1. Mask
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    Mask Member

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    Medieval Settings, The Fantasy and Reality

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Mask, Jan 31, 2013.

    I love ancient settings, when portrayed authentically. At various times, I am dismayed by that amount of misunderstanding about life in ancient periods.

    Perhaps it would be fun and helpful for us to discuss this. Many plain-faced misconceptions are ingrained in our way of thinking from our (thankfully improving) poor understanding of ancient civilization. We can also discuss some of the fantastic elements associated with the "medieval" period.
     
  2. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    What a great topic! There are several misconceptions about the medieval period that keep cropping up in books that really annoy me:
    1) Witch trials were common - people believed in witchcraft, but the burning witches thing mainly happened in the 1600s, after the medieval period.
    2) Everyone was in an arranged marriage - while this was very true for the nobility, the poorer you were the more chance you had to marry for love.
    3) Guilty until being proven innocent - there was this programme on when a historical figure got secretly hanged from the battlements of the castle in the middle of the night. In real life, he was given a public trial and found guilty, and then hanged...equally as publicly.
    4) OTT executions - again, same programme. Someone had been found guilty of rape and then was sentenced to be hanged until half dead, castrated and then disemboweled. This would not have happened. In medieval England, it would have been a hanging - hanging, drawing and quartering was reserved for those who had committed high treason. It seems there is a want in stories to ham up violence for entertainments sake.
    5) Everyone knew the Catholic Church was corrupt, as was always trying to fight it - I find stories often pre-empt the Reformation and question the Catholic Church. This would not have happened on such a wide scale.

    I might come up with some more in a minute....
     
  3. Mask
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    At one point in history, the Pope said magic didn't exist--so during that time it was illegal to charge someone on the grounds of being a witch. I haven't found details as to what timeframe this was, unfortunately.

    Another interesting tidbit, on marriage. If you were a serf, you needed the local lord's permission to get married (note that some couldn't afford to marry, so this wasn't a constant occurrence). If you married without permission, you had to pay a fine. The fining of serfs was put into place by the church, with laws as to how much you should fine them and such. There were also fines for things like not turning up to perform your service for the lord.

    Most of the time, ancient people are pretty much like today's people. There is a strange hypocrisy where medieval people are slandered as depraved, immoral and stupid as a sack of potatoes, yet at the same time modern views and politics are forced in, with views of social caste, religion, and other things... One thing you rarely hear about, is that racism didn't get big till near the end of the 20th century (well, except against Jews--it has remained pretty consistent for them since the fall of their kingdom).


    Do you have much knowledge in the subject of ancient combat, Donna? I am impressed with your knowledge, and am wondering if you have taken a deep interest in the subject like myself.
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This reminds me of this quote I came across a long time ago at uni:
    "Succeeding generations change the fashion of their morals, with the fashion of their hats and their coaches; take some other kind of wickedness under their patronage, and wonder at the depravity of their ancestors." - Lord Macaulay, in his essay on Machiavelli.

    Yeah, my historian friend is always really pissed off that people always assume we're so much smarter and "forward" than people in the Middle Ages (or any other time in history) because we're so "modern".

    You guys might like the book by Hilary Mantel, called Wolf Hall. It's a historical novel that actually stays true to history and thus, won the Man Booker Prize and other awards. It also got lots of negative Amazon reviews because the readers expected bodice rippers and instead, what they got was history :D I've not read it but that same historian friend loved it, might be worth checking out.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolf-Hall-Hilary-Mantel/dp/0007230206?tag=7800651723-21
     
  5. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    785 AD, it was considered idolatry.*

    Well races as we know it, is a modern concept. There were certainly hatred and bigotry around during those times which sealed the fate of the Moors in Spain and Italy, among many others.

    Second thoughts: But of course many conflicts that we might view as a matter of ideology had a very pragmatic side. The Moors, and many Jews were wealthy....
     
  6. Mask
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    Sounds like a smart fellow (the quote). I was rather surprised that Machiavelli wasn't as immoral a read as I had heard it was. I dread to think what it would look like if written today.

    To put it lightly, it's arrogant and ignorant behaviour. One of the reasons I have trouble enjoying Game of Thrones--everyone has crudity and immorality raised up to 11, because they're "barbarians from ancient times" (you could argue that it's because it's fantasy, but I'm pretty sure the excuse is placed in the "realism" camp).


    Thanks for that. Any idea when they changed their views on the matter?


    People were more concerned with social class. The Journeyman system was helpful in spreading people out and getting people used to strangers (and "strange" races).

    Wealth too was a motivator for the Nazis.
     
  7. AchiraC
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    AchiraC Member

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    While I certainly agree that most fantasy settings are a jumble of mismatched elements from different times, it doesn't really bother me. If I'm reading a historic novel, inconsistencies will bother me to no end. If I'm reading a story set in a fantastical world that is not just Earth with a different name, I don't care. Same goes for my own book. If you are not writing about our Medieval times, I believe you don't need to follow the exact evolution of culture and technology. It is, after all, a different world. Why couldn't things have gone differently?
     
  8. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    No exact date I'm afraid. In the next few hundred years the view that witchcraft came from the devil grew and eventually became part of the doctrine.

    To clarify: When we talk about racism in modern time we mean that people have different value/potential because of biological reasons. Those thoughts were unheard of during the middle ages.

    And Nazis yes: Herman Göring is an excellent example of an opportunist. He actually opposed the war because he had become one of the wealthiest men in Germany and he saw no reason to risk his fortune
     
  9. Mask
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    @Sved: There rarely are exact dates for events, despite the popularity of dating them. It is hard to say when the Empire of Rome fell, for example.

    Your clarification is no doubt a studied one. While I had thought race was a non-issue among dark age societies, I am honestly surprised to be told that race was not considered at all. Am quite interested to know more.


    I actually quite like anachronistic settings myself--as long as they make sense (or at least have a passable reason).

    My concern is not for mimicking the progression of technology and culture, so much as the blatant disregard (and sometimes blatant misinforming) of actual medieval life as seen in many stories. If it is clear that elements such as ludicrous crudity is due to the fantasy, and not meant as a representation of medieval behaviour, then I would not mind so much (I'm not keen on crudity).
     
  10. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    There is often you can find a papal command, like when belief in witches was outlawed, or something similar.

    Well I don't know much more than in broad terms that racism as we define it has its' origin in thoughts from Hobbes and Spinoza, which became mixed with Charles Darwins' theories (see social darwinism) so the "systematic racism or perhaps institutional racism" is a modern concept. The romanticism did set the standard for beauty as the Caucasian one, but it didn't go further.

    The ancient Greeks divided the world into the civilized part (Greeks) and the barbarian part (the rest). For them the difference was a matter of education, philosophy and religion. In other words a barbarian could improve himself to become civilized with Greek help. The Greeks would probably be surprised over people like Houston Chamberlain who claimed that a persons moral was decided by his looks, he took the romanticism one step further.


    Sorry for going slightly OT:

    During the medieval times people took the three estates of the realm for granted. You didn't really reflect upon it. If you were born a peasant you would always remain a peasant, and of course it meant you were more stupid than nobility because that's how things were. So yes just as you say: The social class was what mattered - not the race.
     
  11. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    I think one thing that is supremely important about the medieval world is that they thought life was never going to change: there would always be a peasantry, there would always be a clergy, there would always be an aristocracy and there would always be a king. There was no idea that the next generation would be better off than the one before it. Life was cyclical, not progressive.
     
  12. AchiraC
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    On that we completely agree! I don't mind a hodgepodge, as long as there is a very good reason for it.

    Also, they believed they were still a part of the Roman Empire. Now, we make a distinction between 'the Romans' and 'the Middle Ages', but they didn't. Makes you wonder what they'll think in 500 years about our view of our place in history, doesn't it?
     
  13. Mask
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    @Sved: I understand your earlier statement, now. I agree with your conclusion about the perception of race across the period.


    Donna makes another good point, on the subject of non-progressive views. Of course, the same is true of today more than advertised. People generally never expect things to change too much, unless they're taking part in an immediate change (like the world wars). Still, we do have the understanding that technology will improve, and this brings the hope that life will improve. There was also invention in the medieval era... but I'm not sure how much the average free man would know or care about such things. Has anyone done research into that area?


    @AchiraC: I had hoped we would agree. I just needed to explain myself better :). An example of one thing that annoys me, is when they integrate swords and guns but don't have a logical reason for it. Instead, they tend to have reasons for the contrary, where the guns are just as good at killing people but you can do it from a long way off, etc..

    As for what they'll think in 500 years... they'll probably consider us backward, violent, uneducated, bureaucratic fools--at the same time as being more backward, violent, uneducated and bureaucratic than we were, in a beautiful display of hypocritical irony. That or everything will be perfect, it could go either way.
     
  14. AchiraC
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    @Mask: Always nice when you find like-minded people!

    I have to say I can actually quite enjoy worlds where one culture is more advanced than the others. Guns versus swords might be a bit extreme, but let's keep that example. For me, the thrill of those situations, both as a reader and as a writer, is the explanation. How did that culture get the advantage? Why haven't the others caught up yet?

    I love those apparent inconsistencies and the reasons behind them. And nothing annoys me more than a missing or unsatisfactory explanation. Not just when it comes to medieval anachronisms, but everything. Actions of characters, whole cultures, literally anything! I am willing to accept a lot of very strange things in books or on television, but only when there is a very valid reason for it. Suspension of disbelief is everything, and also very fragile...
     
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  15. primalpeace
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    When writing a novel or story based on this time of age, you cant be too accurate, because history is not perfect, but you do have to be at least somewhat accurate though.
     
  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Battlegrounds were generally not bloodbaths, as depicted in most movies. Some were, but if you have a look at the statistics of losses, especially dead, you'll find it's generally low. Tactics often involved routing an enemy, killing the leader, forcing a surrender, or more commonly, just to demonstrate strength.

    For example the Battle of Agincourt: England fielded around 9000 troops, mostly archers and some unmounted knights, of which they lost 112 dead. The French fielded roughly 35000 troops, of which about 4-5000 were wounded or killed (by the arrows of the long bow). This is considered a bloody battle.

    In the Battle of Bosworth Field, York fielded 10 000 and took casualties of 1000, with less than half of those killed. Lancaster fielded 11 000 with casualties of less than 600, of which less than 100 were killed (Lancaster themselves only had 100 casualties from 5000 men, the rest were from his major ally).
     
  17. Mask
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    Wasn't meaning one culture with guns and one with swords--was meaning that the fighting cultures use both ,but it is entirely unclear as to why they have swords at all. In Princess of Mars, they stated that the guns could fire accurately for about 300 miles, I think it was... yet they had tons of hand weapons. Never said that ammo was scarce or anything like that--just that melee is cool, so people kept using it.

    Inconsistencies, plot-holes, illogical and poorly thought out things are all very irritating, I find. Can enjoy a wide variety of things, so long as they've put a bit of forethought into it.



    Yes, casualties in medieval warfare are quite similar to casualties today (less death from infection, now). Some of the ideas people have about medieval warfare are insane. I remember one guy reckoning, quite seriously, that it was so chaotic that allies would start killing each other mid way into a battle. They think armies were comprised of peasants who got off their farms yesterday, who are armed with twigs and clumps of earth (stones are too good for them). They reckon that on the day guns were invented, armour ceased to have any value, and was tossed to the wayside.

    None of the above things are true, of course. There are cases where you can get something similar. Such as when the Philistines(?) were routed in a night-raid by the Israelites, and they were so confused they mistook each other for Israeli soldiers.
     
  18. BallerGamer
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    I like this thread a lot! Plus one on the view of how battles were fought.

    Also the thinking of the medieval times was sort of like a box. Like we know people in the modern day dressed much differently than someone in the 1700's, but people in the medieval age thought how they dressed was how everyone dressed thousands of years before, and even in the times of Jesus.
     
  19. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I tend to disagree, as even the commoners had access to churches and scriptures that made them aware of antiquity. Much of the art of the period depicts early biblical scenes with reasonably accurate clothing of the time. Also, how people dressed varied a fair degree across Europe, depending on the culture and climate.
     
  20. BallerGamer
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    I read in a book that those same paintings had the biblical figures dressed in clothings of medieval times rather than clothings of biblical times.
     
  21. Mask
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    Some of them were. In one painting, Jesus and his disciples were depicted as white, with popular Italian hairstyles (and clothes?) of the time it was painted. But there were also accurate representations around. I'm not sure which was more common.

    Certainly, they would know that fashions change, and that their ancestors were unlikely to have worn the same garments. They definitely knew there was a large variation of clothing across the world, from trade and travel, so they didn't believe everyone dressed the same way.
     
  22. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    In the renaissance certainly
     
  23. La_Donna
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    I haven't been on this forum for a couple of weeks but I thought I'd rejoin. I did a module at uni where we had some lectures about medieval reactions to time. Their calendar was based round the agricultural calendar, with saints days and Christian festivals dictating time of rest and partying etc. Because the weather and the landscape largely stayed the same every year they saw every year was practically the same so life was not a progression but a cycle. That was why many people did not know exactly when they were born - they were only part of a process not a progress. And of course, they did not have watches which allowed them to plan time to the minute like we can. Life was slower, and their concept of time was rooted entirely in nature.

    Another really interesting thing I think is their understanding of "revolution". "Revolution" did not mean what it does now, in the post-French Revolution world. The word revolution comes from similar roots as "revolve" and basically means go back to that time that was better before. It was a word that usually meant going back to the "Golden Age" and some imprecise point in the past. I think this really shows that medieval people did not think life would ever get any better or worse. They all just merrily lived in a cycle, waiting for the judgement day they believed in.
     
  24. Sanjuricus
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    One thing that is often (understandably) inaccurate is the age at which people were married off. There was no such thing as the age of consent and brides of 12 or 13 years old were not uncommon.

    I completely understand why writers typically gloss over this as the risk of being accused of portraying pedophile fantasies and such like is a very real risk, such accusations tend to be the ones that have a lasting stigma regardless of the truth of the situation. However, if one is seeking authenticity then the current age of consent should be largely disregarded.

    The morality of the age was also totally different, the nobility and clergy had much more power and were virtually immune to most of the laws that affected the peasantry. A feudal existence was one of either luxury and power or of submissive servitude. It was almost the case that a serf's life was not his own...and that life was held with little regard by those in control. Should a noble get wind of a marriage among his serfs he could quite legally invoke droit de seigneur (although the validity of this is subject to doubt it does illustrate the point) and bed the woman against her will before the wedding.

    Many comments above allude to the medieval period not being as brutal as often depicted in films or books. I both agree and disagree with this, my knowledge and experience (which is good but admittedly not that vast!) of medieval society leads me to believe that whilst life in these times was not as brutal as often depicted, it was way more brutal in aspects not often touched upon in films or books.
     
  25. La_Donna
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    The brides of 12/13 thing was uncommon amongst the aristocracy e.g. Lady Margaret Beaufort was married at 12 and gave birth to the future Henry VII at 13. There wasn't such a thing as an age of consent, but normally aristocratic girls were married young, but did not consummate the marriage until the churches recommended age which was 14. On the other end of the social scale, however, when the pressures of inheritance were taken off, men usually married in their early twenties, and girls in their late teens. Obviously, the more money and land was involved, the younger the brides.

    I think you brought up a good point about the violence of the medieval age. I think, due to the feudal system and the non-existance of rights of war prisoners and civilians, there was potential for violence and it clearly happened (think of the devastation Northern France underwent during the Hundred Years War). However, just because there was this potential, I don't think it was always acted upon. Often, a lot of the instances reported in the historical record are the exceptions to the rule.
     

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