Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


26.11.08
  The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Brother Scribe, I don't know where that wine cask went. Honestly. It still had been in the cellar in the Well Tower yesterday. All in know is that it was to be brought up to the buttery this morning but never made it there. Look at all those people milling around in this place. Anyone could have taken it, so why put the blame on me? Ask this guy here - *points to the left* - he's more than a bit drunk and says he doesn't speak English. They always say that when they're caught at something fishy.

Illustration from the exhibition in Caernarfon Castle, showing the building process

Another possible version could be: Brother Scribe, that guy hasn't been to work all week. He says he's been down with the fever, but can't produce a notification of sickness from his local quacksalver or the barber surgeon who treats the workmen. I'm pretty sure that fever was caused by attending those illegal meetings of the Welsh. *shakes head* I wonder what next; trades unions, strikes, and the 38 hours week? We'll never get the castle finished if that spreads. Some of the workers have even started to complain about the quality of the stew.

Caernarfon Castle in the evening sun

And because I have taken so many shots on my last evening in Caernarfon when the sun decided to say hello, here's another photo of Caernarfon Castle seen from the other side of the canal. The tower to the left, with the banners on top, is the Eagle Tower. Despite some unfinished structures, and the destruction over time, Master James can be proud of what he achieved. Caernarfon Castle is an impressive building.
 


23.11.08
  XXL Cauldrons, or How to Feed 600 People

Lady Despenser has some interesting posts about the offices in the king's household at the time of Edward II (here and here). A good number of those jobs were somehow involved with feeding the king and the royal household, and that reminded me I have some pics of what remains of the kitchens in Caernarfon Castle.

The kitchen was situated between King's Gate and Well Tower, using the curtain wall as outer wall, and opposite the never finished great hall. The way would have been short but with the Welsh rain (it was one of the two rainy afternoons during my stay) there would have been need of special umbrella bearers nevertheless.

Curtain wall with remains of the kitchens, and the Well Tower (left)

The rather flimsy foundations of the courtyard site wall shows that the kitchen was intended as preliminary structure. At the time of Edward I, with construction work still going on in Caernarfon, there were about 600 people to feed every day, staff, servants (some 350 of those alone) garrison, and workers.

One of the features planned but never completed was a dock at the Well Tower that would have allowed to bring in waterborne supplies via the - then waterfilled - ditch. The entrance was to be defended by two sets of gates, portcullis and murder holes. Supplies were stored in the basement and the lower ward where the granaries and larders were located. The staircase was wide enough for two porters to pass side by side.

Settings for the cauldrons in the boiling room

An important part of the diet was boiled meat. There was a separate boiling room for that purpose with settings for two XXL cauldrons atop a stone furnace. The boiling room - adjacent the Well Tower - was separated from the kitchen proper by a thick wall into which a hearth was built. The connection between boiling room and kitchen went through a passage in the curtain wall which also held the pipes for water supply from the Well Tower. The well was about 50 feet deep.

Not visible on the photo is the special storage space for herbs and spices in the wall of the Well Tower. Since some of the spices were very expensive, I can imagine that closet was securely locked.

View towards the boiling room from the accomodation room

Toothings for the separating wall and foundation of the fireplace can be seen in the background, the passageway openings at the side. The water supply was gathered in a bassin (the smaller opening; it's very weathered today) and waste was disposed through the hole near the ground in the room in the foreground. The accomodation rooms took up two storeys; there's a staircase in the curtain wall.

The Cadw guide book doesn't specifiy who occupied the accomodation rooms, kitchen staff or guests. The advantage would have been that the rooms were warm with the fireplaces and the chimney the remains of which can be seen in the foreground of above picture, but being housed in the Eagle Tower surely held greater prestige. Maybe it was staff and poor guests like pilgrims.

The meals for the king were not prepared in the main kitchen but in a separate room in the Eagle Tower, near the king's appartment. This seems to have been a non-permanent arrangement as well. He also had his personal cooks - or should we call them chefs, lol?

View towards accomodation rooms from the kitchen

The ground floor of the Well Tower held the counting house, the central financial office of the royal household. Here the steward, the treasurer and the controller would meet every day, assisted by he cofferer who collected funds and provided money for purchases. Plus a bunch of clerks, of course. Money spent on fresh supplies, and things taken from the stoes were controlled as well as the number of meals given out, and every evening the accounts would be compared - without the use of Excel and other useful programs. If a cook could not explain any difference, he'd be fined heavily.

Now we only need Elizabeth Chadwick to come up with a Mediaeval receipe to go with those posts. Preferably one that doesn't require an XXL cauldron.
 


18.11.08
  Slings and Big Stones

There's a Trebuchet Club thread on the Nano forums, open for all writers who have a trebuchet in their novel, in whatever form (real, model, discussion topic ...). It reminded me that I have some pics of trebuchets I took at Caerphilly Castle.

Traction trebuchet in the foreground, a counterweight one in the back

They're replica, on display on the south dam platform, part of the outer ring of fortifications. The big brother of the Roman ballista, trebuchets are basically giant slings that could cast rocks or later, iron balls, into the walls and roofs of a castle or town. Traction trebuchets work by human power, with several men pulling the casting bar down for one fellow to load the sling which was then released and would catapult the stone into a target - hopefully.

To the left: A fine example for the traction trebuchet is this minuature from the Maciejowsky Bible (c.1240). I found the picture on this site, but it's pretty well distributed on the net. Carl Pyrdum from Got Medieval has another one from the same book where the painter got a bit tongue in cheek about what can go wrong when firing a trebuchet.

Counterweight trebuchets had a box or basket filled with sand or small stones to make the pulling down of the throwing bar easier. One or two men could work the ropes running over a cogwheel, where it needed half a dozen at least with the traction ones. Thus, counterweight trebuchets could come in even larger versions.


On the right is an example for a counterweight trebuchet, a drawing from an illuminated letter from Edward II's charter in Carlisle, describing an event from 1316 when the Scots under Bruce laid siege to Carlisle which was defended by de Harclay. It shows a number of interesting details, like a dead archer on the ground, which proves that the siege engines were pretty close to the castle. Also, the rope holding the counterweight was obviously cut for release - look what the guy with the hammer is doing.

The picture is from the same trebuchet site linked above. Thanks to Alianore for hunting down info about that letter.

I'm not good at physics; I leave that to Constance, lol. But the trebuchets, with their casting bars that held the slings up in the air, in front of a castle, make for some fine pictures. The Caerphilly ones are sometimes fired by reenactment groups. My guide book has a photo of several guys hanging on the traction trebuchet to get it down for loading.

Another shot of the traction trebuchet

And yes, I'm probably going to have a trebuchet or two in Kings and Rebels. Though I'll leave the details to siege engineers, and none of my characters happens to be one.
 


12.11.08
  Don't Mess With Me, lol

These fun pictures were taken in the Late Mediaeval Museum in Goslar.

They had a number of replica and some originals from the later Middle Ages, plus some torture instruments and assorted other fun. The frame of what to display included not only crossbows and a ballista, but also muskets.

It's one of those small museums run by devoted fans and geeks, and reminded me a bit of the Richard III Museum in York. And like that one, it is housed in an old tower of the town fortifications (you can also hire a self catering appartment in the same tower). Those more or less private museums also have the advantage that the staff is usually less picky about people touching things. No wonder I had a field day.

And if you think the sword to the left is large, wait until you see its big brother.







To the right is said big brother; a sword too big to hold in proper defense stance long enough for an un-blurred photo. Zornhau or Bill should know what exactly that oversized knife is called; it's surely a bihander sword still in use during the Thirty Years War. Both sword and helmet are replica.


On another note, I'm a bit rarer online these days because I've started a course in advanced accountancy, and I don't really like numbers, so it's a lot of work. But I need it to get a better job. *sigh* The web design stuff is more fun.
 


7.11.08
  Another Pretty Town

The beginnings of Treffurt, the little town beneath the Normanstein, remain in obscurity. The first mention of the place can be found in a charte of the archbishop Ruthard of Mainz, dating from 1104 and naming one pilgrim de Trifurte as witness to the donation of an altar in a village nearby. At that time the Knights of Trifurt built the castle to protect the three Werra fords at the foot of the mountain.

As mentioned in the post about the castle, the town administration was divided between Thuringia, Hessia and Mainz after 1336, each of them represented by a magistrate. The town developed a decent prosperity thanks to pottery and vintages. Wine was sold as far as England, but during the Thirty Years War the growth of vines declined, and the climate changed; today the Werra valley is no wine area.

Yard of the Mainzer Hof, seat of one of the magistrates

Today, Treffurt has left the east-German past mostly behind, the houses have been renovated and many half timbered buildings could be saved. But some ruins remain, due to lack of money to restore them, and now in autumn there's still a whiff of the brown coal used to fire heatings in GDR times, though much less penetrating than it was the first times I visited east German places shortly after the wall fell. Most households have changed to oil or gas.

Renaissaince Town Hall

The Renaissance town hall is one of the prettiest in the region. It was built on older foundations in 1550, the stairs and tower were added 1609-1616. The weight of the tower rests on only eight mighty oak beams - the architectural knowledge of the Middle Ages should not be underestimated. After all, it still stands.

Detail of the so-called Ohrfeigenhaus

This house (I could only catch a part of it because the streets are so narrow) is called Ohrfeigenhaus, Slap House, dating from 1608. The Hessian magistrate, a man named Bley, had asked for permission to cut a few trees in the woods in possession of the Prince Elector of Kurhessia and build a modest little house, which was granted to him. When the Prince Elector visited the town some time afterwards and beheld the whopping big house Bley had erected, he gave the magistrate a slap for his lies, in front of the gathered town administration and his own entourage.

West towers of St.Bonifatius Church

The St.Bonifatius Church was built at the beginning of the 13th century, in the style between Romanesque and Gothic. The main nave was elongated in 1341 and a new apse added. In the 19th century the church was altered again, for example by adding larger windows to the aisles. The Westwerk remains in its original structure, though.

Unfortunately there are repairs going on, so I couldn't see the interior. But I got this interior shot.

Interior of the oldest house in Treffurt

The oldest remaining house in Treffurt dates to 1546. It had been a tavern, and today, after renovation, again houses a café and a little B&B. They had pancakes with warm cherries and whipped cream. *yum*

It's really pretty from the outside as well - I managed to get one or two decent pics for another post despite the low sun that made it increasingly difficult to photograph in the narrow lanes.

The smallest lane in Treffurt

Treffurt has still a Mediaeval feel to the old town; there's mosty cobblestones, some lanes are too narrow for modern cars, and some of them are rather steep because the town croaches up part of the Normanstein mountain - it was a safer terrain than the Werra shores which tend to get flooded in spring. Modern industry is less prudent; there are some great halls closer to the river today.
 


2.11.08
  Normanstein Castle

Another castle in former east Germany I had on my list. The name has nothing to do with the Normans, though, and it's not in the scale of your average Norman castle. But it's pretty, and because of more thorough restoration work in the 19th century, more of it has been preserved than with some other castle remains I've visited.

View to the Normanstein from Treffurt

The Romanesque castle, situated above the Werra river to protect the fords and town of Treffurt, dates back to the 11th century. The keep and the two defense towers stand close together in the inner yard; later an outer bailey was added, protected by a wall and trench system.

View from the former outer bailey

The Knights of Treffurt were vassals of the landgraves of Thuringia, but in the 14th century their power increased to a point where they were considered a danger by some counts and high ranking clerics. In 1336, the united hosts of Thuringia, Hessia and Mainz managed to finally defeat them. The castle was divided between the victors who governed the town of Treffurt from there.

Inner curtain walls

In the 16th century, more modern seats were built for the magistrates, and the castle fell into decline except for round tower which was used as prison. But that way the castle was not altered into a fortress or Baroque palace like it happened with some other places (Regenstein, Adelebsen). In 1894 the castle was bought by Gustav Döring who restored the crumbling towers and established a restaurant in the former crypt.

View to the Werra vale from a window of the keep

During the time of the German division the castle served as youth hostel. Since 1996 renovations were going on big style to preserve the ruins as well as the reconstructed parts. Those measures have been finished in September 2008, and so I got to visit a sparkly new castle, lol. There is a restaurant again today, not in the crypt but the former main house.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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