Welcome to the

Shire of Flintheath

We are the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (S.C.A)  The general geographical coverage expands most of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and a bit of Bedfordshire, get in touch for further information.

The shire is comprised of medieval enthusiasts with interests in armoured & rapier combat, archery, arts & sciences and much more, feel free to contact us for more.

The S.C.A is a non-profit, educational society dedicated to researching and recreating the Middle Ages in the present.

News & Updates from the Shire

In light of new government guidelines, in-person combat practice is cancelled for the time being, but we are still meeting online. Please get in touch if you want more information!

In the meantime, your weekly fun historical posts will continue, and we also have a Discord server which you're welcome to come and check out if you want to talk to us and find out what we're doing during lockdown: discord.gg/AfucYV5

Last week we (virtually) attended Kingdom University, an event celebrating the arts and sciences at which members of the SCA come together to teach and attend classes on everything from weaving to heraldry and bone-carving to medieval gender roles. One benefit of the event being virtual this year was that attendance was almost unlimited - we had over 600 attendees registered from all over the world!

The first institutions that could be called universities were founded in Asia and Africa. The earliest of these is what is now called the University of Al Quarawiyyin, founded as a mosque by Fatima al-Fihri in 859. The early European medieval universities may have been influenced by such educational institutions in southern Spain - then the Muslim realm of Al-Andalus - or encountered during the Crusades, but the word "university" is first recorded as being used for the University of Bologna in 1088.

Bologna was also the first university to promise academic freedom, since a little under a century after its founding it amended its constitution to guarantee the right of a travelling scholar to pass freely in the interests of education. Bologna was also distinct in its corporate or guild-like structure, a structure later copied by the University of Paris (later the Sorbonne) and the University of Oxford. This structure included charters guaranteed by royal or religious authority or even the towns in which they were located. Like other guilds, universities were self-regulating and determined the qualifications of their own members.

As the number of universities in Europe grew, they also specialised; as a rule, Italian universities focussed in law and medicine while more northern universities focussed on the arts and theology. Students wishing to study particular subjects could and did travel all over Europe to study at particular universities. International students could join "nations": groups of students who joined together to speak their native language and be ruled by their own laws and, of course, to fight with the other nations: a fact that got the nations at the University of Oxford disbanded in 1274.

Images:
- Students entering the nation of German students at the University of Bologna - 1497
- The world's oldest surviving medical degrees - University of Qarawiyyin - 1207
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In light of new government guidelines, in-person combat practice is cancelled for the time being, but we are still meeting online. Please get in touch if you want more information!

In the meantime, your weekly fun historical posts will continue, and we also have a Discord server which you're welcome to come and check out if you want to talk to us and find out what we're doing during lockdown: discord.gg/AfucYV5

Swavesey Priory was founded in 1086 on the site of an Anglo-Saxon religious site - it may not have been a formally-consecrated church - the remains of which are now underneath the modern church of St Andrews. It was part of a large estate which is recorded in the Domesday Book as being owned by Count Alan of Brittany, the son-in-law of William the Conqueror, but soon after the foundation of the priory he gave it to the Benedictine Abbey of St Sergius and St Bacchus in France.

Swavesey Priory was not wealthy, even though Count Alan had endowed it with tithes (a tenth of all local incomes) and some nearby pastures. By 1280 there is no evidence that any monks lived there other than the prior, who lived in a nearby manor house and got his income from a dock that provided boats from the village with access to the Ouse. There was also a vicar assigned to the priory church to meet the pastoral needs of the village.

In 1392, the priory was granted to the Carthusian monastery in Coventry and continued under its rule until the Dissolution of the Monastries in 1539, still being run more as a manor than a monastry. The buildings have long since been destroyed, but some earthworks remain on the site and the results of a geophysical survey north of the church suggests that they were made of stone, like the surviving priory church, which is now St Andrews.

Significant parts of the church building date back to 1300 and the north aisle contains some surviving carved medieval benches, whose designs were copied by Victorian carvers elsewhere in the building.

Images:
- The site of Swavesey priory in 2019
- Carving on one of the surviving benches
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In light of new government guidelines, in-person combat practice is cancelled for the time being, but we are still meeting online. Please get in touch if you want more information!

In the meantime, your weekly fun historical posts will continue, and we also have a Discord server which you're welcome to come and check out if you want to talk to us and find out what we're doing during lockdown: discord.gg/AfucYV5

Friday the 13th is widely considered an unlucky day in Western culture, and like many superstitions the roots of this belief can be found in the middle ages, at least when it comes to the number 13; the particular bad luck of Friday the 13th isn't recorded until the 1800's.

The most commonly-cited medieval origin for the superstition is the fact that Friday 13th October 1307 was the date on which Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests of hundreds of the Knights Templar. However, this may not have been formulated until the 20th Century, when it was mentioned as the origin in several novels. There is no record of this connection before that.

However, there was a superstition around the number 13 alone. There are two suggested origins for this, one in Christianity and the other in Norse myth. Naturally, these are not mutually exclusive and both stories, which also both involve thirteen people sitting at a dinner that ended badly, may have contributed to the belief that the number 13 is inherently unlucky.

The Norse myth connection was suggested by folklore historian Donald Dossey, who cited a myth in which 12 gods are having a dinner party in Valhalla when the party is crashed by the trickster god Loki, who ends up tricking the blind god Hoder into shooting his otherwise-invulnerable brother Baldr with the one weapon that could hurt him: a mistletoe arrow.

The Christian connection is through the Last Supper, when Jesus sat down to dinner on the night before his crucifixion with his twelve disciples, making a total of thirteen, and at the end of the meal one of his disciples betrayed him to the authorities, leading to his death.

The written accounts of Norse myths we still have available were complied by Christians and often present Baldr as a Christ-like figure and Loki as a Satanic one, further suggesting that the two sources of the superstition around the number 13 are not exclusive to one another; it's not known how accurate those characterisations are - especially in Loki's case - to the original myths.

Although Friday the 13th is commonly believed unlucky, this is not universal; in Italy Friday the 17th is considered the unlucky date, and in Spanish-speaking countries and Greece it's Tuesday the 13th.

Images:
- Loki and Sigyn - Detail from Gosforth Cross - 900's
- The Last Supper - Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice - 1200's
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In light of new government guidelines, in-person combat practice is cancelled for the time being, but we are still meeting online. Please get in touch if you want more information!

In the meantime, your weekly fun historical posts will continue, and we also have a Discord server which you're welcome to come and check out if you want to talk to us and find out what we're doing during lockdown: discord.gg/AfucYV5

The earliest example of "modern" heraldry is an enamel on the tomb of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and husband of Empress Matilda. It shows him carrying a blue shield decorated with lions rampant and wearing a blue helmet with a similar lion. a medieval chronicle states that when he was knighted Geoffrey was given a shield whose description matches the one shown in this enamel, but this account dates to about 20 years after his death and may have been written to match the enamel rather than life. However, an association of a shield decoration with an individual does not appear to have been common before this; for example, while the Bayeux Tapestry shows a variety of shield designs incorporating crosses, dragons, and other typical heraldic figures, no individual is shown with the same arms twice and none of their descendants are known to have had devices resembling the ones in the tapestry.

The origins of heraldry have also been traced to the Crusades, and while there is no evidence of this it is a natural conclusion; where huge numbers of knights from all over Europe were gathered together it would be useful to have an easy way to identify individuals when everyone was similarly armoured. Certainly, the surcoat - a garment now strongly associated with heraldic display to the point where this is the origin of the phrase "coat of arms" - originated in the Crusades as a way of protecting the wearer from the sun.

For a medieval knight, being easy to identify in battle or during tournaments wasn't just a matter of practicality or pride - though being easily visible on the field certainly helped when there was glory and honour to be won - but could be life-saving; the aim in tournaments and usually also battles was to capture knights rather than killing them, since they could be ransomed and many medieval knights and even members of the royal family became wealthy from ransoms paid by their opponents in war and tournaments.

In the Battle of Evesham in 1265 there was also a reverse example of this effect of heraldic display: Henry III was a prisoner of Simon de Monfort, who took him onto the battlefield dressed in his own colours. Henry narrowly escaped being killed by his son Edward's army when Simon was defeated.

Images:
- Enamel from the tomb of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou
- Fighters at Ancient Oak 2019, showing heraldic surcoats
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Happy Halloween!

Combat practices are returning, but in a limited form to stay in line with Covid-19 guidelines. Please get in touch if you want more information!

In the meantime, your weekly fun historical posts will continue, and we also have a Discord server which you're welcome to come and check out if you want to talk to us and find out what we're doing during lockdown: discord.gg/AfucYV5

During and after the Black Death, medieval Europe developed a fascination with the macabre that is still visible in art and sculpture today. While the idea of a memento mori (reminder of death) dates back to ancient times, the middle ages put it into stories, illuminated manuscripts, and even music; the danse macabre was a common motif in woodcuts and paintings, but the motif was also set to music by August Normiger in 1598.

Memento mori images also appeared in church art and architecture. For example, St Mary and All Saints, Willingham, in Flintheath, has a large clock painted on the East wall, which may be a late example of one of these memento mori images. The most spectacular example, though, is cadaver tombs.

Most of us are familiar with the classic medieval tomb, with the deceased person shown in effigy on the top, often with his or her hands folded in prayer. A cadaver tomb is similar, but also or instead shows the deceased person as a skeleton or rotting corpse. These were expensive to make and are mostly seen on the tombs of very wealthy and powerful people. In fact, the higher-ranking the person was in life, the more spectacular their cadaver tomb might be, to fully drive home the transience of earthly power and wealth.

Images:
- Cadaver monument of John FitzAlan, 14th Earl of Arundel, Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, Sussex
- Danse Macabre - Nuremberg Chronicle - 1493
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