Tiny Siege Engines

The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville is one of my favorite pieces of medieval writing. Jean de Joinville is supposed to be writing about St. Louis, but he frequently digresses into his personal memories with vivid detail. He is an engaging, entertaining writer. The first time I read his memoirs, I found this most interesting passage when Joinville describes the company that the king lodged him with in Sajetta:

And when we reached camp, we found that [King Louis IX] had marked out the sites in person, where our quarters were to be. My quarters he had chosen alongside those of the Count of Eu, because he knew that the Count of Eu liked my company.

I will tell you of the tricks the Count of Eu used to play on us.

I had built a hut, where I used to take my meals,—I and my knights—lighted through the doorway. Now the doorway gave onto the Count of Eu’s quarters; and he, who was very ingenious, made a little machine to throw into it, and used to watch when we went to table, and set up his machine in a line with our table and break our jugs and glasses. [1]

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Dress in Anglo-Saxon England: Revised and Enlarged Edition

Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale R. Owen-Crocker is a marvelous book. Piecing together a visual history of the Anglo-Saxons is very difficult because Old English texts don’t have the lavish descriptions of clothing common to medieval romances and little textile evidence survives. Dress puts together archeological evidence, artistic evidence, and textual evidence to make some summaries about what the Anglo-Saxons wore, accompanied by comparison to Scandinavian and Celtic evidence where necessary. The book is prefaced with a brief historical overview so the reader has a context for the book’s main content.

Dress has extensive records of materials and designs accompanied by many illustrations. This book was originally published in 1986, but realizing that many people use this book for costuming purposes, Owen-Crocker has included information on how to wear historical costumes in this updated version. Owen-Crocker has even modified some research on the basis of advice from historical costume reproducers, such as the idea that wrist clasps are terribly uncomfortable for working, so Anglo-Saxon women would likely have rolled up their sleeves for work and worn wrist clasps only on social occasions.

Much of the evidence for Dress comes from grave goods. Reading the catalogues of personal items does get a little tedious, but it is also a wealth of information not only for dress, but also religious development. The type of items carried by men, women, and children also gives insight as to their positions in society and the items most treasured by or most useful to a man or woman of the period.

Dress is divided chronologically, which allows it to trace clothing development by period. Men’s and women’s clothing are discussed separately. Each chapter is divided by types of clothing (for example, shoes versus hair), and divided geographically where necessary. Footnotes are extensive, as is the bibliography. One may easily use this book both for research and for producing costumes with a great deal of accuracy. One warning is necessary—it rarely mentions armor, so if you’re interested in the dress of warfare, this isn’t your book.

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Loppestere Pyjámas

Happy April Fool’s Day! In case it isn’t completely obvious, this is a joke post. There’s only one real piece of information below. Can you find it?

loppstereIn the Somerset Fragments, written during the 14th C, we find a curious passage. The text was written by a fifth son of a prominent family whose name was originally signed on several documents, but was destroyed over time by water damage on the ms. The text contains a collection household accounts, fragments copied from a psalter, and personal accounts. From the surviving pages, which are estimated to be only half of the original ms, we can ascertain that the unknown man traveled to the east (east of what has yet to be determined) and was amused by the variety of figures he encountered. We can make out that he received “michel mirþe” from the foreign dress and could only record his impressions once he had “cesed to laughe”:

In þe eest þe habbaþ wæde þæt þey clepan “Loppestere Pyjámas,” which ys pantalons þæt þey wearan for slepynge. Þys pantalons hæbbaþ hymages on þem of Loppsteres eke Crabbes eke all manere of Crustacea þæt are on lyfe inne þe se. Þe ȝonge folke wearan þe Loppestere Pyjamas nat oonlie to bedde, but alswe to werke eke to scule. Þe olde folke ne wearan þe Loppestere Pyjamas, butan þey are seke, for þey þinc þem foolishe, ac verye comfee.

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Misuse of the Word “Medieval”: Mental Illness

I don’t know what the politically accurate terms are for the intellectually challenged or the mentally ill. I ask your forgiveness if I have misused terms; if I’ve said something insulting, it is a result of my ignorance, not my design. For terms used in historical context, please keep in mind that in the Middle Ages, these terms were merely descriptive and only became derogatory over time.


Medieval man distinguished between those who had mental challenges from birth and those who developed them later, either from physical injury, “evil spirits,” or various forms of trauma. In deciding a person’s diagnosis and responsibility, attention was given to whether a person had lucid intervals or was continually of unsound mind.

natural/congenital idiot: This was a person who was “incompetent from birth.” He was placed in the wardship system; his protector would oversee his care and maintain his property until his death, when the lands would pass to his next of kin. [1]

lunatic: This was a person who had become “incompetent” during the course of his life. He was not cared for under the wardship system. Sometimes the king or lord would oversee his lands, but care was a family issue, and a person deemed a lunatic could still own property, which he would maintain during his lucid periods. [2]

From the late 13th C, “congenital idiots” were protected by law. [3] Care of “lunatics” was the family’s responsibility, but if the family could not or would not provide for them, the government would step in. [4] Care for the intellectually challenged was considered a community responsibility. [5]

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Transition Complete!

The transition is complete! Made of Ƿ is now its own entity. WordPress’s Happiness Engineers have transferred all subscribers, so those of you who had previously subscribed to the blog should continue getting messages when a new post goes up. If you had previously subscribed to Made of Ƿ but didn’t see this post appear in your inbox as usual, you will need to resubscribe through the link on the right. Facebook and Twitter are unaffected by the transition.


The ads are gone (yay!) I have put a link to the Made of Ƿ store in the sidebar. It’s on a slow rotation for now, so let me know if the changing image is too distracting. Made of Ƿ is now officially a participation in the Amazon Affiliates program. This means that if you click on a link to Amazon and buy the book, Made of Ƿ gets a tiny kickback. These links will  appear only on review posts, so it should be obvious when a link will send you to Amazon through this program. I will not be putting additional advertisements in the sidebars (unless someone like Oxford University Press should pay me to advertise here…which is very, very unlikely).

Your regularly scheduled programming will continue next week with a new “Misuse of the Word ‘Medieval'” post.

Ich am of Irlaunde

(Repost from last year.)

Ich am of Irlaunde/The Irish Dancer

Ich am of Irlaunde,
Ant of the holy londe
Of Irlande.

Gode sire, pray ich þe,
For of Saynte Charite,
Come ant daunce wyt me–
In Irlaunde.

C. 14th C
from the Rawlinson fragments

PS: I’m impressed, Google!

The Pope Who Quit by Jon M. Sweeney

Given the current situation with Pope Benedict XVI (now Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), I suspect that there will be much renewed interest in The Pope Who Quit by Jon M. Sweeney. When I first saw it in Barnes & Noble, I avoided it since the cover makes it look like a book full of drama and conspiracy theories. The Pope Who Quit is written for a popular audience, but it does a good job of presenting a specific period of history with an engaging writing style.

The Pope Who Quit has many merits. One of them is a clear presentation of the life of one man: Peter Morrone, an old hermit who suddenly found himself becoming Pope Celestine V only to abdicate a few months later. Sweeney’s writing makes clear the background that led to these events and justifies Morrone’s decision to leave the papacy. The Pope Who Quit does mention a couple of conspiracy theories, but it keeps speculation to a minimum. Sweeney likewise gives the necessary information to understand Morrone’s life—monasticism and hermetic movements during the 13th century.

Since Sweeney is writing for a popular rather than a scholarly audience, he finds himself with the difficult task of quickly presenting a panoramic picture of 13th century life. For the most part, Sweeney does this well. I question a few of his statements, but I won’t mention most of them since they’re probably necessary oversimplifications, not errors. This was the statement that I found to be most problematic: “Medieval chronicles are full of descriptions of warrior priests—men who not only held religions office, but as rulers of the Holy Roman Empire led armies into battle” (175). This comment is brief, so it sounds like Sweeney means the strange idea of mace-wielding priests that I discussed in “Misuse of the Word ‘Medieval’ Part 8: The Crusades.” Sweeney’s source, De Re Militari, describes an archbishop arming himself and going into battle along with his troops. However, it also appears he did so only to rescue allies from a siege. I’m having difficulty finding more information on the “warrior priest” that doesn’t involve tabletop RPGs, so I’m not sure if Sweeney is suggesting that it was common for priests to enter battle, or simply to have a hand in directing military affairs.

But, I digress. The question of warrior priests is not a vital one to understanding Pope Celestine V. What is essential is the political climate of the 13th century, the affairs of kings, the creation of new monastic orders, and the life of a hermit. Sweeney outlines all of these with skill.

The Pope Who Quit stars Peter Morrone, but it is framed with commentary on Pope Benedict XVI. Judging from Pope Benedict XVI’s actions of devotion when visiting Celestine V’s grave, Sweeney speculates that Pope Benedict XVI feels a special spiritual connection with Peter Morrone. He doesn’t draw many specific conclusions, but many will find this relationship interesting in light of the recent retirement.

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Made of Ƿ Celebrates 1 Year

full cake

Happy birthday, Made of Ƿ! Today is the blog’s first anniversary. (Yes, there are older posts, but March 2 is when the blog went public.) In the first year, Made of Ƿ has had 100 posts, 242 comments, and over 19,000 visits. It’s earned 43 followers through WordPress, 50 followers on Twitter, and 157 Facebook likes. The store has even sold just enough items to pay for its own domain name.

cutting the cake cutting the cake

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Now Available: On þysse nihte, wē drincaþ fram hēafodbollum ūrena andsacena!

Now available on shirts, bags, and a journal! Click here to go to the full page. The links below will take you to those individual items. Cafepress is having some issues with section thumbnails, so please excuse some temporary inconsistencies in the page layout.

Shirt Preview: On þysse nihte, wē drincaþ fram hēafodbollum ūrena andsacena!

Tonight, we drink from the skulls of our enemies!

Tonight, we drink from the skulls of our enemies!

I already have a few people requesting this design, so before it goes into production, I want to give you all a chance to give input. Is it translated correctly? Do you like the layout? Do you like the colors? As always, I’ve put a lot of time and care into the design, and as always, there’s probably something that needs alteration. This design will be in the store by the end of the week.

One of the awesome things about Old English is that this shirt can be translated as “Tonight, we drink from the skulls of our enemies!” or as “Tonight, we will drink from the skulls of our enemies!” The difference depends on intention and whether the shirt was donned in the morning or evening. I’ve not used a form of sculan, willan, or the subjunctive here because this shirt doesn’t express a desire or possible condition. You only put on this shirt if you have a Klingon’s certainty that the mead will be flowing. The sharp contrast between the visuals and the translation is intended to be humorous. I hope you’re as entertained by this design as I am—my designer and I have spent the last few days giggling over it.

drincaþ: present first person plural

hēafodbollum: of the words available for “skull,” I chose this one because it literally translates as something like “head-bowl,” which sounds terribly appropriate for drinking. Dative case to match “fram.”

andsacena: “-ena” ending for genitive plural, since the skulls belong (once belonged?) to the enemies