Wednesday, October 14, 2015

About Henry V's Holigost

A 12 October 2015 note from Historic England comments on the likely discovery of Henry V's great ship Holigost, and while it would be expected that an organization with that name would concern itself with such discoveries, the attention it has received from news agencies indicates the continuing regard in which the medieval is held. Among others, the BBC, the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the Telegraph discuss the find; the various outlets, each addressing different (if overlapping) audiences, bespeak a wide interest in the England of the Hundred Years War, which event serves as one of the defining events of what "medieval England" means.

That there is some room to question what "medieval England" means is noted, at least in part, here. While the comments I make in "More about Short-form Medievalist Scholarship"--which identify likely ends of the medieval in England as 1476, 1485, and 1534--would clearly put the ship, which fought for England between 1415 and 1420 (as Historic England notes) among the medieval, the thought occurs that the medieval in England could be said to register with the differentiation of the English royalty from the French nobility. That differentiation is a consequence of the Hundred Years War, so that later parts of it could be said to have removed England from the medieval (if perhaps only by the virulently anti-Gallic).

If it is, though, the French motto Historic England reports emblazoned on Holigost would serve to medievalize her. More to the point, however, the technologies employed on the ship mark the vessel as medieval. Clinker-built ships in northern and western Europe find their most prominent examples in the Viking longships of history and legend--and, at least in popular conception, the raiding Viking is one of the key figures of the medieval. (Indeed, it is a figure that caused me no small amount of trouble in the initial papers from which the Society sprang, which I detail in my contribution to Fantasy and Science Fiction Medievalisms: From Isaac Asimov to A Game of Thrones.) The single-mast construction is similarly evocative, despite an evident lack of oars to maneuver the ship or propel her in calm weather. Too, the limited reliance on gunpowder weapons and the heavier employment of the thrown gad suggest a more proximal, personal killing of the sort typically associated--again, in popular conception--with medieval warfare, even if prevailing (and incorrect) ideas of medieval warfare are of armies facing one another in shining armor, blades bared in the sunlight and dimmed by spilled blood soon after.

In any event, the seeming rediscovery of Holigost promises to offer more insight into what is "true" about some facets of medieval life--for the popular conception of medieval life is not incorrect in noting the prevalence and influence of violence in and upon it, and Holigost is a vessel of war. And that it has received the attention it has argues that there is yet value perceived in learning more about the medieval, that there is relevance still about the events of some six centuries past--a relevance we can hope for our own lives six centuries in the future.

-With thanks to Society member Brian Brooks for bringing this to attention

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