BY YOUR OWN PETARD, THOU ART HOISTED – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I said to Garry “Aha! He is hoisted upon his own petard!”

By which meant he had just become the victim of what he (in this case a movie character) had planned for someone else. Then, I paused, thinking.

“What,” I asked Garry, “Is a petard?”

“I have no idea,” said my husband.  Which is when I realized I’ve been using this expression my whole life and don’t know what it means.

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 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.

ESPECIALLY BAD WAYS TO DIE – Marilyn Armstrong

Drawing and Quartering – A Fun Day for a Crowd!

I thought we might take a little trip to Merry Olde England. This should give everyone nightmares and have you running for any door. Even the one which leads into the dark tunnel.

Acts I and II

The following information was gathered with the assistance of the Encyclopædia Britannica. You can find additional details, if this isn’t enough, in (where else?) Wikipedia.

Home rackDrawing and quartering was (the public) part of the grisly penalty anciently ordained in England (1283) for the crime of treason. Before they got to this part of the orgy of pain and agony, professionals had been privately torturing the traitor on the rack for weeks, months or years.

Enhanced interrogation has a long, proud heritage.

The show’s finale often took several days. Its most important feature was that the star of the show had to be alive to fully participate in the event. He or she would be brought near death many times, then revived.

Ordained in England in 1283 for the crime of treason, this form of “execution” remained on the books — entirely legal — until 1867.

The full punishment for a traitor included a variety of creative mini-executions, none of which ended in death. First, Mr. Traitor was drawn. Which meant he was tied to a horse and dragged to the gallows. It was probably some kind of sledge.

The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (2nd ed., 1898; reissued 1996) indicates it was a way to deliver the live body to the hangman.

Act III, the Finale

The remainder of the punishment left the executioner with a few choices, based on what he thought the crowd would most enjoy, would cause the most agony without actually killing the object of his attention or both. These choices included hanging (not to death) and/or live disembowelment and burning of the entrails while the subject watched.

Drawing_of_William_de_Marisco

For the finale, you could take your choice of quartering. This was done by tying each limb (four – two arms, two legs) to a different horse and spurring them in different directions. Or, if that was impractical (not enough horses? insufficient room?), there was always a final beheading. If anyone thinks the British are not creative, this should dispel that myth.

I’m not making this up.

The first sentence of drawing and quartering was inflicted in 1283 on the Welsh prince David ap Gruffudd, whose punishment for myriad crimes included being drawn for treason, hanged for homicide, disemboweled for sacrilege, then beheaded and quartered for plotting the king’s death.

drawn-and-quartered3

In 1803 Edward Marcus Despard and six accomplices were drawn, hanged, and quartered for conspiring to assassinate George III. And finally, the sentence was last passed (but not carried out) on two Irish Fenians in 1867.

Are we having nightmares yet? Great! My job here is finished. Have a great day!

EDWARD AND ELEANOR: A ROYAL LOVE STORY SET IN STONE – Alli Templeton – Reblog

A love story out of olden times. Love lives on.

A royal wedding in medieval times was all about sealing alliances and striking political deals, so emotional entanglements didn’t usually enter the equation. Consequently, it was common for husbands in royal and elite circles to play the field, often enjoying a string of dalliances or even find lasting extra-marital love. But occasionally there was a true success story, and in 1254 a diplomatic marriage between two teenagers began a lifelong devotion between one of our most powerful warrior kings and his Spanish queen that has left its mark on our landscape to this day.

It started with a squabble over Gascony, England’s last remnant of its former Angevin lands. A new and ambitious Spanish king, Alfonso X, was laying claim to this territory of the English King Henry III and the stage was set for a fight. Alfonso backed a Gascon rebellion, and the province began to fall to the…

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ENERGY: DAYS AT THE CLOISTERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Unicorn in Captivity I Tapestry Wall Art Hanging

This first one is the Unicorn captured. To capture a unicorn, you needed a woman. A virgin. Because that was the only thing that could make a Unicorn tame.

This is one of the myths of the Unicorn — but there are many others.


Once upon a time in a kingdom far-far-away in the lands of the never-ending spring, a king sat in his golden throne and ruled his kingdom in perfect harmony. A person can feel nothing but exuberance at the sight of the magnificent castle in which the king and his daughter lived, the majestic atmosphere of the woods spread all around the castle, and last but not least – the overwhelming beauty of the princess.

It was pure Heaven-on-Earth; there was nothing that could even possibly attain the perfection of this place. The beauty of the forest made it amazing, yet another thing made it imposing. In those woods lived creatures of time unknown and one of them was the most precious of them all… and was hunted for centuries for its magical horn – the beast known as a unicorn.

One day a rumor started spreading. Someone saw a white creature with the looks of a horse, yet having a beautiful horn… and suddenly all men grabbed their knives and spears, their blood lust and fierceness. The hunt had begun.

While the king’s men were all setting torches on fire and sharpening their tools, the young princess was at her chamber, brushing her beautiful silky blond hair. She was the purest maiden in the whole kingdom with a heart as tender as a rose and a soul as clean as the water from the Fountain of Youth in the woods. She had an adventurous spirit and that day she decided to take a walk in the surrounding forests. Pushed by the desire to pick some fresh flowers, she left the castle and headed towards the woods.

With all beauty of the trees and flowers and the crystal cleanness of the mineral springs she lost track of time and wandered around for hours and hours and suddenly, she was very deep into the woods.

She started realizing that the woods were getting darker and darker and the trees were losing their beauty, the grass was dead and there were no animals around. She started getting scared and remembered a story heard long ago from her nanny, a story about the Dark Forest, deep inside the beautiful surrounding woods. Everyone believed it was just a legend, that it wasn’t a real place, but right at that moment, she was thinking it over. “Could it be trouble …” she couldn’t even finish her thought when tree branches started grabbing her legs and arms and taking her deeper and deeper into the forest …

The creature was stepping lightly onto the grass, slowly moving between the trees, heading towards the little glade where she was lying unconsciously. As approaching, it saw the purity of the girl in front of him and slowly began to trust that innocent maid.

When the unicorn got to her, he bent his neck down and looked at her beautiful face and slowly lied down next to her. After a while, she woke up and firstly got a little scared, yet after looking at its harmless black eyes, she felt safe. Then the white beast stood up and let her get on its back and they both headed towards the castle. The princess was charmed by that creature’s innocence and nobility, by its graceful movements between the trees and its gentle steps on the grass – pure harmony.

When they reached the castle and went inside the stone walls all of a sudden, a lot of armed people surrounded them and the unicorn started neighing and moving abruptly. The princess got down on the ground and started screaming and telling the men that this creature saved her life and brought her back to the castle. When the king came, she explained to him everything that happened and he, while crying, told her that everyone had gotten worried about her. He hugged his precious daughter and looked at the terrified beast. Not until then he did realize that the unicorn is the purest and the most innocent creatures of them all.

During the feast that night, it was pronounced that the unicorn is a sacred animal and it was forbidden hunting it. After saving the young princess, the beast left the castle and never got back. No one ever saw it again, but now all men knew the truth about the unicorn.

It is said that the king’s daughter met the unicorn again, yet that is a different story….


In the upper area of Manhattan island, one of the five boroughs of New York, there is a relatively small museum called “The Cloisters.” It was brought to New York, stone by stone, from Europe and reconstructed on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Cloisters.”

I was a devotee of the Cloisters. When I could cut school, which as the years went on, I did often, I was never nabbed for cutting classes or being out of school on a school day because I didn’t go to the mall or a bowling alley. I went to the Cloisters. Sometimes, I went to one of the other museums, especially if they had a new exhibit, but the Cloisters was always my favorite.

I would sit on the ramparts overlooking the river and pretend the little boats were medieval ships carrying British wool across the channel to the continent or whatever those ships did. Imagination is wonderful and requires no binding to reality.

Hunting the Unicorn

The Metropolitan Cloisters is located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. It is the branch of the Museum dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe.

Deriving its name from the medieval cloisters that form the core of the building, it presents a harmonious and evocative setting for more than 2,000 exceptional artworks and architectural elements from the medieval West.

Capturing the unicorn

On Sundays, they would have “monks” roaming around the building chanting. There were stone caskets with sculptures of the kings, queens, and other nobles who were the original inhabitants of them. And on the walls, hung a reproduced set of the Unicorn Tapestries.

There were four of them in total and I believe there are variations of these tapestries throughout Europe.

In those years, I could walk museums and their grounds from dawn to dark until they finally threw us out. I had the energy of youth and was discovering my passion for medievalism. It never wore off, either. I could still happily wander those rooms forever.

Who knows why we develop a passion for a particular period of time in history? It had nothing to do with my particular ancestors, but I had a picture of myself, wimple wrapped around my face walking slowly and gracefully through the gardens and spying the perfect face of the unicorn watching me from amidst the trees.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – The fighting Unicorn

You can buy copies of the tapestries. Beautiful copies of them, suitable for hanging in your home. But we have no room for anything more in our house. Not one picture, statue, or collectible. We are full up, so I will dream on of the tapestries and the unicorn and spending an entire day on my feet, walking slowly through the gardens and softly darkened chambers of that museum.

Of the many things I wish I could do, museum wandering is one of those I miss most.

FOWC with Fandango — Tapestry
RDP# Tuesday Prompt: ENERGY

HARD TIMES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR SOUL, 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)
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. Because there was no official “inventor,” 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

Everybody drank the whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and 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 peasants and the middle classes. It advanced banking, industry, and art. Towns grew. 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’d want to believe that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.

HARD TIMES AND NEW DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times are not when we create solutions to problems. I was sitting here today thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody sits around thinking about the 1400s, but I do and fairly often. It’s part of the pleasure and burden of a deep passion for history. Right now, I’m reading a series of books about the Tudors. The early Tudors. Owen, Edmond, and Jasper. And, of course, Henry who became the seventh of the many Henrys of England.

The 1300s were a horror show for the old world.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe.

Beginning in 1346 and continuing through 1353, the number of deaths — from war, disease, or anything — is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. And the world was much smaller, so 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 as much as 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 through Europe. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved because there was no one 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 death by war, 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)
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 same period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Historians are still arguing this issue.

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

And everybody drank the whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and only nominally better in the 1400s.

These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central government among nations. It elevated the peasant and middle classes. It advanced banking and industry and art. Towns grew as guilds developed. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads. Better roads made it easier for people to take their 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 socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people forget that before the first world war, it wasn’t a caring 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’d like to think that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.

A Candle in the Darkest Age – Worlds of Arthur by Guy Halsall

Oxford University Press384 pages, Publication date: April 4, 2013

King Arthur is by far the most popular and most written-about king of England who never was. Legends of Arthur have multiplied not only in the British Isles, but in France, in other European countries and more recently, in North America. Tales of Arthur began appearing in the early ninth century and continued to appear through Victorian times to the present day. In fable and books, around medieval campfires and flickering on the silver screen and TV sets of the 21st century, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table are ever with us. On the literary scene, recent years have produced a virtually continuous flow of books about Arthur,  each “scholarly tome” claiming to have unlocked the truth about the “once and future king.” We apparently have an insatiable appetite for these stories.

The author of Worlds of Arthur is Professor Guy Halsall. Halsall joined the History Department at the University of York (UK) in January 2003. His doctoral research — carried out at York — was on the archaeology and history of the Merovingian region of Metz (north-eastern France and southern Germany), c.350-c.750. It was perhaps inevitable that his researches and the putative world of King Arthur would collide. And so they have. Worlds of Arthur is the result.

Guy Halsall makes a valiant and largely successful attempt to sort through the evidence — reality and myth — as it pertains to the Arthurian legends. He bravely takes on both the “historical” Arthur — the man waging a glorious but doomed struggle to save civilization from the incoming Anglo-Saxon tide — and the mythical King accompanied by his legendary retinue: Lancelot, Guinevere, Galahad and Gawain, Merlin, Excalibur, the Lady in the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, Camelot, and the Round Table.

Knowing in advance that no one wants their favorite stories debunked, he starts with a cold splash of reality. In all likelihood, “King Arthur” never existed. In the unlikely event he did exist on some level somewhere — even as a prototype — we know zilch about him and thus no one, including the author, is going to reveal any exciting new evidence of Arthur’s existence. There is no evidence to reveal. This position is driven home repeatedly, so if you are waiting for an Arthurian revelation, you are bound to be disappointed.

Arthur is a literary and mythological figure, not a real one. Not even loosely based on an historical person(s). Halsall states up front any book claiming to know the real Arthur is bunk. Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, Arthur and all his knights did not exist. Guy Halsall makes it absolutely clear and repeats his position over and over: There is no evidence supporting an historical Arthur.

“The Death of King Arthur”

Having put up front, Dr. Halsall sets himself a rather difficult literary task. How can you keep a reader’s interest for the remainder of the book? Before you have gotten a quarter of the way through, he has declared his position, debunked what is currently the only “evidence” on the “proof” side of the Arthurian equation. What is left?

Halsall writes with humor and wit. Academic though this book is, he tries hard to be understandable by those who are not Ph.D. levels in archeology. In this, he is modestly successful. I’m fascinated by archeology and have read a great deal of archeological stuff over the years. I understood most (not all) of the technical terminology. I’ve explored ruins and attended lectures, but this is dense material. No matter how light-hearted and humorously approached, there is no avoiding the essentially academic nature of the book. It’s not for everyone. You need a background in archeology to understand the author as well as significant personal interest in the subject to stay with the book.

If you have the interest, there is much to learn. Worlds of Arthur is a thorough examination of the evidence and more to the point, a thorough dismemberment of what has been called evidence by other authors. Ironically, one of the unintended results of reading this book was it piqued my interest in reading the books the author is debunking, not because I think they contain “real evidence” but because they sound intriguing as fiction.

If you are passionate about Camelot, Arthur and the gang, this is a thoroughly researched, well-written book that picks apart all previous writings on the subject with minute care. It belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who claims to be a fancier of medieval British archeology. It’s not a riveting tale with lot of surprises. There is no question about where the author is heading since he lays out it all out in the introduction.  The author is a better writer than most academics and makes the going easier with a light touch and a sense of humor. But in the end, this is an academic treatise.

I enjoyed it. Having read many books of this type over the years, I knew what to expect and was prepared to do some mental calisthenics. Give my brain a bit of exercise. There are no revelations in the book. From a broad perspective, I knew at the end of the book what I knew at the start —  that there never was a real King Arthur or Round Table or any other of the well-loved mythical characters. Since I never believed the characters were real in the first place, it was no shock. There is nothing shocking in Worlds of Arthur. It allows no wiggle room to find a real Arthur somewhere in archeological or historical data. But if you are genuinely interested in the early medieval period in England, there’s a lot of well-presented information to digest about a time about which little is known and less has been written. The Dark Ages are dark. Worlds of Arthur: Facts & Fictions of the Dark Ages lights a candle in that darkness.

The book is available on Kindle and hardcover. There are illustrations that might benefit from viewing on paper rather than the smaller format of a Kindle, but the Kindle version does include them so the choice is yours. If you’re an armchair archeologist or medievalist … or just fascinated with the world of Arthur, give this a read. It’s worth your effort.