Sir Reynard and the Green Rooster

Before you begin, I highly recommend reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. There’s a free copy here, the Sparks Notes here, or you can pick up a copy in your local bookstore (honestly, it’s all over the place). I promise it’s worth it.

Medieval Moment: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of four stories in a 14th century manuscript that was composed by one anonymous poet. The Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript is the only known surviving copy.

I spent a good chunk of my graduate degree working on the Cotton Nero a.x. Project with Dr. McGillivray (including making the now VERY outdated website), and I can’t imagine a better start to my own series.

See you next Tuesday with the first page!

Medieval Cosmo

I don’t know how you found me, or why you find this even remotely interesting, but I’m honoured. Please keep reading. I promise that it will only get better. And now, for the good stuff…what you came here for…LEARNING:

Medieval Moment: Manuscripts often circulated between noble houses and travelling entertainers in the Middle Ages either as full collected volumes or as smaller, lightly bound quires or pages. We see evidence of this circulation in a few Romances (stories about knights), which appear to have been copied into private collections as they travelled around. A good example of this is the Lincoln Thornton Manuscript’s copy of Sir Eglamour of Artois.

https://www.bl.uk/medieval-english-french-manuscripts/articles/the-circulation-of-manuscripts-before-1200

I like to imagine circulating manuscripts kind of like modern magazines. Sure, it wasn’t all gossip, but who doesn’t want to hear the latest steamy tale about knights galloping about the countryside, being all chivalrous and stuff? That’s some good smut right there.

Kind of a big deal

Medieval Moment: Beastiaries were a medieval style of writing where talking animals would discuss the matters of the day and usually deliver a moral or two while they were at it. There are surviving examples that cover a range of topics, from the virtues of taking laxatives to how not to be an awful neighbour. While commonly used for allegorical teachings, there doesn’t seem to have been a limit on what animals could and couldn’t discuss in regards to human nature.

https://www.bl.uk/medieval-english-french-manuscripts/articles/beastly-tales-from-the-medieval-bestiary

There is also marginalia (i.e. drawings in the margins) of rabbits murdering people. So, you know, not always Lawful Good, you know?

Ciao Ciao Ciao

Medieval Moment: Travel between countries in the Middle Ages was not as uncommon as you might think. While we may travel an excessive amount now, even to someone living in the 18th century, plenty of medieval citizens could and would travel for religious holidays, pilgrimages, or ceremony. A popular destination in medieval travel was undoubtedly Italy, what with it being the centre of the church and all.

To clarify, I’m not saying that I’ve seen a piece of English parchment with ciao written on it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised.

Seasoning

Medieval Moment: The Middle Ages were an interesting time for medicine. As Ian Mortimer puts it, “[People of the Middle Ages] probably have as much medical “knowledge” as we do, only it is based on astrology, herbology, religion, a little direct experience, philosophy, fundamental misconceptions about how the body works, a lot of hearsay, and a large measure of desperation.” This led to there being a best season and time to treat nearly everything, including the moods of some kings.

Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, pg 412

It depends on whether the king was born in May under the North Star, or maybe whether or not a lamb was present during his second birthday, or… you know what? I’ll wait until he’s rested.

Sidelined

Medieval Moment: Reynard the fox was a VERY popular figure in Medieval Europe and Britain. He almost always appears as a trickster (classic foxes) and in at least a few stories is paired with Chaunticleer the Rooster. Stories of Reynard in particular were satire, and he’s more often than not the hero in earlier French texts. Disney was clever to pair Robin Hood and Reynard, as you get a similar character in both the Reynard and Robin Hood stories fighting against tyranny and feudalism.

https://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/oeuvre/Roman_de_Renart/140658

I’ve gotta say. I’m upset on her behalf.

Fit for a king

Medieval Moment: Eating meat would have actually been pretty rare in the Middle Ages, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that the king is eating carrots here. More often than not you couldn’t eat meat in any given week, and the plethora of religious holidays meant consumption was fairly limited. That, combined with meat being expensive to produce, meant it just wasn’t a common food. Bread, cheese, and very low alcohol ale were staples, which…not so bad. I could live off of that diet.

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with boiled carrots. It’s more the principle of the thing, really.

A Challenger Appears

Medieval Moment: Chivalry is complicated, especially for chickens. That is all.

Rules of Engagement

Medieval Moment: Now is as good a time as any to talk about “paper” in the Middle Ages. Vellum was made of animal skin and had two distinct sides, smooth and rough, depending on which side of the skin you’re on. It was the only form of writing material in Medieval England from around 800-1400ish, and was expensive to produce. This expense meant few could afford it, and book production was scarce. Limited production means much of what survives from the Middle Ages exists in one or two copies, at most. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has 90 surviving copies, which tell you just how popular it really was.

https://www.bl.uk/medieval-english-french-manuscripts/videos/5-making-manuscripts-vellum

Our Hero

Medieval Moment: Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales features a tale about Chaunticleer the rooster and Reynard the fox by the Nun’s Priest. I could recap it here, but I wouldn’t do a better job than Wikipedia, so I’ll just leave this here and walk away: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nun%27s_Priest%27s_Tale.