in The Realm: The True history behind Game of Thrones ed west reminds us that medieval europeans were batsh*t crazy violent and that if you met one of them coming down the street, you would almost certainly want to cross over to the other side! [kindle locations: 563-615 – links added by me]:

“Drunkenness had always been a common feature of life in the Realm. As far back as the eighth century St Boniface, the Devonian who converted the Germans, complained that it was ‘a vice peculiar to the heathens and to our race, and that neither Franks, Gauls, Lombards, Romans nor Greeks indulge in’. Twelfth-century writer William of Malmesbury said of the English that ‘Drinking in parties was an universal practice, in which occupation they passed entire nights as well as days.’ In the early 13th century England went through one of its periodic booze epidemics, so that ‘the whole land was filled with drink and drinkers ’, and leading the way was the drunken King John, whose fondness for booze and lechery inadvertently gave the world its most important legal document – Magna Carta.

“By the end of the 13th century there were 354 drinking establishments in London…”

the population of london in 1340 was somewhere between 40,000-50,000 people, so that’s ca. one bar for every 140 persons!

“…and everyone drank heavily, although they did so among their own class – the wealthy drank in inns, the middle ranks in taverns, while at the bottom of the social ladder there were the alehouses, where violence was almost guaranteed. During this period court rolls, which began in the reign of the Lionheart (before 1189 in English law is literally ‘time immemorial’) are filled with accounts of drink-fuelled incidents, often involving ill-judged horseplay with axes, swords and farmyard animals….

“The worst drink-related incident occurred in 1212 when London Bridge burned down, with up to 3,000 charred or drowned bodies turning up on the banks of the river the following morning. The fire started in Southwark at a bring your own bottle party, or ‘Scot-Ale’ as they were called.

“John certainly led the way in the drinking stakes. He kept 180,000 gallons of wine at his personal disposal, a slight hint at alcoholism, and drank anything he could find. His drunken antics were famed, and no woman was safe.

“John also displayed signs of a violent temperament from an early age. As a boy he once lost his temper while playing chess, and smashed his opponent over the head with a heavy piece….

“John violated all the rules of war; after his victory over the King of France in 1202, he kept his prisoners ‘so vilely and in such evil distress that it seemed shameful and ugly to all those who witnessed this cruelty’. He massacred a garrison of his own men in Normandy, because he’d switched sides without telling them. Perhaps worst of all was the sexual depredations he committed against females of all ages, including several noblemen’s daughters; and he almost certainly murdered his 16-year-old nephew Arthur in a drunken rage….

“There was also inheritance tax. Some noblemen were charged up to £7,000 to take over their father’s or brother’s land, and the king often kept barons in a state of permanent debt, and threatened arrest or worse. The king kidnapped the wife and son of one such baron, his loyal follower William de Briouze, who had failed to cough up £3,500. When Matilda de Briouze blurted out to one of John’s men that they knew about his nephew’s murder, she and her son were taken prisoner and starved to death; their corpses were found huddled together, with the boy bearing tooth-marks on his body from where his mother had tried to eat him.”

aaaaand THAT gave me a nightmare! (or maybe it was the leftover pasta i ate just before going to bed. (~_^) ) somebody please tell me that matilda (maud) tried to eat her son after he was already dead. =/

that was all in the 1200s. what about later in the 1400 and 1500s? [kindle locations: 1171-1242]:

Elizabeth of York had already endured an unsettled upbringing. When she was three, her father was forced into exile, and his cousin killed her grandfather. Later one uncle murdered another and probably her brothers too. In 1475 she was betrothed to the dauphin of France and her training as a princess would have began; however that match was broken, and she was now free, or as it could be interpreted, vulnerable….

“Henry Tudor died in 1509, and within days his heir Henry VIII had two of his father’s moneylenders tried and executed in a show trial. It was a sign of things to come. As well as thousands of common people, the king had numerous aristocrats executed, most of them close relations with outside claims to the throne. Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, the White Rose, had been handed over to Henry VII in 1506, who had made a solemn pledge not to execute him. He kept that pledge, and instructed his son to kill him when he became king; this the youngster did. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was descended from Edward III on both sides of his family, was tried for treason and executed by Henry VIII merely for ordering a new coat of arms with the royal insignia inserted. His father the Duke of Norfolk was already in the Tower of London awaiting execution, and would be saved only by the king’s death….

“Henry famously went on to have six wives in total, having executed Anne for adultery, and divorced Anne of Cleves, the sister of the Duke of Cleves, a powerful German state on the Rhineland. Apart from political reasons, Henry had fallen in love with her portrait, drawn by renowned German artist Hans Holbein. Unfortunately Holbein, the finest artist in the land, was not in the habit of upsetting his clients, and Anne was in reality rather plain, so much so that Henry called her the ‘Flanders Mare’. She also had bad breath and body odour, and the king confessed to a friend: ‘I had neither the will nor courage to proceed further.’ The marriage was never consummated, and Anne agreed to a divorce; strangely, they stayed good friends….

“The king remarried within a month, to 20-year-old Katherine Howard, who really did commit adultery; she was executed alongside her lover Thomas Culpeper, and just to make sure that his honour remained intact, Henry executed two previous lovers of Katherine, despite there being no suggestion of anything occurring since: one was her old music teacher and the other her cousin. And for good measure he had Howard’s lady-in-waiting executed just for knowing about the affair.

“Of his six wives, he is said to have only truly loved number three, Jane Seymour, who had given him a son, Edward, who succeeded his father in 1547. The boy king, just nine, was a fanatical Protestant and at 12 he had called the Pope the Antichrist in a tract. He once ripped apart a live falcon in a rage, and when he was 11 he had his own uncle, Thomas Seymour, executed.”

et cetera, et cetera. you get the idea. still pretty violent later in the medieval period. and these were the upper classes!

which got me to wondering, if the nonviolent english today really are descended, a la greg clark’s theory, from the upper classes of the past — well, how on earth, then, were all these violent traits knocked out of the population when the upper classes were the batsh*t crazy way that they were?

one really good theory for why violence declined markedly in europe beginning in the middle ages (and it has) is that the state simply removed from the population via execution the most violent members of society. took them right out of the gene pool and largely stopped them from reproducing. henry harpending has shown that, theoretically, this should’ve been possible in the time given (the ca. 800 years from the 1200s to the 2000s) if enough violent individuals were executed early enough in their criminal careers so that they wouldn’t have reproduced much or at all.

but were violent members of the aristocracy regularly executed? they were “the state,” weren’t they? were death penalty laws applied equally to that class? maybe. i really don’t know. but if not, wouldn’t their descendents just continually replenish the lower classes with individuals with violent traits? how did the upper classes become less violent?

in Better Angels, steven pinker references norbert eliasThe Civilizing Process on this [kindle locations: 1839-1847]:

“Once Leviathan was in charge, the rules of the game changed. A man’s ticket to fortune was no longer being the baddest knight in the area but making a pilgrimage to the king’s court and currying favor with him and his entourage. The court, basically a government bureaucracy, had no use for hotheads and loose cannons, but sought responsible custodians to run its provinces. The nobles had to change their marketing. They had to cultivate their manners, so as not to offend the king’s minions, and their empathy, to understand what they wanted. The manners appropriate for the court came to be called ‘courtly’ manners or ‘courtesy.’ The etiquette guides, with their advice on where to place one’s nasal mucus, originated as manuals for how to behave in the king’s court. Elias traces the centuries-long sequence in which courtesy percolated down from aristocrats dealing with the court to the elite bourgeoisie dealing with the aristocrats, and from them to the rest of the middle class. He summed up his theory, which linked the centralization of state power to a psychological change in the populace, with a slogan: Warriors to courtiers.

so, the idea, maybe, is that over time going forward through the middle ages it was the less violent aristocrats who became more successful at court and, therefore, more successful reproductively (and some of their kids filtered down into the lower classes)? dunno. haven’t read The Civilizing Process (now on The List). would be nice to have some numbers. there’s a ph.d. thesis here for some brave student. (~_^)

what would need to be worked out, too, imho, is whether or not the english artistocracy in, say, the 1400-1500s was less violent than the aristocracy of the 1200-1300s (and so on and so forth), because violence had already declined from 1300 to 1500. and, of course, it kept on declining. from pinker’s Better Angels:

pinker - fig. 3.3

that’s all i’ve got for ya today! i definitely recommend reading west’s The Realm! it’s a kindle single, so it won’t take you ages. just don’t read it before going to bed! (~_^)

oh, and wrap up…winter is coming!

previously: “violence around the world” and kinship, the state, and violence

(note: comments do not require an email. where are my dragons?!)

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