Wednesday, August 16, 2017

England in the Age of Alfred (Notes:66)

In Anglo-Saxon England, Viking attacks dealt far more damage than on the continent. At this time, England consisted of various kingdoms of variously changing sizes, though some of the more long-lasting territories, such as Kent in the far south-east or Sussex, Mercia, North Umbria, managed to maintain a relatively consistent geo-political formation. In this England, there is two trends: cultural and political.

The cultural trend is the rise of North Umbria into a position of power. It was North Umbria who produced both leading intellectuals of the seventh and eighth centuries (Bede of Jiro and Alcuin of York) as well as producing the most recognizable artistic masterpieces of the middles ages, such as the Lindstfarm Gospels.

Regarding the political trend, it is the ascension of Mercia to a position of dominance which presents itself as a notable moment. This kingdom was most successful in establishing control over the kingdoms to its south and east. Not all kingdoms accept Mercia’s rule, however, some, such as North Umbria, manage to remain independent.

The most famous Merica king is someone by the name of Offa (who ruled from 757-796). Being a contemporary of Charlemagne, he wielded great power. This power can be seen even today in the earthen formation known as ‘Offa’s Dike’, a great manmade barrier which separates Anglo-Saxon England from Celtic Wales; though its actual effectiveness is in doubt, as it would have demanded a large number of men to properly utlize, the creation of this construction impressed Offa’s contemporaries, including Charlemagne, who called Offa ‘his dearest brother’, a phrase which connoted equality in stature.

It is in the 780s that Viking attacks against the British Isles begin. This came as a shock to many people since they hadn’t faced any kind of attack in several centuries. Furthermore, the Vikings were well known to the inhabitants of the British Isles due to their trade involvement.

In comparison to the continent, Viking attacks against the British Isles escalated quickly.
Following the sacking of the Lindstfarm monastery in 793, the monastery at Jiro was sacked in 794, Iona in 795. Additionally, the Vikings are able to attack the entirety of the British Isles from the onset of their campaign due to the small size of the territories but also due to the fact that they are islands, and so vulnerable to Viking transportation penetration. Between 835 and 865 Viking raids became an annual occurrence. Whereas the Carolingian Empire only experienced Viking settlement in the region of Normandy, in Anglo-Saxon England, however, settlement happened on a much larger scale—after 865, and the destruction of the North Umbria kingdom as it had been known, and the capture of York, large scale settlement transpires with the invading Danes crowning themselves kings. Then, in 869, East Anglia has its king killed, and the Danes take over, while early in the 870s, the Danes capture even the kingdom of Mercia itself.

For a time, it seems that the Vikings will conquer all of Anglo-Saxon England. However, this conquest is averted by King Alfred of Wessex. Ruling from 871-899, he repels a Viking attack in the 870s and becomes king when his brother dies, taking over responsibility for the defense of the kingdom. Then, in the 878, Alfred manages to defeat the Danes so severely that the Danish king agrees to accept baptism. As a result, Anglo-Saxon England had saved itself from further Viking assault, though it is now divided into two zones: one zone, in the north and east of England, was known as the Dane Law, or, the territory under the rulership of Danish kings and which experiences substantial Danish settlements. The other zone consists of Wessex and other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms willing to accept the overlordship of King Alfred.

Part of Alfred’s leadership was in preparing for what many believed to be the inevitable Dane attempt to conquer all of England. So, on the site of many formerly Roman town and cities, he built ‘burghs’, or, fortified towns. But Alfred is also known for his intellectual pursuits, endeavors such as being fluent in Latin to the point of translating several Latin texts into Old English.

After Alfred’s death, the major goal for Anglo-Saxon kings is to reconquer the Dane Law, not an easy task since many Danes had since come to settle. Also, the Norwegians would become involved, to an extent, thanks to their own involvement in Ireland, specifically, in settling in and around Dublin. During these wars of re-conquest, the Norwegians had a tendency to attack either the Danes of the Anglo-Saxons. Then, of course, there was also the Celts to worry about, as they would also attack wither the Danes of Anglo-Saxons when hostilities came too near the border. As a result of all this, the re-conquest of the Dane Law took some time. But in the end, Anglo-Saxon rulers succeed in reconquering the Dane Law and in 959, they drive out the Danish rulers, making themselves masters over the whole of England.

So, the end result of the Viking raids against England has an inverse effect when compared to what happened on the continent; on the continent, we see whole and united territories break down in response to the raids, but in England, we see fragmented territories unite against the raids, with one kingdom being in charge of all of England.

Unfortunately, the Danes had not given up in their attempt to conquer Anglo-Saxon England.
Viking raids against Anglo-Saxon England resume at the end of the tenth century. These raids are worse than ever before as the Vikings are no longer attacking Anglo-Saxon England as part of a series of attacks, this time, they are only attacking Anglo-Saxon England, so the Danes have far greater amounts of man-power to direct against them. Another factor in making these attacks more dangerous was that by the time this second wave assaulted England, a Danish king by the name of ‘Herald Bluetooth’ had gained control of both Denmark and Norway, thus fermenting a formidable quasi-professional military force which was a stark contrast to the un-professional force of looters of the first wave.

The new Viking attacks begin in the early 980s. Beginning initially as small probing raids, they quickly gain traction into larger assaults. In 991, an Anglo-Saxon king by the name of Ethelred (the Unready, or, Unadvised) is force dot pay tribute—the Donageld—in order to secure peace. This practice repeats after major raids in 994 and in 997, and in 1002.

To try and confront this new Viking attack, Ethelred perused an alliance with the dukes of Normandy. The idea being that since the dukes of Normandy sometimes allowed other Danes to use Normandy as a base to attack Anglo-Saxon England, if Normandy accepted an alliance, then the Viking raiders would have their base of operations robbed of them. To cement this alliance, Ethelred marries a daughter of one of the princes of Normandy. It is this marriage which would, eventually, hold great meaning for the future of Anglo-Saxon England.

Another policy perused by Ethelred to protect Anglo-Saxon England, was to massacre all the English Danes. Though impossible to carry out, in some places, such as Oxford, massacres are carried out. A desperate act from the get-go, Ethelred’s orders to massacre the native Danes, backfired badly; it, of course, angered those who survived, tainting their loyalty, but also it angered the inhabitants of Norway and Denmark who didn’t take too well to seeing their ethnic cousins slaughtered. In 1003, a Denmark king—Swaine—led a punitive expedition against Anglo-Saxon England. In 1013, when Swaine came with a new invasion force, the ethnic Danes of the Dane Law switched sides to Swaine. With their support, Ethelred flees England after the Danes capture London. All of Ethelred’s subsequent attempt to recapture England fail.

The consequence of this second wave of Viking attacks is dramatically different from the first wave. The first wave resulted in England’s unification under a single dynasty, the House of Wessex. The second wave drove that dynasty out of England and incorporated England into part of a Scandinavian empire with the kings of Denmark and Norway also ruling over England. When Swaine dies, his son, Cnut, gains control of England; in 1019, though, Cnut gains possession of Cnut’s other possession as well. But this Scandinavian Empire is short lived; it fell apart in the early 1030 and 1040s, with the end-result being that in 1042, the exiled Wessex dynasty was able to peacefully return to England and resume rule over Anglo-Saxon England.

Compared to other Barbarian tribes, the Anglo-Saxons had a great run. Neither the Vandals nor the Ostrogoths survived past the sixth century as they were conquered by the Byzantines. The Visigoths got into the early eighth century but then they are conquered by the Arabs. No one conquers the Franks. But the Anglo-Saxons make it into the eleventh-century.

In 1066, the last Anglo-Saxon king dies. So a free-for-all breaks out among those who feel that they should be king. The Anglo-Saxons elect one of their own as king, someone by the name of Herald, over and above two other candidates, each with decent claims to the throne thanks to their blood-ties. One of those candidates was the king of Norway. The other candidate was the duke of Normandy. Since the only legitimate way to settle the issue was to fight it out, England was invaded by several forces; but the contest is short lived, as the Anglo-Saxons defeat the king of Norway but are promptly defeated by the duke of Normandy, William the Bastard, in the Battle of Hastings (a battle which the Anglo-Saxons came close to winning) after Herald, the English candidate, is shot in the eye with an arrow and killed.

As a result of the conquest of England by the Normans, who were ethnically descended from the Danes, England is wrenched out of the North-sea orbit; Norway, Saxony, Denmark will no longer matter to England as it now is oriented toward the English Channel and France. Accordingly, England will find itself embroiled more and more in continental, especially French, affairs. Centuries after, much of England is almost a colonial society with a French speaking aristocracy ruling over a body of English speakers; the main linguistic take-away from this is a flood of new words, including many synonyms, as well as the evolution of Old English into Middle English.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.11)

Protag-man endures what all men fear—questing!

There never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where she was held captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant. Now you would think that the first thing a king would do after listening to such a novelette from an entire stranger, would be to ask for credentials—yes, and a pointer or two as to locality of castle, best route and so on. But nobody ever thought of so simple and commonsense a thing” (71).

                I actually really like this section because this is where Twain takes aim at what one Arthurian scholar called “Quest Maidens”, or, those damsels in distress which entreat knights to go on quests for fame and honor. While King Arthur and company are eager to swallow every detail and find themselves lost on some ill-begotten errand, Protag-man just sits in disregard at their guibility. Enter a maiden who speaks of her twenty-something odd girls who are all held captive by monsters.

“By an effort, I contained my joy when Clarence brought me the news [that I was to go on this quest].”

                What works well here is the collusion between modern and medieval sensibilities. Everyone except the protagonist is eager for the quest, and so when the protagonist gets saddled with that quest, that object of desire, he simply sarcastically laments his misfortune; this is something really only possible for a time-traveler and is one of the gems of Twain’s writing.

                Here follows a section with the Quest Maiden. Protag-man tries to his best to wrangle out information but that effort doesn’t amount to much. No matter what he asks the maiden has an allusive answer. This makes me think that these maidens are dedicated liars, or this whole knighting affair is an elaborate pyramid scheme. In any case, where it not too long, I would copy a passage from the book where the maiden gives Protag-man a masterfully round-about explanation when asked in what direction the castle of her master lies.

                Oh, what the hell, I will post it in full.

Ah, please you sir, it hath no direction from here; by reason that the road lies not straight, but turneth evermore; whereas the direction of its place abideth not, but is some time under the one sky and anon under another, whereso if ye be minded that it is in the east, and wend thitherward, ye shall observe that the way of the road doth yet again turn upon itself by the space of half a circle, and this marvel happening again and yet again and still again, it will grieve you that you had thought by vanities of the mind to thwart and bring to naught the will of Him that giveth not a castle a direction from a place except which pleaseth Him, and if it please Him not, will the rather that even all castles in all directions thereunto vanish out of the earth, leaving the places wherein they tarried desolate and vacant, so warning His creatures that where He will He will, and Where He will not He—“ (74).

                Jesus. Sounds terrible, no? Like, if someone came up with this sort of explanation for the locale of a castle, I would be pissed. No, I wouldn’t be pissed, I would simply dismiss them out of hand. But the protagonist can’t do that, he must find this castle. So you can see why he is none too happy with this predicament. But, honestly, I think this maiden’s words speak for themselves.

Oh, well, it was reasonably plain, now, why these donkeys didn’t prospect these liars for details. It may have been that this girl had a fact in her somewhere, but I didn’t believe you could have sluiced it out with a hydraulic; nor got it out with the earlier forms of blasting, even; it was a case for dynamite. Why, she was a perfect ass; and yet the king and his knights had listened to her as if she had been a leaf out of the gospel” (75).


                Clarence and Protag-man have a playful row, a back and forth about the girl. Clarence says that the girl will be accompanying him as he goes about to the castle. So, yeah, just what you wanted, right? Liar of the century to accompany you as you attempt to sort out the lie. Damn.

The boy was eager to know all about this tender matter [about my fiancĂ©]. I swore him to secrecy and then whispered her name—‘Puss Flanagan.’ He looked disappointed, and said that he didn’t remember the countess. How natural it was for the little courtier to give her a rank.”

                You gotta love the condescension and arrogance on the part of Protag-man. That he thinks little of his young friend because-- *gasp*-- he was raised in a time where everyone in a court had a significant other of noble stature. It is as though Protag-man thought Clarence would, somehow, be different. Maybe he was expecting his modern day brainwashing to take a stronger effect by now?

                In any case, there is then a long section where Protag-man speaks about what a pain in the butt it is to put on armor. It involves putting on a cushion around your body to fit over your chain shirt and armor and whatnot. I wonder if Twain actually tried to put on armor for research purposes when writing this book. It seems like an unusually vivid description so a part of me feels that he either had donned armor or went all out with BSing.

And so we started, and everybody gave us a goodbye and waved their handkerchiefs or helmets. And everybody we met, going down the hill and through the village was respectful to us, except some shabby little boys on the outskirts” (78).

                I wonder at this. I think this is the second time, at least, that Twain has taken a mildly lengthy tangent at how something in the medieval time is like the bellicosity of adolescent boys. It is a weird thing to keep going back to. Not creepy just weird. In any case, I wonder if there is historical records of young medieval boys disrespecting knights; could it be that hooligan teens in the medieval period were depicted in the same way that youthful anti-police people are today? I really want to say yes.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Big News: Brand Spanking New Site!

I will make this curt and to the point: I am building a new research site and this website, the one you are currently reading this post on, will-- likely-- be left behind.

Why am I doing this, you may be asking; that is a good question-- after all, I have the domain bought and paid for, for about another year, I have a decent amount of content, and I have a small audience. On the surface, it doesn't make much sense to transfer over to a new site. But I am so what gives?

Honestly, I just want a site which is more dynamic. A site that has more customization options and allows me more creative freedom. I'm not getting that from Blogger. Additionally, I feel that I will have a larger audience on my new site, which is hosted by Wordpress. Penultimatally, and perhaps more lackadaisically, I want a new site for reasons related to organization; I have had this site for a year and there is a lot of content which is simply dead ends and blasé spam. So, a new site would allow me the freedom to focus a bit more on what I feel my academic focus will be. A final reason why is because every week I discover more and more medieval websites-- by academics and enthusiasts both-- and all of them are hosted on Wordpress; in short, by being on Blogger, it is harder for me to socialize with other medievalists. By being on the platform where all the cool kids are at, I will have a footing with the technology that everyone is using.

Since this is the case, then, what will become of this site?

At the present time, I have content scheduled until the end of the year. This content will be continued to be published at its scheduled time. Because of the new site, I will be doing double-posting; everything of note here, will be published over there. So, if you enjoy this site, you will not have to transfer over to the new site until next January at the very earliest.

After January, I will most likely continue this double-posting until July, when the domain will re-new. Currently, I don't have plans to renew the domain but my final plans for this site have yet to be ratified. So, for the present moment, content will continue to get up and my project plans for the future have not changed.

I will post several more reminders about this change as the time gets closer. Currently, though, I just want to let everyone know where things are at and what is expected for the future.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Birth of France and Germany (Notes:65)

During the second half of the ninth century, the office of Count—someone who rules over a county on behalf of the emperor—becomes heredity while counts themselves are given numerous counties in order to secure their loyalty in the Carolingian civil war following the death of Charlemagne. These counts start to hoard tax revenue for themselves as well as claiming supposedly royal property for themselves. Plus, they take over church appointments—instead of asking the ruling family in which position someone should be appointed, they simply fill it themselves. In addition to this, these counts begin to set up their own legal courts. This process of royal authority gradually being invested with non-royal authority is called the ‘devolution of power’, because the power which matters to the everyday, has become closer to the ground, so to speak.

Eventually, there exists over thirty principalities who no longer answer to the Carolingians. A sign at just how independent these territories became can be seen in their forbiddance of Carolingian rulers of even visiting the territories. To say that Carolingian power was in decline would be an underestimation.

In East Frankia, this devolution of power is not as much of a severe process. In West Frankia, power devolves to the level of the count. In East Frankia it devolved to the level of the duke (someone who rules over numerous counties and counts). As a result, East Frankia does not fragment into as many units (5-6 units compared to West Frankia’s thirty-odd).

During the course of the tenth century, the trajectories undertaken by West and East Frankia diverge even more. In East Frankia, the devolution of power stopped; a new ruling dynasty—the Otomian—emerged and managed to regain much of the lost power. In West Frankia, meanwhile, the devolution of power continued as fragmentation continued; the thirty-odd units exploded into hundreds of units. Here, royal authority becomes irrelevant.

Why this fragmentation occurs lies in part to the Viking raids being more severe in West Frankia than in East Frankia; this had to do with more favorable terrain. There is also external threat: whereas East Frankia was able to redirect social animosity toward the pagan Slavs—they were easy picking due to their divided nature—in West Frankia this was not so true, not when the closest neighbor was Islamic Spain. So in West Frankia, then, the social animosity was directed inward, amongst one another, instead of outward.

Between 980 and 1030, castles begin to exponentially increase in number. Since previously, castles were a public building controlled by the king—whose rulers, Castilians, were appointed by the king—this is a noteworthy event. Moreover, these castles are increasingly built out of stone instead of wood, thus bettering their defensive practicality. These castles are built by private individuals in defiance of local count; these people view these castles as their own private property which is capable of being transferred to their children.

Why this proliferation happens has little to do with defense; the Viking raids had petered out some generations earlier. Castle possession happens because it is lucrative. Every Castilian who own a castle, controls a small territory—about fifteen miles in radius—called a Castiliany, whose ruler is called a lord. Such lords collect taxes for themselves and spend time dreaming up new taxes which to impose upon the people while also establishing their own juridical power; in short, the Castilians do to the counts what the counts did to the Carolingians some generations earlier.

This is not an easy process, of course, since these Castilians are private individuals. To persuade the people of the validity of your power, often times they would resort to using knights as enforces—thugs—who would beat up people and their farm animals until they accepted a particular ruler’s lordship. So the explosion in the number of castles also results in an explosion of knights—one cannot have a criminal organization without criminals, after all. So you also see an explosion in the number of fiefs, or, parcels of land given to knights in exchange for their services. This period is what is sometimes called “the feudal revolution”.

It would be for a long time before the Capuchins could restore royal authority in West Frankia, or France, as it became increasingly known. Because the Capuchins were elected by a small group of aristocrats, they have no hereditary claim to the throne, something which takes a long time to establish. In East Frankia, meanwhile, the Carolingian dynasty died out completely. This is a positive since it becomes possible to reverse the trend of fragmentation with the swift imposition of a new ruling dynasty. This is the Otomian dynasty. It is this dynasty that manages what the Carolingians could not manage, a decisive victory against those who had been invading Europe; this is not a military victory, per se, but rather the implementation of a truce which though favorable to the invaders, with a stipulation being that tribute will be paid, it allows the native Otomians to bide their time and concentrate their forces. In 933, the invaders are defeated militarily by Henry the 1st and again in 955, forcing the invaders to settle down in what today is Hungary. So the truce was the correct move, it did give the Otomian dynasty the time needed to gather their forces and overcome the invaders, thus legitimating their position as a ruling body.

Indeed, so powerful the Otomian dynasty becomes that eventually, King Otto, desiring the royal title of emperor, invades Italy and defeats some of the Pope’s foes in the North. He imitates Charlemagne and crowns himself king of the Lombards (despite the fact that no Lombards exist there at the time of his conquest). After, he is crowned emperor. Thus, we see the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, a territory which will include the Kingdom of East Frankia (or Germany), northern Italy (as conquered by Otto the 1st), and as of 1032, the region of Burgundy (in modern day France).

Following his crowning, Otto began to gain control over the papacy. Eventually, the papacy must notify the King of Germany when a new pope is elected and await approval before consecration. This is, of course, the exact same power possessed by the Byzantine emperors many years earlier. But in 1063, Otto goes even further and decrees that no one should elect anyone as Pope without first securing the emperor’s consent; thus, we see the start of where Popes being in the back pockets of emperors. This would result in political abuse, where sometimes, emperors would simply refuse to hold papal elections and instead appoint someone from his entourage as pope. (Which was not always good, since the local aristocrats had a tendency to murder imperial appointed popes.)