Monday, April 14, 2014

How useful was heavy cavalry in the Late Middle Ages?

According to the Chronicle of the Good Duke, written in 1429 but talking about events about twenty years earlier, Duke of Brittany looked across a battlefield  at the troops led by  the Constable of France, the Lord of Clisson, and reacted as follows:
And the Constable Clisson, who was a valorous knight of bold enterprise, went boldly from his siege with his men arranged to give battle to the Duke if he dared to wait. And the Duke of Brittany seeing the battle order of the Lord of Clisson, told his men “My lords and companions, see Clisson there has arranged his companies and desires nothing but battle? I would not refuse that at all willingly but I see that he has arranged a great wing of his men who are mounted on great coursers of superior quality. Our horses are small; and those who are over there will come charge us and we will not be able to withstand them; and things will be the worse for us.” For this reason the Duke retreated that day with his men ...

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Deeds of Arms series -- don't miss "Royal Jousts."

Soon – very soon indeed – my Charny’s Men at Arms will be available from Freelance Academy Press, complete with a full translation of Charny’s Questions on the Joust Tournaments and War. I’ve explained before that this book is not really part of the Deeds of Arms series (which I edit) from the same press, but it’s about nothing but “deeds of arms”.

In the meantime, it's possible  to  read about deeds of arms in the series. I just got my royalty statement for last year (thank you, readers), and I found it surprising that though many people have bought The Combat of  the Thirty, only a few have bought Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century. It’s comparable in interest, for students of chivalry, to the book on the Thirty, and it includes a chivalric festival as famous as the Thirty, the joust at St. Inglevert.

Those of you who want to know what knights of the late 14th century thought was cool, this is a book you should have. Like all the productions of Freelance Academy Press, it’s very pretty. When you finish this volume, you will be ready and anxious to read Charny’s Men at Arms.

Ps. If you don't have any of the series, FAP has a great sale price for all three.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A review of "Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom Culture in the Late Middle Ages" by Rémy Ambühl

From  the Medieval Review.

Ambühl, Rémy.  Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom
Culture in the Late Middle Ages
.  Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2013.  Pp. xiv, 301.  $99.00.  ISBN-13: 9781107010949.

   Reviewed by Jarbel Rodriguez
        San Francisco State University

Rémy Ambühl's Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom
Culture in the Late Middle Ages
offers a valuable contribution to
the study of imprisonment and captivity in the medieval period.  The
last few years have seen numerous additions to what was once a rather
neglected area of study, particularly book-length examinations. [1]
With Ambühl's work our knowledge of medieval bondage increases
substantially, particularly since it addresses the Hundred Years' War,
a period obviously replete with the prospect of captivity and the
attendant sources necessary for its study.

Building on the work of earlier historians, notably Chris Given-Wilson
and Michael Jones, Ambühl's purpose is "to fill the gap in the
historiography left in the absence of any research monograph on
prisoners of war covering a broader chronological framework such as
the Hundred Years War" (16).  But the book goes beyond this ambitious
goal as it makes a strong argument for the private nature of
ransoming.  Indeed, as Ambühl makes consistently clear, the options
available to the unfortunate soldiers who fell prisoner were largely
limited to their own close circles of family, friends, and associates
(16-17).  When public institutions, such as the crown or the towns,
intervened in a ransoming it was often due to a personal connection
with the captive or royal interest and not a matter of public policy.

Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War is divided into nine
chapters, loosely arranged in three distinct sections.  The first part
lays much of the groundwork for what is coming.  This includes an
excellent chapter on the laws of ransom, as they were understood in
France and England.  "What were the rights and responsibilities of the
soldiers who fell into the hands of the enemy" (19)?  This simple
question had a complex answer as Ambühl identifies six elements that
bound and protected the prisoner during his time in captivity:
traditional law of arms, royal ordinances, honor, contract law, the
prospect of retaliation, and money (both the prisoner's and the
captor's).  Moreover, every prisoner seems to have experienced his
rights and responsibilities differently based on their own personal
connections and circumstances.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the political interference that prisoners
experienced, as princes often demanded prisoners for their own agenda,
sometimes ruining chances for redemption.  Princes were entitled to a
portion of all captives and they often demanded the most important
noble prisoners for themselves.  But they were not beyond taking an
interest in lesser captives.  Princes used their prisoners to bring
about prisoner exchanges, for economic gains, diplomatic efforts, and
sometimes for vengeance as was the case with Henry V's harsh treatment
of a handful of lower-ranking prisoners captured during the Agincourt
campaign in 1415.  Henry's decision to keep these seemingly
unimportant prisoners puzzled even his contemporaries.  Ambühl argues
that Henry was retaliating against an affront to his royal dignity
(they had defied him by refusing to surrender).  The prisoners were
not released until after Henry's death, victims of an angry monarch
who used them for his own vindictive agenda (71-77).  These chapters,
in particular, show clear evidence of how disruptive princely
interference could be on timely and effective prisoner exchanges
predicated on the six elements outlined in chapter one.  The whim of
the monarch was enough to shatter any hope of release built on
tradition, law, or honor.

The next three chapters analyze the process of imprisonment from
capture to ransom.  Chapter 4 begins by looking at one of the driving
forces in the capture and exchange of prisoners: a simple profit
motive that saw masters/captors financially rewarded when ransoms were
paid.  This was enough of an incentive to ensure that almost all
warriors, from the lowest archer to the highest noble, were active
participants in the dangerous game of taking prisoners.  The chapter
then proceeds to detail conditions in captivity, with much emphasis on
the prisons themselves.  One would have liked a fuller treatment of
prisoner conditions, but the chapter already offers a lot and this is
an area in which sources are often not very forthcoming.

The next chapter looks at the economics behind ransoming.  The
eventual price that a prisoner paid for his release was based on a
complicated calculus that included the captive's status, his social or
political function, his connections (those with favorable connections
typically had to pay higher ransoms), as well as his wealth and
ability to pay.  Moreover, any costs incurred during the imprisonment
augmented the final tally.

Chapter 6 focuses on merchants and trade and their role mediating
exchanges.  Merchants were a critical part of the ransom process as
they helped with monetary exchanges, money transfers, and loans.  As
Ambühl notes, merchants were necessary due to the absence of an
organized ransoming system (181).  I would argue that merchants would
have played a vital role even if an organized ransoming system
existed, as was the case in Spain, where merchants were critical cogs
in the local ransoming networks.  It was merchants who turned silver
coinage into the gold that many transfers required.  They also helped
prisoners move money raised by family members, friends, and associates
into the hands of the masters; an activity that often entailed cross-
channel transfers.  Merchants also functioned as moneylenders, helping
prisoners to reach their ransom amount.  One final impact that
prisoners had on commercial activity was the granting of trading
licenses to prisoners so that they could use the profits for ransoms.
In many cases, the grantees simply sold the valuable trading licenses
to merchants, but numerous others used them for profitable mercantile

The last section examines the various groups that helped prisoners
negotiate a ransom and pay for it.  Likely the first to be petitioned
for aid were vassals and subjects.  In an earlier age, vassals and
subjects would have been responsible for the ransom of their lord.  By
the time of the Hundred Years War, as Ambühl shows, this system of
customary aids had been supplanted by provincial levies and,
ultimately, royal taxation (200-201).  Royal taxation, in particular,
appears to have disrupted a customary form of ransom revenue as moneys
raised for prisoners from their communities could be transferred to
other royal needs (202).  This often meant that revenue provided by
subjects and vassals was often not enough to raise the entire ransom
amount, leaving prisoners to depend on multiple sources of income to
raise the large sums that were needed.

Kings may have funneled revenue earmarked for ransoms to meet other
demands, but they could also be sources of assistance to prisoners in
need.  Chapter 8 examines royal aid to prisoners.  Princes had little
legal obligation to offer assistance to those who fell into captivity,
yet appear to have done so at times and, in some cases, abundantly.
This should not obscure the fact that a prince could not ransom all of
his imprisoned men--it was financially impossible--but when feasible
and under the right circumstances, the prince could make the
difference between a successful ransom effort and a lengthy

The last group that Ambühl explores, and perhaps the most important,
included the family members and close associates of the prisoner.  In
keeping with the private nature of ransoms, the prisoner's inner
circle served as his most reliable form of assistance.  Wives,
parents, siblings, friends, and even former comrades-in-arms could be
asked for sums of money and it was this group that often undertook the
grueling work of negotiating all the details of a ransom or prisoner
exchange.  As in other societies in which captivity and ransom were
common, it was kin and friends who provided the prisoner with the most
important forms of assistance.

My own research on captives in the Crown of Aragon made reading
Ambühl's work an intensely familiar experience as there was extensive
overlap with the conditions I encountered in Iberia.  But there were
also some noteworthy differences.  Indeed, if I have one criticism of
his otherwise excellent work is that it fails to show any connections
to ransoming and imprisonment south of the Pyrenees (or anywhere else
in Europe, for that matter).  This is particularly puzzling since
Castile was one of the side theaters of the Hundred Years War and one
would presume that those English and French soldiers and commanders
who fought there were exposed to some of these regional differences.
It is understandable why the author kept his focus on the north, but
the absence of a more comparative perspective (with the exception of a
brief mention on ransoming in the Holy Land), raises some bigger
questions than this work can answer.  Did the absence of a religious
divide between combatants in France keep it as a private and largely
ad-hoc process as opposed to the very public and institutionally
organized system we see in Aragon and Castile where religion often
determined if a person fell into captivity?  Or was this the result of
differing feudal and legal traditions?  Was there a similar system in
place for ransoming non-combatants or were they a non-issue in France?
One of the notable aspects of the ransoming system that evolved in
Aragon was that it mostly sought to ransom non-combatants (sailors,
travelers, merchants).  Moreover, in Aragon we see an entire society
enlisted to aid captives raise their ransoms (by providing begging
alms, leaving money in wills, supporting civic efforts to raise
funds).  This was a public problem with public solutions.  For the
combatants captured during the Hundred Years War, their effort was, as
Ambühl correctly points out, a largely private one.  Why such a
difference?  Clearly, some of the answers lie in regional differences,
but a fuller comparative study of captivity is still to be written.

This is not to say that the work will interest only those who work on
France, England or the war.  Indeed, one of the strengths of Ambühl's
work is that by giving us such a detailed study of imprisonment and
captivity during the Hundred Years War, the book can serve as a
cornerstone of any future comparative research on the plight of
prisoners and captives in medieval Europe.

1. See Yvonne Friedman, Encounter Between Enemies: Captivity and
Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem
(Leiden: Brill, 2002);
Jean Dunbabin Captivity and Imprisonment in Medieval Europe, c.
1000-c. 1300
(New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002); Jarbel
Rodriguez, Captives and their Saviors in the Medieval Crown of
(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press,
2007); Guy Geltner, The Medieval Prison: A History (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2008).

Sunday, March 30, 2014

End of winter troubadour poetry

Very happily, I begin to love
a joy from which I will have more pleasure;
and, since I want to be back to joy
I well ought to, if I can, aim for the best;
since I love the best, without doubt,
that one could see or hear.

I (you know as much) should not brag
nor dare I praise myself much;
but if ever could one joy blossom,
this one should above all take roots
and shine above all others
just as the day turns brighter.

And never could anyone portray it
for in want nor wish
nor in though nor in imagination
such a joy can't find an equivalent;
and if one wanted to praise it properly,
he couldn't do it in a year.

Every joy must lower itself
and all royalty obey
my lady, because of her kindness
and of her sweet pleasant visage;
and he will live a hundred times longer
who can partake of her love.

Because of her joy can the sick turn healthy
and because of her displeasure can a healthy man die
and a wise man turn mad
and a handsome man lose his beauty
and the most courteous turn into a lout
and the most churlish turn into a courtier.

Since nobody can find a worthier woman
nor eyes see one, nor mouth describe one,
I want to keep her all for me,
to bring freshness to my heart
and to renew my flesh,
so that it cannot grow old.

If my lady wants to grant me her love,
I am ready to receive it and to reciprocate
I am ready to discretion and cajoling
and to say and do what she pleases,
and to keep her worth into account
and to further her reputation

I don't dare communicate by proxy,
so much I am afraid to anger her;
nor I myself, so much I am afraid to fail,
dare declare my love precisely;
But she ought to choose what is best for me
because she knows that I shall be saved through her.

Guilhen de Peiteus

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A thought on modern heraldry

This week there was an article in the National Post about how Canada's heraldic authority was producing some of the best and most imaginative modern heraldry around. The focus was on the supporters, the animals (usually) who support the shield with the arms proper on them.

It was all positive in the article but I could not help but think that different message might be appropriate, too. The article might say that Canada's top heraldic artists are so good that they can take any bizarre thought you have for a supporter and make it look not only decent but really excellent.

And if the heraldic artists said that about themselves I would be the first to agree with them. This is amazing work.

My taste in heraldry is focused on the shields, however. I'm interested in early heraldry and things like supporters have always seemed to me to be later clutter. But even there, Canada's heralds shine. Just look at the coat of arms above, the one for the Québec City ballet company. I gasped when I saw it first. Brilliant and pure.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Square (2013) – an intense look at the Egyptian revolution

The Square (meaning, Tahrir Square) is an Egyptian movie that follows several people from Cairo through their political journey through the  recent upheavals in their country. The filmmakers caught several eloquent and serious people to be their subjects, to show through their debates and ruminations what kind of different ideals have been present in this remarkable historical moment.

I have been thinking recently that nobody knows what's going on in Egypt, and I feel that more strongly now, if a bit more hopefully. All the possibilities are there, good and bad. And if you ever thought that people outside of "the West" could not possibly understand democracy and human rights, here's your refutation.

Of course there are no guarantees that they will achieve a worthwhile democracy, but many of them know that they want it and it's not so different from what many people in Canada and elsewhere want.

As of today The Square is available on Netflix and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wrapping up a seminar on chivalry

This year I once again taught a fourth-year undergraduate seminar on chivalry.  Since it is quite possible that I may never teach it again, I am glad to say that it was a particularly satisfying iteration of the course.  Below you will find one student's concluding thoughts.  It may give you an idea of how happy I am, and why.
Chivalry Culmination
by Elisia Evans
              Throughout this course my understanding of chivalry has developed and changed regarding the new information that was introduced to our class.  As new material was introduced I asked myself new questions about the topic and eventually landed on a conclusion that encompasses a variety of sources that were studied in class. I have come to see chivalry as a combination of the ideas I developed on the subject throughout the course.
              At the beginning of the course I presented my ideas of chivalry as relating to the daring hero of Hyrule, Link, and the steadfast honour and sense of duty of Brienne of Tarth. To my understanding of the time chivalry was a term used to describe the traits of these two characters: dutiful, honourable, reliable, and brave.  To pledge fealty and keep it, or to embark on quests at great personal risk, were examples of chivalrous behaviour. As far as I was concerned at this stage of my understanding of chivalry, this was the extent of the meaning of the word.
              After reading Charny and Lull at the beginning of the course I was introduced to the true complexity of the idea of ‘chivalry’. Charny’s A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry was one of the most valuable sources we explored in this course because it provided a decent foundation for an accurate understanding of this elusive concept. Charny introduces a much more serious and professional definition of chivalry. He outlines the different types of knights and the different methods they might use to gain prestige in their knightly tasks. He often declares that “he who does best is most worthy (Charny 52)” and constantly asks these men to do more. This is extremely demanding considering how difficult being a mediocre knight would be, let alone one that meets Charny’s crazy standards. There is also an entire section devoted to the discouragement of physical pleasure entitled “A Good Man-at-Arms Should not Pamper his Body (68)”. This passage denies knightly men even soft sheets on their beds. The message I took away from Charny was that being a good knight sucked but was apparently worth it for the reputation and honour with which it is associated. Lull’s book The Book of the Order of Chivalry explained to me that these self-torturing men at arms were part of an ‘order’. This was important to my understanding of chivalry because it introduced the idea of chivalry being a type of legitimate profession or club. At this stage in my understanding of chivalry I was not sure who would ever in a million years want to attempt to meet Charny’s standards and enter into the world of ‘chivalry’.
              The identity of these men was soon illuminated by Duby’s article, “Youth in Aristocratic Society”. This was one of the most valuable sources for my academic understanding of knights, as well as a personal favourite. This article explained that knights were often the second sons of wealthier families and could not inherit land and thus had to make their own way in the world. For entertainment and a chance at a future they wandered around getting into trouble and fighting one another. These men developed into professional warriors, embarked on crusades and fought in tournaments. This article explains the origins of the men who are expected to dedicate themselves to the ideas proposed by Charny. My ponderings concerning the employment of these men was answered by our studies of jousts, challenges, and warfare. The literature concerning knights, such as the stories of Lancelot and Erec, gave me an impression of how the public viewed these men at arms because this was the media representation of chivalry to the literate populace. From these sources I was able to gather the origins of knights and that they were typically romanticized and respected because of their valiant deeds of arms and reputed honour.
              After learning about the relationship between knights and civilians I was completely surprised. During the 100 years war, on which I found Knights and Peasants to have been a valuable read, men at arms were reported to have taken part in some bad behaviour. Fields were burned, cities were sacked, and non-combatants were forced to participate as a means of survival. This blurred the idea of chivalry in my eyes.  In his book Wright points out that only a small number of the men at arms participating were actually members of the order of chivalry. This does not ease my mind because in Gillingham’s article on William the Marshal he describes the role of chivalry in warfare as being selected and somewhat diluted. There does not seem to be much room for an honour code when one is fighting for his life. However, I have deduced that Chivalry’s role in warfare was to ensure safe ransoms. Knight’s would only willingly surrender to other gentlemen and would then be ransomed back to their king.  It seems to be that at this moment men at arms remembered the rules with which they so strongly abide during peace. My overall conclusion, although incomplete at this time, was that Chivalry was a pipedream; people saw its value much more in theory than in practice.

              The final development of my idea of chivalry brought all of this together. I settled on the idea that knights had unrealistic expectations put on them by men like Charny and their adoring public. I now see chivalry as the equivalent of a gentlemen’s club; select members, large egos, a great deal of games played, and not much accomplished. I also believe that chivalry is swept under the rug during war, especially a war as frustrating and confusing as the 100 years war. However I would like to point out that in the document on jousts during a peace period there was a great deal of tournaments hosting chivalrous behaviour which shows the drive to remember chivalry as soon as the fighting subsides. In modern day warfare there is not much difference, soldiers forget their restraint and sometimes their morality while they are at war. In conclusion knights were real men who sometimes did not match up to the idea presented by Charny and the authors of the Epics read in class. I think this is why the idea of chivalry is so hard to place. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Phil Paine reissues his "Meditations on Democracy."

My friend Phil Paine deserves some kind of designation as a great Canadian eccentric

The only thing preventing this is that the country is full of them.

But really, this is inaccurate. Phil is a truly original thinker, the most original I have ever met. He and I have sometimes worked together, with him coming up with the unexpected insights and me reorganizing them into a form acceptable to normal intellectuals and scholars. What I have done with Phil may be some of my most important work.

A few days ago I went over to his blog at and found that Phil
had reorganized it to feature its most important content, his Meditations on Democracy.

Go have a look. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The meaning of chivalry

If you are a serious student of history, paid or unpaid, it sometimes comes as a shock to realize how little other people know about the problems and eras that you find fascinating, or the amazing misconceptions they sometimes have.

This school year I have been teaching a fourth year seminar on chivalry, and I started out the course by asking the students to characterize or define chivalry, not so much in a formal definition sense, but by relating the concept to stories, symbols, or analogies. At the end of last month I asked them as the seminar started winding down, to tell me what they had learned about chivalry, and what sources in particular had shaped their current view.

I wasn't really surprised to see three of the students talk about chivalry as courtesy as the view that they started out with. But still, look at this:

Prior to taking this class, it would suffice to say, I knew next to nothing about the concept of chivalry, except for within the context is used today.… My understanding of chivalry was limited to the concept of acting in a polite fashion, holding doors, surrendering the shotgun seat of a vehicle etc. I wondered how an entire class could be devoted to the study of "being polite."
 There you are.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lawrence Martin on the history of Canadian democracy

Canada’s forgotten independence day

March 11, 1848, was the day when Canada’s united colonies got responsible government. You might go so far as to call it our independence day – the day real democracy arrived.
It followed decades of struggle against British rule, the rebellions of 1837 and 1838 being foremost examples. Power passed from colonial elites to citizens when a Reform government headed by Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin was sworn in that day by governor-general Lord Elgin. The Reformers had won an election over conservative forces aligned to the monarchy.
Baldwin and LaFontaine, leaders of the territories now known as Ontario and Quebec, convinced their colonial masters that allowing power to reside with an elected assembly instead of a governor’s appointed executive council was the only way to stave off anarchy.
In the context of times, of so many countries seeking and failing to establish democratic systems, it was a remarkable achievement. We were “almost first out of the modern democracy gate,” writes John Ralston Saul in his book on LaFontaine and Baldwin. While you probably wouldn’t want to high-five our democracy today, given what it has become, we were trailblazers back then.
Europe-wide democratic revolutions marked 1848. Counterrevolutions followed shortly thereafter, and one was ignited in Canada. In 1849, reactionary mobs burned down the parliament buildings, then located in Montreal. But LaFontaine and Baldwin handled the crisis in a spirit of conciliation and compromise, as they had in bringing their culturally divergent provinces into union years earlier.
No such spirit prevailed in the United States, which was on the road to civil war, or in European jurisdictions where upheaval would mark the road to democratic legitimacy and world wars would be triggered.
The model put in place in our colonies was sound enough to endure through time with minimal politically inspired violence and bloodshed. The Baldwin and LaFontaine ministry decentralized power, establishing municipal governments. It brought in a modern legal and jury system and established secular public universities.
John A. Macdonald became our nation maker, as biographer Richard Gwyn calls him, but these men put in place the foundation. Lawyers by profession, they were not your typical win-at-all-costs politicians. Baldwin was a soft-spoken man who went about his work with a sunken heart. The pain at the loss of his adored wife at a young age never escaped him. But inescapable too was his devotion to the principles of democracy, social equity and justice. LaFontaine had that same commitment. He overcame strident opposition from francophone leaders in realizing his vision of a democratic union of the two cultures.
Not to be overlooked is Nova Scotia’s Joseph Howe, who secured responsible government for Nova Scotia two months earlier than Ontario and Quebec. His philosophy of governance paralleled that of Baldwin and LaFontaine. “The only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?” he said.
That’s a credo today’s political leaders would do well to heed. The responsible government fashioned in 1848 was primitive in many ways, but the form of democracy, in which the executive was controlled by the elected assembly, was a purer one than now. Now, the system is more akin to what existed prior to March 11, 1848, when the governor had all the power.
It’s all the more reason to remember that date, but we don’t. Academic David E. Smith notes in his book, Across the Aisle, that Canada’s contribution to responsible government used to be “a venerable theme in Canadian high school classes.” Sadly, he notes, that’s no longer the case.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Somebody will be interested in this book post...

From The Medieval Review:

Rouse, Richard H. and Mary A. Rouse. Foreword by Robert Somerville.
Bound Fast with Letters: Medieval Writers, Readers, and Texts.
Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 570.
$89.00 ISBN: 9780268040338.

   Reviewed by Alexander Andrée
        University of Toronto

Eighteen articles published over a span of forty years find a bele
in this delightful volume, which takes its reader on a
journey through one thousand years of book production. Divided into
three sections and an epilogue, this collection offers its reader
seasoned research on such seemingly disparate topics as wax tablets,
Donatist Aids to Biblical Study, Carolingian liturgical texts,
twelfth-century monastic sermons, the Waldensians and the schools, the
manuscripts of Richard de Fournival, crusading collections in
fourteenth-century France, a mysterious golden peacock, the habits of
wandering scribes and traveling artists, and much more.

Though article collections often seem to lack cohesion, this is not
the case with the present book. Its editors wisely saw fit to
privilege concept over context as their guiding organizational
principle. A brand new introduction, ditto vignettes for each section,
uniform formatting and new page numbering further contribute to the
unified aspect of the volume. And this book is, after all, about
books. It covers scribal practices across a thousand years,
parchmenting and decoration, patronage and book production. Though a
book devoted exclusively to matters of codicology may perhaps run the
risk of being a rather dry read except for the ardent specialist, this
is, once again, not the case here. On the contrary, the authors
consistently contextualize the material dimension of their manuscripts
as they call attention to the implications this material has on
medieval culture at large. This makes for a riveting read, which has
something to offer every kind of medievalist. In short, this is
"integral palaeography" at its best. Leonard Boyle would surely have
been proud.

A most impressive aspect of this volume, and one that shines through
most of its pages, is the special care with which the authors describe
and contextualize the single manuscripts--or even manuscript leaves--
held in North America. If the proper scrutiny of two Carolingian
bifolia, for example, can yield unexpected insights into "previously
unknown monastic liturgical practices in late-ninth or early-tenth-
century Burgundy" (60), one can only imagine the fruits that might be
reaped through equally detailed research into the much richer and more
plentiful European manuscript holdings. This message can certainly be
extrapolated from the opening section, "Writing It Down:
Practicalities and Imagery, 500-1200" (13-112), where we also learn
how a manuscript kept at Yale University's Beinecke Library provides
the hitherto missing link between the Spanish Waldensians, on the
brink of heresy, and the schools of Paris. It shows how the former,
through tolerance and understanding, could be brought into the
orthodox fold of the Church ("The Schools and the Waldensians: A New
Work by Durand of Huesca," 89-112).

The central portion, "Patrons and the Use of Books, 1250-1400," is the
book's longest (115-419) section and it perhaps reflects the authors'
keenest interests. The main theme here is how, and it what context, a
number of French vernacular texts were produced and circulated in the
high Middle Ages. First comes a study of the surviving manuscripts of
the Old French vernacular poet and patron of Latin manuscript
production Richard de Fournival (d. 1260). Judging by his list of
personal book-holdings, the Biblionomia, which mentions no less
than 132 volumes, it has long been held that Richard was instrumental
in preserving and transmitting rare works of classical Antiquity. Back
in 1973, when the Rouses originally published on this subject, they
were able to identify thirty-eight surviving manuscripts from this
list, most of which were held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France
in Paris, with a few exceptions uncovered in such distant locations as
Bern, Edinburgh and Florence. The authors have since successfully
identified six additional codices (in Paris, Leiden, Valenciennes and
at the Vatican) as originally belonging to de Fournivals's library.
The longest article in the volume, "Context and Reception: A Crusading
Collection for Charles IV of France" (215-279), considers how a Roman
tractate on warfare, Vegetius' De re militari, copied in the
company of the "right" texts and diffused under favourable
circumstances, could be turned into a piece of papal propaganda. In a
feat of codicological sleuthing worthy of a Lord Peter Wimsey, the
Rouses manage to show not only that Vegetius' tractate was copied
alongside crusading literature at Paris in the early part of the
fourteenth century, but also that it was assembled for King Charles IV
of France at the behest of none other than Pope John XXII, whose
crusading plans were shared by the French monarch.

Particularly fascinating in the third section, "Commercial Book-
Makers, French and Italian, 1290-1410" (422-522), is chapter 13,
"Wandering Scribes and Traveling Artists: Raulinus of Fremington and
His Bolognese Bible" (423-458), which reconstructs the career of a
West Country Englishman using information gleaned from the Bible he
copied toward the end of the thirteenth century. Not only were the
authors able to gather that he learned his trade in Paris and worked
in Bologna, they obtained insight into the scribe's personal life.
Contrary to the habits of most copyists, Raulinus left personal notes
scattered throughout the volume, not in the margins or otherwise
separate from the text, but as part of the text proper. From these
notes (the Rouses count sixteen of varying length, some of which are
in verse), Raulinus emerges, even by modern standards, as "lustful,
coarse, and self-absorbed" (425). His notes normally concern his
encounters with two women, Meldina and Vilana. The former is described
sometimes as a harlot, whore or leech and other times as a blossoming
rose and a jewel of womankind, whose love for Raulinus is commensurate
to the amount of change in his pockets. Vilana, according to Raulinus,
stole his cloak, for which she obtained the epithet, "dung-heap."
Indeed, it is the way in which the Rouses illuminate the human
dimension of scribal activity (which is sadly so rare among surviving
witnesses) that makes the book a cohesive delight to read. I only wish
Raulinus' comments could have been printed as an appendix--like many
of the other texts encountered in manuscripts in this volume--rather
than being relegated to the footnotes. For, as stated above, Raulinus
was not one to relegate his thoughts to the margins of his materials.

This book is undeniably a florilegium, but one hardly notices
that the flores have been plucked from different pastures.
Together, they give off the enticing scent of codicology come alive.

The Medieval Review

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Bothy Band 1976 – godlike

Gods and goddesses do not care about our petty problems of life and death and suffering.  Rather, they unleash joy and terror at their own whim.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Atheism in Egypt

Did anyone expect this?

  Juan Cole reports:  

 Egyptian journalist Hilmy al-Namnam said last fall that some researchers had concluded that there were 2 million Egyptian atheists. He blamed the rapid increase in unbelief among young people on the period of Muslim Brotherhood rule and the hypocrisy of television preachers. Educated young women are especially dismayed at the discourse on women apparent in clerical sermons. [Quoting Hilmy al-Namnam:]
Apparently it was the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood [June 2012-July 2013] that caused these groups of young people to pop up and which increased their numbers. It was suggested that I meet with a number of them last April, and I heard then from a young woman who says that she forsook religion, and when I discussed with them I did not find exactly what you could call a atheism, but a great deal of anger and protest at prevailing actions and behavior, and even many believers will share their anger and protest at the glaring contradiction between words and deeds of some of the preachers on television.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A classic courtly love sentiment from Cadenet

Provided that her great virtue increases,
and is heard about,
it doesn't matter to her if I find myself afflicted,
nor how my affairs go.
For it is good for her that I bear all the suffering,
and I like when I can put her forth;
it is good for her when she can make me languish
and I like when I can advance her;
she doesn't care that I feel bad,
and I like it when she feels good.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

More from Cadenet

The thing I would 

if I had such faculty,
would be such
as has power.
For I'd be nicely provided
with weapons and clothing,
I'd be generous with guests,
I'd be sumptuous in court,
I'd want to see ladies,
give gifts often,
follow wars and tournaments,
and take pleasure in courting.

And this, it seems to me, would be virtue
more than rapine
of which are fond
all our barons;
for if you are richer
than others, and so are your people,
they'll prepare riders
with light equipment
to snatch the loot more easily,
or, if they are met with force,
to flee more easily; it'd seem to me
that this debases and discredits them.

There was a time when one recognized
lovers, when he saw them,
by their great expenses
and by the many beautiful gifts
and by the pleasant apparels
and by the beautiful receptions.
But, today, it's the smooth talkers,
for riches corrupt all good qualities;
but through ingenuity or through learning
one can't keep his virtue
unless one establishes or enhances it through [his] actions:
such is the way these things go.

No man loses himself
through courtesy.
And there was a time
when one was in love
and youth showed
and congeniality reigned.
But now he who first goes
get the oxen and the cattlemen
is thought of as the most valiant.
You, see if they tell the truth,
those who, thanks to these same earnings,
show themselves in disgraceful attire.

The American Tributary System, by Yuen Foong Khong

From the Chinese Journal of International Politics (paywall):

America has more in common with China than is generally recognized. In this article, I employ the idea of the tributary system—most often associated with China’s international relations from antiquity—to interpret how America relates to the rest of the world (ROW). I argue that the United States has instituted the most successful tributary system the world has ever seen. As the hub or epicenter of the most extensive network of formal and informal alliances ever built, the United States offers its allies and partners—or tributaries—military protection as well as economic access to its markets.1 Through an equally impressive array of international institutions and organizations, many of which it created, the United States transmits and imposes its values and its preferred rules of the game on the international system. The ensuing economic and politico-military ‘orders’ are construed as ‘public goods’ provided by a benign American hegemony. In return for all its exertions, the tribute America seeks is straightforward: first, that it be recognized as the power or hegemon, and second, that others emulate its political forms and ideas. With both tributes in hand, the United States finds equanimity; it and the world are safe, at least from the United States’ point of view.

I elaborate on these arguments below and provide preliminary evidence in support of them. We begin with a discussion and critique of some of the most influential contemporary interpretations of America as an international actor, focusing on accounts of the US empire, the United States as the unipolar power, and as the chief patron of a system of client states. I suggest that while these accounts illuminate important aspects of the US–ROW relationship, they fail to emphasize the payback the United States wants in return for its exertions as the hegemon. This paves the way for introducing the idea of the tributary system, which takes hierarchy as its point of departure, but which emphasizes two insights not found in the existing accounts: the United States’ desire for recognition (by its tributaries) that it is the number one power, and for them (the tributaries) to adopt (US-style) liberal democratic norms and institutions. A discussion of the Chinese tributary system follows, focusing on six of its key characteristics. I then demonstrate how each of these features has parallels in America’s approach to world since 1898. Differences between the Chinese tributary system and that of the United States will also be discussed. The article concludes by spelling out the empirical/theoretical payoffs and implications of viewing US–ROW relations through the tributary lens.

The novelty of the tributary framework does not rest on the contention about American hegemony, a point that many international relations scholars accept. The novelty of the tributary concept resides elsewhere. First, its normative take on hegemony: it casts hegemony in a less positive light, emphasizing the hierarchical and unequal nature of the relationship. Mainstream international relations theory tends to portray hegemony in a predominantly positive light, emphasizing leadership, provision of public goods, and stability.106 The idea of the tributary system, in contrast, lays bare the inequality of the relationship by its very vocabulary. China thrived on that inequality and the rituals that affirmed it. The United States, however, is understandably more conflicted: inequality, manifested in the desire for recognition of US superiority, seems at odds with the self-understanding of a nation whose Declaration of Independence begins with ‘All men are created equal’.

The tributary idea, in other words, emphasizes hierarchy and inequality in ways that the notion of hegemony seeks to dissipate. Which concept fits better with America’s relationship vis-à-vis the ROW, I leave it to the reader’s judgment. Note, however, that while hierarchy in and of itself may have negative connotations or seems at odds with the notion of ‘sovereign equality’, it is presumed to have stabilizing effects by a veritable lineage of international relations scholarship. Hegemonic stability theory suggests that hegemons play a crucial role in underwriting the economic and security order by providing the public goods that lesser states are incapable or unwilling to ante up to.107 To be sure the hegemon also reaps huge all round gains.108 David Kang argues that Chinese hegemony during the Ming and Qing periods brought the region five centuries of peace and stability.109 William Wohlforth makes the case that US unipolarity is likely to last a generation and that it is also conducive to peace and stability.110 East and Southeast Asians who welcome American hegemony in their region might also be subscribing to a ‘hegemony is conducive to peace and stability’ line of thought than to balance of power principles.

The second novelty inspired by the tributary idea is the focus on ‘tribute’—if you recognize my pole position, what should you be doing when we meet and when we are far apart? China’s answer was: let me decide if you can visit (and how frequently), kowtow to the emperor when you come to pay tribute, and allow me to invest you with the legitimacy to rule; and finally, emulate our cultural forms when you are back home. Those who bought into the system reaped substantial economic and security benefits. Viewing the United States as the hub of the tributary system provides similar insights about what it would expect from its tributaries: acknowledge its superior power by not contesting it and by allowing it bases and places; play by US rules of the economic game, and emulate American political ideas and forms. The economic and security payoffs for the secondary states are as great as those garnered by China’s major tributaries.

Finally, viewing America as the fountainhead of a tributary system connects many of the most interesting—hitherto disparate—dots that constitute the landscape of American diplomacy: hegemon, leader of the free world, democracy (promotion), prestige/status, and credibility. These self-understandings and concerns have featured prominently as key factors impacting on US foreign policy, but there does not exist a narrative that connects them in a coherent way. The tributary idea connects them and sees these elements as essential parts of the (tributary) system. Hegemony needs a legitimating discourse to justify the hierarchy and inequality and while the extant literature hones in on the provision of public goods, it neglects the politics: democracy and leadership (of the free world). What is really distinctive about the US legitimation discourse is the fusion of the two: how democracy and US leadership are joined, as in the term leader of the free world. The latter accords the United States a moral status, prestige, and credibility that are critical ingredients in maintaining the tributary system. When the epicenter is perceived to be unrivalled on these qualities, tributaries will want to edge closer to the epicenter for protection (and prestige by association) and adversaries will think twice before challenging it. It is only in understanding how seriously the United States takes that leadership role that prestige and credibility become central concerns that must be protected in the overall scheme of things.

In a piece for The Atlantic as the Cold War was winding to an end, John Lewis Gaddis proposed characterizing the period from 1945 to 1989 as The Long Peace. ‘Change the name’, Gaddis wrote, ‘and you change the thing’.111 By the latter he meant that the very speech-act of naming it a ‘Cold War’, imparts a negative take on how we view and understand the period, perhaps making us less able to discern the positive developments. Viewing it as the Long Peace, in contrast, should dispose us to better understand, and perhaps preserve, the elements that sustained that peace. This article has sought to introduce a new vocabulary to view the way the United States relates to the ROW. Its distinctive contributions consist in introducing the (Chinese) tributary idea as a framework for analyzing US foreign policy and in fleshing out the parallels suggested by the framework in a preliminary way.

We began by observing how America and China’s approach to international relations have unrecognized similarities. Perhaps it is appropriate to end by commenting on an underappreciated difference. In his superb analysis of the Chinese world order and how it collapsed in the face of Western pressures, Yongjin Zhang honed in on a vocabulary change that revealed China’s existential dilemma after the mid-19th century: China’s sense of its place in the world shrank from ‘tianxia’ (all under heaven) to ‘guojia’ (a state), i.e. ‘the Chinese world became a China in the world’.112 Using the tributary lens to illuminate the longue duree of American diplomacy leads one to a rather different conclusion about America’s foreign policy trajectory in the 20th and 21st centuries: the United States’ place in the world seems to have moved from ‘guojia’ to ‘tianxia’. The term that most of us have used until now to describe that trajectory and state of affairs is the Pax Americana. Could that be a euphemism for the American tributary system?