Summer Summary

Now is the stage in the student’s progress where he or she records all that one hoped to do over a break, and in doing, reflect with growing bitterness, on failures that outnumber successes. That’s melodramatic by design because I have set myself up for this sort of disappointment from the start, and I suspect most students in my place do the same.

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[Re-blogged] Beating Plowshares Into Boars

This is the sort of thinking I like to see with this material. Thank you Mr Tobler for thinking about Lechüchner as a writer with an audiance, not just a swordsman.

The Freelancer

by Christian ToblerImage

Alphabet - At the Pennsic War event this year, I taught a suite of four classes treating the use of the German longsword, dagger, sword and buckler, and, finally – messer. During that final class, someone asked me why the cleric/fencing author Johannes Lecküchner, in his mammoth treatise on the messer, had at once repeated so much of his predecessor Liechtenauer’s verse for the longsword, but had changed the names of most of the signature strokes with the sword, and for all of the guards.

“Perhaps he [Lecküchner] wanted it clear that the techniques varied a bit when performed with the messer and so named them differently”, I answered with little conviction.

I’ve given that stock answer for several years now, with progressively less confidence each time. After all, there’s a major flaw with that reasoning: the messer version of the Zornhau (Wrath Stroke) is done a bit differently…

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coram rege

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

Back in October, at the formal start of my doctoral programme, my supervisor suggested I start looking for relevant examples of gentry behaving badly in the archival records of the Court of King’s Bench. A substantial quantity of those records (specifically, the plea and controlment rolls, which record the workings of that particular judicial body) are online as digital photos in the AALT database (the Anglo-American Legal Tradition project) hosted by the University of Houston. While this makes them much more accessible it does not make them any easier to understand.

Over the last six months, wedged between the conference papers, background reading, archival workshops, and seminars, I have slowly and tediously, learned how to ‘read’ these documents in a way that actually helps with my work. Although, I can’t claim fluency yet. In an effort to remind myself that there has been some actual progress during that time, and because I don’t trust my own memory to keep any of this strait, I will share what little I have learned about the King’s Bench over a few blog entries.

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Say John, what’s in the bag?

I’m sure John Crok of Tetworth, Cambridgeshire, enjoyed his game of ‘guess what’s in the bag’, and won drinks at some public house in Southwark until a disgruntled husbandman, blabbed to the bailiffs. What no-one could manage to guess, and what became known to the bailiffs, was that John Crok was walking around the south bank of the Thames, with a head in a bag—capud cuiusdam Sarisini—a certain Saracen head, from Toledo.

In October of 1371, Crok was called before the court of King’s Bench at Westminster to explain himself (and the head).

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Cloud Koo Kew Land?

I hope regular readers of PBS have enjoyed, or at least tolerated, the brief take over by the ether-monkeys of WordPress with their occasional postings from Oxford Noir. I have been trapped in a different sort of Dante-esque place of confinement at The National Archives for the last week and, prior to that, the victim of some wicked ennui that made all non-essential writing a painful ordeal. I will, given time, actually write about my adventures but for now I will simply check in and deposit this fragment from the second volume in the Oxford Noir series, unfortunately titled Close Roll and Open Corpse (somehow, this one didn’t impress the literary agents either).

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Curious Kew

I will be away from convenient internets for the next week while I enjoy a paid vacation at the charming Kew Gardens. Actually, I will be at the National Archives at Kew, which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a charming vacation destination. It is true that my time there is paid-for. Thank you AHRC and the Institute of Historical Research.

I have scheduled some short selections from Oxford Noir to entertain and horrify my loyal readers.

Adventures in Forensic Bibliography #7

The case of the Foucault-footnote or, why it’s ok to invent a source if your name is Borges.

This little bibliographic adventure began in an entirely unexpected way and resolved itself with a sort of vague inconclusiveness that I think would have pleased, or frustrated, both of the authors in the sub-title. If it could bring a smile to either of those now deceased entities I am fairly sure they would not agree on the source of the humour.
*A note to readers: This has been cleaned up for content since it was posted and I regret that most entries that get over 400 words are likely to endure a second edit after they appear. Nothing significant has changed, but odds are, it reads better. At least, I’m happier with it and that’s all that matters.

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The Revolution will not be released in paper-back

Today’s frustrating reading experience comes from David Eltis, The Military Revolution in Sixteenth-Century Europe (London: I. B. Taurus, 1995). On it’s face, this is an argument in favour of back-dating the start of the “Military Revolution” thesis, argued in the first instance by Michael Roberts in 1955, as occurring in the early 17th century. Eltis may be correct in identifying the most significant changes in the practice of warfare back a century or so, but you feel like that’s almost a happy accident. Eltis gets where he was going despite himself.

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Scholars, swordsmen, and sources – a research diversion

As an act of discipline I have forced myself to make time to finish a blog entry, any blog entry. Readers can enjoy the fruits of that penitent labour in the form of this short discourse on Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486 – 1535) and whether or not he was a member of one of the confraternities of swordsmen that appeared in German states in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s a short discussion because there is little evidence that he was such a member and that the suggestion holds very little water.

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