Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Archery for Pleasure or Practice in 14th-16th Century England

There were at least two different ways of shooting bows for recreation or practice in fourteenth-century England. The first was shooting at the butts. The mark to be shot at was set in front of or on the front of a bank of turf or earth. Butts were most useful at shorter ranges since they stopped a flat trajectory miss from passing far beyond the target. In the 18th century butts were shot at distances from 30 to 120 yards.

The second was shooting at a mark or "prick" without a butt behind it. This avoided the trouble of cutting and maintaining butts, but worked best for longer range shooting when the arrows fell at a steep angle, far enough that significant draw and strength was required. A twelvescore prick could be 240 yards from the shooter, and some marks were even further. In 1478 twelve married staplers of Calais challenged a like number of bachelor freemen of the Staple, with the challenge recorded in the Cely papers:

“If it would please you for your sport and pleasure to meet with us next Thursday (on) the East side of this town in the place called 'the Pane', you shall find a pair of pricks (marks), the length betwix the one and the other being thirteen score tailor’s yards, mete out (measured) with a line. There we, the underwritten, shall meet with as many of your order and shoot with you at the same pricks for a dinner or supper, price 12d a man. And we pray you for your goodly answer within twenty-four hours. Written at Calais the 17 day of August, anno Jesu, ‘78”

Recorded marks of London’s Finsbury archers during the 1500s ranged from 180 to 380 yards. Butts and pricks often used a pair of marks as in the 1478 Calais challenge, so the archers could shoot from one mark to the other and then back again, to reduce the time spent walking.

Other formats were recorded in the 1400s, and may have been used earlier. In shooting at rovers, archers would shoot from mark to mark, choosing the second mark when they reached the first, selecting some feature within range to shoot at like a tree or bush. Because the distance varied at each shoot, rovers was seen as better training for combat or hunting.

Henry VIII's law of 1541, 33 Henry VIII c. 9, attempted to mandate archery practice that required both long ranges that required powerful bows useful on the battlefield and the ability to shoot at varied ranges useful in war.

"That no Man under the Age of twenty-four Years shall shoot at any standing Prick, except it be at a Rover, whereat he shall change at every Shoot his Mark, upon Pain for every Shoot doing the contrary, iv. d. and that no Person above the said Age of twenty-four Years shall shoot at any Mark of eleven Score Yards or under, with any Prick-shaft or Flight, under the Pain to forfeit for every Shoot, six Shillings Eight-pence"

The mark itself could take a number of forms. The early fourteenth-century Luttrell Psalter shows a garland or circlet set against the butt about chest-high, and garlands were also the mark in the fifteenth-century Gest of Robin Hood. Other early marks were small circular pieces of paper or pasteboard, fixed to the butt or a post in front of it by a wooden pin or wand, or peeled willow or hazel wands set up as marks. An alternative mark was the “clout” (cloth), a piece of white fabric large enough to be seen from the shooting distance, fastened to a sharpened stick driven upright into the ground so that the bottom of the clout almost reached the ground. The modern archery target of concentric circles seems to have been a seventeenth-century innovation.

For most marks the winner was simply the closest arrow to the mark, and at longer ranges, the mark itself would rarely be hit. The garland was probably scored similarly to eighteenth-century “shooting within the inches”: each shot that hit within a twelve-inch diameter circle counted at thirty yards. At sixty yards the circle was twenty inches. Typically, each archer shot two arrows at the mark, the arrows were collected and scored, and then the bowmen would shoot at the next mark. The heads of arrows for shooting at marks had a specialized shape that differed from heads used for hunting or war: barbless and streamlined with a swelling shoulder so the archer could consistently draw to full length by feel. When shooting at rovers, archers might carry more than one pair of arrows so they could have arrows suited for different ranges.

In shooting at the popinjay, archers took turns attempting to knock an artificial parrot off the top of a church steeple or tall pole. This was popular on the continent perhaps as early as the 13th century, and Stowe reports that crossbow-makers had brought the sport to London by the 16th.

Alternatively, arrows could be purely for distance, either with lightweight flight arrows or the heavier standard arrow.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Treating the Kessler Syndrome

The Kessler Syndrome is a real problem. There's a lot of hardware in orbit, most of it derelict spacecraft and rocket stages. If nothing is done hardware will eventually collide with other hardware, creating shrapnel that threatens more hardware in a growing cascade.

Fortunately, this will happen slowly over the course of decades. There's time to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, we're not fixing it at this time.

Fortunately, we can start now, and the earlier we start the better.

Every piece of space junk we deorbit will reduce the problem, forever.

So. Let us agree that if uncatalogued space junk wipes out a functioning satellite, there is a fund to pay for damages,with funding proportional to the mass of derelict spacecraft and rocket stages in orbit that can be traced to specific states.

If it's an identified derelict, the launcher or last owner pays. This would typically be the launcher for rocket stages and the last owner for spacecraft.

Now everybody has an incentive to reduce the problem.

The United States can begin to calculate the benefit of deorbiting their derelicts.  And offer bounties for specific performance.

Fortunately, the deorbit bounty can be given for specific performance. If you deorbit, say, 5 tons of spacecraft, how you do it doesn't matter. As long as you don't make matters worse by breaking up the target in a failed deorbit attempt, and the bounty agreement can include penalties for this sort of failure.

Camp Enclosures: 1529 and 1544

This detail from Altdorfer's The Battle of Alexander at Issus seems to show camp enclosures created by rows of simple red tents with roofs and one wall. Click on the image for a larger view.

This 18th c. copy of a 16th c. painting of the Marquison camp from Henry VIII's Boulogne campaign of 1544 seems to show something similar: a cloister-like enclosure of fabric that both encloses a space and provides some additional shelter at the periphery.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Most Read Posts of 2013

How Jousts Were Structured Ca. 1340


Tents and Pavilions: 1380-1415

Script for a Judicial Duel

No Educated Person in the Middle Ages Thought the Earth Was Flat

Coat Armor, Badges, Devices, Liveries and Jupons

Blowing Bubbles

Early 15th c. Recipes for Sealing Wax

Modus armandi milites ad torneamentum.

Layers Beneath Armor

A Splendid Party Tent at Saint-Denys:1389

The abbey was reserved for housing the queen, noble ladies, officers of the court and princes of the blood; the house could not, without demolishing some buildings or without disturbing divine service and diligent religious devotions, find a large enough location for the celebration of royal feasts. They called for those skilled at cutting wood and building with squared timber, and ordered a hall constructed in the main courtyard of the abbey, more than sixty-four paces long and twelve wide. The heights were doubly covered: within with linen parti-colored white and green, without with white linen sewn together hanging from the peak of the roof and extending to the sides of courtyard walls, so that it seemed like a royal hall.

Bellaguet, L., and Amable-Guillaume-Prosper Brugière Barante. 1839. Chronique du religieux de Saint-Denys: contenant le règne de Charles VI, de 1380 à 1422. Paris: L'imprimerie de Crapelet. Vol. 1, pp. 586-588 Translation Will Mclean 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Splendid Tent with Turrets: 1393

At the Anglo-French negotiations at Leulinghen in 1393:
To avoid the boredom of the wait, spacious pavilions had been erected in the form of a camp on the neighboring plain, whose interiors were decorated with hangings of wool and rich silks which charmed the eyes of the assistants. 
Above all, the tent of the Duke of Burgundy was of extraordinary grandeur, such as our generation had never seen before. The construction was so rich and elegant that it captivated all eyes. One could not fail to admire the exquisite and novel worksmanship. It was a tent (tabernaculum) like a town surrounded by small wooden turrets and crenellated ramparts. At the entrance were two large towers between which a gate was hung like that of a building. From the middle, like from a great hall, ran appartments attached in several places as though by different alleys; enough, they said, to hold three thousand men.
Bellaguet, L., and Amable-Guillaume-Prosper Brugière Barante. 1839. Chronique du religieux de Saint-Denys: contenant le règne de Charles VI, de 1380 à 1422. Paris: L'imprimerie de Crapelet. Vol. 2, p. 76 Translation Will Mclean 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

NASA Recreates 'Earthrise" 45 Years Later

NASA has recreated the iconic Earthrise photo from Apollo 8, using data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

A Tent with Turrets: 1445/1446

A tent with turrets and crenellation is shown in Gabriel Angler's painting of Ehud killing Eglon in his tent.

Interestingly, the Old Testament says that the assassination happened not in a tent, but what the Vulgate translates as  a summer parlor, with lockable doors. But this fits the pattern of assassinations of Israelite enemies like Sisera and Holofernes, who were killed in tents, so it may have seemed natural to the artist to show it in this way.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Liberty, Coercion and Just Redistribution

An unrelated stranger can't decide to take your money and spend it on something you don't want to.

But there are entities that can. There are libertarians who will immediately assume I'm talking about governments. "How can this be just?", they will say. "Taxation is theft!"

In this case, I'm not. The description also applies to a simple partnership where you are outvoted by the other partners. Or any corporation where you are a minority shareholder. Or a homeowner's association.

"But that's different! The non-government entities are voluntary agreements!"

Except they aren't always. You can inherit a minority interest in any of the above. You had no role in negotiating the original terms, and perhaps you never agreed to them, but you are still bound by them. Unless it's a publicly traded corporation, you may find it very difficult to sell your assets on acceptable terms. It may actually be easier to move to a different country.

A common libertarian position is that being outvoted in a non-government entity is freedom of contract, but when a government does it it becomes something akin to or even identical to theft.

"Yes, well, but the government only took the rights they claim by force and theft!" But almost all private landholdings have a similar problem. The rights of previous occupants were extinguished by violence, and the current occupants trace their claim back to that theft, with rare exceptions. Lockean homesteading is a just-so fable, and at best only held true for a distant past when unimproved land was so abundant that it could be privatized without later claimers being measurably disadvantaged. That social contract, if it ever existed, was torn up and rewritten in England in 1066 at the edge of the sword.

We come to a final puzzle. An individual with specific skills can usually earn significantly more in the United States than Mexico, even if some of the skills (fluency in Spanish, for example) are less useful in the United States than Mexico. How can exactly the same labor be worth much more after crossing the border?

I suggest that the answer is that an individual's productivity results from at least two factors. The first depends purely on what he can provide as a a self-owning person. The second depends on where they add their labor to the final product. Working in a polity that has abundant natural resources, favorable geography and climate, and efficient infrastructure and institutions will allow them to be more productive than they would in a less favorable state or in a state of nature like Robinson Crusoe. I will call this productivity boost the commonwealth surplus.

I don't know of any state today that allows entirely unrestricted immigration. There is clearly some level of immigration that can disrupt native culture and institutions: this was the case for Mexico before 1835, the kingdom of Hawaii, and Palestine. Totally unrestricted immigration is not a right that any state  now recognizes.

The United States allowed unrestricted immigration only briefly, from 1776 to 1875 under federal law. In practice, the window was less than that, since California passed several laws intended to discourage immigration from 1850 on, and we didn't control California and its west coast ports until 1846. Before that, restricting Chinese immigration required no law: distance was more than sufficient.

In most rich and developed states, the allocation of the commonwealth surplus is somewhat arbitrary. In the United States, it it goes to those lucky enough to be born within the borders, other children of citizens, the lucky individuals that have been able to legally migrate, and illegal immigrants that haven't been detected and deported yet.

Given that the commonwealth surplus is scarce and valuable, there is much to be said for charging those that enjoy it a rent equal to its value, and distributing the amount collected equally among all legal inhabitants of the commonwealth. Or perhaps a portion could go to foreigners who wish to immigrate, but are prevented because the natives believe the limited level of immigration they allow is justified by necessity.

So. I arrive at a theory that in a developed state like the US that does not allow unlimited immigration, some level of redistribution is just and desirable, even according to many libertarian theories of rights.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chang'e 3 Landing Video with the Moon Below

This video shows the Change'e 3 spacecraft's landing on the moon, filmed from the spacecraft. It starts slow, with the lunar surface slowly sliding beneath the spacecraft and mountains rising above the lunar horizon in the distance. It may take you a minute or two to notice the horizon rising slowly higher in the field of view as the spacecraft begins its descent. At 2:53 the sky rises out of view as the angle of descent steepens.

Things get more interesting at about 5:10, as descent stops and the lander hovers while choosing the best landing site. At 5:59 you first see the landing jets stirring the surface below.

But here's what I find really interesting. The official Chinese broadcasts of this footage showed the lunar surface above the spacecraft's field of view, not below, because that's how the cameras happened to be pointing as the spacecraft followed its ballistic trajectory. An amateur (and I use the word in praise) using the handle SpaceOperaFR has taken the effort to rectify the video so that the bottom of the screen points towards the pull of gravity. I thank you, whoever you are.

In the future in which we will spend the rest of our lives, an army of amateurs can be a powerful thing. Not for every task, but enough to do good service in many.

I would love to watch this with a Blue Danube soundtrack.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wheels on the Moon Again.

We're back.

China has successfully put a lander and rover on the lunar surface. The last rover was a Soviet Lunokhod in 1973. The last lander was Luna 24 in 1976. Well done! This is a part of the moon that has never been visited by working devices obedient to human control.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Earth and Mooon as Seen by Juno

Returning from deep space for the gravity assist flyby that will send her out to Jupiter, the Juno spacecraft films "the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon."

What a view!

Since 1974, gravity assists have become a powerful, elegant tool for interplanetary exploration.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The View from Our Window: ISS

Having spent an exciting but traumatic 90 minutes last night watching bad things happen to good people and good spacecraft in Gravity, it's nice to know that in the real world our enormous fragile and beautiful International Space Station is still there with fellow fragile primates in it looking down in wonder.


Gravity is visually stunning and believable, dramatic, and I like the characters. If you can enjoy 3-D, this is a movie that really benefits from being seen of the big screen in 3-D. As I write this, it's being pushed aside by newer releases, so if you haven't seen it and think you might like it, see it soon.

A few non-spoiler observations. It's set in the near future: there's a substantial Chinese space station in orbit. That puts it around 2020, based on China's current plans.

But it isn't our future. In the movie timeline, Space Shuttles are still operational. The Shuttle mission at the beginning of the movie is STS-157: in our timeline the last was STS-135 in 2011. And there never was an operational orbiter called Explorer.

So if you're the kind of spaceflight geek that knows how hard it is to get from our Hubble to our ISS because  of their different orbital inclinations, remember that this an alternative future. So maybe sometime between 2013 and 2020 there was a mission to change Hubble's orbital inclination to match that of ISS using an unmanned spacecraft with solar electric propulsion. Such missions have been proposed in our timeline.

I would have enjoyed hearing:

Stone: Look: behind and below: ISS.
Kowalski: Beautiful. Glad they completed the Hubble Inclination Change Mission. It's good to have options.


Bullock's astronaut makes it to an abandoned ISS with a damaged Soyuz spacecraft still docked, incapable of reentry but otherwise usable if she can get it loose. How can this be? Easy. When disaster struck, the ISS had a crew of six, and two Soyuz to provide emergency escape. Fortunately, there was a Dragon cargo spacecraft docked at the time which escaped damage. Three of the crew rode down on one Soyuz, and the other three took the Dragon. It has proved that it can survive reentry four times by 2013 in our timeline, and by the time of the movie it could have been even more proven. Even if not yet certified for human passengers, it beats a Soyuz without usable parachutes or waiting in terror on ISS for the next debris strike.

For dramatic reasons the Kessler Syndrome of cascading collisions spreads far too quickly, affects too many altitudes simultaneously, and hits far too frequently.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Proprietary Communities Are Not Local Governments

David Friedman seems to be arguing that proprietary communities are pretty much like local governments, only better.

This is incorrect, at least in Pennsylvania.

There are some pretty important things proprietary communities can't do that even local governments can. In particular, they cant't put you in jail and they can't tax people who don't own real estate in the community. Also, no eminent domain.

At the same time, they can do things that government can't. They are mostly unbound by the bill of rights. And they typically if not always restrict voting rights to those that own real estate. Bug or feature? You decide. Or not. I'm going with bug, myself.

The most dysfunctional community of which I have personal knowledge was a proprietary community in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The developers had strong incentives to make the development appear attractive, but none to make it actually be attractive. Once the lots were sold it wasn't their problem.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Wounds of Richard III: an Intrusive Attack

One of Richard III's wounds is a blow that penetrated his pelvic bone after he was stabbed in the right buttock. This has been interpreted as a wound inflicted after death to humiliate him.

But I believe it could well have been struck in combat. An attacker can defeat plate harness worn with a mail skirt by moving in close and stabbing upwards with a dagger from below. This is entirely consistent with the wound on Richard's pelvis. This is easiest when the victim, like Richard, faced several assailants. Then an attacker could easily move close enough to strike a low blow upwards from behind.  But it was effective enough that even a single attacker might attempt it as in this 1403 encounter at Valencia recorded by Monstrelet:

"Then Sir Jacqes de Montenay threw down his axe, and with one hand seized Sir Pere de Moncada by the lower edge of his lames. In the other he had a dagger with which he sought to wound him underneath."

The Wounds of Richard III: an Uncovering Attack

One of the wounds on Richard III's skeleton is a shallow cut to to his right mandible. I believe that this was very probably inflicted when someone cut away his helmet strap with a double-edged dagger, leaving him helmetless. Seven other wounds are still visible on his skull and most if not all were inflicted after he lost his helmet. At least two would have instantly put him out of the fight, and been fatal soon after.

The nearly contemporary romance Tirant lo Blanc also notes this vulnerability of the sallet style helmet popular at the time. In the narrative, one of the protagonist's combats is recounted to a hermit: both the hero and his opponent tried to cut the other's helmet cord. The tactic was common enough that even the hermit, who has never borne arms but has passed some time with a skilled knight, knows a remedy: the helmet cord should be made of flexible wire wound with silk cord like a ribbon.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Printing Fossils

Instead of laboriously chipping delicate fossil bones from their enclosing matrix of rock, paleontologists  like Brett Nachman are printing out 3D models of the bones based on CT scans of the fossils still locked in the rock. Elegant!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Asteroid Redirect Mission

NASA has put forward an interesting proposal to use a spacecraft with electric propulsion to redirect a small asteroid, or a large piece of a larger one, to high lunar orbit where astronauts could visit and examine it and bring back samples. By small, I mean something on the order of 500 tons. In comparison, the entire Apollo program brought back 382 kg or 842 lb of samples.

Here is an overview and fact sheet. Here are more details.

NASA has also proposed placing an outpost in Translunar Space, mostly based on existing hardware. Such an outpost would greatly increase the safety and efficiency of exploring such an asteroid.

It is probably the most interesting early manned mission we can do beyond Earth orbit. With an outpost, it compares favorably with the more difficult project of visiting a near Earth asteroid in its original orbit. Austere missions to the most favorable targets contemplate missions of six months or more for a five day visit to the asteroid.

It seems to me that if you are going to spend that much time soaking up radiation beyond the Van Allen belts, it's better to spend most of that time actually at the asteroid, and it's better to be seven days from earth in an emergency than 90.

One attractive consideration for this type of mission: more than half of the cost of bringing back the first asteroid is designing and building the spacecraft. Refueling it and replacing the capture mechanism to get another will cost much less.

Also, one of the benefits of the program is a considerable increase in the power and thrust capability of electric propulsion, which will be useful for many other potential missions.

We don't know nearly enough about the insides of asteroids. It appears that many are more like blobs of rubble than monolithic hunks of rock. It would be well to know them better before we are confronted with the need to divert one in a hurry.

If the first one brought back turns it to be mostly rubble, after everyone's appetite for rock and regolith samples is sated it might be very useful to run a series of controlled experiments to determine what kind of explosive and impactor force the remainder can take without breaking up into something more dangerous. For science!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Spin-Offs Upwards

Another lesson from India's Mars mission: a richer world can afford more space exploration!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cautious Optimism About Our Push Beyond Earth

I started writing this blog in 2006. Since then:

Robots have gotten better.

Sensors have gotten better.

Electric propulsion for planetary missions has become more capable.

Our ability to land a payload on Mars has increased a lot. In 2003 we landed a pair of 185 kg. rovers on Mars.  The earlier Viking landers were heavier, but that included the dead weight of the landing stage on the surface. The Curiosity rover we landed in 2012 massed 899 kg. This took a lot of challenging, complicated engineering, but we made it work.

Our ability to support the ISS is more robust.  In 2006, only two spacecraft were capable of carrying significant supplies to the ISS: Progress and the Space Shuttle.  Currently, five can: Progress, Europe's' ATV, Japan's HTV, and the privately designed and built Cygnus and Dragon spacecraft from the U.S.

A privately developed launcher, SpaceX's Falcon 9, has made several successful flights, as well as one flight of an upgraded version. It doesn't have the payload capacity of the best western launchers developed under government contract, and it hasn't demonstrated equal reliability, but its pricing is attractive enough to draw a substantial launch manifest. If it can reliably launch at a tempo that satisfies demand it could lower launch costs. There's nothing like a spade-happy billionaire to push the envelope for space capabilities.

The worst development is the gap between the U.S. retiring the Shuttle and developing a replacement. NASA's hypersonic Ming vase was retired in 2011. Unfortunately, both NASA and Congress preferred to insist on launching the replacement Orion capsule on a new launcher designed to preserve as much as possible of the former Shuttle workforce, contractor spending, and NASA infrastructure and overhead.

The institutional incentives are as obvious as the results are lamentable. Instead of simply building a capsule and putting it on a version of the existing Delta IV with some spending to improve reliability, money that could have sped Orion capsule development has been wasted on other projects, first to pay for the aborted Ares I launcher and later for the Congressionally mandated SLS launcher,  justifiably mocked as the Senate Launch System. Congressional underfunding of Commercial Crew Development is shameful.

On the brighter side, the U.S. still excels at missions beyond Earth orbit, and our Delta IV Heavy is the currently world's most capable launcher. And we have a laser-equiped robot on Mars!

But other nations have developed their own areas of excellence: Russia for flow-cost reliable launchers,  Italy for habitable modules, and Canada for robotic arms. Here's to specialization and the benefits of trade!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Welcome to Another Player in the Great Game

There's a thing we humans do. It's like the Olympics, only different. Like the Olympics, it has a lot to do with national pride, but it's harder and more rewarding. Not only do you earn the laurels for being the best competitor, but you learn things previously unknown.

In the Great Game we compete to throw robots towards other planets. This is much harder than bobsledding, so not everyone can play.  Arguably the most challenging league of all is currently Beyond Lunar Orbit. (Just putting a robot in lunar orbit is an elite club).

Until recently, the Beyond Lunar Orbit club consisted of the United States, the state currently known as Russia, a European consortium, and Japan. China attempted to compete, but failed its last attempt.

Now India has a spacecraft orbiting Earth, poised for an attempt to reach Mars.

Good luck and Godspeed, India. It is a good thing to live in a richer world. The more players, the better the game!

The Obscene Horror of Subsidized Maternity Care

One of the objections to the Affordable Care Act is that it forces people who currently don't intend to have any, or at least any more,  children to pay higher premiums than they would if they could select a policy that excludes maternity coverage.

The most obtuse version is the men that complain about being charged for maternity coverage. Dude, the insurance company knows that offering you maternity coverage costs them nothing, and you will be charged accordingly.

Greg Mankiw, who is a pretty smart guy, and usually smarter than this, presents a somewhat less stupid version:
In the law, having children has been deemed a pre-existing condition, although it is not quite described as such. Everyone is now expected to buy insurance to pay for pregnancy and maternity care, even those who never intend to have children. The goal is to spread the risk of childbirth among the larger community. 
But having children is more a choice than a random act of nature. People who drive a new Porsche pay more for car insurance than those who drive an old Chevy. We consider that fair because which car you drive is a choice. Why isn't having children viewed in the same way? 
I don't know the answer to these questions. But it does seem that fairness in health insurance pricing is being viewed very differently than fairness in pricing other types of insurance. I wonder why.
I don't. Children aren't just consumer goods. Little Porsches don't grow up to be workers and inventors and  entrepreneurs.  Children who become productive adults do. They produce surplus, and most of that doesn't go to the parent.

The person who would rather buy a Chevy doesn't care if nobody buys a Porsche. The person who chooses not to have children is usually making an implicit assumption that someone else will raise the generation that empties their bedpan and keeps the electricity running when they are too old to do it themselves. And I'm fine with that choice, as long as they don't start treating raising a child to productive adulthood as a purely selfish act of personal consumption exactly like buying a more expensive car.

So even the childless by choice have some interest being generous to those that aren't.

But where will it end? Conceivably the tax code might some day give a deduction for dependent children.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Proportions of the Denominations in English Mint Outputs, 1351-1485

This is a useful article for people interested in this question. Like, for example, people who are doing living history who wonder what ratio of coins they should have in their purse.

A lot of the evidence conflicts, and some is clearly biased. Coin hoards were biased towards the largest denomination available to the hoarder.  There are repeated complaints that the mints underproduced smaller denominations, regardless of their indentures.  Coins reserved for pyx trials in each denomination may not have been directly proportional to the total minted. Coin dies for larger denominations may have produced fewer coins per die.

Taking all this into account, we may still make some very rough guesses for the period covered, taking the second highest value coin in each metal as a benchmark.

For every 10 gold half nobles, there were three nobles and five quarter nobles in circulation.

For every 10 half groats, there were 5 groats, 14 pence, six halfpennies and six farthings.

Gold Coins in England 1351-1465

How common were gold coins in use England in the late 14th and Early 15th century? Coin hoards give some indication. 62 hoards were dated between 1351 and 1465. 34 contained only silver coins, 8 a mixture of gold and silver, and 20 only gold, typically all nobles. The all silver hoards averaged 7s 6d in value, a little more than the value of a single gold noble. The mixed hoards averaged 10 pounds 7.5d in value and the all gold hoards 15 pounds 6s 5d.

Gold was used, then, for sums of money large enough to make gold more convenient. Martin Allen suggests by 1377 the value of gold coins circulating in England was greater than the silver coins, although of course the number of coins was much smaller.

Allen notes a common petition in Parliament in 1363, asking that, in addition to half pence and farthings, half nobles be minted "for the purchase of food and other commodities." The government responded that this was already being done.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Should Replace Obamacare?

David Friedman offers a critical view of US health insurance prior to the Affordable Care Act:
A recent post on the Forbes site offers a convincing explanation of what was wrong with the current system of health insurance before Obama, hence what both it and Obamacare ought to be replaced by. Its central point is that what we call medical insurance is in part actual insurance, protection against low probability/high cost risks, in part prepayment of ordinary medical expenditures. The reason insurance policies take that form, also the reason that most of them are provided by the employer and so not portable, is that employer provided health insurance is bought with pre-tax dollars, ordinary medical care with after tax dollars.  
 One result is that individual consumers have little incentive to be careful shoppers for health care services, since for the most part they are not the ones paying for them.
This contains a number of misunderstandings. What we call health insurance is even more complicated.  In part it is what Friedman says, but also an agent that serves to negotiate favorable pricing for the consumer in advance, which is difficult to do when you are lying on the gurney,  or even when not: an organization that buys a lot of a product can often drive a better bargain than an individual. And sometimes, as an HMO, it bundles in the actual provision of health care.

If group health care was driven purely by tax considerations as described above we would expect employers to pay for almost all employee coverage.  This is in fact rare: most employers require a substantial employee contributions, for a share of the premiums, as well as deductibles, co-pays and uncovered expenses.

In part this is because many ordinary expenses are also paid with pre-tax dollars: flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts and health reimbursement accounts also offer tax savings.

But there is another reason. If you as an employer offer to pay health insurance costs in full, you let an outside organization drive your compensation policy. If you don't absorb price increases that drive up total compensation more than you think desirable, your only alternative is to cut nominal wages or fire some employees. Employers hate doing either: neither is good for morale.

There is also another reason why employer provided insurance is common that has nothing to do with tax policy. For the average consumer, group insurance is cheaper than an individual policy for the same level of coverage because the individual policy has higher marketing, screening, underwriting and administrative costs. Even without favorable tax treatment, expect this to continue.

Then we have the argument that insured individuals are reckless consumers of health care services, since they are for most part, not paying. If that's the problem, than we've had the solution for some time: the high deductible policy. Let the insured pay the first $3,000, or $6,000 or $10,000 of medical expenses before the insurer pays anything. That will surely encourage careful shopping.

This is still an option under ACA, actually. In my state, a significant number of the ACA conforming policies have deductibles over $5,000 for a single adult.

But this runs somewhat contrary to the goal of insurance. People pay an actuarial premium to avoid unpleasant surprises. Not everyone wants to accept the potential for $6,000 in unexpected expenses for a somewhat cheaper policy.

Some changes could be made to make current law more equitable and efficient. Extend the subsidy in the market for conforming individual plans so that the subsidy at 400% of the poverty line goes to higher incomes as well. Replace the tax exclusion for employer provided plans with a capped tax credit so that this and the prior change are revenue neutral, since it's absurd that the greatest subsidy for employee coverage goes to those that need it least. Change the fine for not buying insurance to a different penalty: people that maintain continuous conforming coverage individually or through a group can't be discriminated against based on their health history but people who don't go into the separate I Thought I'd Be Healthy Forever pool when they decide they want individual coverage after all.  Remove the limit on charging older individuals more because they are more expensive to insure. Allow employers to count the cost of employer provided insurance against minimum wage requirements since it is, after all, compensation. Replace the complicated higher subsidies in the exchanges for lower incomes with an increased Earned Income Tax Credit.

These changes would be more equitable, but create losers as well as winners. I expect them to be politically difficult.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Another Modest Proposal to Improve the SCA

I have a cunning plan. Suppose there was an SCA fraternal society, the Company Incognito. All members would swear to maintain at least two personae, one high and one low. They could both have the same name, or not, but only the high could wear their regalia and use their honorifics. The low would wear a distinctive badge and neither use nor expect to be addressed with SCA honorifics. The high, on the other hand, would be expected to always appear in public with clothing and servants fitting to their rank.

Suppose that the minimum retinue for a baron is one servant. Baron Insertname spends 1/4 of his event time as the Baron, 1/4 as Yeoman Insertname repaying his servant, and the rest as untitled Goodman Insertname doing what he wants.

Readers of Jack Vance may recognize his Kirstendale here.

I suggest that if seriously implemented this would go a long way towards improving the SCA problem of "too many chiefs and not enough Indians".

Relic of a Distant War

My father's father serve in France in WWI, in the Artillery. He brought home cartridge boxes for the 2.5 inch mountain howitzer, a deeply obsolescent piece at that time. I still have one today. It was the screw-gun of Mr. Kipling's army. The barrel screwed into the breech so you could take it apart into bits suitable for packing on mules. Kipling wrote a poem about them, first published in 1890:


Smokin' my pipe on the mountings, sniffin' the mornin' cool,
I walks in my old brown gaiters along o' my old brown mule,
With seventy gunners be'ind me, an' never a beggar forgets
It's only the pick of the Army that handles the dear little pets --
'Tss! 'Tss! For you all love the screw-guns --
the screw-guns they all love you!
So when we call round with a few guns,
o' course you will know what to do -- hoo! hoo!
Jest send in your Chief an' surrender --
it's worse if you fights or you runs:
You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees,
but you don't get away from the guns!

They sends us along where the roads are,
but mostly we goes where they ain't:
We'd climb up the side of a sign-board an' trust to the stick o' the paint:
We've chivied the Naga an' Looshai, we've give the Afreedeeman fits,
For we fancies ourselves at two thousand,
we guns that are built in two bits --
'Tss! 'Tss! For you all love the screw-guns . . .

If a man doesn't work, why, we drills 'im an' teaches 'im 'ow to behave;
If a beggar can't march, why, we kills 'im an' rattles 'im into 'is grave.
You've got to stand up to our business
an' spring without snatchin' or fuss.
D'you say that you sweat with the field-guns?
By God, you must lather with us --
'Tss! 'Tss! For you all love the screw-guns . . .

The eagles is screamin' around us, the river's a-moanin' below,
We're clear o' the pine an' the oak-scrub,
we're out on the rocks an' the snow,
An' the wind is as thin as a whip-lash what carries away to the plains
The rattle an' stamp o' the lead-mules -- the jinglety-jink o' the chains--
'Tss! 'Tss! For you all love the screw-guns . . .

There's a wheel on the Horns o' the Mornin',
an' a wheel on the edge o' the Pit,
An' a drop into nothin' beneath you as straight as a beggar can spit:
With the sweat runnin' out o' your shirt-sleeves,
an' the sun off the snow in your face,
An' 'arf o' the men on the drag-ropes to hold the old gun in 'er place --
'Tss! 'Tss! For you all love the screw-guns . . .

Smokin' my pipe on the mountings, sniffin' the mornin' cool,
I climbs in my old brown gaiters along o' my old brown mule.
The monkey can say what our road was --
the wild-goat 'e knows where we passed.
Stand easy, you long-eared old darlin's!
Out drag-ropes! With shrapnel! Hold fast --
'Tss! 'Tss! For you all love the screw-guns --
the screw-guns they all love you!
So when we take tea with a few guns,
o' course you will know what to do -- hoo! hoo!
Jest send in your Chief an' surrender --
it's worse if you fights or you runs:
You may hide in the caves, they'll be only your graves,
but you can't get away from the guns!

Just the thing for carrying up a mountain and demolishing a mud brick Afghan fort one mountain over. It used black powder, first served in the field in 1879 and was muzzle loaded. It was still used in WWI, but only in peripheral campaigns where it was better than no howitzer at all. I surmise that my grandfather met someone from a British battery that used to use them, was still using the cases to pack things in, and gave them away when he went home.

The past is a different country.

The Great Divergence

It looks like Europe started to pull away from Asia in economic performance a lot earlier than previously thought, in the case of Italy as early as 1300.

Europe as a whole had a critical advantage over China: being further away from Mongolia, and also benefited from the introduction of of the vertical windmill. Italy was improving shipbuilding as it married the capacious hull of the northern cog to a handier multi-mast Mediterranean rig, and introducing some powerful and important business innovations: double-entry bookkeeping, foreign exchange and insurance contracts, and the legal fictions that allowed Christians to be bankers.

We take these technologies of doing business for granted today, but the difference between having them and not having them was huge.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Hoops in Canopies

Details from, top to bottom: Petrus Christus Madonna and Child with St. Barbara and a Carthusian Monk (Exeter Madonna) c.1450, Bible Historiale of Jean de Vaudetar, 1372,   Judith and Holofernes from the Speculum Humanae Salvationis MS Hunter 60 (T.2.18) 1455, Annunciation Martin Schongauer Engraving ca. 1484/5, Annunciation Martin Schongauer, Painting.

Conveniently, the very sheer material of the Exeter Madonna's canopy allows us to see the hoop that spreads it.The indoor canopy of light fabric requires only a slender hoop. In the last three images I believe we are seeing a round curtain rod of slightly narrower radius than the hoop that spreads the canopy, with widely spaced brackets providing enough clearance for the curtain rings to slide along the rod to open or close the canopy curtains.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Medieval Tent Structures

From the top: Images 1-3 rope spread roofs 1: Equestrian portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano (detail) Simone Martini 1328-30 2-3 St. Martin renounces his arms (details) Simone Martini 1312-17. 4 Tent roofs supported by radial ribs. BL Add. 12228, f.150 (detail) Roman du Roy Meliadus de Leonnoys c. 1352 5-6 Pavilions and tents with vertical slats in the walls King René's Le Cueur d'Amours Espris c. 1457 7: Pavilion or tent with a rigid peripheral structure at the shoulder: Agnolo Gaddi: The Dream of Emperor Heraclius ca. 1385-87

Medieval tents used at least four different structural designs.

The tent spread by ropes alone is recognizable by catenary sag visible in the profile of the roof and walls, the shoulder attached to closely spaced guy ropes or crow's feet; although even so, there may be visible horizontal sag between the attachment points, and by guy ropes that descend no steeper than the roof profile, which typically produces a broad footprint for each tent on the ground.

Tents with radial ribs in the roof are clearly recognizable when the roof profile  is convex. The yurts and gers of Central Asia still use radial ribs, with a roof profile that is either straight or convex.

Tents with walls stiffened by slats or battens are suggested when the walls slope without any indication of sag or drape, when a contemporary illustration suggests that they are present within channels in the wall, or when documentary evidence mentions them. King René's accounts for 1453 mention "rods for the wall of the said pavilion" and rods are also included in the itemized materials for a pavilion probably written by a Milanese tailor around 1540 in Il Libro del Sarto.

Finally, by the second half of the 14th century it seems to have been common for medieval tents to have had a rigid internal frame at the shoulder of the tent, circular, polygonal, oval or rectangular as the shape of the tent demanded, with circular the most common design.  The Dream of Emperor Heraclius shows many of the features of this design. A limited number of guy ropes, if any, steady the tent. They descend at a steeper angle than the roof profile, and are insufficient to produce the roof plan shown by themselves. The tent valance forms a perfectly smooth cylinder.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Hardware Beneath Pavilion Shoulders in the Morgan Bible

From the Morgan Bible, 1240s, details of folios 9r, 10v, 27v, 34r and 42r.  If there was a rigid hoop within the pavilion shoulder it would have been fairly straightforward to attach these brackets so they hung as shown here. If not, not.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Pavilions Retaining Their Shape While Falling

From top: Morgan Bible MS M.638 (fol. 3v) Detail, 1240s, (BNF, FR 2643) Jean Froissart, Chronicles fol. 180 Flanders, Bruges 15th Century, BNF Français 364, fol. 125 (Hannibal passant les Apennins, Romuleon, c. 1485-1490), BL Royal MS 18 D II f. 82v c. 1500.  and The Encampment of Henry at Marquison 18th c. copy of a 16th c. painting of Henry VIII's Boulogne campaign of 1544. Details.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Distrust Any Historical Anecdote Offering an Explanation for Allusive Heraldry.

This is, of course a subset of David Friedman's good advice: "Distrust any historical anecdote good enough to have survived on its literary merit." This is only compounded when the tale is told by descendants of the protagonist, who can be expected to particularly enjoy tales of the awesomeness of their ancestors.
That the father of Agnes Hotot, (who was afterwards married to Dudley,) having a dispute with one Ringsdale, about the title to a piece of land, they agreed to meet on the disputed land, and decide it by combat. Hotot, at the day appointed, was laid up with the gout; but his daughter, Agnes, rather than he should lose his land, or suffer in his honour, armed herself cap-a-pee, and mounted her father's steed, went and met Ringsdale, whom, after a stubborn light, she dismounted; and when he was on the ground, the loosen'd her throat-latch, lifted up her helmet, and let down her hair about her shoulders, by that and her breasts, discovered to him she was a woman. In memory of which heroick action, the Crest aforementioned, his always been used by her descendants.
The historical anecdote of Agnes Hotot triggers the Friedman warning from the beginning, because it's like Eowyn with discovered breasts for added literary value. That the story first appears in Collins' The baronettage of England; in 1741, about 350 years after the supposed event, gives additional reason for distrust. Anyone that has worn a good reproduction of late 14th c. armor, or who knows others that have, will have still further reason to distrust the account: discovering breasts in such armor is logistical challenge.

So we should not be surprised to learn that the Visitations of 1564 and 1618 record arms for the Dudleys of Clapton, but no crest, or that the College of Arms in 1826 recorded their crest as "On a wreath of the colours, a woman's bust in profile wearing a helmet of leaves, and wreathed round the temples with alternate leaves and roses, all proper."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Tale of Ladies at Hastiludes, 1348

In those days a rumor arose and great excitement among the people because, when hastiludes were held, at almost every place a troop of ladies would appear, as though they were a company of players, dressed in manly equipment of striking richness and variety, to the number of forty or sometimes fifty such ladies, all handsome and beautiful, though not of the kingdom's better sort. They were dressed in parti-colored tunics, of one color on one side and a different one on the other, with short hoods and liripipes like cords about about their heads, with belts of gold and silver clasped about them, and even with the kind of knives commonly called daggers slung low across their bellies, placed in pouches from above. And thus they went on fine destriers and other well-arrayed horses to the place of the hastilude, and consumed and spent their substance, and wantonly and with disgraceful lewdness displayed their bodies, as the rumor resounded among the people.

And thus, neither fearing God nor blushing at the outcry of modest people, they slipped the traces of matrimonial modesty. Nor did those whom they accompanied consider what grace and outstanding blessings God, the fount of all good things, had bestowed upon English knighthood in all its successful encounters with its enemies, and what exceptional triumphs of victory He had allowed them everywhere. But God in this as in all things made a marvelous remedy to dispel their dissolution, for at the times and places appointed for those vanitites He defeated them with cloudbursts, thunder and flashing lightening, and the fury of diverse astonishing tempests.

Knighton's Chronicle, translation Will McLean 2013

Other translations have the ladies "dressed in men's cloths" or in "the cloths of a man" but that's not really what Knighton's Latin says.

He condemned the ladies because:

They wore the manly equipment of daggers, stowed in a particularly phallic way.

They displayed precious metal ornaments and horseflesh that they could not afford

They wore parti-colored clothing which made them look like minstrels, who were not nearly as respectable as proper ladies.

They wore hoods with liripipes, which Knighton might have scorned either as masculine dress inappropriate for women or because he thought liripipes were useless ornamental frippery.

Knighton is pretty clearly repeating a rumor: note the absence of the locations of any of these hastiludes. 

I can imagine a pretty prosaic kernel of truth to Knighton's account: some ladies go to a tournament in the newfangled fashions that the older generation doesn't approve of, and some of the ladies are wearing their husband's daggers while they are on the field so they don't get lost or stolen, and the event is spoiled by bad weather. And a Friar goes home and writes a sermon about it, exaggerating for effect, and reuses it every stop on his rounds and the tale grows in the telling.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Medieval Time

Temperance adjusting a clock. Christine de Pizan, Épître d’Othéa. Paris, c.1406

By the late 14th century, mechanical clocks were common enough to be used as metaphors for temperance in poetry, but the first recorded use of minute as a unit of time is 1392 in French and 1393 in English, although the word had been used to describe a 60th of a degree since Ptolemy in geography and astronomy.  It is probably not a coincidence that the usage appeared not long after clock dials began to appear in Europe.

It's important to remember this if you're doing first person medieval living history. Earlier, men would speak of a paternoster while, the time it took to say a paternoster, for a short period of time. It takes me about 20 seconds to say it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

More Camp Beds

BL Add 15277 f.51 The Israelites with the Moabite women in their tents, c.1350-99, Death of Louis IX, BL Sloane 2433 vol. 3 fol. 7v, 1410-1420, Agnolo Gaddi: The Dream of Emperor Heraclius ca. 1385-87, Above: Piero della Francesca: Vision of Constantine 1452-66

Martinus Opifex: Achilles weeps in his bed and Briseis tending the wounded Diomedes 1445-1450 The Trojan War ÖNB 2773

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Folding Bed, ca. 1600

Probably from Augsburg, now in the Bavarian National Museum, which has another image and more information here. The sides fold in, the ends fold down and something cunning presumably happens to the canopy and legs through folding and/or disassembly. Image from WikiMedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pavilions in the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland: 1538

Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane pavilʒeoun of grene dames, . . . . . v frs.
Item, gevin for ane girth (hoop, usually the hoop of a barrel) of irne to the said pavilʒeoun, xx s.
Item, gevin for ane goldin knop to the samin, . xx s.
Item, gevin for ane cleik (hook) to the said pavilʒeoun, x s.
Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane pavilʒeoun of gray dames, . . . . . . vij frs.
Item, gevin for ane goldin knop to the samin, . xx s.
Item, gevin for ane girth of irne to the said pavilʒeoun, ' xx s.
Item, gevin for ane cleik of irne, . . . x s.

Since each pavilion is equipped with a hook and the hoops only cost twice as much as the hook, these are probably canopies for a chair or bed rather than tents.

Scotland, Thomas Dickson, James Balfour, Paul, C. T. McInnes, and Athol L. Murray. 1877. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland = Compota thesaurariorum Regum Scotorum. Edinburgh: H.M. General Register House.

15th and 16th Century Camp Beds

The French term lit de camp to describe a camp bed appeared in written records by c. 1450, and became assimilated into Scottish by the end of the century in many variants. In contemporary English it would be called a trussyng bedde, a term in use as early as 1392. The following, except for the last two records, are all from The Records of the Royal Treasurer of Scotland.

1494: Item, gevin for the making of ane harnes to turss (pack) the Kingis letacampbed, . . . . iij li.

1495: Item, for the tursing (transporting) of the Kingis letacampbed, and othir gere for the see, to Dunbertane agane his passing in the Ilys, . . . . . . xv s.

1527: Item, ij lokkis to letacamp cofferis . . . v s

1529: For tua lang malis (traveling cases, usually leather) with four lang brassis (straps) to thame to cary the Kingis leittacampt, ane stule to the oist, (host) of sindry pricis … iij li xiiij s

1538: Item, gevin for the treis (timberwork) of the said littecamp, xij frs.

Item, gevin for vij merkis iij uncis of fyne gold and cypir (yarn for cloth of gold?) for the gold and fassoun of ilk merk xxij frs.;…

Item, gevin for vij li. xij uncis of grene silk, the price of ilk pund ix frs.; summa . . iijxxix frs. xv s.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of thre compterpuntes (counterpanes) of grene taffateis, and ane of holand claitht, price of ilk ane xx frs.; summa .... iiij  frs.

Item, gevin for iiijxxxvj pund of caddes (cotton wool) to mak twa matres to the said bed, price of ilk pund viij s.; summa ..... xxxviij frs. viij s.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of the said twa matres and for the carding of the caddes, . . .xij frs.

Item, gevin for xx pundis of fyne downis to fill ane bostar (bolster) and twa coddis, (pillows) price of the pund ix s.; summa ix frs..

Item, gevin for the fassoun of the bostar and coddis, x s. Item, gevin for xxiij elnis 1/2 of holland claith to be the quhit compterpynnt price of the elne xx s.; summa xxiij frs. x s.

Item, gevin for xxxix elnis of grete lynyng to mak twa chetis (sheets) to ane palʒes (palliasse) to wynd (wrap) the said matres in, price of the elne iiij s.; summa . vij frs. xvj s.

Item, gevin for x elms of grete bukrame to lyne the ruff of the said littecamp, price of ilk elne vj s.; summa ...... iij frs.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of the said ruff and courtingis, and for the fassoun of twa chetis of cammes palʒeis and ane cheit of quhit fustane and rybbanis to the samin, . . . . . xxiiij frs.

Item, gevin for twa grete kow hidis to put the treis of the said littecamp in the gidder (bundle collection,gather) witht twa lang furreons (?) and twa cofferis to put the graith (furnishings) pertenyng to the said littecamp, price maid with Gilʒeam Petit, liiij frs.

1538-9: Item, for putting in twa gabellis (gables?) and mending of thame, of the malis to turs the liticamp beddis, . vj s.

Item, gevin for ane littecamp of ane wannet (walnut) tre, vj frs.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane steikit (quilted) covering, and for silk and caddes to the samin, . . xij frs.

Item, gevin for stuffing of ane matres weyand xxviij pundis, price of the pund v s.; summa . . vij frs.

Item, gevin for the fassoun of ane matres, iiij frs. x s.

Item, gevin for ane grete male to turs the littecamp in, and for ane scheith (sheath) to put the treis in,. xviij frs

Item, gevin to the tapischare to pay ane wricht (carpenter or joiner) for ane liticamp bed to thame to turs about with the quenys grace, . . . . iij Ii.

Item, deliverit to him, to be ane matt (mattress) to thame, xvij elnis 1/2 elne of quhite fustiane, price of the elne iij s. ; summa . . . lij s. vj d.

Item, for viij elnis of canves to lyne the matt witht, price of the elne xvj 6. ; summa . . x s. viij d.

Item, for the making of the matt and boustare and ane palʒas of canves servand to the said bed, . xx s.

Item, to ane stane of fedderis to put in the said boustare, x s

Item, for xxx poundis of noppis (wool flock) to put in the said matt, price of the pound v d; summa. xij s. vj 6 d

Item, for ane cover to the said bed, iij Ii. v s. Item, deliverit to the tapischer the xxiiij day of Februar, v elnis of braid quhite to be thame blancatis, price of the elne iij s. viij 6.; summa . xviij s. iiij d.

Item, deliverit to him the xx day of Februar, xxxvj elnis of reid and ʒallow serge to be ane cannabe (canopy) to thame, price of the elne v s.; summa . . ix Ii.

Item, for the making of the said cannabe to thame, deliverit to the tapischer, . . . xl s.

Item, for ane knop of tre (wood) to bere the said canabe, (canopy) xviij d.

Item, for ane cleik (hook) of irne to hing it be quhar thai travell, . . . . iiij s.

Item, for ane soume (strap or possibly saddlebag) of leddir to beir the said matt, bowstare, coveratouris, and blancatis witht, twa malis of ledder to bere the liticamp of tre, price of all v Ii.

1548: Of xviij clekis, xviij eine, xj gret buklis, xj staplis of thair awyn irne to my lord governoures lytecampe bed;

Item: Foure stanʒe (sic, but probably skanʒe meaning skein was intended: girths were purchased by the skein and a similar price per skein is mentioned in 16th c. documents.) of gyrthis to his grace lytillcampe bed; price of the stanʒe xviiij d....summa vi s.

1556: Liticampt bed of fir (1)

1562: ane litucampt of aik (2)

1. Grote, Gilbert, and William Angus. 1914. Protocol book of Mr. Gilbert Grote, 1552-1573. Edinburgh: Printed for the Society by J. Skinner.
2. Great Britain. 1870. Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. London: [H.M.S.O.].

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Death in a Camp Bed

Jael and Sisera, from the Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240, Jael and Sisera, follower of Van Eyck, 1440-1450, Death of Du Guesclin 1455-60, and Death of Du Guesclin 1479-1480. The second Sisera isn't in a bed, but I included it both for the clear depiction of the tent peg and the gap between the bottom of the tent wall and the ground. You can click on these images to enlarge them.

Anna Nenarovoa has Pinterest board devoted to many, many images of Judith and Holofernes. The virtue of these images as that the artist is depicting the kind of beds that might be plausibly used inside a tent. These are also relevant to other tent furnishings, such as horizontal rods for curtains and other things to hang from.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A 14th Century Rope Bed

Agnolo Gaddi, Detail of Legend of the True Cross, ca. 1380.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Camp Bed, 1803

This camp bed is found in Sheraton's 1803 The Cabinet Dictionary, which describes the construction under Camp Bed, starting on page 123. This is an elegant design that requires no technology unknown in the 14th century.

When trying to figure out how medieval people solved a particular problem and you don't have enough information, going back to the earliest era when you do have enough information is often a productive strategy.

Update: here's a picture of one of Washington's beds folded. This may be a reproduction rather than the original. You can see that that instead of offsetting the side rails horizontally when folded, this design has them hinge slightly upwards or downwards so that they clear each other. And here's good picture of Anthony Wayne's camp bed, showing how the sacking bottom is secured by rope passing through eyelets and over pegs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Kazuhiko Kakuta has been building ornithopters: pterosaurs, raptors,, seagulls and puffins, a bat and Myazaki flying machines. Also, fixed wing Miyazaki flying machines and a radio controlled Totoro.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Charny and the Law of Arms

For Geoffroi de Charny, writing around 1350, there were three elements to the law of arms.

The first was custom: what did experienced men at arms think would be expected, absent an explicit offer or agreement otherwise?

The second was explicit agreements or promises: such as the mention of specific rules in the announcement of a particular joust. In the 14th century these left so much unsaid that Charny must have expected customary precedent to do most of the heavy lifting, and that an experienced jouster would have a mental template of more or less how a formally announced joust would be run.

But just like judges of Common Law today, Charny's judges would often encounter disputes where neither unwritten precedent nor written rules gave a clear answer, and they would be forced to decide by a combination of analogy and their own intuition of what was just. This would then become part of the body of precedent used by future judges.

Interestingly, the branch of modern law most like Charny's law of arms may well be the law of war, which is still strongly rooted in customary norms.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How Jousts Were Structured Ca. 1340

I was asked how jousts were structured around 1345. Since I'm answering, I'll share the answer.

It's understandable for a modern reader to think that the winner was chosen by something like the modern elimination tree or round robin tournament.

Understandable, but wrong.

Here's what we know. Although jousts were individual contests, the contestants were always divided into two sides, typically called dedans and dehors, literally within and without but perhaps best translated as the home team and visitors. 15th and 16th century English joust announcements would refer to challengers and comers.

The traditional division dated back to the time when jousts were preliminary events attached to mounted melee tournaments between two teams, and persisted when jousts became independent contests in their own right.

Once jousts became an independent event, the sizes of the two teams were often asymmetrical: the home team was often determined in advance, but the visitors were who turned up on the day of combat. Each visitor could run some number of courses, that is to say attack runs with the mounted lance, against a defender. At the end of the jousts, winners were chosen.

We have one set of rules for scoring a joust from Spain ca. 1330. Different regions almost certainly ran jousts somewhat differently. Geoffroi de Charny's Questions suggest that choosing a winner in a French joust was somewhat more subjective, although it probably followed a roughly similar ranking of achievements.

Charny's Questions, translated in Steven Muhlberger's Jousts and Tournaments, is a valuable but frustrating source on French jousts and tournaments around 1350: frustrating because Charny lists various debatable questions about the martial sports without providing answers.

Still, his questions make it clear that in some, but not all, French jousts a man who unhorsed an opponent would win his horse, and that there were jousts for knights and jousts for squires, and that they involved different equipment. It seems likely that as at the later Smithfield jousts of 1390, the knight's joust was run in full armor and the squire's joust used a saddle that protected the legs and made leg armor unnecessary.  Flemish records from the 1340s list prizes given to the best knight and best squire on each team.

Interestingly, Charny examines the question of a squire entering a knight's tourney and vice versa. He regards this as somewhat irregular, but not so much so that the interloper would clearly forfeit his winnings. He might or might not: he thought the question worth debating

Often the home team would be dressed in matching livery.

Charny describes a very informal process for assigning opponents: the visitors would line up on one side of the field and as soon as one of the home team rode forward one of the visitors would charge him. Because of their limited visibility with helmets on, sometimes two visitors would unintentionally charge at once.

The biographer of the Castillian knight Pero Niño noted the same informality when he jousted in France around 1405, contrasting it with what was presumably Spanish custom. "There is neither one that holds the lists, nor joust of one man against another by champions assigned"

There seems to have been a general agreement that someone that killed or injured another's horse usually owed compensation. For Charny, the possible exceptions seem to have been insufficient promtness in presenting a claim, the injuring party possibly acting as an agent for another person, damage to a borrowed horse, and damage from a dropped lance the jouster no longer controlled.

Monday, October 07, 2013

A Compromise Is When Both Sides Give Up Something They Want

In contrast, the House Republicans are offering to give up something they say they don't want, shutting down the government and/or defaulting on our debt, in return for the House minority, the Senate majority and the White House giving up various things that they do want.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Changing Laws

Under the U.S. Constitution, there's a minimum requirement for passing a new law or changing an old one. You get a majority in both houses of the legislature, and consent of the President as executive. If the Senate thinks it's very important, you need a supermajority there (Currently, the Senate seems to think that very important=almost everything.) If the President objects, you need a 2/3 majority in both houses. Even so, a law that passes can later be declared unconstitutional by the judiciary.

At this time, the Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing an exception to the above going forward: that as long as a party with a  majority in only one house wants something badly, they can refuse to pay for any non-mandated spending, in hopes that everyone else will give them what they cannot get through the regular constitutional process.

Whatever you may think of our current Constitution, with its potential for gridlock and lack of clear accountability, the House Republican variation is much worse.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Great Week in Space

Today, SpaceX successfully launched the first flight of the significantly more capable v1.1 version of its Falcon 9 launcher.

Also, Orbital's unmanned Cygnus spacecraft successfully berthed with the International Space Station, bring supplies, including chocolate. The United States now has two different privately designed and built spacecraft that can do this.

And earlier this weekflight engineer Karen Nyberg sewed a toy stuffed dinosaur out of cloth scraps for her three year old son and it is adorable. It was made from materials salvaged on board the ISS, and is believed to be the first stuffed animal made in space.

A more powerful launcher, new private supply spacecraft, chocolate, and a stuffed dinosaur. In spaaaaace! Yay us!