Saturday, September 20, 2014

Craig Taylor's "Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France..." -- a short review

I have finally finished this book, and feel I owe Craig Taylor a review, especially since it is a good one.

I began this book with the feeling that Taylor was making a lot of pretty obvious points, nothing that I hadn't heard before. Then I shook myself and said that of course this material was obvious to me; if it wasn't, then my reading on the subject of chivalry over the last 15 years was seriously defective.

As the book progressed, it became filled with material that was not so obvious. Taylor carefully analyzes the different perspectives on chivalry that existed during the Hundred Years War, describing the tensions between various points of view held by various observers of wartime France. This approach is very congenial to me; I find that in the short-term at least social or historical debates do not come to a neat conclusion; tensions between various participants continue to affect social debates for a long time, because they reflect important aspects of the structure of society.

Although this is a good review it will remain short one. I will just list some of the chapter titles to indicate where Taylor thinks the important debates were located.

Prowess and loyalty
Mercy (part I):  soldiers
Mercy (part II): civilians and noncombatants
Wisdom and prudence

If you have a serious interest in medieval chivalry, you will not want to miss what Taylor has to say on these subjects. At the very least it will clarify some important issues for you.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A royal visit

 As some of you know, I have been having a close encounter of the SCA kind with the idea and practice of royalty.  It's too early to report on this -- and I may not ever put it in writing -- but I will say that it is quite amazing how the social atmosphere changes when  someone you know well puts on a crown.  The expectations are remarkable and when they are largely fulfilled a great deal of energy can be generated.

Meanwhile, back in the real world...(Man, how I hate that phrase, but it is so commonly used to mark off "mundane reality" from other, special, social constructs)... my university is enjoying today a visit from the premier of the province, the Lieutenant-Governor designate (the soon-to-be representative of the Crown on the provincial level), and ....

Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex, who doesn't even get to use her own first name in her official style.

They are supposed to be telling us something important about aboriginal education.

Let's hope that this won't amount to "it's working just the way it's supposed to."

Stay tuned.
Sophie, grevinna av Wessex.jpg

Image:  to her friends, it's Sophie.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Canadian Viking in the Governor-General’s Court: Medievalism in Pre-war Canada, by Janice Liedl

An interesting article  at about a late 19th century attempt to use Viking exploration and settlement of Canada as a symbol of European settler unity.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A human kaleidoscope

People who wish to introduce medieval dancing into the SCA have a real problem – almost all of our documentation for dances done in the medieval period actually come from late in the Renaissance. Some people who want to dance often use other styles as inspiration, in particular in English country dancing. Once you get past the anachronism here, there's a lot of fun to be had doing known country dances or choreographing new ones.

One member of the SCA, known in it as James Blackcloak has created several new country dance inspired choreographies. Some of them are on YouTube. For your enjoyment, I direct you to this one, entitled St. Paul's Cathedral:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France during the Hundred Years War, by Craig Taylor

I just ran across a reference to this book in the last few days, so this is not a review.  I know Craig Taylor and I consider him a very intelligent historian, so I expect this will be a valuable book. Here is what Cambridge University Press has to say about it:

Craig Taylor's study examines the wide-ranging French debates on the martial ideals of chivalry and knighthood during the period of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). Faced by stunning military disasters and the collapse of public order, writers and intellectuals carefully scrutinized the martial qualities expected of knights and soldiers. They questioned when knights and men-at-arms could legitimately resort to violence, the true nature of courage, the importance of mercy, and the role of books and scholarly learning in the very practical world of military men. Contributors to these discussions included some of the most famous French medieval writers, led by Jean Froissart, Geoffroi de Charny, Philippe de Mézières, Honorat Bovet, Christine de Pizan, Alain Chartier and Antoine de La Sale. This interdisciplinary study sets their discussions in context, challenging modern, romantic assumptions about chivalry and investigating the historical reality of debates about knighthood and warfare in late medieval France.
And in the grand tradition of overcharging outrageously for academic books, this one even in e-book format goes for $79 US !

I am rather sorry I didn't have a chance to see this before I published Charny's Men at Arms, but in fact my book was essentially finished a year ago. Would it have made a big difference? No. My book is a tightly focused study, Taylor's a much wider one. But if it were a reasonable price I would own this book already.  Note that mine costs only $25.

Monday, July 21, 2014

At last, a book

Faithful readers will recognize this as the infamous book on Charny's questions that I've been slugging away at, with some interruptions from other work since the millennium was young. Really young!

If you don't know the book, it is an investigation of a list of questions put forward by a 14th century French knight Geoffroi de Charny to his fellow aristocratic warriors, presumably to educate them in their duty and privileges as warriors. Because there are no answers given, Charny's questions are an unresolvable puzzle and maybe for this reason there have been few detailed looks at the questions and their purposes. Also, no one I know has translated all the questions before now.

Like historical puzzles? Wonder about what chivalry meant to those who fought in the Hundred Years War?  Is your curiosity piqued by the phrase "who gets the horse?"

Now all this can be yours – the answers, I mean, if you are willing to stick out your neck and propose some yourself.

Here's a link to the publisher.

If you are close with the dollar, you might try poking around this blog for some of my reflections on Charny's questions over the years.

Sunday, July 06, 2014


The mystique that surrounds armor, then and now, is masterfully evoked in this BBC 4 documentary.

Another answer -- Shevek speaks

Shevek the anarchist from another planet speaks to the dissatisfied people of the homeworld:
It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when it is forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers and what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And
the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.
I am here because you see in me the promise, the promise that we made 200 years ago in this city – the promise kept. We have kept it, on Anarres. We have nothing but our freedom. We have  nothing to give you but your own freedom. We have no law but the single principle of mutual aid between individuals. We have no government but the single principle of free association. We have no states, no nations, no presidents, no premiers, no chiefs, no generals, no bosses, no bankers, no landlords, no wages, no charity, no police, no soldiers, no wars. Nor do we have much else. We are sharers, not owners. We are not prosperous. None of us is rich. None of us is powerful. If it is Anarres you want, if it is the future you seek, then I tell you that you must come to it with empty hands. You must come to it alone, and naked, as the child comes into the world, into his future, without any past, without any property, wholly dependent on other people for his life. You cannot take what you can have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Charny's answer

People who know my scholarly work on the writings of Geoffroi de Charny, a fourteenth century knight, may associate me with "Charny's questions," a set of hypothetical problems related to "the law of arms" meant to be analyzed by knights, squires and "men at arms" so that they would be better prepared to relate with other aristocratic warriors.

Charny's questions are unanswered.

But if you want his answer to the problems of the life of arms, consider this from Charny's Book of Chivalry:
[T]hose who have the will to achieve great worth [who] because of their great desire to reach and attain that high honor … do not care what suffering they have to endure, but turn everything into great enjoyment. Indeed, it is a fine thing to perform great deeds, for those who rise to great achievement cannot rightly grow tired or sated with it; so the more they achieve, the less they feel they have achieved; this stems from the delight they take in striving constantly to reach greater heights. And great good comes from performing these deeds, for the more one does, the less one is proud of oneself, and it always seems that there is so much left to do.

Charny's answer?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

John Keane, Antarctica, and sovereignty

An interesting but in some respects puzzling article, Antarctica: Notes on the Fate of Sovereignty,
 came across my screen this morning. It is by John Keane, author of The Life and Death of Democracy and other works on the world history of democracy.

The recent article appeared in The Conversation and is not necessarily all that clear to the reader new to his thought. In his magnum opus, Keane made the interesting point that what we generally call democracy now is the 19th century version of that practice, in which sovereignty is exercised by elected representatives. Keen believed that this type of democracy is not sufficient for the conditions of either the 20th or 21st century. He convinced me, largely because looking at the United States with its 18th-century Constitution and Canada with its 19th century parliamentary structures, we see that in neither case do the common people have a meaningful role in government, once the very rich and very influential have had a chance to undermine these earlier approximations of democracy. Democratic governments, 19th-century style, exercise sovereignty, absolute power justified by ancient beliefs that are deeply undemocratic, even when exercised by a prime minister or cabinet instead of a monarch.

Keane's prescription for greater democracy in modern times requires in his phrase "monitory democracy," institutions that monitor other institutions and investigate and correct problems that arise from the natural oligarchical inertia of human societies.

If you have this background, this new article makes a lot more sense.

Keane believes that Antarctica may avoid the trap of sovereign government, since international agreements that created the institutions of Antarctica are not based on  sovereignty. Keane argues – unfortunately without much in the way of concrete examples – that a network of monitoring institutions have grown up in Antarctica, and this may be an example for everybody else in times to come.

Fascinating excerpts from the article:
The examples remind us that in matters concerning Antarctica and its future, sovereignty remains a keyword. But what exactly does the word mean? What can we say about its genealogy? Has the settlement of Antarctica altered, or at least compounded, its range of meanings? Has Antarctica begun to loosen the grip of sovereignty on our political imaginations?

Jean Bodin, Les Six Livres de La République (first published 1576)
Click to enlarge

Straightforward replies to these questions are difficult, but we can safely say the category of sovereignty is fundamentally a political concept. It therefore needs to be handled with care. Its theological origins are worth noting. So, too, are its ‘meme’ qualities, its propensity for replication and mutation and time-space variation (an example is the early modern doctrine of popular sovereignty, which is an earthly form of the originally Christian theological doctrine of God as the singular source of political authority). It’s worth remembering as well that the sovereignty principle has triggered bitter controversies about both its meaning and legitimacy. What is nevertheless striking is the resilience of the early modern European doctrine of sovereignty, whose earliest definitions are traceable to such political writers as Jean Bodin, De la république (book 1, chapter 9): ‘All the characteristics of sovereignty are contained in this, to have power to give laws to each and everyone of his subjects, and to receive none.’
This way of political reasoning, repeated by Thomas Hobbes and a thousand subsequent writers, was arguably bound up (Lauren Benton’s A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 points out) with the expansion of European empires through webs of corridors and enclaves, such as sea lanes, rivers, and roads connecting island bases, missions, trading posts, towns and garrisons. The establishment of sovereignty over foreign lands, we can say, took place not merely by force of arms. It also happened through imperial acts of legal possession against the claims of rivals. In addition to legal talk of sovereignty, various other techniques were used to establish sovereign claims: the planting of flags and crosses; the establishment of settlements; the drafting of maps and travel itineraries that eased officials' navigation within distant realms; and the creation of new governing structures that served as carriers of the sovereignty imaginary.
It was within this historical context that William Blackstone’s well-known and influential Commentaries on the Laws of England(1765-1770; book 1, introduction, section 2) forcefully presented a version of the sovereignty principle. ‘How the several forms of government we now see in the world at first actually began, is matter of great uncertainty, and has occasioned infinite disputes’, he wrote. ‘However they began, or by what right soever they subsist, there is and must be in all of them a supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority, in which the jura summi imperii or the rights of sovereignty, reside.’
Such thinking, the belief that ‘sovereign is he who decides on the exception’, owed at least some of its force to its theological bent, or so argued the Weimar jurist and political thinker Carl Schmitt. ‘All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularised theological concepts’, he wrote in Political Theology, so that ‘the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver…The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology’. In other words, sovereignty is a word bound up with disagreement, mounting tensions, political outbursts, power struggles that may well end in the surprise declaration of a state of emergency (what Schmitt called the Ausnahmezustand). The principle of sovereignty is bellicose. It supposes the possibility and desirability of unlimited power, omnipotence. Sovereignty can’t be shared. It is indivisible. It comes alive at the moment when those who control state institutions decide arbitrarily for others what is to be done, and see that it is done, if necessary by robbing their opponents of their liberties, properties, livelihoods and lives.
Antarctica could be said to be a strange new form of slow democracy. By that I am not referring to the familiar point (once attributed to Thomas Carlyle, the lover of noble talent, no great friend of democracy, and recently repeated by David Runciman), that democracy is cumbersome, slow and inefficient, but in due time the voice of the people will be heard, and their latent wisdom will prevail, through good leadership. I rather have in mind something more complicated, more enigmatic and more pragmatic: under Antarctic conditions, when questions arise concerning who gets what, when and how, and who represents whom, matters are typically subject to open deliberation and decided through what are called decisions, measures and resolutions - each following their own practical rule-bound logic, and each subject to a unanimity rule. Decisions bear upon internal organisational matters of the ATCM. Resolutions are not legally binding on the contracting parties; they are hortatory texts, directed beyond their ranks to include various interested parties. Then there are measures, which are legally binding once they have been approved by all the Consultative Parties.
Decisions, resolutions and measures are all encased within multilateral legal networks that highlight the passing away of the fiction of the legal sovereignty of territorial states. Yes, talk of sovereignty survives. Perhaps it is on the increase, often sustained by bizarre definitions (the Argentinaclaim, for instance, is based on such ragbag criteria as ‘historical heritage coming from Spain’, former ‘seal-hunting activities’, ‘installation and management of lighthouses’, scientific and military operations and the ‘rescue’ of two Englishmen from misfortune). ...Despite these anomalies, the new Antarctic reality has moved beyond the old world of sovereignty. The polycentric governing institutions of the continent are proving durable, in no small measure because they come clothed in law. Subject to legalisation through forms of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ (erga omnes) legal arrangements, these institutions regularly function as brakes on attempts by states to exercise power arbitrarily, without public scrutiny, in the old sovereignty ways.
If Antarctica is a law-abiding post-sovereign polity comprising a salmagundi of clumsy power-sharing institutions, themselves designed to produce and administer decisions subject to the exercise of voting rights, then matters are made even more complicated, conceptually speaking, by the fact that its governing instruments are not tied in any simple sense to territory. Entangled in world-wide webs of interdependence that are oiled by space- and time-shrinking flows of communication, Antarctic politics does not stand in splendid isolation from the rest of the world. Spill-over effects, arbitrage pressures and butterfly effects are common. The upshot is that things that happen politically within and around the continent sometimes have effects elsewhere, in far-away locations. The reverse also commonly happens: events, information flows, declarations and deals that happen in far-off places can and do touch off immediate consequences in Antarctica.
Click to enlarge
Sovereignty and the Domination of NatureIt is not often noted that Antarctica has dispensed with the formal imagery of sovereignty. It’s true there is an emblem of the Antarctic Treaty, featuring a white continent marked by lines of latitude and longitude; and there’s a richly contested variety of both serious and satirical cartographic representations, ranging from the continent wrapped in national flags, including the ensign of the short-lived Nazi protectorate of Neuschwabenland, to the multi-coloured LGBT flag map of Antarctica. Yet the fact is that Antarctica has no official flag, no national anthem or currency or coat of arms. Something much more historically unusual and of deeper long-term significance is also at work: a novelty that brings us back, full-circle, to the lead theme of the Antarctopia pavilion.
Put simply, Antarctica is the first continent to rid itself of the bestial metaphors in which the doctrine of sovereignty always came wrapped. The point is typically ignored by journalists, diplomats and scholars alike. Expressed in terse terms, sovereignty always had a feral snarl. The big and pompous modern European idea of sovereignty typically supposed that a people living within a territory would otherwise quarrel and be violent, and tear one another to bits, unless governed, above all in moments of exception, by a sharp-edged form of armed power that is unified, unconditional and indivisible.
The whole idea of state sovereignty supped with the devilish image of the sovereign ruler pitted against the wild animal. Sovereign are those rulers who manage to separate themselves from, and rise above, the world of nature, which was typically thought of as a fear-ridden domain ruled by beasts locked permanently in deathly power struggles. Sovereign rulers are different, or so it was argued. They bring orderly rule. Yet in laying down the laws, within a demarcated territory, using force if necessary, they reserve for themselves the prerogative of acting outside the laws, just like wild animals.

Take a well-known early example of this seductive but self-contradictory vision of sovereign rule: Machiavelli’s recommendation (chapter 18 of The Prince) that the good and powerful ruler must act as both a lion and a fox. Sovereign are those rulers who know that they must of necessity roar like a lion and be as crafty as a fox, so as to scare and cajole the resident population into conformity, for the sake of its own self-preservation, within a demarcated territorial setting, protected from its external enemies. In this well-known formulation, the condition of possibility of sovereignty is also its undoing. For it turns out that the ruling sovereign and the wild animal beast are an oddly matched pair. In order to act in sovereign ways, the sovereign by definition must overcome the beast within itself. But by acting in an unbounded fashion, the sovereign behaves just like a beast, ruling ultimately through fear and violence, unconstrained by customs, laws and procedures which, for the sake of order and good government, it nevertheless creates and then imposes, onto others, from the outside.
Since the 1950s, numerous developments in Antarctica have strongly challenged, and in some cases rejected outright, the deeply anti-democratic, bestial imagery coded into the old sovereignty principle. As Ben Saul, Tim Stephens and others have warned, the paralysing uncertainty surrounding the polity of Antarctica should not be underestimated; but, in fact, the rejection of bestial imagery may be the most important, and irreversible, achievement of the governing arrangements of Antarctica, where metaphors of fixed territory, rule and wild animals are conspicuous by their absence.
What are the symptoms of this metamorphosis? Most obviously, governing arrangements in Antarctica reject the fixed territorial mentality and the will to dominate nature built into the doctrine of sovereignty. Just like the continent’s birds, sea cucumbers and free-swimming snails, which know no fixed abode and (remarkably) find the energy and bearings to migrate annually from pole to pole, the legal and governmental institutions targeted at the continent are co-defined by, and connected to, parallel and sometimes overlapping mechanisms located elsewhere. Antarctica is the embodiment of the quantum principle of non-locality: those who seek to govern the continent are daily reminded that the continent is not ‘dead’ or lifeless territory. It is a vibrant biosphere, comprising living systems permanently in motion, interconnected with the rest of the planet. Symbols of the vibrancy are the seals that want to play and interrupt scientists as they go about their fieldwork; and the emperor penguins that seem as naturally skilled at the arts of posing and performing before cameras as they are in organising altruistic wave-motion huddles to ensure that each individual penguin member stays warm. The UN Highly Migratory Fish Stocks Agreement and the High Seas Fisheries Compliance Agreement are two revealing institutional cases of the same point: both agreements involve efforts to protect endangered species of fish, which of course recognise no fixed territorial boundaries, and whose protection and nurturing require alternative arrangements guided by precautionary principles.
Humble stewardship of the dynamically contingent, the fragile and the vulnerable: especially since the adoption (from the end of the 1980s) of the Environmental Protocol and its numerous Annexes, these metaphors, and general sympathy for the biosphere, have come to replace the old bestial images of sovereignty. The flipside of this semantic switch is a new politics of representation of the non-human world. When analysing the ‘spirit’ and practices of such bodies as the Convention on Biological diversity (CBD), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Agreement on Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), all of which politically shape Antarctica as we know it today, what’s striking is how they widen and deepen inherited meanings of political representation.
What’s meant by this? All human societies create ways of registering or re-presenting their interdependence with the natural world and its (sometimes invisible) elements by means of verbal, oral and pictorial signifiers. Antarctica obeys this rule, but gives it a twist. It’s perhaps an exaggeration to put things this way, but the continent is a world-leading laboratory in the arts of enfranchising nature. It brings to life, and puts into practice, new ways of imagining the political inclusion of the biosphere as a legitimate, potentially equal partner, within human affairs. In Antarctica, the nature/politics dualism of the doctrine of sovereignty no longer makes sense. It’s not just a continent where non-human nature constantly makes its presence felt among the humans who dwell or visit there. It’s also (conversely) a place where awareness runs high among humans that there are different ways of representing and acting upon the biosphere. In other words, the biosphere is not seen as raw, non-human, ‘out there’ nature, ripe for human exploitation, but as a complex set of interacting living elements whose significance is shaped by human perceptions and actions, which are themselves bound up with the deep dynamics of the biosphere.
By experimenting with new ways of practically extending voices and votes to our fragile biomes, Antarctica does more than revive and stretch the principle of the political representation of non-human domains. Arguably, the most far-reaching political significance of Antarctica is the way both positive and threatening developments there prompt fundamental 21st-century questions about whether human beings are capable of humbling ourselves by collectively recognising our ineluctably deep dependence upon the biomes in which we dwell. Are human beings capable, in theory and practice, of ridding ourselves of our own anthropocentrism? Can we live beyond the still-dominant view that we humans are the pinnacle of creation, lords and ladies of the universe, ‘the people’ and their states who are the ultimate source of sovereign power and authority on Earth? Is Antarctica perhaps even an important harbinger of the global commons principle, a reminder that the Earth’s surface should not be carved up by national jurisdictions?
These are fundamental political questions that await twenty-first century answers. 
Image:  Narmer, club-wielding sovereign lord of Egypt:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A great sorting out?

Two experts in the Middle East have been more useful to me than most of the more prominent ones. They are Juan Cole and Joshua Landis. If you are interested in what is going on there and how it will affect us in North America, read this and this.

Here is an example of what Landis has to say:

My advice to Obama would be to lay low. This sectarian-nationalist process has been boiling up for a more than a century. It should be seen as part of the breakdown of the Ottoman order and emergence of nationalism. I compare what is going on in the Levant today to Central Europe during WWII. In Central Europe, the great powers drew national borders after WWI, carving up the lands of the defeated empires without rearranging the peoples to fit them. Thus Poland was only 64% Polish before WWII. Czechoslovakia was made up of close to 25% minorities. WWII was the “great sorting out.” (Read: ) Over the war years, the peoples of central Europe were rearranged according to the WWI borders. By the end of WWII, Poland and Czechoslovakia had been reduced to their core Polish and Czechoslovak peoples. They got rid of their unwanted (Jews) or guilty (think the 12 million Germans of central Europe) minorities, along with many others. It was a nasty and brutal nation-building process.
Of course, in the Middle East, the emergence of national identities is bedeviled by competing religious identities, which seem to be stronger than both “Arabism” or “Iraqism.”
I doubt we will see high degrees of Shiite-Sunni cooperation in the coming months. If the U.S. sticks its long oar into this mess, the U.S. will end up with a broken oar. It seems possible that within the next two years, ISIS will largely be destroyed by the concerted action of both Iraqi and Syrian forces with help from Iran and possibly the U.S.  Sunni Arabs will not be pacified so long as they receive scant justice and minimal political representation in both Syria and Iraq, but ISIS cannot represent their needs. It is an expression of sectarianism run amok.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The humility of a troubador? Marcabru Canso 14

The virtue of the one I sing
reigns high, without dispute,
and her valour is sovereign,
even if disputed,
for, if I don't wake up for her,
don't expect that another awakens me!

He who [writes?]the words and dance
does not know whence the dancing comes.

Marcabru has written the dance
and does not know whence the dancing comes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The crazy years?

The famous and influential science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, was known early in his career for creating a future history in which individual short stories were framed. There was a big timechart in which the stories and other background events were located. One feature that looked big and important on the chart, which was never quite developed by Heinlein was "the crazy years." Presumably all sorts of bad things happened in that time, one of which was specified: the creation of the repressive puritanical theocracy in the United States.

Back in the 1990s I was thinking about the future history and I thought that Heinlein had really blown it. He himself, when he put together that chart, was living in the crazy years, which included a worldwide depression, the rise of genocidal and frankly insane regimes in major countries, and finally a huge world war. Surely these were crazy years?

Looking back from now until 2001, however, I have to say that I am less critical of what was after all a fictional construct for the fun of it. Put aside 9/11 and the American reaction to it – at least the direct reaction. How about today's events, as seen through various Internet sources?

  • In a major jurisdiction in North America, a gay woman is elected premier and nobody notices or cares.
  • After billions and billions of dollars invested, an American client regime in Iraq begins to collapse, with American trained soldiers throwing away their weapons and stripping off their uniforms.
  • Next to the World Cup, the most puzzling sporting event is the Battle of Nations, "medieval historical warfare" mostly fought between teams from Eastern Europe at a venue in Croatia. Russia and Ukraine, which are almost at war with each other now, are leading in the standings.
  • And of course one must mention the lunatic spouting of American politicians who seem to be dedicated to building a theocracy.

One of these things is not like the others, of course:  the election of Kathleen Wynne's party in Ontario. Everyone who cared about the sex life of Ontario's Premier, a smaller number than you might think, knew she was gay. She had been premier for a while, succeeding her predecessor when he retired. This was the first time she led the party into an election. Her orientation was not even mentioned during the campaign.

I was at an event in Ontario not long ago where same-sex couples are allowed to take part in a prestigious contest on an equal basis with heterosexual couples for the first time. There was a very positive response to this turn of events, but I was blasé and did not mention it when I wrote up a short account of it. I told a friend that I did not know whether society had moved on on this issue, but I had.

Now there is evidence that at least in this part of North America, society seems to have moved on pretty definitively.

Which does not cancel out what I said about the crazy years. I'm just glad to keep some aspects of the crazy a little bit further away from me than some people are able to do.

Do late medieval fight books reflect actual practice?

For anyone interested in the actual practice of late medieval combat, interpreting the fight books that survive is a crucial activity. Thanks to a heads up from John Joseph Cash, here are two attempts to do so.

One of them is a master's thesis in archaeology submitted by Johann Keller Wheelock Matzke to the University of Exeter in 2011.

The other is a summary and interpretation of that thesis by Randy McCall at this website.

At this moment I have no opinion about the value of these works.

Monday, June 09, 2014

A tribute site for Anne Clendinning

Tributes to Anne Clendinning by both students and colleagues can be found here. You're free to add your own.

Friday, June 06, 2014


On the week of the 25th anniversary of the Tien An Men repression, an event that has disappeared from the official record in China, it is sobering to learn that there are 41,000 political prisoners in Egypt.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Loss of a colleague -- Dr. Anne Clendinning

From Dr. Katrina Srigley, Chair of History, Nipissing University
Historian, mother, sister, friend, Dr. Anne Clendinning started her life adventure in Ingersoll, Ontario and ended it in North Bay on June 1, 2014.  She lived her life to the fullest.  She loved to learn. She was fierce and determined. She was beautiful and the master of her own fate. She met the love of her life, Dermot Wilson, hiking in the Kananaskis Valley. Together they travelled around the world for two years. Travel was always a passion and source of inspiration for Anne because she wanted to understand other peoples and cultures. Her younger sister Lynda will always remember her as the cool older sister with wonderful tales to share about her latest adventures. Dermot and Anne had two beautiful daughters, Imogen and Aurelia. As infants they attended doctoral classes and a dissertation defence at McMaster University. Before she left us she made a point of telling her girls she was so proud of them.
A farm girl at heart, Anne had a way with plants and, unbeknownst to most people, studied horticulture at the University of Guelph.  She loved visiting the land of her childhood where her father, Eugene Clendinning, still farms today. Her siblings include: Lynda, Joyce, David and Douglas.
Anne was always by disposition a historian. She was a skillful storyteller. She had a mind for detail. A women's and gender historian of Victorian England, her first book examined the impact of the gas industry on women. She was passionate about her latest project on the gendered world of The Wembley Exhibition of 1924/25. It broke her heart not to finish it. Anne was also a mentor to her students. She took such pleasure in sharing her ideas and time with them, and delighted watching them develop as young scholars. She thrived working through complex ideas and watching their minds open up in different ways. Like with all people she came into contact with, she deeply respected her students and teaching them gave her great joy and satisfaction.
Her friends admired her strength, dignity and wit. They loved her style and choice "finds," which she so generously shared. She developed a preeminent international Mode Barbie and Ken collection, the last piece of which is yet to arrive. She was an artist in the kitchen, particularly with pies. She was very proud of her apple pie, and for good reason; she often talked about her mother Marjorie at these times. Anne was deeply interested in popular culture. She wanted to write to the director of Mad Men to request he release the last episodes.
Anne was a passionate historian, loyal friend and devoted mother. She was deeply loved and will be sorely missed by everyone. Most of all she was a dignified, strong and compassionate woman.
Donations can be made to the newly formed "Dr. Anne Clendinning Scholarship Fund" at Nipissing University in the following ways:
Mail: Make cheque payable to Nipissing University
Nipissing University- Development Office100 College Dr.,North Bay, ON P1A 3W2
Phone: 705 474-3450 x 4361