Welcome to soc.history.medieval's
Question and Answer Pages

Part II: Specific Ideas:

A. Battle:
1. Wasn't cavalry the dominant military force in the Middle Ages?

No. Several major battles involving cavalry over a wide-ranging time period resulted in the utter defeat of the side which had more cavalry, such as Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn, Agincourt, etc. We should also point out those battles were cavalry were present on the winning side but ineffective, such as Hastings. In general, commanders were fully aware of the threat which cavalry could pose, and therefore took steps to ensure that it was difficult to bring this advantage to bear, either by carefully choosing the battle ground, or by nullifying it with another type of arm, such as archery.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk) [very slightly modified by Paul J. Gans]


2. Didn't the longbow win the battle of Agincourt?


3. And isn't it Agincourt where the English two-fingered salute originates?


B. Beliefs:
1. Did the medievals think that the earth was flat?

No, or at least no-one who had ever thought about it believed that to be the case. Medieval cosmology included the belief, borrowed from Classical Civilizations, in a universe of concentric spheres, with the earth at its centre. It would be completely irrational for the centre of a spherical universe to be other than spherical.

On a more practical level, anybody who ever put to sea would have noticed the way cliffs and towers rose out of the horizon. It would not have taken much to reason that they were sailing on a round ocean.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)


2. Did the medievals believe the world was to end in the year 1000?


3. What were Grendel and Beowulf's idea of fate?


C. The Black Death:
1. Did the plague of 1348 really wipe out over half of Western Europe's population?

Over half is probably an exaggeration - but not by much. Most estimates put the death toll for Western Europe at between 1/3 to 1/2 of the population.

---- Curt Emanuel (cemanuel@accs.net)

2. How many people died in the Black Death?


3. Was there really a movement devoted to consensual beatings in an effort to ward off "God's wrath" (the plague)?

Yes, in Germany they were beeing called "Geissler", those who hit (themselves). They used to wander from town to town, to call citizens to repent their sins and start leading a good life. Given the amount of care and hygiene in these circumstances, a lot of those will not have died of the plague. On the other hand 'Geissler' is still a usual family name in Germany.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

D. The Church:
1. How powerful was the Church?


2. Did everyone obey the Pope all the time?


The Pope was recognized as the spiritual leader of Western Europe and was often, but not invariably, able to command changes in Church doctrine and practice over the objections of others.

In temporal matters there were grand claims made by various Popes and others for Papal authority. However obedience or disobedience to Papal commands was usually decided according to the demands of traditional power politics.

---- Bill Kent (billkent@mail.com)
     [added Mon. Feb 25, 02:51:36 2002]

3. When were there 2 popes?

During the 1000 years from 501 to 1500, in 169 calendar years more than one pope was in office at the same time for all or part of the year, starting with Larentius vs. Symmachus 501-505 and ending with Felix V. (last antipope up to now) vs. Eugen IV. and Nicolaus V. 1439-1449 (most antipopes 1045-1180 [in 80 of 134 years] and 1378-1415/30 [Great Schism]). At least 7 years (1409-1415) saw three popes in office at the same time. On the other hand 4 years saw none at all.

---- Gerrit Bigalski (bigalsk@uni-muenster.de)

4. What role did the church play in medieval life?

It had a central role in shaping the attitudes of medieval society. In particular the heirarchy of the social order was promoted as both the will of God, and as a reflection of the perfection of heaven where God at the top was represented by the King, the Saints and angels by Lords etc. The concept of the divine right of kings however did not exist until the Seventeenth Century.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

It recorded your life and death, the parish was the most influential community in your life, towns were organized according to parishes, each parish defending its bit of the city wall, parishes were about the only reliable source of welfare.

Since the church was the only 'fireproof' building, most of the valuables, that could have caught fire, were stored there. Churches and church-men at times served for military purposes.

On the countryside there existed a law of the people, a law of the local lord and the LAW of the LORD. But they also knew about the 11th comandment, Do not get caught!

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

5. What about the medieval witch-hunts and the inquisitions?

These were essentially an early modern phenomena. Part of the reason for them was a theological change which led to the 7 deadly sins and corresponding virtues being reduced in _Europes Inner Demons_ by Norman Cohn.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

6. Was there ever a Pope Joan or other female pope?


E. Construction:
1. How were cathedrals built?


2. How were castles built?


3. Why do castle staircases all turn the same way?

They don't, but the majority of those in defensive use spiral down and left from the top of a building so that those defending it have space to wield their weapon, while those coming up have the central pillar blocking most of their attacks. However, in the later period aesthetics come into the equation, and it is sometimes the case that staircases are symmetrical at either end of a building, giving one left-handed and one right-handed stair.

Since it was expected that fighting in a castle would involve forcing your way up a spiral staircase, those with formal military training would have been trained in how to approach this situation, normally involving the use of short spears and missile weapons in the confined space rather than facing your immediate opponent sword to sword.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

4. Why do some castle staircsases turn the other way?

Practicalities and asthetics are the main reasons, but there are some which were intentionally designed this way at a time when others were almost all right-handed. The most well-known example of this is the Kerr family in the Scottish borders, the more senior members of which were trained from birth to fight left-handed, and whose stairs all went in the opposite direction to normal. The benefit of this is not immediately obvious, since it means that the man at the top of the stairs has no advantage over the right-handed attacker except for the fact that he is left-handed.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

F. Crime and Punishment:
1. Were people really strung up or put on spikes as a lesson to others?


2. What were medieval prisons really like?

They didn't have any. Incarceration was not used much. There were safe places where you could keep people until the trial. Or until you needed them.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

3. How did trial by combat work?

Trial by combat was a method of proof used in English courts for both criminal and civil cases. It was introduced into England by the Normans. The idea behind combat was an appeal to the supernatural. It was expected that God would aid the person who was in the right, and that person would prevail.

Combat as a method of proof fell into disfavor with the increased use of the jury, particularly after 1215, when the Lateran Council withdrew official santion of all methods of proof which appealed to the supernatural (battle, ordeals of hot iron and hot water, etc). However, in England it was still technically available as a form of proof until the late 18th or early 19th centuries when trial by battle was demanded in the case of _Ashford v Thornton_ .

As is the case with many practices that were common throughout Western Europe, there were regional variation. In general, women or clerics who were involved in a case where battle was involved, could use a proxy. However, there are cases where women did engage in battle. One interesting one I believe occured in Germany, where the man was "handicapped" during the battle. He was forced to fight in a pit with only his head and shoulders above ground and one hand tied behind his back!

---- Joseph Rooney, Jr. (jroon@mindspring.com)

4. Could people really claim sanctuary in a Church?

Yes. The king's writ did not run to consecrated places. But the privilege only lasted for forty days. At the end of forty days the criminal had three choices: (1) He could try to run and possibly find sanctuary elsewhere; (2) he could choose to stand trial; or (3) he could choose to "abjure" (leave) the realm. The felon was followed to a seaport where he was expected to gain passage on a ship. If the felon strayed even slightly form the route to the seaport, he could be executed on the spot.

There were also private sanctuaries, such as monastic houses, where criminals could seek permanent refuge. courts sought to curb this practice, and no new private sanctuaries were created after 1189.

For additional information on both of the above subjects, see Baker, _An Introduction to English Legal History_ 3d Ed. and the bibliography therein.

---- Joseph Rooney, Jr. (jroon@mindspring.com)

G. The Crusades:
1. What are the Crusades?


2. Why did they happen?


H. Everyday Life:
1. Did the medievals wash?


---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

2. Did they eat spoiled meat?

No. Meat would often be salted, or cured in some other way (eg smoking), in order to prevent it from spoiling.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

Since this is a question lacking precision only a general answer is possible.

There was no regular intraregional exchange of foodstuff, most of the food was grown and prepared by those wanting to eat it. In a bad year, towards the end of winter, with no food coming in from outside, the term "fit to eat" would differ from today's standards.

Conditions were different for places that were connected by ship transport. The development of greater ships with more payload led to trade in foodstuff, the best known example beeing the Hanseatic League trading in hering and rye.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

3. What about chastity belts?

Yes, chastity belts did exist, but their first reasonably solid attestation was in the late middle ages in Northern Italy (long after the Crusades). The period of the chastity belt's spread beyond Italy and most frequent use was during the 16th and 17th centuries, so that the whole thing was actually much more a Renaissance phenomenon than Medieval. Of course, chastity belts were very rare even in the 16th-17th centuries, and basically all of the chastity-belt specimens in European museums either don't date any further back than the 17th century, or are outright 19th century forgeries. For more information, see: http://www.tpe.com/~altarboy/girdle.htm

---- Anon (anonemoose@usa.net)

4. How did people in a Medieval city get rid of their excrement?

They dug latrines and cleaned them regularly. The contents were then used as fertilizers. There used to be a belt of gardens surrounding medieval towns, supplying the population with fresh food.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

5. Could people read?

In the late 12th and early 13th c a particular kind of stylus, for writing on wax tablets, existed, that is generally found in towns and not in church complexes or castles. If they could write, they could read.

From late medieval times a wax tablet was discovered in a latrine in Luebeck, Germany. It had belonged to a woman keeping a stall on the market, and besides relating to her business, carried a text complaining about her husband. So literacy was not unusual.

There are greater numbers of Last Wills in writing from the 16th c. on, they show books in the possesion of farmers.

---- Uwe Mueller (Uwemueller@snafu.de)

6. Did the average medieval European actually eat corn?

"Corn" in Europe is simply another word for "grain", so yes. The exact nature of the corn would vary with location, so in some places corn would refer to wheat, while in others it might be barley or oats. In England "corn" and "grain" are still more or less interchangable. In the United States "corn" means specifically what the Europeans call "maize".

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.u) [slightly modified by Paul J. Gans]

7. What did people wear?

Depends on time and place, check http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/bockhome.html - Some Clothing of the Middle Ages

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

8. What did people eat?

Again, depends on time, place and availability. If very hungry, they would eat anything which didn't get away fast enough

---Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

9. What were medieval houses like?


10. Did medievals have hospitals? What were they like?

The word hospital is derived from the Latin _hospitium_, from which we also get the words hostel, hotel, and hospitality.

Those hospitals which did house the sick were not necessarily places for healing, but were more often than not a place where the afflicted would be able to find asylum. Charity was one of the cardinal virtues, and giving alms to the sick was one of the ways in which a medieval person could shorten their stay in purgatory.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

11. What kind of sense of time did the medievals have?

Time was perceived as a cycle, a progression, and as one of God's mysteries. The nature of an agricultural society meant that the seasonal cycle was probably the most familiar and important aspect of time to the average medieval.

The needs of a growing economy and the invention of the mechanical clock gave rise to a notion of time more similar to ours, but there was no need for modern precision.

---- Bill Kent (billkent@mail.com)
     [added Sat. Feb 23, 09:41:42 2002]

12. Did they really hang their clothes in the lavatory?

Not so far as we can tell. It is most likely that this misunderstanding arose out of the dual meaning for the word "garderobe" meaning both a cupboard for clothes (the modern word waredrobe is from this source) and a room for shitting in. This is presumably along the same lines as the more recent use of "closet" to mean the room for shitting in.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.u)

13. With what did they wipe their arses when they had used the lavatory?

As with many aspects of medieval daily life, there is little clear evidence, and it will have varied according to time and place.

We know from archaeological evidence that in some areas during the Age of Insufficient Light (qv) that mosses were used. (The best known of these is the Coppergate dig in York which was later commercialised into the Yorvik Viking Centre) We can assume that leaves and other plant material were commonly used everywhere.

A poster to one of the threads on this subject had apparently read of scraps of cloth having been found by archaeologists. It is not known whether these were used only once, or whether they were washed and re-used. Nor is it known how common this practice was, or even if the cloths were definitely used for that purpose on a regular basis.

The third possibility is washing. It is known that Romans had used a sponge on a stick for their ablutions in that region, and it does not seem too far fetched to assume that this custom was also practiced in the Middle Ages. It may be that this is what the cloths referred to above were for.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

Cacata carta (Catullus 36.1).]

That the sponge was used instead of toilet paper of some kind is a very common misconseption. The Roman toilets had two water flows. One closed below the person and one open in front. And soap was used too - Pliny mentioned it. (possibly in Forbes: Studies in Ancient Technology)

---- SENECA@argo.rhein-neckar.de [edited by Paul J. Gans]

14. Society, social status, education notwithstanding, were children treated with the same rights as adults, or if not, what were the differences?


I. Film:
1. How historically accurate is <insert film title>?

In general, not very accurate at all. The demands of production studios ensure that stories are changed, entire episodes are removed, and some fictitious bits are added to "spice up" what they think is dull history. Some films may give a reasonably accurate portrayal of general life in the period, while telling a wholly or mainly fictional story, but the film which gives an accurate portrayal of medieval history _and_ everyday life has yet to be made.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

J. History:
1. Did Patrick really save civilisation?

No, that would be Harun al-Rashid.

---- hdmiller@pantheon.yale.edu (H.D. Miller)

2. Was the Renaissance really a complete rebirth?


---- hdmiller@pantheon.yale.edu (H.D. Miller)


There was an upswing in art and scholarship, one of many that has occured throughout history. Another took place in the 12th Century. Many medievalists consider this period more important to the recovery and growth of Western civilization. Whatever relative importance is assigned to various "renaissances" it is clear that not all classical knowledge was lost.

---- Bill Kent (billkent@mail.com)      [added Sat. Feb 23, 09:41:42 2002]

K. King Arthur:
1. Was there a "real" King Arthur?

The answer depends on what you mean by a "real" King Arthur.

If you mean "was there a Romano-British leader who lead the resistance against the Saxons?" the answer is "yes". However, we know almost nothing about such a person, other than an ambiguous reference to Ambrosius Aurelianus in _De Excidio Britonum_ written by Gildas around 540AD.

If you mean "was there a person who performed the deeds ascribed to King Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth (or anyone else)?" then the answer is almost certainly "no". The earliest texts that provide any detail about the exploits of Arthur were written many centuries after he is supposed to have lived and appear to be legendary rather than historical.

----- Tony Jebson (jebbo@texas.net)

There were a number of leaders who led the resistence against the Saxons. Not all of them were Celtic (which in any case is an anachronistic term) - Ambrosius Aurelianus is described, if I recall correctly, as the "last of the Romans". We have no proof that any of them were called Arthur (or Arturius or any other cognate).

---- Chris Price (christopher.price@btinternet.com)

3. Who was Malory, and did he really known Arthur?

Doubtful in the extreme.

---- SJ Straith (sarahj@earthling.net)

L. Knights and Knighthood:
1. Is it true that knights had to be winched into the saddle and that, once they fell off their horses, they couldn't get up?

Not at all - the whole point of armour was to keep you alive, so if it made it impossible to move it was worthless. The maximum weight of armour in any period was dictated by the ability of the man inside it to move and fight while wearing it, and throughout history this maximum has been around 60 lbs, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of modern army equipment.

In the earlier period, knights wore mail exclusively. As plate armour developed, the main drivers for its adoption were the increased protection and reduced weight. As articulation became possible, increased mobility was added to the equation, so that by around 1400 most armour was fully articulated and mail had been reduced to covering the gaps in the plates. In all of these armour stages, the man could run, and fall over and get up unaided.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

2. Could unhorsed fully-armoured knights fight?

Yes - see above. Being unhorsed was an expected risk on the medieval battlefield, so armour had to be usable under these circumstances.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

3. Could unhorsed fully-armoured knights swim?

Almost certainly not, since anyone thrown into deep water wearing clothes and 60 lbs of weight distributed across the body (which is strapped on securely and cannot be got off quickly) will sink quickly and drown. On the other hand, shallow water should not be a problem, as long as they could stand up to breath.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

4. Were all knights chivalrous like the Knights of the Round Table?

No. The Round Table was (and is) an ideal, not a description. Also, medieval notions of chivalry were quite different from ours. In Malory and earlier works the knights trample dismounted opponents with their horses without loss of honor.

Most knights did make some effort to live up to the ideals of chivalry, but there was great disagreement on what was and was not chivalrous behavior.

---- Bill Kent (billkent@mail.com)
     [added Wed. Feb. 20, 11:45:15 2002]

5. What were tournaments really like?

In the 10th-13th century they bore little resemblance to the formal, ritualized competitions so often depicted in films. Instead they were very close in nature to actual warfare.

Groups of knights would meet before the tournament would begin. While ground rules varied, the general format was as follows: Usually each man would be assigned a ransom and the melee would begin. The two opposing groups of knights would ride to opposite ends of a field and begin with a joust. Knights who were unhorsed continued to fight on foot. Once the initial joust was over, the contest wasn't restricted to the field but could range through the countryside and even into towns. When a knight was captured, the ransom and sometimes his horse and armor were forfeit to the man who had captured him.

Knights were often injured and occasionally killed at these events. The weapons were real, not blunted, and the tournaments were dangerous enough for the Church and various monarchs to ban them. It was not uncommon or frowned upon for several men to attack one, or to take a wounded man prisoner. There is a famous story about when William Marshall was sitting at dinner in the evening and saw a wounded knight out in the street. Leaving his table he ran out and dragged him back to the table - to collect the ransom.

By the middle of the 14th century tournaments began to become more organized with a restricted field, scheduled jousts, and an emphasis on individual feats of arms. By the 15th century tournaments were highly stylized and less dangerous, as blunted weapons were generally used. Proclamations, challenges, and the event itself followed a strict code of conduct and were judged by rules of chivalry - often enforced by a Court of Chivalry.

---- Curt Emanuel (cemanuel@accs.net)

6. Was knighthood hereditary?


7. What obligations did a knight have?


M. Language and Speech:
1. Did medievals really use words like prithee, sirrah etc?

The short answer is 'no': according to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'prithee' and 'sirrah' first appear in the 16th century. Languages change over time, and the English (French, German, etc.) of the Middle Ages is very different from modern English (French, German, etc.). These differences go much deeper than spelling, vocabulary, or even pronunciation: the very grammar of the language has changed. For instance, in 1391 Chaucer could explain that he was writing in plain English 'for Latyn ne canst thou yit but small'; nowadays we might say 'for as yet you know but little Latin', or more colloquially, 'because you don't know much Latin yet', but we couldn't simply update the words individually and write 'for Latin not can you yet but small'! Thus, the medievals did speak very differently from the way we speak today. Many familiar, old-fashioned sounding words like 'prithee' and 'sirrah', however, are to a considerable extent literary creations intended to suggest the speech of an earlier era without actually imitating it.

---- Brian M. Scott (BMScott@stratos.net)

N. The Law:
1. Did women have any rights?

"Single women (including widows) were generally treated the same as men for the purposes of private law, save that the rules of inheritance favoured males before females of the same degree....In fact women did occaisionally hold office in medieval times, as when a hereditary office descended to a female heir; but they usually exercised them by deputy." [From J. H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History p. 530]

Married women, on the other hand had severly limited rights. In English law, husband and wife were considered one person, so all rights of property were vested in her husband. He had the right to dispose of property which she had before marriage as he saw fit. Married women could not enter into contracts except as agents for her husband. The one right married women did have was the right of dower, or the right to use for life 1/3 of all her husband's property upon his death. [See generally Baker, ch 27]

Other books of interest to this subject: Power, Eileen. Medieval Women Palmer, Robert. The Whilton Dispute

--- Joseph Rooney, Jr. (jroon@mindspring.com)

2. Did serfs have any rights?

Yes, they did. Villein status, in English law, only limited the rights vis-a-vis the villein's lord. He was a free person against the rest of the world.

As to the lord: (1) Any property aquired by the villein was liable to seizure by his lord. They *could* own property (and pass good title to others in a sale if the lord did not seize it before transfer), but it was at the will of the lord. (2) Lords could exercise corporal discipline over their villeins, though the lord could not maim, rape or kill the villein. (3) The villein could not leave his tenement, or work away from it, without the consent of his lord.

See generally Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, (ch 26).

Milsom, S. F. C. Historical Foundations of the Common Law 2d Ed. (out of print)

--- Joseph Rooney, Jr. (jroon@mindspring.com)

3. Could a peasant sue a lord?


4. Returning to the rights of women and marriage, what did a lord's widow wear after he died?


O. Love:
1. What is the real meaning of courtly love?


P. Lords and Peasants:
1. What is the "right of first night" or _ius prima noctae_?

It is a completely fictitious right by which the local lord was able to sevice any brides in his domain on their wedding night.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

Q. People:
1. Who was William Wallace?

He appears to have been the second son of a minor knight, born in Elderslie near Renfrew. His early years are not well documented, but having attracted the attention of the William Hazelrig, Sheriff of Lanark, he was propelled on a collision course with the occupying English forces in Scotland. His wife is reported to have been killed by Hazelrig's forces in a bungled attempt to capture Wallace, who had been on the run from the English forces for some time. Wallace then murdered Hazelrig, and over the next few years, gathered a force around him which attacked the English forces at every opportunity.

He is best known for his victory over the English forces at Stirling Bridge in 1297, when his application of terrain and tactics turned a bad situation and a major English mistake to his advantage. Shortly after this battle, he was knighted and appointed as "Guardian" of Scotland, effectively ruling the country in the name of the deposed John Balliol. However, in 1298, Edward I personally led a new army into Scotland, and brought Wallace to battle at Falkirk. Wallace was deserted by many of the nobles, and his men were subjected to intensive archery and cavalry attacks which quickly turned into a rout.

Wallace resigned the Guardianship, and is thought to have left the country - perhaps to France or further afield to gather support for the Scottish cause. He returned in 1305, but soon afterwards was captured by Sir John Stewart of Mentieth at Dumbarton (a supporter of the English), and handed over to the English forces.

He was tried for the murder of Hazelrig and for several other charges including treason, and was hung, drawn and quartered at Smithfield in London on the 23rd August 1305.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

2. Was Harold killed by an arrow at Hastings?

Possibly, but we'll probably never know for sure. The Bayeaux Tapestry shows a man with an arrow in his head under the words "Haroldus interfectus est" (here Harold is killed), but the primary sources make no mention of such an incident. Later analysis of the tapestry suggests that the arrow may have been added in later, perhaps during one of the restorations of the tapestry which are apparent from the patching and different stitch styles. The sources do however record that some of William's men were reprimanded and sent home for mutilating Harold's body after they had been involved in his death, so it is suggested that even if Harold was struck by an arrow, he was certainly finished off by the swords of a few Normans who then got carried away. The tapestry may also show this, as it has been argued by some that the figure falling backwards to the right of the word "est" is also Harold, since the style of his clothing is the same (even though the colours are different).

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

3. Who was Robert the Bruce, and is it true that he changed sides several times and died of leprosy?

Robert de Bruce was the grandson of the first Lord of Annandale, of the same name, who had been one of the original "Competitors" in 1286 when Edward I was asked to adjudicate in the matter of the Scottish succession. The Bruce family were Anglo-Norman in origin, but had married into the local nobility in the south-west of Scotland. They also held extensive lands in England, which was to become an important factor in subsequent events.

Bruce was caught between the two sides for much of the time before 1306, since he had been brought up in England as well as in Scotland. He had to keep on the good side of Edward to retain his lands in England, and so when called to serve in English invasion forces with his English levies, he had no option but to comply. When it seemed that Scottish resistance would work, Bruce was usually with them, but when it collapsed, he was quick to make his peace with Edward and did not suffer too much for his rebellion.

Bruce died in 1329, of unknown causes - he had been increasingly ill for two years, and although two sources from the time suggest that he died of leprosy, the Scottish sources of the same period do not mention this. An attempt in 1996 to check this by DNA profiling of a fragment of bone seems to have either failed or been quietly shelved.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

4. Richard III was accurately depicted by Shakespeare, wasn't he?

The short answer is "no." For one thing, Shakespeare compressed fourteen years of history into a play that appeared to take place over a few days. For additional information on the discrepancies between Shakespeare and history, see the Richard III Society's annotated hypertext edition of Shakespeare's play at http://www.r3.org/bookcase/shaksper/, including an article on the historicity of Shakespeare's Richard III by Professor James Moore, author of the Garland Publishing bibliography on Richard III.

---- Laura Blanchard (lblancha@pobox.upenn.edu)

5. Who was Roger Bacon?


6. Who was Francis Bacon?


7. Didn't Roger Bacon invent gunpowder, spectacles, and science?"


8. Was there really a Robin Hood?

Robin Hood is a medieval legend, popular right down to our own time. The origin of the legend is obscure. Between the years 1225 and 1296 no less than eight men with the last name of Robinhood appear in various records. Five of these "Robinhoods" appear in criminal court records facing charges that range from sheep stealing to murder. Most interesting is the case of William son of Robert le Fevere, who fled the jurisdiction of the court of Berkshire. The case was appealed to the king, only, upon the king's records the fugitive's name is changed to William Robehod (Robinhood). It would seem that by 1261 criminals were taking (or being given) the name of the already legendary outlaw.

The earliest literary reference to Robin Hood appears in William Langland's Piers Plowman written in 1377. Five Robin Hood ballads, written down sometime between 1400 and 1475, have come down to us. The longest and most complete ballad, The Gest of Robin Hood, was in print as early as 1515. The legend has continued to grow and add new characters and stories. Friar Tuck joins Robin's band in 1417. Maid Marian appears by 1500. Robin himself is promoted from yeoman to Earl of Huntingdon by 1598. Sir Walter Scott makes Robin Hood a Saxon revolutionary opposing Norman oppressors in "Ivanhoe" (1820). Kevin Costner plays Robin Hood as a Third Crusade veteran in "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves".

J.C. Holt's "Robin Hood" copyright 1982 and 1989 (Thames & Hudson Inc, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 88-51137) is my source for this information.

---- David J. Starr (David.Starr@analog.com)

Holt's book does a fairly good job of going through and analyzing the source material on Robin Hood. Anyone wishing to look at the various source texts where Robin Hood appears can find many of the stories available at the Robin Hood Project website. It's address is:


---- Patrick Tingler (tingler@geocities.com)

R. Serfs:
1. What were serfs?


2. Isn't serfdom the same as slavery?

No. There were differences. Slaves usually had no or very few rights, where as a serf usually had many rights. The lord often could mete out punishments to his serfs, but he had to have a reason punish his serf, or at least make it seem he had a reason.

As an example: If a crime is done against a slave, the master is considered the injured party. If it is done against a serf, it is the serf who is the injured party.

Slaves are usually owned by a person, where as the serf was usually tied to the land. This means that one could not sell a serf, like you could do with a slave. However, if you sold the land the serf worked on, the serf most likely followed the real-estate.

----- Halstein Sjxlie (halsteis@stud.ntnu.no)

S. Slaves and Slavery:
1. Did the Venetians really export slaves for Muslim harems?


2. Were serfs slaves?

No, they were not. See R. Serfs: 2. Isn't serfdom the same as slavery?

----- Halstein Sjxlie (halsteis@stud.ntnu.no)

3. Did they have slaves in Medieval Europe?

In Early Medieval Europe, the Germanic peoples -- like the Romans before them -- practised slavery and it was widespread throughout Europe. War was the major source of slaves, and slavery continued later in Iberia due to the conflict between Christians and Muslims.

By the middle of the 9th century, slavery had already disappeared from some parts of Europe (e.g. France), but in others it lingered until the 12th century (e.g England). In Iberia, it did not die out until after the medieval period.

----- Tony Jebson (jebbo@texas.net)

4. Could slaves own property?

Early in the period, slaves probably had no property rights at all. Later, they had more rights. For example, King Alfred permitted them to sell goods acquired in their spare time or given as alms. By the 11th century some slaves in England owned ploughs -- a very expensive item!

----- Tony Jebson (jebbo@texas.net)

Muslim slaves had extensive property and legal rights. The more skilled and better educated slaves were frequently employed as business agents by their masters, oftentimes travelling abroad, alone, to conduct business. Slaves were free to own property, including other slaves, and many traded for their own accounts amassing sizable fortunes. There are even records in the Cairo Geniza of slaves who took their masters to law over property disputes and won.

It should be pointed out that the notion of slavery was very different in Islam than it was in Christendom. Rhetorically and figuratively all Muslims are slaves of God. Indeed, the personal name 'Abd Allah is literally translated as "Slave of God." (Other names beginning with the word 'Abd are always followed by one of the 99 holy names -- 'Abd ar-Rahim, 'Abd al-Jabar, etc. -- giving the same essential meaning.) Since all Muslims (literally, "one who submits") are figurative slaves themselves, and since Shari'a, the Muslim legal code, guarantees certain rights to slaves, the position of slave was neither particularly shameful, nor a great hinderance to personal advancement. Many of the Caliphs had mothers who were originally slaves, and many employed chamberlains, generals and secretaries who had arisen from an enslaved condition. The Ottomans provide an extreme example of this, in which every government functionary, from the foot soldier to grand vizier, is technically a slave of the Sublime Porte.

---- hdmiller@pantheon.yale.edu (H.D. Miller)

5. Did slaves have any rights?


6. What kind of people became slaves?


7. How widespread was the slave trade?


8. When did slavery die out?


9. Why did slavery die out?

In broad terms, slavery died out because of a reduction in the availability of people who could be enslaved, changing patterns of land use and the influence of Christianity.

References: Slavery in Early Mediaeval England, David A. E. Pelteret
Melanges historiques, Marc Bloch

----- Tony Jebson (jebbo@texas.net)

T. Templars:
1. The Templars are still around, aren't they??

No. The Templars were an order created by, and answerable to, the Pope. As the Pope supressed the Order, it thereby ceased to exits

----- Halstein Sjxlie (halsteis@stud.ntnu.no)

U. Torture:
1. What about the medieval torture chambers?

Roughly, up to the 15th c. trials were, if the need arose, decided by the number of people swearing to the truthfullness of the parties concerned.

Then, modern thinking, it was decided, that it should be at least considered what had really happened. The logical way was to turn to the culprit for information. Since it would damage his immortal soul if he stubbornly lied, it was deemed beneficial to make him speak the truth.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

V. The Vikings:
1. Were vikings really bloodthirsty savages?

Sometimes, but the majority of their impact on Europe in general, and eastern Europe in particular was through trade. The raids recorded on Iona, Lindisfarne and other monastic settlements were undoubtedly bloody affairs, but this is only a small element of the Viking period, and should not be thought to represent the whole picture.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)

No. They were formidable opponents in battle, and their different religious beliefs meant that monasteries were not sacrosanct, but they were no more blood thirsty than anybody else, and were primarily farmers and fishermen.

---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

They were people who went on a "vik"-tour, "-vik" beeing a suffix to place names all over northwestern europe. There are always people misbehaving, when on holyday. And the press writes a lot more about those few hoologans, than about the great number of peaceful travellers.

But - ferries leaving scandiavian countries today will have an unusual amount of passengers on board, who are drunk before they reach the open sea. This may be due to high taxes on alcohol, a genetic disposition or a traditional method of fighting sea sickness. Imagine those vikings with a viking-sized hangover, landing the next morning, on a cold and rainy day and being in a strange country. Everything could have happened, and did.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

2. Did Vikings really wear horned helmets?

No - the images of Vikings with horned helmets are almost entirely a Victorian invention, based on misunderstanding of the earlier Celtic helmets and some of those from the Vendel period. While there is a very small amount of evidence for horned helmets, this is only in relation to religious rituals in a very small area. All of the available evidence for Viking helmets (one find, several pictures from carved stones, and some ornamental metalwork) fails to show a single horn.

---- Paul Murphy (paul.murphy@gemini-research.co.uk)


---- CG Luxford (hicgl@bris.ac.uk)

3. Who were the "vikings"

Norwegians, Danes and Swedes. The word "Viking" specifically refers to the practice of raiding, and the people who participated in the raiding, not the Norse peoples as a whole.

---- Brant Gibbard (bgibbard@inforamp.net)

W. Economics and Trade:
1. Didn't people barter for everything?

They tried to produce everything they needed themselves, except in towns and the upper classes.

---- Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

2. What did <commodity of choice> cost?


3. How much did people earn?

Too little, as usual. But for the yearly jobs, food and a place to sleep, sometimes even clothing, were part of the payment. And they ate and drank a lot.

---- Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

4. Did people have jobs?

They might take a job on a farm or with some tradesman in a town, those were usually running for a year. In bigger towns or in ports, there would also be jobs on a daily basis.

On building sites, jobs would be terminated according to the needs.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

5. What were the Champagne Fairs?

In the French region of Champagne, which used to be bigger than today, a number of markets or fairs for the long distance traders were established. They were held for a number of days at changing places one after another, and were ment to service the bulk traders.

With time, local trading and fun fair activities grew around the formal business meetings.

----Uwe Mueller (uwemueller@snafu.de)

6. How unusual were Muslim travellers in Germany in the mid-medieval period?


Part III: Soc.history.medieval, its customs and legends:

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Last updated 07/19/2009