Saturday, June 30, 2007

Book Review

Three Armies in Britain: The Irish Campaign of Richard II and the Usurpation of Henry IV, 1397-1399 by Douglas Biggs. 2006. This is vol. 39 in the History of Warfare series.

In my studies of the 14th century, I've always been a trifle weak on Richard II's reign. My core area of interest was always the reign of his grandfather Edward III and the life of his son the Black Prince. Not that I haven't read the usual biographies and histories, but I actually have a bookshelf full of histories and studies of the earlier period, and relatively little on Richard of Bordeaux, and I've been meaning to correct that.

I have always been fairly well persuaded that the traditional view of Richard as effeminate, unsoldierly, and perhaps mentally unstable was an exaggeration at best. Stubborn, haughty and his own worst enemy, yes. The author of this scholarly work makes the case for the military and political sense of Richard's actions in 1399, and attempts to demolish the traditional view of Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster as a heroic military figure.

For those not familiar, in 1399, King Richard II of England took an army to Ireland to pacify the Anglo-Irish territories there. While he was out of the country, his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who had been exiled and disinherited from the Duchy of Lancaster, reentered the country, quickly brought most of the political class of England to his side, and captured the hapless Richard upon his return. Richard was deposed in his favor by Parliament, and died in 1400 under suspicious circumstances. Shakespeare's tragedy on the topic is undoubtedly more familiar than the actual events to most people today. The author examines the rationale for Richard's expedition to Ireland, the progress of Henry's reentry into England and the Duke of York's rather unconvincing and brief resistance to Henry.

This is not a general history and the casual reader would not have an easy time keeping up, I would think. The author assumes his reader is familiar with the events of Richard's reign and the scholarly controversies about who, where, when and why. He engages in a close examination of the extant records to determine the movements and actions of the principal actors in the drama, and I find his conclusions persuasive.

What I don't find quite as persuasive is that this is fundamentally a work of military history. As an exploration and analysis of the documentary evidence for a complex political event which had military ramifications and features, it is highly successful. But it is rather unpersuasive in the military sense. The author has a tendency to assert the military wisdom of various actions without explaining why he thinks so. I would concede that he is perhaps merely assuming that he is writing for an audience likely to comprehend his observations, but it had rather a feel of being interjected because the work would be published as part of a series on military history. Further, the title itself, "Three Armies in Britain", is a trifle misleading. Certainly Henry and his allies comprise one army. The other two melt away at once, however. Richard's army is really left behind in Ireland. There is very little fighting and no battles worth mentioning, and the major issues are not really military in character.

Another flaw in the book is not Biggs' fault. This volume has the highest proportion of typographical errors I have ever seen in a professionally produced work, much less one produced for an academic audience. I have become inured over the last couple of decades to the declining standards for editing and proofreading in the publishing world, but this is startling. As I read, I gradually became distracted to the degree of looking for the next typo. Toward the end of the book, there are as many as two or more per page, often of the type that would be missed by a spell check program. I also found it weird that Henry "Hotspur" Percy, a figure frequently mentioned using his famous nickname because he shares his given name with his father the Duke of Northumberland, also alive at the time, is invariably referred to as "hotspur" unless the name begins a sentence. I realize that recent academic publishing standards have tended to use lower case for words like "duke" and "king", but this seems to me to be getting carried away and is quite jarring. Names are rendered with an upper case initial, and nicknames generally are as well. I don't see why this should change.

On the whole, however, a worthy and interesting addition to the corpus of Richard II study.

The Stormvale Populace Meeting

We had a good turnout for the populace meeting, although everyone wasn't there at the same time - we sort of had two shifts of attendees. Early in the evening, we were working on armor, so we regrettably only got to the October event discussion after the Miller clan departed.

I did a PowerPoint presentation on the main topic of the meeting, and I can't readily link to it here, so I will be happy to email it to anyone who wants to see it.

The consensus of the meeting was that we would hold an event on October 13 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stormvale. The suggestions of the 25th Anniversary Committee were generally accepted.

Event Steward: me.
Head Cook: Diego.
Lunch Tavern: Eron.

(We are working on the details of whether we'll do a full feast, a dessert revel or something in between.)

We had two sites to choose from, and the consensus was the the Elba Lions Club was the appropriate choice, as it is closer to I 69 and therefore likely attendees from other groups, and we can fight indoors in case of inclement weather.

Those present expressed enthusiasm for Cobb Hall, and hope the shire can use it for a future event, perhaps during a time of the year when we are more sure of the weather.

Thanks to Lord Joseff for looking into Cobb Hall for us!

The name of the event remains undecided, and we'd like some input from the group in email about that. My three suggestions are in the presentation. The members also noted that October 13 is the anniversary of the arrest of the Templars by Phillip the Fair in 1307, so we might be able to work that in somehow. We'll need to decide soon, as we need to get back on the calendar right away.

I will contact the hall on Monday and make sure they are still available on that date and give them a check. (Actually, I'll try to reach someone tomorrow.)

The suggestion that we should wrap up the event fairly early and adjourn to a private party to complete the celebration was accepted, although it was noted that we'll have to work out the logistics.

Many thanks to Lord Geirmundr and Lady Giovanna and their family for hosting the meeting, as always, and here's hoping we can do it again soon.

A couple of extra highlights of the evening:

It was Lady Maryska's birthday, so we had some treats to celebrate, and Geirmundr didn't sing... much.

And Geirmundr gave two beautiful medieval wooden chairs he had made to Lord Erevon and Lady Eron.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Armor Update

My effort to get my kit back up to par is proceeding - slowly, very slowly. However, some progress has been made recently. Geirmundr and I bent a shield blank last night. I'm going to take it off the press tonight and put another on. I propose to have three blanks this week. The plywood I like to use for shields is quite light, so I want to have spares ready for use.

My gambeson arrived on Saturday, and it is beautiful. It fits nicely, and I'm looking forward to wearing it. Revival Clothing is the vendor.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


They said I was crazy to wait! Why not black, or red? No, I said it had to be blue. Revival Clothing just emailed me to tell me that my medium blue linen gambeson is being sent Priority Mail this week. I can't wait. The one I ordered that was too small was beautiful. I hope that by the end of June, I can be back in something resembling a decent looking kit. Much work to do.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

SCA Photo Banned

There now, that's a sensationalistic headline for this audience. I'm proud of myself. Anyway, there is an article on pages A6-7 of the Flint Journal today, June 16, that is interesting. It's an AP story by Ray Henry if you don't get the Journal. Zero Tolerance, Zero Sense is the headline, and it is a fairly typical catalog of the dimwitted zero tolerance policies in public schools that result in expulsions for bringing aspirin or butter knives to school. There is a photo of Patrick Agin, a Portsmouth, Rhode Island high school student in a nice suit of chainmail described in the caption as "his Society for Creative Anachronism outfit". It seems the photo was submitted for the yearbook and was not allowed because the young man was depicted carrying a sword and a dagger. Mind you, not bringing the weapons to school, merely photographed with them.

Now, those who know me well will be sighing deeply and preparing to batten down the hatches, because this presses pretty much all of my buttons: the emasculated culture of dogmatic relativism in the public schools, the embarrassing lack of quality of public school administrators, and the meek, frightened liberal mind set for which even the representation of a weapon is too, too much. But I will restrain myself.

Joan of Arc

Smithsonian Magazine has a nice article on Joan of Arc, prompted by the discovery that her extant relics are 19th century fakes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

25th Anniversary Event

Regrettably, the Harvest of Souls event scheduled for October 6 this year is being cancelled. The event staff has decided to withdraw from continued preparations and notified the shire in a timely fashion. There were several problems, among them the fact that four other groups in Michigan and Ohio were staging events that day.

However, this turned out to be good timing for the Stormvale 25th Anniversary Celebration Committee. We met the Sunday following the Harvest of Souls announcement, and the committee decided to put together a proposal for an event to mark the anniversary, which my readers will recall is October 27, 2007. We are looking into sites right now, and should have a report for the branch shortly. We're thinking of October 13.

Frustratingly, I wasn't there for the meeting, after calling it. I was less than a mile away trapped in a monumental traffic jam after graduation at my college. We had one of the biggest graduating classes we've ever had, and there was another such function later in the afternoon, and getting out proved difficult. So I sat on the grass chatting with former students, thankfully relieved of the old robe, hood and cap at that point, and kept in touch with the meeting by phone.

We have lots of other ideas, and I'll air most or all of them on Clarion Hall in due course.

The Middle Kingdom Great Book

In the 1980s, various talented artists and artisans in the Middle Kingdom were commissioned to produce the Great Book of the Middle Kingdom, a hand-bound illuminated manuscript with the kingdom's important ceremonies and lists of sovereigns, etc. I gather one of the original ideas was to produce something that would actually be toted around to kingdom events for ceremonial use, so the Dragon Herald wasn't reading out of an ordinary binder. But inevitably, the book was quickly perceived as one of the, perhaps the, superlative treasure of the kingdom, and was eventually housed in the Western Michigan University Library's Rare Books Room.

To my mind, this is one of the more splendid and interesting projects in the kingdom's history. It includes some of the finest work of many of our Laurels and other talented artists, it more closely resembles a de luxe medieval object for court use than most reproductions we use, and the illumination is gorgeous. It has a wooden case to protect the book and a leather case to carry the case. The work of artists no longer active or gone with new kingdoms are reproduced forever with the item.

The artwork is now reproduced at the Middle Kingdom web site, more or less in full, with explanatory pictures and the entire text. It can be viewed here.

Now, I would pay quite a lot for a hardbound reproduction in a modern binding, personally. I hope that will someday be done.