Saturday, November 04, 2006

Geirmundr's Question

My friend Geirmundr wonders whether there is a convenient source with a description of what a 14th century soldier of good rank, say a captain of a mercenary company or someone similar, would have as possessions while on campaign. He wishes to assemble such items, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, more systematically. When we first discussed this, I suggested that I was not sure there was such a source. 14th century studies are regrettably few, and the serious stuff in print tends to start with the Wars of the Roses. However, I suggested that we could in fact assemble a reasonable list of sources that would allow us to piece together a list, especially if we make some cautious assumptions about 15th century gear that would have been around in the 14th century.

Candidly, this is a topic I would have had a readier set of answers for ten or fifteen years ago, as I am a little separated from the topic now. At some point when I have time and access to a research library, perhaps later this month, I know where to look for more material.

Of course, his project interests me, as well, but at any rate, here are my initial thoughts on some potential sources, keeping in mind that clothing and armor are easy and not really what he is looking for.

Caselli, Giovanni. History of Everyday Things: The Middle Ages. This is a beautiful hardcover children's book. It has many handsome and accurate drawings of surviving or pictured medieval artifacts. Like many recent children's books, this is really quite good. Doesn't quite nail our topic, but pages 38-39 might be of particular interest. Lots of diagrams of carpenters and architects tools, that sort of thing.

Clare, John D, ed. Living History: Fourteenth-Century Towns. A children's picture book, staged with recreationists or at least a recreationist's sensibility. Some nifty scenes and props, but not quite up to the Eyewitness Books standards.

Coss, Peter and Maurice Keen, eds. Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England. Dress and Social Status in England before the Sumptuary Laws by Frederique Lachaud at p. 105 looks interesting, and there is some good stuff in Chivalry, Pageantry and Merchant Culture in Medieval London by Caroline Berron at p. 219.

Crossley-Holland, Nicole. Living and Dining in Medieval Paris: The Household of a Fourteenth Century Knight. This is obviously of great interest. When I read it years ago, I was focused entirely on food and recipes, with which this volume is massively concerned, but it is worth a look, despite the fact that it is about a peaceful household rather than a camp.

Embleton, Gerry. Medieval Military Costume Recreated in Colour Photographs. Useful, especially for camp scenes posed by European recreationists. All the good stuff is in the 15th century, I'm afraid. Embleton's other book is more useful for that.

Embleton, Gerry and John Howe. The Medieval Soldier. This is much better, with many more scenes of camp life. Unfortunately, it is out of print and not to be had for less than a small fortune. Inter Library Loan is recommended for this one. I wish I'd bought a copy years ago.

Hinton, David A. Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins: Possessions and People in Medieval Britain. Not as interesting as it sounds, I'm afraid, but worth a look, and it has a very extensively bibliography, which I will have a look at before the aforementioned library trip.

Langley, Andrew. Medieval Life. This is an Eyewitness book essentially geared for young people. As such, much better for our purposes, because it actually shows pictures of clothing and everyday items usually overlooked by more scholarly sources. And based on my observation, the Eyewitness series has a pretty high standard of scholarship, certainly high enough for recreating medieval objects for use in the SCA. Excellent and helpful stuff throughout, though not much specifically focused on the medieval nobleman or soldier in camp. Definitely helpful, though. The version I've linked to might be a revision - I've seen it but haven't actually checked to see whether there are changes.

Singman, Jeffrey L. and Will McLean. Daily Life in Chaucer's England. This is a book published about a decade ago by some Canadian recreationists, so it is very much the sort of thing one might find useful in the SCA. Not precisely on the money, but lots of details very close to what Geirmundr is seeking. The authors discuss coinage, food, clothing and accessories, all the usual topics. Of particular interest might be Chapter 5 on the Living Environment.

Wolfegg, Christoph Graf zu Waldburg. Venus and Mars: The World of the Medieval Housebook. A beautiful pictorial description of a 15th century volume full of drawing of medieval people and objects. Gorgeous to look at, this would bear very close examination, which I lack time for at present. Definitely interesting scenes of groups of people dining al fresco.

More, probably much more, later.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Comments on Awards

Anonymous comments on my previous post, noting that Maya of Talonvale also was inducted into the Order of the Willow at Crown. Hoobah to her, too!

He also suggests that it may be necessary to just wing nominations during a reign in which we may be unlikely to see a local event, and that after all some Stormvale members don't often go to events. This I have a perhaps unwelcome answer for, which may date me to the prehistoric age.

It has always been the assumption, even back when the Middle was a much larger kingdom, that if you wanted someone to get an award, you nominated them based on the assumption that they would appear at certain events. Of course this was always hit or miss. But if you were trying to nominate someone who didn't really attend events but was entirely active locally, you either waited for the golden opportunity at Pennsic or a very close-by event, or you didn't nominate them.

And if the reigning monarchs hold their courts in the Midlands (Illinois) for the most part, and you have court business to conduct, or you want to kindly ask them to do something for you, like give an award to someone you recommend, then going to the Midlands is the option. One can't just shrug off the realities of the size of the kingdom. Besides, the next king and queen will be from Pentamere, so we're only six months away from more convenience in this regard.

Our options for this reign, conventionally:

1. Wait for the royalty to add Pentamere events to their schedule. They likely will.
2. Organize some trips to Midlands events if you really want someone to get an award.
3. Wait for the next reign.
4. Don't make the nomination at all.

The royalty in recent reigns has been very generous about giving awards to Stormvale members who don't show up for court. That's good of them, but it really isn't the best practice to keep making nominations with that assumption in mind. Again, it may make me a dinosaur, but in the old days we didn't make nominations this way. Active members of the SCA should show up in court every now and again. It's strange if they don't. That's our problem, not a systemic problem.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Stormvale Awards

Several awards have been made to Stormvale members in recent weeks:

Vikings Come Home, Donnershafen:

A'isha al-Zarqa, Order of the Willow

Crown Tourney:

Andrew Fowler, Award of the Acorn
Eron Crowfford, Order of the Willow (this is a mistake, she is already a member)
Maryska of Stormvale, Award of the Purple Fret

Lady Femke, the Regional Signet, was kind enough to pick up the scrolls at Crown. None of our awardees were present at either event. This might be a good time to remind those making award nominations that it is not the best practice to make award nominations for specific events unless you're reasonably sure there's a good chance that the nominee will be there to be recognized. Right now, Stormvale members go to Pentamere events and Pennsic for the most part.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The MidRealm's New Prince and Princess

The new prince is an old prince. His Grace Dag Thorgrimsson has won the Crown Tourney for the fifth time, a record in the Middle Kingdom. Anything over two reigns is quite unusual. Dag won the tournament for the honor of Lady Anne Marie de Garmeaulx. He defeated Captain Sascha St. Martin, who fought for Lady Lauren of Arabia.

Dag reigned twice with Ilsa von Westfal, and twice with Elayna Lilley. This will be Anne Marie's first time on the throne.

His Grace (His Highness, now) has always been popular in Stormvale. He won his second Crown in Stormvale in 1992, and was kind in various ways to us some years ago. He came to one of our very tiny events the weekend after winning his first Crown tourney, despite having much more glamorous offers, and even marshalled our tournament. We will certainly never forget that.

Dag is also notable for his great dignity and sense of kingliness. I have often seen him being unusually gracious and generous with his time when reigning, as well. He sets a good example in that regard. So, from my perspective, this is news to gladden the heart.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Feast After Action Report

There are times when I don't really feel like I have time for the SCA, and when I become impatient with tasks I've agreed to perform and can't readily get out of. Sometimes it feels like an imposition on time I need to spend on work, other hobbies or watching the Tigers win the pennant.

But as much as I rather dreaded having to devote half of Friday and all of Saturday to the Harvest of Souls VI feast and Sunday to recovering, I will admit that it was fun. Working with Lady A'isha al-Zarqa on a feast is always delightful, and getting the report that she received a Willow at the recent Donnershafen event after the feast was very nice and good timing.

We had the easiest time in the kitchen I can remember, no doubt because while A'isha and I make a good team, adding Lord Diego Brasa de Zaragoza (former caterer) and Her Ladyship Clarissa Wykeham (a past head cook for Stormvale) to the crew made a 14 dish feast remarkably easy. We had a pleasant and relaxing time in the kitchen, despite the hard work at times, and it was especially nice to know that any one of the four of us could adopt any task or dish, or switch off without fuss. And as always we could rely on His Lordship Skalla-Geirmundr Ulfsson to do various hard and thankless tasks, like processing all the onions and washing 90% of the dishes, and Mistress Melisande of Woodcrest, who ran errands. And as he often does, Lord Gerard von Lowenstein ramrodded the servers and made it so the cooks had to do little or nothing with the actual service of the feast. And we appreciated all the other folks who lent a hand, especially on clean up after the feast.

It may be a first, but when we were ready to go with the feast on time (the first two courses were plated and ready to go by then), the feast hall was not fully cleared, and there was a delay while we just kept getting farther ahead. That was quite agreeable.

The Virtues and Sins theme worked out fine, I thought, although it was a rather expensive proposition when we were comping so many tickets and couldn't count on selling out, which we didn't. But the expense wasn't so very far over our usual, everything considered, and it is nice to pull out the stops every now and then.

A few comments on the dishes, with credit to the cooks involved:

Diego was responsible for roasting and slicing the beef for Sauce Aliper, for the Pies of Paris, with a little assistance from A'isha and Clarissa, for the Risotto (he had made the chicken stock for that during the week), and for assisting with the Pippin Pudding prep. He also helped reconstitute some of the Herb Soup when it looked like we might run out. And all this while teaching a class on chain mail and even sitting down for a few minutes of the feast. The beef was fantastic (A'isha and I both snuck pieces before it left the kitchen), the pies looked gorgeous and were highly praised, and while I didn't try the risotto, it smelled divine. I should add that Diego, a former kitchen professional, knew how to operate both the convection oven, which was very handy, and the industrial-grade garbage disposal, which was a great help during clean up. We would have ignored both pieces of equipment otherwise.

Clarissa was responsible for the Pippin Puddings, and invented a clever new way to arrange them for cooking which we will certainly adopt ever after. They were in the seventh and last course, which meant there was some danger they would be refused (and I allowed Clarissa to assume an earlier, smaller number of apples for just that reason - she cooked 70 instead of the 91 planned servings), but in fact very few of them came back. Melisande and I ate some of the leftover custard, and thought it superb. Clarissa also prepped the carrots for another dish, gilded most of the chicken and generally helped with many other tasks.

A'isha, as I have mentioned before, is my favorite partner in the kitchen. Aside from a few moments of discussion at the outset, we really didn't need to plan much or discuss division of labor. We both just floated around keeping things caught up. She was responsible for the Tarts on Ember Day, which were especially glorious and buttery, the Soul Cakes, which she cooked ahead of time, the relish trays and the Herb Soup. She also did some of the more tiresome tasks, like prepping the egg yolks, of which we needed an absurd amount, and had the clever idea of using the fennel greens for garnishing the fish. I should add that both the tarts and the herbs for the soup were quite prep-intense, and A'isha probably helped with all of the dishes, and especially with getting them plated and out the door. I think she and Diego washed and sliced the radishes, too, but I was busy with something else at the time, so I'm not sure about that part.

I roasted the Gilded Chicken, cooked the Apecian Carrots, parboiled and steamed the Broccoli and Fennel, and did the Sauce Cameline for the fish. A'isha and I did most of the plating and arranging as the dishes were going out, with much help from Diego and Clarissa. And Geirmundr also helped with the eggs, butter, and prepped the Compound Salat.

I heard no complaints about any dishes (other than from Geirmundr, who thought I was adding too much odd stuff to the salad!), and I would account this a very successful feast just on that account. We all thought the gilded chicken was something of a revelation. And I thought the tarts and pies had never looked quite so good, and both got many compliments. And the Pippin Puddings came off beautifully.

Once everything was out, and we had been graciously applauded by the diners, the cooks drank champagne in the kitchen (later shared with lunch taverner Lady Eron Crowfford and Geirmundr), and enjoyed some of our cooking. To my surprise, Volkmar, a colleague from work, brought us two beautiful bottles, complete with heraldry, of kiwi lime mead! We promptly opened one and enjoyed it. Most delicious. Limes improve everything, in my view.

At roughly this time we were finding out that A'isha had received a Willow and that the Tigers had won the pennant, and the evening wound down. There was some discussion of doing it again next year, and unless someone else wants a turn or the event stewards have had enough of me, I expect we'll have to. A'isha flatters me with the suggestion that she won't if I don't, and that's pretty convincing!

One last set of comments: the promised Bourbelier de Sanglier dish (pork loin) had to be dropped for roast beef in sauce aliper at the last minute, when it developed that no one had pork loin on sale. There usually is a sale somewhere, but the beef was the planned backup, and there was a sale on some truly beautiful beef roasts. Also, while we usually provide cheese, fruit and sometimes nuts for the relish tray, I opted for less expensive components, partly because I doubted anyone would complain with 13 other dishes. And finally, I don't know if anyone noticed, but I completely forgot the Worcestershire sauce for the Apecian Carrots. I don't think anyone could seriously object to carrots slathered in butter, brown sugar and port, though.

I'd be glad of hearing more comments regarding this feast or suggestions for the next one.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Feast Update

A couple of likely changes. I was in fact rather dissatisfied with the Gilded Chicken. I feel pretty sure that I don't really want to cook about 16 chickens this way. I might still convert this to a more conventional roast chicken dish, with frozen pieces from Gordon's or the like. We're looking at a 6 person per table arrangement rather than our usual 8, which means in effect more dishes and slightly smaller portions per table. A roast chicken per table? Uh, need a bigger kitchen and staff for that, maybe.

Also, the Cold Spiced Beef dish must go, alas. I simply cannot devote the time to this in the next couple of weeks, and I would already be behind schedule on preparing it. So I'm going to give thought to massaging the menu and will post the results here during the next few days. No major changes, just some careful adjustments within the theme. I was concerned that might happen with the beef dish. Oh well, maybe next time.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Chike Endored

Gilded Chicken, that is. This caused some amusing comment on the Stormvale mailing list when the menu got posted without descriptions of the recipes. Was I really going to gold leaf a chicken? What will that crazy Balian do next?

No gold leaf is involved. This is actually a simple roast chicken dish, and the gilding is a mixture of egg yolk and saffron brushed on during the latter part of roasting to give it a golden color. This recipe is from Pleyn Delit, perhaps my favorite medieval cookbook. It is very likely that if price issues cause me to punt and prefer chicken legs and breasts and thighs instead, this will work just as well, but the roast chickens will look better, of course.

Update: Tonight I cooked this dish for the first time, with a nice 5-lb. roaster that is probably a little bigger than ideal. It seems to work well, although I had a misstep - I couldn't find a brush at the last minute, so coverage of the "gilding" wasn't very even. But it looked pretty good. I may try it on individual pieces to see how that looks, too. That would be less impressive but likely more cost effective, as I noted above.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This is a dish from Martino, a 15th century writer who was the first to provide more detailed recipes with quantities. My version is from Great Cooks and Their Recipes by Anne Willan. This is a fun book with a lot of early recipes and redactions. I've used several to good effect.

It's pretty much like modern risotto except that egg yolk is used as the thickening agent rather than cheese. There is a problem to work out with the dish. It calls for the use of egg yolks to be added after the rice is cooked. Presumably the heat from the finished dish cooks the egg... but I'm not sure I have the nerve to do this for a feast. I'm not a worrier about undercooked eggs, but I'm cooking for a lot of people here, and one must not screw around. (I'll try it for myself - perhaps I'll have more confidence in the procedure after I see it in action.)

So, there are a couple of options. First, a pasteurized substitute might work, I'll have to try it. Second, I could cheat and use cheese. And third, I could punt and substitute another rice dish. I had an urge to use one of my favorites, Lemonwhyt, from Fabulous Feasts, but I use it all the time, and it seemed like a good idea to try something different.

I recommend both books. For critics of Fabulous Feasts, see my earlier post on Madeleine Pelner Cosman.

Pippin Puddings

Many readers may not recognize some of the dishes going into the Harvest of Souls VI feast, so I thought I would discuss some of them.

Pippin puddings are baked apples, cored and filled with a custard. The top of the apple is kept and put back on as a cover, with a cinnamon stick through the center. It is a delicious, if somewhat labor-intensive dish. We used them once for a feast of a similar size, so we know it can be done.

The recipe used is from In Service to Our Middles, the Middle Kingdom cookbook, published so many years ago that even I (ancient relic that I am) was never able to obtain a copy, and had to borrow one to photocopy. No source is given, but I'm fairly sure it is perhaps an early modern recipe, if not quite medieval, and it might be older.

We alter one point in the recipe - it calls for the entire apple to be peeled. This has never seemed necessary to me, and I have almost always prepared the dish with the skins on the apples. Saves a lot of work and seems to make no real difference. The custard calls for cream, white wine, egg yolks, sugar and ginger. It is very tasty, and quite striking in appearance.

For this feast, Her Ladyship Clarissa Wykeham has volunteered to prepare and cook the dish. If I didn't have an experienced cook to do it, I would probably have chosen something else, as this is likely to take one person a fair portion of the day, and more to the point, will have to be finished with a careful sense of timing, as cored apples can't just sit around forever waiting to be filled with custard.

In Service to Our Middles; The MidRealm Book of Foods and Feasts was edited by Duchess Caellyn Fitzhugh and published in East Lansing (Northwoods). It looks to me like a late publication from the period when Northwoods was very much the kingdom's social and arts center, in the late 70s. My photocopy has no date, but I was given the impression it had gone out of print shortly before I joined in 1982.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Updated Feast Menu for HoS VI

Well, after posting the final menu last night, I had a brainstorm, and then another. First I decided that the menu wasn't quite married up with the theme well enough and reworked it into 7 courses, 2 dishes a course, one sin per course. Then I decided it would be even better to make it seven courses, with one virtue and one sin per course. I floated it on the Stormvale discussion list last night, it got a favorable reception, and here it is:

Feast of the Seven Virtues and Sins

First Course

Diligent Bread, preferably with water
Slothful Cold Spiced Beef, which took a long time to make

Second Course

Abstinent Compound Salad, full of leafy virtue
Gluttonous Tart on Ember Day, rich and cheesy

Third Course

Lustful Apecian Carrots, for fertile diners
Chaste Fish with Sauce, food for thought

Fourth Course

Wrathful Bourbelier de Sanglier, charged with spice
Patient Broccoli with Fennel, calm and placid

Fifth Course

Prideful Pies of Paris, dinner for nobility
Humble Herb Soup, a peasant’s meal

Sixth Course - Greed

Greedy Gilded Chicken, gleaming with gold
Liberal Risotto, share it with friends!

Seventh Course - Envy

Envious Pippin Puddings, Eve’s tempting fruit
Kind Soul Cakes, to see our diners off

Medieval Link for the Day

De Re Militari and the Journal of Medieval Military History here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Harvest of Souls VI Feast

Feast of the Seven Sins
A Culinary Collection of Dishes to Tease All Your Appetites

First Course

Bread with herbed and honeyed butter
Platina’s Herb Salad
Tart on Ember Day (Gluttony)
Pies of Paris (Pride)

Second Course

Cold Spiced Beef (Sloth)
Apecian Carrots (Lust)
Herb Soup

Third Course

Loin of Pork in Boar’s Tail Sauce (Wrath)
Gilded Chicken (Greed)
Broccoli with Fennel

Fourth Course

Pippin Puddings (Envy)
Soul Cakes

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Founders Day 18

This Sunday will be Founders Day, the annual local event in Stormvale at which we hold competitions to select champions for arts and sciences, rapier combat, archery and armored combat. I'm planning to cook some sort of fairly elaborate dish, haven't decided what yet. Also haven't decided whether to try to defend my title as Stormvale Champion for armored combat. Time to spiff up my armor and practice has been extremely scant.

Also, the feast menu for Harvest of Souls VI should be ready to present at the meeting that night.

Manuscript Images

Malkyn sent me this interesting link to an archive of medieval medical manuscript images.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Stormvale at Middlewiki

Any Stormvalers who haven't checked out the Middlewiki project at should have a look around it.

Stormvale is one of the few branches with a complete entry, and is one of the most visited pages. Give it a try here.

Greed and Gluttony

These seem difficult. Gluttony could be crudely represented by serving too much of something rich, but that's wasteful. (I know, it's appropriate, but I dislike waste.) I'd rather do something more subtle. A dish that would offend the politically correct would perhaps be ideal, but there are limits to what can be done practically. Perhaps something wasteful in the sense that most of it has to be discarded to get at what's good. Artichokes might be good, but it would be difficult to get people to eat them - actually, that might be clever.

Greed is even more difficult, it seems to me. I mentioned in an earlier post shorting each table one serving, that's subtle, but it also needs to be a representative item, I think. This requires some thought. I was also considering something that appeared to be expensive, or actually is expensive or perhaps gilded with something that appears to be gold or silver. Caviar would be perfect, but I'm not sure how medieval, and the cost would be prohibitive. Perhaps a faux caviar of some kind. Hmm.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Lust and Envy

Lust could be covered by the dish I used for the last couple of aphrodisiac feasts, Meatballs in Oyster Sauce. But I am reluctant to recycle too many dishes, and if we use Cold Spiced Beef, we have the beef dish. I'm thinking of going with a seafood dish for lust. I'm not going to do a serious oyster dish, that's just asking for most of it to come back, so we're talking fish of some sort, I would think. Perhaps fish with a suitably spicy preparation.

For envy, I'm thinking of the use of an apple, on the theory that Satan gave Eve the forbidden fruit, usually represented by an apple, because of envy about the tree of knowledge. But both of the apple dishes I've used before are very time consuming to prepare in quantity: Golden Apples of Meat from "Fabulous Feasts" or Pippin Puddings from "In Service to Our Middles". The first is another meat dish, perfected by Lady Eschiva of Jebala back in the 1990s using pie crust and enormously time-consuming (she got an AoA the night of the feast she prepared 90 of them for). The second is a dessert that is shockingly time-consuming and labor-intensive. The apples have to be cored and filled with custard before cooking. I've done it before for relatively large feasts, but it will suck up a lot of labor during the day of the event.

Sloth and Wrath

For sloth, I'm considering a dish from "The Canton of Three Hills St. Valentine's Day Cookbook", Cold Spiced Beef. Beef is a meat considered to have some aphrodisiacal properties, and this dish takes weeks to prepare and uses juniper berries, nutmeg and cinnamon.

For wrath, a Stormvale favorite from "Pleyn Delit", Loin of Pork in Boar's Tail sauce. It has wine, cloves and we'll pretend it's wild boar, very aphrodisiacal stuff.

That gives us two meat dishes, and both are proven crowd pleasers.

Evil Thought on Greed

For the greed dish, how about a delicious item, a proven winner, which deliberately shorts each table by one serving?


Feast Thoughts

Lady A'isha and I are cooking the feast for the Harvest of Souls on October 14, and I am being importuned to announce the menu. Well, well. Announce the menu. I suppose I should do that.

The theme of the event, it appears, is the Seven Deadly Sins. Further, I was asked to reprise something I've done for two previous HoS feasts, an aphrodisiac theme. So let's see here. The Seven Deadly Sins are:

Greed or Avarice

Typical foodstuffs that the medievals would have thought arousing:

Fruits: pomegranates, figs, quince, peaches, perhaps apples.
Vegetables: onions, peas, carrots, asparagus, truffles.
Herbs: myrtle, marjoram, vervain, rosemary, mint.
Spices: nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, juniper.
Seafood: (almost all seafood is good!) oysters, lobster, scallops, anchovies.
Meat: steak, rabbit, lamb, boar.
Fowl: birds of all kinds.
Nuts: hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds.

And, of course, honey.

What kind of dishes will we have to have for a feast? Some delicacies for the table to begin and a subtlety to end. A salad, a soup, a chicken dish, a meat dish, some sort of seafood dish, some veggy dishes (I like to be in the 30% - 50% range for dishes vegetarians will eat).

How many dishes? Seven sins suggests seven dishes, but this is a little low for a feast. Double it? Whew. 14 dishes is a bit much. Maybe if we count some low prep dishes.

These are my initial thoughts, more shortly.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What to call Someone from Stormvale

I am slated to teach a college class on Michigan history this fall. As I prepare for the class, I'm reading, among many interesting things, about whether Michigan residents are properly called Michiganians or Michiganders. It's Michiganians, of course - Michigander doesn't make any sense and was originally an insult directed at Michigan politician Lewis Cass by Abraham Lincoln.

Which reminded me of the occasionally vexed question of whether to call a Stormvale member a Stormvalian or a Stormvaler. People often assume it must be Stormvalian, but it has always been Stormvaler since the early days of the branch. Why? Well, there is a degree of arbitrariness about the matter, all the more so, perhaps, because I'm probably the originator of the rule, but Stormvaler just sounded better when we first discussed this many years ago.

One might logically assume that if Michiganian, then Stormvalian, but then how does one explain New Yorker? New Yorkian just sounds goofy. Stormvalian always did, to me. So there you are.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

He's Not Dead Yet!

I haven't blogged for a long, long time. I'm a bad blogger.

This just a note to say (to my tiny, tiny and no doubt sadly dwindled) audience that I haven't abandoned Clarion Hall. Frankly, I have been busy with work and other things and just haven't had much to say about the SCA lately. There were various things I no doubt could have said over the past few months, but I got out of the habit.

I'll try to have something to say again soon, so please check back some time. In the meantime, I hope past posts and photos are of some faint interest.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Much Longed For Flask

For much of my time in the SCA, I've been especially interested in medieval plate, or table settings. Few pieces of genuinely period design can be obtained, and most people settle for pieces that look old-fashioned or not modern (which is indeed better than nothing). In my quest for authenticity, I am locally famous for using a covered cup that is actually a modern silverplate compote but which strongly resembles covered cups of the period.

I have long desired a pilgrim's flask, which looks like a canteen with an oval foot. They are often featured in paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries, in particular. The pattern is a very old one - much used in the classical Mediterranean, and one sees ceramic and pottery versions down to today. I have seen models used by recreation groups in Europe, but have never been able to discover where they got them. Making one is a bit beyond my meager metal-working skills.

Having searched for years on eBay, I became aware that an old Dutch pewter company, Daalderop Royal Holland, had produced a pilgrim's flask in pewter at some time in the 20th century. The first one I saw was missing the cap, so I didn't bid, but I recently obtained the object of my desire, for a rather substantial price. I haven't used it at a revel or event yet, but I plan to soon.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Flint Institute of Arts

This afternoon, Melisande and I visited the Flint Institute of Arts, which was recently remodeled. We had been planning to see "To Be, Or Not To Be: Four Hundred Years of Vanitas Painting", an exhibit which ends on April 2. There is almost no medieval content in the exhibit, unfortunately, although some of the painters were born during the Renaissance. Vanitas painting was developed during the 17th Century.

A vanitas painting is a still life (usually) whose imagery suggests imminent decay and mortality. There is often a watch, or fruit about to spoil. In one memorable painting, a mouse is hiding amid the remains of breakfast, unaware of a cat about to pounce. Many of the paintings in the exhibit are very beautiful, some slightly disturbing.

There was a striking difference between the older paintings, before the turn of the 20th century, and the more recent ones. Even for the more representational paintings, the modern paintings were usually crude, blatant or garish. The older paintings were subtle, and usually more skillfully done, although there was amazing skill in some of the more recent paintings, too. The only piece of three-dimensional modern art was spectacularly childish. Melisande looked at it for a moment and then hurried away to the next piece, covering her mouth and trying not to laugh out loud.

I should add that about three of the more modern paintings were quite exceptional, including two I'd love to have prints for - but they were noticeably of the older style, too.

There is a hardcover book on the exhibition for $25, which we bought (that's a very reasonable price for a catalogue of its kind - they usually top $35 and are usually bound in cardstock.) The text is very well-written, and I noticed that the commentary beside the artwork itself had been written with an unusual degree of skill and wit.

An aside about the FIA. I often grow short-tempered with those who denigrate Flint, which admittedly has its problems. Flint can hardly be compared to Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids on this score, but those who think the city is desolate should go down to the cultural center area between the expressway and Mott Community College. The FIA is a state of the art building with a fine museum shop selling things I had not seen in similar shops elsewhere, and a Starbucks coffee shop. Art by local and state artists was on sale, or could be rented for modest fees (the fees are remitted for eventual purchasers). That seemed like a terrific idea to me - rent art for the office or home, change it whenever you like. The prices were reasonable, and there were also prints. I saw a print of downtown Flint that I think I will buy, frame and put outside my office at Baker after our current remodeling settles down.

There is an element of the FIA that is of more interest to the SCA. The Institute has a fine collection of Renaissance (and slightly later) furniture and tapestry, among other things, in the Bray Gallery. We didn't seek it out today, as we had other places to go. I saw it years ago and was quite impressed.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

SCA Podcast

Check out for Midrealm-centric podcasts. I've listened to part of the first program, and it sounds like fun. Mostly armored combat topics. They refer obliquely to more SCA podcasts, so I'll check them out and report on them.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Pentamere Fighter's College Report

As noted yesterday, Melisande, Geirmundr and I attended the regional war college event in the Canton of Weald Lake today. We provided breakfast on behalf of Stormvale, and that was well-received.

The event was held at a conference center/retreat sort of place. We were in a lodge that had a largish conference room, a little kitchen, a lounge with a fireplace and a bunch of rooms with bunkbeds, some large enough that private discussions or conferences could be held in them. It was a nice place, although slightly crowded at times. There were 60+ attendees.

In the morning, Sir Jocelyn le Jongleur, the Pentamere Regional Commander and organizer of the event, introduced the program. She also led a brainstorming session on creativity and tactical planning later. Duke Sir Brannos discussed a wide-ranging set of issues around the theme of the "mental game" - he's quite an engaging speaker. He and Sir Tom Tintinabulum then split the attendees into two groups.

I went to polearm tactics with Sir Tom, while Geirmundr attended the spear thing. Not sure I really learned anything new (I learned polearm by having then-Lord Crispin Bucher beat me up for a few months, after which I was, as you would expect, reasonably competent), but it was a nice refresher course. Where Sir Tom's comments did intrigue me was in how to be productive on the battlefield with a polearm. I was never any damn good at that - single combat was my thing. I always wanted sword and shield or a spear for melees. Or two-stick for small melees where it was useful to create chaos as a skirmisher and flanker or intimidator. He also had some pointers on polearm construction and some comments on weapon weight that I thought were useful and interesting.

Sir Dubricius (whom I had never met, although he looks familiar) taught a very interesting class for the whole group on movement. This was really worthwhile. He and colleagues were examining a medieval text on sword and buckler fighting three years ago, he explained, and they realized that applying the movements was hard because the text didn't explain footwork. So they began to try to work up a way of explaining and defining footwork as practiced by the better Midrealm fighters when practicing their "A" game. I can hardly say how useful and productive I think the project is. We got a thorough explanation and demonstration, together with a more general discussion on fighting in an open combat order. That was coming into use when I fought more actively, but I'm glad to see it is now generally accepted.

We broke for lunch, and then we had a class and discussion with Sir Straum, the Midrealm general, who explained the Midrealm army command structure, and answered questions, mostly about the perennial problem of the wandering busybody telling units to do something outside of the chain of command. He had an admirable view on this, I thought. He also had some remarks about fencing and archery that I'll refer to in another post.

Sir Jocelyn taught her class then, and there was a break. Melisande, who had been very patient, and I left at that point. Geirmundr stayed a while longer.

My general comments - I wish we had done this sort of thing back when I was a much more active fighter. It would have been a very good idea. And I enjoyed the opportunity to hear what was going on. Now if I can continue to get back in armor and can actually get to melee events this summer...

More comments of a specific Stormvale nature later.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Pentamere Fighter's College

Stormvale is providing breakfast for the Pentamere Fighter's College in Brighton tomorrow. Melisande and I spent part of the day shopping for suitable doughnuts and the like. We're leaving at 8 am for a 9 am arrival. Looking forward to the classes, too.

Doesn't look like many Stormvale attendees, however. Geirmundr is going, but it looks like flu, work and family obligations and the like are going to prevent much other attendance. I'll report here on what happens, of course.

Donations for the expense of breakfast are invited. Just see Geirmundr, Melisande or me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Correction on the Award Post Below

I am informed that court no longer features the hoary old habit of asking "or someone to accept for them". What a very good idea. Instead, a reliable person is asked to see the signet after the event. Now, see, I haven't been to court in a couple of years, which makes me a bad person, as I described below!

(Actually, I'm sure I went to court the last time I went to an event that featured one, but that's been a little while, too.)

At any rate, the essential point is still valid. It should be a mild slip-up if one of our locals isn't in court to get an award, and a somewhat bigger slip-up if a reliable person (an officer or blood relative is best, the regional signet informs us) is not there right after court to claim the scroll and deliver it and the happy news to the recipient.

More on Awards

A couple of months ago, I made some remarks on a curious phenomenon regarding awards for local members. We had discovered that several local members received awards during 2005, but at events we had not attended. My reaction is essentially the same as before, but I want to discuss it from a slightly different aspect.

As we've discussed this locally (and made some headway on taking care of the problem), I've become aware that there are still some slight misperceptions about the way the system works. (Since the officer talk seemed helpful, I may try one on awards next month!) In particular, I noticed there is some concern about why no one notified us that the awards had been made. Was there perhaps some failure of communication from kingdom to shire?

The answer to this question is, no, it's actually our fault, and up to us to make sure it doesn't happen again. This will require a little explanation, so please bear with me.

I can recall the same sort of confusion about how it all works in my early years in the SCA (it isn't precisely true that I've forgotten more about the functioning of the SCA than I presently know, but it sometimes seems like it when I exert my memory and reach back into the dim, primeval mists of time...), so I sympathize. Let me put it this way:

The king and queen of the Middle attend an event somewhere between 2-3 times a month. At the majority of such events, they hold court and make awards to deserving local members. That's a lot of awards. Their Majesties are very busy people with all that traveling and everything that goes with it. They take awards very seriously and not only want to recognize their deserving subjects but also not to make a mistake and recognize someone who isn't really deserving. Since the kingdom is big and they can't know everyone, they rely to a considerable degree first on the populace at large to make recommendations, and also on their hard-working staff and their peers, courtiers and kingdom officers to help them make a good decision on some of the nominations.

It is often pointed out that anyone can nominate anyone else for any award. But it should be fairly obvious that the kingdom takes seriously the heirarchy of honors it bestows, and it has a method for making the system work. To take an obvious example, if 40 lords and ladies nominate a person they believe deserving to be knighted, Their Majesties are likely to find that very interesting. But not nearly as interesting as 40 knights telling them the same thing. (To be blunt, in the first instance, the guy gets a little more examination; in the second case, he gets knighted.) This way of looking at things extends down through the whole system. If 8 people from three different groups tell Their Majesties that a hard-working person should be considered for an Award of Arms or a Purple Fret, it is quite likely that the award will be made. In fact, the threshold for making an AoA can fairly be said to be a good deal lower than this. A single convincing nomination from a person the Crown knows or even knows of, or even finds persuasive, might well be enough (depending on the royalty and their preferences, to be sure - it's their show, and I'm just describing what I have observed to be the case, broadly speaking.)

So the kingdom has probably dozens of awards in a typical month, more in some. It can readily be imagined how hard this is to keep track of. The royalty are not responsible for putting these awards in the kingdom Order of Precedence database, it may be interesting to learn. The heralds are the ones who do that, when they make court reports to the Clerk of Precedence.

There is a considerable bureaucracy in even a part-time medieval kingdom, but it is a volunteer bureaucracy. One of the things it is not set up to do is to send, for example, letters to recipients to notify them they have received the award when they were not present in court.

Well, why not, a reasonable person might ask?

Because the award itself, and the scroll presented in court, is the notification. Consider - in our Society, getting any sort of recognition at the hands of Their Majesties is a big deal. Even if you have a lot of awards already, it is a notable event that people have taken time and trouble over, from the nomination to the decision to someone making the scroll. The Middle, one should note, is one of the few kingdoms which still prides itself on giving a hand-lettered and illuminated scroll for every single award from the most glory-dipped knighting to the relatively humble Award of Arms. This is inherently because they are both important to the kingdom and its members. Believe me, the new knight does not feel more joy than the delight of the new armiger.

The thing is, the kingdom operates on the assumption that most of the people who get nominated will show up in that court, partly because it is usually a local event at which most of the local members are assumed to be likely to attend, and because their friends who nominated them are usually quite eager to make sure they are there.

There is another underlying and not much examined assumption - that everyone comes to court whenever they can, so they are probably there when they get an award anyway. This is actually not true anymore, and probably hasn't been since at least the 1980s, but it is a leftover assumption from when the kingdom was small in population (though very large indeed in expanse), and everyone knew everyone else.

But that leaves aside another fact that preserves this system from chaos. Ordinarily, if Lady N from Podunkshire on the other side of the state gets the Order of the Willow at court, and she is, regrettably not in court as expected, several other things happen. For one thing, some at least of her friends and acquaintances are there. Even if her whole shire didn't come, somebody at court knows her, even just a little, and is delighted to accept the award on her behalf when it becomes plain that Lady N. is not going to appear when summoned. And after court, that person phones Lady N., or perhaps sends word with another friend.

(This isn't fanciful. I wasn't present for only one of my awards, a completely surprising second Purple Fret in the mid 90s. My friend Sir Stephen Egremont acccepted it for me and phoned me later to tell me about it, and to tell me how pleased and proud he was to do it. I was a somewhat diffident member of his household at the time, and indeed a retainer of his, but it wouldn't have surprised me if he or someone else outside my own shire had accepted any particular award for me whether I was formally associated with them or not. That's how it works.)

So the real question is, when several awards were made to Stormvale members in recent months, why didn't someone accept for them? Because, again, no one was there from Stormvale to accept, and because no one else knew (or perhaps remembered, in a couple of cases) the name.

Thus, no phone call or letter. We saw the award when it appeared in the Pale later.

Now, it should be fairly plain after my explanation, unless I have been too prolix, this state of affairs is merely unusual. No one has failed to do what is expected, except us in not having more ties with our neighbors. A matter easily enough corrected, and I think we're already working on it.

January Revel

After the disappointment of not being able to get to 12th Night in Northwoods last weekend, it was fun to have such a nice revel today. We had a great turnout, up near the top numbers we've had in recent years, with 24 during the day and 22 dining.

In keeping with our current practice, we had our Shire Council during the meal. Still seems strange to me, but it appears to be a pretty good idea. I noticed some of our members were a trifle bored by the half-hour meeting, but most people didn't seem to mind the captive audience idea. We got some decisions made, at any right. This is a concept that was adopted during my absence in the summer, and I'm content to continue to try it. Certainly the dedicated business meetings on a weeknight once a month weren't working all that well.

Before the meeting, I convened an officer's meeting to get everyone caught up with their duties, since we had had a good deal of turnover. We used a PowerPoint presentation I compiled yesterday to guide the discussion, and it seemed to work pretty well. After I tweak it, we'll put it up at Stormvale's website. Which makes me think that other presentations might be useful: how to put on an event, for example, or more detailed presentations for how to get started with a particular office. Or a run-through on how to get started in armored combat.

I've noticed something in recent years - January is always an unusually well-attended revel. I wonder if it's because the holidays are over and people are ready to get back at the SCA? If it's going to be a reasonably big deal, perhaps we should call it our 12th Night. Actually, I'd like to make each month's revel a little special, with a name or title.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Progress of a Student of Arms II

Wow, long time between posts. Sorry about that, got busy with work.

A week after Founder's Day, referred to in the Nov. 13 post below, I went to the Iron Oak Toys for Tots event. First time I'd gone to a tournament in a long time, and I was looking forward to it.

It was a beautiful day, very sunny and pleasant, and there was a small field of combatants. I donned about half my armor and had moved much of my gear near the list field when I had an unexpected problem. I wear contact lenses to fight, and that is nearly the only time I trouble with the things anymore. In addition to the hassle, I now use bifocal lenses in my glasses, so contacts also require keeping reading glasses handy.

(Aside - try teaching a college class in contacts and have to resort to reading glasses when you want to look at the book. Your students snicker at you. Whippersnappers.)

Anyway, I was putting in the contacts next to the car, done it a million times before a practice or tournament, and there was a gust of wind and one of the contacts blew off my finger and disappeared. First time that had ever happened.

Now, I once forgot my contacts when I went to a practice, many, many years ago, and got my rear end kicked and didn't much enjoy it. So I was reluctant, but even more reluctant to not fight after putting half my armor on.

So I fought. It didn't go badly - I even won a bout or two. Disconcerting, and I felt as though I could have done much better. You know, if I could see what I was doing.

Next time, I'll try bringing extra contacts! Now, if I could just talk Geirmundr and Erevon into wearing contacts or sports glasses when they fight...