Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator"

Battle of Evesham (c) Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator
     I have a friend who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada named Pat, who like me is into all things medieval. Several weeks back he informed me he had a distant cousin living in the UK, who did historical drawing, paintings and illustrations for books. We have been friends for over four years now. I was a bit miffed, he was just now mentioning this to me. However I also believe things happen at their own time and pacing in our lives. So when something is supposed to happen it does. I asked him, who is your distant cousin? Matthew Ryan he replied.

     Well I don't know about the majority of people out there, but I have known of Matthew's talents and his paintings about as long as I have my friend. Do you think he would be interested in doing an interview? I asked. "That could probably be arranged" was the reply I received. The conversation you will see below, is the result of an off hand remark, coinciding with being in the right place at the right time. Thank you Pat for your assistance.

Matthew Ryan, welcome to Modern Medievalist. With your indulgence, I am going to just jump right in and start asking questions.

Q: I recently read where you said it had taken you 35 years to get to this point in your career. Where were you 35 years ago?

A: Ah, that was a little tongue in cheek but also very true.... I am thirty five so meant that every time I complete a piece of work the it has took me my whole life to get to this "new" stage. Knowledge of the subject, ideas and technical development is all of course an ongoing thing and in my mind my best piece of work is always my next. I have always been interested in Art and have for a long time had a fascination and love of history especially medieval. I have only recently been working as an historical illustrator but am fortunate to have already had some very good clients and briefs.

Q: Did you receive formal training to be an Artist?

A: Yes I did a degree in illustration.... must admit over here an illustration degree does not include what people would call technical formal training. I learnt much from the degree however but my work is I would say (if this does not sound to self congratulating) a combination of talent, practice and work. When I took my degree in Illustration it was not historical illustration that I was working on... a tutor at the time I remember was often saying "draw what you know and what you love" this at the age of about twenty went right over my head and I remember thinking I can draw whatever people want me to draw. However years later when I combined my two passions and painted historical themes my work went to a new place and the realization of what he said became very true. This is another reason why I only advertise as an historical illustrator now. Painting what your are interested in and love gives your work more sincerity and the passion you have for the subject can come through in the finished work.
Matthew Ryan working on a composition.

Q: Where do you find your subjects? (I know in the UK you just about can't swing a dead cat around your head without hitting a reenactor of some sort.)

A: Reenactors are visually a key source for me, you can not beat seeing in real life the textures and combinations of how light plays on a surface, things such as steel - polished in the sun or rusted in the rain on a dull autumn morning all these things give the paintings depth and character. I am a big advocate of artists drawing from nature and the world around them. However in saying that that is only one aspect of sources for my work... landscape photography is an important element and something I also enjoy. Setting the soldier in his landscape is as much of an important thing for me as details such as kit and uniform etc. Another and possibly most important part of the process is direct contemporary sources and for the medieval period this mostly leaves us with tomb effigies, manuscript art and some of the later period paintings and written descriptive accounts. I find the access now available on-line with digitized manuscripts invaluable. All these things can be used and cross referenced to try and bring together what I hope is as accurate as I can be with a glimpse, or view to the past.
Q: What did you present for this year (publication and completed work) and what does 2014 hold in store?

A:Some of the work in the past twelve months have been.... Four paintings for the channel 4 series "Walking through History with Tony Robinson" about the 1719 Jacobite uprising. The battle of Bryn Glas for Medieval Warfare Magazine, A painting I made of the 1460 Battle of Northampton based on my friend and historian Mike Ingram's work. This was made to help draw awareness to the battle and help save the site from potential development work. The original I donated to the people of Northampton and it is currently on display at Northampton Museum alongside the recent facial reconstruction of Richard III. Also worked and working on editorial briefs for some Spanish military history Magazines, Desperta Ferro.

-Wow! You have really been busy-

I  have been working on a large canvas of the battle of Bosworth, this is a self made brief and so it has had to be side lined for the moment, but I hope to have time to work on it again soon. My Bosworth piece has been in the planning for a couple of years, with the interest now in King Richard III I am sure it will be a popular image and something I hope to become iconic. I have many possible exciting projects for next year, some of which may be work for the Magna Carta 800 project that I would relish. Also in the cards (and due to my archery I must do this) is paintings to mark the 2015 anniversary of Agincourt!

Q: So you are an Archer then?

A: I am. I have been practicing archery since I was a child. My father had several flat bows, and I started from there. I also became a Fletcher, and have made my own arrows. My practical experience with Archery, Fletching led me to creating some of the illustrations for Mike Loades Osprey book on Archery, and they also used several photographs of arrows I had made. By the way, it was perhaps my love of shooting the English/Welsh Warbows that started me off drawing and painting things medieval.

The Power of the  English/Welsh Warbow.

Q: Can anyone commission your work? Or do you strictly work for Authors, Historical Organizations, or Museums?

A: Any one can commission my work, however the magazines, book and TV shows are a great avenue to showcase my work. Also the publishing side of things allows me to have interesting and helpful communications with historians, editors etc within the profession and helps with my constant learning on the subjects. I try and stay fresh with input from reenactors. Without the input of people who have practical application of building a Bow or some other medieval object, then the art would become two dimensional and flat.

Q: What is the latest offering from Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator?

A: Hopefully by the time this article is published I will have a website up and running, where my art can be viewed and limited edition prints of my work can be ordered.

-His website is up, and will be listed in the link section below.-

Thank you Matthew Ryan. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. Considering all of the irons you have in the fire, I truly appreciate the time you took away from your art to speak to me and my readers. All of my best, and I eagerly look forward to viewing your latest projects.

-DS Baker.

Here is Matthew Ryan's Website address:

Here is Matthew Ryan Historical Illustrator's page on Facebook:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"National Living History Fayre! & Its Creator David Smith"

    British humor and American humor rarely cross paths with each other understanding what the other just said. Americans have loved just about everything Monty Python has ever produced. Last year on Facebook I began to notice these strange advertisements on the timeline. Pictures of Legolas and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings with these very strange and cryptic messages. Some of them were quite bizarre to this American's reading eye. I hasten to add though, there were very funny, in a dry as a desiccated bone sort of way.

    In America we have gun and knife shows just about every weekend of the year, all year long. It is nothing to have a hunting exposition and a fishing convention to be held at the same time and in the same facility. In certain parts of the upper mid-west and the deep south, you can have half a dozen of such conventions within a three hour driving circle from your home. Putting together a historical fair, where arms and armour, clothing, cooking utensils, fabrics, textiles, shoes... any thing you would need to create a historical persona don't just happen in the UK. There are councils, (Think very small local governments.) to consult. Property Owners, Tax Authorities, Health Officials. There is an enormous mountain of red tape, which has to be cleaved like Alexander slicing through the Gordian Knot. -It is very much a process. Not to mention most of the promoters who put on the various shows, charge money for admission.

     Not everyone wants to go to a market and purchase their "Kit" as they call it, from a medieval style merchant. But if they do, they don't want to be charged for the privilege! To that end my friend and fellow sophisticate David Smith started the National Living History Fair. Here is our interview, perhaps he will shed some light on how things are done in the "Old World."
David Kevin Smith

Q: How long have you been involved in the Living History scene in the UK? And tell us a bit about yourself.

A: Since 2003. So I would guess this is going on 11 years. I left school at 16 and joined the Army, then spend several years working in Hotel Management before going to University and then training to become a Chartered Accountant with Touche Ross & Co in London. Passed my exams and joined one of the companies I had been auditing, spent years counting beans full time before being made redundant in 1993. Since then I've mixed contract work as an accountant with running events, starting with Antique Fairs and ending up with Medieval Festivals.

Q: At what point did you decide to create the Fair?

A: I saw TORM at a venue I was planning to use for an Antiques Fair and thought it was amazing. Then I discovered it was a monopoly and staged just twice a year, and had a waiting list of traders as well as many traders who had fallen out with the management. This was as opposed to competing with 300 other Antiques Fairs every weekend...
Lots of arms and armour from Katso Armour

Q:Explain the significance of this Fair and Why it is so popular?

A: We set out to be friendly and to have fun, and becasue we were the new kid on the block we were quite deliberately going to be more affordable. After a run of disastrous events in 2006 I lost control of the original NLHF, which is now trading as the ILHF at Bruntingthorpe, but several traders asked me in 2012 if I'd re-stage the old NLHF as it used to be - affordable and fun - and so I took another look at it to see if it could be done.

Q:  I know you have exhibitors from all over Europe who attend. Can you tell us from which countries they come from?

A: We won't have quite so many this November as the dates - which are arranged to co-incide with TORM which is just 9 miles up the road - clash with the huge established Medieval market at Pontoise in France. But we are delighted to have Spes Medieval and Lady Malina from Poland, Lixa Bellorum from Germany, Kasto Armoury from the Czech Republic, and Magen from Fairbow Netherland.
Lady Malina Fashions from Poland.

Q: In total how many vendors/exhibitors attend and what services do they offer?

A: Currently we have bookings from 124 traders, who will be exhibiting a vast range of things, from Armour to Beeswax. You can find a complete list on the website, which I try to keep as up to date as possible. Basically, if you're involved with re-enactment you'll find things here they you didn't even know you needed, as well as almost everything you knew about! And we have FREE admission, so you can spend all your hard earned cash on goodies!

Q: This looks to be a new experience for those who are used to the old fair...

A: One of the main issues that folk complained about at the original NLHF was that they couldn't stay over on site. This applied just as much to traders as customers, and although it meant that some local pubs did a roaring trade over the Friday and Saturday of the market, it was a real shame that it wasn't really possible for everyone to get together for a decent social all together.

So when I was looking for a suitable venue for the re-born NLHF I was determined to find somewhere that had the facility for Camping, ideally sufficient room for all the traders and for all the customers as well who wanted to keep their accommodation and travelling costs to a minimum, brave the terrifying English weather, and have some fun as well as doing a lot of business.
The indoor exhibition space, with wide avenues for shoppers and suppliers. 

Onley Grounds EC offers us 1,000 acres – we’ll have trouble filling that up for a few years! And has a brand new Shower Block, and is used to coping with 15,000 or so happy campers for their big Pony Shows…and it has a rather nice Bar, a great cafe, and a brand new and very well equipped Shower and Toilet Block…

Small swords, perfect for that early 18th Century portrayal
Jacob's Armoury

Sounds like a grand time will be had by all! Thank you David Smith for taking the time to talk about your event good sir!

-DS Baker.

Here is the link on Facebook to the NLHF which should also include driving directions to:

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Sword Wielding Fantasy and Fiction Writer-M. Harold Page!"

"The blade sheared through padding, collar bone, ribs, and came out the other side. Head, arm and shoulder thudded to the ground. The remainder of the corpse still stood, sheared torso like a bucket of steaming offal." -England AD 1454, the chaotic eve of the Wars of the Roses.
Jack Rose would rather be a scholar than a knight. However, when a brutal landowner steals his family estates and plans to evict the tenants, Jack must take up the sword and win back his inheritance by force of arms. As he wades through increasingly lethal encounters, it becomes clear that War is in his blood. Now he must decide who he really is…-An Excerpt from "The Sword is Mightier."

     Recently I came across a person who, with the voice of authority commented on several post at the Facebook home of Modern Medievalist. Which led to several conversations over the following weeks and months. It turns out this person was my future friend M. Harold Page. Known to me as Martin. Apparently there is another writer by the name of Martin Page... I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was into a lot of the things both topical and historical I find fascinating. He is also someone who is hard to nail down long enough to hold a conversation, because it seems he has more than one iron in the fire at any given time. Ony after much persuasion was I able to get him to sit still long enough and have a conversation with me. Enjoy!

Q: Who is M. Harold Page?

A: I'm Scottish-based 40-something swordsman, father and writer. As a youth, I dropped out of an Engineering degree in order to study Classics and Medieval History. I also fronted a rock and roll band and can still hammer out boogie-woogie on the piano. These days, my hobby time goes on teaching and fighting German Longsword at Edinburgh's Dawn Duellist Society.

Q: What part of the world do you live in and how does this affect your writing.

A: Scotland. It's a place where you can not move for History. Seriously, if I climb on the roof of my tenement, I can see two castles, one dating to the 14th century, the other to Roman times. Growing up here gave me a sense of the past and present being real, and that infuses my all my work

Q: What have been the biggest literary influences on your writing? And when did you decide to seriously begin the process of becoming a writer?

A: I grew up reading Rosemary Sutcliffe and a similar but more muscular Young Adult writer called Ronald Welch. Later I discovered Robert E Howard, Leigh Bracket and Edgar Rice Burroughs. However the finishing school for me as a writer was discovering Harold Lamb who really knew how to write a historical adventure. When did I choose? I've always written. However, round about the birth of my son, I realized it was now or never. Time to stop tinkering and get on with it. That was nearly a decade ago.

Q: What was the biggest support mechanism you have developed? Meaning friends, fellow writers and or family?

A: Family is my foundation. However I'm lucky enough to belong to a community of professional writers and creatives based in Edinburgh. Monthly coffee with my peers has kept me from leaning on my family too much.

Q: Research. How important is it to your writing and how much do you do it yourself or do have a loose affiliation of Researchers who gleam the dusty shelves of University Libraries?

A: I've spent most of it my life wallowing in history, and I do my own martial arts historical research (and have the scars to prove it). However, sometimes I come up against the need for "boots on the ground" details to do with customs, laws and mentality. For these I shamelessly tap my living history and academic friends, who I am always careful to credit.

Q: You are a practitioner of medieval sword fighting techniques; which use not just the point and blade but the pommel, grappling and throws.  How has this influenced your description of scenes you write about concerning combat?

A: I've been lucky enough not to see anything like actual combat, and am always aware that this is a different neurochemical and moral experience. That said, being able to handle a longsword, and having some knowledge of other arts lets me write realistic combat scenes. I do not burden my descriptions with technical terms, but most students of the sword would know exactly what was going on.

Q: For Those Who Might want to know, do you own your own suit of armor? (Harness is a better historical term.)

A:  A rather battered Northern European harness languishes in my hall cupboard. We don't fight in armour at my club, and I'm too busy with family to go to re-enactment events at the weekend, though I have fond and formative memories of these.
M. Harold Page at his Club.
(c) Malcolm Matthew.

Q: What has been one of the more interesting or surprising facts from history you have uncovered in your writing?

A: I love finding moments of personal bravery that would make a Frazetta illustration. I was thrilled to read that a single knight held the bridge at Castle Kerak, fending off the Saracens while the garrison got organized. The most surprising; Vikings abandoned trial by combat well before the rest of Europe did.

Q: Your current book is a tie-in, with what universe?

A: The "Sword is Mightier" ties into the game War of the Roses. This is a multi-player online combat game by Paradox Interactive, in which players get to fight on one or the other side in the War of the Roses, with realistic armour and weapons. I had a tremendous creative freedom because War of the Roses itself does not have a story line, so the brief was create an action adventure story set in the Wars of the Roses. I opted for hitting the ground just before it started in the aftermath of the English defeat in the Hundred Years War. I also have a Foreworld SideQuest coming out soon.

On a personal note: I am a life long fan of  sword fighting bloody adventure. I am heartily glad to see the genre very much alive and kicking, screaming, and fighting! Thank you M. Harold Page for your time. I am eagerly awaiting your next set of adventures!

-DS Baker

Here are links, to M. Harold Page's Blogs:

Black Gate SF Magazine:'s authors page:

Paradox Books Author's Page where you can order directly from the publisher:

Paradox Interactive Portal for the War of the Roses Game:


Friday, October 11, 2013

Lord Andrew Douglas Alexander Thomas Bruce, 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine, KT, CD, DL, JP

Official Portrait of Lord Elgin as a Knight of
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle

     Recently I wrote an article called "The Significance of a Battle Lost and Won..."-MM 09/20/2013- Which dealt primarily about the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where the two co-belligerents were King Robert the Bruce of Scotland and King Edward II of England. In that article I discussed the upcoming 700th Anniversary of that Battle, and how the significance of  that day and a half of conflict is still echoing through the corridors of history. As a result of that article, I became interested in the Bruce Family. I began my quest to speak to its head/leader/chief...

     Through some dear friends and their familial connections with whom I could not have written this article, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to Lord Andrew Douglas Alexander Thomas Bruce, the 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine KT.(It should be noted he has several post nominal's attached to his name but for the purpose of this blog, I believe Knight of the Thistle should suffice.)

     I normally conduct my interviews through some form of real time social networking, either through Facebook or Google +. This was my first long distance interview so the format is a bit different than what I normally work with. All of that being said, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak to Lord Elgin and to the Bruce Family for their willingness to open their hearts and their lives for this purpose.

Q: You are the direct descendant of King Robert the Bruce. How many generations are you separated from your illustrious ancestor? (I asked this question this way, being unsure how the family tree of the Bruce family is delineated.)

A: First, the root of the Bruce Family Tree has several branches, one of these went to King Robert's son,, King David ll and then died out because he had no male heir. However, he had appointed Thomas Bruce of Clackmannan Tower as his heir and we are all descended from this branch which we are pretty certain comes from King Robert's grandfather's time. I am the 37th generation from Adam de Brus of Normandy.

Q: Of all of the responsibilities that are associated with your Lordship's rank, and title, what is the most medieval in origin?

A: You ask about responsibilities and, of course, it was very much in the Norman way of life that responsibilities were shared in the community, so that the whole would thrive in friendship and understanding. It was based, of course, on ownership of land and this still remains one of the most potent responsibilities. Time has shown that my predecessors, in the main, took great interest in the responsibilities of their titles in attendance at Parliament both in Scotland and in England, although the hereditary responsibilities have been somewhat curtailed in recent years.

Banners of the Knights of the Thistle
St. Giles Cathedral, Thistle Chapel

Q: As the Chief of the Bruce Family, what do you see as the cultural significance of the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn? & Why was the gathering of the Clans and families cancelled for this anniversary?

A: I was recently asked to welcome back the statue of King Robert at Bannockburn and made the point in a few words of the fact that the battlefield may well have been a place of great joy but it was also a place of sadness but, at Bannockburn, in the days that followed, King Robert showed great magnanimity and so, in a way, these two should be blended in memory of so significant an occasion. You ask about the possibility of a Gathering of Families and Clans. It was thought that this might have taken place early in July at Stirling but it would seem that this is not to happen. As far as the Bruce Family is concerned I am asking them to attend a Menzie, as this is the ancient word in Scots to describe a collective occasion.

Q: Your father was one of the motivating forces behind the Standing Council for Scottish Chiefs. Why was this council created? Are there Scottish Families and Clans that lack leadership or do not have a Clan Chief or Chieftains?

A: You ask about the creation of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. It was,my father, as a result of talks which he had had with Admiral Macintosh who had suddenly discovered that his kinsman who lived in Australia was not prepared to take on the responsibilities of Chieftainship and so he asked my father what you did as a Chief and this led to the question of who were, in fact, Chiefs and Heads of Family.

The Lord Lyon became very interested and, amongst other things, ruled that only single name surnames could be considered as Chief and this immediately ruled out two Dukes and a sprinkling of Earls but, in the end, all this was resolved and there were interesting meetings and, as air travel became more available, it inevitably saw the journeys of Chiefs to many parts of the world.

In 1977, the Scottish Tourist Board thought that the season should open with a World Gathering of Scottish Families and Clans but instead of holding it at a time when people might reasonably be expected to visit, they chose the end of April. Although, in fact, the numbers who came were not large, the quality of the individuals was extremely high because, in a way,each one represented not just a Family but also a whole range of Scots related happenings in their own country but, alas, the Scottish press were all for numbers and made somewhat uncomplimentary remarks which, of course, as you point out ignored the Scottish feeling which, in so many countries, has a very important influence.

(I had asked Lord Elgin, about what seemed to be the decline of Scottish Heritage and History in Scotland, and how it had taken firm root in America, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.)

I remember a St. Andrew's meeting near Sydney, New South Wales, which seemed to me to be 50% Scots and 50% every other nationality you could think of and I asked my host why this was the case/ "Quite simple, " he said, "We are the friendly nation and these others like to come and join with us in order to understand their responsibilities as citizens of Australia

Q: 2014 will give Scotland the Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, where your ancestor trounced the English under Edward II. September 18th 2014 will be the day Scotland votes for independence from England. As a Knight of the Most Ancient and Noble Oder of the Thistle, and as former Lord Lieutenant for Fife, does this vote evoke conflicting emotions?

A: You ask about September 18th and indeed there has been and no doubt there will be an increasing surge of conflict and I think personally that I am now too old to have any further discussion.

His closing words to me were the ones he spoke when the statue of Robert the Bruce was welcomed back at Bannockburn, "Battlefields are places of both joy and sorrow. May all those who come here find these two magnanimously blended into a lasting and understanding friendship with Scotland."

Editorial Comment: Lord Elgin's next birthday will see his 90th Orbit around the Sun. I would also like to make another note. Lord Elgin has spent the majority of his life in service to his family, his kinsmen and to the Crown. During WWII he served in the Scot's Guards, and fought in one of the nastier armoured tank vs tank battles in the break out from Normandy. Specifically the Battle for Hill 309 or Quarry Hill. 12 Churchill Tanks were lost in that engagement and Lord Elgin was wounded. I don't believe that  there are too many Chiefs or Chieftains left, who have undergone the rigors and horrors of war. As a personal comment, I am grateful for his service in helping to defeat the forces of global fascism.

-DS Baker

Here are a few interesting links that I think my readers might like to check out.

Wikipedia link to Lord Andrew Bruce 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine:,_11th_Earl_of_Elgin

Family of Bruce:

Wikipedia Page for the Order of the Thistle:

Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs:

YouTube Video link to the restoration of the Statue of King Robert the Bruce:

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Conversation with Debra Brown, Author and Editor.

    "Dearest David, we cannot simply continue to exist on a diet of Arms, and Armour."-A reader sent me this note about a month ago.

     Which has prompted me to change or rather expand the horizons of my blog. I decided right then and there to search out interesting  persons and or personalities to profile on my blog. One of the first persons I met is a lady named Debbie Brown. She is an American author, and like me she has a blog. But unlike me it is not just a single person's view point but an entire community of historical fiction writers and historians!

     Last week I had an opportunity to interview Debbie Brown, and we spoke at some length about her writing and her latest literary efforts. I hope you will enjoy the conversation as much as I did. Thank you very much Debbie for your time. As we both know time is truly the one commodity once given away never returns.-DS Baker.

Q: What started your love of things historical?

A: When I was a child, I had the My Bookhouse Books. They were an amazing 7 volume set of books that a woman put together. The stories were written by famous authors and poets like Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, etc. not to mention Hans Christian Andersen. Later editions went up to 12 volumes, the last being a collection of biographies of all the writers.
I loved those books and read them endlessly. They had fabulous art, too, and all of it put together taught me about old England and other places which I came to love.
I became acquainted with older fashion, customs, etc., but didn't really have time to pursue knowledge of history till I was much older.

Q: So where did those books lead you in your love of history as an adult?

A: When I worked on jewelry for some years, I would watch period movies and series. I learned more about past customs from that, and would look things up on the internet if I was confused. Most of my history education is very informal. However, it is a driving force for me as it is for many. I also get library books now that I am not making jewelry. There is plenty to learn.

Q: How long ago did you start actually writing your first story, that you felt like was good enough for someone else to read?

A: Three years ago. It was published a year after I started. That was "The Companion of Lady Holmeshire."

Q: How many times did you edit it, and how many times did your support group of friends or family comb through it?

A: I went over it a dozen times before I sent it to the publisher. Each time, I thought it was the last, but then I would want to give it a last read-through ... repeatedly. Then my family and another author read it and I had more corrections to make. I did not realize that was the normal process at the time - it was done as a hobby.
A year after it was published, I revised it again, having learned more about writing.

Q: Where did the publication of your story take you after that? What sort of connections did you find all of a sudden blossoming in your writing life?

A: I began to blog, as they say one must have a web presence, and an author helped me to learn much about promotion. I also read in online writer's guidance publications, and applied some of what I learned. As time went on, I decided to team up with a group of authors that formed a blog which posted Daily British history, as I thought many people would be like me-hungry for that information. It became a popular blog, English Historical Fiction Authors. We also have a Facebook group by that name.

I also started a Goodreads group named Historical Info for Historical Fiction Readers to provide back up information to the stories we all read. Not being a historian myself, I invited authors to write about the eras their stories are set in. I met many new reader and author friends there.

Q: It sounds like you enrolled yourself into a steep gradient of learning not only how to write, but to edit as well. So tell us about the Anthology that came about as a direct result of your friends and associates

A: After we celebrated the first anniversary of our blog, one of the authors suggested we put selected posts together into a book. It was a wonderful idea, and I jumped right into it. One in our group has a very professional publishing business, and she agreed to publish the book. It was a year's work to get it ready for our second anniversary, and it was released on that day, Sept. 23, 2013.
The title is Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. It is a big, wonderful, and beautiful book.

Q: How does it feel to be the Editor of an Anthology, and more importantly did you think it was going to be as much work as it has turned out to be?

A: It was a surprise to become the editor of an anthology. I am thrilled with the results, though it meant putting the brakes on my own writing project. I am creative at heart, but to see this book in print and to celebrate with the fifty-five contributors has made it well worth while.

Q: What sort of true-tales might we find within its pages?

A: Castles, Customs, and Kings is set out in chronological order for the most part, starting with the Roman occupation. I know your readers are interested in medieval history, and probably some of the Tudor era. These sections take up a good part of the book. Topics that are covered include interesting bits like Harold Godwinson, William Before He was the Conqueror, the Knights Templar, Simon de Montfort, The Religious Hysteria Caused by the Black Death, the "Notorious" Alice Perrers, early Theater, medieval bestiaries, the Tudor Court of Wards, the last Nun, the death of Henry VIII, and many more.The book continues and covers up through World War II.

Q: How have your marketed the book and how has the reception been?

A: I created a blog tour, and my co-editor and I are writing posts for various blogs. We started with a post on our own blog, which included a giveaway and the first spot on a blog hop which included twenty-three blogs. Now we are visiting the various blogs on the tour. Twitter is also a major means of informing the reading public about the book. Because of sales on my first book, Amazon is helping out by notifying my earlier readers. I can't complain about that! Also in the first week we were #4 in the section History > European > England for some days, and #1 in Historical Essays for some. That was exciting!

Thank you Debbie Brown for this interview and more importantly for helping to keep history alive and vibrant! I have included below the various American and UK Amazon Links to Debbie Brown and M.M. Bennetts anthology
US Amazon Link:|
UK Amazon Link:
Also on Kobo:

-DS Baker

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Frederic Piraux-International Jouster & Gentleman At Large."

Frederic Piraux competing at Marle, France '09
(c) Jacques Marechal

     In 2001 I first met Frederic Piraux at Sunset Park , Las Vegas Nevada in October at the annual Renaissance and Medieval Fair.Sadly he had flown in from Canada where he had been a student at a week long school of European Medieval Martial Arts enthusiasts, only to find the person who had been contact with him was unable to make the event. He and his traveling buddy and my family spent most of that Saturday together walking around from one event to the next. At the end of day we exchanged e-mail address and promised to stay in touch. I think to the surprise of both of us, we did stay in touch.

    On the anniversary of our first meeting, I decided to corner my friend, and ask him to give me an interview. Of course being a friend, and knowing I would probably hound him until he did, Fred as I know him, graciously sat down with me via Facebook and granted an interview. What follows is our conversation. Thank you very much my friend.

Editorial Comment: Poor man, I made him answer my questions like everyone else. Modern Medievalist doesn't hold with favorites!

Q: Who are you and where do you come from and or where do you live?

A: Fred (Officially Frédéric) Piraux. Born and raised in Belgium on the summer of '69.
Born in the Flemish part of Belgium but living now in Liège, in the French speaking region.

Q: Where did you start your adventures in the Modern Medieval world?

A: In 1997, I had to stop playing US Football due to knee injury.
A friend of mine was involved into a Belgian federation of armoured combat and he got me into it by making my first suit.
In 2000, another acquaintance who ran a riding school asked me to fill in for an instructor for adults... I introduced them to mounted police (my riding background) manoeuvres and the group Hackamores (name of the riding school) was started.
I met Joram Van Essen and Arne Koets who were organizing their own events in the Netherlands and started riding with them.
Joram proposed to me a spot on his Burgundian jousting team to attend Leeds Royal Armouries competition in 2003... It was the start of it all!

We met in 2001. So this was at the start of your riding and jousting career. Shortly after that or around that time, you began building up Hackamores....
Frederic Piraux and DS Baker
Columbia, SC-'08
(c) Danny Van Hecke

Q: What did Hackamores lead you to. Meaning what did that school become and what associations came as a result of it?

A: Team Hackamores was originally designed as a show troupe operating in Belgium. It is a non profit org that developed around equestrian, armoured combat and pyrotechnic shows.

It quickly developed into a +20 group and we started to travel around Europe.
Quite quickly, we decided that sport competition around "chivalric sports" was to be our drive. And we organized "Hackaland Tournament" from 2001 on. From the second edition, it became a international event growing year after year... up to 14 nations gathered on the field!

Bringing all those people together automatically lead to setting up the EJL (European Jousting League) that was renamed after 3 seasons into IJL (International Jousting League). Team Hackamores has been the Belgian affiliate from the start and has tried to inspire other groups and nations to get started : IJL is now +350 affiliates in more than 20 nations!
Danny Van Hecke handing Frederic Piraux a Lance
2008 Tournament of the Phoenix, Poways San Diego, California
(c) Douglas Herring.

Q: Where has Jousting taken you to? The farthest from Liege and maybe the most interesting person you have met in your travels?

A: My jousting career has taken me around the globe several times and very often... If you consider New Zealand is 12 time zones away... it is not possible to get any further unless you're heading for the moon!!!! US, Canada, UK, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Australia, New Zealand that is a good list, I think. Specially if you consider returning trips! It has really been a fun ride from beginning to end.
I remember my colleague chewing on his sandwich and asking "Where are ya diff wekfend ?"-(Fred works as a Federal Police Instructor at the Liege Police Academy.) and just going "Hm !" When getting Brisbane, Australia" as an answer! It had just become an answer as valid as "Down at the mall!"
So many outstanding people were met over all those years. Incredible characters with their very specifics... boys and girls alike! So many of them that sometimes faces and names get confusing. Still there are a few I will always remember for their bravery and unrivaled support for my hobby : Thorgal, Organdy, Hercules, Marko, Romel, Figaro, Blaze... All four legged friends and nothing but pleasure when thinking of them. Nobility and chivalry is for humans... horses are way above that.
Frederic Piraux at King John III Joust at Gniew Castle, Poland
2012 (c) Studio A Photography.

Q: How are you holding up Physically? I have spoken to several jousters over the past year or so, and the abuse is starting to take its toll on their bodies & what are you doing to counter the effects of getting hit with a lance?

A: Call it luck if you want, but I was never injured while jousting.
Having chosen a re-enactment period where jousting was truly a controlled sport, it sort of prevented me from doing anything really stupid.
Yes, I got hit. Yes I got hit hard! (Thanks Ripper, Graham, Toby!)
But hey! From the start, I liked to quote Vince Lombardi, a great jouster in his heart : " Jousting is not a contact sport, dancing is. Jousting is a collision sport !" Big hits are supposed to happen some times.
The physical wear comes from other activities: police service, quarterbacking behind a weak line and the most vicious wound of them all "that damn aging process".
So, my dear David, if you still don't buy the retirement plan, you're in for disillusionment... It is for real.
I want to do something different with my life from now on. I plan to still be part of the game in some form or another but not the way it used to be

Danny Van Hecke at the King John III Joust held at Gniew Castle, Poland
(c) Studio A Photography.

Q: What are your plans for the future, and what are you going to do with your sidekick? Who incidentally is one of the nicest persons I have met... Are you two going to be partners in your new adventures?

A: Future? Tough one.
I'm not even sure of what I've done with my past!
I have currently examined several options.
As for the jousting thing...
I'm organizing a new style of event in 2014 where jousting will not be the main focus to favor group military manoeuvres.
I'm also offering my services as a "trainer" for whoever thinks he needs my opinion (That should not get me overbooked, I agree !)
Some events organizers also use my experience for selecting competitors fitting their gig.
Outside of medievalism, time will be spent on house renovations, travelling and friends visits.
My favorite furry friend and sidekick, is still very much included in most projects I work on. We are currently taking night school together, learning the Polish language! Great fun, great friendship!

Once again I would like to thank my friends Fred and the ever shy Danny for letting me post your pictures. And for Fred's participation in this interview! Merci beaucoup mes amis!

Frederic Piraux
(c) Danny Van Hecke

Here are a nice selection of Videos from YouTube showing Fred in action!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Are you a Blue or a Green?"

     "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."-George Santayana
Horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople
Wikipedia Commons
Photo by Tteske.

     I woke up this morning to find the scent of burned Hickory wood on the breeze and airships made of Oak leaves floating by as if they were in some regatta sponsored by the Most Serene Republic of Venice. My morning thoughts are often travelers who upon having an unfortunate accident somewhere out at sea, find themselves washed upon some unknown shore. This morning they washed up on the shores of historic Constantinople...

     This is my blog. I try to write of things medieval in nature. However there are times when the story to be told goes much deeper into the timeline than what one would or could call medieval. I have a friend we will call John for this article. John is a pragmatic modernist, who believes that anyone or everyone who lived before the American Civil war belong to a large mouth category he calls "Ignorant, muck raking savages, living in their own filth and squalor."

     "It was only with the discovery of the modern medicine and the maturation of the industrial revolution did we evolve as a species. Before that it was only half seen glimpses of light amongst savagery.Only when that world died did we then become truly modern and civilized"-John the Modernist

     My last heated exchange with John came burbling up this morning as I thought about what he had said. We have had many conversations about what constitutes a civilization,-educational enlightenment, art and culture, science, the ability to disseminate knowledge . All basic building blocks of developing or creating a bright future full of possibilities. John's opinion is that the generation born right after WWI ended, had won the historic lottery.-The golden ticket from Willy Wonka fame as it were.

     Right on the heels of those thoughts came a history lesson I learned as a precious child, involving the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora and the Charioteers. Chariot racing had always been popular with the Greeks.-Four horses pulling a man on a small light cart around a race track at high rates of speed was the ancient version of NASCAR. It was terribly exciting. As in NASCAR when a team of horses and their charioteer crashed there was blood and death. If you have ever watched the movie Ben-Hur, you have a fair grasp of what a race at the Hippodrome looked like. As with many things of a Greek origin, the Romans absconded with the idea and promoted wildly. By the time, the Greek, ahem... errr.... Roman Empire in the East came into being, it had all but replaced the Gladiatorial games as the most popular sport in the empire.

     I can even imagine Greek Polis Rednecks in the audience talking to each other, "Yeah Niko, if dem der boys from Alexandria aint bumpin' den it aint racing! Know what I mean?"

     Like a lot of sports, it had its fanatical adherents, and soon associations were formed. Imagine football hooligans armed with swords and knives. The two largest groups were simply called the Blues and the Greens. These "associations" became so large, that they became political. Soon the senatorial class, was being courted and wooed by the various fractions, and shortly thereafter the leadership of these groups had been suborned by the very people they had thought to control.-The Senators.

    The end of  531 AD saw Emperor Justinian in a tight spot. He was in the process of negotiating a peace treaty with the Persian, and having to raise taxes at the same time. The proposed peace treaty was not altogether popular amongst the Polis (people) and the raising of taxes was hitting the aristocracy pretty hard, not to mention they were being marginalized by the Emperor. This situation had simmered for most of the year.

    On January 13 532 AD  Justinian opened up the Hippodrome for racing. The Hippodrome was attached to the Royal Palace and the Emperor had a secure passageway to his box where he could oversee the racing. As the races kicked off, a riot broke out between the Blues and the Greens. The Blues were quasi allies supported by the Emperor, so long as their goals and political aspirations were seen to, and the Greens were in the pockets of the Senators. The Green party quickly gained the upper hand over the Blues.  They then held forth a new Emperor, the nephew of the old Emperor Anastasius I  a simpleton named Hypatius. The Greens then began an assault upon the royal palace which lasted for five days.

     The mob of militant charioteer fans, spurred on by their Senatorial masters all but won the day. At one point it looked like the mob was going to actually break in and kill the Emperor and his Empress. Justinian urged his wife to take safe passage out of the palace and cross the Golden Horn to safety in Asia. She replied, by quoting an ancient Roman saying, "Royalty makes a fine burial shroud."

     Through treachery, adroit political maneuvering and the liberal application of bribes the Emperor Justinian was able to convince the Blues, to fight their way clear of the Greens and leave the Hippodrome; where both fractions had been using it as a sort of base of operations. As they did, the Army led by General Belasarius, entered. It was estimated that in the end, 30,000 Green supporters along with Hypatius and a large number of Senators were slaughtered. It took several weeks to drag the bodies out and dispose of them.

    The modern day lesson... Our country is prostate and weak. Our mobs, have been suborned by the very people they hoped to influence. I am thinking of the Occupy folks having lost their will and having their messages scattered to the winds, or to mangle William Shakespeare, "A tale told by idiots full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." And the total suborning of the Tea Party by the monied elite, who pursue their divisive tactics of using racist attacks and the fear of a white minority loosing their grip on political power.

     America has been easily divided by the colors Red and Blue. Or maybe it is Blue and Green? In either case, It is interesting to think on my friend John's argument over how civilized we are. My question for my American readers is: Are you a Blue, Green? Or are you able to transcend the mob mentality, think for yourself and decide you are an American first?

-DS Baker

Monday, September 30, 2013

"Mongols in America"

     I have often heard my friends lament that America did not have a medieval heritage like that of Western Europe. Although we were founded by western European powers, we might have had men with titles of Lord this or that, we did not have the history of knights or men-at-arms fighting great battles or sieges, with Catapults and Trebuchets flinging dramatic boulders at garrisons bravely defending their keep. But that is not to say we did not have an incredibly effective form of medieval combat that stymied Western European Colonial attempts.

    Anthropologists often will talk about a concept called parallel evolution. This is where disparate groups of humans often divided by large geographic distances or even epochs of time, develop similar technologies. The fate of the people who have tied their future to the development and nurturing of horses, allows for a certain set of variables that generally only differ in the actual time of the cultures development and their environment with which the people find themselves in.

    The Scythians were chronicled by Herodotus as one of the all time masters of what would later become the Southern Ukrainian and Russian steppes. Their descendants became the Sarmatians to the Romans and later in the early part of the Medieval world, the Alan people. The Parthians were another horse culture. We have the Magyar of Hungary. And later the bad boys of the XIII Century, the Mongols. Not to mention the Persians who were the bitterest of foes to the Mongols.

     All of whom developed a strong horse bow, mounted archer form of combat. Along with lancers and horsemen who would throw lariats at their foes so they could capture their enemies horse. It was a constantly changing fluid form of combat. It could be effective in the extreme. Mounted horse combat involves a large degree of deception coupled with the ability to cover large amounts of distance in a short time frame with the ability to communicate, while using the local terrain to your advantage. Until the advent of the Walker Colt Pistol, it was also one of the most effective forms of combat man has ever developed. It also goes a long way to explaining why Cavalry or mounted armoured vehicular combat has stayed with us in one form or another to this day.

Mongol Horse Archers, circa 1430
Wikipedia Public Domain

     Recently I was given a new book to read by my father. It is called Empire of the Summer Moon. By S.C. Gwynne. It is a vibrant read about the Comanche dominance of the Western American plains and what is euphemistically called the Comanche Empire. Gwynne tells how first the Spanish colonial efforts, later the French and even later still Texas authorities and settlers are defeated in combat by the Comanche bands.

    One of the things we need to clear up is the use of the word nation. The Comanche were a people, most of whom prior to 1680 were a part of the greater Shoshone ethno-group, Until they were able to get horses from the Pueblo Indians in their revolt against Spanish authorities. Shortly thereafter they quickly became a group with a separate identity on their own. But as a rule, they were not a nation. They were broken into several large groups or bands. They had leaders of the various groups, but the concept of a Chief was again something the white man placed upon them.

      Gwynne's retelling of the conflict with the Comanches is paralleled by his account of the Texas family named Parker. The Parker's built what could be called a palisade fort on the Texas frontier border not too far from what is the present day Dallas/Ft Worth Metropolis. In 1836 The Comanches along with several groups of Kiowas, Caddos and Wichita Indians attacked the fort. They killed several members of the Parker family and made off with Cynthia Ann Parker and her brother John Richard Parker. Cynthia Ann Parker was made a member of the Comanche band that had attacked her family. She eventually married a Comanche leader by the name of Nacona and had three children by him. One of who was  Quanah Parker, the last war leader of the Comanche.  

     Gwynne's telling of the four decade long struggle to conquer the Comanche details just how hard and brutal the war was. As much as we have seen movies like "Dances with Wolves" it was the defeat of the Comanche and not the Sioux which led to the development of the American West.

     The Comanches like the Mongols had been on a steep learning curve since 1680 when they received their first horse herds. The soon realized that mounted horseback archery and lance work were the most effective tools they had in their tool box. I won't give too many details about some of the battles chronicled in this book, but time and time again I am reminded of the tactics used by the Mongols in their invasion of Western Europe.

     If met with a large force, the Comanche would ride away, drawing out their enemies in long lines of running horses. they would fire Parthian Shots over the backs of their horses, to antagonize their opponents. When their enemies horses would begin to tire, they would suddenly wheel and begin liberally peppering their foes with arrow.-Several accounts in the book talk about white men firing off one shot to the Comanches five arrows.

     The Comanche were ultimately defeated by having their primary food source slaughtered almost into extinction. It should be noted the killing of the American Bison will go down as one of, if not the largest voluntary mass killings of a mammal in human history. The second force that caused their downfall was the emergence of XIX Century technology in the form of multiple shot firearms, coupled with a Government's iron will to see them either reduced entirely, or beaten to the point they would no longer have any influence or validity.

     I would give this book three out of five stars if I rated on that basis. It is my opinion that this is a good introductory offering into American History of the era. Although there is in my opinion too large of a reliance upon sensationalist newspaper accounts from the day and not enough of hard research. It is however a gripping read and one that I believe will keep you entertained.

-DS Baker

Here is the official website of author S.C Gwynne: 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"To Search, To Strive, and Never Surrender!"

(c) Trevor Clemons

     Most of my friends from the past couple of years are friends I have made on the internet. We have usually met on one forum or another and as it were, serendipitously keep bumping into each other... Facebook has only added to the number of times I find myself stumbling across various acquaintances. One of these characters is my friend, a gentleman named Josh. 

     Through Josh I have met several new people, one of whom is a young man named Reece M Nelson. I messaged Reece Tuesday and asked him if he had wished Josh a Happy Birthday. He replied with a "Well so it is! And a be right back!" I have a friend with whom I served with in the Army, who reminded me a great deal of Reece. It is hard to explain but there is something that makes you instinctually like and trust my friend Bill. Reece Nelson has that same undefinable something my friend Bill does.

     Reece and I like armour. We like sword fighting. We both love history and are big fans of the XIV Century of nastiness that made up Western Europe and specifically the 100 years war. So it has been a great deal of fun for me to "get to know" Reece. During our message session on Facebook, on the spur of the moment I asked Reece if he would like to do a brief interview with me here on Modern Medievalist. I received a yes, and what follows is basically an edited transcript of our conversation. I think at the end of this interview you will find my young friend Reece M Nelson as remarkable of a person as I do.-Thanks buddy for the wonderful conversation.

Q: Reece M Nelson who are you and what part of the world do you live in?

A: I am 26 years old and I live in Overland Park, Kansas in the USA.

Q: You seem to be fairly tall and athletic with an angular build, what are some of your hobbies?

A: Mostly HEMA. I study both Blossfechten (unarmoured) and Harnessfechten (armoured) combat. Which can be a real workout. I also play bass guitar in a progressive metal band.

(c) Clarence James Wolfe

*For those of you who do not know HEMA or Historical European Martial Arts, is an exacting and physically demanding study of sword fighting techniques, to include grappling, dagger, long knife, quarter staff, Dussak, Polarms and Longsword.. The most popular forms are those created by Hans Talhoffer, Paulus Kal, and Johannes Liechtenauer. I will include a Wikipedia Link for those wishing to know more.

Q: Harnessfechten is armoured combat. Who made your harness? (Suit of Armour.) And what type of blades do you fight and train with?

A: Actually, the armour was made by myself with the help from the founder of my group. He had spent many years learning how to make armour and instructed me on my harness. There are a few pieces that I had bought, due to them being some of the more difficult pieces to make (hourglass gauntlets). I'll be getting a custom Bascinet helm later this year by Jeff Wasson. I'm very picky when it comes to form, so I try to have all of my pieces look just like the surviving examples. I currently use a CAS Hanwei Practical Bastard sword, as that it's a stiff blade, better suited for Harnessfechten. It being heavier, also allows me to develop better technique when doing Blossfechten. It helps develop a better "Push/Pull" motion with the hands.

Q: How long have you been training with swords?

A: Oh man...LONG time. I started off doing stage combat when I was 17, then started studying HEMA on my own at 19. Something like 9 years now. It wasn't until I had picked up a book called "Medieval Combat" by Hans Talhoffer that sparked my interest with understanding the realism in European fighting. That book allowed me to ask all of those important questions about arms, armour and the fighting techniques.

Q: Let's get down to the important question. What do people say or think when they realize their opponent is missing a limb, and would you be so kind as to tell how you lost it?

A: Having one leg is actually very beneficial for me, while bouting or fighting people let their guard down and think that I can't spring forward as much. Most people tend to think " I better take it easy on him" but I soon prove them wrong. I had lost my leg at birth, due to the umbilical cord, cutting the circulation to my left leg.
So I've never known any different. I'm the only person I know of doing HEMA with an amputation.
I hope to inspire others that may have the same disability to do something or let them know the world didn't end with a missing limb.

(c) Clarence James Wolfe

Q: What have been some of the more memorable instances where people were surprised by your prosthetic leg?

A: Well I seem to be a big hit with the kids at the local Ren Faire. Their parents come up to me and say "Thank you" when I take the time to speak or show my leg to their children. The most memorable one was a group of United States Marines who came up to me and told me of a friend of theirs who had lost his limbs and was really depressed. They made a video of me fighting and sent it to him. I later heard from them that he had been inspired by the video and had taken up sports.

Q: Do you belong to a Schola or Group like so many of your European brothers and sisters do?

A: We primarily train at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. I belong to The Medieval Swordsman Guild of Kansas City and I am a co-instructor for my group.
What is unique with our group is that we also do living history with HEMA.

Q: Have you developed a Medieval Persona to go with everything. As I seem to recall a certain German Knight who was missing an arm said some rather unpleasant things to an Archbishop once...

A: I haven't done my persona yet, but my group and I will be each having our own background that will fit with our attire for when we do history presentations. 
so far I've said I'm an esquire that had lost his leg in a battle, then continued service.

(c) Reece M. Nelson.

Q: So what does the future hold for Reece? 

A: Well I would like to continue teaching HEMA and possibly work out a way to do demonstrations or outreaches to wounded soldiers and even children who are now missing limbs. But things are going to be on the back burner for a while, I have a hernia operation in my future, but I don't have health care so... As it is I haven't practiced my HEMA training for over a month now. My other dream is to one day participate in the Tournament of the Phoenix, as a jouster.

I would like to thank my young friend for his time. This has been one of the more interesting conversations and interviews I have had in a while. Training, Teaching, Working out to HEMA drills with a prosthetic limb just has to be yet another definition of a true Modern Medievalist. -Thanks Reece.

Photo courtesy of Klehma. Reece M Nelson.

Here are the links to Reece's efforts, his group and his band. There is also e-mail addresses to get in contact with him and his friends.

To contact Reece and or his group: <>

Website for The Medieval Swordsman Guild of Kansas City:

Reece has a YouTube Channel where he shows his various HEMA forms, for his students and to receive tips from other practitioners of the art:

If you would also like to see Reece rocking it out, here is a link to his band!

The Wikipedia Link to their HEMA article:

Once again, thank you Reece M Nelson for your time and for the opportunity to tell your story.

-DS Baker

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Things" concerning the men who once sailed in Longships.

The Law Rock or Speaker of the Law
At the "Althing" of Iceland.
Painted by W.G. Collingwood
Circa 1826-Public Domain
     In the name of this blog are two elements.-Modern and Medievalist or Medieval if you will. Because I look for them, I see medieval links to our everyday existence. Most of Europe for instance is nothing more than a framework of modern governance overlaid upon centuries of tradition, most of whom are medieval in nature. I believe it is part of the human condition to keep our history and our heritage or the heritage of those from whom we come from alive, and relevant in our daily lives.

    As an example of people keeping their culture alive, year and years ago I was sitting in a pub with a good friend of mine from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. We were watching Ireland battle Denmark to a tie in a World Cup qualifying match. At the end, when Ireland has scored the tie goal, an Irishman at the back of the pub yelled out in a really loud voice, "That! For Clontarf!" My mate and I just about fell off of our bar stools laughing. Incidentally it took almost a thousand years for that little statement to be uttered...

     For those who might not know the Battle of Clontarf happened on  the 23 of April 1014. It was a battle between Dubliner Danes, Orkney Adventurers and a large collection of Vikings from all over the Scandinavian world. Vs. Brian Boru the then High King of Ireland. In the end the Danes and their allies were beaten but Brian Boru was killed by a group from Orkney fleeing the battle. The blood loss on the side of the Irish was so great, that very few Noble Irish Families did not have at least one family member die. -So it evolved into  a badge of honor amongst the Irish, to say they had someone die at Clontarf.-End the end, it resulted in a draw for Ireland with a dead king and a goodly amount of their nobles perished and the Danes loosing much of their assembled forces.

Battle of Clontarf
By Hugh Frazer. 1826
Public Domain.

    The oldest Parliamentary Government in the world exists in Iceland, called the Althing. Which incidentally makes it the oldest semi-continually governing Democracy on the planet. It was found in 930 on the open plains just outside of Reykjavik. It operated on an annual basis for almost 1083 years.It was disbanded by the Absolute Monarchy of Denmark in 1800 and later reestablished in 1845. It had the one tiny break in its roughly 1083 year history. The Althing like any institution evolved. It went from a gathering of all the free men in Iceland and the (Godars)-a combination of powerful person and lord could decided legal cases and dispense justice, to the modern institution it is today. I will include a Wikipedia Links at the end of the article.

     There is another odd term which is slowly dropping out of usages in the English language. Although to be fair it does still crop up in the odd newspaper article and novel. I just so happens to be one of my all time favorite words: Bailiwick. It is a an Old English, combination of (Bali) and (Wick) and as a result because it is Old English it has a very close analogue in German. Both mean roughly the same thing:

Noun: Bailiwick or plural (Bailiwicks)
1. The district of which a Bailie or Bailiff has jurisdiction.
2. A persons's concern or sphere of operation, and or expertise.
3. A termed used as an area of governance by the Teutonic Knights*

     Which brings us to one of the more medieval aspects of the British Monarchy. The Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man-which are held as personal possessions of the Crown. Although there is a qualifier, as their governance or ownership is described as "The Crown in right of..."-Just add the appropriate name.

     All three are independently governed by representatives of the Crown, most notably Bailiffs in the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, and the Lieutenant-Governor for the Isle of Man-(2005 The Isle of Man created a new position that of Chief Minister, as their head of government) Ultimately though, no matter what the civil authorities do, their laws and regulations must travel through the Privy Council of Her Majesty the Queen. She is the ruler of these lands.-Yes before the rocks start flying my way, I realize this is very much a simplification of a complex style of governance. However it remains that these islands are held in possession by Her Majesty the Queen and they are extremely medieval in nature Guernsey and Jersey have been in the possession of the Crown since the time of William the Conqueror. If you just go by his ascension to the English throne in 1066, that is roughly 948 years this coming Christmas...

All of which is contrasted with the Isle of Man declaring it has the oldest continuous operating parliament in the world called the Tynwald. Note: you have to read the description carefully. The key words are "Continuously Operating." Remembering the Althing of Iceland. The Althing had a break in service of 45 years. The Tynwald on the other hand did not. The Isle of Man officially came under feudal lordship of the English crown in 1339. Although as part of the Lordship of the Isles it reinvested itself into the British Monarchy in 1765. The Tynwald is reputed to have been founded in 979 AD. The people of the Isle of Man celebrated its existence in 1979 with a millennial birthday celebration. Although from what I have read, there does not appear to be any records of the Tynwald appearing until the XII Century. Incidentally "Tynwald" means roughly the same as the Icelandic "Althing" -The place of the "Thing", or the assembly.

     In closing I would like to state, my descriptions used in this posting are very much of a generalized nature. I have include links to various sites to give you the reader a place to do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. It is also interesting to me when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea how the history of Ireland, England, and the British Crown Dependencies would all be related. But if you read the Wikipedia articles I have included in this post, you will see in one form or another they are all linked because of Vikings, Normans (Semi-Civilized Vikings), and the Danes. In fact all of these institutions, countries and even the British Crown owe some part of their existence to men who once sailed in Longships and a desire to have their voices be heard.

All my absolute best!
-DS Baker


The Battle of Clontarf:

The Althing and the official webpage of:

The official link to the Icelandic Parliment

The link to the British Crown Dependencies

The Bailiwick of Guernsey:

The Official Portal for the States of Guernsey:

The Bailiwick of Jersey:

The Isle of Man:

The Wikipedia Isle of Man Portal: