The Origins of the Templars: sessions at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, July 2019

I’ve organised four conference sessions on the Origins of the Military-Religious Orders (the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Order). These will take place at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, 1-4 July 2019. Click on the links for details:

The Origins of the Military-Religious Orders, I: Beginnings in the East [Session No: 514]
The Origins of the Military-Religious Orders, II: Origins in Europe [Session No: 614]
The Origins of the Military-Religious Orders, III: Patrons, Agency, and Growth [Session No: 714]
The Origins of the Military-Religious Orders, IV: Foundation, Re-Foundation, and Recreation [Session No: 814]

These sessions will all take place on Tuesday 2 July, between 9am and 6pm. It will be a full and fascinating day!

(Meanwhile, I’ll be giving my own paper on Thursday: ‘A Queen Alone: Queen Sybil of Jerusalem between Hattin and Acre, 1187-1189’, in a session on New Approaches to the Third Crusade, II [Session No: 1614].)

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Matilda 900 papers online!

I was involved in this as chair of the concluding roundtable at Leeds!

Matilda 900

All of the papers from the Matilda 900 sessions at Kalamazoo and Leeds are now online!  The collection also presents the concluding roundtable, recorded by Rob Pryke and transcribed by yours truly, a more informal set of comments that might resonate with other aspects of medieval studies and women’s/gender studies.  Check it out!

Leggi l’intero dossier “Matilda 900: Remembering Matilda of Canossa Wide World”

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Dragon-killer out of the past

Long, long ago — more precisely, in February 2006 — an author named Carole Wilkinson contacted me about one of the translations on my web page on Medieval Women and warfare:

The translation in question was an episode from the story of Floriant et Florete, in which a young noblewoman named Florete kills a dragon which attacks her and her husband. When the dragon knocks her husband down, Florete picks up his lance and kills the dragon.

The question was: did Florete actually kill the dragon? (Yes!) The translations were originally set up for my students, so I was pleased to learn that they were proving useful to a wider readership. I sent Carole a full translation of the relevant passage and some details about the story. A year later she contacted me to explain that she was writing ‘a dragon encyclopedia for children’ and asked some more questions, which I tried to answer. Carole wrote back with thanks.

And then … I heard no more. Was the book ever published? What became of the material on Florete? A few years later I searched on Amazon and discovered that a book had come out, but was already out of print — so I’d missed the chance of buying a copy.

From time to time I’ve remembered Florete and wondered whether she made it into the dragon encyclopedia. Finding an old email trail is difficult and takes time. However, today I found my old translation, traced the old emails and discovered Carole Wilkinson’s webpage. Florete made it! What’s more, Carole Wilkinson acknowledges my help: — for which I’m very grateful.

It took that younger me many hours to produce the translation and email answers, so I’m glad that Florete got published in the end.

Update: in autumn 2018 a kind Facebook friend found a copy of the book, bought it and mailed it to me, so at last I’ve seen how Florete’s story looks in print: on pp. 96-98.

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Travel Costs

If you need some exercise after Christmas:

Official Gawain Blog

An amusing little distraction for Christmas – whether you, dear reader, have spent this year travelling in the most cost-effective manner.

Let us imagine that two adults wish to travel from suburban northern Newport (Casnewydd) to spend a day walking Cwmcarn and Twmbarlwm.


The drive is fairly simple, being around the suburban roads to the A467 and then straight up the Ebbw valley at a theoretical maximum of 70mph. As the AA reckons it’s 10 miles and takes 21 minutes the average is slightly under 30mph.

A car which is bought for free, does not need insurance or MoT and does 60 miles per gallon on start/ stop running will manage about 14 miles per £1, or £1.50 for the round trip. This is a grotesque under-estimate of the actual costs, which on a moderate-mileage car including depreciation/ hire-purchase costs, maintenance and insurance will come to around 50p per mile…

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Tuesday’s lecture to the first year students included a passing reference to the mechanical clock built at St Alban’s Abbey between around 1327 and 1336 by Abbot Richard of Wallingford (c. 1292-1336) (see J. D. North, ‘Wallingford, Richard (c.1292–1336)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 25 Oct 2017]).

Richard was the son of a blacksmith, but after his father’s death when he was nine he was adopted by a brother of the abbey and sent to Oxford University to get a good education. As a monk he continued to study and write on astronomy and mathematics. In 1327 he was elected abbot. He retained his love of making things and created a wonderful clock for the abbey, which set out the positions of the moon and planets as well as the time at St Albans. The clock survived until the sixteenth century and the dissolution of the monasteries; was it dismantled for its metal or smashed by superstitious zealots who believed it to be the work of witchcraft? (The sixteenth century was far more superstitious than the fourteenth.) In any case, a modern replica, based on Richard’s own description and writings, now stands in the abbey museum.

But Brother Richard’s mechanical clock was not the first mechanical clock in England: as J. D. North notes, mechanical clocks had been around in England for at least fifty years. The Annals of Dunstable priory note in passing under 1283 that ‘eodem anno fecimus horologium, quod est supra pulpitum collocatum’ (‘Annales de Dunstablia’, in Annales Monastici, ed. Henry Richards Luard, vol. 3, Rolls Series 36.3 (London, 1866), p. 296): that is, ‘in the same year we made a clock, which was placed over the pulpit’. Possibly to time the abbot’s sermons?

Regrettably, the annals of Dunstable don’t tell us anything about what the clock looked like. In fact, the offhand way in which it’s mentioned suggests that clocks were commonplace. Obviously it wasn’t a sundial, because it was indoors over the pulpit. There’s no mention of water. Overall, the most likely explanation is that this was a mechanical clock. Clearly, however, it was a much smaller clock than Richard of Wallingford’s invention, which certainly wouldn’t fit over a pulpit.

(As an aside for Military Orders fans: later that year (pp. 297-8) one of the servants of John Durant junior of Dunstable committed suicide by throwing himself into John’s well. After the coroner had seen the body, it was thrown into a ditch outside the town — suicides could not receive Church burial. But the Hospitallers took the body out and buried it in the cemetery. Why did the canons of Dunstable think this worth noting? — the Hospitallers’ action was a violation of Church privileges, and on another occasion the Hospitallers’ privileges of burial clashed with the canons of Dunstable’s own rights. But by burying the body the Hospitallers were helping to prevent the spread of disease, and of course they were also assisting his soul to eternal rest. It was in tracking down this reference to the Hospitallers at Dunstable that I originally found the reference to the clock.)

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Women-only carriages

Official Gawain Blog

This came up in 2015, when I wrote a long blogpost trying to delicately dismantle it that, in the end, I didn’t hit “post” on and which you have, therefore, not read.

Anyway, it has come up again:

Mr Williamson is obviously not a rail-using MP, otherwise while out and about on the trains around his Derby North constituency he would have encountered a certain operational flaw in his idea called the Class 153:
Knighton 1 JPG.jpg

So once this carriage is women-only, where do I sit? On the roof?

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Call for Papers: Kalamazoo 2018


This is a call for papers for a session at the IMC Kalamazoo 2018 on:

Generalship: in the field and from the armchair

Although warfare plays a central role in human societies, study of the organisation of war and command structures of armies is often overlooked in favour of the more colourful details of individual battles and individual acts of heroism. Scholarship has considered individual military leaders such as Belisarius, Richard the Lionheart of England and John the Fearless of Burgundy, and how their military leadership was manifested to make them “generals” rather than simply leaders or commanders, but there has been only limited consideration of generalship as a broader construct during the middle ages.

This session will bring together scholars working in this area to examine various aspects of “generalship” in the medieval field. What were the functions of a general on the battlefield? Should generals be involved in the physical conflict of battle, or should they remain outside the battle so as to have an overview of events? Was the primary function of a general decision-making or leading the first charge on the battlefield? To what extent was “generalship” a function of a ruler’s duties? Was the general’s role inextricably linked to masculinity, or might a eunuch or a woman act as general – or was this possible only in certain circumstances (and, if so, what were those circumstances)? Did the role of a general change over the medieval period?

How did a general learn his or her military skills? – were generals born, or were they made? Did generals study military treatises or the operations of other generals?

And what of those who advised the general, perhaps from the safe distance or their cloister or study, making military plans which they urged on commanders in the field? Were their plans practical? Did the “armchair general” contribute anything constructive to the development of the science of war in the middle ages?

This session will consider these and other questions related to medieval generalship.

The session will be sponsored by the Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion, which includes faculty and graduate students with particular research expertise in the study of warfare, and by De Re Militari, the Society for the Study of Medieval Warfare.

Please send proposals for papers to: Professor Helen J. Nicholson
School of History, Archaeology and Religion
Cardiff University

And in the attached document (above) you will also find a call from De re militari for papers on:

  • -War and Chivalry;
  • -Medieval Military History;
  • -Medieval Military Technology

Please send proposals for papers to: Valerie Eads
School of Visual Arts
Dept. of Humanities and Sciences

Proposals by early September, please!

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