Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Jan 22, 2013

Did the Battle of Hastings really happen where we're told it did?

The Battle of Hastings is perhaps the most famous fight in medieval history. When King Harold died with an arrow through the eye (the most popular theory, there are others) and William got his new nickname "the Conqueror" on that day in 1066, the history of England and Western Europe changed.

For centuries we've been told that the battle happened on Senlac Hill near the town of Hastings. Indeed, Battle Abbey, commissioned by WIlliam himself, stands atop it.

But now some historians doubt that story, and they have two different candidates for the battle site. One suggests that the battle happened a mile north on Caldbec Hill, while the other says it happened two miles south of town at Crowhurst.

The Caldbec Hill site is the most intriguing. It's a steeper hill than the gently sloping Senlac Hill, and contemporary accounts said the hill atop which Harold and his Saxons stood was as steep one. On the other hand, a thousand years of weathering could have mellowed out Senlac hill. More telling is the fact that no weapons or bones have ever been found on Senlac Hill and that it was cultivated at the time, while accounts of the battle said it happened on unploughed land.

Also, the Normans erected a cairn of stones called a "Mount-joie" on the battlefield to celebrate their victory. The summit of Caldbec Hill is still known as Mountjoy. There's also the account of John of Worcester who that the battle was fought nine miles from Hastings, the same distance as Caldbec Hill.

The Crowhurst site is supported by a historian who has made a close study of medieval documents and looked at the landscape shown on the Bayeaux Tapestry and said that Crowhurst is the best candidate.

The Battlefields Trust, which manages the site, says in a press release says that they still think the traditional place is the correct one. They stated there's insufficient evidence for the Crowhurst site to be considered, and that they're still analyzing the argument for Caldbec Hill.

I'll have more on this as this story develops. Stay tuned!
Top photo by Antonio Borillo. Bottom photo from Wikipedia.

Jan 14, 2013

Medieval Mondays: The Globus Cruciger, proof that people knew the world was round before Columbus

There's a popular belief that people didn't know the world was round back in the Renaissance and that it took a brave explorer named Christopher Columbus to prove them wrong. Supposedly everyone warned Columbus not to sail out into the Atlantic because he'd fall off the world's edge.

Of course my readers are smart enough to know this isn't true, but the story has widespread appeal. Anyone who has studied history knows that the Classical Greeks had already proven that the world is round and that knowledge wasn't lost among the educated.

Proof of this can be found on many medieval coins and statues. A traditional mark of Imperial or royal power was the Globus Cruciger, a globe with a cross on top of it to show that the Christian God ruled over the world and that the ruler was his representative on Earth. The globe, of course, symbolized the Earth.

Yep, a globe!

The earliest use of the Globus Cruciger for a ruler is found on the coins of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled from 408 to 450 AD. You can see one above. The cross-and-globe was a popular symbol throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance and continues to be used in royal courts to this day. To the right you can see an illustration of Charles II of Hungary made in 1488, four years before Columbus made his first voyage.

So the idea that the world was round was plainly visible in the royal court and on many works of art and currency. Of course a lot of common, uneducated people back then probably did think the world was flat!

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

Jan 9, 2013

A nice review of Down in the Dungeon

Checking out my Amazon rankings yesterday I discovered a new review of my roleplaying-game-inspired short story collection Down in the Dungeon. Reader Jack Badelaire had this to say:

"Although this anthology isn't as straight-from-the-gaming-table as I'd first imagined it would be, that's actually a good thing. These are stories inspired by gaming, but not direct copies of gaming sessions, as so many stories of this type often appear to be. The author has done a great job of giving me that nostalgic feeling while at the same time, nothing that strikes me as "only there because D&D mechanics require it". If you're an old-time gamer like myself, give this a try."

He gave it five stars! Awesome!!!

Jan 7, 2013

Medieval Mondays: The Ahlspiess, a curious weapon of the Middle Ages

In this engraving we see two footmen accompanying a knight and carrying one of the lesser-known weapons of the Middle Ages. It's called tan ahlspiess, and was developed in Germany in the 15th century. It consisted of a long steel spike with a quadrangular profile, a bit like a giant leather punch or awl, from which it gets its name.

By the 15th century, armor had reached the peak of its design, and German armorers were some of the best. Thus it's not surprising that a weapon specifically designed to punch through thick metal plate was developed there. Like its namesake, the ahlspiess was a heavy spike with a sharp point, able to deliver the maximum force to a minimum of space. Surviving examples weighed up to 2.5 kilos (6.6 pounds) and wielded by a strong soldier could be formidable indeed.

As you can see, they were equipped with a small roundel between the metal spike and wooden handle in order to protect the hand. It seems to me that the roundel was a bit too small to be very effective, but I suppose a larger one would have made the weapon unwieldy. They were generally about 2.5 meters (7.5 feet) long.

The ahlspiess came almost too late. Medieval handgonnes were already becoming common on the battlefield, marking the beginning of the end of heavy armor. Leather armor had always been common as a cheaper substitute and soon grew in popularity as firearms became more effective. Soon there was no need for the ahlspeiss and it was discarded by the 17th century. 

All in all, an interesting weapon, although the flail remains my favorite medieval weapon!