Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Blogger: Jeri Westerson on Medieval Knights

Please join me in welcoming History Undressed special guest, author Jeri Westerson. Welcome Jeri and thank you for blogging about such an amazing topic! I too am a sucker for armor.



I’m grateful to Eliza Knight for allowing me to guest blog here on History Undressed. Today, I’m here to talk about something near and dear to my heart: knights.

Some women are suckers for men in uniform. But I’m a sucker for a man in armor. A little harder to come by these days, but not impossible. I am so enamored of knights that when I decided to create my new medieval mystery series, I wanted my hero to be a knight. Or rather, in this case, an ex-knight. Let me explain.

Crispin Guest, the hero of my medieval noir series, beginning with VEIL OF LIES, lost his knighthood, his title, his wealth—in short, all that defined him—when he committed treason against King Richard II. At least he was spared a rather nasty execution after his mentor John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster, intervened. Dark, brooding, and more than a bit sexy, Crispin reinvented himself as the Tracker, a “private sheriff”, hiring himself out for sixpence a day…plus expenses.

As a knight no more, Crispin is nevertheless compelled by his knightly vows and lives by his chivalric code, even on the rough streets in the heart of the butcher’s district known as the Shambles. This was a code gleaned longer ago than the 14th century. “Chivalry” is an 11th century term (it’s French for horseman—a chevalier is French for “knight,” a cheval is a horse) and came to mean more than a collection of horsemen. The idea of knightly virtues by which one’s personal honor is foremost, can be summed up by this Decalogue coined by 19th century French historian Leon Gautier:

I. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.

II. Thou shalt defend the Church.

III. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.

IV. Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born.

V. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.

VI. Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.

VII. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.

VIII. Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word.

IX. Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone.

X. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

It is, of course, the ideal. Unless you were an infidel. Then, not so much. But it didn’t seem an accident that a sword is shaped like a cross. Holding one’s honor dear was intimately tied with one’s faith and way of life.

In Chatres Cathedral is carved this knightly prayer:

“Most Holy Lord, Almighty Father...thou who hast permitted on earth the use of the sword to repress the malice of the wicked and defend justice...cause thy servant here before thee, by disposing his heart to goodness, never to use this sword or another to injure anyone unjustly; but let him use it always to defend the just and the right.”

A man with a sword was a powerful entity. He changed the face of Europe and of the Middle East. Borders fell and rose by this parade of horsemen. An armored knight, that is, a knight in full harness, astride a powerful horse trained for battle, is a breathtaking sight. And it is little wonder that such a symbol became the fantasy ideal, not only back then in songs and poems (the Song of Roland, an epic poem about one of Charlemagne’s knights, was one of those medieval bestsellers that never went out of style), but of romance novels today. It is also little wonder a knight came to symbolize the very essence of power and masculinity. If you have never seen a joust, you are the poorer for it.

In the 13th century, William Marshall was the larger than life knight who seemed to write the book on valor and integrity. From humble beginnings, he made his way in life as one of the all-time successful knights and ended up serving four kings, including the disastrous King John of Magna Carta fame. He was a celebrated knight while he lived and when his story was written after his death by the monk Matthew Paris, it ensured him a place in chivalric history. A young boy wishing to become the ideal knight might very well read the history of William Marshall. Perhaps his life inspired Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughter, Marie de Champagne, to commission the story “Lancelot”, creating that purest of knights and forever after tying him into the legend of King Arthur.

And like any young boy on the road to knighthood, my character Crispin surely studied William Marshall as well. Something so ingrained as personal honor is a difficult if not impossible thing to give up. When denied his birthright, he is nevertheless compelled to continue to live as best he can by this code, even on the harsh streets of London. And when he discovers himself falling for a woman far below his former rank, he finds it impossible to justify it in his mind or his heart. Will he surrender himself completely for the woman he loves, or will his noble blood burn his stubborn heart?

You can certainly find out more about Crispin on his blog in his own words. Read it at www.CrispinGuest.com. And you can read the first chapter of Veil of Lies on my website www.JeriWesterson.com.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

History Carnival

Welcome to the 74th edition of History Carnival! Grab a delicious bag of popcorn, a candy apple or any other tantalizing treat you desire and let’s get started with the entertainments…

Come and be enchanted by the Museums of Beaune, on My Burgundy Your Burgundy. The Hotel Dieu and the Wine Museum, are a beautiful display of medieval history. From there we travel to France, but not Paris. On Philobiblon, we’re Getting to Grips with France Beyond Paris. You’ll be amazed to learn about peasants, their diets, and some interesting tails of violence. From there we’ll visit The Gatehouse, and take at look at the architecture of Zeppelinfeld.


Along the way, we’ll meet some very interesting people. Ivan Susanin, from Russia who dared to depose a tsar, Executed Today. Want to read about the genius of Darwin and Newton? Visit Inverse Square. Find out how Mrs. Monroe saved Madame Lafayette at the American Presidents blog. If you’re looking for a gory tale, visit Early Modern Whale to learn about the real Peter Wolf—the story of Stubbe Peeter, who dressed as a wolf and committed gruesome murders in the 16th century.

Interested in a little historical fiction and learn a little something about Japanese culture? Visit Frog in a Well, and Jonathan Dresner’s review of The Teahouse Fire. Looking for a good Civil War book? Visit Civil War Books and Authors and read the interview with historical reference author, Bruce Allardice. Or maybe One Continuous Flight will be your cup of tea. Read the review of this Civil War book on TOCWOC- A Civil War blog. In the article Democratizing Early English Books, on Wynken de Worde, we look into some books from history.


Fire seemed to be the order of interest in February. Disability Studies, Temple U., had a fascinating article on the Stratford Co. Insane Asylum and the fire in 1893 that ended the lives of forty people. From one tragedy to the next, we learn of a fire that claimed the lives of four children in Melbourne in 1939, at Barista.


Miscellany…Here is a fabulous series on research in archives, on Legal History, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Also on Legal History is The More Things Change, which brings us some very interesting statements from history that could have been made today. Visit Making Maps, to view some incredible isotype maps from the early 1900’s. Want some more maps? Visit Diapsalmata for some 16th century maps of the New World and more. Collaborative Manuscript Transcription has an amazing look into figuring out unclear handwriting. I’m a sucker for historical advertisements and This Book is For You has some really fantastic telephone and wartime ads. Speaking of wartime and pictures, there is a great illustration on Airminded, of the Japanese Suicide Bomb, and follows it a fascinating article. Boonkn3rd, has some great illustrations of on anatomy and medicine from medieval times until the 1800’s. The way the human body was viewed and drawn was really fascinating. I truly enjoyed Mercurius Politicus, where I viewed some art by Van Dyck, from the 17th century. Not your average portraits.

Like bones and burials? Should they be exploited? The author, Alun, of The Ethis of Studying Human Remains on Archaeoastronomy, mentions Tutankhamen who happened to be a minor pharaoh, but is now known as a household name.

Thank you for embarking on this fabulous journey with me today! Stay tuned for next month's History Carnival with Jonathan Dresner at Frog in a Well: Korea.