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St Maurice, patron saint of knights….?

 

Saint Maurice by Matthias Grünewald c 16th century

On reading Chivalry by Léon Gautier, I learned that St Maurice was the patron saint of knights. Another interesting fact about him is that he’s often depicted as a Black African man in armour. He apparently came from Upper Egypt, so he probably was black. I’m reminded of the Black Madonnas. We’re always surprised by such images, yet why? The southern shores of the Mediterranean are the continent of Africa, so go figure!

Anyway, the book Chivalry is French, and so I must believe St Maurice may have been the patron saint in France, and the rest of Europe perhaps, but I can’t find any reference to him being the patron saint of knights in England. In this country it was St George. As I’m a writer, I’m always on the lookout for facts to add as background, and I thought that as a lot of my present characters are knights who are often embroiled in army campaigns, St Maurice should surely get a mention. Easier said than done.

St Maurice in Magdeburg Cathedral, circa 1240-50

St Maurice is rather rare here. There don’t seem to be all that many parish churches dedicated to him. I went to catholic.org and found the following:-

“….Maurice was an officer of the Theban Legion of Emperor Maximian Herculius’ army, which was composed of Christians from Upper Egypt. He and his fellow legionnaires refused to sacrifice to the gods as ordered by the Emperor to insure victory over rebelling Bagaudae. When they refused to obey repeated orders to do so and withdrew from the army encamped at Octodurum (Martigny) near Lake Geneva to Agaunum (St. Maurice-en-Valais), Maximian had the entire Legion of over six thousand men put to death. To the end they were encouraged in their constancy by Maurice and two fellow officers, Exuperius and Candidus. Also executed was Victor (October 10th), who refused to accept any of the belongings of the dead soldiers. In a follow-up action, other Christians put to death were Ursus and another Victor at Solothurin (September 30th); Alexander at Bergamo; Octavius, Innocent, Adventor, and Solutar at Turin; and Gereon (October 10th) at Cologne. Their story was told by St. Eucherius, who became Bishop of Lyons about 434, but scholars doubt that an entire Legion was massacred; but there is no doubt that Maurice and some of his comrades did suffer martyrdom at Agaunum. Feast day – September 22nd….”

Nothing there about being patron saint of knights, although to be sure he was a Christian soldier in the time of the Emperor Maximian Herculius. (250 – c. July 310)

Wikipedia Wikipedia says St Maurice is patron saint of weavers and dyers , as well as patron saint of the Duchy of Savoy (France) and of the Valais (Switzerland) as well as of soldiers, swordsmiths, armies, and infantrymen. Aha! Maybe that’s it – he was patron saints of fighting men in general. That fits…but why isn’t he around much in England?

I was curious, and so had a poke around on Google, and soon came upon Plympton St Maurice in Devon. Surely the history of this town would explain the St Maurice part of its name?

from Old OS Map

According to local history “….Plympton St Maurice was originally called St Thomas, although when the name changed was uncertain, but it changed between St Maurice and St Thomas several times before St Maurice became more generally used….During the 13th and 14th century, Plympton St Maurice was bigger than Plymouth and far more important as a port. There is an old rhyme which states that ‘When Plympton was a Busy Vale, Plymouth was a fuzzy dale’. However the life blood of Plympton soon became it’s poison, as the Tin Mines on Dartmoor produced a lot of silt which was washed downstream, this caused the river to silt up, and took away the port….” Not much luck there. Nothing at all to suggest why St Maurice took root there. 

So I guess it’s just one of those things. St Maurice didn’t really make it to England. The best I can do to mention him is have a character say in passing that he’s the patron saint of knights on the other side of La Manche.

 

Colchester’s Dutch Quarter

Like other towns near the east coast, Colchester was partially settled by Hugenot refugees from the Low Countries in the sixteenth century. The Dutch Quarter is defined as being to the immediate north of the middle of High Street, as West Stockwell Street turns off at the Town Hall. This Victorian structure has six historic statues, from Boudicca to Harsnett, together with some abstract statues and St. Helena (left), mother of Constantine I, on the roof. She is, improbably, said to be the daughter of “Coel”, a local chieftain, although her birthplace in the Middle East is quite well established.

John Ball Walk and Wat Tyler Walk, commemorating the Peasants’ Revolt leaders the former of whom had an Essex connection, lie at the lower end of West Stockwell Street. The nearby St. Helen’s Lane incorporates a church, now part of the Russian Orthodox Church, dedicated to the Empress.

 

Joan of Arc or Boudicca? Boudicca every time for me, I fear….

Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854

Joan of Arc means a great deal to France, but I’m afraid I have never really cottoned on to her. Perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable when it comes to people who “hear voices”. Not that I’m saying she deserved her horrible death. Far from it. No one deserves that. But when it comes to great female warriors, I prefer Boudicca/Boadicea. Clearly I will never become St Sandra!

Anyway, today (17th July) in 1429, at Joan’s urgent behest, the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII of France at Reims. Joan was in attendance (see illustration above). It was in the middle of the Hundred Years War, and the English were at the gates, so to speak. The King of England, Henry VI, was a child of about eight, but even if he’d been twenty-eight he wouldn’t have been much good. He was useless. Period. Later, during his long periods of “madness”, he was simply even more useless.  So his uncle, John, Duke of Bedford, was regent. Bedford was a good leader and things were going well…until a peasant girl threw a spanner in his works.

Jeanne d’Arc, known as The Maid of Orléans, came from nowhere, having visions and believing herself to be under the guidance of God’s angels and saints. Dressed in armour as a man, she took command of the French army and caused Bedford a bit of bother. Which the duke did not appreciate, of course.

To cut a long story short, she was eventually captured, tried and sentenced to burn at the stake as a witch. This dire event took place on 30th May 1430

The English get all the blame for this atrocity, but it wasn’t entirely their doing. To begin with, she’d fallen into the hands of Jean II, Count of Luxembourg, who sold her to the English for 10,000 gold livres. see here.

To read more about Joan’s fate, go to the Guardian

And I still prefer Boudicca/Boadicea, I’m afraid.

Richard III and the Pharaoh….?

Pharaoh Djedefre and King Richard III

Last night I settled down to watch a two-hour documentary I’d recorded from the History Channel. No, it wasn’t about Richard III, or even the English medieval period, but about the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Specifically about the discovery of the long-fabled fourth pyramid, some five miles from Giza: here Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the actual documentary anywhere on line, but no doubt it’s lurking somewhere.

To read more about the pyramid, go to this article.

The documentary was very interesting, but why am I mentioning it here? Because the pharaoh who built it, Djedefre, was the most maligned and ignored of the dynasty. (Sound familiar?)

Born the son of the mighty Khufu, he came to the throne on the death of his brother – a death for which he he was afterward damned as a murderer. (Echoes of boys in the Tower?) Modern(ish) historians leapt to accuse him, and to claim that he was untrue to his father, vicious and hated, and was murdered in turn by his other brother some eight years later. Oh, and there was the incest, of course. He married his dead brother’s queen, who also happened to be their sister. Well, Djedefre didn’t invent that sort of thing, Egyptian pharaohs did it all the time! They thought it kept their bloodline pure. We know that it kept their bloodline all sorts of things, none of them beneficial, but they didn’t have the benefit of our modern knowledge. (Richard III’s so-called intention to commit incest with his niece Elizabeth of York was more storytelling by Henry Tudor’s agents. And as for claims that his marriage to Anne Neville was all manner of vile and illegal things…I wish the culprit historians could be made to eat their own words.)

Oh, those historians have a lot to answer for, because excavations at the site of the fourth pyramid have revealed that Djedefre was a very different man, loyal, dutiful and determined. (Even more familiar?) He was a good ruler for twenty-three years (not eight!) who was greatly mourned after death. And no, the pyramid he built wasn’t pulled down by the people because they loathed him. (That’s the historians’ version!) it was ransacked for stone by the later Roman invaders and has been steadily denuded over the intervening centuries so that today it’s little more than a heap of rubble.

So, now perhaps you see why I’m posting this. Like Richard III, Djedefre has been greatly wronged by biased historians who are eager to paint the blackest picture imaginable. The Tudor spirit lived on in these historians, and with it all the Tudor fabrications.

Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

Ancient Roman roads drove later development….

Roman road-building - WordPress

A friend in America sent me the following article, by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post. Having just been researching the ancient route from Paris to Lyon, as it was in the late 14th century, I found it very interesting to think that the routes and places chosen by the Romans all those centuries ago, are still ruling us today.

“Ancient Roman roads drove later development 

“Prosperity begets prosperity: On a global level, economists and historians have shown that places that prospered 100, 500, even 1,000 years ago tend to be more economically developed today.

“But how? We’re less clear on the exact channels by which economic activity sustains itself over the millennia. Could dynastic wealth play a role? How about the concentration and transmission of knowledge via institutions such as schools and libraries? How does military might factor in?

“Now, a team of Danish economists has put forth a forceful case for one largely overlooked driver of economic development in Europe: roadways built by the Roman empire nearly 2,000 years ago. They demonstrate that the density of ancient Roman roads at a given point in Europe strongly correlates with present-day prosperity, as measured by modern-day road density, population density and even satellite imagery of nighttime lighting.

“Their data show that infrastructure investments are — if you’ll pardon an unpardonable pun — a pathway to long-term prosperity.

“To arrive at this conclusion, Carl-Johan Dalgaard of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues first obtained a geographic database of the major roads of the Roman era that had been compiled by Harvard University’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations.

“Roman roadways were massive infrastructure projects even by modern standards. They consisted of several base layers, including stone, gravel and sand, over which large stone slabs were laid. At the empire’s peak in 117 A.D., scholars estimate, the Romans had built nearly 50,000 miles of roadway across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Many of them have lasted well into the present day.

“Dalgaard and his colleagues took a map of the major ancient Roman roads and superimposed it over satellite imagery showing the level of nighttime illumination in 2010. Economists often use nighttime lighting as a proxy for economic activity: more lights, more development.

“The visual relationship is particularly striking in France. There, you can clearly see the paths of ancient roadways connecting not just major modern cities, like Paris and Lyon, but also many minor ones, too. Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era.

“While just eyeballing it like this is certainly suggestive, it’s not good enough for social science research. So Dalgaard and his colleagues took it several steps further: They divided the entire ancient Roman empire into a grid of 1 degree latitude by 1 degree longitude squares and measured the density of Roman roads within each. For each square, they also measured modern-day population, the density of current roadways and economic activity as indicated by the satellite imagery.

“They then ran a battery of statistical tests to determine how the presence of ancient roadways was related to the modern-day variables they measured. The answer: quite a bit. Places with more Roman roads in antiquity tended to have more roads today, as well as more people and greater levels of economic development.

“Now, there’s a big question of causality looming over all this: Can we really say that ancient roads caused greater economic development down the line? Or is it more accurate to say that more prosperous areas in the ancient world simply had more of a tendency to build roads to other places as a natural result of their prosperity?

“Dalgaard and his colleagues marshal convincing pieces of evidence to argue in favor of a causal link that runs from ancient roadbuilding to modern-day prosperity. For starters, Roman roads weren’t typically built with trade in mind: Their primary purpose was to move troops and supplies to locations of military interest. Trade was an afterthought.

”Roman roads were often constructed in newly conquered areas without any extensive, or at least not comparable,existing network of cities and infrastructure,” Dalgaard and his colleagues write. In many instances, the roads came first. Settlements and cities came later.

“Then there’s the fascinating question of what happened to Roman roads built in North Africa. At some point between 500 and 1,000 A.D., wheeled transport was essentially abandoned in the region. Goods were ferried around on the backs of camels, rather than in carts pulled by oxen. The exact reasons for this are up for debate and probably involved costs, advances in saddle technology and the increasing military and political might of groups that had traditionally relied on camels for transport, Dalgaard and his colleagues explain.

“If you’re not pulling carts around, you have less of a need for paved roadways. As a result, the Roman roads in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) weren’t maintained the same way they were in Europe, where cart-based transit remained dominant. ”The implication of these developments is that since ancient roads fall into disrepair in the MENA region, to a much greater extent than in Europe, one should expect to see much less persistence in infrastructure density.”

“Indeed, that’s exactly what Dalgaard and his colleagues found. The correlation between ancient roadways and modern-day development so prevalent in Europe is much smaller and less significant for the Middle East and North Africa. ”As ancient roads are left to decay they ultimately become a less reliable predictor of modern road location in the MENA,” they found. ”Roman road density does not predict current day economic activity within the MENA region.”

“In sum, Dalgaard’s research adds historical heft to the idea that infrastructure investments can be a driver of economic growth. While most research into that question has focused on short-term results, Dalgaard’s paper suggests that infrastructure investments today could continue to bear fruit for thousands of years to come.

Across Inland France - WordPress

Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

Ancient roads - WordPress

Ancient Roman roads superimposed on 2010 satellite imagery of nighttime lighting in Europe. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

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