Monday, May 23, 2016

Reviews of Royal Jousts and the Combat of the Thirty (De Re Militari)

Muhlberger, Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century & The Combat of the Thirty (Sposato) De Re Militari

MAY 23, 2016

Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century, Deeds of Arms series 1

The Combat of the Thirty, Deeds of Arms series 2

ed. and trans. by Steven Muhlberger

(Freelance Academy Press, 2012) i- viii, 88 pp., $24.95; ii- viii, 83 pp., $24.95

Over the past fifteen years Steven Muhlberger has established himself as one of the leading authorities on medieval chivalry. His scholarly oeuvre has not only made an important contribution to the larger field, but in many ways has blazed a new trail through his focus on case-studies of particular events, individuals, and texts. [1] The two works reviewed herein, Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century and The Combat of the Thirty, fit this mold and are part of a series on formal deeds of arms (faits d’armes) published by Freelance Academy Press, one that has already received the approbation of scholars. [2] These two volumes, and the series as a whole, will be especially attractive to scholar-teachers who can use them to great effect in the classroom, while also offering a useful introduction for graduate students and researchers who wish to study for the first time formal deeds of arms and their important role in the chivalric culture of late medieval Europe.

In the first volume in the series, Royal Jousts, Muhlberger examines four historical jousts held in 1389-1390. Three of the jousts were organized by the French and one by the English: the Joust at St. Denis (May 1389), the Joust accompanying Queen Isabella of Bavaria’s entry into Paris (August 1389), the Joust at St. Inglevert (March-April 1390), and the Joust at Smithfield near London (October 1390). These jousts were meant to celebrate both armes (arms, i.e., prowess, bravery, valor, etc.) and amour (love). In addition, they served the propagandistic purposes of two young kings, Charles VI of France and Richard II of England, who sought to both secure a lasting peace between their kingdoms after decades of war and to encourage and reward the chivalric energy and violence of their knights and men-at-arms. These two seemingly contradictory impulses could be reconciled in such formal combats.

The first part of Royal Jousts consists of an introduction and succinct historical study of the jousts. Muhlberger aptly sets the stage for each and duly notes their larger implications. Indeed, Muhlberger usefully points out that formal deeds of arms, including jousts, “were taken extremely seriously [by contemporaries:] they were war, diplomacy, or domestic politics in a different form”, suggesting that they were far more than simply a means to satisfy the romantic fancy of a small segment of late medieval society. (12) Muhlberger also includes a critical, albeit concise, discussion of the relatively limited available sources, emphasizing caution in their use: “we should not[…] mistake interest and enthusiasm for diligent, accurate reportage”. (3) The limitations of these sources are all the more important because the accounts of these jousts, especially the joust at St. Inglevert, have generally been utilized by scholars to “stand[…] in for every unrecorded jousting match of the later Middle Ages”. (6) Muhlberger’s English translations of the various texts that discuss each of the four jousts and an appendix, which attempts to score the 137 courses run by the French champions at St. Inglevert, complete the volume.

In the second volume, The Combat of the Thirty, Muhlberger examines a different kind of formal deeds of arms, a pre-arranged battle between two groups of strenuous warriors. In this particular battle, generally known as the Combat of the Thirty, two groups of thirty men fought in an open field in Brittany on March 27, 1351. Each group represented one of the garrisons of two nearby castles (Josselin and Ploermel) and the battle was apparently occasioned by the promise of the captain of one of the sides that “we will go to an open field and there we will fight as long as we can endure it”. (1) The Combat of the Thirty was in many ways a decidedly local (i.e., Breton) affair, while at the same time serving as a microcosm of the larger conflict between the French and English during the Hundred Years War, although it was not officially sanctioned by the leadership on either side. Indeed, the Combat of the Thirty divided opinion among contemporaries, while at the same time acquiring a lasting (and contested) legacy that has continued to the present.

The Combat of the Thirty is organized in a fashion similar to Royal Jousts. The first part consists of a brief, but illuminating historical introduction to the Combat of the Thirty and its place in both the history of the Hundred Years War and of Brittany as a region. Muhlberger also attempts to answer several sensible questions: “Why did sixty men risk themselves in a fight to the finish on that spring day in Brittany six and a half centuries ago? Why did it attract attention and praise in its time? Why does it interest us still?”. (2) His answers shed light on some of the nuances of chivalric culture in the mid-fourteenth century and the important role formal deeds of arms played in it. The introduction also includes a useful discussion of the extant and often conflicting sources that treat the Combat of the Thirty. The second part of the volume contains Muhlberger’s translations of these texts. Finally, the volume also contains two appendices. In the first, Muhlberger reconstructs, as much as is possible, a list of the combatants on both sides, as well as their heraldic devices. Historians of the Hundred Years War will no doubt recognize several of the participants, especially Robert Knolles, Hugh Calveley (Calverley), Jean de Beaumanoir, and Yves (Yvain) Charruel. The second appendix, composed by Douglas Strong, offers a short analysis of the armor of the English and Breton combatants.

In summary, Royal Jousts and The Combat of the Thirty will offer researchers, scholar-teachers, and students alike a stimulating and enlightening introduction to two different kinds of formal deeds of arms: jousts and a pre-arranged battle between two groups of chosen combatants. Muhlberger’s historical introductions and analysis in both volumes are succinct and informative. Likewise, the translations in both works are approachable and accurate. These translations will prove especially useful in the classroom, not least because they will allow students to compare different accounts of the same events. They will also serve as an entry point for those interested in investigating these formal deeds of arms in greater detail, even if specialists and non-specialists alike will lament the lack of footnotes and more expansive analysis. These very minor points, however, take nothing away from the overall quality of the volumes. Finally, this reviewer would be remiss to not give credit to both the author and the publisher for producing two books that are beautifully illustrated and, more importantly, eminently affordable.

Peter W. Sposato

Indiana University Kokomo


[1] Prominent among Muhlberger’s other publications on chivalry are: Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002); Deeds of Arms: Formal Combats in the Late Fourteenth Century (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005); and Charny’s Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War (Freelance Academy Press, 2014).

[2] The series includes: Noel Fallows, The Twelve of England, Deeds of Arms 3 (Freelance Academy Press, 2013) and Steven Muhlberger, Will a Frenchman Fight, Deeds of Arms 4 (Freelance Academy Press, 2015). For the positive reception of The Twelve of England, see the review by Dr. Samuel Claussen on the De Re Militari website-

Saturday, May 21, 2016

GK Chesterton and Alan Jacobs discuss fiction and literature

I am reading Alan Jacobs' The Narnian: the life and imagination of CS Lewis. On page 123 Jacobs has a very interesting comment on GK Chesterton.
One of Chesterton's most famous essays is an early one (1901) called "in defence of penny dreadfuls" – "penny dreadfuls" being what we might call "pulp fiction," but for adolescents. Apparently many cultural pedagogues of the time were exercised by the popularity of such "vulgar" stories and wished them to be replaced by genuine literature. GKC is half – puzzled and half – offended by this alarm. He has no wish to defend the dreadfuls as literature but he does want to defend them as "the actual centre of 1 million flaming imaginations." To Chesterton, "the simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac." In fact, he continues, "literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." That is while we can live without Balzac, brilliant though he may be, the penny dreadfuls are actually vital to human well-being.

Ripper Street and steampunk

I talked recently about the Canadian show Murdoch's Mysteries as an entertaining exploration of late Victorian Toronto, which is not exactly steam punk but close enough.

I am now watching Ripper Street, which like the Canadian series is about the late 19th century and is not exactly steampunk but shares Murdoch mysteries fascination with new technology and science.

The fascination of a variety of creative people with the modernity of the late 19th century and the early 20th is fascinating to me!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The brutal men at arms of the Good Duke

Faithful readers are good friends now that I've been working for a while on a translation of the Chronicle of the good Duke, a French biography of the Duke of Bourbon dating from about 1429. The events covered by the Chronicle are actually older than that. One of the most interesting things about this document is that it was written my young person consulting with a prominent man of arms of the Duke of Bourbon's retinue, whose memory stretched back half a century and more. The man at arms was Jean de Châteaumorand, who understandably had a high opinion of his former master and his compatriots who fought the wars against the English back in the golden days of chivalry. In Châteaumorand's telling the were a pretty neat bunch and there were lots of good stories about their worthy deeds in the French wars and elsewhere. I currently have a collaborator on this project, Phil Paine, whose middle French is much better than mine. He sent me up page of corrections recently that contained a very interesting story that shows the men at arms of the Good Duke in a less flattering light.
The Duke of Bourbon and the Poitevins left there, and they went before a place called le Faon, which was not encircled by trenches,where it would have water.. And so the place was strongly assaulted, but it was not taken on that day, except only the lower courtyard, where many good men were wounded. For there was there a Franciscan who was wondrous at firing the arbelest, with which he killed four gentlemen, and he was said to be the finest arbelister in Poitou, and well provisioned [with amunition]. And on the next day, the Poitevins and Bourbonnois assailed the keep in a fierce and strong assault, and those within defended themselves, and the Franciscan let fire [again], but it was such an energetic effort that the fortress was taken, and many men killed within, save for the Franciscan-arbelester, who had removed his habit and fled to his monastery. And then the whole army asked “where is the Franciscan?”, and it was alleged that he was in the church, on his knees before the altar. And so Sir Jean Roye hastened there, because the Franciscan had killed, by his shooting, one of his squires. And he took the Franciscan, along with his habit, and went to hang him from a tree, doing so circumspectly, so that the Duke did not know about it. And the Duke of Bourbon left le Faon.
Here we see a course of action approved by the entire army but which other people might see as disgraceful. The killing of the Franciscan might harm the Duke of bourbon's reputation so Châteaumorand is careful to say that the Duke knew nothing about the hanging of the clerical Archer. Why might others disapproved? The telling of the tale makes it clear that the Franciscan was taken out of church and hanged. It looks to be that privileges of the clergy both in the case of the Archer and the church he was found in had been violated. Other observers could see this as an atrocity or a war crime. But John the Châteaumorand, Jean de Roye and the rest of the Army were angry and felt truly justified in hunting down and hanging the Archer. Very likely they saw the Archer as stepping outside of his role as a clergyman and taking on illegitimately the role of the combatant. He was trying to have things both ways, combatant and privileged noncombatant. The may be something more to it as well. It's well-known that men at arms did not see archers as their equals, even if they took part in combat as part of organize armies. It could be that Châteaumorand and his friends saw the Archer as a low class sharpshooter who had no right to be so effective and kill their friends.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation, by Robert Bartlett

This sounds like a fantastic book. But then he's written them before.  

Bartlett, Robert. Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation

   Reviewed by Diane Fruchtman

        DePauw University

Robert Bartlett's Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? is delightful. Its acuity, readability, and impressive aggregation of fascinating details make it a compelling, useful, and thoroughly enjoyable read at any level of expertise. While the book is not without fault, its strengths as an avenue into the complex and multifaceted world of saints and worshippers in the Middle Ages far outweigh its shortcomings. Bartlett has a knack for selecting beautifully illustrative and compelling quotations from a wide range of primary sources to illuminate his points, allowing him to present, in glorious array, the diversity of the cult of saints. The book is a wonderful blend of judicious synthesis and confident command of detail, and its almost conversational progression of topics helps maintain and cultivate the reader's curiosity.

Bartlett offers his readers a chronological introduction to the cult of saints before branching out to a thematic exploration. Part one, "Developments," includes chapters on "Origins (100-500)," "The Early Middle Ages (500-1000)," "The High and Later Middle Ages (1000-1500)," and "The Protestant Reformation." While Bartlett occasionally uses primary sources uncritically (for instance, treating the whole of The Martyrdom of Polycarp as a contemporary account [2]), and while some of his chronological choices are curious (for instance, waiting until the second chapter to introduce Christian ambivalence about the power of the saints' bodily relics), in general these chapters provide an excellent diachronic overview of Western Christian saint veneration, one that lays a solid and necessary framework for the thematic chapters to come. The narrative Bartlett offers is familiar and succinct, yet filled with enough astute observations to make even a seasoned scholar pause and ponder. The chapter on the Reformation is rather too brief: Bartlett touches upon Luther, Zwingli, the Tudors, and Calvin just long enough to register these Reformers' varied rejections of the cult of saints, though not long enough to explore the underpinnings and manifestations of those rejections. Furthermore, the Catholic Reformation, to which the cult of the saints was essential and whose impact on saint veneration was substantial, is wholly absent from Bartlett's narrative. Nonetheless, this historical sketch is an excellent and compelling invitation into the medieval world of saints and worshippers; not only does it provide an accessible historical trajectory for the reader's reference, it piques the reader's interest and prompts questions for further study, many of which are addressed in later chapters.

The second (and far more substantial) section of the book (Part II: "Dynamics") is where Bartlett's brilliance most shines through, as he examines the cult of saints from many different angles, turning the jewel, so to speak, so that we can fully appreciate each facet. These ten chapters, covering topics as varied as liturgical calendars, literary effusions, pilgrim garb, and satirical skepticism, are so wide ranging and engaging that they warrant individual attention here.

"A saint was not a person of a particular type but a person who was treated in a particular way. That 'way' can be summed up by the word 'cult' and its three key elements were public recognition of the name and the day of the saint; special treatment of the saint's bodily remains; and celebrations of the saint in writing" (95). With these parameters, Bartlett (chapter 5: "The Nature of Cult") offers a conceptual foundation for how we can identify saints and their cults. Though sainthood remains in the eye of the beholder, historians and scholars can identify a cult by establishing that worshippers maintained a special relationship to the saint's name, body, and textual traditions. This chapter also assesses the purpose of cult--briefly stated, it is patronage, on a level slightly more accessible than dealing directly with God. The saints intercede on behalf of their petitioners, can be invoked by them, and are bound by the patron's rules of reciprocity, such that saints could be "shamed" or "humiliated" should their intervention seem in need of prodding.

Chapter 6, "Saints' Days," addresses the timing of saints' veneration and celebration. Bartlett describes the development of various liturgies for the saints (showing, in compelling detail, how murky and unsystematic this process often was); the hierarchy of feast days; how the celebration of saints' days varied by locality and thus served to carve out and reinforce local identities; and finally, how those holy days were publicized and celebrated in the lay calendar. This short chapter shows in microcosm the strengths of the book as a whole--attention to detail, illustrative examples, and an overarching dialogic tone that first illuminates what scholars "know" and then problematizes that body of knowledge by addressing questions the reader may not have considered, ultimately providing a cautious and nuanced overview of the topic. Similarly compelling is chapter 11, "Dedications and Naming." Once again, Bartlett sheds light on lesser-noted aspects of the cult of saints: the politics, logic, importance, consequences, and power of naming children after saints; the history of popes taking on saintly names as they ascend to office; the regional patterns of naming conventions, etc.

Chapters 7 and 8 tackle "Types of Saints" and "Relics and Shrines," respectively. Chapter 7 begins with the difficulties inherent in the historiographic project of counting saints--not least of which is the question of whom one should count. After describing the benefits and limitations of several models (delimiting by time, geography, canonization attempts, successful canonizations, etc.) and offering some insight into the data we think we have, Bartlett proceeds to discuss all of the various categories of saints he can muster, including Mary, angels, apostles and evangelists, martyrs, confessors (including doctors of the church, bishops, abbots, and hermits), virgins, Old Testament saints, lay saints, and royal saints (with a subsection on female royals). Then, acknowledging that any identity-based schema will fall short, Bartlett explores saints categorized by their roles as patrons of specific churches, cities, "nations," and individuals. The short sections allow the reader to peruse closely the examples that Bartlett offers, making the chapter, despite its length and encyclopedic potential, immensely readable--it is concise without being inane, wide ranging without ever becoming list-like. The "Relics and Shrines" chapter is, likewise, well structured and clear. It spans the various forms of relics (including body parts and contact relics), the logistics of shrines (their location and management), the collection of relics (in reliquaries and as objects of trade and theft), the movement of relics (in translation, procession, exchange, and theft), how relics appear in legal and military scenarios, and disputes about relics (both about their possession and about their validity).

One of the most satisfying chapters in this book, chapter 9 ("Miracles"), combines survey and analysis, incorporating medieval theories of the miraculous as well as scholarly debates about how to approach, quantify, and analyze the miracles we see in medieval sources. The chapter moves from theorizing and problematizing the miraculous to highlighting and exploring various categories of miracles, first by type (healing, provision, visions, prophecy) and then by context (war, against demons, among animals, in response to scoffers).

Less satisfying is chapter 10, on pilgrimage. While the chapter as a whole is replete with excellently chosen and illustrative quotes, an array of scholarly perspectives, and useful information, Bartlett's frame is perplexingly unhelpful. The chapter begins with a discussion of "Origins and Definitions," which opens with the following: "Unlike Judaism or Islam, Christianity did not originally have the idea of pilgrimage, that is, journeying to a holy place, a specially sanctioned spot with intrinsic spiritual significance like Jerusalem or Mecca" (410). Not only does this ill-judged preamble assume a clear historical separation between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (such that we can accurately assess "original" practices, as if each tradition emerged neatly as a discrete and distinct entity), it employs a definition of pilgrimage that limits the phenomenon to the purely physical. At the end of the chapter, Bartlett mentions--almost as an aside--the idea that a human's whole life is a pilgrimage to God, but this idea is both early and ubiquitous in Christian thought, from New Testament injunctions that a Christian should live "as a stranger and a pilgrim" in the world (Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:11) to Augustine's repeated characterizations of life as pilgrimage. On the one hand, by circumscribing pilgrimage as physical, Bartlett has facilitated his description of what medieval pilgrimage to the shrines of the saints looked like, what it entailed, and how it was thought of; on the other hand, he has foreclosed exploration of the spirituality that lies at the heart of the Christian experience of pilgrimage and alienation more broadly. Nonetheless, the chapter does compass some excellent topics of focus, including the debates over the localization of sanctity in a tradition whose divinity is transcendent, the various accouterments of shrines and their visitors, and the nuts-and-bolts logistics of medieval pilgrimage.

Chapters 12 and 13, on "Images of the Saints" and "The Literature of Sanctity," once again represent Bartlett at his best. These vast topics are treated with attention to detail, superbly selected examples, and fair representations of current scholarship and historical debates alike, all suspended in a clear and helpful organizational framework. In chapter 12, Bartlett explores the rise of images in the cult of saints as "focused on devotion rather than just being mimetic or memorial" (472), and he gives a clear and sensitive overview of iconoclasm (both East and West) before discussing the manifestations of the iconophile victory in various media and contexts. Likewise, in chapter 13, Bartlett's treatment of the literature of sanctity explores the whys and wherefores of writing about saints (including a brief discussion of hagiography as both a genre and a source for historians of religious life) before addressing various manifestations in legendaries, miracle books, sermons, canonizations, and vernacular hagiography.

Confidence in the cult of saints, generally speaking, was a consistent feature of Christian life in the medieval Latin West. But in every generation there were objectors, Christians who felt that the cult of the saints was ridiculous, idolatrous, polytheistic, pointless, or simply distracting. This "Doubt and Dissent" forms the subject of chapter 14. Beginning with Vigilantius, Bartlett moves from early medieval dissenters to the "Western Heretics" (the Cathars, Waldensians, and Lollards), finally proceeding to address the more diffuse skepticism that pervaded medieval cultures: the "bubbling broth of mockery, disrespect, doubt, disbelief, disdain, and derision" that stood in contrast to the "serious and principled" objections of the "heretics" (596). Recorded in hagiographies (where these doubters were invariably overcome) and in satire (where true sanctity is inviolate and sham sanctity a comedy of errors), this "skepticism and scoffing" usually served to reinforce the cult of the saints, rather than to undermine it. Bartlett ends the chapter with a section on "policing the saints"--how the Church controlled the proliferation of veneration and in effect instituted its own internal and ultimately cult-preserving systematic doubt and dissent. This chapter is essential to the book, providing a much-needed counterbalance to the attitudes seen in other chapters. And its placement at the end, concentrating all naysayers in one final content chapter, serves well to highlight positions that, if dispersed among other topics, might have been overwhelmed. It leaves the reader with a strong sense that there is much more to be known and to be questioned than she has already encountered. On the other hand, the separation of "doubt and dissent" into its own chapter replicates the impression that these positions were marginal and worthy of exclusion from the general discussion of saint veneration, an impression only underscored by Bartlett's unqualified use of terms like "heretic" and "orthodox."

The only thoroughly disappointing chapter is the final one, "Reflections," which is preoccupied with the conceptual origins and transcultural touchstones of the cult of saints. Bartlett explores whether saint veneration was an extension of pagan devotion to the gods, an offshoot of nature-worship, a negotiation of ancient mortuary practice, a consequence of Abrahamic views about inhumation, and/or a cousin to ancestor veneration. In each case, Bartlett presents the possibilities alongside scholarship that has assessed them, and in each case unsurprisingly finds the cult of saints unique in some way, not entirely attributable to one or another theory of origination. The question is: why do these possibilities, so long and so clearly discredited and so reductive of the topic itself, need to be aired? They are certainly less illuminating than a phenomenological or theological analysis of saint veneration would be. Singularly problematic is the final section, "Comparisons and Conclusions." The evenhanded diplomacy, helpful documentation, and reader-focused progression of topics evidenced elsewhere in the book are all lacking here, and Bartlett's comparisons are facile and unhelpful. He makes unsubstantiated comparisons between martyrdom in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, resorting, for example, to the historically incorrect commonplace that Christian martyrdom is "marked off" from "Muslim martyrdom by its almost exclusively passive character" (634); furthermore (and once again with no supporting citations), he asserts that "in their radical asceticism Christian saints are closer to the holy men of Hinduism and Buddhism than to those of Judaism or Islam" (634). Comparisons between and across traditions must not be grounded in superficial external similarities but in contextual study that respects the intricacies of each tradition in the appropriate historical moment. Without sufficient care, comparisons are at best academically useless and at worst politically irresponsible. It was disappointing to see such carelessness here, at the end of such a strong book.

Also disappointing is the absence of an answer to the title's query: Why can the dead do such great things? Intermittently throughout the text we catch possible glimpses of medieval reasoning regarding the theology, anthropology, and soteriology behind belief in the efficacy of saintly intercession, but the question is never an object of focus or direct discussion, despite the fact that, for medieval thinkers, it often was. Of course, it would be impossible to address all of the cultural and theological logics that made the cult of the saints intelligible to practitioners, but given Bartlett's elsewhere evident talent for presenting disputed ideas in a productive and illuminating way, the omission of this central topic, a key feature of medieval spirituality and the medieval logic of sainthood, is jarring. Bartlett's is not a history of theology, but a history of practice, overwhelmingly¬--the two must be considered in tandem to be fully understood.

Aside from these (perhaps parochial) disappointments, the book is both a fantastic resource and an enjoyable read. Despite its concatenation of sources and exempla, the book never feels list-like or tedious, and the author's skill in selecting topics, quotations, and references makes the reader more than usually inclined to use this as a jumping-off point for further exploration--a
quality that makes this work particularly well suited to casual readers seeking an exciting overview of the medieval cult of saints, upper-level undergraduates in classroom settings and exploring independent research projects, and academics interested in pursuing conversations across areas of specialty. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a scholar who would not glean something new from reading this work

Friday, May 06, 2016

On the Road in the Hundred Years War -- stories of 14th century warfare from Froissart

From Steve Muhlberger and Stonebunny Press
A New book in a new series:
On the Road in the Hundred Years War -- stories of 14th century warfare from the chivalric historian Jean Froissart.
Would you like to hear what the knights of the Hundred Years War had to say about their personal experiences of the conflict? Jean Froissart, the era's greatest fan of chivalry, devoted his life to interviewing the knights who participated in the war and to create his vast, vivid Chronicle. On the Road in the Hundred Years War shows us Froissart in his natural environment, crossing war-torn France, and talking with the warriors who knew the history of the country they passed through and the men who had fought there. On the Road (volume 1 of the new series Tales from Froissart) brings to life the military camps, the princely courts and the inns where those who followed the wars gathered and talked of their way of life. This volume is available in Kindle format and in paperback. The print version is very reasonably priced and the Kindle version is much, much cheaper. Both are illustrated (print interior is black and white, other illustrations are in color). Available in print: or ie=UTF8&qid=1462548915&ref_=tmm_pap_swatch_0&sr=8-1 Available in Kindle: ebook/dp/B01F5LNDIE?ie=UTF8&keywords=froissart%20on%20the%20road%20steve %20muhlberger&qid=1462548456&ref_=sr_1_fkmr0_1&sr=8-1-fkmr0 or

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Kent State, Northwoods, and the SCA

This day is the anniversary of the Kent State University shootings, where the Ohio National Guard, faced with unruly demonstrators against the Vietnam War, shot several of them including people who were not part of the demonstration. I was in university at the time in the United States and opposition to the war was pretty high. This however got many people who had not actively protested the war very angry. The Kent State demonstrations had been a reaction to the invasion of Cambodia, a major expansion of the war that Richard Nixon had promised to wind down when he was elected. The invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State and also at Jsckson State University in Mississippi got me and thousands of others to take part in antiwar marches who had never done so before.

Two days before the shootings, and a week before the marches against the Kent State killings, I had taken part in the first tournament held by the SCA in East Lansing Michigan. Lke the first SCA tournament four years earlier, it was a great success that inspired us to do more. As a result our Michigan State University – based group became the barony of Northwoods, part of the Middle Kingdom, which was headquartered in the Chicago area." NorthWoods for a good while was the largest and most dynamic SCA group between the two coasts. I have often wondered if we had scheduled our tournament on May 9 instead of May 2,1970, whether we would have had the heart or the interest in putting on Northwoods' oh so successful first SCA tournament? And if not, what would the history of the SCA have looked like?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock

I have been listening to this again and again for the past few weeks: I went back and looked it up because someone my granddaughter's age expressed enthusiasm.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gender War

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo
points out Donald Trump's greatest weekness:
There are numerous articles I've seen this morning talking about the emerging "gender war" in the 2016 general election, which now seems officially underway. 'Trump’s ‘woman’s card’ comment escalates the campaign’s gender wars', 'Trump escalates his gender war' are just a couple examples. There's plenty of misogyny in our society and our politics. Women face various campaign or perception hurdles men do not. Is this female candidate tough enough to be president? Is she too tough ("angry", "abrasive") and therefore not likable? Etc etc. But the simple fact is that if you are explicitly fighting a 'gender war' with a female candidate, you're already losing and probably losing badly, as Tierney Sneed's article this morning confirms in the polling numbers.

It comes down to a simple issue of the 19th Amendment: women can vote! And in addition to being able to vote, there are slightly more women than men and they actually vote a bit more. But it really comes down to: women can vote!

In electoral terms, the dynamics of gender and race are different in various ways. But they're pretty similar in this way. If you are thematically invoking racial or gender stereotypes without doing so openly or explicitly you can mobilize societal prejudice in your favor - what we sometimes generically call 'dog-whistling'. But if you're attacking your opponent as a women - and yes, attacking her as only doing well because she's a woman or 'playing the woman card' - that's not a gender war. It's a gender massacre and you're the one being massacred.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Canada’s multiculturalism: A circle, ever edging outwards, by JOHN RALSTON SAUL

Canada’s multiculturalism: A circle, ever edging outwards


Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Apr. 22, 2016 1:15PM EDT Canada is now the only Western democracy in which there is no serious argument among the citizenry or politicians over the importance of immigration. Canadians understand that immigration is not migration. It must be seen as the first step toward citizenship. And the sooner an immigrant becomes a citizen, the better.

The main complaint after the arrival of the first 25,000 Syrian refugees seems to be that more of them should have been citizen sponsored because it is harder to settle those who are government assisted. So we now need more refugees, but in that first category.

Incidentally, I believe the term should be citizen sponsored, not privately sponsored. Private implies self-interest or commerce. This is all about citizen engagement.

Seen from outside the country, our attitude toward immigration and citizenship often seems to make Canada an outlier – problematic, a contradiction, sleepwalking to disaster, even unacceptable as a real nation-state

. Over the last month in several European countries, I found that many people, of all backgrounds, educations and beliefs, were quicker than ever to say Of course, you can believe in these things. You have a big country. You’re a new country.

Neither is true. We aren’t big. For the last hundred years most immigrants have gone to a handful of big cities. And we aren’t new. As a settler society we are the product of 400 years, most of it spent going through the same economic, political and social dramas as other Western countries. We are the oldest continuous democratic federation in the world – beating Switzerland by a few months. We are the second- or third-oldest continuous democracy of any sort in the world – 168 years without breaking up, without a civil war, a coup, an absolute monarch, a dictator.

Our cities are built where Indigenous peoples prospered for thousands of years. As I pointed out in A Fair Country, back in 2008, First Nations and Métis peoples far outnumbered settlers into the second half of the 19th century. So Canada at its best is very much the product of the long relationship with Indigenous peoples, their approaches and philosophies; and above all, their concepts of inclusion and belonging, which today we would call immigration and citizenship. If the central characteristic of Canada is its complexity, this also is an outcome of our long relationship with Indigenous peoples. In particular we owe a great deal to the example of the Métis Nation, the very model of living complexity.

None of this lessens the reality that, for more than a century as immigrant power grew, the Indigenous-settler relationship was betrayed and great evil was done. But that in turn cannot erase the Indigenous influence on our society. That Indigenous reality is now reasserting itself. The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision April 14 that re-establishes Métis and non-status Indian rights is yet another example of this.

Today, repairing the relationship with Indigenous peoples is the single most important test for Canadians. We now seem ready to play our part as their allies, but must remind ourselves every day that central to reconciliation is concrete restitution. Many of us keep coming back to the words of Chief John Kelly – “as the years go by, the circle of the Ojibway gets bigger and bigger. Canadians of all colours and religions are entering that circle. You might feel that you have roots somewhere else, but in reality, you are right here with us.”

When I find myself explaining to Europeans why our system of inclusion and diversity more or less works, I inevitably go back to those non-racial Indigenous ideas which leave space for multiple identities and multiple loyalties, for an idea of belonging which is comfortable with contradictions, which shifts humans from their autocratic role as masters of the universe to one more integrated into the place itself. This is an approach to values which is the opposite of the European-U.S. understanding of the monolithic citizen melted into a pot of national uniqueness.

All of which matters today because Canada is out on the cutting edge, doing things other countries are not. We know that the leaders of the three most powerful European countries have declared multiculturalism a failure. Which I suppose is supposed to mean that Canada is or will be a failure. But we should also know that what they mean by multiculturalism has more or less involved the abandonment of what they inaccurately call migrants into ghettos; that they imagine it involves the breaking up of society into unrelated pods, producing in the worst cases police no-go zones and failed schooling. The author of a recent biography of Tony Blair presents the former British prime minster as preferring “multiculturalism” over the “integration of immigrant communities.” We know this is not at all what multiculturalism is supposed to mean. And our opinion should be worth something since we are seen as the inventors and the experimental centre of the concept.

Our great weakness as Canadians is that we have been lazy when it comes to explaining what our experiment consists in. Our excuse could be that it is, after all, an experiment. That is not good enough. The atmosphere out there in most Western countries is one of tired elites, many of them caught up in bourgeoning campaigns of fear. Canadians know all too well how contagious these are. Our last prime minister started down that road, which is one of the reasons he is out of a job. And we know well the confused, divisive atmosphere in the United States – the discourse of walls and security. The current British Prime Minister believes he must get the immigration levels down. The French Prime Minister has just called for the banning of headscarves on students in universities. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, having made a great ethical gesture in 2015 to welcome one million Syrian refugees, now finds that, because Germany does not have an overarching immigration-citizenship policy and structure, it is a nightmare to organize their settlement. The result has been a political backlash. And yet we must admire the risk that Germans have taken and their determination to make it work.

What’s more, we must not confuse the massive political and ethical failure of most European governments with the attitudes of large parts of the citizenry. Europe is filled with citizens throwing themselves into the crisis as volunteers. Just as the Macedonians were closing their borders, I was in the transit camp on the Athenian docks in Piraeus. At that point, they were managing a few thousand refugees. The sheds were all well organized and run by amazing volunteers – not NGOs or government. In fact, the Greeks, almost broken by their own crisis, have responded with generosity and care to the refugees’ plight, just as many citizens of Calais have stepped in to support refugees in the awful camp outside their city. In southern Italy, in Germany, there are thousands of such stories. And there are thousands of study groups, professors, NGOs, activists doing whatever they can.

But the problem is so profound that the continent is failing and governments are justifying this failure by blaming others. You could call it a massive mismanagement of the end of empires; less the uncontrollable outcome of geographic proximity and more the result of 50 years of hypocrisy when it comes to Mediterranean relationships. The Brexit movement in Britain can only be seen as a deeply romantic desire to return to another era, which itself never existed. I hear serious individuals talking about a need to recreate an alliance of the English-speaking peoples, as if we have all been sitting around for 40 years, waiting for Britain to come back to us. The most likely outcome of Britain voting to withdraw from the EU would be Scotland separating in order to stay in Europe. This is one of those do-I-laugh-or-do-I-cry moments.

There is a whispered conviction among many around the continent that the real problem is Islam; that it is not absorbable into Judeo-Christian civilization. This is the language which Christians used to use against Jews and Protestants against Catholics and vice versa. This was once the excuse in Canada for excluding Sikhs, Chinese, Japanese. And it was the excuse for trying to destroy Indigenous peoples.

Reactive panic – and crisis

The heart of the crisis lies elsewhere. Every year for seven decades Europe has been taking in large numbers of immigrants from many places. They were called many things – migrants, refugees, guest workers. The delusional assumption was that they would serve their economic purpose or be protected for a while, then go home. They didn’t. And European leaders, off the record, knew they wouldn’t.

And so, 70 years of lying to themselves has resulted in an immigration civilization profoundly unprepared for immigration. No attempt has been made by the EU or by individual European countries to develop an overarching, proactive immigration policy, with the necessary infrastructure both at home and in their embassies. In many cases they are doing better than they think, but their idea of themselves hides this success. The result now is a reactive panic; a crisis of drownings, disgraceful camps, human disorder and suffering. And there is still no hint of any desire to create a dignified, balanced immigration policy with citizenship as an essential celebratory part of the whole. It is precisely now, in the midst of the crisis, that they should be developing a positive, holistic approach. If anything, the latest EU-Turkish agreement crosses basic ethical lines and so in the long run will make matters worse.

The countdown to citizenship

Let me go back for a moment to the failure of Canadians to explain ourselves to ourselves, let alone to others. There are real risks involved in this ham-handed mutism and naive triumphalism. What’s more, it is unnecessary. The patterns of our immigration and citizenship history, at their best and their worst, are clear.

The idea of a broad government-supported immigration/citizenship policy goes back to the Indigenous welcome. That’s how the settlers survived. It was equally central to both the New France settlement strategy and system created for the Loyalist refugees fleeing in the 1780s from the American war against Britain. In February, 1848, the first law passed by the new responsible-government parliament of Canada laid out the beginnings of a modern immigration/citizenship policy. With Confederation in 1867, the government immediately created a department for immigration and citizenship, and sent agents out around the world. Rules guiding the newcomers from immigrant status to citizenship were put in place and, ever since, that process has ranged between three and five years.

By the late 19th century, citizenship ceremonies were growing in popularity. Citizenship was a choice to be celebrated publicly. Since 1900, the annual immigration numbers have ranged between 200,000 and 400,000. In 1995 we set the yearly target at 1 per cent of the population. It usually ends up at around 0.7 per cent – between 250,000 and 300,000. As a point of reference: The one million refugees taken in by Germany last year, had they been shared around the EU, would have represented 0.2 per cent of the population. In many of our embassies, over half the staff looks after immigration. We were able to handle the 25,000 Syrian refugees in a few weeks because we have a large group of public servants expert in immigration, settlement and citizenship. The first thing those refugees received on disembarking in Canada was their permanent-residency status, starting them on the countdown to citizenship.

We all know that these 400 years of policy development were tarnished and regularly knocked off track by multiple insurgencies of racism and exclusion. But each of these was gradually eliminated and the main line re-established.

The philosophical trick in all of this is that immigration and citizenship have always been treated as inseparable steps. Engagement and marriage. This means that each immigrant arrives knowing that she must think of herself as a citizen, because she soon will be a citizen. This is a philosophy which changes radically everyone’s attitude toward inclusion and integration. It means that language training is simply part of the package from the beginning, as is the expectation that new Canadians will get involved in volunteerism and politics – the two keys to an engaged citizenry.

A perpetual experiment

What of the multicultural misunderstanding?

Canadians seem to be moving toward other words – diversity, pluralism, inclusion, interculturalism – as we have sensed a growing confusion elsewhere. But the idea is really not so difficult.

I think of it as rooted in balance – a central Indigenous concept of how societies function. At its best a balance between the place, the group and the individual. You could also describe it as a balanced or positive tension between organized integration and celebrated diversity; a conviction that diversity and fairness are reflections of each other; that this requires a rigorous use of political restraint; an allergy to universal mythologies and ideologies. All of which means that we must be self-confident enough and tough enough to live with the reality of complexity.

This is the opposite of the tired European-U.S. insistence on monolithic identities. The Canadian concept of living in a perpetually incomplete experiment may seem radical to many in the Western world. And yet you could simply see it as a profoundly non-racial approach to civilization – one based on the idea of an inclusive circle that expands and gradually adapts as new people join us.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A great loss

Intense public reaction to death of Prince makes me wonder how many more such episodes we are going to have before we burn out. It seems to me that we have a potentially very large number of musicians and actors and other public figures who symbolize an important aspect of life for millions of people, any of whom could spark such a reaction.

I think it's pretty obvious that we (some significant minority) are reacting so strongly to the loss of Merle Haggard or Prince because we can gather electronically and talk to each other about our feelings. Famous musicians and actors have died since there were famous musicians and actors, and news of the loss has been pretty much instantly available for over a century. But now we get to talk together in some semblance of a conversation.

But how many times will we (some significant minority) gather and mourn the loss of some important part of our collective experience before we take it for granted that if we live long enough we will experience such losses many times?

There is one thing that really bugs me about this phenomenon. Television news is in very sad shape as I found out the last month or so. Thanks to the American election, American cable news is almost entirely focused on the horserace aspects of the campaign. The viewer is lucky to get five minutes in an hour of non-election news, and there is hardly anything about other countries. Canadian cable news is a little bit better but not much. And when in a given week just about all the nonelection "news" is about the death of a celebrity, it really shows how lazy and contemptible these "news" organizations are.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Murdoch's Mysteries: we live in a new and incredible age

For about a decade, CBC has been broadcasting an interesting murder mystery series set in Edwardian Canada, or rather, Edwardian Toronto. I have been watching reruns of the show over the last two or three weeks and like most series television, it is much more enjoyable when seen that way.

It would be easy enough to call the show "steampunk" except that the technology that sets the pace in the show is electricity. Murdoch, the lead character, is a Toronto detective who is enthusiastic about modern technology -- x-ray machines, electrical automobiles, movie cameras -- and uses it very effectively to solve crimes. In the course of his adventures he also runs into many leading figures of the time – Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Tesla, Marconi, Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill. He does not run into Sherlock Holmes, but he does run across somebody who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes.

I am also impressed by the depiction of the city of Toronto. Toronto circa 1899 is shown as being multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, wrestling with a variety of political, racial, and social conflicts, which are reasonably realistically portrayed. One of the main characters, for instance, gets in trouble for promoting contraception, which is illegal at the time. Other characters are properly shocked by this and there is a bit of a riot.

I think there may be more in-jokes in the series than I'm picking up. Two days ago I saw an episode where I was pretty sure two characters were modelled after Toronto's Ford brothers. The characters were not politicians, but they looked like the Fords and their personal interactions with each other matched what I know of the Fords.

All too often we think that people in the past were old-fashioned fuddy-duddies. In some places in some areas that is undoubtably true. But in other times people -- or many of them – are seized by an awareness of modernity. One of the great virtues of Murdoch's Mysteries is that it reminds us of that fact. "We live in a new and incredible age," says one character, and she is quite right.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The people who turn the wheels of the world

As a result of a bout of cancer, I am undergoing hyperbaric therapy (the therapy that was developed to help divers recover from the bends). The closest hyperbaric chambers are in Hamilton, Ontario, a three-hour drive from home. The treatment is "free," paid for by the province, but there are other expenses not covered by our health insurance. I have to be in Hamilton all weekdays between mid-March to the end of April. Thus I have to travel between the two cities or stay in Hamilton for close to six weeks. Transportation and accommodations could add up to a lot of money.

However, other people have stepped in to cover most of those expenses. The Canadian Cancer Society is providing me with accommodation and transportation -- at least the great bulk of it - at no cost. And it's not a personal benefit. Large numbers of people are receiving similar help through a network of volunteers. Do you know that you are surrounded by a network of volunteers turning the wheels of the world? (I hardly think that Ontario is unique in this?) I am a happier person knowing about this great collective effort.

"Two Worlds Become One: A 'Counter-Intuitive' View of the Roman Empire and 'Germanic' Migration" by Guy Halsall

This is an interesting re-interpretation of the "migration" period, part of a debate that has contemporary resonances and which has been going on for decades now.

Here is the abstract:


The Roman Empire and barbaricum were inextricably linked throughout the Roman Iron Age. By late antiquity, Germanic-speaking trans-Rhenan areas were inundated with imperial influence. Migration was two-way and in various forms, all of which, including large-scale ‘folk movement’, were normal: part and parcel of the imperial frontier’s dynamics. The counter-intuitive conclusion is drawn from this that the relationship between the existence of a formal frontier and significant migration is quite the opposite of the one we have grown used to imagining. The collapse of the frontier took with it the mechanisms for migration. Therefore I have to modify my 2007 epigram that ‘the end of the Roman Empire produced the Barbarian Invasions and not vice versa’. The end of the Roman Empire put an end to the barbarian migrations. This conclusion helps us contribute more responsibly to modern debate on migration. It also contributes to a discussion of the formation of Germany. The end of migration changed the political dynamics of the regions between Rhine and Baltic. The latter became more inward-facing and from these, eventually, emerged ‘Germany.’

Here is the complete text

Saturday, April 09, 2016

The state of affairs, April 2016

My various projects, including this blog, are progressing only slowly. I am undergoing medical treatment at the Hamilton General Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. It's nothing to be alarmed about, but being away from home does make it difficult to work on my translations.

A couple of years ago another health problem gave me the opportunity to see London, Ontario, a place known to me only as the location of bad winter weather. Now I am seeing more of the city of Hamilton than I have seen before. It has the reputation of being a dirty industrial city, but as is the case in many another place in the Great Lakes region, a lot of the old factories have closed. Nonetheless, it doesn't seem that Hamilton's economy is suffering all that much. (Ditto for Canada as a whole, surprisingly. Unemployment is dropping significantly EVEN IN ALBERTA!)

One of the wonders of Hamilton is a bar/restaurant on James St. called Mezcal Tacos Tequila, which features a large number of tequilas and an amazing style of what might be called Mexican fusion. It is some of the best restaurant food I have ever eaten. And it is relatively cheap. If you live close to Hamilton, run don't walk to Mezcal.

I am also passing the time by listening, through You Tube, to my classic music, music on either side of 1970. In particular I am playing the Jefferson Airplane's

amazing early-morning set at Woodstock.

It has long been fashionable to make fun of Woodstock but it was the site of an amazing effloresence of music. Perhaps equally astonishing is the high quality of audio and video recording that was accomplished in what was a weather disaster. Here's to the sound engineers, cinematographers and all the other hardworking people who preserved this wonderful music.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The music of the 80s is now classic for a certain age group

Stary Olsa from Belarus play Another Brick in the Wallby Pink Floyd, using medieval instruments.

Note that great armor!

Then there is the Harp Twins doing Metallica's One: Thanks to Nicholas at for putting me on this track.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

CBC's "The Current" visits Newfoundland and Labrador

The morning public affairs show on CBC Radio One is uniformly excellent.

Today "The Current" talked about the changes in the lifestyle of people in Newfoundland and Labrador resulting from the collapse of oil, gas, and mining revenues. Not exactly unprecedented, that collapse, and the resulting economic uncertaintly in NL has happened time and again over the last 500 years. Newfoundlanders move to where the jobs are, as best they can.

But they don't forget home, and many of them return for the short term or the long.

One younger Newfoundlander quoted John Crosby, a past prominent NL politician of national stature: "You can tell the Newfoundlanders in heaven. They are the ones who want to go home." I laughed and laughed -- that quip brought Crosby back to life.

I also noticed that the famous Newfoundland dialects seem to be fading out -- if the young and middle-aged interviewees are typical