Gunpowder had been discovered in China by 850 A.D. by that most common method of scientific discovery: it was an accident. Alchemists, seeking the elixir of immortality, developed gunpowder instead. How ironic.
An early account described the event: “Some have heated together the saltpeter, sulfure and carbon of charcoal with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house burnt down.”
The first recorded militaristic use was in 919 A.D., and by the 11th century, bombs filled with the stuff were being used in China. ‘Fire cannon’, ‘rocket’, ‘missile’ and ‘fireball’ appear repeatedly in official Song histories, and a reference to a ‘firing cannon’ used in warfare came in 1126.
It was actually abandoned as a military weapon soon after, but it was not forgotten. It slid to the West. In 1280, al-Hasan ar-Rammah’s ‘Book of Fighting on Horseback and with War Engines’ (an exciting title, no?) mentioned a rocket device, which he called the “Chinese arrow.”
The first account of gunpowder in Europe was by the Englishman Roger Bacon in the 13th century.
“The name of the [commenda] contract is virtually untranslatable, although such loose translations as “sleeping partnership” or “business venture” have sometimes been used . . . no aspect of commercial law has been the subject of so much heated controversy as the origin, legal character, and economic function as the commenda.” —Robert S. Lopez and Irving W. Raymond, Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World: Illustrative Documents
Merriam-Webster defines it as “a form of trust in use in the middle ages in which goods are delivered to another for a particular enterprise…” Well that’s non-specific. But it leaves a lot of room for variations. Even criminal variations…
Corruption in 13th & 14th Century England
England in the 13th and particularly the 14th century was in many ways the wild west. A wild west with mafia. Local brigands formed what were essential war parties that roamed the countryside, selling their swords to the highest bidder, often for short periods of time, executing tasks that included blackmail, intimidation, and violence. They might serve the very person they’d intimidated, blackmailed, or assaulted days earlier. And they were certainly not above simple extortion–you pay the ‘protection’ fee, or you get attacked.
This did not just apply to landowners. Royal judges on the judicial circuit were routinely targeted, for bribes and, failing that, straight up violence. Standing against them was extremely hazardous to your health.
In all ways, these men, whether operating as an independent criminal band, or pledged to some lord, wrecked mayhem on the countryside, the law, and the citizenry. The rule of law broke down entirely in parts of England.
Petty lords and great ones waged constant raids and attacks on one other–bishops were in this game too–preying on the countryside as they went, taking money, food, supplies, valuables, wives, daughters, horses, and really, whatever they wanted. They sacked abbeys and burned homes. Sometimes, they did this just for sport. Violence was endemic and horrific, and common people had little recourse. if you’re picturing Game of Thrones, you’re getting the idea.
It was in this world I placed the commenda and Sophia’s father, Judge Darnly.
The Mistral Wind
One of the ‘winds of wine,’ Kier described the Mistral wind pretty well in Deception. It blows primarily from the N/NW, a fierce, cold wind that can reach sustained speeds of 40 m.p.h and gusts of 115 (!!) and causes sudden storms in the Mediterranean. It also blows from the W, but when so, it is less cold, and has a more local effect.
Winemakers claim it cools down the vines and causes vital evaporation on the grapes, affecting sugar, acidity, and the subtle blend of flavors. It also blows mold off the grapes, thus one of the Mistral’s many nicknames: “Mud-Eater.”
The name means ‘masterly,’ and it is responsible for the sunny climate and fresh, clear air. It blows away pollution and mold and heralds good weather. But you have to first get through the Mistral, which can be grueling. In Provence, farmhouses used to be built facing south, the their north-facing walls entirely window-free. For centuries, all manner of ailments and attributes have been blamed on the Mistral: headaches, edginess, and the bad behavior of husbands, pets, and children. (Apparently not women’s bad behavior would be blamed on something else. Shall we guess?) Some say the Mistral is what drove Vincent Van Gogh to chop off his own ear.
And upon a time, a law stated that anyone who claimed to have gone mad on account of the Mistral could be pardoned of their crime…. I do believe there’s a story there.
I love this man’s description of the Mistral: http://www.holiday-vacation-rentals-plus.com/provence-mistral-wind-of-wrath.html
That’s one serious wind!
Technically from the Age of Sail (i.e. the Early Modern period, running loosely from the latter half of the 1500’s to 1862), I used the term ‘sea shanty’ in Deception because it’s appropriately atmospheric and readers can immediately hear the rhythmic, “call and response” cadence in their minds.
I made up the song that Kier taught Sophia’s father, ‘Dark Was Her Heart And Drowned Was Her Lover,’ drawing from two actual shanties, ‘The Drowned Lover’ and ‘The Three Drunken Maidens.’
Kier bought a whole pile of ready-made gowns and dropped them on Sophia’s bed one morning to help her to adopt the guise of a wealthy shipping widow. Ready-made clothes may seem anachronistic—it’s the middle ages after all—but it was perfectly normal. Well, perhaps not in the abundance Kier did it, but that’s just his style.
Contrary to popular notion, there were indeed ready-made clothes available to the medieval woman, usually expensively so, at a mercer and some tailor shops. There were also a great many secondhand-clothing merchants, who were closely regulated, as clothing was much more valuable than we view it today.
That said, most wealthy women’s clothes were of course handmade at home, or else commissioned to a tailor—you provided the fabric, then he (or she) stitched it up (and bonus: the tailor provided the thread!)
If you wanted embellishments on your clothes, you hired the particular merchant who did whatever embellishment had caught your eye: fur, embroidery, painted beads, metal spangles to catch the light and make a pretty noise, buckles, clasps, silk ribbons. You could have anything you wanted…for a price.
Pachisi was played throughout the middle ages in the Middle East and India, as were its offshoots, Chaput and Chausar. It didn’t come to England in any widespread way until centuries later during the British occupation of India. But it was a medieval game, and I thought it reasonable that Kier, who’d travelled so much, would know of it.
Stefan the Innkeeper offered Sophia his very best cheese upon her arrival at the Inn of the Spanish Lady. Technically, I don’t know if a ‘Gloucester cheese’ existed in the late 13th century, but it’s been a traditional, semi-hard cheese made in Gloucestershire since at least the 16th century, and at one time, was made only with the milk from Gloucester cattle, which almost went extinct. I pre-revived them Deception, which is of course impossible, but this is fiction, so enjoy your cheese!