Medieval Legacies

This Hundred Years War game simulates many things which have come down to us in different forms over the centuries. Some of these inheritances include the mechanics of national governments, democracy, legal concepts, and social attitudes. But many things common in the Medieval period are alien to 20th century minds. Our attempts to simulate these uniquely Medieval items has varying degrees of accuracy. Yet, while the Hundred Years War is an very accurate simulation of the mechanics of fourteenth century society, politics, and economics, a number of things cannot be simulated.

We moderns have a tendency to see the Middle Ages as a time of great social uniformity and rigidity. This is simultaneously both true and not true. Although the social, economic, and cultural patterns tended to be very stable, there were actually enormous differences in those patterns depending upon location. Society, culture, and the economy in Aragon were not the same as they were in Franche-Comte, nor was the arrangement in France-Comte very much like that in Durham, and so forth all around Europe. The main reason for this was the lack of communication. There was no TV, radio, or even printing. There were no railroads, or very many roads, for that matter. Those who did travel moved at the pace that a man or horse could walk. Most Europeans lived out their lives without travelling more than twenty miles from the place where they were born. As a result of this, differences in language were much greater than indicated by the the current plethora of langauges one finds in Europe.

News did travel. Merchants, mariners and nobles (with servants, who would converse with the local commoners) moved about, and were eagerly sought out for the "news." What passed for news changed much in the telling. Imagine if your knowledge of the world outside your town or neighboor hood depended on the gossip of travelers from afar.

The larger merchants, as well as kings and magnates, wrote each other letters with news. There weren't many skilled diplomats available, and many of them had to be careful what they put into writing lest the wrong people obtain their letters and misinterpret (or interpret very clearly) the diplomats observations. So even written communication was limited, although groups of merchants would pay to have "commercial letters" written regularly in major cities and cirulated around to those subscribing to the service. But, in a word, the world was dark by 20th century information standards.

On the other hand, the Middle Ages saw the foundation of the universities , the oldest of which --Paris (c. 1150), Salerno (1173), and Oxford (1190)-- were already long established by the time of the Hundred Years War. Written communications between scholars at the different universities (usually in Latin) was brisk and lively, another reason why nobles and merchants sought out the company of scholars. The people at the universities always seemed to have a more informed view of the world.

There are also problems of what has come to be called "mind set," the basic cultural baggage which people carry with them throughout their lives. Men and women of the fourteenth century thought in different ways than do those of the late twentieth century in just about every possible way. The role of religion in life was wholly different, ideas about the individual very nearly so. Some common modern notions as privacy, equality, respect, manners, were quite different. There is nothing that can be done to simulate the "mind-set" of the age.

Even when playing the Hundred Years War with a completely full "card" of players there would only be little more than a hundred families active in the game. In fact, in the fourteenth century there were far more than a hundred "players," even counting only the kings and great lords. In France alone there something like five percent of the families were in the social classes represented in the game, representing perhaps 50,000 souls in a population in excess of twelve million, a ratio which was higher in some other areas and lower in others. When designing the Hundred Years War an attempt was made to include somewhat of a cross-section of the more "active" segments of the society. So along with the obvious --and necessary-- sovereigns and great lords, there are a few country knights and even a couple of bourgeois merchants.

All of the Player Characters represent real people who were more or less prominent in the middle third of the fourteenth century. In the case of some of the minor positions, the Player Character represents a composite of several similar, and equally obscure, persons who flourished at the time.

In preparing the profiles of the fiefs and families involved in this simulation of the Hundred Years War, an attempt has been made to summarize the historical background as it stood in 1337. This is, however, very ahistorical. Our knowledge of the events of the past is far more accurate than was that of the people of the fourteenth century. Even a well educated man or woman of that age had what we would consider only the sketchiest understanding of events much earlier than about 300-400 years before their own times, roughly back to the period of the Norman Conquest. Anything before that began to mingle inextricably with legend. For the people of the fourteenth century, King Arthur , in reality a Romano-Celtic warlord in the sixth century, was a real person, a mighty king and founder of the famous round table. There were, indeed, a whole series of even earlier legendary rulers of Britain, such as King Lear and King Cole, of whom we hear a whisper in the play by Shakespeare and the old nursery rhyme.

Genuine history became so encrusted with myths that it is often difficult to discern the true Charlemagne or the Cid from the epic heroes which they became. Even the gentle Roman poet Virgil had, by late Medieval times, acquired the reputation of having been a mighty wizard, Virgil Magus, hero and aid to the great Roman Emperor "Octavion."

We used modern techniques to re-create the economy of 14th century Europe. Players of HYW probably have a better idea of Medieval economics than most of the kings and merchants of the time. That said, all we have in the game is gross numbers. We know much about the budgets of kings and major players. Archeologists and economic historicans have done much to sort out how the farmers and merchants of the period did business. Enough records from the period survived to allow a reasonable accurate (or at least convincing) picture of the Medieval economy to be reassembled. We know, for example, that the average Medieval magnate was a keen bookeeper, but something of a spendthrift. The concept of accummulating capital and modern banking were known (in a primitive form) to only a few bankers and similarly inclined individuals. It was only during the 14th century that double entry bookeeping was invented in Italy, and many thought (as some still do) that this was the work of the devil. Most Medieval lords and peasants lived for today when it came to economic matters. Keeping your friends and family content were more important than building a nestegg. Ones spiritual future was important and the investing of ones fortune in the construction of a cathedral or abbey was seen as a prudent investment.

Otherwise, this was the age of the "commune," where each household had to be largely self-sufficient. Factories (for the weaving of cloth) were just getting established. For most people, what they wore, what they ate and whatever they did for entertainment was home grown, or from their village. It was also a profoundly quiet age, as was all the world until the advent of recordings, radios, and televisions.

If you want to see the Medieval world, think small, think local, think isolated, and pray real hard.