A Fictional Feast.

As it is christmas today I thought I’d share with you an extract from the book I’m writing set mainly in 1185 in England. Due to length issues this scene is now unlikely to make it into the final draft, but seeing as a I did quite a bit of research into christmas meals I thought it might be nice to share it here. Just to be clear, this is fiction. The characters are fictional. This particular scene is set in Canterbury in 1184 and features my main characters siblings Marcus and Adele de Bernier celebrating christmas, after a long journey, with two family friends: merchant Peter de Vere and his wife Ela. Along with Peter’s noble cousin Gerbert de Clancy, the men he brought with him and other unnamed guests.

Once they had both paid their respects to Becket and prayed to him for success on their journey, Marcus led the way out of the cathedral past the church of St Mary’s of Queningate. As they walked back along the crisp Canterbury streets Adele watched everyone attired in their finery returning to their houses for Christmas feasts. She noticed the greenery that decked some of the houses and the feeling of festive warmth in the air as the wealthy of Canterbury vied to be the best dressed and the most splendid. She spared a thought for Joan and Emma, wondering what they would be doing to celebrate. Adele was glad to reach the de Vere’s house but she was tired and really wanted to just go and rest. She knew she couldn’t disappoint Peter and Ela though, so she painted a smile on her face and followed Marcus to the main hall for the Christmas feast. She sighed in appreciation at the roaring fire and settled down at the same table as their hosts. Adele was delighted to be able to spend more time with Ela and Peter, both of whom she was very genuinely fond of. Unfortunately this also meant that they shared a table with Gerbert de Clancy. Adele was seated next to him and being the only female on the table to whom he was unrelated she was the recipient of his wine sodden confidences and his clumsy attempts at seduction, but she had to pretend to be impressed. The food made up for it a little because Ela had spared no effort. Peter de Vere’s merchant contacts were evident in the quality of the offerings. The wine was Poitivan, brought across the narrow sea by an Aquitanian merchant friend of Peter’s. Adele soon discovered that if she plied Gerbert de Clancy with as much of it as possible he didn’t talk to her so much because he was too busy trying to sit upright.

Marcus watched Adele deal adeptly with Gerbert de Clancy, finished off his goose and turned his attention to a sublime chicken dish in which the chicken glowed golden from being rubbed with saffron. He sighed appreciatively as the chicken melted on his tongue. He looked around in delight at what was to come. This was a meal about wealth and prestige. The centerpiece of which was a boar’s head that was ceremoniously being carried in. It still looked menacing even in death and Marcus just knew that the stew made from the rest of the boar would be tender and delectable, so he licked his lips in anticipation. He watched a little apprehensively as the servers handed Peter the boar’s head on its great dish and Peter presented it ceremoniously to Gerbert de Clancy as the highest ranking guest, but as Marcus had feared he was too drunk to do more than just goggle at it in surprise. Just as Marcus was about to do something the servants stepped in adroitly and moved it carefully and quickly back in front of Peter. Crisis averted, Marcus settled back in his seat, his face warm from the fire and his stomach replete with wonderful food. Everything was all right in his world in that moment.

Finally de Clancy left Adele alone to boast drunkenly to the man on his right and Ela leant over and whispered to her. “There was no way we could have fed all of this lot,” she gestured at de Clancy’s men who were singing bawdy songs and quaffing the wine like it was cheap ale, “if it hadn’t been for de Clancy’s mother. Matilda is Peter’s half-sister and a good woman. When she found out her son was intending to foist himself on us for the Christmas season she made sure she sent one of her own cooks ahead of him along with two more of her own people and a supply of food.” She paused a moment, giving a signal to a server. “The cook she sent is an expert in subtleties.” As the spectacular sweets were carried in she added. “It’s almost worth putting up with de Clancy to have them.”

There was a hush in the hall, even de Clancy’s drunken retainers quieted, as three subtleties were carried in. As Adele admired the beautiful recreations of the nativity made in marchpane she couldn’t help but agree with Ela’s sentiments. Their beauty almost outweighed de Clancy’s oafishness. Then de Clancy knocked his wine over so it seeped onto her skirts and onto the rushes and suddenly she wasn’t so sure. She carefully wrung the ends of her skirts out, pushed away de Clancy’s clumsy attempts at an apology and, thanking God that her gown was the dark red of good wine and wouldn’t show the stain, returned her attention to the subtleties. The first was the Annunciation, with the Arch Angel Gabriel greeting the Virgin Mary with an Ave, the second was the shepherds watching their flock as the angel appeared to them, and the third, and the largest, was in the stable with Jesus watched over by Mary, Joseph, the animals, the shepherds and the wise men. There was applause and then they all settled down to eat. No one touched the subtleties because, although they were edible, they were so spectacular. Everyone turned their attention to the wafers, cakes and frumenty of which there were plenty. As they began to eat the sweets a singer came in with a harp and started a ballad. Adele was just settling in to what she recognised as the beginnings of Gormond and Isembart when it was interrupted by Gerbert de Clancy passing out face first into his bowl of frumenty. The singer waited as the only two reasonably sober men in the hall, Peter and Marcus, carried him out to his chamber. When the song was finished and dancing was about to begin Marcus and Adele pleaded fatigue and finally retired to their chambers.

 

Happy Christmas everyone.

An Illumination

Melbourne University has been running a fascinating exhibition on the history of illuminated manuscripts and it is now in its final weeks. As part of the exhibition the university has also been running lectures and workshops and I was lucky enough to attend one on parchment.

Both this talk and the exhibition itself gave me a fascinating insight into the world of illuminated texts. If you are in Melbourne it is absolutely worth a visit and will be running until the 15th of November.

The books in this particular exhibition are in the codex form. This form began in the the 1st century CE and by the 4th century had mainly replaced the papyrus scroll. Codexes are usually made from parchment, a fascinating material in and of itself. Parchment was made from the skin of animals, usually goats, lambs or calves although there were exceptions.

Parchment replaced papyrus for a number of reasons, one of the main ones was that production of parchment could be decentralised. It could be done anywhere where there were animals, whereas papyrus could only be made in a handful of places, such as Alexandria, where the materials were available. Parchment can also be wiped clean and re-used. Parchment was the mainstay of the codex also because it is really durable. Unless it gets wet parchment will last for centuries. Which is why many illuminated manuscripts survive today, despite the fact that they are hundreds of years old. Which is not something that can be said for even reasonably modern paper.

Codexes were not made up of one animal skin. Multiple animals were used and it is possible for researchers to discover an amazing amount from the skins in an individual codex. Everything from how many animals were used, to what type of animals, the age of the animals, the health of the animals, the tools used to do the work and even the region the codex was made in.

Parchment was made by first treating the skin of the animal with lime to remove blood, dung and organic material and to loosen the fat. The skin was then stretched over a wooden frame, kept under tension and scraped repeatedly with a curved blade as it dried to create a smooth writing surface. Finally it was treated with chalk to remove any excess oils and fats.

There were two more key processes to the creation of an illuminated book. The writing and the illumination itself. The text was written in iron gall ink, usually, a fascinating substance that was made with the galls created by one type of wasp on oak trees. This ink was responsible for pretty much all recorded western history for 1400 years. The fascinating video from the BBC below explains where these galls come from and how they were used.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p033dbrb/player

Aside from the text the other important part of these codexes is the illumination. The word comes from the latin illuminare and refers to the glow that comes from the decorations, especially the gold leaf.The tools and processes for illumination are actually quite similar to the process and tools for creating icons, something which I’ve written about before.

The illuminations were begun by drawing the outline with lead or ink, then the areas for the gold were painted with bole, a red clay, or with gum, then the gold leaf was applied to the surface and burnished. Finally other colours were added. The colours were made from a wide range of materials for example lapis lazuli for blue and madder for a reddish colour. The lapis lazuli largely came from Afghanistan and was highly prized. The materials were ground up and mixed with a binding material like egg white to give it viscosity and make it stick to the page.

Examples of some of the materials and tools can be seen below.

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The works created using these methods are stunningly beautiful.

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A leaf probably from part of a choir book, the illumination has been attributed to Joannes Zmilely de Pisek

Prague c. 1500

The exhibition holds a variety of codexes which cover the different purposes for which they were used. The use for codexes was largely religious in nature, not always but mostly, and this is what is represented in the the exhibition.

The codex has been part of church life for centuries, used both by clergy and parishioners. It wasn’t until around the 11th century though that codexes for specific services came together.  Around the 11th century the different texts used by the priest during Mass were compiled into the Missal.  An example of which can be seen below.

Missal

Missal, Use of Rome

Catalonia Spain c. 1450

The other codex that came into being at a similar time is the Breviary. This codex held a compilation of the texts for the Divine Office. An example can be seen below

Breviary

Breviary, Use of Rome.

Associate of the Jouvenel Master (illuminator)

Bourges France 1460-1470

Codexes were not only for the use of clergy. Books for private devotion were also reasonably common. One of the earlier examples is the Psalter. As Psalter is one of the books of the Bible produced as an independent manuscript. It contains 150 songs of praise, thanksgiving and petitions to God and was used for private prayer. It wasn’t uncommon for Psalters to be personalised, with heraldry and often references to their owners. They were to an extent symbols of status. They also were often signposted with illuminations to allow the user to follow along, so to speak, with public worship. A leaf from a Psalter can be seen below.

Pslater

Leaf from a Choir Psalter (King David in Prayer)

Italy or Spain c. 1430

In the late 13th century a new type of personal prayer book began to become more popular than the Psalter. The Book of Hours was made up of devotions based on the Offices of the Breviary primarily the Hours of the Virgin. While the content of the Book of Hours varied according to the preference of the owner the Book of Hours commonly contained, along with the Hours of the Virgin, some of: the Office of the Dead, the Hours of the Cross, the Seven Penitential Psalms, the Litany of the Saints, short excerpts from the four Gospels, and prayers for particular saints. The Book of Hours usually opened with a calendar of the feasts of the Church year. Like the Psalter the Book of Hours was a status symbol and was thus richly illuminated and often contained references to their owners.  An example can be see below

Book of Hours

The Mildmay Master (Illuminator)

Book of Hours, Use of Rome.

Bruges, Southern Netherlands, c. 1460s

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the Rothschild Prayer Book. The Rothschild was created primarily in Ghent, but some pages were probably created by other artists in other Flemish centres and inserted into the manuscript in the main workshop in Ghent. As such it is a beautiful example of a coordinated undertaking from the hands of several masters. It dates to c.1505-1510 and is the culmination of centuries of development of the Book of Hours. Unfortunately it was the one thing I was not allowed to photograph. But the digital copy below can at least give an approximation of this work of art.

Rothschild

This by no means covers the entirety of the exhibit, but I hope it has given a taste of the truly beautiful books displayed there and the complex and intriguing world of the illuminated manuscript.

Reference: Visit to the exhibition and talk on parchment by Libby Melzer and Grace Pundyk.

For more information on the exhibition

https://events.unimelb.edu.au/illumination

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.

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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.

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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

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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

The Skinny on Bad Parchment

These are beautiful even if they are technically mistakes.

medievalbooks

My favourite activity is to touch, smell, and listen to the crackling sound of cows and sheep that have been dead for a thousand years. That’s right, I am talking about medieval parchment, the standard material for books made between the fifth and thirteenth centuries. Animal skin replaced papyrus (standard up to the fifth century) and would ultimately be challenged by paper, which competed for dominance during the later medieval period. Parchment was resilient, however, and it was even used by early printers, including Gutenberg himself – showing the use of animal skin did not die with the medieval manuscript.

There is a lot you can tell from medieval skin. Like a physician today, the book historian can make a diagnosis by observing it carefully. The best quality, for example, feels just like velvet. It usually has an even, off-white colour, and it makes no sound when you turn the page. Bad skin, by contrast, crackles. It is of uneven thickness, and shows staining…

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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.

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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