HARD TIMES ARE GOOD IF YOU LIVE THROUGH THEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times, good times are not always the best times, at least not for creating a better world. When the world is running smoothly and turning sweetly on its axis, we are not building solutions to important cultural issues. Problems force solutions. Difficulties change society.

In the earliest years of what would later be called “The Renaissance,” the death of 25-million people resolved into a serious push to make the world a better place. Which is why I was sitting here thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody thinks about the 1400s, but I do. Not only was it the time of the black death, it was a time when bands of terrorists roamed through Europe killing anyone they met. Inflation made money worthless. There was little of what we call “central government.” No congress, no government to address. Also, no roads, bridges, or books. And a whole lot of dying going on.

You know how Dickens said at the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or something to that effect? This was the worst of times.

Beginning in the early part of the 1300s with the importation of the Bubonic Plague-carrying rats, Europe became a horror show. Unless you lived in Warsaw which for some reason was spared.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe like a hot blade cutting through butter.

Beginning in 1346 and through 1353, the number of deaths is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. Remember too that the world was much smaller. 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.

More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed throughout the continent. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved. No one remained to grow new crops.

A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor.

The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and war, and the abject poverty the Crusades produced throughout Europe, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.

The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.

I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.

The 1400s saw the invention of:

      • The golf ball (1400) Hey, for some folks this is a big deal
      • The piano/spinet (1400)
      • The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire.
      • Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century.
      • Hoisting gear (1421)
      • Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier.
      • Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg
      • Engravings (dry) (1465)
      • Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475)
      • Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci
      • The copyright (1486)
      • Bell chimes (1487)
      • The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right?
      • Whiskey (1494)

Sometime during this period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Deep plowing allowed real farming in areas that had previously been non-tillable.

Historians are still arguing exactly when the moldboard plow was invented, but it was sometime between 1350 and 1475. There was no official “inventor,” so it’s hard to set the date. It was more of a development by farmers until finally, someone got it right.

This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.

Back when eyeglasses were really expensive, though they aren’t exactly cheap now!

Everybody drank whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s, only nominally better in the 1400s, yet by the 1500s, the world began to flower.
These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central governments. It elevated both the peasants and the middle classes. It advanced banking, industry, and art. Towns expanded and grew into cities. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads and better roads made it easier for people to take goods to market.

Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.

Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into modern socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people have forgotten that before the first world war, it wasn’t the post-war caring, sharing Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.

The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.


I want to believe the current awfulness of our world will force us into great creative change and will ultimately improve this world. I don’t know if it is true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the future.

All I can do is hope for the best.

THE QUEST BEGINS – EPISODE TWO – Alli Templeton (Reblog)

Not only do I love the quest, but I’m in love with the matching deep blue sunglasses. Questing is wonderful, but so it matching!


 

Lighter me at chester.jpgHere we go! Leaving Chester Castle

We ride at dawn! Well, not quite. But my Welsh Castle Quest got off to a great start today, and knowing that I left Chester Castle at exactly the same time, and walked in the same direction as Edward 1st and his army did in 1277 made it all the more special.

We departed the castle and, just as Edward did (as you’ll see tomorrow) advanced out of the city towards the Dee estuary. Our walk took us along the tidal River Dee on the charming Wales Coastal Path, and as we left Chester behind and progressed towards Wales the cries of seagulls and the salty air became stronger with the rising call of the sea.

Dee startLooking along the River Dee to those foreboding Welsh hills beyond

Soon we reached the Welsh/English border, marked by two tall stones straddling the path, and so we…

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PAYING HOMAGE AND THE ROAD TO WALES – REBLOG – ALLI TEMPLETON

Speaking of Quests … this is absolutely a quest! From Alli Templeton, the thoughts about the quest and questions to come. Wales, this time!


 

It’s seemed a long time coming, but next weekend, on 22nd July, I’ll finally be setting off on my Big Welsh Castle Wander. Starting from the walls of Chester Castle, my departure for this historical quest around North Wales will coincide with the actual time that Edward 1st led his army from the same place on his major offensive in the first Welsh war of 1277. So at this significant time, I will follow in his footsteps and begin to tell the story of how England and Wales became united under this formidable warrior king, changing the political and cultural landscape of these lands forever.

Caernarfon castle.jpgCaernarfon Castle: the jewel in Edward’s ‘iron ring’ crown. Soon I’ll be standing right at the top of  those tallest towers… 

As I walk through the territory of those turbulent times, I’ll report on my escapades as well as chart the events of that fateful…

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A WALK AMONG THE DARK AGE SPIRITS – Alli Templeton (Reblog)

With my big exam finally behind me, last weekend I was in dire need of some fresh air and a good walk. So with a gap in the seemingly endless rains, we took the opportunity of taking a long wander into the spiritual world of the Dark Ages around a small village with a big history.

Wootten Wawen in Warwickshire is a little historical haven, having been a homeland for people of the region since the late Bronze Age. Its haunting wildwood, lush pastures and meadows gave rise to an early society of scattered farmsteads linked together with a network of paths and a river, and all its ancient peoples have left their marks and mysteries in the landscape across the millennia.

Tumulus.JPG

The ancient with the modern: the tumulus in the churchyard

Although not much is known about prehistoric religious systems, it’s widely agreed that there was a strong spiritual attachment with the land, and features such as woods and streams held particular significance as holy sites. The dead were also an important presence, being laid to rest in burial mounds called tumuli, one of which has been discovered in the churchyard at Wootton Wawen. The Romans tried to eliminate this form of nature worship, but after their departure in the early 5th Century, the succeeding Saxon settlers revived the old practices and incorporated them into their own pagan beliefs. This village, nestled in the middle of an ancient holy site now called Austy Wood, had all the right features and ingredients to remain a prominent place throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. So we set out on a trip to investigate the area’s important early medieval sacred sites at a time when the new Christian religion was just arriving on our shores.

A path from the village centre took us out along an ancient embankment, part of an extensive complex of Iron Age earthworks about which little is known, save its medieval nickname of Puck’s Dyke. Puck is a spirit name, and the Celts believed that many of their gods and spirits inhabited the landscape. They named places and things after them, and it seems this tradition may well have resurfaced in the Middle Ages.

Pucks Dyke.jpg

Pucks Dyke: part of the raised Iron Age earthworks

We soon came to a footbridge across the fast-flowing River Alne, a name corrupted from the original ‘Alwen’, meaning ‘white’ or ‘shining’, reflecting the sacred nature attributed to it by the ancient Britons. After crossing a few fields, we reached my favourite part of this walk: Austy Wood itself. Its ancient name was Horstow, meaning ‘hallowed place’, strongly suggesting that it was here that pre-Christian religious ceremonies took place. Without doubt, there’s more than a hint of the mystical within its enchanted groves. The first Christian missionaries clearly realized this because they hijacked the woodland for the new faith, placing crosses around its then expansive boundaries and holding religious ceremonies in the ready-made holy site.

River alne.JPG

The River Alne connected the old communities and farmsteads

me in woods.JPG

Admiring the whispering sacred groves 

The way through the woods 2.JPG

The way through the woods

Leaving the sanctuary of Horstow, we continued in the footsteps of medieval folk along a hollow way, a trackway running from Wootton Wawen to the outlying fields. Separated from the farmland by boundary hedges, these special paths have been gradually eroded by centuries of use until they are lower than the fields around them. For me, there’s something a little bit spellbinding about hollow ways, knowing that by wandering among them we’re leaving our own footprints to mingle with those of our medieval ancestors.

Hollow way.JPG

In the footsteps of the ancestors: the medieval hollow way

Our pub stop was – for once – a softie break, owing to the wine consumed the night before by way of winding down after my exam (but don’t worry – we won’t make a habit of it!) and after a short break we headed back towards the village to the attractive church of St Peter. Inside, the Lady Chapel hosts a permanent exhibition called The Saxon Sanctuary, covering the holy history of Wootton Wawen. The village’s curious name is derived from the name Wudu Tun – an ‘estate in the woods’, which was the manor of a Saxon thegn – or lord – called Wagen, until the Normans arrived. The first church here was founded in the early 700’s as part of a minster in the Saxon royal territory of Stoppingas, but it was no ordinary church.

The original Minster of St Mary was the operations base for those missionaries who erected the crosses around Horstow woods. The black-cowled Benedictines also placed their crosses within the wide-spread communities of Stoppingas, where they preached the Word to the local Saxon heathens. Wudu Tun was at the centre of their target territory, and it was here that a wooden church was built, later to be reworked in stone. This remained the Mother church of a huge parish throughout the turbulent years of Viking raids and invasions, the old monastic community waning and giving way to control by the bishops of Worcester and the patronage of local thegns, the last of whom was Wagen.

Church outside.JPG

The pretty Church of St Peter in the heart of Wootton Wawen

There are many mysteries about what happened to Wagen after the Normans took over. One theory is that he fought and perished at Hastings, and another that he fled into exile. But whatever fate befell the last Saxon thegn of Wudu Tun, he’s immortalized in the name of this special little place in a landscape shaped by thousands of years of spiritual rites.

Please visit the original post at MEDIEVAL WANDERINGS.

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WANDERING OFF THE GRAMMATICAL POINT AT BERKHAMSTED CASTLE by Alli Templeton – Reblog

Take your mind off current events and roam into the medieval world. England from The Battle of Hastings onward.

As several of my blogging friends are aware, I’m currently up to my ears in revision for my impending OU Latin exam in a couple of weeks’ time. However, after hours of work yesterday, I was in desperate need of a medieval break, so I escaped to a place I’ve only been to a couple of times before. And it was a good choice, because although little remains of its medieval stone structures, Berkhamsted Castle is a hugely important site, not just for its string of famous owners, but because it witnessed first-hand the single biggest change in England’s history.

Me relaxing on wall.JPGTaking time out from the hard work to relax on the castle walls

There has been a castle here since the late 11th Century, but our story begins before it was even built; in fact we have to travel back to Hastings in 1066 and the aftermath of the iconic…

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ON THIS DAY: SCANDALOUS WEDDING, AND TROUBLE AND STRIFE – Alli Templeton – Reblog

The happy home life of THE couple of all royal couples, Henry II Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Sex, infidelity, war, strife — and a hasty wedding.
Medieval history doesn’t get any better than this.

On this day, 18th May, in 1152, a wedding took place in Poitiers in France. The marriage had been hastily arranged and the service was simple, lacking any pomp or ceremony. But this was no lowly peasant’s big day or a shotgun affair called for by an angry father; instead it was a scandalous marriage between a future king of England and one of the most powerful women in Europe. En route to Poitiers, the bride had managed to evade an ambush from the groom’s own brother, who’d hoped to marry her forcibly to obtain her lands and power, and the groom had to hot-foot it to Poitier Cathedral before the ceremony could be sabotaged. So the wedding between Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future King Henry II of England went ahead, despite all the setbacks. It sounds like a fairy tale romance, but far from it – rather than…

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Wandering back in time through a real medieval village – Reblog – Alli Templeton

Even then, if you had the money, life was not bad! A medieval village!

Writing about Easter in the Middle Ages has got me thinking about village life back then. It’s harder to pin down the lives of ordinary medieval people because they left little of themselves behind. I’ve walked over a fair few settlement earthworks in my time, those spectral lumps and bumps in the land, but the other day I got to wander around a very special place: a living medieval village. So come with me on a wander around the enchanting homes and buildings of a real community from the Middle Ages.

swineherd and tithe.JPGCosmeston Medieval Village

Welcome to Cosmeston Medieval Village in South Wales, the remains of which were discovered in the late 1970s during the construction of the country park in which it now stands. Named after the Costentin family from northern France, this was part of the Anglo-Welsh border lands partitioned out after the Norman Conquest to keep the unruly…

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