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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The book is out

Everyday Life of the Templars coverThe Everyday Life of the Templars is now out, priced at £20 or $32.95 for the hardback or £8.99 / $11.72 for the Kindle edition (Amazon only). It can be ordered directly from the publisher or from Amazon UK or Amazon USA etc., etc.

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Hospitallers, for a change

Cardiff PhD candidate Nick McDermott was with the Cardiff contingent at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo last May. Medieval Warfare Magazine liked his paper on Hospitaller slaves:

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The Everyday Life of the Templars

Everyday Life of the Templars cover
F040266 The Everyday Life of the Templars Press Release
… is due out on 27 July (less than two weeks from now).

Update 20 July: in fact Amazon states that it’s due out on 20 July, but it’s not out yet:

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Death of ‘Documents relating to the Military Orders’

It was warned of long ago, and now it has come: the ‘Documents relating to the Military Orders’ are no longer available online. Cardiff University has closed down the links.

However, here comes Google cache to the rescue! All the files are still on google cache! So here they are:

Documents relating to the Military Orders online

Document One: contemporary reactions to the foundation of the military orders:

Dccument Two: How William Became a Monk

The Siege of Ascalon:

Extracts from the Chronicles of Matthew Paris:

Document Three: The Fall of Acre (1291):

Document Four: The Iberian Peninsula and the ‘Reconquest’:

Documents relating to the Baltic Crusade:

Charters of donation to the Military Orders

The Monastic Day and the Templars’ Day

Jacques de Vitry: Sermons to a Military Order

Literature of the Military Orders

Relations with Rulers

The Military Orders and Economic Growth

Crusade Planning in the late thirteenth century

The Trial of the Templars

Some of them also appear on other websites, e.g. Paul Halsall’s Online Sourcebook and the De Re Militari site.


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