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.
Taking 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…
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…
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.
Cosmeston 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…
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?
Voila! Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the rest of the story.
A petardwas 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.
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.
Drawing 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 EdwardI (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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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