Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The war comes home

Saddam Hussein's Iraq was once known as the Republic of Fear

. There were at least two books with that title. Today I saw in a grocery store the cover of the Canadian newsmagazine Macleans. The cover story was -- you guessed it -- The Republic of Fear. And what country do you think Macleans was talking about?

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Among other things, perhaps the nicest thing ever said about Canada?

Two days ago the Globe and Mail published "Finding a home, away from home," perhaps one of the best articles that it has ever published in my nearly 40 years of reading the paper. It was by Ian Brown, who also showed himself in championship form, and it concerned Syrian refugees in Canada, and the Canadians who have helped them settle here. It struck me as a very balanced account. About halfway through the article this passage appeared, and it struck me as perhaps the most complimentary thing ever said about the country.

When Omer and Aliye register for their health cards, the clerk asks if they want to be organ donors. Islamic scholars are divided on the permissibility of organ transplants, although compassion and saving a life trump doctrine. For that reason live transplants tend to be more common in Islamic societies than the use of organs that have been harvested from dead bodies. It’s a rich and complicated subject. In any event, Aliye declines.

But Omer says yes. Aliye speaks to him in Arabic, and explains the situation, as she sometimes does. The translator checks twice, as well, to make sure Omer knows what is being asked of him. But Omer says yes again.

“This is what they do here, in Canada,” Omer replies. “I am in Canada.”

Of course there is room for a lot of ambiguity in interpreting this episode, but read the whole article, which is among other things about generosity.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Talking Erie Canal: Jack Kelly's Heaven's Ditch

Jack Kelly's Heaven's Ditch has the enticing subtitle "God, Gold and Murder on the Erie Canal." When I first saw it, I assumed that the important part of that phrase was "Erie Canal." I was wrong: the key word is "God."

The western arm of New York State was the stage for some of the most dramatic developments in the United States in the early 19th century. It was large and fertile and potentially one of the best routes connecting the Atlantic Coast to the new Midwestern states. The geographic advantages led ambitious engineers and politicians to dream of a huge artificial waterway, the largest in North America. The same kind of ambition, directed to a different goal, inspired a different kind of dreamer to build godly societies. Western New York became the incubator of many different religious and social movements. People poured into the region in high hopes of striking it rich. Some succeeded, others were disappointed, sometimes times again and again. But winners and losers alike refuse to be discouraged. Western New York, its economy energized by the building of the canal, nourished wild dreams. And among those dreams were dreams of salvation and the creation of a Christian society.

Elsewhere, I have seen this region called the Burnt-over district, a reference to the many religious revivals that sprang up here or came through. The young United States had had a fair number of skeptical irreligious people, with both ordinary people and people of ambition following the founding fathers in rejecting the established religions of the early American colonies. But in the wilderness areas being settled after 1800, there was a revival of enthusiastic Christianity.

Heaven's Ditch is rich in personality sketches and anecdotes that illustrate the religious flavour of social change that took place in the wilderness. No doubt this comes from contemporary newspapers, which the literate if not highly educated American public enthusiastically read. We learn about many self-appointed leaders who went from settlement to settlement preaching conversion to a born-again, Biblical Christianity. More often than not they taught ideas quite different from the mainstream Protestantism which had been dominant for so long. William Miller for instance became famous for predicting that the end of the world would take place sometime around 1843. His prophecies reached far beyond the districts around the Erie Canal. A famous and significant failure-turned-leader was Joseph Smith, the prophet of Mormonism. And there are many more. In the brand-new society by the canal there was a free market in preaching and teaching. It was possible to write a huge new biblical testament such as the book of Mormon, one revealed to you by angelic and magical means, and be seen not as a probable fraud, given your lack of biblical languages such as Hebrew, but as a wonder of the new do-it-yourself society.

Of course it was not all smooth sailing. Richer and more established members of society were very sceptical of the new religious leaders, who they saw as marginal characters with little legitimate qualification to teach or reconstruct society.

One of the most interesting conflicts of the 1820s and 30s was between the Masons and their opponents. The Masons were an old-fashioned movement, devoted to an Enlightenment-style skepticism. In the Revolutionary period many of the Founding Fathers and other patriots were Masons, and as time went on, many of the local leaders of society joined the organization. But as time went on, Masons came to be resented for their domination of local society. Their cult of secrecy was seen as a threat to republican liberty. And when the new revivalist Christianity began to grow, the religious movement of course opposed the Enlightenment Masons.

In September 1826, an apostate Mason named William Morgan was kidnapped by some of his former friends, who were angry with Morgan because he had published a book revealing many Masonic cult secrets. Morgan was never seen again, and no one who actually knew what had happened to him was willing to go public. Morgan's fate became a widespread popular mystery, and more. For critics of the Masons, it proved that the secret society saw itself as above the law. Outrage turned into a movement, and a new political party, the Anti-Masonic Party. The Morgan scandal was the beginning of a great decline of Masonry; as years went on Masons were seen not as an American Enlightenment movement, but as a dangerous conspiracy of vigilantes. The Anti-Masons went on to be a national party that contributed to the formation of the Whigs.

This is just a single example of how the new country on either side of the Erie Canal generated wild, enthusiastic projects which seemingly came out of nowhere but went on to contribute to the mainstream. (Even the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints have to be regarded as such, given their nearly 200-year-long history and their prominence in the Mountain States.) And if American life and culture and politics seem wild and enthusiastic today, Jack Kelly's book reminds us that America comes by this kind of stuff honestly.

This is a very entertaining book, but I do miss a final discussion of how the Burnt-Over District settled down to be an unremarkable part of New York State.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why I didn't join the SCA

I didn't go to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Society for Creative Anachronism, but I did contribute some of my recollections of my very early days in the organization.  Flieg was kind enough to present it three times at the event.  For those who missed it, here is my story of:

I wasn't interested in the SCA – I was a fan

By Steve Muhlberger (Finnvarr de Taahe)

This is a story about how I didn't join the SCA. It might be more accurate to say that it's about how I passed on plenty of opportunities to get in on the ground floor.
We can argue about where the ground floor is but I'll just say that I did not go to the first tournament and I didn't attend a West kingdom event until 1975.
Let's start in 1967 when I moved from Ohio to New Jersey. This made it possible for me to go to the World Science Fiction Convention in New York that year. I was in heaven! While I was there I picked up a lot of free fanzines and announcements of various sorts and bought a few books as well. One of the fanzines was a one-page newsletter that older science-fiction fans will know went on to greater things. It was Locus number one. And in that fanzine was an announcement that there would be a meeting in New York City with the intention of founding an East Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I looked at it said something like, "huh" and paid no further attention. I was not interested.  I was a science fiction fan.
While at the convention I joined the next year's worldcon, called Baycon. It was taking place in Berkeley on Labor Day weekend of 1968,and those who were lucky enough to go had a great old time. Part of the festivities was a tournament put on by the SCA and lots of people were very impressed. Some of them went home and started working on creating their own branches of the SCA.
I was not part of this. I didn't have the money to go to Berkeley so what I got out of it were the handouts that all convention members got in person or by mail. One of them was a guide to the Current Middle Ages, a very practical little booklet written by the SCA which showed how you could put on a tournament in your backyard. I looked at it, said something like "huh, " and thought no more about it. I wasn't interested.
A few weeks after Baycon I started at Michigan State University where I joined the Tolkien Fellowship – something that made me deliriously happy . Other Tolkien fans! At least two of the members, Tracy Brown and Bob McNish, had been at the Baycon and had taken pictures of the tournament. They were trying to sell their friends on the idea of putting on a tournament in East Lansing. They didn't have any luck. Me, I looked at the pictures, said something like "huh," and thought no more about it. I was not interested.
The next year, 1969, I had a bit more money and I got to go to St. LouisCon. Part of this worldcon was the coronation of the first king and queen of the Middle Kingdom. Representatives from both East and West were there to take part, or as they saw it, run the show. For various reasons there was a long delay and several times my friends and I walked through the room meant for the coronation and glanced at people in medieval customs. There weren't very many of them. We didn't even stop to ask them about it. We were off to panels or the book  room or something else more standard and science-fictiony. It's probably just as well I didn't try to get interested because the conflict between the two senior kingdoms over running  the coronation might've turned me off. On this occasion I didn't even say "huh", and I certainly thought no more about it. I was still not interested.
That fall I was back at Michigan State having more fun than ever with the science fiction and fantasy clubs. They were pretty big by now and we had a lot of energy. As Halloween approached, many of us decided to dress up. There was not a lot of consultation about what would be fun and appropriate, but when we got together it turned out that a whole bunch of us had adopted sword and sorcery personas. And then, seeing her opportunity, Signy Dimraedela (Tracy Brown) stepped forward with her Baycon photos in hand, and said wouldn't it be interesting if we did a medieval tournament SCA style? And suddenly I was interested. As were a whole bunch of other people. And that was the beginning of the barony of North Woods, one of the earliest and most dynamic  Middle Kingdom groups.
And that's the story of how I was not interested in joining the SCA.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is this America?

CBC's Radio program "The Sunday Edition" interviewed Rebecca Solnit and Andrew Solomon on the "Trump phenomenon" and violence in American politics. They were appalled, of course. Solomon said among other things
The gap has got wider and wider and wider ... The Trump phenomenon is so bewildering to the people who do not subscribe to it and feels so urgent to the people who do subscribe to it that I have the sense of a country and people who have no understanding of one other. Many friends of mine have said to me that "I thought I was an American but I don't know if I am if this is going on in our country." And I think that there is a real feeling that the sides are so far apart and that in particular the Republican side is so uninterested in compromise of any kind on any topic no matter how much such compromise might serve the public good I think ...the level of anger and frustration and alienation on both sides has escalated to a point that I have not seen in my lifetime.
I don't know how old Solomon is, but I wonder if he remembers the civil rights movement and the murders and the riots of the 1960s. He certainly does not remember the imposition of Jim Crow to put the African-American population of the South back in their place, but I am sure he has heard of it.

What this all reminds me of is the 1840s and 1850s, where besides the intense battle over the possible extension of slavery to the West, there was a strong anti-immigrant, anti-foreign religion, anti-intellectual movement best seen in the American Party, also known as the Know-Nothings. Of course, there were differences: back then the undesireable immigrants were Irish and German, and the bad anti-American religion was Catholicism. But what really reminds me of today was the possibly apochryphal origin of the name Know-Nothings: "I know nothing...except Americanism." Yes, this is America. Image: The Know-Nothings repel the invading papal hordes.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Donald Trump as eccentric knight errant

Kevin Baker in the New York Times:
...he risks becoming completely untethered — nothing more than the slithering id of a nervous age. He comes off too often as the candidate of “Game of Thrones” America, a bombastic, misogynistic knight errant in an endlessly wandering, unfocused narrative; traversing a fantasy landscape composed of a thousand borrowed mythologies, warning endlessly of a dire apocalypse that never quite materializes.
I've read Arthurian romances like that...

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Most Eminent Orators and Statesmen of Ancient and Modern Times by David A. Harsha

Today someone in Facebook's management made the prediction that in a few years text would be irrelevant to the operations of the company because everybody would be using videos. This strikes me as a pretty unlikely scenario, seeing that newspapers still exist at least in a niche market or two. But it had me thinking about the changes in public taste and the use of media as I looked up the offered "forgotten book of the day."

Today's book dates from the 1850s and it is entitled "The Most Eminent Orators and Statesmen of Ancient and Modern Times. "

And what I found interesting about this book is that it is not exactly a collection of famous speeches, stretching from the ancient Greeks up to modern times, but a collection of lives of orators as celebrities. The forgotten book series has some curious material but I was really struck by the fact that so many of the famous orators in the collection are completely unknown today, except perhaps to certain types of historians and literary scholars. Who remembers Charles James Fox anyway?

(And if you do remember Fox do you remember Henry Grattan?)

Answer: Fox was a Whig leader in the House of Commons at the same time as William Pitt, in other words during the American and French revolutions. Old Fox (though he was actually young Fox back then) certainly belongs in his place as a man famous for the eminence of his oratory. If I recall correctly he never became Prime Minister, and his career is most famous for his defence of Reform and Revolution against the repressive English government of Lord North, which provoked the American Revolution.

My point is Fox's oratory was considered a significant public art forms. A speech by Charles James Fox was probably, at least among prominent and important people, the equivalent of a major Beyoncé video. The equivalent of Charles James Fox still gets a fair amount of attention today in British politics and beyond, but he sure certainly doesn't come across as an artist.

Image: Your clue is "Ireland."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Vast medieval cities of Cambodia

Just after World War II, when there are plenty of airplanes sitting around doing nothing in particular, archaeologists started using aerial photography to map and explore wide swaths of the ancient and medieval landscapes.
Well, both photography and air travel have improved a lot since World War II, and aerial surveys are used all the time for many purposes. Archaeologists are still part of this process. As a result things we never even suspected are being discovered all the time.
Do you know that Angkor Wat is hardly unique to medieval Cambodia? Well, nobody else did either. But now we see there are traces of cities as big as modern cities. And that is saying something because cities of the last two generations are huge on historic standards.
There are some really interesting maps, plans, and pictures of this work in the Guardian.
Image: A twelfth-century deed of arms in Cambodia. How would William Marshal do against these guys? Hint: armor.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Forbes gets it right about Catal Huyuk ( Çatalhöyük)

Twenty-five years ago, when I was first teaching ancient history, I spent a whole lecture of the Anatolian site of Catal Huyuk as an example of an early city. The settlement was called a village in most accounts, but it looked like a city to me. I was following a very persuasive and accessible discussion by Jane Jacobs, who may not have been an anthropologist but knew a thing or two about the development of cities.

Today I ran across an article in Forbes which covered the peculiar burial customs of the people of CH. What caught my eye, though, was the clear statement that Catal Huyuk is "One of the world’s earliest cities [7500 BC, population 10,000]." Hurray! Jane justified! I can't link to the images somehow; look at some good ones by following the link above.

Friday, June 10, 2016

On CBC Radio this morning was news of a partial cure for MS developed by Canadian researchers. Partial cure means this does not benefit lots of people with MS (there are a number of different types of MS). But in an experimental group of 20+ most of the patients got significantly better. One woman who was unable to walk danced at her wedding and took up downhill skiing.

Here's how they did it. They collected stem cells from a patient, destroyed the immune system with chemotherapy, then used the stem cells TO RECONSTRUCT A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM. This is an amazing achievement, Nobel Prize territory I bet, and right up there with the most important scientific breakthrough ever to come out of Canada: the use of insulin to treat diabetes.

This can't but help in the creation of new therapies.

Reconstruct a healthy immune system. Sounds miraculous.

Here's a CBC article:

The key words for me are "high risk" and "neurological recovery."

My review of Anne Curry's Agincourt (from the Medieval Review)

Curry, Anne Agincourt. Great Battles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. 256. $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-19-968101-3.

Reviewed by Steven Muhlberger

Nipissing University (retired)

Anne Curry is a distinguished and prolific scholar of the Hundred Years War. Since 2000 she has written at least three books and ten articles, almost all of them focusing on the battle of Agincourt. Agincourt, her most recent book-length offering, is part of an Oxford University Press series on "Great Battles." The cover blurb briefly sums up its goal: telling the story of "one of the most iconic battles English history, how it was fought, how it has been remembered, and what it means for us today." This is a reasonably accurate summation of the emphasis of this treatment. There is much more about the historical reception of the battle than there is about the conflict itself.

There are eight chapters, including the introduction and the conclusion. Chapter 2 guides the reader through the events of the battle and the English campaign that preceded and followed it. It is here that Curry offers her own reconstruction of the battle. Chapters 3 through 8 take the reader through various interpretations of the battle, English and French, from the earliest reports to the present. At the same time that Curry discusses the histories, chronicles and archival sources and summarizes the information and interpretations they provide, she shows how these interpretations have originated and how changing priorities have shaped both popular and scholarly understanding of Agincourt and late medieval warfare in general. For instance, historians and chroniclers have long been interested how many warriors fought on either side. Rather than being a subject of military science, studies of the numbers participating more often been scrutinized to gauge the courage or lack of it is those who fought.

Similarly, Agincourt has long been used to make claims about the military virtue of the English or British, or the national characteristics and special talents of regional groups. Some of these claims are unfamiliar: Curry cites a small exhibition mounted by the Public Record Office in 1915 which emphasized key role of Lancashire archers at Agincourt More prominent today is a popular tradition in Wales that connects Welsh bowmen to this famous victory. Curry points out however that this special role of the Welsh is a relatively new story, and seems to be a product of the twentieth century. Both the briefly-praised Lancashire archers and the more prominent Welsh bowmen sprang into prominence during the First World War, and reflect the needs of that time; some of the Welsh still have use for the story.

The well-known legend of the English archers' crucial and devastating role in stopping the advance of the French men at arms during the battle began well before the twentieth century. Curry shows that the image of Agincourt as an archery battle is derived from a variety of sources, some of them late and quite curious. The very early historian of Agincourt, Tito Livio Frulovisi, gives much more prominence to the use of dismounted men at arms by Henry V than he gave to the archers. The nineteenth century saw a great revival of archery as a genteel sport. It is only natural that the connection should be commonly made between the heroic archers of the Hundred Years War (and especially Agincourt) and men and women interested in archery as a heritage sport. The first known British reenactment of the battle, at an Army Pageant of 1910, featured archery and identified Henry's archers as Welshmen. (Whether arrows were actually shot is unclear, but the program emphasized the key role of archery.)

Such events as the Army Pageant had by the twentieth century a great deal of literary, dramatic and graphic material to draw upon in creating reconstructions. Curry devotes two full chapters and parts of others to famous and obscure artistic depictions of the battle. Of course, Shakespeare's Henry V takes pride of place here, due to its long influence on the historical imagination. There is no doubt that Henry V is England's most famous warrior king, with perhaps the sole exception of Richard I. The victory at Agincourt has absorbed whatever fame that Crécy and Poitiers might have been due. Shakespeare's picture of Agincourt has also been transformed by the ability of cinema to provide visually striking visions of the medieval battle that are easily accessible to the mass audience. Curry documents the lasting influence of the Lawrence Olivier film version of Henry V, but one wonders if its influence is even now being displaced by Kenneth Branagh's grittier 1989 production.

Chapter 7, "Rival Experts Do Battle over Agincourt," (the title coming from a striking if inaccurate newspaper headline) directs reader's attention to the use of archival sources by modern historians to give a fuller and more detailed picture of Agincourt. This chapter serves to convey the state of the question or questions about the battle and the armies that fought it. Curry is well qualified to discuss this scholarly activity, since she has contributed so substantially to recent debates.

Because Agincourt is Agincourt, the best known medieval battle in the English language tradition after Hastings, there is a lively interchange between popular and scholarly understandings and evaluations. Old questions and old images continue to pop up in the media and even affect the assumptions that scholars work from. It is noteworthy that scholars continue to debate how many warriors fought on either side of the battle. Curry's readers will go away with a keen appreciation of how important historical questions never seem to be finally laid to rest.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Back to the 1970s again

Last summer I went to Art in the Park in Windsor and discovered that this event preserves the attitudes and flavor of the 1970s to an almost scary extent. One of the key moments was when I spotted a man wearing a Dark Side of the Moon T-Shirt. Well this year I Went to Art in the Park and the first person I saw coming out of the park was that same guy or somebody else wearing a Dark Side of the Moon T-shirt. And one musician was playing the Crosby Stills and Nash song "Long Time Gone." Not quite a 1970s song but close enough. Thing is, this is the second time I've heard it sung live this month.

Not a horned helmet among them

A couple or three weeks ago I had a look at the Last Kingdom, a TV series depicting the period of Alfred the Great and his wars with the Danes. I was referred by friends to a critique of the authenticity of this film put on YouTube by a man named Lindy Beige. Mr. Beige is repeatedly offended by the fact that ninth century warriors wore soft leather armo and all sorts of inexplicable fur and leather accessories. And even the kings are dirty. One of them wears the same clothes for 10 years!

Fair enough – but I have to say that I found the series inexplicably good. When was the last time you saw a commercial video depiction of the Vikings that has nobody wearing horned helmets? In my case I think I can say "never!"

It's also surprising to me that the treatment of Alfred the Great, a man who was very eccentric in terms of his own time, is reasonably believable.

Mr. Beige says sense somewhere in his critique that he has no trouble with the plot or the acting of the last kingdom. Indeed? And you want more?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Living on different planets

Some odd stuff has been taking place recently within my field of view.

Some people might think by reading the official documents of government in North America that cannabis is illegal. Yet at the same time there are dispensaries in many places where you can on a good day acquire some of the stuff. People come on the radio and talk about the cannabis business on the basis of being financial consultants to the cannabis industry. And did I say that not every day is a good day for acquiring cannabis? On the good days you can walk into a store and buy it if you can cite medical necessity. On a bad day the cops will break down the door of your favourite dispensary and arrest people because they are selling food spiked with cannabis without proper zoning approval. Police raids to uphold zoning regulations! That must be a new one. These cops don't seem to be aware that the federal government is going to legalize cannabis in short order. Or maybe they do and that's the whole point of their actions.

Then there are the federal Conservatives who met this past weekend and took their opposition to same-sex marriage out of their official statement of policy. There was a lot of fuss made about whether this is a good idea and whether people who believed in the traditional definition of marriage would leave the party. As one scoffer shouted out at the convention, with "where would they go?" Said scoffer had a point since marriage equality has been the law of the land for over a decade now.

The traditional marriage supporters seem to think that people care about what their documents said. Thousands of gay couples have married in the past decade. The conservative policy statements, the forthright anti-gay marriage one and the present one which leaves the issue unaddressed, neither of them say what should be done about those existing marriages. So we get to guess: was this all posturing for the rubes, or did the champions of traditional marriage really think that they lived on a planet where saying marriage equality was no good might make it go away? Well even the rubes aren't buying it. Someone quoted a 75-year-old grandmother in Cape Breton as saying "we don't care about that stuff." Reflect that this lady is about the right age to have taken part in the Summer of Love, if she was adventurous.

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-