Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Friday, February 25, 2011

Medieval Door Lock

“How will they hang the doors on the stone carved frames and can they make them lock?”  This question has been asked at the Ozark Medieval Fortress when the tour has been with the masons at work. 

The construction of what seems a simple door is actually very involved.  The door opening has to be in the just right place. With the walls 5-foot thick, you don’t give Sept25 (27)the builders a change order!  The edges of the door opening, both outside and inside, require carved stones that receive a wooden frame to hold the door.  The stones above have to be carefully placed to support incredible weight above.  The masons do this by first having a lintel stone and above that an arch with meticulously shaped and placed stones  In order to lock the door, the masons preplan and place squared and hollow holes in the wall that hold a wooden oak beam that later can be slid out of the wall behind the door.  The door itself was hung on iron hinges made by the blacksmith. 

When things are “set in stone”, it takes a lot of planning.  That is a saying that has lasted to our modern day and definitely applies to building a Medieval castle. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Model Medieval Fortresses

“Why are there models of the wooden fortress and the stone castle along the trail at the Ozark Medieval Fortress?”  Adults as well as children enjoy seeing a model of April27Too (6) something they are interested in, but the reason for the large models of fortresses along the trail is because we talk about the history of the wooden fortress, motte and bailey and Medieval stone castles.  The French founding partners of the Ozark Medieval Fortress call our site an “edutraction”, so a lot of effort has gone into making it easy for people to visualize Medieval history.  The castle itself is so big, sometimes it is easy to lose perspective.   I think it is especially helpful for even the smallest child to look down on the stone castle model and be able to visualize the entire project. 

I like to point out that there are four aspects of Medieval castle building visible in the stone model.  First, the transition from the early Middle Ages (Dark Ages) to the high Middle Ages (the year 1000) is not marked by a battle, but rather, the return to building with stone.  The earliest stone castle keep in Europe was built at that time in France.  Second, they used cement, but it was Roman cementorium which was water, sand and lime without modern hardeners.  May22 (4)That cement was porous and could “breathe”, and so control joints were not necessary to keep the wall from cracking.  Modern cement has to have these control joints or the cement will expand from the heat of the sun and crack.  The Medieval cement was not as hard and was very slow to dry but permitted them to build the wide, long castle walls.  Third, the returning Crusaders came back to Europe with a renewed appreciation for the strength of round towers.  This was not a new idea. The Romans built a fortress at Cologne, Germany to guard the Rhine crossing in 300 A.D. using round towers.  The Crusaders saw the value of these round towers and they now became the standard.  Round towers do not have a corner that can be battered and loosened.  The stones are in a naturally strong arc that resists battering.  Finally, the model shows the shift in the donjon, or keep, from the center of the bailey to the outer wall.  They realized the lord’s tower was just as defensible in the outer wall as in the center of the courtyard.   This move meant they no longer had to walk through the muck and weather to get from the sleeping quarters to the Great Hall where they ate and entertained.  It may sound simple, because we take it for granted that our rooms are all connected under one roof, but to them it made a big difference to daily life and comfort.

April21Too (2) Beyond the educational value of these models, I like the chance to visualize the completed castle with the gate houses, battlements and towers. It’s fun to picture the knights and horses, serfs and merchants all going about their daily lives in a Medieval castle.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Medieval Castles and Cannons

A common question of guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is whether cannons are the reason the construction of castles came to an end.  This is almost what I would call an “urban legend” about the Middle Ages.  Not everyone agrees, but my answer is that it is not that simple.  Black powder was originally invented by the Aug2 (49)Chinese, but the Europeans didn’t know about it.  Gun powder for Europe was developed by a German monk named Berthold Schwarz in about 1315 and was quickly used for war, not fireworks.  However, the cannons used carved stones for cannon balls and were not particularly accurate or destructive.  Cannons are only part of the reason that fewer and fewer castles were built after the Medieval through the Renaissance.  If cannons are the sole reason for the end of castle building, why was Fort Sumter built in Charleston Harbor, USA (an all-brick fort)? Even in World War II several German castles held up Patton’s army.

The reasons for the dramatic decrease in castle building at the end of the Middle Sept4 (79)Ages are the three C’s: commerce, crowns and cannons.  The introduction of cannons changed the design from tall, 5-foot thick walls to lower, 20-foot thick walls with sharp angles to help deflect the cannon balls.  But some castles were still built during the Renaissance.  Some castles were destroyed by kings (the crown) who did not want them inside their growing domain as potential rebellious strongholds.  This was the time of the consolidation of many provinces into countries, especially in France and England.

The main reason that the rate of castle building plummeted was the prosperity that increased commerce introduced, which goes hand in hand with political stability.  It July15 (35)b is revealing to look at what replaced the castles.  The people of Europe continued to be industrious: they built amazing cathedrals throughout this time.  However, they quit building so many castles and began building… palaces.  A castle is fortified, a palace is not.  It is not hard to picture the wives of the lords asking why the need to live in a cold, damp castle tower as they became more and more confident of peace.  Instead, they wanted and got beautiful homes with high windows (like the cathedrals) with light and air and comforts.  In addition, after the middle of the 1300’s, they realized a castle was no protection from something worse than an attack from enemies: the plague.  The perception was that a palace with its open, airy rooms and separation from the masses afforded better security than stone walls.

Of course, the situation varied by region.  Castles remained important on the “frontier” of the realms.  Some remarkable castles were built in the Renaissance in England, France and Germany and some, such as the one at Heidelberg, Germany went from being a Medieval fortress to a Renaissance palace.  So, the bottom line is that although cannons were a part of the demise of castle building, other factors were important. To keep it simple, remember cannons, crowns and commerce.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finding Direction in the Middle Ages

“How did people find their way during the Middle Ages?”  “Did they have magnetic compasses back then?”  The tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress goes through the woods, out of sight of the castle and other buildings at times, so direction questions come up.  The answer has three parts.  First, people have known about telling direction from the sun or stars from way back.  Second, in the Dark Ages (early Medieval) they did not have magnetic compasses.  Third, by the high Middle May8 (4)bAges magnetic compasses were well known.  The first confirmed report of magnetic compass use in Europe dates to just before 1200.  In fact, the compass made a big contribution to the important increase in commerce during the 1200’s.  Before then shipping closed down October to April from the North Sea to the Mediterranean because of cloudy skies (inability to see the stars).  By the end of the 1200’s shipping was stopped only in December and January and that was because of rough seas rather than navigational problems.  This was thanks to the compass.  A common person, however, could not afford a magnetic compass and needed to rely on woodsman skills to navigate the forest.  That remained the case into our colonial era in America.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress all a guest needs to do to keep from getting lost is stay on the trail.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Medieval Family Names

Young girls on tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, when we talk about marriage and family life, often ask if they had family names (surnames) in the Middle Ages.  The answer is yes, by the time of our castle.  In the May3 (4)Dark Ages (early Medieval) people were generally illiterate and travel was limited, so first names were enough.  As the Middle Ages progressed and travel increased, added names came to be used.  They generally came from one of five possibilities.  The oldest tradition is your family place (Jesus of Nazareth).  Very old is a name from your father (Peterson, Johnson).  Sometimes the second name, especially for girls, was taken from the mother (Hilliard, Marriott).  Also from early times, a name was added that was descriptive (Fox for a clever person).  As the Middle Ages progressed through the high Middle Ages, many surnames were taken from the family trade (Miller, Smith, Carpenter, Potter).  During the 1200’s, surnames became predominant in all classes.  However, they were not necessarily passed on to the next generation.  My surname would have been Olafson, while my son’s name would have been Jameson. If a person changed trade, he could change his last name to reflect the change.   

In our day, with certified birth certificates, photo i.d.’s and Social Security numbers, this seems strange.  We were not always this organized.  For America, many immigrants names were changed,  intentionally or by error upon arrival.  Slaves had not been given surnames and took them when they became free.  In our Western expansion, many people changed their names to avoid their past.  We have grown from 1 billion to nearly 7 billion people in the world.  Maybe we will need to add more names (or numbers?).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Medieval Trebuchet

Sept4 (68)bOn tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, after seeing the full-sized trebuchet, guests often ask, “How far will that catapult throw a stone?”  It is really common for people to get mixed up on the Medieval war machines.  There is a big difference between a catapult and a trebuchet (and, for that matter, a ballista).  The ballista is a giant crossbow mounted on wheels and comes from the Greeks.  The catapult is a throwing machine that uses twisted ropes (like a twisted rubber band) to power the arm and comes to us mainly from the Romans.  The trebuchet is a throwing machine that uses the force of a dropping weight attached to the short end of a long arm as its power and was developed by the French.  The word “trebuchet” comes from the Old French word “trebucher”, which means “throw over”. 

June30 (18) The first trebuchets were used in the ancient world, but instead of a fixed weight for power, they used many men pulling on ropes to provide the thrust. This was the type the Franks used in the early Medieval, but by the high Middle Ages, they had made the change to a counterweight which gave better accuracy and power.  Large trebuchets like the one at the Ozark Medieval Fortress had arms of 40-60 feet and could throw stones of  200 pounds for up to 300 yards (three football fields).  Another aspect of the trebuchet is that it has a sling at the end of the throwing arm which adds a lot of velocity to the thrown stone. 

June30 (21) In the Middle Ages the trebuchet was the most feared and respected war machine.  They were accurate in hitting the target wall and consistent pounding by such large stones caused great damage.  During the Crusades the Christian armies were known to use as many as 70 trebuchets at a time.  In the 1300’s, with the coming of cannons, the trebuchet became outdated and was used less and less.  The last confirmed use in war was in the 1500’s when Cortez, lacking cannons and gunpowder, attempted to use a trebuchet against the Aztecs.  Unfortunately for the Spanish, the first stone hit the trebuchet itself and destroyed it.  The trebuchet at the Ozark Medieval Fortress presently is not fired for safety reasons.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Medieval Jewelry

“What kind of jewelry did they wear in the Middle Ages?”  When asked this on tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, I am tempted to give the quick answer and just say “All kinds”, and that would be very close to the complete picture of Medieval jewelry.  It is definitely wrong to think that the Dark Ages (early Medieval) were primitive in jewelry making, since jewelry goes back to the ancient world.  Like Rome before Medieval Europe, jewelry was a symbol of wealth, status and power.  The use of a ring as an emblem of rank or position was carried over into the Medieval.  With the growth of cities in the 1100’s and especially 1200’s, craftsmen had a base for safe and profitable jewelry-making which greatly helped increase the production of adornments for the upper classes. 

For the common people, the major change in jewelry was from pagan to Christian designs.  Their jewelry was easy to make, often of natural materials such as rope or clay beads and usually served a practical purpose in addition to decoration.  They also used iron, pewter and leather in their simple jewelry making.  By law they were prohibited from using gold, silver, diamonds, sapphires, Feb12 (44)rubies or emeralds.  Three major types of jewelry were the bodkin (hairpin), gimmel ring (interlocking bands that were the forerunner of engagement rings) and necklaces.  Another practical item often decorated was the cloak pin used to hold cloaks closed at the throat. 

Pictured is a Medieval-style cross necklace of iron and leather made in my blacksmith shop.  It is not copied from any particular sample of the era, but rather fashioned after the simple general style of the Medieval.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Medieval Stone Carvers

“Do they really carve stones for the building of the castle?”  This question is only asked by guests who have not yet seen the stone carvers at work.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, as in the Middle Ages, the stone carvers are key workers and were hired early.  A Medieval Lord would have to first find a Master Mason who would then hire the stone carvers.  These were (and are) valued, skilled artisans - not just peasant workers serving their vassalage.  Yes, they really do carve the stones.

There are three categories of stone in the castle.  All the stone material comes from the quarry on site.  The first type of stone is the face stone.  They will be placed by the masons in the walls facing out or into the castle.  The second kind of stone is the irregular, broken rocks that the masons use to fill the inside space of the five- Aug9 (15)foot thick walls.  The third type of stone is the CARVED stones.  These are very visible  in the castle and are not just decorative.  Every smooth stone around the door frames and arched or lintel stones above the doors and around the edges of the arrow loops have had to be individually, meticulously and skillfully shaped by the carvers chip by chip.  The quarrymen use shockwaves at the sediment lines to split the face stone, but the carvers have the opposite problem.  They can spend 3-5 days on a specially shaped stone and if they are not careful, break the rock and waste all that work.  Ouch!  To avoid vibrations in the rock, the stone carvers cannot let the chisel rest on the stone and strike it repeatedly like woodcarvers do.  Instead, they have to lift the chisel away from the stone after each blow from the hammer.  This technique is hard to describe and makes a visit to the Stone Carvers’ Hut at the Ozark Medieval Fortress very interesting and worthwhile. Aug26 (40)

Stone carvers are still in demand in the modern world although sometimes builders now use poured concrete instead of the traditional carved stone.  Today builders even use plastic “stone” glued on a wall.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, as in the Middle Ages, however, the stones are real and the carvers take so much pride in each stone that they carve their initials or mark into each one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Medieval Use of Herbs

“What were the main herbs used in the Middle Ages?”  A person could talk or write for hours answering this question.  Like the Native Americans, people in Medieval Europe used herbs A LOT.  I make two important points about herbs: first, the herbs were used for food, textile dyes and medicine, and second , it was an area of expertise where women excelled and were actually given credit for their knowledge.  Late in the Middle Ages, however, it backfired on some women because of the change in attitude to equate herbalists with witches.  At the Ozark June24Medieval Fortress, the main herbs grown and used have been: basil in several forms, lavender, sage and rosemary.  Many herbs are also gathered from the wild.  For me the most interesting Medieval herb is lavender. Lavender is a flea repellant and in the Middle Ages when peasants slept on the floor with the dogs, fleas were common.  Garlic is the other herb that I find impressive.  It was used in the ancient world, especially Egypt and was known as a key to good health.  The Romans did not like the smell and during the time of the Empire, garlic became a poor person’s herb.  That attitude carried over into the Middle Ages when nobles didn’t use it, but the peasants relied on it.  I guess I’m a commoner, because I believe in garlic, take it daily, and therefore, have not had a cold or flu in years. On the other hand, I benefit from modern garlic which is odorless.  Garlic has been shown to have antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-parasitic properties.  The Russians used it in WWII instead of penicillin.  I get my garlic tablets from  People in the Middle Ages were not stupid and their herb use was handed down from generation to generation.  Charlemagne, King of the Franks, ordered all monasteries in the kingdom to plant healing herb gardens.  Pictured is Trela, Ozark Medieval Fortress guide, Native American and herbalist.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Medieval Clock-Wise


Aug28 (35)

Sometimes the best questions at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have been asked by kids.  During a spinning demonstration at the Wool Cottage the Good Wife said that the drop spindle should be spun clockwise and the wool fiber in your hand held high so that the wool fiber spins into yarn.  A very young boy asked, “Did people in the Middle Ages have clocks and know about ‘clockwise’ and ‘counterclockwise’?”  As a matter of fact, they barely knew of clocks and did not see clock hands until late in the Medieval.  People knew about direction - left and right. They knew about twisting or turning: they danced.  They did not, however, use the term clockwise.

Sundials date back to the ancient world.  Hourglasses are believed to have been invented in Europe in the 700’s by a monk in France, but the first confirmed use of an hourglass is a 1338 Italian fresco.  The first clocks were water clocks that came from ancient Egypt then to Greece and then Rome.  Mechanical clocks were introduced in the 1200’s.  The word “clock” comes from the French “cloche”, which means bell.  These mechanical clocks had bells, but not hands or, necessarily, faces in 1226.  They were intended for community announcement of the time and were installed in towers and had no faces or hands.  About 1400 hour hands began to be seen the minute hand was not introduced until 1577.

Interestingly, on that tour, I asked to see the guest’s watches.  All of them were digital, thus not showing clockwise or counterclockwise anymore.  We have come full circle to not having hands on our clocks!  I guess time is changing and the term is becoming obsolete. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Medieval Crossbow

“Where did the crossbow come from?”  “Did they really have crossbows in the Middle Ages?”  “How do crossbows compare to longbows?”  These and similar questions are usually asked by young boys on the tour.  Whether at the Ozark Medieval Fortress or in their homes, boys seem to have a natural interest in weapons. 

The first crossbows were probably used in ancient China, but those were unknown in the West.  For us, the crossbow comes from the ancient Greeks.  They made the hand-held weapon that we think of as a crossbow as well as a large-wheeled torsion-powered “ballista”.  Many people mistake the ballista for a catapult.  The ballista shoots an arrow six feet long while the catapult throws a rock.  The Romans used the ballista more than the handheld crossbow, which fell into disuse in the Empire.  When it reappeared during the Middle Ages, the crossbow became a major weapon.  The first confirmed use in Europe was by the Franks of Northern France.  The Normans, excellent fighters of Viking and Frank descent, also made good use of crossbowmen both in the field and in defense of their famous Motte and Bailey fortresses.  The Normans, remember, successfully attacked and conquered England.

The crossbow is slower to load than a regular bow, but did not require the skill of an archer to shoot.  In the field a crossbow can be used as a club or to deflect a sword, unlike a bow.  The crossbow was ideal for castle defense because it can be loaded while protected behind a wall and is better suited for shooting downward over the wall.  The shorter “arrows” are easier to make and keep straight.  These “arrows” are called “quarrels”, from the old French word for Jan24 (2)four: “carre”, because they had a four-sided tip.

The crossbow I am holding was brought by my daughter from Carcasonne Castle, located in the fortified Medieval town of Carcasonne, France.  The castle was built in the 12th Century.  The French have kept it in exceptional condition even today.  When Rebecca brought it home from France some twenty years ago, she carried it unwrapped onto the plane!  Times have changed, the crossbow hasn’t.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Medieval Tower Compass

Sept8 (3) “Why is there a wooden beam mounted inside the round towers?”  With this question has usually come a suggested answer such as “to support the wall”, “for a floor”, or “ a safety rail or walkway”.  What they actually do is serve as a guide in the construction of the tower.  They are huge compasses.  Rather than a single beam, they have two parts: a beam from wall to wall and an upper beam made to rotate off a point on the first beam that is the center of the tower.  It’s the biggest compass I’ve ever seen. 

This is another example of the close cooperation between workers of different skills at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  It is also very accurate to life and work in the Middle Ages.  The carpenters assembled the wooden compass beams, the Aug11 (88)blacksmith provided the pivot pin and pins to hold it into the stone wall, and the rope maker provided the ropes that strengthen the upper (rotating) beam and the masons, of course, installed it and use it to keep the tower round and true.  The way the mason does this is to rotate the compass (the upper beam) and align the ascending tower wall to the end of the beam using a plumb bob. This means that the tower wall remains round and vertical.  A plumb bob is a weight on a string that, because of gravity, hangs straight down and was an important Medieval tool.  Incidentally, the bob or weight was usually lead.  The word “plumb” comes from the word “lead” and because early pipes were lead, we still call pipe-June15 (42)workers plumbers.

The masons are able to use the compass not only to keep the  inside wall true, but also the outer wall by simply measuring from the inside of the wall to the outside with a stick and keeping the width constant.  They also use their plumb bob on the outside of the wall to keep it vertical.   Every rock has to be checked for plumb as they go to avoid magnifying an error.  You can’t have a wavy wall on a 45-70 foot high tower!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Medieval Horse Cart Wheels

“Were the wheels on carts solid or did they have spokes during the Middle Ages?”  Many guests have asked this question on tour because we see both types of wheels in use at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  The answer is: They used both.  The wheel itself is an ancient invention.  It was the Romans, however, with the coming of the developed Iron Age, who made excellent wheels withMay4 (1) wooden spokes and an iron “tire” ring.  This iron ring meant that the wheels were stronger and lasted longer.  Because the ring also helped hold the wheel together, they were able to increase the length of the spokes and thus stabilized the ride.  Significantly, the Romans at the same time also developed the iron hub and axle sleeve so their wheels were superior because the wheels were tighter with less wobble.  Their wheels were so good that the basic design did not change until Henry Ford put rubber on them for the Model T automobile.  The high-wheeled Medieval cart that guests see at the Ozark Medieval Fortress came from France, but could easily look to an American like it came right out of the Old West.

Sept4 (45) During the Dark Ages (first half of the Medieval), the use of Roman technology lapsed and many wheels were made solid rather than with spokes.  At that time, roads were primitive and the solid wheels held up better on the rough terrain.  They were also easier to make.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the carpenters have put early Medieval solid wheels on the low rock hauling cart. This gives guests the opportunity to observe both types of wheels in action and saves wear on the high-wheeled cart.  

April13 (3)Pictured here is a solid-wheeled cart in the style of the Dark Ages that I made fashioned after a cart found with the Oseberg Viking Ship discovered in Norway and said to be from the year 800.  It makes for a rough ride, but never a flat tire!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Horse in Medieval Castle Building

“Did they use mostly horses in castle building and farming in the Middle Ages?”  I believe I get asked this question a lot because of the belief in the predominant use of oxen in Medieval Europe.  No doubt, as in many aspects of Medieval life, it varied a lot from region to region whether there were more horses or oxen in use as draft animals.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress we use horses and donkeys.  I like horses (they smell better). In any event, several inventions introduced during the Middle Ages helped tip the choice between horse and ox in favor of the horse. 

An ox is strong and slow to freak out: a horse is faster and more versatile (who wants to ride an ox to town?).  The critical use for any work (draft) animal is how well it gets the job done.  The main job besides pulling a cart was pulling the plow.  In the Middle Ages the light wooden single-bladed chisel plow changed radically. Wheels were added, as was a moldboard blade (though not yet the famous John July14 (87)Deere blade) and the plow frame was made much heavier.  The ox yoke stayed the same, but the new invention of the horse collar made it much easier for horses to pull heavier loads than the earlier breast collar straps.  In addition, there was another invention introduced that benefited the choice to use a horse instead of an ox: the metal horseshoe.  The Romans made leather and metal horse “boots” and by the 6th century, European horsemen had begun using metal shoes nailed to the horse’s hooves.  The 1200’s brought the iron horseshoe into common use by blacksmiths throughout Europe.  The bottom line was that in Europe during the Middle Ages, the horse became more popular than oxen because of the collar, iron horseshoes and its versatility.

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, guests meet Honey, the Belgian draft horse, who pulls a Medieval-styled two wheeled cart and uses a Medieval-style harness with horse collar.  Honey is used to cart rocks from the quarry to the building site and also to skid logs from the forest to the carpenters’ work site.  She also skids the sand and mortar to wherever it is needed.  Honey receives much attention from our guests and is always a favorite.