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The Prince and the Neuron Blaster

Michael K. Jones‘ latest investigation, into Edward the Black Prince, was featured on BBC1’s “Inside Out” South-East, a half-hour regional magazine programme consisting of three reports of which this was the last one.

As Jones explained, the neuron blaster is not a weapon used at the 1356 battle of  Poitiers but for present day scientific tests that Oxford’s Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory is conducting on the helm that formed part of his “achievements” at his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, to discover whether this whether it was an ornament or actually associated with the Prince in his lifetime. Apart from Jones and some scientists, Tobias Capwell was also featured in the ten-minute segment. It also quoted Froissart to explain how the teenaged Prince had fought at Crecy ten years earlier, where King John of Bohemia was among the casualties.

 

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A book on Medieval warfare, not only Renaissance….

a book on medieval warfare - not just Renaissance

Um, I don’t think Edward III and the Black Prince are Renaissance, but the book might be interesting. Perhaps it more concerns the build-up to Renaissance warfare?

 

The Black Prince’s jupon recreated….

Black Prince's Funeral Achievements

The BBC is renowned for its amazing documentaries, and one of the latest series is titled A Stitch in Time, in which fashionable clothes from the past are recreated by modern crafts. The episode that really interested me was the one about the Black Prince’s jupon, i.e. the tight-fitting, brightly-coloured tunic he wore over his armour. The original was for centuries displayed above his wonderful tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, but as it was slowly disintegrating, a replica put in its place.

Amber Butchart, the programme presenter, was permitted to see the original, which is rarely exposed. It was sadly faded, and gave no idea at all of what it must have looked like when worn by the Black Prince. The replica gives more of an idea, because it has colours, but even so…how did Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, appear when wearing it?Black Prince

The programme had included armour as well as the recreation and stitchwork of the new replica, and at the end we were treated to a view of the finished garment. It was absolutely fabulous, and so brilliant that only a prince or a king could have possibly have worn it. I have snipped the following picture from the programme, and it doesn’t do justice to the completed jupon, which was astonishing—breathtaking—and a feast for the eyes.

Black Prince - Recreation

I cannot speak for the rest of the series, but for me, this episode alone made it all worthwhile. Recommended viewing!

 

No more chocolate-box boys in the Tower, PLEASE….!

 

And to cap it all, we even have Kittens in the Tower!

Kittens in the Tower

Oh, for heaven’s sake!

Right, there is a famous “story” about one of our 15th-century princes of Wales, specifically Edward of Lancaster (or Westminster), seven-year-old son and heir of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. The fame goes that after the 2nd Battle of St Albans, which his side won, his mother asked him to decide the fate of two opposition knights who had been found guarding his father, the captive, rather weak-minded Henry VI. Little Edward chose to have their heads lopped off, even though his father protested. The prince was to eventually come off worst at the Battle of Tewkesbury, at the age of eighteen. (There are various versions of how he died, and at whose hand.)

Royal boys had armour in those days, and there are examples in the White Tower. Was Edward wearing something like this at the time of his supposed seven-year-old bloodthirstiness?

Well, of course, no one knows if the story is true. If it is, the adjective “bloodthirsty” is well earned where Edward of Lancaster is concerned. If it’s untrue, well, he is exonerated. But, given all the ferocious training young aristocratic and royal boys had to go through from the age of seven, he would certainly have already been faced with the brutal reality of medieval warfare. They all were. They learned to handle weapons that could kill, and were shown exactly how to put an end to an opponent. Some idea of this can be seen at http://www.lordsandladies.org/knighthood-training.htm and the following illustrations show more.

quintain - 3stages of knighthood

be master of all this

Imagine our little boys being confronted with such an armoury, and told they will be expected to be master of it all before they’re even men. Imagine them even being sent away to strangers to start learning how to shed blood. Unthinkable.

Like Edward of Lancaster, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) is another example of this same rigorous knightly tuition from the age of seven, and learned every battle skill he might ever need. And he was very good at it. By seventeen he had his own independent command, and took part in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. It was expected of him, and he met the challenge.

The boys in the Tower were Richard’s nephews. The elder was another Edward, Prince of Wales of questionable legitimacy (there are considerable doubts that Henry VI was Edward of Lancaster’s father), and was coming up for thirteen when he and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury (aged ten) were ensconced in the royal apartments of the Tower in 1483, after their father’s unexpected death. Both boys would have been well into their training.

They were princes of the blood. They were educated, conditioned with a sense of their superiority and importance, and learning the hows and ways of defending themselves in battle. So, in my opinion, big-eyed, clingy, vulnerable, little golden angels they were not. Yet all we see are paintings that follow the same melted-marshmallow theme.

Do we ever see similar gushing illustrations of little eight-year-old Richard of Gloucester, in exile, clinging to his not-much-older brother George of Clarence after the deaths of their father and another elder brother, Edmund? No. Why? Because there are Tudor pawmarks all over the advent of the nauseating chocolate-box images. For the advent of everything concerning the boys of 1483, in fact. There is no evidence that they were killed at all, let alone by their wicked Uncle Richard. And they weren’t in a dungeon in the tower, they were in the royal palace apartments. Theories of their fate abound, of course, but that is not of concern here. And—whisper it loudly!—the Tudors themselves weren’t without good motive for despatching the boys.

Anyway, if I never see another sugary portrait of these yucky little angels, I will be well pleased.

(On another note entirely, there is another Murrey and Blue post about how portraits can influence us. See https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/can-a-picture-paint-a-thousand-words/)

Mediaeval Armour

I just found some videos on You Tube discussing how a mediaeval knight was armed and the differences between Gothic German armour and White Italian armour. They were both very interesting and you can see them here: How a Man Shall Be Armed: 15th Century and here: White Italian Armour VS German Gothic Armour

Photo Italian mediaeval armour c.1450

Italian armour circa 1450

Have a look and then post your opinion on the following:Which type of armour do you think Richard wore? I presume he would have had one or the other, since they were the best. He was known to have commissioned Italian armour for his knights, so I would plump for that – also which type would you prefer to wear and why?

 

 

 

Image credit: Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A new take on “Full Metal Jacket”….!

Before anything else, let me identify the above illustrations. Top left is, um, supposedly a 15th century back armour. Whoever wore it, male or female, was rather peculiar anatomically. 2nd top left is a Boccaccio Amazon Queen. 3rd top left is an illustration from the British Library, and top right is Queen Isabella with her lover, Roger Mortimer. Bottom left is Joan of Arc, and bottom right is Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou from “The Hollow Crown” series.

Right, now to explain what links them all…in case you haven’t noticed all the armour! There is a very interesting article at http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/surprising-truth-behind-armor-dress-whipped-facebook-page-frenzy/, featuring a very novel armour dress. The full thing, plentiful skirt to the ankles, the lot.

armor-dress-3-e1418153394522-630x420

Totally illogical, of course…at least, it would be if it were the real thing. As the article explains “…The dress is not an original object from the Renaissance, made of metal … it is made of plastic and represents the style of that time…” And as a conception, it’s daft – just imagine mounting your horse to go into battle! Looking at illustrations of warrior ladies from the past, it’s clear they only protected their upper half, with a sort of peplum below the waist. Below that, just the usual skirts, albeit probably in some thick, heavy material. But Joan of Arc seems wrong in the above illustration of her. Didn’t she always dress as a man/boy?

As for the back armour at top left. Can’t be for the back, surely? I mean, who has bosoms at the back? No man I can think of, nor any women, come to that. Unless, of course, you know better…?

Why put Richard III (or anyone else) in white armour….?

Illustration from the tournament book of King René of Anjoufrom King René’s Tournament Book

The only thing I am concerned with here is what is actually meant by the term “white armour”. And I do not refer to the star trooper that is supposed to be Richard III. Plus, I am definitely not an armour buff, but just trying to fathom some of the finer points.

White armour was made of polished steel. There are numerous references to it, mostly with praise and admiration, as it was (supposedly) more precious and admirable than field armour, which was not polished.

Anne Wroe mentions it as follows (concerning Perkin Warbeck):-

Other things, too, were going on in Cork at the time. The confession mentions a Yorkist refugee, John Taylor, as one of the kidnappers loitering on the dockside. But Taylor was not there by chance. He was in charge of a small fleet, equipped and paid for by the King of France, which had been sent apparently to fetch a Yorkist prince, or an imitation of one. Taylor hoped thereby to foment a rebellion in favour of the Earl of Warwick, but the prince who had arrived was already, it seems, proclaiming himself as the Duke of York. Some debate may have followed about which name the young man was to take, if he was not truly the prince. But in the hold of one of Taylor’s ships lay a suit of precious white armour already made for him. In short, he was expected.

http://www.richard111.com/perkin_warbeck__imposter_or_pri.htm

I have found other references too, including that Tudor, on arriving in Wales, would undoubtedly strike awe into everyone in his dazzling white armour. There are many more in a similar vein, but I will not overload you with them. Suffice it that if you wore white armour, the implication was that you were the bee’s knees.

Now I have been looking through a large book entitled Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia by Noel Fallows. On pages 80-81 it states:-

. . . As clarified by Amadis de Gaula, in medieval Castile white armour denoted a certain level of skill since it was typically worn by novice knights . . .

and

. . . “I told him I would take the horse, because it was very good, and the cuirass and the helmet; but that the other arms were to be white as is fitting for a novice knight.” . . .

and

. . . fought by two of the least skilled knights, who are pointedly described as wearing white armour. White, polished armour would still have been expensive and of high quality . . .

Aha, do I hear you cry? What is she waffling about? This book only refers to jousting, not to battle circumstances. And in Castile, not England and Wales. I agree, but these knights went all over Europe attending tournaments. Just think of the film A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger. And this is where my problem arises. What did white armour signify in the real world, i.e. not the glamour of the tournament? Did it suddenly become very desirable indeed to appear in highly polished steel? Or did it still indicate the novice? So, in a tournament, an experienced knight would never challenge, or accept a challenge from, a less skilled knight in white. But on the battlefield . . . ?

Perkin Warbeck would clearly have been a novice . . . and maybe the same could be said of Henry. He was no warrior, and I have never read of him appearing in a tournament on the continent, or anywhere else. I know, I know, he was under house arrest and therefore couldn’t, but the end result is the same, he had no experience. Then again, I cannot imagine he would draw attention to his lack of skill and experience by strutting around in white. He was too canny for that.

So, am I right to think that white armour indicated one thing in jousting, but quite another in real combat? And one thing in Castile, but quite another in England? I am sure someone out in WordPressland is going to tell me.

 

Richard gets porcelain and a modern firearm…?

All this and a modern firearm too...

Forgive me if I’m a little bemused. This picture is Richard. OK? But he’s dressed to look like a clown, with what looks like breast armour representing his innards. Hmmm. As for the weapon, I’m sure Richard would have been pleased to arm his men with such things. More hmmmmm…. Well, the French do have a different way of looking at things, but to me this is totally daft. Nul points.

http://citizen.co.za/afp_feed_article/richard-iii-gets-suit-of-french-porcelain/

 

 

Body of Evidence

“Body of Evidence” was the title of a talk given by Dominic Smee, Richard’s “body double”, at Leicester University earlier this year. Until recently, one of the great mysteries surrounding the last Plantagenet king was the contradiction between the severity of his supposed deformities and his reputation as a soldier, praised amongst others by his brother Edward IV, who was himself considered a paragon of military prowess. Some historians suspected that his deformities were exaggerated or even completely invented by his political enemies, pointing to the fact that reports about them only began to surface after his death, while others argued that it was his military reputation which was exaggerated and that his contemporaries were simply too scared to mention his deformities during his lifetime.

The finding of Richard’s skeleton with its severe scoliosis has reignited the debate. As Philippa Langley succinctly put it when first setting eyes on the royal remains: “How do you fit armour on that?” This was the question scientists and historians tried to answer by dressing scoliosis sufferer Dominic in medieval armour and putting him through his paces. The results were presented in the TV documentary “Richard III – The New Evidence” (published in the US as “Secrets of the Dead – Resurrecting Richard III”) – at least, some of them. The purpose of Dominic’s talk at Leicester University was to reveal, based on photos, videos and personal anecdotes, what the producers had chosen to exclude.

The scoliosis and its effects (or not)

He began by showing an x-ray of his scoliosis, which is identical to Richard’s in terms of angle and rib rotation, except that Richard’s scoliosis starts from the 4th vertebra whereas Dominic’s starts from the 3rd vertebra. This means that he has slightly less mobility in his hips than Richard while Richard would instead have had slightly less mobility in his right shoulder. Given how dramatic the curvature looked on the x-ray, it was startling how little it seemed to affect Dominic as he moved around the auditorium and under a t-shirt and light jacket it was all but invisible.

He explained that due to the sideways curvature of his spine the lung capacity on his left side is reduced, but the right side is normal and while he tires more easily than a person without scoliosis, it is not a big issue. The documentary shows him struggling for breath on a treadmill, but at that point he had already been running for 20 minutes. According to his orthopaedic surgeon his other internal organs, such as his heart, are not affected by the scoliosis, which was a key reason why Dominic decided not to have corrective surgery.

There has been much speculation about Richard being in pain and the impact this may have had on him physically and psychologically, but Dominic didn’t experience any pain during his teens and now, in his late twenties, only gets muscle cramps in cold weather conditions or when lifting something heavy, though not enough to need pain killers. He described the pain from a trapped nerve as 10-20 times worse. Unlike Richard he doesn’t have arthritis in his spine, so he was unable to comment on its effect, but this may have been a relatively recent development for the king, who was 32 years old at the time of his death. He would have also been training for armed combat since childhood, which would have strengthened his muscles and helped to support his back.

By contrast, aside from a spell of karate in his teens Dominic led a sedentary lifestyle, so he had to start his knightly training from scratch at age 26. He estimated that he received 40 hours of horse training and 32 hours of weapons training over three months, at an average of two lessons per week, to prepare him for the challenges that were thrown at him in the documentary. The producers actually had a stand-in on hand, but Dominic did so well that they decided to use him all the way.

Customising the armour and unseen research

Because of the sideways curvature of his spine Dominic’s rib cage rests on his hip, so regular armour causes his ribs to rub against the plate, restricting his breathing. The custom-made asymmetrical cuirass, created by Swedish armourer Per Lillelund Jensen from CK45 spring steel, the closest modern equivalent to medieval armour steel, accommodates the curvature and rests on his shoulders instead of his waist. At 62 pounds total weight his armour is also lighter than average to allow for greater agility and to minimise the impact of the asymmetrical weight distribution on his horse. Dominic had brought the cuirass along to the talk and despite the slightly uneven shoulders, which would normally be concealed by the shoulder pauldrons, it looked remarkably “normal”.

1) and 2) Dominic in full armour, and 3) the custom-made cuirass

Dominic gave due credit to his teachers, Dave Rawlings of the London Longsword Academy and Dominic Sewell of Historic Equitation, as he described how he started out learning sword moves from Hans Talhoffer’s medieval fencing manual, but then moved on to other weapons as Richard would have also learned to fight with battle axe and lance, how he and his horse learnt to deal with the asymmetrical weight distribution and how they discovered that the medieval saddle supported his back.

He also revealed that they choreographed a number of scenarios to explore how Richard may have died, both on foot and sitting on a vaulting horse, to see how long he could have defended himself against a group of halberdeers. Another experiment involved a reenactor hitting the top of a sallet with a pole axe, which created a similar imprint in the polystyrene head underneath as the wound on top of Richard’s skull because, due to the gap between sallet and skull, the weapon couldn’t penetrate fully, possibly confirming that “the stroke his Basnett to his head vntill his braines came out with blood”[1]. Most intriguingly Toby Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection and the man who got Dominic involved in the documentary, reenacted Richard’s last cavalry charge to see if he could have covered the 800 or so yards distance in time to kill Henry Tudor before he was attacked by Stanley’s men. Dominic didn’t specify how they worked out the available timespan, but in an interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 Dr Capwell stated that, if Richard hadn’t killed the standard bearer but gone straight for Tudor, the charge may well have succeeded. Sadly none of this made it into the documentary, except for a snippet that shows Dominic playing dead on the floor. As he pointed out, this too was part of the choreography – he hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion.

Unseen challenges

What also wasn’t shown in the documentary was that, due to time and financial constraints, only the cuirass and leg armour, which were so comfortable that Dominic was able to ride a bicylce in them, were custom made. The sallet, shoulder pauldrons, gauntlets and arming doublet were borrowed from fellow re-enactors and the Royal Armoury, which led to unforeseen complications.

Dominic described wearing a sallet as similar to looking through a letterbox: he could only see his horse’s ears and the tip of his lance, all sounds were muffled except the wind whistling around his head and to take his battle axe out of his belt with gauntlet-clad hands, use it and put it back he had to rely on muscle memory. However, the sallet he wore in the programme was too big and the first time he galloped towards the quintain it slid down until it covered his eyes, so he had to pad out his coif to hold it in place. Similarly, the arming doublet didn’t take account of his scoliosis, so it too had to be padded to keep the armour from sliding or rubbing. The symmetrical shoulder pauldrons kept catching on his asymmetrical cuirass, reflecting his shoulder blades catching on his rib cage underneath, so every time he lifted the lance he had to deliberately push up the pauldrons, which should have risen automatically as he lifted his arms had they fit correctly. He had to try and hold reins and weapons without being able to close his hands because the gauntlets didn’t fit. And while the high-backed medieval saddle helped his posture, it wasn’t designed to interact with his custom-made armour so the culet, a piece of armour that’s meant to protect the rider’s bum from weapons while on horseback, was instead driven into Dominic’s bum. Imagine galloping through a field wearing ill fitting plate armour and trying to hit a target with a weapon you’re unable to grip properly – after only 40 hours of training!

The real Richard

Although Dominic didn’t say it, it seems clear that the documentary was edited to emphasise his physical limitations, for example filming him when he was out of breath or playing dead, while glossing over the shortcomings he overcame, such as ill fitting armour and lack of experience (not to mention interpreting the isotope analysis as evidence of a “dissolute” lifestyle). Of course, if Dominic’s achievements were even more impressive than they appear in the programme – he spent up to 11 hours a day on horseback – then it should be even less surprising that Richard, with his greater experience and custom-made armour, was able to earn a reputation as a competent warrior.

To explore how and to what extent these “limitations” can be further compensated Dominic has set up the Dominic Smee Armour Fund to raise money for a fully customised suit of armour. He has already added a new piece to his collection: an asymmetrical arming doublet curtesy of Ninya Mikhaila of The Tudor Tailor, which fits under his asymmetrical cuirass without the need for padding. He is also writing a book about his scoliosis and how his attitude has changed from previously ignoring it to now accepting it. As he commented at the end of the talk, the biggest surprise for him was finding out how much he is actually able to do.

I would recommend Dominic’s talks to anyone who is interested in Richard III. He’s an engaging speaker who, despite his different background, is in the unique position of being able to offer insights based on first hand experience. “Body of Evidence” added many new details to my understanding of the historical Richard and I look forward to any new information Dominic’s research may reveal.

[1] The Song of Ladye Bessiye

Sources:

Dominic Smee: “Body of Evidence”, Leicester University, 21 March 2015

The Dominic Smee Armour Fund

Arming Richard

When I was in Leicester for the re-interment I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lecture by the armour expert, Richard Knox, and Dominic Smee, Richard’s body double.

Demonstration of Richard III double being armed

Richard Knox arming Dominic

As an osteopath I was interested in some of the information Dominic gave about that and this included the height of Richard and how much he would have lost because of the scoliosis. Dominic said that his orthopaedic consultant told him that he had lost three inches because of the scoliosis. As we know, Richard would have been 5 feet 8 inches without taking it into account, so that means his actual height would have been 5 feet 5 inches (not 4 feet 8 inches which I saw reported in a local Leicester paper!) Additionally, Dominic told us that his scoliosis began one vertebra lower than Richard’s and that this would mean that Richard would have been a little more flexible in the hips than him but a little less flexible in the shoulders. (As an aside, Dominic also told us his brother’s name was Richard!)

Dominic in body armour

Dominic shows that his scoliosis is not apparent in armour (nor, indeed, when in normal clothes)

As far as the actual arming went, they showed us the kind of armour Richard would have worn and then how it would have been fitted. Dominic wore his leg armour from the start of the talk as he said that was quite tricky to put on and fairly easy and light to wear, so perhaps Richard would have worn his leg armour in advance of the battle as well. Nor would the leg armour prevent them answering the call of nature! The rest of the harness took about twenty minutes to put on and, to demonstrate, Dominic was armed by Richard Knox while they commented on what they were doing and what it was called, etc. One fascinating photo-slide that they showed was of the view Dominic had while wearing the armour during his charge on horseback. All he could see was his horse’s ears! It must have been terrifying! And he didn’t have enemy soldiers trying to kill him. I later tried on one of the helmets and it was terribly claustrophobic. Not only could you see very little, nor could you hear clearly – everything was muffled. And Dominic confirmed it would get very hot after wearing it for a while, especially in the summer. So now I can understand why some knights in armour would have removed their helmets, despite the danger. I could almost feel the panic if one was claustrophobic.

Dominic armed - note the helmet's narrow eye slit

Dominic armed – note the helmet’s narrow eye slit

In conclusion, I now appreciate even more how courageous Richard and the other knights must have been to charge into battle against the enemy, whilst being half deafened, half blinded and suffocatingly hot!

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