Five new books about the medieval world, that will tell you about topics like Vikings, treason and games.
By Kathryn L. Smithies
University of Wales Press
Excerpt: In medieval society then, the ass was a paradox: a beast of contradictory repute. It was at once a mundane, everyday beast and one that, in medieval texts, had an eclectic reputation. The ass was the epitome of folly and obstinacy. Fable asses had a reputation for being stupid, and the bestiary ass was stubborn and slow.
By Cat Jarman
Excerpt: According to the traditional narrative, the Viking age began when a band of Vikings attacked a wealthy monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria on 8 June 793. The attack, technically not the first accounted Viking raid on English soil, was described in a letter to Ethelred, King of Northumbria, by Alcuin of York, a scholar living in what is now Germany: ‘never before had such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor is it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made.’
By Orietta Da Rold
Cambridge University Press
Excerpt: Why paper? Chaucer chooses paper and other exquisite objects to define one of the most significant moments in his late fourteenth-century version of the love story between Dido and Aeneas. A sturdy horse as white as paper carries Dino to meet Aeneas and his retinue in order to go hunting. A red saddle, Chaucer notes, adorned his horse and is delightfully embroidered with embossed bars of gold. Dido is covered in precious stones, and gold and is beautiful as a bright morning. Chaucer associates paper with rich embroideries, gold and gems. In this association, paper stands out as unusual material for comparison, both for the novelty of the lexical choice and for the adaptation of the source. Chaucer reads paper as a precious, beautiful and luxurious material, rather than a utilitarian, cheap and worthless surface, creating a surprising contrast for a modern reader who often expects medieval paper to be a serviceable writing tool.
By E. Amanda McVitty
Boydell and Brewer
Excerpt: The summer of 1415 found Henry V on England’s south coast, readying ships and men for the French campaign that would culminate in his storied victory at Agincourt. In late July, he was shocked to discover that Henry Lescrope, Lord Masham, who was his trusted friend as well as a senior government official, was planning to kill him and to destroy his great military enterprise. On 5 August, the nobleman was hauled up before a tribunal hastily assembled at Southampton, tried and convicted of treason. Royal justice proved swift and pitiless, Lescrope was beheaded that same afternoon.
Edited by Vanina Kopp and Elizabeth Lapina
Excerpt: Medieval and early modern games could be, at once, an egalitarian and an elitist past time. Although everyone and anyone played games, the way that one played roughly corresponded to one’s place within society. Familiarity with certain games was a marker of status. Different games could be the most prestigious in different contexts, As Tulun Degirmenci demonstrates, in the Sassanian Empire, the ability to play both chess and backgammon was a necessary component of a nobleman’s upbringing. In the Ottoman Empire, however chess retained its high status, while backgammon acquired a reputation as a pleasurable but meaningless way to bide time.