Category Archives: medieval

America Does Have Castles

 

 

Nobody really gives it any thought, or any weight, but America does have castles….. a whole lot of them. A whole lot of them.

Once I started really delving into my research for my trip across the country I was a bit astonished by this fact.

Singer Casttle, on an island in Alexandria Bay NY

Part of this misunderstanding comes from the timeline and the definition of what a castle is. If we stay true to the definition we have to include the idea that a castle is fortified. It is a fortress, A building of strong defense. And this philosophy held true right up until the period of time when gunpowder (and cannons) came into prominence.

The ability to take down any thickness stone wall with repeated barrages of cannons pretty much killed that old style of Fortress Castle.

From there castles changed to more of architectural artwork and ostentatious displays of wealth . The rich built them and lived in them. They were more palace than fortress.

An interesting thing did happen in America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Searles Castle in Great Barrington Mass.

Wealthy people really took to the European concepts of castles and palaces. The wealthy and maybe a bit eccentric titans of industry started building their own castles.  Not so much to defend against enemies, more as a place to live and a place to display their wealth.

America is dotted all over with these castle-fortresses. And they are magnificent.

So while we don’t actually have any castles that are a thousand years old we do have plenty of castles! And on my trip around America I am visiting some of them – well actually a lot of them. The count today as of May 31, 2018 is twelve of them. And I am still on the Eastern seaboard.

Would you like to follow along in the adventure as I travel America discovering and visiting all sorts of medieval things like castles, blacksmiths, meaderies, museums and more? It’s all happening on my youtube channel right here: Will’s Journey across Medieval America. 

 

Medieval America – Will is traveling all around the USA visiting medieval sites

Quick Summary: I have sold my house and I am taking the Summer of 2018 to travel all over the United States from East Coast to West Coast. My goal is to build a castle. And during this trip I will be visiting all kinds of medieval sites like Castles, Meaderies, Blacksmiths, Stone Masons, Museums and much more. It all started on April 27th, 2018. And it continues.

I have done a fair amount of international travel. And I love that. But, for one reason or another I never did much travel in the USA. Well…. now I am doing it. And I am shooting videos, and writing all about it. And you can follow along.

Follow along with me through my youtube channel right here. Epic Fantasy and Medieval America

Or if you prefer the written work I am keeping a daily log of the places I visit and the things I see on my website right here: Medieval America

And what have I done so far? Well… Ten Castles, Five Meaderies, Three Museums, two blacksmiths, and a whole lot more. Want to see a slice of america? Follow along on my website or my youtube channel.

The Mysterious Suit of Armor – Is it real?

I got an email from the proprietor of a shop in Florida who acquired a suit of armor from the Higgins Armory. She is very sure that it actually was in the Higgins. And if that is the case then we are looking at a real suit of armor. Which is rather cool – particularly because it is for sale.

I advised her to not sell it or break up the set until we can gather more information about it. I really want to get an assessment of it. If it is real then it could be worth thousands of dollars. Heck, I might even buy it.  I mean after all, an actual, and real suit of armor! Who knows, maybe it even saw battle!!! Wow!

Well, for now the shop owner is going to take it apart and see if there are any maker marks on the inside of it. That would be quite wonderful.  And it would prove the authenticity.

The only thing that bothers me about this suit is the mismatch  between head and armor. The head just seems to big for the rest of it. The neck , too long. I think that helmet at one time belonged with a larger suit of armor.  Anyway, I have more pictures of this suit of armor on my website right here: The Mysterious suit of armor.

If you can lend some insight or know about this particular suit then send me an email!!!

Here’s a picture. (More pics on the webpage)

New Medieval Word for you

I received an email from a french translator who is working on a translation of some documents (French to English). She was looking for the english word for the person who walks around the castle or town  either lighting candles or putting them out. Well.. I am disappointed in myself for not knowing it. The best I could come up with is “Lamplighter”.

A lamplighter was a person who went around city streets (most notably in the Victorian era) lighting gas lamps.  They sometimes had ladders and they sometimes had a very long pole with a lit torch on the end of it. Kind of a neat and quirky thing from the past.

Well, she got back to me with the word. It is “Chandler”.

A chandler was a candle maker.  But, a chandler often also had the responsibility to take care of the various candles in castles, keeps and wealthy  homes. Make the candles, light them, put them out, replace them as needed.
Now there’s a quirky little job from the past.

Oh and the word “Chandelier” comes from this job. In those days a chandelier had candles in it.

 

Interactive Castles of the World Map

I love castles and have visited a few of them. If you frequent my websites you probably already know this. I do have a whole sub domain dedicated to them (Medieval Castles). I have lot of books about them and have done a fair amount of research on them. That for me is simply fun. But one thing that I had always wished for is a world map with all the castles on it.

One of those google maps where you can explore around, zoom in, zoom out and see various things. That would be great! Well…. there isn’t one of those maps, until now.

castles-of-the-world-map-thumb

I decided that I would have to be the guy to make one!  So I did. I made one. I didn’t realize how much work this project would entail. I would say I have about 50 or so hours invested in it. But now that the framework is done I can add castles to it rather easily. (currently I have 62 castles on the map)

If you are interested in castles you can check out the map right here. You can zoom in, pan around and explore the world and some of its most beautiful castles.

Castles of the World Interactive Google Map

Drilling through castle walls with a Terebra

I stumbled across a new type of siege engine that I hadn’t previously known about. Well, when I say it is a “new” type of siege engine I mean new to me. It has been around for centuries. I just never heard of it before. It is called a Terebra.

terebra2

 

 

 

 

I was doing some castle research, reading a book called British Castles – by Charles Ashdown when I ran across the Terebra.

This is all Ashdown said about it:

The Terebra.— A machine based upon the classical terebra was also in use. It consisted of a heavy beam which could be rotated; the iron head being furnished with a spike of square section was inserted in a joint into which it bored its way, breaking up the surrounding stones and facilitating their removal.

So I did some more digging to try to get a better sense of what it was and how it looks. I did find a few pictures. A couple of which I have put here in this blogpost.

terebra

 

 

 

 

This second picture is in German and the literal translation of its name is “Wall driller” which is apt.

It is an interesting siege engine because most engines rely on brute force to simply destroy castle walls whereas the terebra is a bit more elegant in that it drills!

I don’t think they were used very often, if at all. It seems to me you have to get awfully close to a curtain wall or a castle wall to use it. And this leaves you vulnerable to archers for an extended period of time.

But my understanding here is that the point isn’t to drill through the stone of the castle but to drill through the mortar between the stones which seems more feasible. A series of holes drilled in the mortar would weaken the wall making it more vulnerable to brute attacks by other siege engines.

Anyhoo, It is an interesting word and an interesting, relatively unknown, type of siege engine.

About the Book
The book I was reading is called British Castles – By Charles Ashdown  and it is in the public domain. I have it as a free download in ebook and kindle format on my website here:
Free ebooks about Castles

 

A hole in a 17th century breastplate

I have a friend in the UK (Paul) who recently took a trip to Scotland. He sent me a group of interesting pictures from a museum in Banff. And this is one of the pictures.

The placard is very simple. It says the breastplate is from the middle of the 16th century and the pierced hole would have been terminal.

I am really at a loss as to what to say about this.  Five hundred years ago a knight, lord or someone of stature was wearing this and in a moment it was over.  Just like that. One blow with some kind of piercing weapon and it was all done. And since then 500 years have passed.

I wonder what that weapon was to cause that hole? Was it a lance or a spear? Or maybe a warhammer or a bec de corbin?

Here is my imagining based solely on the observation that the rest of the breastplate is pristine. A young knight strapped on his armor for his first battle and came to a tragic end.

If you want to see more pictures from the museum including an authentic Scottish Claymore check out the page on my website here: Weapons and Armor in the Banff Museum Scotland.

breastplate-with-hole

 

Test your knowledge of medieval jobs and their names

If you want to have a little fun with this and actually test yourself then don’t scroll all the way down right away! Each answer is given after each question. Reveal them after you guess. 

Ok, I have a fun little test for you. Do you know medieval jobs? Maybe you are a medievalist or maybe you just know a lot of words. Either way this should be fun. And you might even learn a new medieval word or two. These are all professions that originate in the early to middle ages.

a-cordwainer

Test 1: What is a Blacksmith?

Ha! That is a pretty easy one! You probably know it.

But let’s take it a little further.. What is a Farrier? 

Answer: A Farrier is a subset of blacksmithing. It is a person who specializes in working with horses. Typically shoeing them, making and repairing the various metal horse gear. And  Farriers of old were even well-versed in diseases and afflictions of horses.

 

 

Test 2: What is a cooper?

Ahh…. did you know that one? If you know this one then you get a grade of at least a “B”. Good work.

A cooper is a person who makes and repairs wooden barrels and casks. Sometimes they also make various wooden utensils. Think of the big wine barrels you see in vinyards. Making and repairing those is the job of a cooper.

Test 3: What is a Cordwainer?
(The hardest one. If you get this one then you get a grade of “A”.

 

Ahh… hint: It is similar to a cobbler but definitely not the same.

Answer: A cordwainer is a person who works with brand new leather to make shoes. It is important that it is brand new leather and brand new shoes. This is because a cobbler only works with old leather and repairs shoes.

In the middle ages this distinction was very important. Cordwainers did not allow cobblers to make shoes. Cobblers only repaired shoes.  They had separate guilds and eventually cobblers were accepted as a sub guild of the cordwainer guild.

Good work if you got them all!

Want to know more medieval jobs?  I have a list of them on my website here: Medieval Jobs

Quite Possibly the most remarkable Sword Melee ever put to film

I have watched a lot of medieval movies. I have pretty much seen them all multiple times.  And my favorite part of these movies is the big melee battles. They generally are very good. And I would imagine they are generally very difficult to film.

I just recently saw one that is head and shoulders above the rest. It is from Game of Thrones and it is episode 9 of season 6 (The Battle of the Bastards). And to be blunt I have never seen anything like it. Absolutely remarkable.

The whole battle is simply a masterwork that conveys things in such a remarkable way. And, of special note is the first two minutes of the battle. *minor spoiler alert: This is where Jon Snow first gets thrown into the melee. The confusion, craziness, unpredictability and energy of a battle like this is conveyed in such a remarkable way.

I was astonished by how well done this was.  I have watched the battlescene several times now and it keeps getting richer.

I just have to express kudos to the people that created this. They have done a remarkable job.  The whole episode is just magnificent.

I want to do a deeper analysis of the whole battle, how it progresses, how it unfolds and the tactics that are used but I just don’t want to spoil things for you.

 You can get the whole season or the individual episodes  amazon right here.

 

King Arthur, Excalibur, and the thing that’s important

There is another King Arthur Movie coming out. It is entitled “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”. It is a big budget movie and directed by Guy Ritchie. So I would guess it will probably be a fun movie. It is scheduled to be released in March of 2017 and the trailers are out.

But I don’t want to discuss that movie in particular. It just brought up a thought I had about the legend of King Arthur and the various movies. And something that is oft overlooked.

We get caught up in the fanfare of heroism, battling evil, battling dragons and enemies and the like. The focus tends to be on the overcoming of insurmountable  external obstacles. But there is one small scene in one of the movies that is, in my opinion, the most important. The scene  lasts about a minute. But it really brings out what is important when we are talking about being a knight, a king, or just a human being.

It is in the 1981 John Boorman version called “Excalibur”. Which, in my opinion is the best Arthur movie of them all.  It achieves a dream-like quality that is not seen in any of the others.

And now to my thesis.
excaliburWe all know that excalibur can only be withdrawn from the stone by the person who is worthy of being king. Easy enough to understand. And a wonderful concept that has helped to make the story of Arthur what it is.

Yet, we never really get a good look at what the determining factors are when it comes to “being worthy”. Except for in the film Excalibur.

In this film we get to see what defines a person worthy of the sword. And it only takes about a minute of film to show us convincingly.

You see, in Excalibur, Arthur is a simple squire to his adopted brother;  an assistant to a knight. And in an emergency, the knight ends up with no sword. It has been stolen.

Our young Arthur scrambles to get his step brother another sword. So he  goes to the sword in the stone. . . and easily removes it.

It was a selfless act on his part. He wanted nothing for himself. The sword was to be given to another. And this selfless act was a short glimpse into the pure character that Arthur embodied. This is the kind of man who will wield Excalibur and become a king. For, you see a king doesn’t rule over people. He is their servant.

Excalibur is available on amazon both to buy and to stream here