Medieval Mythbusters: 9 YouTube Channels To Make You Never Look At Medieval Fantasy The Same Way Again

There are hundreds of wonderful channels on YouTube devoted to history and medieval studies. You’ll see the channels here have earned their followers rightly for your academic pleasure. Even though these channels and many others have been branded together as “The Community of the Sword,” each one is very unique. Some channels provide a more in-depth look at traditional fantasy compared to historical reality by commentating on popular movies. Others ignore modern popular culture and teach HEMA and medieval armor at highly professional levels. For your convenience and mine I’ve simply taken the liberty of giving each one a reward.


#1.

Roland Warzecha

Highly Interesting Sword Techniques 


#2.

Scholagladiatoria

World’s Best Sword Debater


#3.

Lindybeige

Best Thought-provoking Rambles and History Lessons


#4.

Skallagrim

Extremely Interesting Medieval Weapon Reviews and Testing


#5.

ThegnThrand

Whoppingly Insightful Medieval Weapon Testing


#6.

Shadiversity

Best Production Quality and Analyses of Misconceptions in Medieval Fantasy 


#7.

Knyght Errant

Best In-depth Analyses of Real Medieval Armor


#8.

Pursuing the Knightly Arts

Most Knowledgeable Armored HEMA Lessons


#9.

Blood and Iron HEMA

Best In-depth Unarmored HEMA Lessons

 

I hope this list served you well. Expect a part 2 because there are hundreds of others worth mentioning.

Happy daydreaming.

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A Different Way to Study History: Do Dates and Names even Matter?

Here I am going to recommend a unique way of studying history and ask the question, why, in schools, do we put so much importance on having students of history remember the names of people, places and things, the dates of events?

Firstly, ask yourself, “Knowing that time focused on one thing takes away from time focused on another, why do we tell ourselves not to repeat the tragedies of history, to learn from history’s mistakes, before we then force our students to take tests emphasizing the importance of names and dates?” Keep that frame of thought to contain this: we should be testing our students on the lessons history has to teach us, as well as the significance behind events. Why waste time remembering boring trivia when instead you could be delving into the awesomeness of history? And by the word awesome I don’t mean the synonyms amazing and spectacular. I mean the dissected version of the word.


Awe-some.


history for fantasy writers

Many things from history can make a man awe. For instance when mariners from the Old World would sail toward the New, they would awe at the amount of birds that could live many leagues from the shore. The birds would take advantage of the midocean ships, rooking in the rigging, resting on the crosstrees, as if the ships were mere floating rocks, until scurvy dogs with innovated traps would find ways to snag them from the sails. Today, occurrences like this, like many other occurrences in history, while considering culture, can only be replicated by reenactment. Isn’t that awesome?

It’s nearly time to begin the Great Crusade to bring Truth to the Medieval Fantasy Genre

I chose the title for this paper very carefully. A few months ago I might have said “time to begin the Great Crusade against Misconceptions in the Medieval Fantasy Genre,” but I’ve learned, through comical experience on Reddit, that in order to win this holy war we must not fight against what we hate–lies and misconceptions–but rather save what we love–truth!

When first becoming a self-published fantasy writer I did all kinds of research into “how to sell e-books” and even joined forums like Kboards to ask for help and advice. In my search I came across a popular strategy called “write to market” which has helped many authors on Amazon sell thousands of books. I would have tried this strategy for myself if it did not work against my ethics and against my vision for the Medieverse. You see, in order to implement this write to market strategy I must learn all the popular fantasy tropes that fantasy readers love and, yea, copy them, copy all the tropes which are essentially misconceptions (like the hero wearing a sword on his back, or medieval cities having no surrounding suburbs or farmland because it looks pretty). In other words I must be a “John Doe” and write what the majority wants to read. I call that a short-term strategy. Now I, after dear and sincere studying, have instead decided to make a grand, public long-term strategy very similar to the Crusades.

the crusade against medieval misconceptions

Like the great Latin barons of the first military Crusade, not the People’s Crusade, I’m not warring for myself or for any material gains; I’m warring because I truly believe it’s wrong to pump misconceptions into young people’s minds so that they then go on to take it all as truth! Like Peter the Hermit, I’m appealing to a subconscious need, one inherent in many of us, that may take several decades to ripen into material life, and as things like HEMA and Lindybeige become more popular my quest will become easier. I see Lindybeige as one of the great Crusader barons bringing truth to the Holy Land, and each and every HEMA practitioner, every Matt Easton fan, as one of the many knights, footmen, auxiliaries and camp-followers who are making this Crusade possible. And I don’t mind if other authors see my ideas and steal them. In fact I want as many authors as possible to follow this much-needed calling and join me.

How many people do you know believe that knights in plate armor were walking tin cans that could barely run and jump? How many people do you know believe that you can hold back the drawstring of a war bow at full draw for as long as you want in order to threaten someone with dialogue? How many people do you know believe that cannons weren’t around in the Middle Ages? These people have been lied to, arguably unintentionally, and they don’t even know it yet. It’s our duty to “wake them up” so to speak.

Now I could go on for hours and hours about all the things that every fantasy author is doing wrong but in the long-run that would only damage myself. In order to truly see a change I must talk about all the awesome things the medieval fantasy genre should be showing and why they’re so important. I say that it’s “nearly time” to begin our Crusade because frankly I still have much, much learning to do before I can become the man I need to be in order to lead our crusading armies to victory, and perhaps you yourself are already ready and can lead your army past the emperor at Constantinople (traditional publishers) without me. Yea, I see a bright future with movies that show HEMA techniques and picture books that make children want to learn more about the real truth of the Middle Ages rather than about orcs and goblins. Welcome to the early days of the Western world’s second Renaissance where instead of gaining inspiration from our Roman and Greek predecessors we are doing so from our true national histories (Americans falling in love with their ancestors’ Franco-German traditions for example). I highly thank you for reading, for reading this and just reading in general. I promise we will be victorious. Truth will, metaphorically, thrive within the holy places, within each and every one of us.

PS, if you live in Victoria BC, Canada and are interested in custom leather book binding or collecting rare vintage books I highly recommend Period Fine Bindings in Oak Bay. There I recently got my hands on a A New Dictionary of Heraldry printed in 1739 and will soon be using it to design the coats of arms for many characters in the Medieverse.

 

The Three Rules of LitHEMA (Literature about Historical European Martial Arts)

Rule 1. SHOW HEMA IN ACTION: Grappling! Rondel daggers! Poleaxes! Niches in armor! LitHEMA, although some authors may or may not choose to use Old German or Old English, takes pride in showing historical action for what it is! As all of you will one day come to agree, many fantasy stories, whether they be movies, games or books, repetitively fall for the same myths and misconceptions. Type “drawing swords from the back” into YouTube and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Don’t forget to subscribe!

LitHEMA separates itself from most fantasy by dutifully straying from misconceptions. A lot of the history we know as true is, of course, speculation made by experts and archaeologists and likewise LitHEMA writers must rely on creativity to fill certain gaps, allowing us to create the most awesome and realistic sword fights ever! It’s reenactment for the mind, baby! Yeah!

Imagine a lord in his prime, a master with a sword in the Late Middle Ages. He’s been using the same lifesaving techniques with his one-handed sword for many years and must suddenly duel an angry levy who’d picked up a deadman’s zweihander! The sparks! The grunts! The parries! It’s experience and swiftness versus revenge and strength. And you can’t deny it’s beautiful because, as Shad from Shadiversity says, swords are awesome!

historical fiction with historical European martial arts

1150-1200, Austria 

Rule 2. PRESENT TRUTH, SAVE THE ODD EXAGGERATION: Gobs of HEMA practitioners admit that fantasy is what got them interested in swords in the first place. And so in that sense LitHEMA respects its roots in more ways than one. LitHEMA respects fantasy as much as it respects historical combat treatises because we all must rely on creativity and fascination to assume certain things about history. Indeed, all we can do about certain things is make assumptions, about certain unprovable things which almost always rely on context like ‘why did falchions become popular?’ or ‘how easy is it to shoot a moving target with a crossbow from a tower?’.

It is impossible to be perfectly accurate, but that wouldn’t stop a LitHEMA writer from replying ‘well, what period are we talking about? What type of crossbow is it?’ LitHEMA distinguishes itself from most fantasy subgenres by being as realistic as possible and the writer must present, after much studying and research, what she thinks is realistic. She decides, “The moving target below the tower is wearing a gambeson and the crossbowman’s quarrel glances off the sturdy textile because it was a low-poundage crossbow and the quarrel didn’t hit plumb.”

Some historians may say that scene should have happened a different way, but our author dug down into her heart, did her research and presented what she thought would really happen in her fictional universe. Even if she has magic and elves and dragons in her universe, which is more than possible in LitHEMA, she has to ask herself ‘would the dragon’s flame really burn down a castle made of stone? And would elves really use war bows if they had flimsy little arms?’

Thanks to the internet and many hard working enthusiasts around the world, authentic historical artwork is slowly and steadily putting a burdensome responsibility on the shoulders of writers! We feel guilt when we realize our heroes were wearing unriveted mail when they should have been wearing riveted mail. Trust me, as a passionate LitHEMA writer I know that guilt all too well. My stories have many things that are unrealistic, like a disposable diamond-tipped throwing knife. At least I state the blade had to go through mail and gambeson.

LitHEMA, if it is solely written as a subgenre of fantasy, can combine creativity with truth to show an exaggerated version of reality. On the other hand, if LitHEMA is solely written as a subgenre of historical fiction, it should focus more on action and stress the techniques used in historical combat treatises.

LitHEMA

1255-1260, England

Rule 3. SUGGEST CONTEXT: Medieval combat treatises teach us many tricks and techniques, guards and attacks, but they tell us very little about the context in which these tricks and techniques could have been used throughout history. To understand context we must coalesce our HEMA knowledge with other sources like written accounts and paintings. LitHEMA is just one medium that enables us to use our historical research and creativity to suggest certain scenarios.

Now imagine a small peasant revolt, an entire village raging against sixteen knights trained in the combat techniques of a master. Written with HEMA in mind, this imaginary scene could allow us a special viewpoint, a viewpoint very unlike a battle in a 1970s fantasy book. Of course, it is inevitable that creativity will fill many gaps, but after studying the artwork left by ancient, medieval and pre-modern cultures around the world we can create a reenactment-like image in the reader’s mind. While suggesting a context, LitHEMA can indeed show the world what mortal combat may have looked like in the past. Frankly, a movie based on a such a novel is exactly what Hollywood needs.

Images from http://manuscriptminiatures.com, a fabulous website!

Shot out to http://wiktenauer.com and all you HEMA enthusiasts out there!

Springalds versus Ballistae – What is the Mechanical Difference?

This is not a historical lesson with dates and events, but a mechanical lesson to explain the physical differences between these two magnificent ancient artillery weapons.

Springalds and ballistae are both “catapults” that loose either spear-like bolts, Greek fire or round stones. The major difference between them is in how they hold the power necessary to launch these projectiles. I would like to start by clarifying the definition of the word “catapult” because many people confound that word with “mangonel.” A catapult is any stationary device that uses built-up tension to fire or, in more accurate terms, loose or shoot a projectile. Like ballistae and springalds, a mangonel is a certain kind of catapult. So do not picture a mangonel every time you hear the word catapult like I did for many years 🙂

Springalds (also known as espringals)

ballista compared with espringal

how do springalds operate

Like many arbalests or heavy crossbows, springalds use devices known as windlasses to build-up tension in skeins, bow arms and draw cords. However, springalds have inward-facing bow arms and ballistae have outward-facing bow arms. A springald, at first glance, may look odd because they are not as common in movies and video games as ballistae are. Some springalds look very similar to ballistae (their only difference being in which direction the bow arms face) but other springalds, like the example below, look like bizarre wooden cages.

the difference between a ballista and a springald or espringal

Whatever the design, a springald can always be differentiated from a ballista by gandering at the bow arms. Ballistae have outward-facing bow arms that are always facing outwards even when they are not bearing tension; they simply look like over-sized crossbows on mounts. Springalds, on the other hand, when they are not bearing tension, have smaller arms that face forwards and they do not face inwards until accumulated tension bends them inwards and towards the operator using the windlass. It is easy to see how these rectangular springalds on wheels would be better for besieging whereas the mounted ones that look like ballistae would be better for defending because they can aim down from turrets and bastions.

Ballistae

ballista vs springald

We’ve already done a sufficient comparison for there is not much difference between these two famed weapons of ancient war, but it may be good to cap off what we’ve learned by briefly comparing a ballista to an arbalest. An arbalest is either a cranequin crossbow or a windlass crossbow. Below I will show a picture of a cranequin crossbow so you can see just how similar it is to a ballista and also how different it is from a springald.

similarities between crossbows and ballistae and springalds

See how the bow arms of the crossbow and ballista face outwards while the springald has bow arms that face forwards until tension brings them inwards? If you see the difference, you now know what separates a springald from a ballista! Yay! Now let’s do a little test: what type of catapult is the bolt thrower in the scene of the Greek siege at the top of this article? Is it a springald or a ballista?

Estoc: Sir Eveland’s Word of the Night – Dec 24th, 2016

An estoc, used from the 14th to the 17th century, is an edgeless two-handed sword designed specifically for fighting against opponents who are wearing full suits of steel armour. Similar to a rondel dagger, the estoc is meant for finding its way into the niches of armor (armpits, neck, visor, the back of the knee, etc). Being edgeless also means that its wielder can use it like a mace more easily, indeed reverse it so use it like a polehammer.

Fauld vs Tonlet: Sir Eveland’s Word of the Night

Faulds and tonlets are both pieces of armor worn below the breastplate to protect the groin and waist, but some major differences separate them.

FAULD + TASSETS

fauld-armor-for-the-waist

Worn over a skirt of maille, a fauld is a piece of armor attached to the bottom of a breastplate, corresponding to a ‘culet’ which hangs from the bottom of a backplate on the other side (though in early to mid medieval times, culets were rarely worn as maille over the arse was deemed ‘good enough’). A fauld consists of steel lames connected by strips of leather, albeit other less popular methods were sometimes used to connect them. The leather strips allow expansion and contraction, which is absolutely necessary because the fauld needs to contract when the wearer mounts a horse. Oftimes, additional ‘tassets’ were hinged to the bottom of faulds to hang over the ‘cuisses’ and provide additional protection for thighs. In later medieval times, tassets grew to ridiculous lengths, stretching past the knees.

TONLET

what-is-a-tonlet-for

A tonlet is very similar to a fauld, but it’s more difficult to be comfortable on a horse while wearing one. You may need a hand mounting. This is because tonlets are thrice as long and don’t have as much flexibility, though by looking at many images, you can see how they would be able to contract somewhat, making jousting possible. Their purpose is to be rigid, supplying great if not desirable protection against lances or, depending on the century, lead balls. There’s no use attaching tassets to a tonlet because they already reach down close to the knees, depending on the particular size as many were built specially. Tonlets wrap around the entire waist like a skirt, so there’s also no need for a culet. They supply much more protection than faulds, as you can imagine, perfect against the deadlier weapons of the time, like crow’s beaks. Occasionally you would see tonlets on the battlefield, by men who wanted to keep their arses safe.

Faulds, on the other hand, were meant for open battle, meant to allow near-perfect maneuverability for the common knecht. With all that said, I’d much rather wear a tonlet behind a bulwark; thank you very much.