“Can I wear this?”

I and other reenactors often get questions about how we find information, period pictures for inspiration and if there are evidence in the archaeological material for this or that. This is a huge topic, I’m learning still and I cannot possibly cover it with a single post. But I’d like to share some of my thoughts on it, in order to help you answer the recurring question “Can I wear this?” yourself.

Reenactment is about recreating things as close as we can get to the real thing. I believe it is really important to do your best to achieve that. For me this ambition is what makes it challenging but also fun and rewarding. To get as close to the real thing as possible with your medieval gear, you’ll need to start in the right end. Even if an attempt to research may feel intimidating for beginners, it is much easier to first look for proof among period pictures, in historical sources, contemporary art and archaeological material rather than the other way around.

If you first decide what you want, make it or buy it and afterwards try to find proof that things were actually done that way – you are bound to be disappointed. Working that way is an anachronism based on how you decide what you next fashion item will be in your modern everyday wardrobe. Especially as a beginner at reenactment you need to free yourself of this mindset or you risk finding yourself in lack of evidence and thus have to abandon your project or re-do it.

"Can I wear this?" This illumination from Les livres du roi Modus is my main source of inspiration for my next outfit.

“Can I wear this?” This illumination from Les livres du roi Modus is my main source of inspiration for my next outfit.

However, finding information and evaluating it is a craft in it self. You have to have some feel for period art expression, knowledge about the geography, religious life, economy, politics and social strata of the society you are studying just to formulate a question. It helps a lot if you have some understanding for medieval crafts and materials, their value and production.

As I hope you understand, it is not possible for anyone to be an expert on all of this at once. That is why we have professional historians, archaeologists and art specialists. I’ve read my share of history and archaeology but it is in no way sufficient to make me an expert. That is why we need our friends, other blogs, museums and a living network of historical enthusiasts. On the left here in our blog you’ll find a list of links to some of the resources we use for inspiration and information.

The best tool for learning is a healthy combination of curiosity and scepticism. In time, you’ll build up a bank of experience and a reference material among period texts and pictures, it does not come over night. So start to nose around, ask others, visit museums, look at pictures and read, but keep up a sound sceptical approach. Never stop questioning what others say, what you see and what you think you know. Anyone can be mistaken, misinterpretations of old are still around and new ones are discovered all the time.

But then how are you ever to know if a source is reliable, if something is appropriate to recreate and right for you? I’ll give you an example of the process of trying to finding out. Let’s say that I’d like to make a new bag for my hunting outfit. I’ve been looking around for a picture to base my bag on and I’ve finally found one. This white little purse, doesn’t it seem excellent for carrying my phone while I’m out hunting? And it appears in a handbook on hunting, Les livres du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio from late 14th century. Perfect!

Hunters and falconers fighting.

Or is it? What is actually happening on the picture…? They are fighting! Some of you will recognize the scene from Johans post about the conflict that seems to have been between hunters and falconers. There was bad blood between falconers and hunters about which was the noblest and most true kind of hunt – that with birds of prey or that with dogs. The bird-like thingy on the whipping piece of string is a decoy for training falcons, a tool for falconers. Here the hunters are portrayed with horns and the falconers are the ones wearing the little white bags.

What I want to say is this – you’ll need an idea of what you are reenacting, who you are in the medieval world and society in order to know what equipment you’ll need. Are you a hunter or a falconer, or in other words – a dogturd or fleapicker? If there is a conflict between hunters and falconers during the time you are reenacting and you want to be a hunter – don’t wear a falconers bag.

You’ll want to be sure to use the right attributes signalling who you are. You should aim for everything to go together in your ensemble of gear. Ask yourself – are you reenacting a man or a woman, poor or rich? When and where? What are your privileges in society and how do you express them? Where do you imagine that the person you are portraying live? What tools or characteristics are typical for your trade?

As I lift my eyes from the first picture of the purse I soon find that the little white bag perhaps could be attributed to falconers to set them apart from hunters. In Les livres du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio only falconers seem to wear them. Why is this? Interesting!

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Could it be that his type of bag is signalling the falconer’s trade in illustrations or has some sort of special use for a falconer? Such a hypothesis calls for further investigation. If I’m right, it makes this bag inappropriate for me to wear as a hunter. But in order to start calling this a falconers bag, I’d have to have stronger proof. I’d like to see the connection in other manuscripts as well or have some other attribution of the little white bag to this specific use. But once you start looking, you’ll see little white bags everywhere…

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The fact that not only falconers are wearing little white bags does not contravene the hypothesis that falconers maybe did as a mark of their trade. What I need is proof from other manuscripts or sources that show falconers carrying the same type of bag. The more pictures or historical evidence, the stronger the connection is.

Here is one from Codex Manesse, early 14th century. 721_10151593492456161_1601862695_nI’d prefer to have support from at the least three different manuscripts or other sources roughly from the same period of time before I conclude anything or decide to make something new. As I only have pictures from two sources and because Les livres du roi Modus is late 14th century and Codex Manesse is early, I’ll either have to keep looking or accept that my hypothesis is invalid.

When I started looking around in other sources, I got curious about what the falconers use the bag for. Knowing that could help me find more information and puzzle the pieces together. The little I know about falconering makes me wonder if it could be a easy-access-bag with meaty treats for the falcons? Little purses are commonly pictured in period illuminations and plenty of them are preserved, but they are rarely white. Why is this bag always white? Could it be a bag of linnen? I know that flax is hard to dye with period methods but very suitable to proof with wax and as such for storage of fresh food.

Mind you, it is not always possible to tell what material it is supposed to be just by looking at a picture. Also, don’t settle with a single picture of a funny looking bag found in just one manuscript before you decide to make one just like it, unless you are in to recreating that single scene exactly as it is. Ask yourself what the context tells you – the text that your picture illuminates, if you can read it or have it translated – what is it about? Does this type of bag occur anywhere else? Release your curiosity, start to ask and look around!

lovesmenotHere for instance is a picture of another bag or purse. It is not of the same type as the one I’m looking for but it is a good example of problems you’ll run into as a reenactor. Can I consider a bag like this one for my medieval hunters outfit?

Notice how big it is, almost like a modern backpack. From this period of time, mid- to late 14th century I know not of any others like it in size. Why is that? I haven’t seen everything, so I had to ask others who are more experienced. When I did, I was told that the text that this illumination belongs to is about the trouble that meets a man courting ungrateful and greedy women. Then I notice that the lady has a grumpy frown upon her face. I see the rejecting hand gesture and her very fancy dresses. I guess that she is not happy with her lovers gift, it is not good enough for her. How ever large and valuable, it is not what she wants from him.

From other texts and pictures as well as from interpreting the motifs on purses from the 14th century, aumônières, or alms purses seems to have been common gifts between lovers. I conclude that it is possible that the purse above is pictured as a large one in order to emphasize its importance, illustrating the great generosity of this man courting his ungrateful lady. Enlarging the most important thing in a picture is a common technique in contemporary art during this time but it can be misleading for us who look at the pictures some 650 years later…

To sum things up – as I am reenacting a 14th century hunter, none of the bags in my examples so far seems to be entirely appropriate. I’m still looking for something suitable, but I hope that sharing my searching strategy can be of help for others.

You will not always find what you are looking for and that is my last tip to you, don’t be to sure that you will. Don’t jump to conclusions to soon, look around, compare pictures from different sources and read the texts that go with the illuminations. Question what you think you know and try to see the bigger picture. As you do, you’ll get more skilled at analysing period art and you’ll learn more about the medieval world.

Good luck!

/ Emil

 

Javelin practise

A hot summers day Johan, Helena and I went out to practise with our javelins. If you want to see how it went and hear about our conclusions, don’t miss out on Johans short film.

We could not have wished for better weather for our expedition, this is Swedish summer at it’s best. But with a temperature on about 25 – 30 °C in the sun (77 – 86 °F), you have to think both on what you choose to wear and on how you behave while you are out in period clothing. It is wise to go for thin and loosely fitted garments, as always with linnen underneath and a layer of wool on top, allowing air to flow between the different layers and keeping you dry. Also make sure to protect your head and neck from the sun. Stay in the shadow if you can and drink plenty of water. If you do so, the heat will not trouble you much.

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Happy hunters heading out on a lovely summers day.

My choice of outfit – a straw hat and a simple green kirtle was inspired by these illuminations from Livre de Chasse. I really like the relaxed look of the man with the straw hat, wearing his hoses rolled down. I’d love to elaborate further on what we are wearing but we will get back to the details of our gear another day, in a post about the medieval hunters equipment.

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I like the relaxed look of this boar-hunter with straw hat and rolled down hose!

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A limer wearing a straw hat and a simple green kirtle just like mine.

Telling the dog of on our way out.

Telling the dog of on our way out.

Our targets, one still and one moving.

Our targets, one still and one moving.

I was looking forward to test my new javelin and to work on my technique. You have to aim good and true of course, but for me it is also about getting the throw more explosive  – simply to throw harder.

Today we used two targets for our practise, one of them moving – a piece of a tree trunk suspended in the height of a deer or the like. For practising explosive throws, the tree itself will do fine. For better aim, the moving target pending in the rope is game.

Obviously, when throwing at a moving target, there is no point in aiming where the target is at the moment. You have to interpret its movement and calculate on where it will be when your spear reaches it. To do that you’ll need to study your target well and use your previous experience to extrapolate a decent estimation of how hard to throw and where to aim.

While I’m doing this, I have to find the balance point of the spear, a point where it rests in my hand without tipping back or forth. Then I aim based on my estimation of where my target will be next, using enough force for my spear to reach it in the right time.

With a powerful and flowing movement of my whole body I create the energy driving the javelin forth before letting it go. I try to let it slip from my hand in the right moment for it to go fast and straight to the target.

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Finding the balance point of my new javelin.

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Aiming with my entire body and creating a flowing movement allowing for a high energy throw.

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The trick is to let go in the right time. It’s a hit!

As Johan mentioned in his last post, it is likely that the javelin was used as a bleeder and not for the actual kill. Hunters would try to make the game bleed in order for it to grow weaker, move more slowly and get easier to track down. As you get close to it by tracking and driving it with your hounds, the game does not expect you to have the extended reach that a javelin gives you. The mort, the killing strike, seems to have been done with a sword or dagger in a almost ritualistic manner, not with the spear regarded as a less noble weapon. Bearing this in mind, there is not much reason to practise long distance throws and we kept close to our targets today.

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For Helena, it was her first time handling the javelin.

I had a hard time in the beginning. It wasn’t easy to hit the target, even at close reach. But after a while I worked out how to do it better. 20140712_173023_Richtone(HDR)I found it helpful to have a handful of spears at the ready, so that I could throw one after another in a nice flow before I had to to go and get them back. Doing so, I had time to learn form every attempt and adjust my technique slightly between every throw.

I also noticed that I preferred Johans heavier javelin rather than my new lighter one. His heavy spear was easier to throw with some real force. The next ones I’ll make for myself will be of a more sturdy kind. My new javelin turned out more appropriate for long distance throws, but used so it cut the air nice and straight. As I get more skilled at aiming and throwing, I think I’ll need different javelins for different purposes and distances.

So, practice makes perfect, they say? I tell you, practice craves picnic!

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IMAG1948I had a great time today. The weather was amazing and it was much fun throwing at our moving target. I benefited from the practice – as a novice on the javelin I could really see immediate result. Soon I got both a better aim and a more powerful throw, even if there is room for much improvement still. We will have to do this again someday soon!

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As I mentioned earlier, if you want to see us practise and hear more about our conclusions from today, don’t miss out on Johans short film.

/ Emil

The song of the bell rope

One of the first medieval hunting techniques I remember Johan told me about is the use of a long rope with bells tied to it. I call it “The bell rope trick”. It is depicted in Livre de chasse, a handbook on hunting from around 1388 written by Gaston Phoebus. The rope is stretched out between two hunters who walk with it across a field to drive up small game such as hares towards the end of the field. There the hares are welcomed by other hunters with a net, spears or clubs.

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To drive the game by making noise is in no way unique but I think the bells adds a bit of glamour and makes it look like a lot of fun. I have not yet managed to tie myself a proper net, but Johan did his part last month when purchasing a range of brass bells suitable for the rope. As we can’t legally kill anything, the net is not essential and we thought it worth a try – perhaps we could stir up a few hares anyway?

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Stretching the rope with the bells on it.

For this hunting expedition we were accompanied by our friend Helena. One of the advantages of reenacting the medieval hunt over other other aspects of medieval life is that women seem to have participated alongside with men. They are depicted doing the same things as men, often with their kirtles tucked up in their belt to allow for easy movement and without the linnen veil otherwise worn by most grown women during this period. These pictures below are from the same French manuscript, but there are many others and the topic of women hunting will need a post of its own in the future.

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Women hunting hare with bow and a club.

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A lady spearing a boar.

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From the perspective of our game for today, the hare.

We hit the outdoor rabbit hutch field in the late evening when we expected the small game to come out and graze after a really hot day. The field of choice was located far out in the woods. We saw lots of rabbit holes in the ground nearby, so we moved against the direction of the light breeze to try to prevent the animals to get our scent to early on. But once Johan had positioned himself at the edge of the field and the bell-rope was spread out, there was no longer any need for silence. It was time for the rope to sing.

Sadly, we could not raise any hares from the field this time. But just as I had thought, the bell rope sang beautifully in the wind and against the high grass on the field. We all had a try on handling the rope and speculated afterwards by our camp fire on the reason of our failure to find any game.

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Johan is also having a try with the bell-rope.

It could be that the day had been unusually hot and that the hares prefer to stay in their hiding places protected from the heat. The field could have been a bad choice for a place to hunt. We have been here many times but only seen tracks of animals here, no actual creatures moving about so we know not their habits of movement around it. Or it could be that we wasn’t as quiet and careful as we should have – after all we are not as skilled as the medieval hunters would have been.

To hear the song of the bell rope for yourself, take a look at the short film Johan made about our attempt to reenact this medieval hunting technique.

/ Emil

Exploring the medieval hunt

Welcome to our new blog!

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Emil.

We are two Swedish reenactors who decided a while ago to start exploring the medieval hunt, around late 1300, early 1400. Our reasons for taking on this stems equally from our love of outdoor adventure, a lust for wine and cheese by the camp fire and an ambition to learn more about the medieval world by experimenting and experiencing.

My name is Emil. I found my way to reenactment when I plunged into the Battle of Wisby project in 2011, after years of studying archaeology and practising historical crafts. I’m a born blogger and enjoy writing about our adventures almost as much as I enjoy outdoor life in historical clothing. My unseemly love for pretty things and the neat and tidy look of my 14th century outfit have sort of landed me in the well polished shoes of a young land owner. So, I have come to reenact the relatively wealthy huntsman, hunting for the joy of it more than anything.

Johan, my hunting comrade and co-writer on this blog is an experienced reenactor as the founding father of Albrechts gunners, 14th century company of Swedish gunners. He to has a genuine academic background and all sort of practical skills that is beyond my ability to rightly describe. Johan is reenacting the huntsmaster and doghandler, a veltraus. He wears the hunting horn that signals the different phases of the hunt and the great Irish wolf hound Boudica answers to him.

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Johan.

Hunting is an unusually grateful subject for reenectment since apart from other sources there actually are several contemporary handbooks on the topic preserved. These books feature both literal advice and guidance as well as amazingly vivid and detailed pictures of medieval hunters and their equipment.

Our task is to look at the material we can get our hands on and do our best to imitate and re-create what we see with techniques and materials used in the 14th century. Reenactment is learning by doing.

As a little taste of what is to come, here is a short film Johan made after one of our first hunting expeditions, I hope you’ll enjoy it. If you do, make sure to follow us on our future adventures while exploring the medieval hunt!

Yours truly, Emil