This is the first in an occasional series of posts looking at commonly believed ‘myths’ about Medieval times. For instance many people, including some writers of popular history, often picture the medieval peasant as living in fairly primitive housing – perhaps basic wattle and daub or wooden structures.
However, evidence from archaeology shows that is not always the case. In fact where excavations have been made stone buildings are not uncommon. It might have been the case perhaps that these were owned by the wealthier peasants in the village – the free farmers who had managed to achieve a surplus after paying their rents. But sometimes it’s not just one or two houses in a village that are made of stone, but a whole cluster of them.
book Medieval England
is a great book for demonstrating
can inform our historical understanding
of the Middle Ages – and for debunking those medieval myths that we still have!
This audio slideshow sort of backs up what I was saying in a previous post about Medieval medicine – but the quacks weren’t seen as quacks at the time and of course this medical ignorance lasted into the 2oth century.
… before the rise of infantry armies in the 14c. I was reading an article by Clifford Rogers on revolutions in Medieval warfare, and I found a few statistics here quite illuminating. This was part of my research for the Agincourt gamebook, but this musing might come in useful perhaps at a later date.
The gist of it is that the chivalric code in a way did hold good for limiting and ‘civilising’ the dangers of violence in the High Middle Ages – say between 11c and 13c. The statistics quoted show that casulties tended to get higher as armies became more infantry based and more professional. While the main part of armies were the chivalric knight, casulties were lower. Instead once defeated a knight would surrender and their surrender would be accepted. However, as armies later became more based on common infantry soldiers the value of prisoners declined – no fat ransoms could be gained, thus fewer prisoners were taken and battles became bloodier.
Did this have anything to do with a chivalric code, or was it more to do with greed (the taking of high-ranking prisoners being a way to make money)? Its tempting to think that the chivalry of the courtly romances wasn’t all illusion. Were the High Middle Ages a time that was less bloody and ruthless than our ‘civilised’ modern world, where slaughter is an industry?