Tag Archives: Renaissance

Nice article about the Society for Creative Anachronism

Did you ever play that game where you pretended that you were a knight or a princess? Did you ever decide that whacking your friends over the head with tree branches was a good plan, because you were pretending to duel with swords? The Society for Creative Anachronism is a lot like that – just bigger. A lot bigger, with a lot more structure, a lot more science, and a lot more fun.

Read more at http://www.gamer-xp.com/the-society-for-creative-anachronism-live-in-the-current-middle-ages/


Period Persona – Giacomo di Grassi


Giacomo di Grassi was a 16th century Italian fencing master. Little is known about the life of this master, but he seems to have been born in Modena, Italy and acquired some fame as a fencing master in his youth. He operated a fencing school in Trevino and traveled around Italy observing the teachings of other schools and masters. Ultimately di Grassi developed his own method, which he laid out in great detail in his 1570 work Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme (“Explanation of Striving Safely with Arms”). In 1594, a new edition of his book was printed in London under the title His True Arte of Defence, translated by an “I.G. gentleman” and published by an admirer named Thomas Churchyard.

While di Grassi’s teachings were arguably designed for the side sword, the English translation substitutes “rapier” for every mention of the sword. The translator explains – since English (of his time) distinguishes between “sword” and “rapier”, while Italian does not – that he has generally chosen to translate spada as “rapier”, because in Italy the rapier and dagger are carried, and not the sword (except in a military context), as is also the case with gentlemen in England.

Link to “His True Arte of Defence”

This Month in History – April 2014

Do you know of other notable April events in history (pre-1600)? If you do, or if you would like to submit items for May, please stop by the Canton of Middlegate’s Facebook page and let us know in the comments on this post!

Period Persona – Cesare Borgia

220px-Cesareborgia Date of Birth: 13 September 1475 or 1476

 Died: 12 March 1507 (aged 31)

 Birthplace: Rome, Italy

Son of Cardinal Rodrigo de Lanzol y Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, and his  mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, about whom information is sparse. The Borgia family  originally came from the Kingdom of Valencia, and rose to prominence during the mid-  15th century; Cesare’s great-uncle Alphonso Borgia (1378–1458), bishop of Valencia,  was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455. Cesare’s father, Pope Alexander VI, was the first  pope who openly recognized his children born out of wedlock.

Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the Church. He was made Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15. Following school in Perugia and Pisa where Cesare studied at Sapienza University of Rome, along with his father’s elevation to Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18.

Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family in Cesare’s brother Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances: with several contemporaries suggesting that Cesare might have been his killer. Cesare’s role in the act, however, has never been clear.

On 17 August 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate. On the same day, the French Louis XII of France named Cesare Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname “Valentino”.

 Duke of Valentinois

Duke of Valentinois

Cesare’s career was founded upon his father’s ability to distribute patronage, along with his alliance with France, in the course of the Italian Wars. Louis XII invaded Italy in 1499: after Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had ousted its duke Ludovico Sforza, Cesare accompanied the king in his entrance into Milan.

At this point Alexander decided to profit from the favourable situation and carve out for Cesare a state of his own in northern Italy. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in Romagna and Marche were deposed. Though in theory subject directly to the pope, these rulers had been practically independent or dependent on other states for generations. In the view of the citizens, these vicars were cruel and petty. When Cesare eventually took power, he was viewed by the citizens as a great improvement.

Cesare was appointed commander of the papal armies with a number of Italian mercenaries, supported by 300 cavalry and 4,000 Swiss infantry sent by the King of France. Despite being deprived of his French troops after the conquest of those two cities, Borgia returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph and to receive the title of Papal Gonfalonier from his father. In 1500 the creation of twelve new cardinals granted Alexander enough money for Cesare to hire the condottieri, Vitellozzo Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Giulio and Paolo Orsini, and Oliverotto da Fermo, who resumed his campaign in Romagna. While his condottieri took over the siege of Piombino (which ended in 1502), Cesare commanded the French troops in the sieges of Naples and Capua, defended by Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna. On 24 June 1501 his troops stormed the latter, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in southern Italy. n June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture Urbino and Camerino by treason. He planned to conquer Bologna next. However, his condottieri, most notably Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Orsini brothers, feared Cesare’s cruelty and set up a plot against him. The fact that his subjects had enjoyed his rule thus far meant that his opponents had to work much harder than they would have liked. He eventually recalled his loyal generals to Imola, where he waited for his opponents’ loose alliance to collapse. Cesare called for a reconciliation, but imprisoned his condottieri in Senigallia, a feat described as a “wonderful deceiving” by Paolo Giovio, and had them executed.

Although he was an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare would have trouble maintaining his domain without continued Papal patronage. Niccolò Machiavelli cites Cesare’s dependence on the good will of the Papacy, under the control of his father, to be the principal weakness of his rule.

The news of his father’s death (1503) arrived when Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany. The new pope, Pius III, supported Cesare Borgia and reconfirmed him as Gonfalonier; but after a brief pontificate of twenty-six days he died. Borgia’s deadly enemy, Giuliano Della Rovere, then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare Borgia into supporting him by offering him money and continued papal backing for Borgia policies in the Romagna; promises which he disregarded upon election.

Cesare Borgia, who was facing the hostility of Ferdinand II of Aragon, was betrayed while in Naples by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a man he had considered his ally, and imprisoned there, while his lands were retaken by the Papacy. In 1504 he was transferred to Spain and imprisoned first in the Castle of Chinchilla de Montearagón, but after an attempted escape he was moved to the Castle of La Mota, He did manage to escape from the Castle of La Mota with assistance, and he made it to Pamplona on 3 December 1506, and was much welcomed by King John III of Navarre who was missing an experienced military commander, ahead of the feared Castilian invasion (1512).

He recaptured Viana, Navarre, in the hands of forces loyal to the count of Lerín, Ferdinand II of Aragon’s conspirational ally in Navarre, but not the castle. In the early morning of 11 March 1507, an enemy party of knights fled from the castle during a heavy storm. Outraged at the ineffective siege laid on the castle, the Italian commander chased them only to find himself on his own. The party realized that, and Borgia got trapped in an ambush, receiving the injury of a fatal spear. He was then stripped of all his luxurious garments, valuables and a leather mask covering half his face, disfigured possibly by syphilis during his late years, and left lying naked.

Pavillion Etiquette

The season for camping and day pavilions is upon us. But do we all know how to behave in pavilions? Maybe we should brush up on our etiquette. Just remember what Mom said and behave.

1. Don’t enter unless you are asked or invited.

Treat a pavilion exactly as you would someone’s home. Would you just walk in without knocking? I don’t think so! The only exception to this rule is when you must enter the pavilion to close flaps due to the weather. Then the owners will thank you!

2. Don’t sit in someone else’s chair unless you ask or are invited to do so.

If you break it you are responsible. (That has happened many times…I have a chair that I don’t allow anyone heavier than I to sit in. If it breaks with me it’s OK, but I wouldn’t want that to happen with anyone else.)

3. Don’t partake of their refreshments unless you are invited.

Most people who set out food bring plenty of food and are willing to share…But don’t assume, wait until you are invited.

4. Don’t take a shortcut through a pavilion or camp.

This is plain rude. Would you run through someone’s house? Don’t allow your children to run and play through the pavilions around the tourney field.

5. Don’t leave your stuff in common areas or in someone’s pavilion unless you ask.

Don’t clutter areas which are meant for all to share and don’t expect others to look after your “stuff”.

6. Don’t touch other possessions unless you ask.

That harp or sword is worth lots of money you may not have…so leave it alone! Don’t move that lace pillow, she’s been working on it for months, you don’t want to accidentally ruin it.

7. Don’t remove property from a pavilion without asking.

“She won’t mind if we borrow these chairs…she won’t be back until dinner.” This is also rude and could be considered theft!

8. Don’t expect others to watch your children.

I raised my kids…I don’t want to raise yours. When your children are in other peoples pavilions, watch them and teach them these rules. Not only will they be more pleasing to be around, but these rules may prevent them from accidentally getting hurt.

This article was initially written by Mistress Sine ni Dheaghaidh and was printed in the March/April (1999) edition of the Shire of Hindscrofts newsletter “The Key”, Volume 99, Issue 2. It is reprinted here with her permission.

The Ipswich Mint: Part Two – The Hammered Coin.


Since the process for producing hammered coins remained pretty much the same from the 1st millenium through the 15th – 17th centuries I will talk a bit about this process before I move on to articles specific to Roman Era coinage.

Hammered coins were made in Venice until the 1770s. France became the first to adopt a fully machine-made coin (Milled Coin) in 1643. In England, the first non-hammered coins were produced in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the 1560s, but while machine-produced coins were experimentally produced at intervals over the next century, production of hammered coins did not finally end until 1662.


Minting of money was restricted to guilds or mints which were authorized by the ruler to produce coins. They took raw metal (typically silver) and produced coins of particular weights and sizes, and with markings that generally identified both the reigning sovereign, and the moneyer that produced the coin. The value of the coin was not stamped on the coin itself – its weight in silver defined its value. In fact, people sometimes cut coins into pieces to make change (a practice used in the middle ages forward).

To mint coins using the hammered method, some basic tools were necessary.
● Hammers
● Shears
● Facilities for melting silver
● Scales
● Punches for engraving
● Files for shaping dies and punches

Engraving Tools

If you look at coins closely (like the example below), you can see that the patterns and words on the coin are made up of a relatively small number of simple shapes, like lines, arcs, triangles, dots, lozenges, and so on. Highly skilled engravers handled creating the portraits and other designs. These shapes are made by punches that create dents in the face of the die used to stamp the coin. Before creating coins, a moneyer has to create a set of punches that can create all the shapes and letters needed to make coin faces.


A basic punch set might include these shapes:




Dies for an Edward III Penny, circa 1350

Coins were stamped between two dies, the top die (also called a trussel or hammer die) with the obverse (front) image, and a bottom die (also called a pile or anvil die) with the reverse (back) image. The diameter of the die matched the size of the coin to be made. An example of an Anglo-Saxon Silver Penny depicting Cnut was 20 mm. For a Roman AE4 coin, the die would have been 14mm in diameter, while a Follis would have been 26mm in diameter. These dies were generally made from iron, and were rarely hardened since the die material was much harder than the coin material, the dies would last for a decent amount of time, even though they weren’t hardened. A coining team could produce up to 20,000 strikes, wearing out a set of dies, in one day. During the 2nd century about 17 million Roman denarii were issued each year, so a year’s issue required up to 1000  dies; the bronze issues of the Constantinian period must have required many thousands of dies.Coin-Striking

To prepare dies for engraving, the moneyer wanted to get the face of the die as flat and square as was possible (by square, I mean at right angles to the axis of the die). The period way to do this was to run the die face along a file for a long time, checking and turning the face as you go, until it’s flat and square. Then the die face was polished in order to get smooth and shiny coins. A couple of people have told me that they would not have polished the dies in period, but in his 12th century treatise ‘On Divers Arts‘, Theophilus discusses the use of sifted ground charcoal applied onto a piece of wool [6, pp. 102, 158], a brush made from brass wire [6, p. 114], and also finely scraped chalk applied to a cloth [6, pp. 102, 158]. In his 16th century treatise on metals and metallurgy, ‘Pirotechnia‘, Vannoccio Biringuccio recommends using fi ne pumice followed by an abrasive powder known as “tripoli” [7, p. 389]. Furthermore, with most extant medieval coins the areas without design elements are smooth; this can only be attained by dies that have been faced and polished.

Engraving the Dies

The first thing to explain is that when dies were engraved everything was done in reverse! Everything created on the die would appear in mirror-image on the coin (the term for this is that the die is engraved “in intaglio”, meaning reversed). It was not uncommon in medieval coins to see mistakes made in this process – a letter reversed, for example.

A coin die (in the middle ages) generally started with a line of pellets (dots) around the outer perimeter of the die. These were imprinted on period coins to prevent people from trimming the outer edges off and reducing the value of the coin. The obverse face typically had a rendering of the king, and the king’s name or some slogan, while the reverse identified the moneyer or mint that produced the coin. On Roman coins the obverse would have contained a likeness of the Emperor and an inscription with his name and any titles, while the reverse would depict any of a number of gods, depictions of battle and other pictures as well as further inscriptions to include mottos, mint, valuation marks and control marks.

Dies were typically engraved using a punch set and a hammer. The process was pretty straight forward, the engraver would place a punch on the die face, align it carefully, then tap it sharply with a lightweight hammer to get a good clean imprint. This was repeated until the desired design was finished. The same would then be done to the bottom die.

Making Flans

A flan was a blank disk of metal that would be struck to make a coin. In period, silver or gold (the ancient romans also use bronze) was melted down, poured out into molds and hammered into sheets of a measured thickness, then cut into circles (flans) with shears. The flans were weighed, and any that were under-weight were melted down again and the process was repeated until a supply of accurately weighted flans had been produced. For high-value coins (like those made from gold), the flans would have been made intentionally too heavy, then after the coins were struck, they would be filed or trimmed to the exact weight, which allowed the final appearance of the coin to be adjusted before it left the mint.

Strking Coins

MoneyerWhen striking the coins, an anvil or large stump/block of wood with a hole drilled into it would have been used to aid in the process. One of the dies would have been placed inside of the hole, face-up. A flan would have then been placed on the bottom die, with the top die being placed face-down on the flan. The Moneyer would then wrap one hand around the dies in order to hold the top die vertical and keep the dies centered on the flan. Finally, either the worker or an assistant would strike the top die sharply with a sledgehammer, and thus a coin was produced.


Coffman, James, The Moneyers Handbook, Self-published, Reprint 2005.

Hammered Coinage, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammered_coinage

Zander H. Klawans, Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins, Printed 2003

Found Upon the Web 6/23/13

A sample of the items Found Upon the Web last week: Apicius’ last meal, child labor in the Elizabethan theatre, and new insights from what crusaders … left behind.

Read More…

The SCA – An article from a newcomer

“While I am very new to the SCA at only 4 months in (there are many people who are lifetime members, with generations of family participating at events) – so I am by no means an expert on everything that the SCA is or does. This article is written from the viewpoint of a newcomer, and with the intent to help promote others to check it out as well. With that being said, perhaps we should start with what the SCA (The Society for Creative Anachronism) is and its history…”

This is a very nice article written from the view point of a newcomer to the SCA. She lives in the Kingdom of Caid and has graciously given permission for the Middlegate Key to link to her article. To read the full article follow this link:


Going to your 1st Event

This article was found on Stefan’s Florilegium and was originally written by Lady Alison Wodehalle. It is printed here with her permission.

Events are what we do everything else for, choosing garb, learning fighting or other skills, so that we can go and pretend that we are in the Middle Ages for a day or a weekend. For some people an event is the first time they have contact with the SCA, for others they have attended several meetings and practices before ever going to an event. Neither way is more or less correct than the other.

Types of events

You will have more fun at your first event, if you do a little reading first. There are some things to know before you go to an event. The obvious first thing to consider is which type of event to go to. Most events have a theme, sometimes there will be more than one type of theme or activity available. Some are classroom or teaching events, and are called “scholas” or “collegiums”. These can include a very wide variety of topics on any of the activities offered within the SCA. There are also events which are mostly geared to fighting, such as Southern Region Spring War Practice, or Crown Tourney. Some events are mostly about archery, or cooking, or costuming. And some are mostly ceremonial in nature, such as Coronation. Then there are the events that combine activities like Kingdom Crusades (which is a border war between the East and Atlantia) where fighting takes place alongside of classes, and is followed by the great court of Atlantia and the East. The event announcement will state the theme or the activities that are available at that event, and in the East Kingdom these are found in the kingdom newsletter, as well as on-line at the kingdom’s website.

Some events are designated as a Royal Progress, which is an event the King or the Queen, or both, will be attending. On the EK website, a royal progress is noted with a gold crown next to the event announcement. The events with the silver crown are ones which the “Heirs” (prince and princess) will be attending. Generally court occurs at these events and that usually means awards will be given out, perhaps someone you know will be a recipient (see the section on court). The things to be aware of are that it is likely to be a busier event that usual. If the Royals cross your path, it is polite to show deference and bow or curtsey, and they are addressed as “Your Majesty”. There is no reason to be shy of attending a Royal Progress, the pomp and circumstance can make it great fun!

Special thoughts for Newcomers

While you are trying to decide which event, consider that if you have not yet met many people it may be somewhat boring to go to an event that does not have a schedule of activities. This is because at these events people gather in garb to work on small projects and chat with each other, and usually to enjoy some food. Since events are meant to attract attendees from throughout the kingdom, the hosting group will expect to see unfamiliar faces, they will not automatically know that you are new, and they may be busy with the chores of running the event. So people may not make a point of introducing themselves and helping you to get started. For some people being new is less difficult because they are comfortable approaching strangers to start a conversation, for many others it is not easy.

There some ways of dealing with getting to know people. The things that work best are going to practices and meetings beforehand so that you will know a few people before you arrive at the event. Choose an event that is primarily classes. By choosing an event that is a schola or collegium you will be able meet the people in your classes in a small group setting, you will learn more about the SCA, have a place to be, and something to do. Classes of any type are a good beginning event.. Also events featuring activities for which you have already been attending practices, would also make a good first event. Lastly, the best answer is to get involved!!! Offer assistance in the kitchen (just go to the door of the kitchen ask to be put to work), they can ALWAYS use more help, you will get to know some of the people, and they will welcome and respect your contribution. Introduce yourself as a newcomer and ask people what they are wearing, what they are working on, what the various badges they are wearing mean, etc. It is a good way to start a conversation, and you will learn more about the SCA.


Read the event announcement carefully. Look for all the details about the schedule, about what is allowed at this event such as pets or alcohol, and about the fee structure. Check the location carefully to make certain it is a place you can get to. When you decide on an event, read the section in the announcement on registering for it. Pre-registration is a good idea, particularly if there is a feast that you would like to attend, since many feasts sell out in advance. However, if you will not be attending the feast or if there isn’t one, it is usually OK to arrive that day and register at the gate. You will need to sign a waiver, for yourself and any minor children that are with you, unless you are member and have a blue card (which signifies that the SCA has a waiver on file for you). If you are not a member, you will be paying a surcharge along with your entry fee. Children owe this surcharge when the fee for children is the SAME as for adults, and the child is NOT a member. Most events will require a separate waiver be signed for each minor attending that event.

What to bring:

Directions to the event.
Identification (photo ID)
SCA Membership cards
Garb (you can dress before leaving home, or use the changing room when you arrive)
Cloak, if you will not be leaving until the evening
Pouch or basket, or some means of carrying your “stuff”
Possibly a pen/pencil and a tablet
Money, in case you owe fees at the gate, or you would like to shop at the merchants, or to pay small fees at classes such as for handouts, or kits (the teachers are volunteers also, no one is covering the cost of supplies for them). Something to occupy yourself if you have downtime.

On board, off board, and dayboard

These terms can be confusing and you will see these words as part of the fee schedule on the event announcements. The term “board” is old terminology in which a table laden with food was referred to as a “board” or sometimes as a “groaning board” if the amounts of food are great. This comes from the style of table often used in the Middle Ages, in which a board over two fancy “sawhorses” served as the table. This allowed them to completely dismantle and move the table when the meal was over to allow for dancing and other merriments.

In the SCA, “on board” means that you will be staying for feast and paying the fee for feast. “Off board” of course means the opposite, you will not be sharing feast. Both of those terms refer primarily to the evening meal. Dayboard is the mid-day meal or sometimes more like hearty snacks. Usually dayboard is included in the site fee. Whether or not a dayboard is provided will be in the event announcement, as well as whether it is included in the site fee.

Attending Feast

So you have decided to attend feast and see what happens there. You need to prepare a little in advance. First, you need “feast gear” since it is not generally supplied by the event. It was normal for travelers in the Middle Ages to carry with them their own knife, spoon, and possibly trencher (like a plate). We follow that custom for many reasons. It looks more period to have a variety of feast gear on the table. It is a LOT of work to put on a feast, and that saves the staff (who also paid to attend the event) from sorting out, cleaning, and making sure they have enough plates, knives, etc to go around. What you need are the basics to set a place at the table, and many people bring more than the basics. Do not invest much money at first, gather basics, then slowly decide on what or how to upgrade. Here is a list to help you choose things that you might want to bring.

mug for water or juice
glass for wine (or ceramic cup that would not break easily)
knife, spoon, and fork (forks were not used until very late period through much of Europe)
candle holder
matches or lighter
cloth napkin
table cloth or placemat
basket or bag to carry it all in
extra bowl for “slop” (leftovers to clear off your plate between courses)
serving spoon so that neither you nor your table mates need to put into the community dish, forks and spoons you have been eating from.
paper towels to clean up with
large plastic bag to place dirty dishes in to take home to clean
Consider bringing something you enjoy drinking. There are usually pitchers of something to drink available but it may not be to your taste.
If it is not a “dry site”, then you may also bring wine, or mead, etc. with you to have for dinner, within the limits of the mundane laws.

Seating Chart

When you arrive at the event, ask about the “seating chart.” It is often available at the gate as you troll in. This chart will be a layout of the tables as they will be set for the feast. There will be spaces for individuals to sign up for where they want to sit. If this is your first feast, feel free to ask for help finding good table mates. Most tables at SCA feasts seat 8-10 people, and so most likely you will have company at your table. Sometimes the seating chart is not available until later in the day, but they will be able to tell you that at Troll. Sign up early to make sure your party is able to sit together.


Most feasts have 3-4 courses, lasting 2-3 hours. The food usually is served on a large platter to the whole table, which is then passed to each person until everyone has a chance to have a portion. At first take a small amount. You may not like the dish, in which case you do not want to have to throw a lot away, and if you do like the dish, opportunities for second servings can be taken after everyone has had a first serving. Because there are so many courses, it is assumed that individual portions will be small, and if you eat a lot during the first course you will not be able to enjoy the remaining courses. Sometimes the host provides entertainment during the feast, between removes.


If you or anyone attending with you has any food allergies, forward the allergy concerns to the head cook when you pre-register for the event and for feast. Most event announcements will have a notation about who to contact for information related to feast. At the event, you can ask to see a list of ingredients. The list should be available at most events. Sometimes a harried head cook may not have had the time to write it down in advance. Feel free to ask to speak with the cooks and explain what your allergy is, and ask if any of those ingredients will be in the feast.

When this article was written, Lady Alison was the East Kingdom Chatelaine.
Copyright 2012 by Alison Choyce. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.

Fashion: First Book of Fashion

How did a 16th Century accountant end up creating one of the most unique documents in the history of fashion – the world’s first fashion book? Follow this link to learn more.