatest failure was not giving enough freedom to the 13 colonies to keep them in the empire. Ruling in this way made the British Empire far more durable and prosperous than the Spanish.

It did mean that as the colonies developed the capacity to survive as independent states and the capacity to govern themselves, they would eventually seek and obtain independence. By letting the former colonies become allies rather than slaves, Britain did not turn her back on her principles, but followed them. That was not failure, but greatness.

This is why history matters. I want my fellow citizens to know enough about history to recognize nonsense like this when they see it.

Here the same artists have fun with Christine O'Donnell

CGI giant pandas mocking the mockworthy. It's a wonderful life.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Caterpillar Automaton from 1820

The Ethiopian Caterpillar, an amazing little automaton from 1820. 1820!

It's attributed to Henri Maillardet, who created the astounding Draughtsman-Writer automaton now at the Franklin Institute.

Sotheby's catalogue shows the machine in gaudy close-up.

Hat tip to the fascinating Automata/Automaton Blog.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A 15th Century Targe at the Met

Wood, leather, gesso, silver foil, polychrome. Probably Austrian, early 15th century.

The knot of a cord to support the shield is visible on the front, as well as the holes where a boss probably once covered it.

The top rear of the shield. A layer of leather glued to the front of the shield wraps around to cover the edge and the very outer edge of the back, about one inch in from the edge. Neat triangular slices were cut from the leather where it wrapped around to the rear of the shield so that it lay flat without folds or overlap, the edges where the material was removed meeting in butt joins. Another layer of leather was glued over this, covering the back of the shield almost to the edge.

Damage to the edge of the shield, with the wood pushed back between two converging cuts or slits. A glancing blow from a square or diamond sectioned lance tip might have done this, or one of the points of a coronel.

Two rings, secured to the bottom rear of the shield by staples. A cord for the bridle arm to pass through might have been tied to these.

The staples seen from the front.

More information on shield construction has been updated here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Awesome DIY Halloween Costumes

From the DIY Halloween costume thread at Boing Boing:


AT-ST walker, perfect for chasing your younger siblings in their Ewok suits. All evening.
Minotaur Mask
William Shakespeare and His Dog

Monday, October 25, 2010

On St. Crispin's Day

My favorite post on the battle of Agincourt from 2007, with added links to my other posts on the subject.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bread: The Practical Applications. Part 1: Buying from a Baker

Suppose you wish to find the legal price of bread at a particular date in medieval England.

Below I have converted the Assize of Bread regulations into a more convenient form. The first column is the price of wheat in shillings per bushel. This is how those prices are expressed in Gregory Clark's data series. Multiply by eight if you want the price per quarter of wheat, which is how wheat prices are expressed in the regulations, and very frequently in medieval sources.

The second is the legal weight for a farthing loaf of fine white wastel bread in ounces avoirdupois when wheat sells at the preceding price. In the regulations they are expressed in tower pounds.

0.250 56.0
0.313 42.0
0.375 29.6
0.438 25.9
0.500 22.2
0.563 18.5
0.625 16.8
0.688 15.2
0.750 14.0
0.813 12.9
0.875 11.8
0.938 11.2
1.000 10.5
1.063 9.9
1.125 9.3
1.188 8.9
1.250 8.4
1.313 8.0
1.375 7.6
1.438 7.3
1.500 7.0
1.563 6.7
1.625 6.5
1.688 6.2
1.750 6.0
1.813 5.7
1.875 5.6
1.938 5.4
2.000 5.2
2.063 5.1
2.125 4.9
2.188 4.8
2.250 4.7
2.313 4.5
2.375 4.4
2.438 4.3
2.500 4.2

We also have different grades of bread, expressed in the weight of a farthing loaf relative to wastel.

Pain-demeine/payne demayne 0.98
Simnel/symnell (boiled and clean) 0.99
Wastel/wastell 1.00
First cocket (same grain and bolting as wastel) 1.01
Cocket of corn of lesser price 1.04
Clean wheat/wheten/whetebred 1.56
Treat:/Panis Bisus 2.00
Loaf of all corns of a quatern 2.07

Simnel, wastel and first cocket seem to have differed in the moistness of the loaf rather than the fineness or quality of the flour. Manchet seems to have been a similar grade. The royal assize regulations do not mention pain-demeine, but York's put it a bit finer than wastel.

Treat, just one step up from the lowest grade of wheat bread, is easy to remember at half the price per pound of wastel.

So in 1388, when grain was relatively cheap at .425 shillings/bushel, wastel farthing loaves should have weighed 26 oz., wheaten bread 40, and a coarse loaf of unsifted flour 54.

But an adult living in that year would remember the bad year of 1381, when farthing wastel weighed 14 oz., wheaten 22. and even the loaf from unbolted flour only 29.

Memorandum Book of York, 1411-1412 in Archaeological review. A journal of historic and pre-historic antiquities. 1900. London: D. Nutt. Vol 1. P 130

Friday, October 22, 2010

Afterlife. Well Spent.

Sears reaches out to the underserved unliving demographic.

Mmmm. Tentacles.

The beautiful and strange Cirrate Octopus
This lovely orange Cirrate octopus appears to be the long-lost love child of a sock puppet and a dance recital costume.


Tentacle Pot Pie
Octopus Made from Typewriter Parts
Adorable Squid Suit made for Lucy Knisly

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Separate Hose, Full Length in Back

This illumination by Fouquet shows some useful details on the figure on the far left, including the location of the seam. Only one of the tails has points hanging from it, suggesting that a common lace ties up both tails.
The Vienna Tacuinum Sanitatis shows an earlier example of a similar cut.

Another image of vomiting from the Tacuinum Sanitatis shows how 14th or early 15th c. full length hose is significantly shorter and attaches lower than full length hose from later in the 15th century.

The Burial of the Wood, c. 1466 shows a partial lining and other details. Take advantage of the magnification function to appreciate the details.

Here is an article with a pattern for extant hose from 1490-1535. Joined hose, but a reasonable starting point for understanding the separate hose that is full length in back.

Here is synopsis of an article on hose from Alpirsbach, also shown in the article above. There are also patterns for stockings and a doublet: note the internal waistband for pointing hose to. Here is another article on the hose. Here is a commercial pattern based on the hose. Here is another photograph.

These panzerhose are probably similar in cut to civilian hose.

See also this gallery of hose images.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Harrison on Bread

Of bread made of wheat we have sundry sorts daily brought to the table, whereof the first and most excellent is the manchet, which we commonly call white bread, in Latin primarius panis, whereof Budeus also speaketh, in his first book De asse; and our good workmen deliver commonly such proportion that of the flour of one bushel with another they make forty cast of manchet, of which every loaf weigheth eight ounces into the oven, and six ounces out, as I have been informed. The second is the cheat or wheaten bread, so named because the colour thereof resembleth the grey or yellowish wheat, being clean and well dressed, and out of this is the coarsest of the bran (usually called gurgeons or pollard) taken. The ravelled is a kind of cheat bread also, but it retaineth more of the gross, and less of the pure substance of the wheat; and this, being more slightly wrought up, is used in the halls of the nobility and gentry only, whereas the other either is or should be baked in cities and good towns of an appointed size (according to such price as the corn doth bear), and by a statute provided by King John in that behalf. The ravelled cheat therefore is generally so made that out of one bushel of meal, after two and twenty pounds of bran be sifted and taken from it (whereunto they add the gurgeons that rise from the manchet), they make thirty cast, every loaf weighing eighteen ounces into the oven, and sixteen ounces out; and, beside this, they so handle the matter that to every bushel of meal they add only two and twenty, or three and twenty, pound of water, washing also (in some houses) their corn before it go to the mill, whereby their manchet bread is more excellent in colour, and pleasing to the eye, than otherwise it would be. The next sort is named brown bread, of the colour of which we have two sorts one baked up as it cometh from the mill, so that neither the bran nor the flour are any whit diminished; this, Celsus called autopirus panis, lib. 2, and putteth it in the second place of nourishment. The other hath little or no flour left therein at all, howbeit he calleth it Panem Cibarium, and it is not only the worst and weakest of all the other sorts, but also appointed in old time for servants, slaves, and the inferior kind of people to feed upon. Hereunto likewise, because it is dry and brickle in the working (for it will hardly be made up handsomely into loaves), some add a portion of rye meal in our time, whereby the rough dryness or dry roughness thereof is somewhat qualified, and then it is named miscelin, that is, bread made of mingled corn, albeit that divers do sow or mingle wheat and rye of set purpose at the mill, or before it come there, and sell the same at the markets under the aforesaid name.

Original spelling:

Of bread made of wheat we haue sundrie sorts, dailie brought to the table, whereof the first and most excellent is the mainchet, which we commonlie call white bread, in Latine Primarius panis, wherof Budeus also speaketh, in his first booke De asse, and our good primarim paworkemen deliuer commonlie such proportion, that of the flower of one bushell with another they make fortie cast of manchet, of which euerie lofe weigheth eight ounces into the ouen and six ounces out, as I haue bene informed. The second is the cheat or wheaton bread, cheat bread, so named bicause the colour therof resembleth the graie or yellowish wheat, being cleane and well dressed, and out of this is the coursest of the bran (vsuallie called gurgeons or pollard) taken. The raueled is a kind of cheat bread also, but it reteineth more of the grosse, and lesse of the pure substance of the wheat: and this being more sleightlie wrought vp, is vsed in the halles of the nobilitie, and gentrie onelie, whereas the other either is or should be baked in cities & good townes of an appointed size (according to such price as the corne dooth beare) and by a statute prouided by king Iohn in that behalfe. The raueled cheat therfore is generallie so made that out of one bushell of meale, after two and twentie pounds of bran be sifted and taken from it (vvherevnto they ad the gurgeons that rise from the manchet) they make thirtie cast, euerie lofe weighing eighteene ounces into the ouen and sixteene ounces out: and beside this they so handle the matter that to euerie bushell of meale they ad onelie two and twentie or three and twentie pound of water, washing also in some houses Browne bread, there corne before it go to the mill, whereby their manchet bread is more excellent in colour and pleasing to the eie, than otherwise it would be. The next sort is named browne bread of the colour, of which we haue two sorts, one baked vp as it cometh from the mill, so that neither the bran nor the floure are anie whit diminished, this Celsus called Autopirus panis, lib. 2. and putteth it in the second place of nourishment. The other hath little or no floure left therein at all, howbeit he calleth it Panem Cibarium, and it is not onlie the woorst and weakest of all the other sorts, but also appointed in old time for seruants, slaues, and the inferiour kind of people to feed vpon. Ilerevnto likewise, bicause it is drie and brickie in the working (for it will hardlie be made vp handsomelie into loaues) some adde a portion of rie meale in our time, whereby the rough drinesse or drie roughnes therof is somwhat qualified, & then it is named miscelin, that is, bread made of mingled corne albeit that diuerse doo sow or mingle wheat & rie of set purpose at the mill, or before it come there, and sell the same at the markets vnder the aforesaid name.

William Harrison's Description of England in Holinshed's Chronicles

Value Added in Making Medieval Bread

A.d. 1497 (12 Henry VII)

As the Book of Assize declareth, when the best wheat was sold at 7s., the second at 6s. 6d., and the third at 6s. the quarter, the baker was allowed, for furnace and wood, 6d.; the miller, 4d.; two journeymen and his apprentices, 5d.; salt, yeast, candles, and sackbands, 2d.; himself, his horse, his wife, his dog, and his cat, 7d.; and the bran to his advantage.

In the early 19th century, the value of the bran bolted from a quarter of wheat amounted to 6-8% of the value of the wheat.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Making Bread: an Error in The Great Household

The Assize of Bread, a complicated system of regulated English bread prices, begun by Henry III in the 13th c., lasted into the 19th, by which time the drawbacks of the system were becoming increasingly apparent.

In 1812-13, Parliament looked into the issue, calling a series of bakers and millers as witnesses. Their inquiry tells us a lot about breadmaking at the time, when the technology was much closer to medieval than the industrialized processes of today.

According to the witnesses:

A bushel of wheat weighed about 58 lbs. but could be a bit more or less depending on the dryness of the year.

A bushel of wheat yielded about 35-47 lbs of flour suitable for making bread, depending on the fineness desired, with about a pound and a half lost in the grinding. A bushel yielded 35-37 lbs of fine white flour, 38-43 lbs of flour suitable for less fine standard wheaten bread, or 43-47 lbs of flour for household bread. The process also produced 16-10 lbs of bran for animal feed, with the finest flour leaving the most bran. The remainder, if any, was coarser flour called thirds or middlings. Unmixed, this could be used for sizing, fed to hogs, or used to make very inferior bread. Mixed with better flour, it was used to make ship's biscuits and bread for the poor.

A 280 pound sack of flour yielded 347 lbs of bread after baking into quatern loaves, or 1.24 pounds of bread per pound of flour. A baker added water, yeast and salt, and not all of the water was lost in baking. Smaller loaves produced less bread per pound of flour because they lost more weight in baking.

Woolgar's The Great Household in Late medieval England calculates that at the not uncommon medieval household rate of 35 loaves a bushel, a bushel would provide .98 lbs of flour per loaf and .79 lbs after baking.

The amount of flour produced per bushel seems low: would the entire household consume loaves that were premium products by early 19th c. standards? And the ratio of flour weight to baked weight seems to be backwards. If early 19th c. bakers could get more than a pound of bread from a pound of flour, why should we think that their ancestors did much worse?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Painful Volatility of Medieval Grain Prices

The 1209-1914 price and wage database shows that grain prices in the Middle Ages could be very, very volatile. The average price of wheat 1380-89 was 6.5 pence a bushel, 7.2 pence for 1390-99, and 7.8 for 1400-09. However, the peak price for each decade was 9, 12.6 and 12.7 pence a bushel in 1381, 1391, and 1402. There were corresponding years of plenty as well.

At the average wheat price for the 1380s, a Wastel farthing loaf purchased from a baker would have weighed about 18.5 oz, but at the 1402 price only 10 oz, according to the standards set by the Assize of Bread and Ale.

So prices for grain and grain products recorded in particular records in particular years could be very atypical of longer term trends.

Also since bread and ale were such a huge share of the diet of everybody below the gentry, it profoundly sucked to be a landless laborer with a family in a bad year.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Room and Board: Living with your Parent in 1383

Edith Rickert’s Chaucer’s World (pp 56-57) includes an indenture between Lady Alyne Lestrange, lady of Knokyn, and Lord Lestrange, Sir John, her son. Lord Lestrange is to have room and board for himself, his wife Lady Maude, and their personal servants: a squire, a lady (demoiselle), two yeomen (vadlets), a nurse and a page (garcon). In return he is to pay his mother 50 pounds a year.

When John, his spouse, or any of his servants are away, the payment is reduced by the following amounts per day:

Sir John or Lady Maude: 7d each
Esquire or demoiselle: 4d each
Yeomen or nurse: 3d each
Groom (garson): 1d

Presumably this approximates the marginal expense of feeding them each day, as well as fuel, candles, and probably fodder for their horses.

If Sir John wants to increase his retinue, he pays a similar but somewhat higher amount per day for each additional retainer:

For each knight (bachiler): 8d.
Each squire: 6d
Each yeoman: 3d
Each groom: 2d

Lady Alyne would need to provide additional lodgings for an expanded retinue, which would justify higher per day charges than the abatement for time away from home of the existing retinue.

The difference between the boarding expense for the different ranks is striking.

Update: error corrected in allowance for what Rickert translates as page. But I found the original French, in which the individual is a garson, better translated as groom.

Ceste endenture faite parentre ma tres reuerente Dame Alyne Lestrange, dame de Knokyn, dune part, et le Seigneur Lestrange monsieur Johan son filz dautre part, Tesmoigne que le dit monsieur Johan demeurera en Lostel ma dite tres reverente dame a bouche de courte : Cest assauoir lui mesmes, dame Maude Lestraunge sa compaigne, vn esquier, vn damoisele, deux vadlets, vn norice, et vn garson, de la date de fesaunte de ceste endenture, tanque a fyn dun an proschein ensuamte plenerment et comply : Rendant et payant a ma dite tres reuerente dame pour lour demoere par le temps susdit cynkaunt liueres de bone moneye en son manoir de Mudle a quatre termes del an, par oweles porcions: Cest assauoir a la quinzeyne de la purificacion notre dame proschein a venir xij li. xs. et en le feste de seynt Dunstan adonque proschein apres xij li. xs. et en le feste del Assumpcion notre dame adonque proschein ensuante xij li. xs. et en le feste de toux seynts adonque proschein ensuante xij li. xs. Et si auandit Seigneur monsieur Johan, dame Maude sa compaigne, ou ascuns socues sustynauntez soient hors de dit hostel: pour le temps tanque a lour auenue: oit rebatu de la dite summe: pour lui mesmes le iour vij^., pour dame Maude sa compaigne en mesme la manere, pour Lesquier le iour ni]d., et la Damoisele attant ; pour vn vadlet le iour iij^. La Norice en mesme la forme, et pour le garson le iouz id.: Et en cas que Lostel ma dite tres reuerente dame Lestraunge soit charge des suenantz au andits Seigneur son fitz, dame Maude sa compaigne ou a ascun des soenes susdits : autrement que nest compris en ceste endenture ; que le dit monsieur Johan soit charge de paier pour lour demoere a fyn de chescun quart desuis lymite: cest a dire pour un bachiler le iour viij. vn Esquier le iour v]d. Vn vadlet le iour iij^., et un garson le iour i]d. que les seruenantz seront accomptez par le Seneschal del Hostel ma dite tres reuerente dame que pour le temps serra et un autre demant oue auont dit Seigneur quele il plerra assigner. Et autre ces le dit Seigneur monsieur Johan veute et graunte par y cestes que si le dit payement soit a derare a ascun dez termes susditz en partie ou en toute ensemblement oue la summe de les suenantz. Chescun acompte solanc lour degree come desuis est dite a fyn de chescun quarte susdite qe ma dite tres reuerente dame ne soit charge pluis outre de la demoere: Et par tiele summe adonque aderere que ma dite tres reuerente dame retigne en ses meyns del manoir de Midlynton en le Counte D'Oxne-ford de les denieres dues an dit Seigneur monsieur Johan annuelement appaier par ma dite tres reuerente dame pour la moyte de dit Manoir a la vraye value issuit aderere: En tesmoignance de quele chose a cestes endentures les parties susditz entrechangeablement ount mys lour sealx : Escrite a Mudle en le feste de Seynte Katerine : Lan du regne le Roi Richard seconde puis le conqueste septisme.

English Prices and Wages: 1209-1914

1209-1914 English prices and wages

A massive spreadsheet of price and wage series.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Inflation and Inequality

Will Wilkinson has argued that if you want to understand how inequality has changed over time, you can’t use a single inflation index. The rich and poor buy different things.

This is strikingly true when you compare the 14th century to today. Average consumption then might have been 60% on food, 20% on clothing, and 5% on domestic servants. However, when we look at the median consumer, halfway between the top and the bottom, spending on domestic servants was probably close to zero.

The top 1%, in contrast, might spend 30% of their much larger income on food for their immediate family, 10% on clothing for the same, and 25% on servants.

For those bundles of goods, inflation would be about 500 times for the median household, 800 for the average household and 1800 times for the rich.

Unskilled wages, benefiting from increased productivity in a mechanized world, increased about 6,000 times.

Now of course, the bundle of goods consumed by both has changed, but Broda's research suggest that the rich still spend a greater share of their income on high inflation goods than the poor.

Using a single inflation index overstates the gap in welfare between the rich and the poor.

And perhaps as important, by the material standards of 1380, everyone reading this is rich. It's not just that the price of a lot of things has come down relative to our incomes, it's that we can have some of them at all. We can have coffee and orange juice for breakfast instead of beer. We can eat a potato instead of bread.


And we can watch this:

And this:

Oh, and we have Google Books at our fingertips. Dead actors will perform for us. We can see auroras on Saturn and the glint of sunlight on Kraken Mare.

Living in a world where Cate Blanchett can make movies I like to watch instead of spending her time spinning thread or doing embroidery enriches me much more than her having $48 million dollars makes me feel poorer.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

John Scalzi Reviews Atlas Shrugged

As a pulpy, fun read about an unrealistic world that could never happen, I give Atlas Shrugged a thumbs up.

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt.

But read the whole thing.

When I was reading her Anthem, the moment when suspension of disbelief became death by hanging occurred when the hero and his love interest, fleeing a distopian future socialist society, come upon an abandoned house in the woods. It is recognizable to the reader as a Frank Lloyd Wright design. And the roof didn't leak.

Update: Scalzi has been unable to resist the temptation to imagine a world in which humanity is ruled by an intelligent cup of yogurt.

A Gift from the Culture, if you will.