DOOMSDAY BOOK BY CONNIE WILLIS – Marilyn Armstrong

I read this for the first time when it was first published in 2008. It wasn’t available as an audible book yet, though it would be soon. So my first reading was words on paper.

It’s the story of the plague, the Bubonic Plague in England. In addition to the many light-hearted stores Ms. Willis has written, she has written a four book series about Time Travel and this was the first of the series. She’s not very technical. Her idea of time travel is to take a modern person and move them in time back to a part of history when something unusual was happening and then watch this “modern” human interact with the real inhabitants of that period.

This is either the best or worst time in history to read about Bubonic Plague. On one level, it makes COVID-19 sound like a walk in the park. Bubonic Plague is a powerful disease, borne of a bacteria rather than a virus. Which means you can’t create a vaccine against it and in all these years while Plague has been coming and going around the world, there is no vaccine. These days, it usually can be beaten back with heavy doses of antibiotics, but not always. It still kills people and it pops up all over the world, including in the United States.

In 1348 when the plague hit England and killed at least half the entire population and in some areas, killed everybody leaving towns deserted, everyone knew what we know:


WEAR A MASK. DON’T GET CLOSE TO OTHER PEOPLE.
AVOID “THE HOT SPOTS.” 


The wealthy who had homes far out in the country went there and locked the gates. Those who had no recourse — peasants and merchants — did the best they could. Everyone wore masks until people started to get crazy and say “I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well have fun in the meantime.”

Just like now.

Basically, the Black Death rampaged through England, Europe, and Asia for a few hundred years The 14th century was the biggest hit, but not the only hit. It lurked, so when a new generation was growing up, it struck again. Which is why you see remnants of the plague hitting in the Gobi Desert in prehistoric times, the Justinian Plague in Roman times, then the big one that came in with infected rats to Italian ports and ultimately, everywhere in Europe and England..

This book deals exclusively with 1348 to 1349, the years that the Plague arrived and did its best to kill everyone. It did a pretty good job. No one really knows what proportion of the human population was killed during the plague years, but it was no less than 50% and might have been as high as 75% — and in some areas, as I said, It involved the complete elimination of the entire human population and entire towns and regions. Areas that are regarded as having not been hit by plague were indeed hit, but they only lost 15 to 20% of the population — not enough deaths to even put them on the map.

Ponder that.

Today, we have a problem with freight and moving goods in the world as the Pandemic wreaks havoc. They didn’t have freight or shipping. They barely had roads. Instead, they lost so many peasants there was no one left to grow crops. So in addition to dying of plague, many died of starvation.

I found it more relaxing to read than watching the numbers of new COVID cases on the news every night. This is history. It happened. It’s over. COVID is right now. We are not free from it and we do not know when or if we will be free of it. Although it isn’t as fast a killer as Bubonic Plague, it’s still killing a lot of people and beginning to take a toll on younger people who were supposedly “immune” to it.

Even though, way back in 1348, everyone knew there was no immunity unless you just got lucky, they were as stupid about caring for themselves and each other as we are today. Supposedly they were so much less knowledgeable … but in the end, the answer was exactly the same then as now.


Social distancing and masks.


People were stupid in 1348. They are equally stupid in 2020. Times change. People don’t.

THE SPECTRAL MYSTERY OF MINSTER LOVELL HALL BY ALLI TEMPLETON

A few weeks ago, after what seemed like eternity, I finally got to visit a medieval ruin again. Not a castle, but a rare example of a courtyard manor house built in the fifteenth century by one of of the wealthiest men in England. And for a sleepy ruin in a quiet Oxfordshire backwater it has a lot to offer. For a start, it’s tucked away in an idyllic location beside the River Windrush amid beautiful, rolling countryside. It also has connections with the Scottish medieval history module I’ve just completed, and it has links with two of my favourite medieval kings, one of which came to stay at the manor. Perhaps even more intriguingly, some say that its most notable owner never left, that he still lingers around the ruins of his former home.

The approach to the 15th Century hall with the porch on the left

The village of Minster Lovell was originally simply called Minster, denoting a settlement of secular clergy serving a church. The church was, and still is, dedicated to the young martyr prince Kenelm, the son of Kenwulf, King of Mercia, who is believed to have been murdered in 819AD, and the minster would have been an important centre for what was once a large ecclesiastical district. Then, around 1124 Henry I granted considerable lands, including Minster, to one of his barons, William, whose nickname was Lupellus, meaning ‘Little Wolf’, probably reflecting his military prowess. Over time the name morphed into Lupel, then Luvel, eventually settling on Lovel, and the bucolic setting of Minster Lovell became the centre of the family estate from the thirteenth century until the Lovell line ended in the 1480s.

The hall sits in a tranquil setting beside the River Windrush

The west wing and the northwest tower with the medieval St Kenelm’s Church behind

The manor was inherited by successive generations of Lovells, mostly – and confusingly – called John, with the odd William thrown in for good measure. One of the many Johns served King Edward I during the first Welsh war of 1277 (covered last year on my Castle Quest), and in 1296 when Edward turned his formidable gaze north, John was the marshal of the king’s army in Scotland, earning him the title Lord Lovell. He served Edward in Scotland in 1303 and 1304, and it was to him that the keys of Stirling Castle were surrendered following a three-month siege by the English king. The same good fortune, however, evaded his son, another John, who was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. But to meet the man who rebuilt the family seat into the grand courtyard home that we see today we must fast forward to the next century, to another Lord Lovell.

SEE THE REST OF THE POST: The Spectral Mystery of Minster Lovell Hall

WHEN AND HOW THE PLAGUE FINALLY ENDED – Marilyn Armstrong

I had a great conversation with my mortgage bank today. I’ve got a six month don’t have to pay my mortgage thing, but I can if I want to. I want to. Sometimes I have a hard time doing it especially since social security comes in on on days of the month and we don’t actually have all the money collected until nearly the end of the month.

She said: “This plan runs out in November, but if you call in November, we can give you another six months.”

“I’m betting,” I said, “that we are going to be having a big resurgence of COVID-19 by then.”

“I think so too,” she said. “People are such idiots. They are all running around and partying and now we are starting to see a lot of younger people dying. And even if they are okay, don’t they have families to protect? Grandparents? Aunts and uncles?”

Wearing masks during the 1918 Flu epidemic

More masks in the 1918 flu epidemic

It turns out that epidemics and pandemics all end the same way. People get weary of quarantine. Some of them go crazy and decide come what may, they don’t want the rest of their life to be spent hiding.  Having this attitude is helped if you aren’t part of the “if you get it, you’re dead” category of folks, although many people who were not supposed to be at risk die anyway. It turns out that a lot of people have physical issue they don’t know about … until they get sick and then very, very sick. And sometimes, dead.

Comparison of German killing North Carolinians and humans killing themselves in North Carolina

Bubonic or Pneumonic plague has no effective vaccine. These days, heavy doses of antibiotics will help, but it’s a powerful disease and even with antibiotics, it often kills. Its favorite targets are young, healthy people, not very young or very old folks. Why don’t we see Bubonic Plague these days?

We do. Since it showed up in Europe in 1348 and decimated the continent’s population, it has made its way around the world, killing many millions, including in the U.S. where the last cases were in 1900 and again in 2015 when the U.S. had 1,036 cases. In 2015, 16 people in the Western United States developed Plague, including 2 cases in Yosemite National Park.

It has not disappeared. It is lying low and could come back. Let’s hope not!

How did it end? The most popular theory of how all Plagues end is through the implementation of quarantines. The uninfected  — when they have the means — either stay at home or move to the country.  Eventually, the plague stops being dependent on fleas and becomes Pneumonic, which meant that coughed up droplets or sneezes spread the disease from person to person, no sick rats or fleas required.

Museum of London, Plague 1665-1666

While it seems like the Black Death was the only instance of the bubonic plague  there have been many other bouts with it through the centuries, both earlier (Justinian’s Plague during the Roman Empire days) and a pretty big one in the mid-17th century London and China and /india in the 1900s.

Three great world pandemics of plague recorded, in 541, 1347, and 1894, each time causing devastating mortality of people and animals across nations and continents. The 17th century was not a pandemic and was largely confined to London.

On more than one occasion plague irrevocably changed the social and economic fabric of society.It was also going around when Henry VIII was a young King in England. A pandemic of Plague started in Asia in the 19th century. The World Health Organization didn’t consider this pandemic officially over until 1959 when the annual deaths finally dropped to fewer than 200.

Mask as worn in  the 17th century. plague pandemic and included a waxed coverall which was supposed to protect the doctor — hazmat suit for 1657

In 1920 Galveston, that “oozy prairie,” as early settlers described it, was only 20 years removed from the devastating 1900 hurricane. Then came Plague. A 17-year-old feed store worker was the first to contract and die from the disease. The first case was diagnosed in early June 1920. Over the following months, eighteen people were diagnosed. Seven survived.

There was initial mishandling with Plague. In two cases the doctor’s notes that patient isolation “was not accomplished as rapidly as desired,” both because families were slow to call in a doctor and because the doctor didn’t consider bubonic plague to be a possibility.

Bubonic plague pandemic India 1894

Vaccines have not been found for Bubonic Plague. It’s a bacteria, not a virus. Vaccinations work on viruses and are successful for diseases that don’t mutate. Smallpox and polio are two major conquests in epidemiology. All Coronaviruses are rapid mutators, so whether or not they will find a long-term effective vaccine is questionable. They might find an annual vaccine or a cure, but a long-lasting vaccination is less likely.

The plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, had lain dormant in China’s Gobi Desert for centuries. But in the 1300s, it emerged with a vengeance, fanning out via trade routes from Asia to Europe and killing millions of people along the way. The plague was transmitted by fleas harbored by rats, which flourished in the overcrowded, filthy cities of the Middle Ages. By the end of the 1500s, between a third and half of Europe’s population had died from the Black Death.

Even during the 1900s, the plague still killed millions of people, but since then, the advent of better hygiene in cities and swift treatment with antibiotics has reduced this killer.

Human reaction to pandemic outbreaks hasn’t changed at all. We blame others for it. We persecute others for it. We run away it if we can. The better-off survive while the poorest pay full price.

From the Boston Globe, announcing the arrival of the 1918 flu arriving in town.

People believe rumors especially when they like the rumors better than reality. In the end, life goes on, but not like before the plague. This “return to normal” is not a return to the world before. It’s a social return only. It doesn’t mean people stop dying. Viruses don’t care whether you believe in them or not. They aren’t even alive.

Epidemics come and they go and the world doesn’t recover in a few weeks or months or sometimes, ever. Never in the history of the world has that happened. Nations fall, governments collapse, economies are decimated. Plagues change everything, not just human lives.

Global trajectories of the “spanish” flu — and this was before air travel for vacationers

We are in the crazy stage where people are crowding onto beaches, partying heartily, acting like they are the only people in the world and if they want to risk their lives and yours too, well, it’s their RIGHT. I probably missed that particular amendment to the constitution.

HISTORY AND PLAGUE’S END – Marilyn Armstrong

It turns out that epidemics and pandemics all end the same way. People get tired of worrying about being sick and say “Life or death, I don’t want the rest of my life to be spent in hiding.”  It helps to not be part of the “if you get it, you’re dead” category of citizens, although many people who were not supposed to be at risk die anyway and no one is entirely sure why.

Bubonic or Pneumonic plague has no effective vaccine. You can’t get a “shot” that will prevent you from getting it and while heavy doses of antibiotics help, mostly, it kills you. Its favorite targets are young, healthy people, not very young or very old folks. Why don’t we see Bubonic Plague these days?

We do. Since it showed up in Europe in 1347 and decimated its population, it has made its way around the world, killing millions, including in the United States where the last cases were in 1900 and again in 2015 when the U.S. had 1,036 cases. In 2015, 16 people in the Western United States developed Plague, including 2 cases in Yosemite National Park.

It has not disappeared. It is lying low and could come back. Let’s hope not!

How did it end? The most popular theory of how the Plague ended is through the implementation of quarantines. The uninfected would typically remain in their homes and only leave when it was necessary, while those who could afford to do so would leave the more densely populated areas and live in greater isolation.  Also, the plague stopped being dependent on fleas and became Pneumonic, which meant that coughed up droplets or sneezes could spread the disease from person to person, no rats or fleas required.

Museum of London, Plague 1665-1666

While it seems like the Black Death was the only instance of the bubonic plague epidemic, there were many other bouts with it through the centuries, including a pandemic that started in Asia in the 19th century. The World Health Organization didn’t consider this pandemic officially over until 1959 when the annual deaths finally dropped to fewer than 200.

In 1920 Galveston, that “oozy prairie,” as early settlers described it, was only 20 years removed from the devastating 1900 hurricane. Then came Plague. A 17-year-old feed store worker was the first to contract and die from the disease. The first case was diagnosed in early June 1920. Over the following months, eighteen people were diagnosed. Seven survived.

There was initial mishandling with Plague. In two cases the doctors note in their report that the patient isolation “was not accomplished as rapidly as desired,” both because families were slow to call in a doctor and because the doctor didn’t consider bubonic plague to be an actual possibility.

Vaccines have not been found useful for Plague. Vaccines work best for diseases that are stable and don’t mutate such as smallpox and polio. The Coronaviruses are rapid mutators, so whether or not they can find an effective vaccine is a big question.

The plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, had lain dormant in China’s Gobi Desert for centuries. But in the 1300s, it emerged with a vengeance, fanning out via trade routes from Asia to Europe and killing millions of people along the way. The plague was transmitted by fleas harbored by rats, which flourished in the overcrowded, filthy cities of the Middle Ages. By the end of the 1500s, between a third and half of Europe’s population had died from the Black Death.

Even during the 1900s, the plague still killed millions of people, but since then, the advent of better hygiene in cities and swift treatment with antibiotics has reduced this killer.

This article from The Washington Post by Mary E. Fissell, Professor of History of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains what we are seeing today with histories of previous pandemics and epidemics. It is shockingly similar to past events. Here are quotes. If you can read the entire article, please do.


“Just as today, a global economy was a key driver of the English epidemic. Bubonic plague, which is bacterial rather than viral, is typically spread to humans by fleas who have fed on the blood of infected rats. Earlier plague epidemics — such as the Black Death of the 1300s, which may have wiped out half the population of Europe — came to Europe via merchants traveling back from Asia along the Silk Road. In the same way, contemporary observers reported that the 1665 epidemic may have been brought to London by Dutch trading ships; the epidemic had already spread there a year earlier. In the months before it reached England, authorities had tried, obviously without success, to quarantine ships from the Netherlands and other plague-affected places.

Another conspicuous resemblance is socioeconomic. In the United States, we’ve seen that covid-19 is disproportionately affecting poor people, as well as blacks and Latinos. Overall, these groups tend to have poorer health and less access to health care, and they are more likely to live in crowded, unhealthy conditions and to work in jobs that require them to come into close contact with others who may be infected.

In New York for example, the death rate among blacks is twice as high as it is for whites; for Latinos, it is 60 percent higher. In Louisiana, blacks make up a third of the population but so far account for almost 60 percent of covid-19 deaths. About 5,000 meatpacking workers, and perhaps many more, have tested positive for the virus to date, largely because of a lack of safety measures and the industry’s cramped and grueling working conditions.

The situation 350 years ago in London was similar. During the epidemic, the London city government counted the dead, tracking how many people died of plague in each parish. This work was performed by “searchers of the dead,” who were often older poor women. These parish lists, known as Bills of Mortality, were printed up and sold weekly, a kind of early version of Zip-code-by-Zip-code health reports from state health departments.

Examining these lists, both 17th-century readers and historians have found that, no surprise, the poorest neighborhoods tended to have the highest death rates from the plague. The reasons for this are probably similar to the causes of today’s disparities — the poor were already less healthy, lived in dense, unsanitary neighborhoods and did the city’s dirty work.

They could not leave. Even without our current scientific knowledge, people knew the disease moved from place to place. And once it reached English shores, people practiced social distancing as best they could, by getting away from the worst disease hot spots. Just as we are seeing today, those who could afford it left the cities for the countryside, where there was less disease; the classic medical advice of the time was “leave quickly, go far away and come back slowly.”

…  Today, as we face another disease, one that we still don’t understand very well, 17th-century England reminds us that despite the enormous leaps we’ve made in science and technology, humans themselves remain in many ways the same: imperfect, not always rational and still deeply vulnerable to novel nasty microbes.”


Thus we can see that human reaction to pandemic outbreaks hasn’t changed. We blame others for it. We persecute others for it. We run away if we can. The better-off survive while the poorest pay the full price.

People believe rumors. Others spread them. In the end, life goes on, but not as it was before the plague came. This “return to normal” is not a return to the world before the plague. It’s a social return only and it doesn’t mean people stop dying. Viruses don’t care how you feel about them.

Economies do not recover in a month or two. Not ever in the history of the world has that happened. Nations fall, governments collapse, economies are decimated. Plagues change everything, not just human lives.

Is this one over? Probably not. Wait. watch and we shall see.

HOW THE DISCOVERY OF GERMS CHANGED SOCIETY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In ancient societies, people thought diseases were caused by an imbalance of body fluids or by angry Gods. Centuries later, scientists suspected that illnesses might be transmitted through air or water but they weren’t sure how. Then, in the mid-19th century, Germ Theory proved that tiny microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses, definitively caused disease. This discovery had a profound effect on almost all aspects of human behavior.

You would be appalled by some of the common practices before people understood that germs cause disease. Families shared toothbrushes as well as dinner utensils and public drinking fountains had a single cup that was shared by everyone. Lodgers in inns routinely shared beds with same-sex strangers and families often had several members sharing beds at home.

Customs changed and laws were passed rapidly to adapt to the new scientific knowledge about infectious diseases. Sharing beds and silverware was suddenly unacceptable and restaurants began making male waiters shave their large beards and mustaches. Long skirts for women and heavy Victorian draperies for windows went out of style because all the heavy folds of fabric were thought to harbor germs. Laws were passed to outlaw public spitting, a very common practice among men. An entire industry came into being producing sanitary products and disinfectants, which is how Listerine was born.

Wicker was believed to be germ-resistant so it became the material of choice for seating. The invention of plastic wrap (by the Cellophane Company) in the 1920s was touted as a major sanitary innovation because it could keep food and other personal items germ-free. Refrigerators and vacuum cleaners became necessities for keeping a clean, hygienic house, the new primary goal of all women.

Another esoteric custom came into being. Have you ever wondered why sheets are folded down over the blanket at the head of the bed? We didn’t always do that. Once germs were discovered, sheets were lengthened so that they could protect the blanket from human touch. Therefore the blankets stayed germ-free and could be reused and needed to be washed less frequently than the sheets. Who’d have guessed that one?

The adoption of sanitary practices had some wonderful effects. For example, the frightening levels of infant mortality were greatly reduced. In 1870, 175 of every thousand infants died within the first year of life but by 1930, that number was down to 75. Unfortunately, there was also a serious negative effect on children, as child-rearing practices took an ominous turn.

By the end of the 19th Century, mothers and child givers were warned against cuddling or even touching children for fear of spreading deadly infections. Chilly, aloof, and almost totally non-physical relationships with children were encouraged by doctors and even the government. Parents were told they would do psychological damage as well as physical harm to their children by ‘spoiling’ them if they showed any kind of physical affection. It was this hands-off approach that did serious damage to generations of children because it goes against the inherent need for physical affection that all primate share.

This awful period of child-rearing didn’t end until WWII. That’s when John Bowlby developed attachment theory after observing the damaging effects of children being separated from their parents when they were sent away to ‘safer’ areas during the Blitz in England. Bowlby believed that the attachment between a child and its parents is one of the most important factors in determining a child’s mental and even physical health. He believed that anything that damages the formation of that attachment, like the absence of physical contact and emotional warmth, would have a lasting impact on a child’s emotional and cognitive development.

Around the same time as Bowlby, an American psychologist named Harry Harlow did world-famous studies with monkeys that proved that all primates have an instinctual need for touch and affection. He also found that baby monkeys who were deprived of physical contact exhibited abnormal and even pathological behavior. His work bolstered Bowlby’s and helped initiate a new era of child-centered and emotionally as well as physically connected parenting. My father was a prominent psychoanalyst and anthropologist who wrote in the 1940s and 1950s about the importance of parental intimacy, stimulation, and affection for their kids, especially in the first, critical three years of life.

I always find it fascinating to unravel the connections between seemingly unrelated events in history. There was a wonderful PBS show years ago, aptly called “Connections” that did precisely that. The concept is similar to the “butterfly effect.” I never would have thought that the discovery of germs would influence child-rearing for several generations.

Maybe our experience with the Coronavirus pandemic will have similar, unpredictable effects in all different areas of life. We can guess that more people will work from home from now on, that many people may eat out less frequently and maybe that shopping online will supplant in-person shopping for most things. But what else will change? Only time will tell.

HOISTED ON A WHAT? Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I said to Garry “Aha! He is hoisted upon his own petard!” And Nat Helms wrote a piece about Trump hoisted on his own petard. But really, how many of us have the slightest idea what a petard is or was? I didn’t know until … (gasp) … I looked it up.


“What,” I asked Garry, “Is a petard?”

“I have no idea,” said my husband. This is when I realized I’ve been using this expression my whole life and didn’t know what it meant. Petard sounds French, but what is it? I grabbed my laptop and typed  “hoist on his … ” into Google. Before I got to petard … up it came. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

petards

Voila! Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the rest of the story.

petard was a bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. Castles. Walled cities. That sort of thing. The word was originally (duh) French and dates to the sixteenth century.

Typically, a petard was metal (bronze or iron), shaped like a cone or box. Filled with two or three kilos (5 or 6 pounds) of gunpowder and using a slow match for a fuse, the petard was a primitive, powerful and unstable explosive device.

After being filled with gunpowder, it would be attached to a wooden base and fastened to a wall, on or under a gate. The fuse was lit. If all went as planned, the explosion would blow a hole big enough to let assault troops through.

Thus the phrase “hoist on his/her own petard” came to mean “harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else.” It suggests you could be lifted — hoisted — by your own bomb.

IT IS NOT OVER – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s the crowding that makes these epidemics appear more often now than they did in the past. The (it wasn’t) Spanish flu built its power in the trenches of World War One.  Since then, the world’s population has exploded. We are a crowded planet. I sometimes wonder if these plagues aren’t Earth’s objection to our abuse. After 50 million people died from the flu, the world was different than it had been before. How could it not be? An entire generation of men was gone. And by the time they reappeared, there was another war to fight.

There were a lot more people on the planet until the Black Plague killed off a lot more than half of them. After the plague receded, the world was a new place. Society was different.

I’m pretty sure that most people think that after this siege, things will go back to “the way things were.” Whatever that means. How were things and why would we want to go back to them?

I don’t think when the pandemic recedes we will be living in the same world. The world is going to change. I don’t know how and I don’t know if I’ll be around to see much of it, but it won’t be the same. It never is. Our “leaders” will try to make it be however they see the past, but it won’t work. It will be a new world.

Do you think American’s will still object to universal medical care? Or will everybody just return to their jobs … if they still have jobs? If the companies they worked for still exist and if the industry is alive.

CREATORS AND DESTROYERS: WE ARE ONE PACKAGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #57


Are humans better at creating or destroying?


We are good at both and moreover, a lot of our creations turn out to be destructive.


Ten Medieval Inventions that Changed the World:

  • Mechanical Clock. Timekeeping devices have emerged since the ancient world, but it was not until the Middle Ages that the technology was invented that allowed for mechanical clocks to accurately keep track of time.
  • Printing Press.
  • Gunpowder.
  • Water and Wind Mills. (Note: Ancient civilizations all over the world had invented grinding mills for corn and other grains. The big invention, in this case, was attaching the grinder to rushing water to make it work on its own.)
  • Coffee House. (France, Louis XIV)
  • Eyeglasses. 13th-14th centuries. Also telescopes.
  • Public Library. (Another note: How “public” they were depends on your definition of “public.” I’m not sure peasants or even the middle class were “public” at that point.)
  • Flying Buttress.

Although I’m pretty sure the flying buttress never destroyed anything, gunpowder surely did. We didn’t invent it. Marco Polo imported it. The Chinese invented it in the 9th century but didn’t use it for weapons. They preferred fireworks.

Plastic was an amazing invention. It hasn’t worked out well for the world but who knew what incredible slobs humans could be? On the other hand, coffee houses and libraries remain terrific places to hang out.

The clock showed up in the 13th century. Imagine that! A time-keeping device in the 1200s. Wristwatches took a little longer. The 13th century, mostly noted for the Black Plague that swept the world also forced the invention of the central government. Was that a good thing or a bad one? It was good when they created it because everyone was starving (no peasants to plow the fields).

A central government could build giant granaries and dole out grain so that whoever wasn’t dying of plague might not die of starvation instead. It was a way of keeping a few citizens around when the plague finally left. Incidentally, this also created a middle class. Today’s government doesn’t ideal, but it would be difficult to run a modern world without it. Maybe impossible.

The Egyptians and Romans were very big on government as were the Chinese, Macedonians, Greeks, and probably many other cultures about whom we don’t know enough to make a firm statement. It varied in style, but its centrality was undisputed.

Gutenberg printing press

We invent things. We mismanage the things we invent. We invent something else which is supposed to fix what went awry the first time around … and when that goes awry too, we do some more inventing. When we think we are out of inventions, we aren’t. There is always another genius in the wings.

You could say that humans have invented everything that isn’t animal,  mineral, or vegetable.

In the 1400s, we got the first golf balls and women discovered the “golf weekend.” The first piano — called the Spinet — was invented the same year and soon we were all taking piano lessons. In 1411 they invented the trigger to go with the gun. That opened up the world of warfare which we have turned into a video game. By the 1500s, the Japanese had invented artillery. It took a few more centuries to build much bigger explosives, but we done it.

Modern-style oil-painting showed up in 1420 (or thereabouts) though there were many other kinds of painting long before that.

In 1421 in lovely Florence, someone invented hoisting gear. This probably helped get those flying buttresses up where they belonged. In the middle of that exhausting century — around 1455 (no one is exactly sure of the date), Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press using movable metal type. The printing press was probably a bigger deal than even the cell phone. (NOTE: The Chinese invented movable metal type in the 9th century, but we didn’t learn about it until five centuries later.)

Medieval moldboard plows

The list of inventions is almost endless. We are incredibly inventive. The problem is that we have an ugly habit of turning these inventions into ways to destroy the earth and each other. A lot of people who invented things that went wrong were really sorry about it. Later. When it was a bit late. Like Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite. He was so sorry he also invented major awards. Oh, wait, they’ve been around awhile. Oops, sorry.

The irony is that I don’t think we are intentionally destructive. Of course, this is not counting Trump and his toadies. We think we are protecting something or fighting for god or battling demons and in the course of doing what we think it really a good thing, we destroy so much in our wake.

What are we? Creative? Destructive? We are both, by turns. We create things of great beauty, extraordinary value. Then, we blow them up.


Take a look at a Timeline of historic inventions in Wikipedia. We are creators. We just have no damned discipline.

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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