This November, is introducing Medieval Minds Productions at the American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica, CA, Nov. 4-10, 2015. Producer, director, actor and medieval historian Anne Scottlin and her team are determining what short films and web series with a medieval theme they will produce in 2016. The team welcomes your comments, suggestions and input. Send your email to

20 Mar 2013, Comments (0)

The Middle English Literary Tradition

Author: Anne Scottlin

Hunterian Psalter, MS Hunter 229

By the fourteenth century, England remained culturally deferential to France and spiritually dependent on Rome. Since the Norman invasion, most non-Latin texts available in England were in either Old French or Anglo-Norman. Since literature written in Middle English was a relatively new development, there were far fewer vernacular books available in England than common French books in France. Accordingly, the contributions of English authors writing in their native tongue became significant not only to their readers but also for the national pride of the country itself, as England gave birth to its own literary tradition.

- Anne Scottlin -

6 Mar 2013, Comments (1)

Medieval Pipe Organs Large and Small

Author: Anne Scottlin

Early medieval organs did not have keys or stops, but were controlled by a slider mechanism.

Pipe organs were an important instrument in medieval cathedrals for use at mass, as well as at coronations and other state events. Early medieval organs had no keys or stops and all the pipes sounded simultaneously. Foot pedals pressed the air through the pipes and was controlled by a slider mechanism (see image at left). Medieval Englishmen were especially fond of organs and relatively large instruments could be found in England’s sixteen cathedrals, as well as in some of the grander churches and for the benefit of the royals. By the high Middle Ages, organ-makers began fitting their Gothic organs with some keys and stops.

Small chamber organs also became popular, as did portable organs that could be easily transported to seasonal aristocratic residences. The Renaissance brought change and complexity to the instruments as their popularity and numbers increased across Europe.

- Anne Scottlin -

21 Feb 2013, Comments (1)

The History of the British Coal Industry

Author: Anne Scottlin

For additional information on medieval British coal and coal mining, see the comprehensive  book by John Hatcher, The History of the British Coal Industry, Vol. I, Before 1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Click Here for Content on Google Books

This is the first volume which completes the definitive five-volume History of the British Coal Industry. Well before 1700 Britain had become heavily dependent upon coal for its fuel, and coal mining had taken its place among the nation’s staple industries. Hatcher traces the production and trade of coal from the intermittent small-scale activity which prevailed in the Middle Ages to the rapid expansion and rising importance which characterized the early modern era. Thoroughly grounded in a formidable range of sources, the book explores the economics and management of mining, the productivity and progress of technology. Hatcher examines the owners and operators of collieries and the sources of mining capital, as well as the colliers themselves, their working conditions, and earnings. He argues that the spectacular growth of coal output in this period was achieved more through evolutionary than revolutionary processes.

24 Jan 2013, Comments (0)

Late Medieval Female Authors

Author: Anne Scottlin

In fourteenth and fifteenth-century Europe, women rarely wrote books. Of the small number of works they did produce, even fewer remain today. These surviving volumes offer us a rare glimpse into the struggle of a small number of women who acted with determination to begin filling the void of female authorship in European literature.

Although the Church encouraged women to submerge themselves in spiritual disciplines, and while a few upper-class and monastic women received some education, they were not encouraged to write literature. Society consented to females writing in the vernacular when women confined their work to personal correspondence or household administration, but when they wanted to publish, the confining socio-religious controls of the late medieval Church and academic tradition created a nearly impenetrable barrier between their dream and reality. Those who broke through these barriers usually did so at great personal cost. Future entries on this site will offer a more detailed study of several of these women by name.

- Anne Scottlin -

10 Jan 2013, Comments (0)

Childhood in Medieval England, c.500-1500

Author: Anne Scottlin

Childhood in Medieval England, c.500-1500

Paper by Nicholas Orme,
University of Exeter

This toy knight comes from a rich harvest of archaeological finds, made in the mudbanks of the River Thames in London during the last 30 years. It was manufactured in about 1300, and illustrates several facets of medieval childhood. Then as now, children liked playing with toys. Then as now, they had a culture of their own, encompassing slang, toys, and games.

Then as now, adults cared for children and encouraged their play. An adult made this toy and another adult bought it for a child, or gave a child money to buy it. The toy knight was made from a mould, and produced in large numbers. It probably circulated among the families of merchants, shopkeepers, and craft workers, as well as those of the nobility and gentry. The finds also include toys that girls might have liked: little cups, plates, and jugs, some sturdy enough to heat up water by a fireside. There is even a self-assembly kit: a cupboard cut out of a sheet of soft metal, instead of the plastic that would be used today.

Read Orme’s paper:

27 Dec 2012, Comments (7)

Monasteries: The Land and Community

Author: Anne Scottlin

Tres Riches Heures (March 1410)

Monasteries become one of the most important institutions in Europe and played a fundamental role in the evolving transformation of land and community structures in the West. The land-monastery relationship aided the development of small-town Christianity as it existed throughout Middle Ages. Monastic communities often patterned themselves after fortified, Antique Roman villas, functioning as socio-economic units.

Wealthy citizens often donated cultivated lands for monastic use, along with the laborers and dwellings attached to the land. A codependent relationship emerged between these agricultural communities and the monasteries whose lands they worked, further contributing to the centralization of small space and the familiar visual landscape of the Middle Ages.

- Anne Scottlin -


A Woman Beating a Man with a Distaff. (BL) Add. 42130 f.60, c.1325-1335

Sheikh Shams offers an insightful look into the lives of women as they are portrayed in medieval English literature. Her article appeared in the  BRAC University Journal, vol. V, no. 2, 2008, pp. 105-111. Shams abstract and short excerpt from her introduction appear below.

ABSTRACT:  It is commonly assumed that medieval society is hostile to women’s power. Women are continuously contained and constrained by the patriarchal norms of medieval Europe to strengthen the heroic ideals of masculinity, while maintaining the ideals of the domestic private sphere.

This study shows that even within the domestic private sphere, women exert considerable amount of power to influence men’s actions. In fact, what we see are models of powerful women capable of damaging the heroic ideals of men. Hence there is a tendency to control women’s power. This essay explores how far this tendency to control is actually successful. If not then we are witnessing a tension between dominant patriarchal ideology and the subversive images of women. The resistance that women characters in medieval literatures pose to the hegemonic ideology is a matter of particular interest of this paper. At the same time, the nature of their containment and appropriation is also something that this paper wishes to examine.

INTRODUCTION: In many instances of medieval English writing, we observe women characters that shatter our preconceived notion about the behaviour of medieval womanhood. For our pre-conceived notion is based on the conventional assumption attacked by Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski’s edited work, Women and Power in the Middle Ages: “[m]edieval society with its wars, territorial struggles, and violence, seems particularly hostile to the exercise of female initiative and power” (1). But, in contrast what we see in these writings are women characters who instead of being passively confined to the domestic and private sphere, participate in adventures along with men, control men’s courtly behaviour, and even in extreme cases take arms when they need to retaliate. Even within the domestic private sphere, women exert considerable amount of power to influence men’s actions. In a nutshell, what we see are models of powerful women capable of causing damage to the heroic ideals of men, as the heroic ideals require feminization and repression of women.

Grace Armstrong in her essay “Women of Power: Chretien de Troyes’s Female Clerks” refers to the theological justification of women’s repression:“she is a powerful and dangerous foe of man; her sexuality must be firmly controlled if she is not to betray him or make him lose his soul” (31). This explains why “medieval society . . . seems particularly hostile to the exercise of female initiative and power” (Erler & Kowaleski 1). Consequently, there exists a tendency to control women’s power. The question that arises from this assumption is worth pursuing: how far is this tendency to control women’s power actually successful. If not, then what we are witnessing is reduced (castrated) masculinity; hence a subversion of heroic ideals, as masculinity is one of the important bases of heroic ideals.

In other terms, how ‘manly’ are the men portrayed in these works? Do we see a complete undoing of heroic ideals, or a readjustment and negotiation? The answers to these questions—yes or no—will certainly lead us to a larger historical question: whether these women represent the actual historical womanhood of the time, which I wish to address in this paper. At the same time we need to recognize the importance of genre in creating these anomalous portrayals of women.

Sheikh F. Shams
Center for Languages
BRAC University

A story replete with shady merchants, scoundrels, hungry mercenaries, scheming nobles, and maneuvering cardinals, The Man Who Believed He Was King of France proves the adage that truth is often stranger than fiction—or at least as entertaining. The setting of this improbable but beguiling tale is 1354 and the Hundred Years’ War being waged for control of France.

Seeing an opportunity for political and material gain, the demagogic dictator of Rome tells Giannino di Guccio that he is in fact the lost heir to Louis X, allegedly switched at birth with the son of a Tuscan merchant. Once convinced of his birthright, Giannino claims for himself the name Jean I, king of France, and sets out on a brave—if ultimately ruinous—quest that leads him across Europe to prove his identity.

With the skill of a crime scene detective, Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri digs up evidence in the historical record to follow the story of a life so incredible that it was long considered a literary invention of the Italian Renaissance. From Italy to Hungry, then through Germany and France, the would-be king’s unique combination of guile and earnestness seems to command the aid of lords and soldiers, the indulgence of inn-keepers and merchants, and the collusion of priests and rogues along the way.

The apparent absurdity of the tale allows Carpegna Falconieri to analyze late-medieval society, exploring questions of essence and appearance, being and belief, at a time when the divine right of kings confronted the rise of mercantile culture. Giannino’s life represents a moment in which truth, lies, history, and memory combine to make us wonder where reality leaves off and fiction begins.

1580s Oil on canvas Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Chicken Vendors

Chicken Husbandry in Late-Medieval Eastern England: c. 1250-1400
Paper by Philip Slaven, Yale University

Philip Slavin of Yale University, offers a unique paper on the place of the chicken within the changing environment of late-medieval England. First, Slavin’s paper examines the seigniorial sector of chicken farming, in terms of size of stocks, patterns of disposal and scale of consumption. It then explores the patchy data regarding the peasant sector. The study shows that overall patterns differed between the pre- and post-Black Death periods. After the pestilence, chicken husbandry started shifting from the demesne to the peasant sector of agriculture. The post-1350 changes reflect larger processes, which occurred in late-medieval society, economy and environment.

The present paper explores the place and importance of the chicken within the shifting context of late-medieval English agriculture, society and environment, between c.1250 and 1400. It shows how the history of chicken husbandry reflects larger processes and phenomena connected to this context. During this period, England experienced a long series of profound changes and shocks, which transformed its society, economy and environment.

Read Slavin’s paper:

1 Nov 2012, Comments (0)

Peasants and Serfs: Freemen or Villeins?

Author: Anne Scottlin

Within the medieval European peasant culture, people differentiated between themselves based on their own social and economic status. Most peasants were serfs; but not all surfs were equal. The villeins and freemen described below represent the most common type of surfs.

Freemen rented their land from a lord, as tenant farmers. In most other ways they were independent from any responsibilities of servitude. Freemen made up around one tenth of the serf population in England, while there were far fewer freemen on the continent.

Villeins also rented homes and sometimes property, but their houses were generally very small one-room buildings and the land they were allowed to use was often of inferior quality to their lord’s agricultural fields. Villeins were the most numerous type of European serfs. Legally tied to the land, they literally belonged to the lord’s estate and could not move away without their lord’s permission—which was seldom given.  Villeins had to work their lord’s lands for a time percentage of each year, and were allowed to work their own in their remaining time. Ultimately, however, their own crops and possessions still technically belonged to the lord.

The economic loyalty of the lord’s villeins was especially important to his estate. Typical requirements included that they buy all their grain from the lord (generally at very inflated prices). More frustrating still, they were usually also required to have this grain ground in the lord’s mill, again at much higher prices than they would have to pay in town.

Social economics, too, played a close and personal role for velleins. They could not marry without their lord’s permission, and accordingly often could not marry whom they chose. If a young woman wanted to marry a man from another estate (and if the lord gave her permission), her parents who remained behind had to pay a heavy fee for the lord’s long-term loss of the girl’s reproductive potential for his labor force. Additionally, a widowed woman on the lord’s estate had to remarry within a short period of time for the same reasons. If she could not find someone willing to marry her, then the lord would assign her a husband.

Despite all these constraints, a villein’s status was still considered much better than landless and homeless peasants who constantly wandered in search of work and often remained unemployed and incapable of providing for their families.

- Anne Scottlin -

18 Oct 2012, Comments (1)

Medieval English Woodlands

Author: Anne Scottlin

Oak - 800 Years Old - Sherwood Forest

If you live in British Isles or have visited, you may think you have a general idea of what kind of foliage you would have seen above your head in medieval England. Some of the trees you notice in the present day include red oaks, pine, larch, holm oaks, redwoods, spruce, cedar, Turkey oaks, cypress, fir and horse chestnut. You would have found none of these in the medieval English countryside, as none of these species had yet been introduced from continental Europe and from even farther abroad.

What you would see in Medieval England were trees introduced during the Bronze Age and the Roman conquests, in addition to some native species. You would find elm, willow, walnut, aspen, sweet chestnut, beech, hornbeam, whitebeam, poplars, rowan, silver birch, field maple, beech, alder, ash, hazel, and perhaps most surprisingly, lime trees. There were almost no evergreens. The only species you might see would be juniper, scotch pine, yew, and evergreen holly—if you choose to classify the large variety of holly as a tree.

- Anne Scottlin -

See references to these and other flora and fauna in Ian Mortimer’s The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England.

4 Oct 2012, Comments (2)

Disease and Divine Judgment

Author: Anne Scottlin

Leper warning of his presence with a bell

During the Middle Ages, all classes of people visualized diseases and other physical illnesses as the direct punishments of God visited on the sufferer for his or her sins. In this superstitious fashion, people believed that disease was usually the result of a specific sin or of repeated offences. These sins could be anything from offending the church, to slandering the king; lying, cheating, fornication, adultery, or just simply not practicing enough piety (insufficient prayers or offerings).

People often shunned the victims of especially vicious or disfiguring diseases such as leprosy, as much for their fear of the personal wickedness the sickness revealed in the sufferer (spiritual contamination) as they did for their fear physical contamination. The Church generally allowed these superstitions to flourish, if for no other reason than to use examples of such divine judgments as motivation to encourage obedience to ecclesiastical mandates. Furthermore, sick people of means would usually pay generously for the Church’s prayers and spiritual interventions on their behalf and on behalf of their souls. In extreme cases of widespread disease such as the plague, however, the Church and the people  usually blamed their sufferings on the sins of the King or on the collective sin of their nation in disobeying or blaspheming God.

- Anne Scottlin -

Baptism of Clovis in 496 AD

After the fall of Rome in 410 AD and Clovis the Frank’s subsequent acceptance of Western Christianity in c. 496, the common denominator of medieval Europe became the Catholic Church. As Clovis conquered nearly all of the old Roman province of Gaul, he forced his conquered foes at sword point to accept Christianity. Catholic monks missionized other unconquered land in preparation for the imminent conquest of the Christian (and thus God-ordained) king.

The Church helped preserve its uniformity by retaining Latin as it’s official language. The priests said mass in Latin regardless of the language of the host country they occupied. The church produced all its scholarship in Latin, a purpose essential to the spread and communication of scholarly learning and theological discussions throughout Europe. In so doing, the Church excluded most of the laity from this exchange of knowledge and ideas, keeping these almost exclusively in its own possession and thus under its control.

As the Middle Ages unfolded, the Church continued to strengthen its position as the common denominator among often-feuding princes and warlords. As a result, the Church emerged as the dominant central force in Europe, in many ways both Europe’s savior and scourge.

- Anne Scottlin -

Review of Historical Earthquakes in the Lower Middle Ages: Earthquakes of the XIV and XV Centuries in Catalonia (NE Spain)See Large Version of Cover

The large 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chili sent many historians and geologists scurrying to the history books and historical seismic data. As a  medieval historian, I wondered what kind of seismological data exists from fourteenth and fifteenth century Europe. One enlightening study published in Historical Seismology sheds useful light on the subject.
– Ann Scott –

In 1985 the Geological Survey of Catalonia started a project to compile a comprehensive catalog of seismic activity in Catalonia in order to provide a correct evaluation of seismic hazard. The project concludes with the publication, in 2006, of a book that gathers the results of the interdisciplinary work carried out on the most important historical earthquakes in Catalonia, which took place in the XIV and XV centuries.

One of the most prominent features of this monograph is that it provides a compilation of all the documentation concerning the earthquakes of the late medieval period. For the first time it has been possible to undertake a joint analysis of all the documentation of the earthquakes of the late medieval period in Catalonia and to evaluate these events using homogeneous criteria.

In this paper some methodological aspects of this research are discussed and the main results are given. A catalogue of the earthquakes of the XIV and XV centuries has been compiled. From this catalogue it can be deduced that the earthquake with the greatest intensity, IX, occurred on 2 February 1428 (Mw about 6.5). The second largest earthquake occurred on 3 March 1373, with an epicentral intensity of VIII–IX (Mw about 6.2).

Review of Historical Earthquakes in the Lower Middle Ages: Earthquakes of the XIV and XV Centuries

Book Series: Modern Approaches in Solid Earth Sciences
ISSN 1876-1682
Volume 2
Book: Historical Seismology
Publisher: Springer Netherlands
DOI  10.1007/978-1-4020-8222-1
Copyright  2008
ISBN 978-1-4020-8221-4 (Print) 978-1-4020-8222-1 (Online)
Part II
DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-8222-1_7
Pages: 147-162
Subject Collection: Earth and Environmental Science

Augustine's Confessions

The writings of western Christian intellectuals and ascetics from the late fourth to the mid-sixth centuries gave birth to crucial new forms of philosophical thought while providing justification for the preservation of Antique culture. Written scarcely more than a century apart, two Christian literary works in particular from this era embodied the changing manifestations of Christianity in the European world where they left their mark: City of God by Augustine of Hippo and Benedict’s Rule—written by the father of western monasticism himself.

First, these works exemplify the rise of a fresh intellectual and philosophical religiosity in the Late Antique period, and second, they demonstrate the subsequent assimilation and transformation of traditional Roman society into the socio-religious and economic forms of Christianized medieval Europe. Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule also demonstrate the crucial role played by the Church as the only continuous institution linking the Late Roman Empire to the Middle Ages.

- Anne Scottlin -

See Part II

Book Cover Photo on Left: Saint Augustine’s Confessions, translated and edited by Dame Maria Boulding.

Faced with humiliation and persecution, Christians of the third century and very early fourth century had walked an unpopular road, yet they remained confident in their faith. When Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 A.D. and supported this declaration by his token conversion, the Church received a subsequent influx of nominal “converts” from the populous. Christianity was no longer persecuted or disreputable; rather it was conventional and respectable. Even many of the new church bishops came from the Roman elite.

Theodosius I and St. Ambrose

When Augustine of Hippo was twenty-six years old (380 A.D.), Theodosius I issued The Edict of Thessalonica, requiring all subjects of the Roman Empire to convert to Christianity en masse. However, many did so in name only. Pious Christians began to ponder whether these common Christians possessed the faith and purity necessary to reach their eternal objective. These conservatives reacted against the secularization and lack of piety in the newly established hierarchy of organized Christianity.

From the early fourth century, the focus of the Church shifted noticeably from a conversion and baptism mentality to a Last Judgment mentality. Christianity became more heaven-directed, emphasizing the connection between the world of men and the afterlife. The church demonstrated these concepts by stressing the connection between men on earth and the saints who had died and were presently in heaven, interceding for earth-bound souls. In the early fifth century, Augustine would expand this idea of the other-worldliness of Christian human beings in his City of God.

See Part III

Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule: Innovative Worldview and Preserved Paradigm

Once Christianity was legal and out of harm’s way, educated Christians took time to think about more than merely quiet survival and small-scale conversion.  Consequently, the Roman world witnessed the development of the Christian written tradition beginning in the fourth century.  Christian theologians began to use logical and philosophical systems of argumentation to win debates with educated polytheistic Romans.

Visigoths Sack Rome 410 AD (by J.N. Sylvestre, 1890)

This was even more essential after 410 when a newly Christianized Rome was sacked by the Visigoths and the citizens began to question God’s vacillating favor upon their city and the empire.  Many of the previously pagan Roman elite blamed the disasters of the early fifth century on the public abandonment of traditional polytheism.  Christian theologians both in the East and West had to grapple with why God had allowed the sack of Rome and the decline of the empire from its zenith, if Christianity was indeed the true religion.

See Part IV

Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule: Innovative Worldview and Preserved Paradigm

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

Aurelius Augustinus (Augustine) was primed for the task of confronting the philosophically challenging questions of his day (discussed in Part III).  He was a typical Late Antique Roman citizen, raised in a home with both pagan and Christian influences (his father was a pagan and his mother was a Christian). After living for pleasure, as described in his classic Confessions, Augustine’s conversion to Christianity and commitment to the priesthood led him to apply his Roman education in labor for the Church.

Armed with his classical-historical and philosophical training, Augustine set out to create a new philosophy of history for the Christian world that would also explain the demise of the Western Empire. He rejected the traditional, cyclical notions of history in favor of a linear history, one that began with the incarnation of Christ and ran to the Last Judgment. Such a linear view looked beyond the present and terrestrial and into the realms of heaven and life eternal.

See Part V

Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule: Innovative Worldview and Preserved Paradigm

Opening Text of City of God

Augustine used his innovative Christian philosophy to provide a solution to the spiritual dilemma facing the fifth-century empire. The true Christian, he argued in his treatise City of God, was only a pilgrim sojourning through the City of Man—the physical, temporal world—on the way to the City of God, the final goal. Rome represented a new Babylon, the City of Man, while the city of Jerusalem symbolized the heavenly city. While these two cities offered distinct citizenships, throughout the history of humankind both cities remained mixed physically but separated morally, distinguished by those who accepted the salvation of Christ and those who did not. Christians were not citizens of the kingdoms of earth; rather they belonged to the kingdom of heaven, the City of God, a mystical rather than political world. When, through death, the pilgrim reached his intended kingdom, he would rule with his true Prince for eternity.

See Part VI

Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule: Innovative Worldview and Preserved Paradigm

St. Augustine Envisions the City of God

In Augustine’s theological philosophy, the fall of Rome and the fate of the empire were scarcely relevant to the permanence of the Church and certainly not a matter worthy of spiritual anxiety. Christians, he contended, did not lend primary allegiance to any earthly government. “The heavenly city, then,” he wrote, “while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities.”[1]

The survival of Christianity was the paramount concern. The fate of Christianity was not the fate of the empire, for the City of God was the essence of the city of the faithful, wherever they were. Human cities would crumble and fall, but in Augustine’s mind this did not affect the Christian’s true citizenship—in the City of God.

[1] Augustine, City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 17.

See Part VII

Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule: Innovative Worldview and Preserved Paradigm

City of God Manuscript (click for enlargement)

Augustine’s philosophical reaction to the Germanic invasions and the sack of Rome offers a prime example of the transformation of thought from the realm of the Antique Roman world into the early Middle Ages. Although the legitimization of Christianity brought an end to the Classical period, the fate of Christianity was not the fate of the empire. This perspective became a keystone of medieval Christianity. Moreover, Augustine’s use of a linear-historical method to address the troubling theological questions of his day demonstrated the rise of a fresh intellectual and philosophical religiosity in the Late Antique period.

See Part VIII

Augustine’s City of God and Benedict’s Rule: Innovative Worldview and Preserved Paradigm