Book Preview: Cartography and how it shapes the world. Part Two

The first part of this post covered cartography more generally and my more general books. You can read it here. This post is going to look at three of my more specific books on cartography and what they show us about the story of maps.

In the last post I looked at Theatre of the World, History of the World Map by Map, Visions of the World and The Map Book. In this post, I’m going to examine The Writer’s Map, Metropolis: Mapping the city and The Art of Cartographics, each of which have a different perspective on the world of cartography. I’m going to begin with The Art of Cartographics, because it is the most general and leads on well from the books discussed in the last post.

The Art of Cartographics is a fascinating look at modern mapping and the many different ways that are used to make maps, not just of place and landscape. This isn’t a book that looks at Google Maps (see my previous post of that discussion). This book includes maps of everything from literary London, transport systems in Russia, world maps, a map of the global market for cacao. These are by and large physical maps, created in everything from a concrete wall, pins and stress balls. There’s folded maps, maps that unfold to make shapes, maps shaped from tree branches and maps that come together to make a person’s face. These maps are made from paper, lights, stamps, stone and even honeycomb. The book explores the multiplicity of ways we express our world and our knowledge through cartography. Basically it’s a fascinating book, that is well worth having a copy of.

Sadly though, I can’t write about every map in the book. So I am going to focus on three. One is a world map made entirely of honeycomb, two is a literary map of London and three is the map of the NASA jet propulsion laboratory. Between the three of them they represent a good cross section of the types of maps included in the book. A non geographically accurate (but recognisable) map rendered in a non conventional material, a conventional material map of a concept over-laid geographically, and map that is a useful navigational aid, but also tells a completely seperate story.

I’ll start with the honeycomb map. As you can see above, it is a world map created by honeycomb. It is the work of artist Ren Ri, in a collaboration with bees. It is an artwork in its own right, much like many of the earlier maps, which were created as visual masterpieces as much as they were intended to be useful. This map is very recognisable as a world map, though it is a slightly different perspective to the Mercator projection that most people are familiar with. What I love about it, is how much of a collaboration the work is. Ren Ri created his work by carefully clearing part of the beehive and placing relief maps in. The bees then moved back in and laid their honeycomb over the top. The work of the bees makes the map almost appear topographical, to me it looks incredibly tactile as well.

The second map from Art of Cartographics I want to discuss is the literary London map

This map represents central London with characters from the pages of books that are set there. London is such an old city, with such a strong literary tradition that 250 novels were drawn from to create this map. Each character has been plotted into the approximate area they lived or worked within their fictional world. As well as being a mine of fascinating literary information, this map also succeeds in being roughly geographically accurate. It is a wonderful representation of the many different concepts that can be expressed in map form. It also harks back to older forms of mapping such as the medieval mappa mundi, which aimed to present a view of the world rather than one of geographical accuracy. Like past maps it draws on tradition, in this case literary rather than cartographical.

The third map I wanted to consider, is firmly rooted in the present. You can’t get much more forward looking that the Nasa Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

This double sided map was given to all employees at the 76th birthday party and is still given to all new employees and interns at orientation. JPL is so large that even employees need GPS to find their way around sometimes, and the buildings are not blessed with sequential numbering. This map is intended not only to be a useful navigation guide, but it also tells the story of JPL and provide several different walking tours depending on what you want to see, and which part of the story you want to discover. So it serves as both a navigational aide and as a depiction of JPL’s narrative, as well as being an art work in its own right. In many ways it is a combination of all the characteristics of the first two maps discussed. Additionally, despite being so modern, it still holds to many traditions of cartography, especially the pictorial depiction of creatures that inhabit the physical space, or mythological space of JPL. There is a real sense of ‘here be dragons’ (a concept used for unknown territory) and in the tradition of peopling maps with fantastical creatures.

These three maps are only a taste of The Art of Cartographics, there’s many truly incredible and fantastical maps in its pages. It illustrates the many fascinating ways maps can be used to express the human experience and gives hope that cartography is not lost in the past.

Continuing with maps in the real world is Metropolis: Mapping the city by Jeremy Black. Black covers a lot of ground chronologically, starting with incredibly early civilisations like the city of Nippur in Mesopotamia. In c.1250BCE it was depicted on a stone tablet when irrigation canals were built. The writing on the map is cuneiform.

What is truly incredible about this map, is how recognisable it is as a map of a city, even though it is only a fragment and is thousands of years old. This is a map that was clearly intended to be useful. Nippur was found on the Euphrates in what is now Iraq and it was a religious centre for most of its existence. Originally it was dedicated to Enlil, by the time it was abandonded in around 800CE it was a Christian city. The map is depicting the Euphrates on the far left, emerging from it up the very top is a canal that continues into the city. You can also see the city walls and a moat. It is truly remarkable how readable the map is even after all this time.

Black continues on through other very early city maps, through medieval maps of major cities like Jerusalem, London and Cathay (most of which tend to be very pictorial), on to grand Renaissance cities, with appropriately grand maps. He then examines, new world maps as the Europeans began to spread out across the world, through the epic imperial maps of the 1700s to the 1800s, the maps of innovation in the 1800s to 1900s, the global maps of 1900s and 2000s and concludes with the future possibilities of mapping cities.

What is clear in Black’s depiction of millennia of city mapping is how much a city’s identity can be caught up in its maps. This is never more true than in some of the, arguably, most powerful cities; the Renaissance city states. An example is the Carta Della Catena, a map of Florence from the 15th century. Unfortunately the image you can see below is a 19th century copy because the original was lost in a Berlin museum in World War II.

What this map illustrates is not only Florence at the height of its powers, but a period of transition in cartography. The map is still pictorial and in a sense representative rather than geographically realistic (that’s the artist in the bottom right) as you would expect from a medieval map. However, there is the real beginnings of realism as we’d understand it in a modern sense. It also illustrates the layout of Florence very recognisably and shows quite clearly just how important the city was.

Black’s book is a really interesting exploration of mapping cities, and much like Art of Cartographics, it is not too Western focussed. It draws on city maps from all over the world. It’s certainly worth reading.

I wanted to finish off my exploration of mapping and the books on mapping that I own, with something a little different. While all the previous books have been very much rooted in real world cartography, The Writer’s Map edited by Huw Lewis-Jones is a look at maps of fictional worlds. Lewis-Jones edits a book of chapters both by writers who have had maps of their worlds created and by those who created the maps. What is most fascinating about this book is how grounded in real world cartographic history these fictional maps are. I received this book for Christmas and spent two days sitting on the deck doing not much else but reading it. It is truly absorbing. I’d love to be able to explore every map discussed with such genuine enthusiasm, but that would defeat the purpose of this post (just buy the book). So I’ll focus on three very different but classic fictional maps. Middle Earth, Hundred Acre Wood and The Marauder’s Map.

Most people these days are probably most familiar with the maps created for the movies, but I wanted to use the map from 1970 by Pauline Baynes. I chose this map because Tolkien gave her detailed instructions, including the colour and size of the different ships and where different creatures should appear. It is also, arguably, the progenitor of fantasy mapping. The maps of Middle Earth are very much steeped in the history of mapping and they are not dis-similar to many of the epic world maps discussed in part one. In The Writer’s Map the Middle Earth chapter is written by Daniel Reeve who was one of the map makers from the films. He drew on Baynes’ original map as well as mapping traditions and created maps that appear in the movies, but also as the background for the publicity materials. Reeves discusses the processes in making the maps, as well as sneaking the outline of Wellington harbour and his home town as the Gulf of Lune into a Fellowship of the Ring map. He also looks a at why we make maps and what they show us. The maps in Lord of the Rings have become the visual mainstays for the immensely complex fantasy world Tolkien created.

On a much less epic scale, but of equal importance, is Winnie The Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, as drawn by Christopher Robin with help by Ernest Shepard in the 1920s. It was inspired by the real Ashdown Forest and, while simple, perfectly encapsulates Pooh’s world and the world of a child. It gives the world of the book a physical presence. You can see all the important geographical features of the story including: Pooh’s trap for Heffalumps, big stones and rox, Eeyore’s Gloomy Place (which is rather boggy and sad) and of course the directions for the North Pole. The map is in some ways like the city maps I discussed earlier, it depicts the totality of a world, not necessarily with geographical accuracy, but showing what is important to the creator and those it is created for. From the perspective of the Winnie the Pooh stories this map shows its heart. Shepard also did the maps for the Wind in the Willows and along with Hundred Acre Wood, they went on to create a tradition that can be found in many Western children’s books.

The Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter is a tricky one to show, as part of its appeal is the way in which it depicts people moving around Hogwarts, but it is such a crucial part of the books that I couldn’t leave it out. The Writer’s Map also has a fascinating chapter by Miraphora Mina, one of the creators of the Marauder’s Map in the films. She’s one of the creative team who worked on the Potter films and is now working on Fantastic Beasts. Mina knew that the Marauder’s Map had to be special; logical and bewildering at the same time. They made it from scratch, everything hand cut and folded, glued and written. In many senses it was like the early maps, only for a school inhabited by wizards. She made more than twenty maps to be used in the film, and their physicality blurred the line between fantasy and the real. Although these props can’t really show people moving around on them, in creating a map it made a world physical, there in ink and paper. This is true for all fictional maps. They bring their fantastical world into the real. You can trace the Lonely Mountains with a finger, follow the borders of Tortall, understand how the Island of Berk fits with its surrounding geography or see the route taken by the Swallows and Amazons. Fictional cartography gives real world substance to the fantastical, partly because of the long and understood history of cartography.

Maps, whether fictional or real, make a mark on how we see our world. Daniel Reeve sums it up beautifully right at the end of his chapter on Middle Earth. Maps are “inevitable” because “we feel a need to make a mark where we are, where we’ve been and where we imagine ourselves going.”

References:

Honey Map Image: https://www.boredpanda.com/bees-honeycomb-beeswax-sculptures-ri-ren/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

https://www.pearllam.com/exhibition/ren-ri-yuansu-projects/

Literary London Image: https://literarylondonartprints.co.uk/Literary-Central-London-Map

JPL image: https://www.lukedjohnson.com/nasa

Nippur Map: https://www.bookofjoe.com/2008/04/nippur-babyloni.html

Florence Image: https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/la-veduta-della-catena-florence-and-its-monuments/JAIiVU6eaWEIJQ

https://www.facarospauls.com/apps/florence-art-and-culture/4215/pianta-della-catena

Middle Earth image: https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/files/2016/10/LOTRMapBaynes0000.jpg

Hundred Acre Wood image: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-44306069

Marauder’s Map image: https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Marauder%27s_Map

Books: The Writer’s Map: An atlas of imaginary lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones ISBN: 978055519509

Metropolis: Mapping the city by Jeremy Black ISBN:9781844862207

The Art of Cartographics: Designing the modern map ISBN:9781741175615

Book Preview: Cartography and how it shapes the world. Part One.

Maps show a lot about the way we view the world, whether it is a modern map (even Google Maps) or a 14th century mappa mundi. Maps are not always intended to be accurate geographical depictions of landscape, to be used only for navigation. Of course that is the purpose of some maps, but some are symbolic and all maps illuminate (through what they include and what they don’t, how they are made and who commissioned them) the society in which they were created.

This is not going to be a typical post from me, covering a building, person, area or place. This post is going to examine (briefly) maps and what they can show us about the world, beyond geographical features. It is based around several books on cartography that I already owned as well as some new books on maps and mapping that were released at the end of last year, which I was lucky to be given for Christmas. With these additions my collection of books on maps and mapping is large enough to have a section in my library. In this post I’m going to focus on the general cartography books and part 2 will examine the more specific volumes.

So what sorts of books am I talking about? I currently own a variety and I have written about one before when I first started this blog. The Map Book was my first acquisition on cartography and helped to introduce me to the sheer beauty of maps.

You can see my book selection (including The Map Book) below.

Each of these books outlines something slightly different about cartography. Theatre of the World is the most comprehensive from a western perspective, though it is the least visual.

It is written by Thomas Reinerstsen Berg in Norwegian and I read the translated English copy. In fascinating detail it traces the very beginnings of map making (maps carved in stone) through to digital map making and Google Maps.

In this epic journey Reinerstsen Berg takes you through the classical cartography including the work of Aristotle and Plato and Claudius Ptolemy. Around the year 150 CE Ptolemy was working in the Library of Alexandria, drawing on older sources (Roman and Greek) and as many recent observations as he could to create a depiction of the world. He was drawing on sources that have long since been lost – many in the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. His work survived the destruction, mainly through copies, and was rediscovered in the 14th century and helped to shape later ideas about maps and mapping.

Reinerstsen Berg continues through medieval cartography some of which was less focussed on geographical depictions and more on the holy view of the world. An excellent example is the Hereford Mappa Mundi from 1300.

It depicts Jerusalem as the centre of the world, which for medieval christians it was, along with hundreds of towns, figures, animals and mythological sites. It is an illustration of the view of the world, rather than the world itself. It is also really lovely.

Reinerstsen Berg continues through time, highlighting the importance of the first atlas created in 1570 by Abraham Ortelius of Antwerp- it was called Theatre of the World. It was the conclusion of decades of work collecting the best maps he could find from geographers and cartographers across the known world. He redrew the maps himself for consistency and put them together in an atlas declaiming the importance of cartography for history and, in Reinerstsen Berg’s words, “for the first time, those who could afford it were now able to purchase the whole world, bound within a book” (127).

Reinerstsen Berg concludes with digital mapping and Google Maps and Google earth, which for the first time in the history of mapping have the capacity to create maps that show our world down to the tiniest detail. The problem with Google Maps is the same problem that has haunted all cartography; who controls the information included. Google Maps has the 70% market share of digital mapping and it fundamentally shapes how many people physically view the world in which we live. It is a free service, because businesses can pay to have their businesses displayed and it can collect information about users. The monetary nature of mapping and information provision goes right back to the early cartographers, maps are created (usually) at least partly to make money. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is one worth keeping in mind. Reinerstsen Berg’s book is extensive and really interesting. I only had two complaints. The first is that it is extremely Western civilisation focussed. He makes very clear at the start that he is writing about mapping from the point of view of his part of the world; Scandinavia. It does mean that there is lot more about Scandinavia that you would normally find in a general mapping history, which is actually really interesting. So as he is upfront about it, I have less of an issue. My main concern is the images. There are many beautiful and illuminating images of maps, but most are not in the section in which they are discussed, I found this quite dislocating.

Problems aside, Theatre of the World is an eye opening book.

The other two most general books are The Map Book (which I have written about before) and Visions of the World. Both are beautiful books which take an overall and very visual look at maps. The both make a chronological and thematic examination of maps throughout time. They both take a much more worldwide and less euro-centric look than Theatre of the World and they are both much more focussed on the beauty of the maps themselves. They cover everything from Indian mapping to mapping in mosaic in Jordan in 565 CE. The map below was created during the reign of Emperor Justinian.

In 1884 a mosaic map was discovered on the floor of the old church in Madaba. It is somewhat fragmented (the largest surviving portion is 10.5m by 5m) but originally it would have covered the entire width of the nave and depicted the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan river and Syria and parts of Egypt. The fragment you can see above is Jerusalem. The detail is incredible showing trees, fish, towns, animals and even the ferry to Jordan. It illustrates how the christians in Byzantium would have seen the Holy Land as it began to develop.

The Madaba Map is just one of treasures throughout both books. They also cover the detail of maps, looking not just at broad geographic maps, but maps of specific towns and areas. Both books make clear how political map making can be- often depending on who was doing the mapping and who was paying them to map. They are visual delights, with an immense amount of detail.

The final book I’m going to discuss in this post is History of the World by Map. This book is quite different to my other general sources. History of the World covers a general history of world through the rise and fall of civilisations across the world, but while it uses maps to do it, the book creates its own maps to explain the movement of civilisations. In its existence it shows just how useful maps can be and what they can illustrate beyond general geography. History of the World is also very impressive in its scope: covering indigenous Australians, imperial china, Africa, Polynesians, Mansa Musa and much more besides. it provide a fascinating window in which to compare what was happening in the same time in totally different parts of the world, both when they affected each-other and when they didn’t. Western centric histories tend to give the impression that the centre of the world was Europe and not much else was happening anywhere else. History of World gives an easily accessible depiction of how interconnected and vast the world has always been, as well as how much was happening beyond the narrow confines of Europe.

Part 2 will continue the story of cartography and my cartography collection, by considering the remainder of the books which all focus on more specific elements of cartography.

References:

The Map Book: edited by Peter Barber ISBN: 9780297843726

Theatre of the World: The maps that made history. By Thomas Reinertsen Berg ISBN: 9781473688629

Visions of the World: A history of maps by Jeremy Black. ISBN: 1840008342

https://archive.org/details/theatrumorbister00orte/page/n4

https://www.themappamundi.co.uk/index.php

Photos:

The pictures of the books are mine.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is creative commons licensed.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Hereford_Mappa_Mundi#/media/File:Hereford-Karte.jpg

as is the Madaba Map

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Madaba_Jerusalem_Mosaic.jpg

From Page to Place

This post should really be called: Places I’ve been to because I’ve read about them in historical novels. I decided, however, that it was too long a title.

I’m stepping a little outside my usual milieu for this post, but in my summary for the blog it does say “lots of books” and I’ve been a bit neglectful on the book front. Basically I’m going to take you through some of my favourite historical books and then elucidate some of the history of the places they inspired me to visit. So this will be part historical travelogue and part book review.

It won’t cover every place I’ve been inspired to see by books, but it will cover a good selection.

There also will be mild spoilers about the plots of the books, mainly because they’re historical novels and it’s a bit difficult to discuss the history they’re written about with out giving away some of the events they cover.

I’ve sorted them into medieval mysteries and historical novels and they’re listed in chronological order for the time they’re set.

Mysteries

Books: Sister Fidelma Series by Peter Tremayne 

At the time of writing this post the Sister Fidelma mysteries number 28 and Tremayne has been writing them since 1994. The mystery series is set, mainly, in mid seventh century Ireland. I say mainly because Fidelma does travel abroad occasionally. Fidelma  is a dalaigh, an advocate in the Irish system of laws that would come to be known as the Brehon laws. At the beginning of the series she is also a member or the religious community of Kildare. Fidelma is the daughter of Failbe Fland the king of Cashel, who died shortly after her birth. Her brother later becomes king of Cashel.  As well as being intriguing mysteries in their own right the Sister Fidelma series are also a fascinating window into the complex and layered legal system of Ireland in the 7th century and Celtic christianity. Celtic christianity is quite different to the Roman form which would become ascendant with time. For more information on the books and Sister Fidelma’s time, follow this link

trem

Place: Cashel, Ireland.

Fidelma is from Cashel and a number of the books are set in or around there, so naturally I looked it up. As soon as I did there was no doubt in my mind that I had to go there. It is one of the most incredible places I’ve been and is a favoured tourist destination in Ireland, so try to get there before all the buses roll up. The highlight for me is the 12th century Cormac’s Chapel with some truly spectacular surviving  wall paintings and a very early 12th century round tower both of which you can seen in the photos below.

I’ve written about the history of the Rock of Cashel before, so you can find more information here. 

Rock of Cashel

round tower cashel

cormac's wall painting cashel3

Books: Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters

These books were the progenitor of the medieval mysteries genre. They were also one of my earliest forays into medieval fiction, when my mother gave them to me to read when I was about 11. For those who haven’t come across them, the Brother Cadfael books follow former crusader turned monk and herbalist Brother Cadfael predominantly in Shrewsbury Abbey. The books are set in the Period of Anarchy in England (1135-1153). In creating Brother Cadfael, Peters not only illuminates Wales and the Marches of the time, but has created one of the most human and complex characters to ever lead a medieval mystery series, as well as starting the genre. The 20 books were published between 1977 and 1994 and there is also a TV series starring Derek Jacobi. So enduring is the appeal of Brother Cadfael that Shrewsbury Abbey has part of a stain glass window dedicated to him (you can see it in the photos below). For more information on the books click here.

cadfael

Place: Shrewsbury Abbey

Shrewsbury was one of the definites on my list of places to go in the Welsh Marches. There actually isn’t that much left of the Abbey itself, which was once an entire complex, but the church remains reasonably intact. The Abbey of St Peter and St Paul was founded by Earl Roger de Montgomery in 1083. It was a Benedictine monastery. It survived as a complete abbey until, like many other religious institutions, the dissolution of the monasteries. By the time the dissolution of the monasteries act was passed in 1536 the abbey was 34th out of 602 monasteries in terms of wealth. Abbot Thomas Boteler was given a pension and so were some of his monks when the abbey was dissolved in 1540. The majority of the buildings were demolished and sold off, some of the church survived though. The nave was left standing while the rest was demolished and a new east wall was built. This is the church you see remaining today. In the photos below you can see the interior and exterior of the remaining abbey and you can see where the new wall was built after the remainder of the abbey was demolished.

IMG_2782

IMG_2833IMG_2835IMG_2791IMG_2822

Books: Owen Archer mysteries by Candace Robb

The Owen Archer series is set in mid 14th century York, in the dying years of the reign of Edward III. It follows Owen Archer a one eyed Welshman who was in the army of the Duke of Lancaster until he was blinded and no longer able to fight. He is seconded to John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York, Chancellor of England and a worldly and devious man. Thoresby sends him to York to investigate suspicious deaths and so begins the 10 book, so far, series. Owen meets and eventually marries apothecary Lucie Wilton and deals with all manner of crimes and mysteries for the Archbishop. The books paint a beautifully detailed picture of 14th century York as well as creating a truly memorable collection of characters both historic and fictional. For more information see the author’s site. 

owen

Place: York Minster

The Owen Archer books were not the only reason I went to York, but they were a large contributing factor. I do not have the time in this post to write about the history of the whole of York however, so I’m going to focus on the Minster which features heavily in the books. The original Minster dates to 627, when it was built for the baptism of Edwin King of Northumbria, the site of this building is unknown. The majority of the Minster that you can see now dates to the 13th century and later. The nave was constructed between 1280 and 1350, the north and south transept between 1220 and 1260 and the east end and central tower between 1361 and 1472. It is still very much an active church and remains one of the great cathedrals of England. The photos you can see below are the exterior, the altar and part of the nave, the magnificent quire screen with reliefs of the Kings of England on it and the roof of the Chapter House vestibule which dates to the 1270s and 1280s. IMG_0702IMG_0708IMG_0712IMG_0723

Books: The Burren Mysteries by Cora Harrison

The Burren Mysteries are set in 16th century Ireland in the region called the Burren just out of Galway. They follow Mara, Brehon (judge) of the Burren as she runs her law school and deals with investigating crimes in the region. They illuminate the intricate Brehon laws of Ireland, like the Sister Fidelma books, and bring life to one of the most spectacular areas of Ireland. Mara is a sympathetic, but strong character and her world feels very real. There are fifteen books in the series, at the time of writing this post, and the mysteries themselves are very much key to each of the novels. They are usually complex and fit well with the rule of law of the time. The true stars of the series for me though, will always be the Burren itself and the fascinating, ancient and egalitarian legal system of the Brehon laws. For more on the series see the author’s site

lady judge

Place: The Burren, Ireland

This series was the entire reason I was intrigued enough to go to the Burren when I was in Ireland. It is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places I have ever been. The ground is largely carboniferous limestone, the top soil was stripped off by glaciers, and wild flowers grow in profusion through the cracks, called grykes. There is also a number of monasteries, ancient monuments, churches and round towers making it close to my favourite place in Ireland. It is truly beautiful. I have written about it before, specifically about Temple Cronan, so you can read more here

You can get an idea of the area from the photos below.

IMG_6157IMG_6169IMG_6158IMG_3071IMG_3258IMG_3242IMG_3065IMG_3063

Historical Fiction:

Book: The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight follows the early years of William Marshal. From his early knighthood in 1167 until 1194 with the return of Richard I from Crusade and the birth of Marshal’s daughter Mahelt. Marshal was involved in the majority of the important events for the English crown in the this period and lived a complex and fascinating life, remaining a man of loyalty and integrity.  The book covers Marshal’s life admirably and it was the novel that introduced me to Marshal in the first place. I went on to read every biography I could find on him, and to write my honours thesis on the man, but this book will remain important to me because it was where I first met him. For more information on the Greatest Knight and its sequels see the author’s site.

greatest knight

Place: Marshal Sites.

The Greatest Knight introduced me to Marshal and led me to travelling to a great number of Marshal related sites. I am not going to go into detail about the life of William Marshal here. If you want more detail you can read my short piece about him here.

I have also written about his wife Isabel de Clare, from whom he gained lands, money and status here. 

For this post I am creating a visual diary of key Marshal sites, some of which I have already written about.

Tintern wales

Tintern Abbey in Wales, of which Marshal was a patron

chepstow

chepdoorchepstow2

Chepstow Castle in Wales. Marshal was responsible for large portions of it and probably the doors in the photo above. For more information on the history of Chepstow Castle see this previous post here

pembrokepembroke2

Pembroke Castle in Wales. Marshal was responsible for parts of it including the massive round tower you can see in the photos above. For more information on the history of Pembroke see this previous post

ferns

Ferns Castle in Ireland. Marshal built most of it originally. For more information on the history of Ferns Castle see this previous post.

kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. Built partly by Marshal. He was largely responsible for the early form of the round towers. There isn’t much of the medieval castle still visible.

new ross

st mary'snews ross tapestry

The Barrow River in New Ross in Ireland, St Mary’s Abbey in New Ross and one of the sections of the New Ross Tapestry.

Marshal founded the town of New Ross essentially so he could have a non royal controlled port in his lands in Ireland. He and Isabel de Clare were instrumental in the construction of St Mary’s Abbey. The panel of the New Ross tapestry depicts the storm which Marshal barely survived when crossing the Irish Sea in 1201. He swore to God that if he survived he would found an abbey. He did and it can be seen in the photo below. For more on Marshal, Isabel and Ireland see this previous post.

tintern parva

Tintern Parva in Ireland.

hook headhookhead

Hook Head Light house in Ireland, which was built on Marshal’s orders in the early 1200s as a landmark and to guide ships up to Marshal’s newly built port at New Ross. For more on the lighthouse see this previous post.

Lincoln castle

Lincoln Castle. While Marshal had nothing to do with the construction of Lincoln Castle it was the site of the one of the most decisive battles in English history, which had Marshal at its head. In 1217 the young Henry III’s forces, led by his Regent Marshal who was in his early 70s, met with the forces of Prince Louis of France who was trying to take England. The battle was a rout and Marshal’s forces were victorious. It was the beginning of the end of Louis’ attempt to gain the English crown. There were so few casualties it was known as the Faire of Lincoln. For more on the battle and the history of Lincoln Castle in general see this previous post. 

temple chrucheffeffclose

The Temple Church and Marshal’s effigy there.

The Temple Church in London is one of the few surviving actually medieval churches in London. It was built by the Knights Templar and it is deliberately round to mimic the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Marshal joined the order of the Templars just before his death and was interred in the Church. The effigy was damaged severely during the Blitz but thankfully enough survived and it was restored.

Marshal died well for the medieval period,  managing his death and ensuring all the right steps were taken. For more information on Marshal’s death see this previous post.

Books: The Welsh Princes trilogy (especially Here Be Dragons) by Sharon Penman

Sharon Penman is probably my favourite medieval author. Here Be Dragons, the first of her Welsh Princes trilogy, was the first book of hers I read. The Welsh Princes Trilogy were also the books that got me interested in Wales. They follow the final years of Wales as an independent kingdom or kingdoms depending on how you look at. They focus on North Wales and the princes in Gwynedd.

Here Be Dragons  follows the life of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, known as Llywelyn Fawr (meaning Llywelyn the Great). He was a Welsh Prince from North Wales who united most, but not all, of Wales and held off the English.  You can find out more about Llywelyn in this previous post and about his wife Joan who was King John’s illegitimate daughter, in this previous post. 

The second book Falls the Shadow follows the end of Llywelyn and Joan’s lives and the life of their son Dafydd and Llywelyn’s grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. A large part of the narrative is also dedicated to the life and love of Simon de Montfort and his wife Eleanor of England (the sister of Henry III and daughter of King John). I’ve never written anything about the de Montforts, though I probably will at some point,  so I can’t provide an old post for more information. De Montfort has been credited with being the founder of the concept of the parliament and he led the barons revolt against Henry III. It is much more complicated than that of course, and he and Eleanor are both worth much more time than I can dedicate here. So to learn more about them at here’s a link to the Britannica article.

The final book in the trilogy is the Reckoning. I’ve only ever managed to read it twice because it depicts the fall of Wales to the English as well as the life of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as he tries to fulfil his grandfather’s dreams of a united Wales. Like de Montfort I’ve never written about Llewelyn before, but you can find more about him here.

Penman brings the period alive and creates characters that are not only enduring, but who you really care about. The series is also helped by covering one of the most fascinating and sometimes unbelievable part of English and Welsh history. It was a time populated with many extraordinary people, but also a time of immense tragedy as a country fell. You can find out more about Sharon and her other books here.

dragonsfalls the shadowreckoning

Place: Wales in general but several specific sites

While this trilogy inspired me to become interested in the history of Wales in general and certainly inspired me to go there, it would be a whole other post to discuss history of all of Wales. So I’m going to keep it simple and focus instead on a couple of places in Wales I would never have gone without reading these particular books.

llew coffin 2llew coffin 1

Llewelyn’s tomb in Llanrwst parish church

joanna farjoanna close

Joan’s tomb in Beaumaris

conwy1conwy2

Conwy Castle. I visited this castle because it is an amazing example of late 13th century medieval architecture, for more on the castle see this previous post, and because it is on the site of the abbey where Llewelyn was originally buried. The town is also where a statue of Llewelyn stands, though it much smaller than it looks and smaller than it should be. You can see it below.

llew

I wanted to add in two natural rather than historical sites as well.

IMG_2214

Mount Snowdon. The photo is the view from the top. Penman describes the mountains in Northern Wales so evocatively that I had to see them. I was lucky enough to get spectacular weather when I took the train up Mount Snowdon.

IMG_2084IMG_2085

Aber Falls, known as Raeadr Fawr in Welsh. These falls feature in a particularly intense scene in Here Be Dragons. They are very close to Abergwyngregyn, a small Welsh town that was once one of the homes of the Welsh Princes. There is nothing left of the residence, but the waterfall is spectacular.

Book: Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

While this is a contemporary mystery it is the first book that introduced me both to the concept of history being written by the victors and the many arguments surrounding Richard III, so it is worthy of inclusion. If you haven’t read Daughter of Time do, everyone should if only so you can learn that history is not immutable fact.

Tey takes the unusual step of having her usual detective Alan Grant stuck in hospital with a broken leg. In his boredom, he begins to investigate the history of Richard III with the help of a young American student to do the leg work. The book looks at how the popular narrative of Richard III as a nephew killing villain has been constructed and Grant investigates until he finds what he sees to be the truth behind Richard III. I am not going to get into the Richard III debate here (though for the record I fall on the side of he probably didn’t kill his nephews but we can never really know) but regardless of where you fall in the debate, Daughter of Time is fascinating. It not only imparts a the history of Richard III and his period, but it deconstructs how history is constructed. In managing the latter in a readable, relatable and engaging way it is one of the most important books written.

IMG_1257 copy

Place: Richard III’s grave and tomb

I was quite young when I read Daughter of Time, 12 or so I think, so while I was aware of Richard III and knew a little about him it was Daughter of Time which introduced me to arguments regarding the truth of his story and cemented my interest in the king. So while Sharon Penman’s Sunne in Splendour (a retelling of Richard’s life) also deserves credit, I’ve decided to list Daughter of Time as the main reason I went to Richard III’s grave and tomb in 2015.

I travelled especially to Leicester. I know both Richard’s burial in Leicester and the monument to him in the cathedral have their dissenters (there’s lots of articles about this, google it if you’re interested). I, however, found both the monument and Richard’s actual grave surprisingly moving. When I was there in 2015 the cathedral still had some work to do in providing information both about the cathedral and Richard III (though I’ve heard from other people they have improved substantially). The Richard III centre across the road was fascinating and a well realised tribute. You can see both Richard’s tomb in the cathedral and his grave in the photos below.

IMG_5853IMG_5854IMG_5858IMG_5879

Book: Henry VIII’s Shoes by Karen Wallace

This might seem to be an odd book to finish on. It’s a children’s book to start with and it’s actually set in the present day although Henry VIII does still feature. This however, for me, was the book that began my interest in history. It’s the story of a group of English kids who go to Hampton Court for a school trip, and find some shoes in the maze. They turn out to be Henry VIII’s shoes and then Henry himself shows up.. chaos ensues.

I was reading this as an eight year old when my grade 3 teacher (Mr Spaull) assigned a project where we could pick any historical figure we wanted. At my Mum’s suggestion, because of this book, I chose Henry VIII and the rest is literally history. I started with the Tudors and then moved back to the Plantagenets, read a lot of historical fiction and a bit of non fiction, studied history as much as I could at school, studied history at uni, did my honours degree in medieval history and ultimately ended up working in a history library (Australian history, but still) all because I was reading this book at the right time. So books and teachers can change lives, even in slightly unexpected ways.

henryVIII

Place: Hampton Court

I’ve credited this book as the genesis of my interest in history, which is true, but in the spirit of this post it is also the primary reason I went to Hampton Court.

Hampton Court is probably best known for its association with Henry VIII. It was built by Cardinal Wolsey, but Henry took it from him in 1529. He expanded it greatly and was determined to make it a pleasure palace.

It wasn’t just Henry’s palace though. It was used by succeeding monarchs as well, including his three children. It was there, during the Hampton Court Conference, that James I commissioned the King James Bible. James’ son Charles brought an art collection, one which Oliver Cromwell admired  when he took over as Lord Protector of England. Charles II installed his mistresses there and William III and Mary II commissioned Christopher Wren to extensively remodel the buildings. Wren originally wanted to demolish the whole thing and start again but they didn’t have the money, so he settled for rebuilding the king and queen’s apartments. Hampton Court is now run by Historic Palaces. You can see photos of Hampton Court below.

IMG_3224IMG_3227IMG_3272IMG_3341IMG_3299

The photo above seemed to be a good way to finish. It’s taken in 2012 when I made it to the centre of Hampton Court maze, in a funny way I’d made it back to where I started my journey into history.

References:

Sister Fidelma and Cashel: 

Site visits 2012 and 2015.

Sister Fidelma’s time: http://www.sisterfidelma.com/fidelma.html

Brother Cadfael and Shrewsbury

Site visit 2012

Shrewsbury Abbey: http://www.shrewsburyabbey.com/A%20Rare%20Benedictine.html

Owen Archer and York Minster:

Site visit 2012

Candace Robb: http://www.emmacampion.com/books

York Minster guides.

The Burren Mysteries and The Burren

Site visits 2012 and 2015

Cora Harrison: http://www.coraharrison.com/burren.html

The Greatest Knight and William Marshal

Site visits 2012 and 2015

Elizabeth Chadwick: http://elizabethchadwick.com/knight/

The Welsh Princes and Sharon Penman

Site visits 2012 and 2015

Sharon Penman: http://www.sharonkaypenman.com/

Daughter of Time and Richard III

Site visit 2015

Henry VIII’s Shoes and Hampton Court

Site visit 2012

Hampton Court history: https://www.hrp.org.uk/media/1205/hcphistory_v1.pdf

The photos are all mine.

Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry. Probably the world’s best known embroidery, it covers the lead up to and the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, one of the most important battles in English history. You can see a video of the tapestry below.

The Bayeux Tapestry.

Sorry about the heads in the way and the speed. I had to film around the tourists. It does give you a really good idea of how long the tapestry is though.

This post is going to be a combination book preview, I haven’t done one for a while, because I have two lovely and quite different books on the Bayeux Tapestry.

IMG_1245

The book on the left is The Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Invasion by Lewis Thorpe published in 1973. The book on the right is The Bayeux Tapestry by Eric Maclagan CBE (Director and secretary V&A) published 1943. Both books give an historical background to the tapestry, though Thorpe’s has more detail. Both also have analysis of each scene of the tapestry though Maclagan’s is more detailed. Maclagan’s focus is very specific to the tapestry while Thorpe takes a broader view. Thorpe also includes a translation of one part of William of Poitiers work History of William Duke of Normandy and King of the English.

Both books are also second hand and Maclagan’s has some extra information in the front cover. Pasted there is a newspaper article discussing another tapestry.

 IMG_1246

The article is from the early fifties and outlines the plan by Miss Sandell of Southampton to make a tapestry, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, of Southampton’s Town Quay at the Dday landings. This led me to do some research and I found what I think is the same tapestry. It was completed in 1953 and now hangs in the civic building in Southampton. [1] Unfortunately I have not yet been able to find a photo.

As I said both books depict the scenes of the tapestry. They do it a little differently though. Two examples can be seen below. The first is a depiction of the famous scene that may or may not illustrate, it depends who you ask, King Harold getting shot in the eye with an arrow. [2] The second is a depiction of William the Conquerer showing his face to his men to prove he isn’t dead.

IMG_1248 IMG_1247

The first picture is Thorpe’s book, and as you can see it provides a translation of the latin embroidery below each picture. The second picture is Maclagan’s and it depicts the whole image alone, he provides a summary of the events in an earlier section. Maclagan only covers a handful of the scenes in colour where as Thorpe does all of them.

There isn’t a great deal new to write about the tapestry, I’m not offering any fantastic revelations, but it is an abidingly interesting story depicted in threads. So I thought I’d narrate that here. To begin with though, it isn’t a tapestry. It’s an embroidery.

I wanted to start with a little background about both the history behind the tapestry and about the physical tapestry itself. The tapestry was embroidered on coarse linen and two different kinds of woollen thread, including eight colours, can be seen. The Bayeux Tapestry is 70.34 m in length and 50cm wide, but it is made up of half a dozen or more pieces of linen. It has also been ‘fixed’ at various times throughout its life. (Maclagan, p.16-17). [3] The tapestry depicts the lead up to the invasion and the invasion of England by William the Conquerer. It was most likely commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conquerer’s brother, for the consecration of his cathedral in Bayeux in 1077. It was then probably stitched by two teams of women. (Thorpe, p. 24).[4] Though it is thought that the design was probably drawn on sections of the linen background by one master craftsman. Each scene is captioned in latin and it was designed to hang around a wall, probably Bayeux Cathedral

IMG_7081

Bayeux Cathedral.

After its creation and dedication ceremony, probably in 1077, there is not much record of the tapestry. In 1476 it is specifically listed in an inventory of Bayeux Cathedral. It is then mentioned in a paper in 1724 and in 1728 Dom Bertrand de Montfaucon, a Benedictine from Saint-Maur, took an interest in it and 12 months later sent someone to examine it. The drawings made of it at this time was published in Montfaucon’s book Monument de la Monarchie Francais. There were several attempts to destroy it or to use it ignobly during the French Revolution. For example it was almost used as a protective tarpaulin before a last minute reprieve.[5] It was exhibited in the Musee de Napoleon in Paris by Napoleon. During Napoleon’s reign a comet was sighted. Although it wasn’t Halley’s Comet, which is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, it was thought that it was a good omen for an invasion of England. Napoleon changed his mind though and in 1804 it was returned to Bayeux where it has hung pretty much ever since, apart from a short period of time during the Franco Prussian War. Also during WWII it was spirited away to stop it being sent to Germany with other significant French art. It was also briefly exhibited in the Louvre in 1944 after the liberation of France. (Lewis, pp. 58-59).

So in some ways it is somewhat of a miracle that the tapestry still exists.

The story it depicts is very much from the Norman perspective but is still of great interest. I will now set the scene for the story of the tapestry. Edward the Confessor was King of England but he had no direct heir. There were several contenders. William Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson were the primary claimants as far as the tapestry is concerned. However the tapestry leaves out other contenders including Edgar the Aethling who had the best hereditary claim being descended from England’s older kings, but he was quite young and no one seemed to seriously consider him until after the Battle of Hastings. The tapestry also doesn’t depict Harald Hardrada King of Norway who made a spited attempt to claim the throne, though unsuccessfully, but more on Harald Hardrada later. William of Normandy was related to Edward the Confessor as Edward’s mother had been Emma of Normandy who was the daughter of William of Normandy’s great grandfather. William also claimed that Edward offered him the throne in 1051. Harold Godwinson’s claim to the throne was not one of blood but rather one of power, he was the son of Earl Godwin Earl of Wessex and his sister was the wife of Edward the Confessor. Earl Godwin died in 1053 and Edward and his brothers Tostig Earl of Northumbria, Gyrth Earl of East Anglia and Leofwine , who ruled the area of the south east, wielded an immense amount of power in England. During the last 13 years of Edward’s life they were virtually ruling England. (Lewis, pp.7-8). This is the situation when the Bayeux Tapestry begins.

I have photos of most of the tapestry, but there are a few panels I missed when trying to photograph it around people. The photos below give a good general idea though.

The story begins with an image of Edward the Confessor talking to Harold Godwinson. Bayeux Tapestry 1

Harold is then sent to Normandy and he can be seen crossing the sea.

Bayeux Tapestry 2

When he lands he is seized by Count Guy of Ponthieu.

Bayeux Tapestry 3

And he is taken to Beaurain Castle where Harald and Guy talk.

Bayeux Tapestry 4

Duke William finds out about Harold’s capture.

Bayeux tapestry 5

Duke William sends envoys to Guy.

Bayeux tapestry 6

Harold is taken to Duke William, you can see Duke William below on the black horse.

Bayeux Tapestry 7JPG

They go to Duke William’s palace.

Bayeux Tapestry 8

A churchman and Aelfgyva were at the palace. Aelfgyva was a woman who’s identity is unknown to the historical community, though there is much debate.

Bayeux tapestry 9

Then Duke William, Harold and Duke William’s army go to Mont Saint Michel. This is an account of Duke William’s campaign in Brittany.

Bayeux Tapestry 10

They cross the river Couesson.

Bayeux tapestry 11

 They arrive at Dol and Duke Conan of Brittany flees. You can see him doing it on the left.

Bayeux Tapestry 12

They then attack Rennes and are fighting against the men of Dinian.

Bayeux Tapestry 13

Conan hands over the keys to William, no photo, and Harold and William arrive at Bayeux, no photo, where Harold makes an oath to back Duke William. You can see him swearing on the holy relics on the right.

Bayeux Tapestry 14

Harold returns to England, no photo, to find that King Edward is dying.

Bayeux Tapestry 15

The Hand of God is pointing at the very new Westminster Abbey and King Edward’s body is carried off.

Bayeux Tapestry 16

King Edward is shown addressing his faithful servants before his death.

Bayeux Tapestry 17

Harold is named King.

Bayeux Tapestry 18

The men marvel at a star, which is Halley’s Comet. One of them comes to tell Harold about it. You can see shadowy ships in the bottom border, which could be taken as an omen.

Bayeux Tapestry 19

Duke William is told of what he sees as Harold’s treachery.

Bayeux Tapestry 20 JPG

Duke William’s men are ordered to chop down trees to make ships and the ships are built.

Bayeux Tapestry 21

The ships are dragged to the sea, no picture, and loaded with weaponry and food and wine.

Bayeux Tapestry 22

They set sail.

Bayeux Tapestry 24

Bayeux Tapestry 23

They arrive at Pevensey, unload the horses and the knights hurry off. They can be seen hurrying on the right.

Bayeux Tapestry 25

They head for Hastings so they can forage for food, no pictures, they then arrive and meet Waddard, probably a vassal of Odo’s.

Bayeux tapestry 26

Meat is cooked and served by servants, no picture. They have a large meal and the bishop blesses the food.

Bayeux Tapestry 27

Duke William talks to his two half brothers Bishop Odo and Robert of Mortain, no picture, the order is then given for a fortification to be dug at Hastings.

Bayuex Tapestry 28

News about Harold is brought to Duke William and a house is burnt, possibly an indication of the countryside being ravaged to provoke battle.

Bayeux Tapestry 29

The knights set out from Hastings, no picture, and reach the battle against Harold.

Bayeux Tapestry 30

Duke William questions Vital, who was probably Odo’s vassal and has been scouting, if he has seen Harold’s army.

Bayeux Tapestry 31

It is worth pausing the story here to say that at this point King Harold has ridden and marched his army from Stamford Bridge, just out of York. Where after a forced march of more than 200 miles King Harold’s forces had defeated the army of Harald Hardrada the King of Norway and Tostig, King Harold’s brother who he’d been forced to exile some months earlier. Harald Hardrada had sailed at Tostig’s request to claim the English Crown for himself. He’d sailed with a fleet of some 200 ships, not including the supply ships. King Harold won the day, the Norwegians were annihilated and Hardrada and Tostig were both killed. So few survived that only approximately 24 ships were needed to carry them home. Oderic Vital wrote seventy years later that “To this day a great congeries of skeletons of those who died still lies there, as evidence of the wholesale slaughter of two peoples.” (Thorpe, p.15). News of Duke William’s landing probably reached Harold while he was in York and he turned around and marched south from just out of York to face Duke William, he left London on the 12th of October and The Battle of Hastings was fought on the 14th of October 1066. The image below on the left is King Harold receiving news of Duke William’s army before the battle begins and on the right you can see Duke William exhorting his troops.

Bayeux Tapestry 32

The battle then commences. Bayeux Tapestry 33 Bayeux Tapestry 34

King Harold’s brothers, Leofwine and Gyrth, fall.Bayeux Tapestry 35 Bayeux Tapestry 36

The Battle continues.

Bayeux Tapestry 37

Bayeux Tapestry 38

There is concern that Duke William has been killed. You can see him showing his face below to prove that he isn’t dead.

Bayeux Tapestry 39

There is more fighting, no photos,  and then King Harold is killed. You can see latin below. Harold Rex interfectus est. Which translates as here King Harold has been killed. See above for the discussion as to how he died.

Bayeux Tapestry 40

And the English flee.

Bayeux Tapestry 41Bayeux Tapestry 42

And that is the end of the tapestry.

It is by no means the end of story as Duke William still had to establish dominance over a reasonably hostile country. But that is a story for another post.

The photos are all mine as is the video.

[1] http://www.watchashore.org.uk/southampton

[2] http://www.history.org.uk/file_download.php?ts=1254494939&id=3946. This is a link to a discussion about whether or not King Harold was shot in the eye. While the author draws the conclusion that he was not and I don’t believe this can be said absolutely definitively the article outlines the problems with the argument that he was shot in the eye with an arrow. There are absolutely arguments on both sides, but this is not the place to go into detail.

[3] The Bayeux Tapestry by Eric Maclagan. published 1943 by Penguin Book Limited: London and New York.

[4] The Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Invasion by Lewis Thorpe. Published 1973 by the Folio Society.

[5] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/56821/Bayeux-Tapestry

Book Preview: The Map Book

MB front

The Map Book is a fascinating chronological journey throughout the history of maps. It begins in 1500BC with fossilised prayers.

MB BC It concludes with modern satellite images from 2005.

MB 2005

This book has many gems all of which are worth a look, but I’m going to focus on a handful of my favourites.

I will begin in the middle of the chronological line and work backwards.

The first map I wanted to talk about is the 1521 map of the City of Augsburg.

MB 1521 MB 1521 fullThis map is the earliest printed north European measured town plan. It appears to be a purely pictorial view as every house is depicted, which is what I like about it. It is surprisingly accurate though because it’s the product of a survey by Jorg Seld. Seld was a goldsmith from Augsburg who was also a military engineer.  The map was cut into wood blocks and then printed, though only two copies survive. If you look closely you can see the citizens of Augsburg out and about in the city. As well as being accurate it’s also a map of praise to the Holy Roman Empire. You can see the arms of Emperor Charles V below the double headed imperial eagle in the top left hand corner.

The next map moves further back in time and illustrates just how important maps can be as a demonstration of power.

MB 1360The map dates from 1360 and is one of the earliest detailed maps of England and Wales. This is a departure from earlier medieval maps because it’s actually recognisable as a map, where as earlier maps tended to be more allegorical than geographically accurate. It depicts castles, towns, abbeys, churches and the roads which linked them all. Above all though, it is emblematic of Edward I’s England and his reign. This is how he imposed royal authority on the country. The castles he built in the newly conquered Wales were essential to bringing it under his control.  This map stood as the template for future maps until the mid 16th century.

The next map I want to consider is probably my favourite. The Hereford Mappa Mundi.

MB HerfordThe picture above is from The Map Book, however I am including the below picture so that you can see some more of the detail.

mappa2This map dates from 1300 and is a wonderful depiction of the medieval world and how it saw itself. It is a map of the world, but as a map for navigation it’s completely useless. It is much more about medieval identity, history and religion than it is about geographical accuracy. Jerusalem sits at the centre with the rest of the world radiating out. It includes people from antiquity such as the Alexander the Great and it has the travel of the apostles and pilgrimage routes. There are also some real world geographic features such as Lincoln Cathedral, Hereford and the River Wye in England and Paris and Rome in Europe, amongst other cities. It roughly maps the world as it was known then, essentially Europe, Asia and North Africa. The Mappa Mundi is many layered in meaning and extremely detailed in reality. It contains over 500 drawings, depicting 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds and strange creatures, 32 images of the peoples of the world and eight pictures from classical mythology.

Some years ago Hereford Cathedral, where the map now resides, gave permission for the map to be scanned. The scan has been turned into an in depth exploration of the map online. It is well worth a look because the detail that can be seen is incredible.

For more information on the Mappa Mundi and to have a better look at the second photograph go to http://www.herefordcathedral.org/visit-us/mappa-mundi-1

The Map Book is a wonderful exploration of cartography through the ages and well worth a look.

The Map Book

Author: Peter Barber

ISBN: 9780802714749

Book Preview: The Kings and Their Hawks, Falconry in Medieval England.

flacon

 

This is a fascinating book about medieval English kings and the noble, but largely forgotten sport of falconry. It is a surprisingly good read and has beautiful depictions of falconry from breviaries, illuminated manuscripts and tapestries.

flacon 2

flacon 3

Falconry was an important part of life for medieval nobles. Admittedly I have mainly read the chapters regarding falconry from the reign of William I to  the reign of Henry II as these were the parts I required for my novel. During Henry II’s reign he was often described as travelling with his hawks and was hawking at key moments in his life. For example when Thomas Becket was summoned to Henry’s court to answer a charge of contempt Becket had to wait because Henry had stopped to hawk along the river banks.

Hawks also played a role in William I’s life. He is depicted in the Bayeaux tapestry as carrying a hawk that had possibly been brought by Harold Godwinson as a gift.

flacon bayeaux. JPG

Eyries of hawks were also listed as assets in the Domesday Book, which was written under the orders of William I.

Hawking and falconry in general was very much part of the life of the nobility. Different birds were seen as having different characteristics, for example goshawks were generally flown at ducks, pheasant and partridge. Goshawks were seen as the lower bird, often used for hunting for food rather than just for sport. Whereas Sparrowhawks were seen as a more noble bird and were often used to hunt prey like teal.

Falcons like the gyrfalcon would come from places like Iceland and could take down cranes and herons. The gyrfalcon was the most highly valued bird by the English Kings and King Haakon IV of Norway sent Henry III three white and ten grey gyrfalcons in 1225 as a gift.

These falcons could also be very productive. In c. 1212 King John’s falcons bagged seven cranes in one day and nine in another.

This book gives a truly interesting insight into medieval falconry, both the birds themselves and the men who flew them.

Title: The Kings and Their Hawks

Author: Robin S Oggins

ISBN: 9780300100587

Book Preview: Celebrities of the World

This book is an interesting one. cow coverIt dates from the 1880s and is essentially  a collection of those considered celebrities throughout history. The men included, and I’m not being generalist here there are no women, range from Alexander the Great, to Geoffrey Chaucer,to Simon de Montford.

                 cow alexandercow chaucercow sdem

 

 

 

cow legendThe book describes itself as cataloguing: warriors, sailors, monarchs, statesmen, patriots, reformers, thinkers and writers. It also has a number of lovely printed illustrations. For each person depicted it usually has, at least, a picture and in some cases, lcow sdem2ike Simon de Montford’s, depictions of their actions. In de Montford’s case it is a picture of him expelling ‘Jews and other aliens.’ As you can see it is a book of its time. It is a beautifully put together book though and it is an interesting illustration of how our ideas of celebrity have changed, even if the information is a bit outdated.

cow fronticecow spine

Book Preview: The Grand Medieval Bestiary

The Grand Medieval Bestiary is one of the most epic and beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure to see. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is in the photo to illustrate just how large the Grand Medieval Bestiary is. This is a book on a monumental scale. The Grand Medieval Bestiary tells the stories of the animals that featured in illuminated manuscripts. It depicts real world animals, such as the elephant, and how they were seen by people in the medieval period.

beastiary elephantBeastiary

In the case of the elephant it was believed that its primary natural enemy was the dragon. Additionally it was believed that elephants never lay down to sleep. They always leant against a tree and slept standing, but they had to be careful to choose the correct tree. If they didn’t choose correctly and the tree collapsed they couldn’t get up again. If this happened a smaller elephant would climb under a larger elephant and help it up.

The Grand Bestiary also includes mythical animals such as the hydra. The hydra was the mythical beast Hercules fought as one of his twelve labours. The authors of medieval bestiaries came up with logical explanations for the depiction of the hydra regrowing its heads after Hebeasti hydrarcules chops them off. However they did believe that the hydra was a creature who lived in the Nile and fought the crocodiles there by entering their jaws while they slept and tearing them apart from the inside. The hydra also apparently caused an edema of the legs, which was best treated with ox dung.

The Grand Medieval Bestiary is a fabulous book, full of life, colour and truly beautiful images. It brings the medieval world of bestiaries and animals wonderfully to life. It is also endlessly entertaining. beast hydra

If you have the shelf space for a book this big, it’s worth it.

Title: The Grand Medieval Bestiary: Animals in Illuminated Manuscripts.

Authors: Christian Heck and Remy Cordonnier

ISBN: 978078921279