Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Richard the Jerkheart

We all know and love this man:

No, I don't mean Kevin Costner, or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and certainly not Sir Sean Connery.

I mean Richard Plantaganet, or Richard the Lionheart to you and me. He's the guy who liberated Jerusalem with the English flag emblazoned across his manly chest, only to be captured by the devious Austrians on his way home to his much-loved people.

Luckily his plucky Troubadour Blondel decided to sing outside every castle in Europe in the desperate hope that his master would recognise his voice and sing back.

The cunning plan worked, the people of England willingly raised the money to ransom their noble ruler, and Richard got back to England just in time to depose his wicked brother King John, kick Guy of Gisbourne in the nuts and snog Maid Marian at her Sherwood Forest wedding (see first picture).

Since revisionist history is all the rage these days, here's a couple of points for your consideration:

1. Richard hated England and the English people

He wasn't born in England, his family wasn't English, he didn't speak the language, he spent about half a year of his life in the country, and treated it mainly as a cash cow to fund his boyish adventures in the Holy Land. In fact, the only reason that Richard didn't smear the entire island with his excrement is that even he wasn't a big enough arsehole to pull that stunt off.

2. He was an anti-semite

On the day of his coronation in London some wealthy Jews came to offer their gifts and loyalty to the new king, as was customary. Richard, seriously pumped about going on Crusade, had the men beaten and stripped, and in the ensuing chaos countless Jews in the city were massacred, their homes burned and possessions stolen.

3. He was a war criminal

He was not averse to massacring thousands of Muslim prisoners when it was tactically expedient.

4. He was a massive jerk

After capturing Acre in 1191, Richard and his cronies took all the credit, despite the fact that the city had been under siege for two years before his arrival. When Duke Leopold of Austria had the audacity to raise his banner along with those of his allies on the fortifications, Richard had it torn down and thrown in a ditch.

5. He was an arrogant arse

After failing to capture Jerusalem, Richard decided to cut his holiday short and headed back home. He was shipwrecked off the Italian coast and tried to sneak through Austria disguised as a pilgrim.

His plan apparently involved getting pissed up in a tavern just outside Vienna, brandishing an absurdly expensive ring and probably insisting on singing to West Life on the karaoke machine, even though it was past last orders and nobody was in the mood. The upshot was that he got himself recognised and was carted off to this castle, Dürnstein, in the Danube valley:

Nice move, Dick. And with any luck, this is exactly where he found himself wallowing in his own waste:

The story about the troubadour is rubbish as well. Richard was eventually released only when England, already ruined by his pointless eastern escapades, was utterly bankrupted in order to raise the massive ransom.

6. Literally in the last moments of his life he behaved like a prick

During the siege of a castle in Limousin, Richard saw a crossbowman on the parapet using a frying pan as a shield. Firstly the king was stupid enough to attract the attention of an armed missile troop on a good vantage point and well within effective range by screaming mockery at him, and secondly he forgot that he had removed his own chainmail earlier. Anyway, the result was that Richard got stuck by a crossbow bolt, refused all assistance like a true idiot, and then died.

And it was about jolly time, too.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Student life in ancient Rome

Student life hasn't really changed that much since ancient times.

I must say, though, I'm glad that this imperial decree of A.D. 370 didn't apply when I was an undergraduate...

Emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian Augustuses to Olybrius, Prefect of the City [of Rome].

The office of tax assessment shall carefully investigate the life of the students and their lodging places, to see that they actually do bestow their time on the studies which they assert that they are pursuing.

These same officials of tax assessment shall warn the students that they shall severally conduct themselves in their assemblies as persons should who consider it their duty to avoid a disgraceful and scandalous reputation and bad associations, all of which We consider as the next worst thing to actual criminality.

Nor shall the students attend shows too frequently nor commonly take part in unseasonable carousals.

We furthermore grant to you as prefect the authority that, if any student in the City should fail to conduct himself as the dignity of a liberal education demands, he shall be publicly flogged, immediately put on board a boat, expelled from the City and returned home.

From: Clyde Pharr (trans.), The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions (New York, 1952), p. 414

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Brunhild: the original Queen Cersei?

The Merovingian Queen Brunhild is one of the most notable figures of the early Middle Ages.

I was struck by the similarities between her and Queen Cersei in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, and so a bit of a comparison seemed in order. In my opinion, Brunhild makes Cersei look like a kindergarten teacher.

Queen Cersei and her younger rival Margaery. Image © HBO

This entry is a guest article at Jamie Adair's excellent blog The History Behind Game of Thrones - please check it out!