Having a swim in full armour….?


BGE Ms. fr. 190/2 fol. 61v

Just how many people could swim in medieval times? I imagine that the scene in the above illustration is somewhat fanciful. A king in full armour could swim and keep the crown on his head? At least, I think he’s swimming. If he’s drowning he doesn’t look particularly distressed, in fact he’s smiling! (And just what is that looming green-black shape on the right? A monster? Or just some weirdly shaped land?) So, he’s swimming, completely clad in metal with his crown balanced precariously on his head. It seems like a new, particularly fiendish Olympic event. Whether it’s possible I don’t know, but somehow it seems likely to remain in the realms of the imagination. Being fully clothed or just plain naked seems more likely when one went for a medieval dip.

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a man swimming, and another treading water. British Library MS Royal 2 B VII f. 170

If you read This article you’ll find some interesting information about our medieval ancestors and their relationship with the art of swimming.

But it’s the armoured swimmer at the top of this post who really intrigues me. Who was he? A real king? Is he holding a holy book, thus indicating a miracle? Whatever the story behind the illustration, I guess he had to start out by learning to swim!


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