Posts tagged ‘Sean May’

Wednesday Word of the Week: schiltron/sheltron

The Wikipedia article (link below) has more information on this military formation.

A sheltron (also sceld-trome, schiltrom or shiltron) is a compact body of troops forming a battle array, shield wall or phalanx.

The term sheltron is obsolete, but is most often associated with Scottish pike formations during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Etymology

The term dates from at least 1000 AD and derives from Old English roots expressing the idea of a “shield-troop”. Some researchers have also posited this etymological relation may show the schiltron is directly descended from the Anglo-Saxon shield wall, and still others give evidence “schiltron” is a name derived from a Viking circular formation (generally no less than a thousand fighters) in extremely close formation, intended to present an enemy’s cavalry charge with an “infinite” obstacle (that is, a perimeter horses refuse to breach). Matters are confused by the fact that the term in Middle English could clearly refer to a body of soldiers without reference to formation, including cavalry and archers. The first mention of the schiltron as a specific formation of spearmen appears to be at the Battle of Falkirk in 1297. There is, however, no reason to believe this is the first time such a formation was used and, indeed, may have had a long previous history in Scotland, as the Picts used to employ spears in block formation as the backbone of their armies.

Source: Wikipedia.

Never for one moment had he regretted marrying her, but she could break his defences the way he used to break the schiltrons.

Source: The Company by K J Parker.

Monday Masterclass: The Medieval Village and Its Land

Last week, I talked a bit about the relationship between a medieval village and its lord. This week, I’m going to look at the land of the village, how it was organised and used. As with last week’s post, the information is taken from Frances and Joseph Gies’s Life in a Medieval Village, which looks particularly at the village during the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.

Use

The whole raison d’etre of the medieval village was to produce food – for the villagers themselves to live on, for their lord to live on and accommodate his staff and guests, and for trade. The system of fields around the village was a complex patchwork of plots owned by different people.

As a basic rule, land was divided between the lord and the villagers. Unfree villagers, or villeins, had to work the fields constituting their lord’s demesne – maybe two days a week, or longer during harvest time – as well as their own land. Free peasants didn’t have this responsibility and could farm their own land.

Villagers could be rich or poor, and the primary aspect of their wealth was how much land they owned. Some owned enough that they couldn’t farm it themselves and would either hire labour or make deals with other peasants – in effect, become lords in miniature within their village.

The village buildings were clustered together in the centre of the manor in the vicinity of important locations such as the manor house, church, green or well. Homes had land attached to them – a fenced toft at the front for livestock, and a croft at the back for limited crop production (although cottages, whose occupants were cotters, had very little land attached to them).

Beyond the buildings were the fields, pastures, meadows (for hay production), marshes and forests.

Farming the Fields

A village had a small number of fields – two or three seems typical. One field would be left fallow to recover nutrients for a year; the other one or two would then be divided between spring crops and winter crops. The follow year would see the plantings rotated.

Fields were divided first into furlongs, rectangular plots ‘a furrow long’; this was the sowing unit, each furlong being sown with the same crop. Furlongs were subdivided into strips or selions, long, narrow groups of furrows. The longer the strip, the better, as it meant fewer turns of the plough for a given amount of land. Strips inside a furlong were quite uniform, but furlongs followed the lay of the land and often had unploughed patches between them that may have been cultivated by hand.

Crops planted included barley, wheat, oats, peas, beans, rye and vetch. At Elton, the village looked at in Life in a Medieval Village, barley was the largest crop – the 1286 harvest included two thousand bushels of barley, a thousand of wheat and lesser amounts of other crops (a medieval bushel was about 56 pounds).

Fields were ploughed several times a year depending on whether spring or winter crops were to be planted. Spring crops (barley, oats, peas, beans, vetch) were sown about four bushels to the acre; winter wheat about two bushels to an acre.

During the harvest, wheat was cut with a sickle, oats and barley were mown with scythes. Following the mowing, the weaker and poorer members of the village would follow on, gleaning – collecting individual stalks etc by hand. The harvest was a hugely important part of the village year. Work done by villeins on the lord’s demesne was called boon-work. The lord had a duty to feed the villagers and supply them with ale at this time.

More Measurements

Besides the furlong mentioned above, various units were used to measure land; however, there was apparently no uniformity regarding the size of these units from place to place. A village would have consisted of something on the order of ten hides – a hide usually being 120 acres (an acre was defined as the amount of land able to be ploughed by an ox in one day – and therefore varied according various factors).

Land was also measured by the virgate. A virgate was theoretically the amount of land needed to support a peasant family and varied in size from 18 to 32 acres. According to one study, a fifth of villagers were virgaters (owners of a virgate), a third had between a half and a full virgate; the bulk of the remainder had even less, and a fraction had extensive holdings.

Next week, I’ll look at the people themselves and their professions.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Whet your literary tastebuds on another smorgasbord of fantasy morsels.

Wednesday Word of the Week: crapulous

crap·u·lous
/ˈkræpyələs/

adjective
1. given to or characterized by gross excess in drinking or eating.
2. suffering from or due to such excess.

Origin:
1530–40; < Late Latin crāpulōsus. See crapulent, -ous

Related forms
crap·u·lous·ly, adverb
crap·u·lous·ness, noun

Source: Dictionary.com.

By the time Swelter’s monologue was dragging to its crapulous close, Mr Flay was pacing onwards, every step staking him another five feet from the reek and horror of the Great Kitchen.

Source: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake.

Monday Masterclass: The Medieval Village and Its Lord

As I’ve just finished reading Frances and Joseph Gies’s Life in a Medieval Village and as many fantasy novels are set in a medieval-esque environment, this week’s Monday Masterclass will give a description of the village in the Middle Ages. Specifically, the village in the 12th to 14th centuries, which is what the book focuses on. This week, I’m going to look at the lord – who was actually somewhat peripheral to the concerns of villagers.

What is a Medieval Village?

The word village comes from ‘villatic’, meaning ‘of the countryside’, which in turn comes from ‘villa’, the country house of the Roman elite, which functioned as both seasonal residence and plantation.

The medieval village was a mostly self-sufficient community centred around farming. Its inhabitants worked the land or produced goods from farmed crops. The nucleus of the village was the villagers’ homes and various communal buildings, while around it were the fields. Village populations were in the order of 300 to 600, and villages represented the bulk of a nation’s population in that era.

Some peasants lived in homesteads – single houses near a farm or other resource that the people exploited. Some lived in hamlets – small clusters of homes of often interrelated families who farmed, fished, hunted etc, but who lacked certain amenities such as a church, bakery, mill and so on. Some lived in towns – which were centres of trade and commerce, hosting markets and merchant businesses. The village was a different entity, occupying a rôle between hamlet and town.

Lord and Village

One of the defining characteristics of the medieval village was the presence (although maybe at a remove) of a lord. The lord may have been a petty knight granted land as part of his knighthood; it could have been a powerful nobleman with lands scattered across several counties; it may have been the Church – the village that is the main subject of the Gies’s book, Elton in Cambridgeshire, was under the leadership of Ramsey Abbey.

The lord may also have been a lady – widows and heiresses controlled land, as well as abbesses and prioresses. Usually, a village was subservient to a single lord, but occasionally, the land of a village might be divided amongst two or more lords. The lord was subservient to either a more powerful lord, of whom he was a tennant, or to the Crown.

The land of the whole village is referred to as the manor. This is divided into two parts: the lord’s demesne (pronounced like ‘domain’) and the villagers’ own land. Villagers could also be divided into two types: freeholders with no particular duties to the lord; and villeins (or serfs) who had a duty to work the fields that made up the demesne as well as their own land and who were required to pay fees for various events in life.

A lord with a single manor would have lived permanently in the manor house in the village. A lord with an extensive estate may never have visited all the villages he (or she) was responsible for – but every village had a manor house. This was the residence of the bailiff, the lord’s main official in a manor, and provided lodging for visiting dignitaries – the lord’s steward or seneschal, who oversaw the whole estate, for instance. Other village officials, such as the reeve – the bailiff’s assistant and highest ranking peasant – would eat meals in the manor house.

The lord was the main authority in the village, but seems to have been quite a hands-off ruler. The village was primarily an economic unit – a producer of food and drink – and the lord mostly allowed villagers to organise themselves to maximise their own output and profit – and therefore his profit.

The main, albeit not necessarily direct, interaction between villager and lord was the manorial court or hallmote, held at least twice a year. At the court, a jury of villagers and the steward would oversee much of the legal business of the village. Villagers were fined for breaking laws and customs, fees were paid for various things, bylaws were made and village officials were elected.

Fines were typically sixpence and made up the vast majority of punishments allotted (occasionally, someone might be sentenced to spend time in the stocks; serious crimes like murder were tried in royal courts). Poor villagers often had their fines waived.

Fees included chevage (payment of an animal by a villein living outside the manor), gersum (for taking possession of a tennancy), heriot (death duty of the deceased’s best animal), merchet (for a woman’s marriage – usually paid by the father; sometimes by the woman if she was a widow, or other arrangements were possible), mortuary (death duty paid to the Church of the second best animal) and tallage (annual tax on villeins).

Villeins could also pay to get out of doing week-work – farming the lord’s demesne. With the money raised, the lord would hire labourers to work his land. Or the lord may have leased his land to a rich peasant, local knight or businessman from a nearby town, who would then keep the difference between the lease fee and the profits. In a similar way, by the 12th and 13th centuries, lords going to war for their monarch was becoming old-fashioned; instead a lord’s taxes would go towards hiring an army.

Conclusion

As a rule, ordinary peasants would have no contact with their lord – dealing instead with the reeve or bailiff, or occasionally the steward. Because of the village’s autonomy, there seems to have been little discontent at the relationship (until increasing taxes led to the Peasant’s Rebellion in 1381 at least). Which isn’t to say villagers led an idyllic life – but, during the period in question, they weren’t miserable oppressed wretches, either.

What are your thoughts on medieval villages and lords? Comment below and share your wisdom.

Next time, I’ll look at another aspect of the medieval village.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Another week gone and another selection of fantasy-related articles to peruse.

Wednesday Word of the Week: cataplasm

cat·a·plasm
/ˈkætəˌplæzəm/

noun Medicine/Medical .
poultice.

Origin:
1555–65; < Latin cataplasma < Greek katáplasma. See cata-, -plasm

Source: Dictionary.com.

‘And that is arctium lappa; a good cataplasm of fresh roots cicatrizes skin eczemas.’

Source: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

See also cicatrise and cicatrix.