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Secrets of French Diplomacy

Robert the Monk

One of my favorite pieces of medieval rhetoric is Pope Urban II’s speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095, when he called the First Crusade. The version I have my students read is by Robert the Monk, which was written some twenty years afterwards, but is very much from the mental world of the Crusades. I reprint it from the ever-useful Internet Medieval Sourcebook, with interlineated comments.

“Oh, race of Franks, race from across the mountains, race beloved and chosen by God – as is clear from many of your works – set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honor which you render to the holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed, and for you our exhortations are intended. We wish you to know what a grievous cause has led us to your country, for it is the imminent peril threatening you and all the faithful which has brought us hither.

First rule of giving a speech: flatter your audience!

“From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth and has repeatedly been brought to our ears; namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race wholly alienated from God, ‘a generation that set not their heart aright and whose spirit was not steadfast with God’ [Ps. 78.8], violently invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire.

Second rule: denigrate the opponent. They were Turks, not Persians, but the latter word adds a nice classical touch. Note the Pope’s use of scripture to buttress his insults.

They have led away a part of the captives into their own country, and a part have they have killed by cruel tortures. They have either destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of their own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them and has been deprived of territory so vast in extent that it could be traversed in two months’ time.

Brilliant stuff. Lurid tales of inventive tortures and executions, with a good deal of blasphemous behavior for good measure. You can tell he’s addressing a male audience, because he passes over the rape of women but dwells on forced circumcision – the idea of sharp objects near a man’s groin are always going to make him pay attention.

“On whom, therefore, is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you, you upon whom, above all other nations, God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the heads of those who resist you? Let the deeds of your ancestors encourage you and incite your minds to manly achievements – the greatness of King Charlemagne, and of his son Louis, and of your other monarchs, who have destroyed the kingdoms of the Turks and have extended the sway of Church over lands previously possessed by the pagan. Let the holy sepulcher of our Lord and Saviour, which is possessed by unclean nations, especially arouse you, and the holy places which are now treated, with ignominy and irreverently polluted with the filth of the unclean. Oh, most valiant soldiers and descendants of invincible ancestors, do not be degenerate, but recall the valor of your progenitors.

Be worthy of your ancestors! This is always an effective appeal, especially when one of those ancestors is the mighty Charlemagne. Calif Hakim ordered the Holy Sepulcher destroyed in 1009; clearly the memory of this animated the Crusades almost ninety years later.

“But if you are hindered by love of children, parents, or of wife, remember what the Lord says in the Gospel, ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’, ‘Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life’ [Matt. 10.37; 19.29]. Let none of your possessions retain you, nor solicitude for your family affairs.

I’m not sure that this is quite what Jesus had in mind when he said these things, but hey, why not use them? WWJD?

For this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder and devour one another, that you wage war, and that very many among you perish in intestine strife.’

This is tendentious, but revelatory. In some ways the Crusades were an admission of failure on the part of the Church – a big “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Knights weren’t always upstanding or chivalrous. Sometimes they could be like armed gangs, and they loved fighting each other when there weren’t any real wars to join. They didn’t want to kill each other in tournaments, but sometimes they did, and the Church hated this needless shedding of Christian blood. It repeatedly proscribed tourneying, to no avail. Finally, it turned around and blessed this class of people – only if they killed non-Christians, far from Europe. So here the pope is trying to denigrate France – you’re a great people, but your land is bad, and you need to get out of it. There’s not enough of it for all of you, which is why you fight each other! (Probably not true: they liked fighting each other anyway – it’s what they did.)

“Let hatred therefore depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher – wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves. That land which, as the Scripture says, ‘floweth with milk and honey’ [Num. 13.7, Num. 14.28, Lev. 20.24, etc.] was given by God into the power of the children of Israel. Jerusalem is the center of the earth; the land is fruitful above all others, like another paradise of delights. This spot the Redeemer of mankind has made illustrious by his advent, has beautified by his sojourn, has consecrated by his passion, has redeemed by his death, has glorified by his burial.

And if France features a good people in a bad land, then Palestine features bad people in a good land! What more natural a thing than to take the good people and give them the good land, as God originally did for the Hebrews? (There are plenty of biblical quotations to justify this.)

“This royal city, however, situated at the center of the earth, is now held captive by the enemies of Christ and is subjected, by those who do not know God, to the worship of the heathen. She seeks, therefore, and desires to be liberated and ceases not to implore you to come to her aid. From you especially she asks succor, because as we have already said, God has conferred upon you above all other nations great glory in arms. Accordingly, undertake this journey eagerly for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the reward of imperishable glory in the kingdom of heaven.”

More praise of his audience, and more denigration of the enemy. Note how here he personifies Jerusalem as a sort of damsel in distress, appealing to the natural protective instincts of his audience (even if this particular aspect of chivalry didn’t really become prominent until later in the Middle Ages). Note too how participating in a Crusade will put you straight on the road to heaven.

When Pope Urban had urbanely [nice!] said these and very similar things, he so centered in one purpose the desires of all who were present that all cried out, “It is the will of God! It is the will of God! [Deus vult! Deus vult!]” When the venerable Roman pontiff heard that, with eyes uplifted to heaven, he gave thanks to God and, commanding silence with his hand, said:

“Most beloved brethren, today is manifest in you what the Lord says in the Gospel, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ [Matt. 18.20]; for unless God had been present in your spirits, all of you would not have uttered the same cry; since, although the cry issued from numerous mouths, yet the origin of the cry as one. Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted is in your breasts, has drawn it forth from you. Let that then be your war cry in combats, because it is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: ‘It is the will of God! It is the will of God!’

A war-cry is always useful, especially one as self-righteous as this!

“And we neither command nor advise that the old or those incapable of bearing arms, undertake this journey. Nor ought women to set out at all without their husbands, or brother, or legal guardians. For such are more of a hindrance than aid, more of a burden than an advantage. Let the rich aid the needy and according to their wealth let them take with them experienced soldiers. The priests and other clerks, whether secular or regulars are not to go without the consent of their bishop; for this journey would profit them nothing if they went without permission. Also, it is not fitting that laymen should enter upon the pilgrimage without the blessing of their priests.

And here we have the equivalent of the middle section of a drug commercial, when they list all the disclaimers (e.g. “pregnant women should not take Propecia or even handle broken tablets for risk of birth defects”). He has riled up the audience, but he knows that enthusiasm is not enough – he wants to inspire a discrete set of competent participants, and to avoid a large, undisciplined mob (unfortunately this didn’t quite work: the first, “People’s” Crusade, was a disaster). But he ends on a high note, and with another brilliantly self-serving scriptural quotation:

“Whoever, therefore, shall determine upon this holy pilgrimage, and shall make his vow to God to that effect, and shall offer himself to him for sacrifice, as a living victim, holy and acceptable to God, shall wear the sign of the cross of the Lord on his forehead or on his breast. When, indeed, he shall return from his journey, having fulfilled his vow, let him place the cross on his back between his shoulders. Thus shall ye, indeed, by this twofold action, fulfill the precept of the Lord, as he commands in the Gospel, ‘he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me’” [Matt. 10.38].

Le Sacre du Printemps

It’s over three years old now, but I missed it at the time: a significant anniversary noticed in The Verge:

100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring’ incited a riot in a Paris theater

It began with a bassoon and ended in a brawl.

One hundred years ago today, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring before a packed theater in Paris, with a ballet performance that would go down as one of the most important — and violent — in modern history.

Today, The Rite is widely regarded as a seminal work of modernism — a frenetic, jagged orchestral ballet that boldly rejected the ordered harmonies and comfort of traditional composition. The piece would go on to leave an indelible mark on jazz, minimalism, and other contemporary movements, but to many who saw it on that balmy evening a century ago, it was nothing short of scandalous.

Details surrounding the events of May 29th, 1913 remain hazy. Official records are scarce, and most of what is known is based on eyewitness accounts or newspaper reports. To this day, experts debate over what exactly sparked the incident — was it music or dance? publicity stunt or social warfare? — though most agree on at least one thing: Stravinsky’s grand debut ended in mayhem and chaos.

The tumult began not long after the ballet’s opening notes — a meandering and eerily high-pitched bassoon solo that elicited laughter and derision from many in the audience. The jeers became louder as the orchestra progressed into more cacophonous territory, with its pounding percussion and jarring rhythms escalating in tandem with the tensions inside the recently opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Things reached a near-fever pitch by the time the dancers took the stage, under the direction of famed choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky of the Ballets Russes. Dressed in whimsical costumes, the dancers performed bizarre and violent moves, eschewing grace and fluidity for convulsive jerks that mirrored the work’s strange narrative of pagan sacrifice. Onstage in Paris, the crowd’s catcalls became so loud that the ballerinas could no longer hear the orchestra, forcing Nijinsky to shout out commands from backstage.

A scuffle eventually broke out between two factions in the audience, and the orchestra soon found itself under siege, as angry Parisians hurled vegetables and other objects toward the stage. It’s not clear whether the police were ever dispatched to the theater, though 40 people were reportedly ejected. Remarkably, the performance continued to completion, though the fallout was swift and brutal.

More at the link and, if you’re interested, in Modris Eksteins’s wonderful book Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989).

A Grim Centenary

July 1 marks the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Anglo-French attempt at breaking through the German front during the Great War, near the River Somme in France. The offensive lasted until November of 1916, and made no appreciable gains in territory – at a cost of well over one million casualties.

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Wikipedia.

Depicted is Edward Luytens’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1932.

MORE: From the Telegraph: “Somme ‘Iron Harvest’ will take 500 years to clear, say bomb disposal experts on centenary of bloody battle”

Flaggery

As regular readers know, I am a great fan of heraldry, flags, and identifying emblems in general. On a recent road trip from Georgia to Texas and back again, I was pleased to note a lot of historic flags in use.

1. As we passed into Texas on I-10, we saw six flags flying at the Welcome Center, representing the six sovereign entities that have ruled Texas in the past.

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These are, from left to right: the United States, Texas, the Confederacy, Mexico, France, and Spain. Some notes:

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Flag of Texas (Wikipedia).

• Texas, of course, acted as its own country from 1836 to 1845, between its secession from Mexico and its joining the USA. It retains this former national flag as its state flag. The design is wonderfully simple, even striking, and consequently flown quite a lot by Texans (including massive ones at car dealerships). This positively reinforces civic pride, as Roman Mars notes.

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First national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Confederate Flag flown is the first national flag with seven stars, which is appropriate as Texas was one of the original seven signatories to the CSA in early 1861. Displaying the Stars and Bars helps to avoid the appearance of the ever-controversial Confederate Battle Flag, which appears on the canton of the second and third national flags.

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Second national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

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Third national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Mexican Flag (Texas was a Mexican state between 1821 and 1836) is actually the version flown in the 1820s, i.e. this:

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Flag of the Mexican Republic, 1823-1864 (Wikipedia).

And not this:

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Flag of the United Mexican States, from 1968 (Wikipedia).

I appreciate such attention to detail!

• Bourbon France is represented by Argent semé de lys Or, i.e. a white field strewn with gold fleur de lys, one of the flags that the regime used:

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Wikipedia.

The “Six Flags” display is popular in Texas; other royal French flags employed elsewhere include Argent three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a white field with only three gold fleur de lys on it) and Azure three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a blue field with three gold fleur de lys). This last one makes for the best flag in my opinion – you want a dark color to contrast with the sky, and with the fleur de lys, even though this one is technically a banner of arms, and not a flag. Here it is at the Alamo:

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• Finally, there are several options for the flag of royal Spain. The flag displayed, according to Wikipedia, is Spain’s “navy and coastal fortifications flag 1785-1843, and national flag 1843-73 and 1874-1931.”

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Ensign of Spain, 1785-1843 (Wikipedia).

Elsewhere, Texans fly a quartered flag of Castile and Leon:

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Outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

An elaborate war ensign:

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From a display at a Spanish mission in San Antonio.

Or, best of all in my opinion, the Cross of Burgundy Flag. It’s simple, distinctive, and historically accurate.

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At Misión San José in San Antonio.

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From a display in Misión San Francisco de la Espada in San Antonio.

2. The Louisiana Welcome Center on I-10 flies two flags, the current Louisiana flag, and the Bonnie Blue Flag (apparently upside down!).

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The Bonnie Blue Flag was used by some Confederates as an unofficial emblem; it is immortalized in a song. What people tend not to realize, however, is that this flag had been used earlier by Fulwar Skipwith’s breakaway Republic of West Florida for a few months in 1810, and the I-10 welcome center is in one of these so-called Florida Parishes.

Interestingly, in the Louisiana State Capitol, the Bonnie Blue Flag is shown as light blue. Apparently this was the actual shade of the flag of the Republic of West Florida. Thus, it appears that the RWF and Somalia have something in common.

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3. To the immediate left of the Bonnie Blue Flag in the photo above is a flag the reader has probably not seen before.

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Flag of Louisiana, 1861 (Wikipedia).

This is the flag flown by Louisiana between its secession from the Union, and its joining of the Confederacy, in 1861. Not a bad design – I wish they had kept it as their state flag, in the mode of Texas.

(You’ll also note the flag of Republican France on the right in the photo above – Napoleon reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800, but then sold it to the United States in 1803.)

(You’ll also note the third national flag of the CSA. It would not surprise me if this gets changed sometime soon.)

4. A similar situation prevails in Mississippi. We drove most of the way from Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans, La. along a coastal scenic route. We thus passed Beauvoir, President Jefferson Davis’s retirement home and now Presidential Library. I did not get any pictures, but Beauvoir doesn’t mess around: flying out front are large versions of the Bonnie Blue Flag, the three national flags of the CSA, the Confederate Battle Flag, the current Mississippi flag, and the Magnolia Flag:

Wikipedia.

Magnolia Flag (Wikipedia).

According to Wikipedia, this flag was Mississippi’s official flag from 1861 until 1865; it remained in unofficial use until 1894, when the current state flag was adopted. And we all know the problem with the current flag.

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The Confederate Battle Flag on the canton survived a referendum in 2001, but I would have no problem with the governor changing it by fiat anyway, because Confederate symbols have no place connected to current symbols of sovereignty. Furthermore, the Confederacy lasted all of four years, was in defense of a horrible cause, and went down in flames. (Why not a canton of the Union Jack, or the Cross of Burgundy? Those were also episodes in Mississippi’s history – and probably happier ones.) The Magnolia Flag is a nice design and especially appropriate to the state: eleven states were in the Confederacy, but there’s only one Magnolia State.

In the meantime, when displays of all the state flags are needed, the Mississippi flag should probably be placed a little more discreetly than it was at the Superbowl this year:

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Or at this citizenship ceremony:

immigration5. The City of New Orleans has a nice flag, even if it has gold fleurs de lys on a white background:

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6. In 1965, Thomas J. Arseneaux designed the flag of Acadiana, that is, a flag for those of Cajun ancestry:

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I was pleased to learn about this one, because there is a similar flag in Canada: the flag of Acadia is a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star.

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Wikipedia.

7. We spent the night in Gonzales, Texas, and thereby discovered the existence of the Gonzales Flag.

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Wikipedia.

In 1831, the Mexican government had given the residents of Gonzales a cannon for defense. At the outbreak of the Texan Revolution in 1835, however, the Mexicans sent a force to take it back, and the Gonzalans replied with a suitable Laconic phrase, embroidered on an improvised flag. The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement in the Revolution, and inspiring for the Texans, as the Mexicans were forced to retreat without their cannon.

I’m surprised that this flag is not more popular among right-leaning Americans (cf. “Don’t Tread On Me“). Current residents of Gonzales certainly cherish it:

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8. Finally, the Louisiana state history museum exhibits an unofficial flag celebrating Louisiana’s admission as the eighteenth state of the Union in 1810.

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You’ll notice that this flag has eighteen stars – and eighteen stripes! Actually the official flag of the United States stopped with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes when Kentucky was admitted in 1792, but people kept adding both stars and stripes anyway out of pride. Only in 1818 did official word come down that the number of stripes should revert to thirteen, and the number of stars increase to twenty, for the number of states by that time.

New Orleans

Happy to have experienced New Orleans for the first time this summer. The French Quarter is not exactly “family friendly,” of course, but there’s plenty of history to gratify people like me!

The heart of it all is Jackson Square, named after the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. It features an equestrian statue of the man who would later become the seventh U.S. president:

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I had to wonder: given that Jackson has been removed from the $20 bill, will we see the square revert to its original name?

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At the top of the square, the famous Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France:

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I quite liked the historic flags, and the stained glass illustrating scenes from the life of St. Louis, including planning the Sainte-Chapelle and receiving the keys to Tunis while on crusade.

I was pleased to see that the arms of the Archdiocese of New Orleans (left) make an obvious reference to the arms of the French city of Orléans (right, via Wikipedia). The colors are reversed, and the pelican refers to Louisiana.

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Flag of Louisiana, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of the connection between Old Orleans and New Orleans, down the street we find an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. The original, by Emmanuel Frémiet, can be seen in Paris.

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Joan, of course, raised the siege of Orléans in 1429 during the Hundred Years War. I was pleased to see the coat of arms of Orléans near the plinth, along with those of Lorraine (Joan’s birthplace), Reims (where she presided over the coronation of Charles VII), and Rouen (where the English burned her at the stake for witchcraft).

St. Michael

After St. George, what could be more logical a saint to write about than St. Michael? I have been collecting material on this remarkable figure and I want to write at least something about him this summer – even if the conference I wanted to present at rejected my paper proposal (sad face). This post is an attempt at putting some thoughts in order…

St. Michael was one of the most popular saints in medieval Europe, in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This is rather odd, because Michael is not a saint at all, but an angel. Saints were human once, and performed some noted service to Christianity; the most prestigious ones were martyred for their faith. Saints are in heaven with God, and in the Middle Ages acquired the function of intercession: you could pray to them, and they would be deputized with answering; they might specialize in providing a particular type of miracle, and amass a particular set of devotees.

Angels are different. In both the Old and New Testaments, angels function as messengers of God. Gabriel, Uriel and Michael are the three best-known. They had never enjoyed a human existence, but were always semi-divine members of the court of heaven. As such, one would think that they would enjoy a Christian cult like that of the most powerful saints, but only Michael seems to have. (One would think that Old Testament prophets like Moses, Elijah, or Isaiah could be Christianized in this way as well, but one generally does not find churches dedicated to them, prayers addressed to them, or accounts of their lives included in saints legendaries.)

Why St. Michael should have enjoyed church and guild dedications, heard Christian prayers, had his own feast day (Michaelmas, September 29), been included in the Golden Legend, etc., is a mystery I’d like to explore more. Gabriel, despite his appearance to the Virgin Mary herself, was nowhere near as popular. The only thing I can think of right now is artistic: St. Michael was often shown battling the devil, as he does in Revelation. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons why St. George was so popular was simply because he was shown fighting the dragon; people loved the action. In England, George and Michael were sometimes paired, each one overcoming his scaly enemy.

This leads to a very important aspect of St. Michael’s patronage: he was a warrior saint. He protected and encouraged “those who fight,” as they fought. This was not entirely a Christian thing to do, but once the Church endorsed crusading (Holy War to liberate Jerusalem from the infidel), it was only natural that different saints should be accepted as specialists in warfare – whether practiced on crusade or not. Once the English managed to monopolize St. George in the context of the Hundred Years’ War (following the Battle of Crécy in 1346), the French turned increasingly to St. Michael. Colette Beaune talks about this in her Naissance de la nation France; the Norman monastery of Mont-St-Michel played a role, as did the foundation of the French Order of St. Michael in 1469.

Depictions of St. Michael followed suit. Normally, he was shown as an angel, dressed in dalmatic. As the Middle Ages wore on, however, he acquired more and more pieces of military equipment, such as helmet, breastplate, greaves, and shield. And on the shield – a coat of arms.

What these coats of arms were will be the subject of another post.

Vive la Résistance

From the National Post:

The incredible life of a fearless agent, smuggler and spy who fought the Nazi occupation of France

Jeannette Guyot, who has died aged 97, resisted the occupation of France by Germany throughout the Second World War and became one of France’s most highly decorated agents.

Jeannette Guyot was born on February 26 1919 in Chalon-sur-Saone, where, after the fall of France in June 1940, she and all her family were quick to join the Resistance. Until August 1941 she worked for Felix Svagrowsky of the Amarante network as a passeur, using a German-issued pass, or Ausweiss, to smuggle people out of the occupied zone to the north and across the Saone river by boat into Vichy France.

In August 1941 she met Gilbert Renault, alias Colonel Remy, chief of the Paris-based Confrerie Notre-Dame reseau (network), and she became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. In February 1942, however, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saone and Autun. She resisted all interrogation and nothing could be proved against her, but the Germans withdrew her Ausweiss. Unperturbed, she resumed her role as a passeur, accompanying a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.

More on the incredible heroics of this agent at the link.