For once it wasn’t knights who saved the world.

You know those chapters that you always come back to in a book even when you’ve read the whole thing so often you’re tired of most of it? The next chapter of Wind Age is one of those. At least, I come back to it over and over again(I hope it’s the same way for my readers), and in fact it distracted me and I forgot that I have to write a blog post and have it up before I leave today, which is earlier than usual. But something in it did give me a ready idea of what to write about, which is good.

The general public, as a rule, does not know much about the Middle Ages. Oh, that’s when everybody followed the Church blindly and peasants all wore dirt-coloured sacks, right? And nobody lived very long either. But when it comes to the Dark Ages, our education has left out even more. The common idea is that everyone was a barbarian and they all lived like dogs. This, of course, is false.

I’ve come across a few misunderstandings so far with my beta-readers, who fortunately know better than to assume that all girls get married off at twelve and things like that. I’ve been deep enough in research for the past year that I tend to forget what’s common knowledge and what isn’t. I assumed the resemblance of “hlafdige” to “lady” was obvious enough I didn’t have to note that the words mean pretty much the same thing — until one reader, inferring from the context that “hlafdige” means “seeress”, mentioned it. Oops.

The early seventh century is still technically in the Dark Ages, which are called that (here’s another common misconception) not because they were dark in the sense that the light of civilization had gone out and everyone was unwashed and talked in grunts, but because we have no writing from the time to tell us what was going on. Therefore the events of them are hidden to us because we can’t shine any kind of historical light on them. The Christian missionaries who came from Rome or Ireland to England and Europe, beginning at the very end of the sixth century, were literate. They kept chronicles of the histories of the places they settled in. They also taught people about rotating crops. They kept bees and made honey easier to get. (Honey is not only good inside you, but outside, on wounds. Also it can be used in ink.)

Starting in the eighth century, Norsemen started going a-Viking with a vengeance, and one of the worst things they did was to attack monasteries. Not only is it rather low to attack peaceful men who a) haven’t hurt you, and b) can’t very well defend themselves, once they took the gold and valuable things, the Vikings burned the monasteries — including, of course, the records the monks were keeping. So we have lost many of their works and can only guess at what we’re missing. It’s almost as bad as the burning of the Alexandrian library.

People may ignorantly talk about the Church holding the world back from progress, of being stingy and harsh and the opiate of the masses (thank you, Karl Marx, for nothing), of being a burden and a drag on civilization, but in reality, when the rest of the world had lost so much learning and decency, it was the Church that preserved and revived it. Next time someone tells you that Christianity was in some way responsible for the length of the Dark Ages, gently remind him about the literate nuns of Barking, or inform him that monasteries were also schools for the young.

What about you, good readers? What myths about the medieval era most bother you, and what are your best arguments against them?


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
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7 Responses to For once it wasn’t knights who saved the world.

  1. Hope Ann says:

    It doesn’t bother me too much, but the myth I notice the most is that swords were extremely heavy… Lots of movies and authors have a character almost dropping it or some such the first time they handle one. They weren’t (the swords, I mean). A normal sword was under two pounds and even a large, two-handed sword wasn’t much heavier. They aren’t light toys, and one will get tired holding it for hours on end, but it’s not so heavy the tip is going to clatter against the pavement if you haven’t braced yourself the first time you are handed one.


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      Yes, there’s that one. . . also the idea that every soldier, even someone drafted from the peasantry, had a sword. Does anyone know how expensive swords are? It’s much cheaper to fit the bulk of your army with spears.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Twirling in the middle of a sword fight is perfectly safe. one that slightly bothers me is, that nobody seams to think Archers were very fast. At the battle of Agincourt, English and Welsh bowmen unleashed clouds of arrows into the ranks of Knights. A skilled Bowman could shoot About twelve shots per minute.


    • thegermangolux says:

      Oh yeah. Movie sword fights are somewhat departed from the laws of physics, human nature, and reason.

      But we forgive Princess Bride, of course.


      • noliealcarturiel says:

        I’ve seen SCA fighting and there’s no way twirling is at all safe. Maybe if you have a really good opponent who won’t strike at your back just because he’s that chivalrous — but in a melee you’d be dead. I haven’t seen a lot of archery, but given the tendency of archers to be deadly, I should think they’d be slightly faster than a snail.

        Princess Bride is making fun of fairy tales, anyway, and it’s easier to forgive exaggerations in that kind of thing.


  3. thegermangolux says:

    People like to look at the Dark Ages and everything after and say, “Oh, look at all the atrocities the Church committed. What a hypocritical bunch of judgy people they were!” But in reality, evil men have always found a way to twist good. If the Church hadn’t been there, they would have used some other institution to force their wickedness. Which, in fact, they did. Monarchies are a quite sensible form of government, that has gotten hopelessly misused a thousand times, as everything does in a fallen world. And they forget how much the Church actually saved, even if false sons of the Church used Christ’s name in vain to commit evil at times.

    Society is founded on religion, and the Church wasn’t what held Europe back in the Middle Ages; it was what held it together and gave us Bach and Leonardo da Vinci and Blaise Pascal. The Church wasn’t what cast Europe into a hopeless Dark Age, it was part of what kept civilization alive (though we have the Arabs to thank for a great deal of it, Aristotle included.)

    And you said this already, but history textbooks these days have a way of subtly or not-so-subtly painting the Dark Ages as a time of utter barbarism where nobody was happy and everything was trapped in a perpetual Match. That bugs me a lot.


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      Yes, and then they have to tell you that we’re living in a better, more enlightened age and we’re above all else openminded. Does kicking your foundations out from under you, the way a man might if he were hanging himself, strike you as being particularly clear-sighted? Is throwing the baby out with the bathwater well calculated to make things better for future generations?


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