Thieves, mendicants, and Free Companies, oh my.

Everyday Life of Medieval TravellersEveryday Life of Medieval Travellers by Marjorie Rowling

Less than two hundred pages packed with information on the title subject, written in lively prose and illustrated mostly with line drawings from the times, plus a few photographs. Where else are you going find out that during the Middle Ages

An amusement gallery was sometimes run in conjunction with a medieval zoo…In these galleries visitors…were soaked to the skin on pulling the handle of one of the machines, then found themselves precipitated through a trap-door into a sack filled ith feathers or even soot, when they tried to run away.

I wonder if they ever suspended the local mayor over a tub of water and threw balls at a target to see if they could dump him? Bet they did.

The chapters are arranged first by means (Road, Bridges and Hospitality, Sea-Routes, Ports and Ships) and then by travelers themselves, explorers, merchants, royalty, soldiers and the notorious Free Companies.

It was inevitable that these companies should be formed during a period when there were no regular paid standing armies…It is difficult to find anywhere in the records a favourable comment on the Free Companies in the Middle Ages…Roads were rendered dangerous by them to travellers, fairs could not be held, craftsmen and traders could not pursue their livelihood, nor peasants cultivate their fields, monks had to flee from monasteries…

The reputation of wandering scholars called goliards suffered likewise:

These wandering clerks are wont to roam about the world and visit all its cities till much learning makes them mad; for in Paris they seek the liberal arts, in Orleans classics, at Salerno medicine, at Toledo magic, but nowhere manners or morals.


And I was delighted to learn that

There were of course many women entertainers among the lower ranks of jongleurs. These were mainly dancers who performed sword dances and acrobatics, balancing on the points of swords and aiding jugglers.

The magician’s assistant in the cleavage-y glittery costume has a long history.

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