The Original Windsor Castle

Wikipedia.

The oldest extant part of Windsor Castle is the central Round Tower, which dates from the twelfth century, although no visit would be complete without seeing St. George’s Chapel (fifteenth century, in the lower ward to the left) and the State Apartments (nineteenth century, in the upper ward to the right). Windsor is one of the more important royal castles, from which the current dynasty takes its name and derives its heraldic badge.

Wikipedia.

People forget, though, that Windsor was founded as a castle by William I shortly after the conquest – and now a vision of what that castle might have looked like has been produced. From the Independent:

the first Windsor Castle, built in 1071 to deter Anglo-Saxon rebels, is thought to have consisted of a multi-storey wooden keep on top of a large earthen mound flanked to its north and west by a two-and-a-half acre palisaded triangular courtyard (known as a bailey or ward).

It was probably built there for three very specific reasons. Being on a hill it was easier to defend and, because the Thames was unusually narrow at that point, it could be easily bridged. Indeed, it is now thought that the very first Windsor Bridge was probably built by William the Conqueror at the same time that the castle was erected. The third reason was its proximity to an Anglo-Saxon royal palace at Old Windsor – just one-and-a-half miles away.

The reconstruction of that first Windsor Castle (as it would have looked in around 1085) has just been published by the Royal Collection Trust (which manages most public access aspects of Windsor Castle) in a major new book – Windsor Castle: A Thousand Years of a Royal Palace.

Research – carried out by Dr Steven Brindle, co-author of the book and a leading expert on Windsor – has also generated the first ever archaeologically based modern reconstructions of Windsor Castle as it looked in 1216 and in 1272 (as well as in 1085). All three have just been published for the first time in the book.

Read the whole thing, which includes images from the new book. 

The Myth of Medieval Paganism

From First Things, confirmation of one of my opinions (hat tip: Paul Halsall):

When we encounter “pagan-­seeming” images or practices in ­medieval Christianity, we should consider the probability that they were simply expressions of popular Christianity before positing the existence of secret pagan cults in ­medieval Western Europe. Once we accept that most culturally alien practices in popular Christianity were products of imperfectly catechized Christian cultures rather than pockets of pagan resistance, we can begin to ask the interesting questions about why popular Christianity developed in the ways it did. Rejecting the myth of the pagan Middle Ages opens up the vista of medieval popular Christianity in all its inventiveness and eccentricity. After the first couple of centuries of evangelization, there were no superficially Christianized pagans—but there remained some very strange expressions of Christianity.

That’s the conclusion, but I enjoin you to read the whole thing

Canadian Money

In Canada, prior to the “Scenes of Canada” series of currency notes, which debuted in 1969, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II appeared on all bills in circulation, as she still appears on the obverse of all the coins in circulation. As Canada’s head of state and the guarantor of the entire thing, this is just and fitting. However, Betty Windsor is also the head of a number of other states, doesn’t even live in Canada, and is a living symbol of unearned privilege and imperial conquest, etc. So the Scenes of Canada series, in accord with the mood in the 1960s, tried to insert some uniquely Canadian Content: the Queen remained on the $1, $2, and $20 bills, but former Prime Ministers appeared on the others: Laurier on the $5, Macdonald on the $10, King on the $50, and Borden on the $100. These were judged to be the most influential heads of government to date, and they were balanced with two from each of the major political parties. They did not represent sovereignty as such, but they were important people in Canadian history who exercised actual political power. This pattern remained with the Birds of Canada series, the Canadian Journey series, and the current Frontier series.

Politicians, however, don’t get the respect that they used to, and balance between political parties is not the sort of diversity that we cherish anymore. Sir John A. Macdonald, father of Confederation and first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, was also responsible for Chinese exclusion, for the Indian residential school system, and for the execution of Louis Riel. Plus, he was a raging alcoholic. So his statue has been removed from in front of the Victoria, B.C., city hall, the Canadian Historical Association has removed his name from one of the prizes it awards, and as of 2018 his image has been replaced on the $10 note with one Viola Desmond, Canada’s equivalent of Rosa Parks.* So it appears that people on currency notes no longer need any connection to governance at all – in fact, “resisters” of the established order now get monetary memorialization. I’m not saying this is bad necessarily, but the advantage of putting the sovereign on the notes, or important Prime Ministers, is that the choice is obvious – there can be little debate about who should go on, and focusing on the top of the pyramid represents, in its way, everyone below. Once one expands the category to include important Canadians of all stripes, one opens a can of worms. Who gets to go on?!** Generally such memorialization is what postage stamps are for, since there is a potentially limitless number of designs for that particular medium. (Although I wonder, with the deprecation of physical cash, will currency notes soon become like stamps, with multiple designs in circulation at any one time, and new designs introduced every year? Think of how much seignorage the government could make as people collect them! Alternately, maybe we should take the attitude towards human portraits on bills that we take towards human sports mascots – best to avoid them entirely, as does the European Union.)

But since they’ve taken Sir John A. off the ten, they now feel they have to take Laurier off the five. Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has recently stated that:

the bank will launch public consultations for the design of the polymer note, similar to the ones “that led to the selection of Viola Desmond for the $10 note,” he said. “This time we will be asking all Canadians to nominate any historic Canadian — someone who is truly banknote-able.” 

A friend of mine suggests that Louis Riel should go on. Personally I think that this would be akin to putting Robert E. Lee on an American note but I guess not all armed rebellions against state authority are equal….

At this point it does not appear that they’ve set up a website asking for suggestions. 

UPDATE: From the National Post: “Would Gord Downie even want Gord Downie on the $5 bill?” (Gord Downie being the lead singer of the Canadian rock act The Tragically Hip, who died of glioblastoma in 2017.)

* In 1946, Desmond, a Nova Scotian of African descent, refused to leave a whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S. (It should be noted that the racial segregation was theatre policy, not provincial law.) She was arrested and convicted of tax evasion, since the tax on the floor seats was one cent more than the tax on the balcony seats. She received a posthumous pardon in 2010. 

The United States is contemplating something similar. I have heard for several years now that President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), frontiersman and champion of the common man, but also slaveholder and remover of the Cherokee, is to be removed on the front of the $20 bill, with Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad, put in his place. But this move seems to have put on hold as a result of the change in administration in 2017. 

** I recall that, during the debate about changing the $10 bill, that they wanted to put a Canadian woman it, not realizing that the Queen is a Canadian woman. It reminded me of Mark Steyn’s response to the claim that Adrienne Clarkson was the “first immigrant Governor General”: “Ok, then, who was Viscount Monck – some hardscrabble lobster fisherman who came west and made it big on the street of dreams in Ottawa?”

Revanche!

Here is an amusing story that serves as a riposte to Monsieur Eaton and his treatment of a youthful Roch Carrier (hat tip: David Winter):

Tania Levesque.

Pastry Chef Disappoints Toronto Maple Leafs Fan with Maple Leaf Foods Cake

Canadians from coast-to-coast are getting a giggle today out of what might be the funniest cake decorating fail since someone mistook graduation “cap” for actual “cat.”

The tale begins in Mascouche, Quebec, where the parents of a young sports fan named Jacob started planning his eighth birthday party.

Knowing that Jacob loves nothing more than hockey — and, in particular, the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs — his parents planned a party at a Montreal arena and put in an order in for a custom cake bearing the Maple Leafs logo.

The boy’s stepmother, Tania Levesque, posted a photo of the finished product on Facebook Saturday evening.

“So Jacob was asking for a Toronto Maple Leafs cake for his birthday. The Pastry Chef of course was on google to find the logo but didn’t write… from Toronto,” wrote Levesque in her post, which has since been shared nearly 1,500 times.

“So this party is sponsored by the cold meats.”

That’s right: The baker confused Maple Leafs —Toronto’s NHL team — with Maple Leaf — one of Canada’s largest packaged meat brands.

Jacob’s father picked up the cake while en route to his son’s birthday party this weekend, but didn’t get a chance to look inside the box until he got there, according to CBC Montreal.

While shocked and confused by what they saw on the cake, the boy’s parents laughed off the silly mistake and served it anyway.

When asked what happened, Levesque told the CBC that the unnamed bakery she went to didn’t have a Toronto Maple Leafs stencil on hand. She suggested they simply Google the logo and put it on Jacob’s cake.

Something seems to have been lost in translation along the way, but kids attending the party ate the cold cut-themed cake all the same —  except for Jacob, who Levesque said refused to try it.

Some might say, as a Maple Leafs fan in Quebec, that the boy had it coming.

Apparently Maple Leaf meats have furnished Jacob with tickets to see the hockey team. 

Cake Wrecks is an entire website devoted to “professional cakes going horribly wrong.” Here is the “cake that started it all“:

Cake Wrecks.

Happy New Year

To start the new year, a Facebook friend makes a resolution, with which I heartily agree:

Many years ago I took a course on Late Antiquity and we read a book by scholar A and then one by Scholar B. Scholar B totally opened by mocking the outrageous claims of Scholar A except here’s the thing: Scholar A never made those claims. Scholar B set up what is known as a strawman to attack and make his position seem less questionable. I took this to heart and have found myself saying “Don’t be a [Scholar B]!” before I think about re-sharing or reacting.

A lot of times on social media I see people share posts about how “so many people with belief X are posting this awful sentiment” and internally I’m like, “that’s weird – I haven’t seen anything that sounds like that or I saw one comment.” And here’s the thing: they aren’t or it’s one person but articles are written as if a whole group rose up and said one thing.

There are many outlets (media and otherwise) who want you to think that they other side is so outrageous that it isn’t worth doing your due diligence – but it’s always worth doing due diligence. And don’t let one comment replace the thoughts of many.

I fail at this a lot – it’s super easy to be Scholar B. It’s comfortable to be Scholar B. But we shouldn’t be. In 2020, let’s all agree to be skeptical when something seems too outrageous to believe and let’s also ask ourselves who benefits when we do believe it?

And then weigh that before we share an article or comment or post.

Related, from Vox.com:

Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong

Why it’s so hard to see our own ignorance, and what to do about it.

I’ve come to appreciate what a crucial tool it is for learning, especially in an increasingly interconnected and complicated world. As technology makes it easier to lie and spread false information incredibly quickly, we need intellectually humble, curious people.

I’ve also realized how difficult it is to foster intellectual humility. In my reporting on this, I’ve learned there are three main challenges on the path to humility:

  1. In order for us to acquire more intellectual humility, we all, even the smartest among us, need to better appreciate our cognitive blind spots. Our minds are more imperfect and imprecise than we’d often like to admit. Our ignorance can be invisible.
  2. Even when we overcome that immense challenge and figure out our errors, we need to remember we won’t necessarily be punished for saying, “I was wrong.” And we need to be braver about saying it. We need a culture that celebrates those words.
  3. We’ll never achieve perfect intellectual humility. So we need to choose our convictions thoughtfully.

This is all to say: Intellectual humility isn’t easy. But damn, it’s a virtue worth striving for, and failing for, in this new year.

Read the whole thing. All I would like to add is that opponents to Trump, not just Trump himself, can fall victim to false and unearned confidence…

Pointy Shoes

From Atlas Obscura (hat tip: Deb Salata):

IN 1463, LONDON OUTLAWED THE shoes of its fanciest men. These dapper lords had grown ridiculous in their dapperness, and had taken to ambling streets shod in long, carrot-shaped shoes that tapered to impish tips, some as long as five inches beyond the toe. These shoes were called “crakows” or “poulaines” (a term also used to refer to the tips alone), and the court of King Edward IV eventually found them offensive enough to pass a sumptuary law prohibiting shoe tips that extended over two inches beyond the toe.

Perhaps one of the silliest and most fascinating trends in medieval fashion, these shoes probably first emerged around 1340 in Krakow, Poland—both names refer to this origin—according to Rebecca Shawcross, the author of Shoes: An Illustrated History. Shawcross also serves as the shoe resources officer at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in England, which claims to have the world’s largest collection of shoes (at 12,000 pairs, but alas, just one intact pair of poulaines).

Europe had flirted with long-toed footwear since the 1200s, but never to this length, or with this saturation. The lords and, to a lesser extent, ladies of 15th-century Europe wore these shoes almost exclusively for over a century. Every person who could afford shoes wore poulaines, though the longer tips were generally reserved for nobility who could afford to wander around in footwear seemingly designed for pratfalls.

For the glitterati of medieval Europe, poulaines were less a fad than a symbol. “If you were a man of status and you had enough wealth, you wanted to show that off,” Shawcross says. “And to do that, you had to take the toe to the extreme.” Shoes with absurdly long toes were expensive and would clearly impair the wearer from efficiently partaking in any kind of physical labor. So they were also an indicator of leisure and luxury, free of extraneous effort or the tyranny of practicality.

More at the link. Happy New Year!

Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen

My friend Matt Phillips explores an important point in Lutheran theology: when is a Christian allowed to resist unjust authority? This is a serious issue, as Luther’s rebellion against Papal authority helped to inspire a major peasants’ revolt in the 1520s. Luther eventually turned against it with a remarkable pamphlet entitled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), in which he called on everyone to:

smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.

The revolt was eventually put down, at the cost of some 100,000 lives. Some people never forgave Luther for this, and indeed I find it strange that his movement survived it, but Luther was unapologetic: his Reformation was to be a purely spiritual affair, not a political one. “God hath not granted the sword in vain” is one of the great Lutheran lines, the “sword” here being secular legal authority.

But to what extent this principle led to the German penchant for obedience is a topic that deserves further study. Some people just don’t deserve to be obeyed, do they? We can all think of a particular figure in German history to whom resistance would have been amply justified. Luther’s Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (1523) indicates that Luther’s ideas were a little more subtle than commonly understood:

While he advised obedience to temporal authorities, Luther mocked evil rulers in the first paragraph of Temporal Authority when he wrote, “For God Almighty has made our rulers mad; they actually think they can do—and order their subjects to do—whatever they please.” He explained that subjects are not obligated to obey their rulers in all matters, especially regarding the command to turn over Luther’s books to temporal authorities. Referring to Acts 5:29, Luther explained that Christians owed obedience to temporal authorities in earthly matters, but they should not willingly turn over books. However, if the authorities searched their homes and confiscated their property, they must suffer as Christians and not resist forcibly.

Furthermore, in 1530:

at a meeting in Torgau, Luther and Philip Melanchthon agreed to support resistance against a potential Imperial invasion of Protestant lands. Luther, Melanchthon, and other theologians agreed to the legal argument that Emperor Charles V was elected under certain conditions of Imperial law. That is, the emperor had voluntarily limited his own authority in formulating and adjudicating laws, that is, man-made positive law as distinct from natural law. Therefore, if he acted outside of his jurisdiction, the Protestant princes (though not individual Christians as Christians) may actively resist as a matter of self-defense against the unjust laws of men. Thus, the theologians, particularly Luther, accepted the Saxon jurists’ argument as a matter of positive law, but still rejected active resistance based merely on theology or natural law.

Read the whole thing. I don’t know if this would have stopped Hitler, but it does indicate that for Luther, the “sword” was by no means absolute.

Book Reviews

In the discipline of history, the single-authored monograph is the basic unit of scholarship, and an academic’s prestige is usually arbitrated by the number of such books that he can produce, and by the influence that these books have had. No one has time to read every book that gets published, though, so reviewing is an important service to the profession. That is, a given issue of the average historical journal will contain about five articles (often preliminary studies that will later appear as chapters in books), and some seventy book reviews. A review is typically about 1000 words long; it summarizes the book in question and gives a judgment of its quality. The idea is that a scholar will get the journal, look through the reviews to see what’s new, read the ones that are relevant to her interests, and if anything looks really compelling, check the books out from the library, order them through interlibrary loan, or even buy them from the publisher (although academic books do tend to be rather pricey).

In her turn, she will be expected to produce book reviews herself. Summarizing a book is time consuming, but not too difficult. It’s an exercise in the art of précis – of making the book’s message as simple as possible, but no simpler. The tricky part is judging the book’s quality. For that, you need to know what else has been published on the same topic, and really good review will cite those works in proof – it will “situate the work in the historiography,” as the jargon has it. The temptation is always there to give the book the benefit of the doubt, on the assumption that the author has more expertise than you do, and nothing would have gotten published if it wasn’t pretty good in the first place. However, a scholar owes it to his readers to seek out and mention any errors of fact or overall weakness. Moreover, some books just aren’t very good, for various reasons. I know someone who will refuse to review such books; she’ll just send them back to the journal editor, since writing an honest review might alienate the author, and “you never know who might be on a fellowship selection committee.” This move is better than just lying about a book’s quality, I suppose, but to me it’s cowardly, and I don’t like it. We get tenure for a reason: the idea is that we are licensed to speak truth to power without having to fear for our livelihoods. Such guaranteed job security is not just about opposing Trump, the alt-right, evangelical Christians, Wall Street, or the State of Israel from our perch in the Ivory Tower, but also about calling out the members of our own profession on their mistakes, as uncomfortable as that might make things for us at our next big conference. (At the same time, I don’t believe in being gratuitously mean, like one grad school professor who gave me a C- on a book review that I had written for his seminar, with the comment “you are too nice!” – I had criticized the book, just not forcefully enough for his liking.)

So when you’re reviewing a book you try to be fair, and if it has any problems to find a middle ground between turd-polishing and being a big jerk. And you definitely try to review the book that was written, not the book that you wanted to read (another thing that too many academics like to do). 

I myself have managed to publish a number of book reviews over the course of my career – by my count 25, some of which have been referenced on this blog. My most interesting experience with book reviewing began in the autumn of 2009, when I received, from the editor of Reviews in History, a draft of a review of my own recently-published book on St. George by Sam Riches, who herself had written a book about the saint. She liked some aspects of my book, but had some reservations about it, and concluded that “it is not the definitive work on St. George in the English tradition – that has yet to be written.” I received the review because one of the features of Reviews in History is that it gives the book’s author a chance to respond. Now, at the time, I believed that one should never respond to a review. This was the message of Paul Fussell’s “Being Reviewed: The A.B.M. and its Theory,” republished in The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations. The “A.B.M.,” to Fussell, is the “Author’s Big Mistake,” that is, a “letter from an aggrieved author complaining about a review,” which “generally delivers the most naked view of the author’s wounded vanity” and reads “as if some puling adolescent, cut from the high school basketball team, has published a letter about how good he really is, and written it not very well.” So I let it slide, and the review was published in January 2010, with the notice that “the author of this book has not responded to this review.” 

But I came to revise my opinion over the next couple of years. Fussell’s examples of A.B.M.s were taken mostly from the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement, and mostly involved works of fiction, or popular non-fiction. Academic books, I came to perceive, are somewhat of a different matter: they make arguments, which can be defended, and as long as one sticks to the facts without getting testy, then it’s all part of the conversation. I read a number of responses to reviews that were in this vein, and I figured that there would be no harm in my doing it too. So in the summer of 2012, I took some time out of my life to pen a response to her review, which I’m pleased to say that the editor of Reviews in History posted, even at that late date. (For the record, I was never upset that Dr. Riches didn’t give my book fulsome praise. It is better to be talked about than not talked about!) Read both and decide for yourself who makes the better case. 

As a result of my contact with the editor, he asked if I would care to review a book that he had just received. I said that I would be happy to, and he sent it to me. I read it twice, as is my habit – it’s one thing to dash off a review for a graduate seminar the night before the assignment is due, it’s quite another to write for publication – you want to make sure that you have really understood what the author is trying to say, because you want to be fair and you don’t want to appear sloppy in print. This operation took a little longer than I hoped, and I got the review to him two weeks after the deadline he had given me. In response, I received an email with the subject line “Terribly sorry” and a message saying that “I forgot that I had two copies of that book, and I gave the other copy to someone else for review.”

“So I take it that review was better than mine?” I responded jokingly.

“It wasn’t, actually,” he replied. “But I’ve already sent it out for the author’s response!”

I had a good laugh about this. If nothing else it shows the importance of meeting deadlines! As it happens I easily placed my review somewhere else. Generally editors won’t accept unsolicited reviews – they have no idea about the agenda of the would-be reviewer – but after explaining the situation they were happy to publish it, and they didn’t even ask me to shorten it. The editor of Reviews in History asked if there was anything he could do for me. I said that there was a book I was interested in reviewing, and he arranged to have it sent to me. This one I ended up reading three times, because I found it difficult and I wanted to do it justice, even I didn’t like it very much (attributable largely to a disciplinary divide – I am a historian, the author was a literary critic). The review was published in the fall of 2013; the author, as I had originally, chose not respond. 

That summer, I had further contact with the editor of Reviews in History on account of another review of my book that I discovered in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology. By that point my book had been reviewed about a dozen times in various venues – again, some people liked it, others didn’t, and that’s fine. This review, however, sounded strangely familiar. As I read it, I realized that a large chunk of it was simply plagiarized from Sam Riches’s review in Reviews in History! Like a good citizen, I immediately informed Dr. Riches and the editors of Reviews in History and the JEGP about this gross violation of scholarly protocol, and the JEGP withdrew the review in its next number. The author, one Giovanni Narabito of the University of Messina, did not seem to have much of an institutional presence there, and a bit of googling eventually revealed a plausible explanation. The Wikipedia entry for Italian crime boss Giuseppe Narabito explains that his clan “established a cell in Messina on Sicily,” where they “exercise considerable power up to the present. The clan turned the University of Messina into their private fiefdom, ordering that degrees, academic posts, and influence be awarded to favored associates.”

It could be that “Narabito” is the Italian equivalent of Smith or Jones but it sure looks like someone was promoted for non-academic reasons here. But why not just stick to protection rackets and drug smuggling, I wonder? Those activities are a lot more lucrative!