Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is it wrong to seek Renown?

re-posted from the Armour Archive:

The question was posed: Is it wrong to seek Renown?

and I have answered:

Renown is a good thing. It is a deterrent to my enemies, and thus allows me to serve my liege lord better and to protect my people. But like Wealth (another good thing that allows me to serve my liege lord better and to protect my people) it is possible to both seek and acquire it in a bad way and thus bring dishonor upon myself and my liege.

Doing praiseworthy deeds is an essential prerequisite for achieving renown. It is also the simplest and best way to seek renown, and in a perfect world it would be all that is needed.

However, in this imperfect world it is quite possible to do praiseworthy deeds and remain unknown. Thus one who would seek renown must seek out venues where the Body of Honor will observe his deeds, must seek to become known to the Body of Honor so that his diverse deeds will be united into a single accumulated reputation, and must bear distinctive markings upon the field so that his deeds can be correctly attributed to the right person. Seeking renown in these ways seems good and right to me.

Sir Vitus wrote eloquently on this last matter in The Anvil of Virtue and I have taken his words to heart. Where before I often carried symbols of Ansteorra on my shield even while pursuing individual deeds of arms, now I save such gear for the battlefield and carry my own distinct arms in personal deeds and tournaments.

I make some effort to meet and cross swords with the knights and other serious students of chivalry in my kingdom both so that I can learn from them and in the hope that they may remember my name. Of course I could always do more...and he who does more is more worthy. As my prowess improves I hope to become more diligent in attending those tournaments and deeds of arms where individual prowess can be more readily displayed.

When I posted the name and arms of the Bryn Gwlad War Company on this forum I was seeking to improve our recognition so that our actions on the field could bring us renown. Even when I post my thoughts on topics of chivalry I am aware that here, as everywhere and always, my words will be weighed and judged and my reputation will be increased or diminished.

Grandstanding, boastfulness and criticism of others are common ways to seek renown badly. In war, the man who pursues personal glory rather than pursuing victory for the King's army may gain renown for a time, but he does not truly serve his liege and in time may come to ruin. Duke Cariadoc has offered us a helpful guide to avoid boastfulness in this poem:
"Don't boast of your might
Till you learn how to fight
Or after--or ever at all."

And as for criticizing others, I'm sure that no one in pursuit of chivalry would ever do that so I feel no need to critique them for it. *rolls his eyes* In all seriousness there are times when a private word of concern to an individual (or in the case of a squire, their knight) can be helpful. But public criticism of others rarely helps anyone and tends to identify the speaker as a gossip at best and at worst a self-serving, back-biting toady.

The temptation towards each of these false paths to renown is very great, much like the temptation toward false paths to wealth. Being human, each of us is likely to fall short in one way or another from time to time. May the Good Lord preserve me from such errors and forgive me when I fail.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is authentic?

re-posted from the Armour Archive

We speak of authenticity as if it were a single and simple thing, but that is often not the case. Modern re-enactors, martial artists and sport combat enthusiasts all use and maintain their armour in different ways, and none of us use it just like the original armour was used. This often forces us into a variety of compromises.

1. Chemical and physical composition - we can measure the composition and even analyze the crystalline structure of medieval armours and use that as a basis for planning our reconstructions. If we did this then as I understand it we would use far more work-hardened wrought iron for pre-1350 armour than is currently done. For post 1350 armour a steel of moderate carbon content, at least close to the surface of the steel, would most commonly be appropriate. Modern 1018 mild steel is not a very good simulator of either of these materials. Modern 1050 steel may be as close as we can get to the later armour material without custom-smelting steel with deliberate impurities for reproduction purposes. And those impurities varied from time to time and place to place, with the most "desireable" impurities resulting in a reputation for the local ore to produce "good steel" in places like Solingen, Germany. There is nothing commercially available that comes particularly close to the wrought iron used in earlier armour.

2.Structural performance - If you want your armour to have a comparable resistance to denting/deformation to what the original would have had, you might be willing to forego a close chemical match in favor of some other material that gets the job done. Thus 4130 alloy steel might be used instead of 1050 to get a similar end result. Likewise, a thicker piece of mild 1018 steel might be used to achieve the dent resistance that you would expect from any piece of armour from the age of plate. This kind of thinking may have contributed to the use of very heavy 12 and even 10 gauge armour by some people within the SCA, and the corresponding belief that plate armour is inherently too heavy to wear without handicapping your combat ability.

3. Weight and thickness - If we are actually trying to do something in our armour, the weight becomes a critical factor. This is where mild steel fails IMHO. If you need to add inauthentic weight/ thickness in order to get even marginally acceptable structural performance from your armour and this causes you to perform/behave inauthentically while wearing it, what is the point? Of course, for locations where your historical exemplar didn't wear armour, the most authentic weight is as close to zero as possible.

4. Finished shape - This factor gets a bit tricky but I think it is important. I see little to no evidence that knights and their well-armed retainers went about in armour battered and dented until it looks like a prune. If you use your armour to withstand hard contact through multiple bouts, multiple times per week and you do not have the services of a professional armourer on staff to daily remove the signs of this wear and tear, then you may achieve a more authentic appearance and presentation by using armour that retains its original finished shape much better than the original would have done. In this way spring steel armour may give a more authentic appearance under actual conditions of use than some other options, even when used to represent what might originally have been wrought iron.

5. Polish - Similar to the shape argument, a case can be made that medieval armour wearers did not go around looking like rusty buckets. If you will be wearing your armour rain or shine, multiple times per week and you do not have the paid staff to polish it between uses, then you may again be able to maintain a more authentic appearance with a more rust resistant alloy of steel. Note that this does not give carte blanche for wearing mirror-polished stainless with in-authentic shaping, nor does it allow the active fighter to go long without needing to clean up tape marks and other marks of use, but it does allow a more moderate workload while maintaining a suitable, authentic appearance on the field.

With all of these parameters of authenticity in mind, I currently choose to make most of my combat armour from 410 alloy spring stainless. For a purely display piece or an exploration of medieval armour manufacturing technologies I would make different choices. Others may weight these factors differently and select different compromises, and that is fine too.

Progress this weekend

We had a good turnout for Open Shop Day on Saturday with Aedan, Kansuke, Uther, Mary and Gracie all working on various projects. Those who didn't stay to the end missed out on the barley porridge, which was proclaimed to be delicious. Mary now has her own sword, gloves, half-gauntlet, gambeson, vambraces, rerbraces, aluminum elbow cops, and good progress towards a set of gamboised cuises with aluminum splints and aluminum knee cops.

We modified a mostly-unusable helm (the blue one with the really tall point) to fit an actual human being and after a bit of welding it will be ready for her to use. All she needs now is to finish these projects and add a gorget and a coat of plates in order to take the field in her own gear.

Unfortunately the elbow cops cracked a bit during assembly. I tried to use a dart and rivet pattern in order to get a deep point but the street-sign aluminum did not hold up to that tight of a curve. I am having better luck with dished knees so I may try a pair of dished elbows as well.

I cut and ground a new shield grip for a center-grip shield out of 1/8"x2"x7" steel bar, so now it is ready to be curled in around a 1/2" wooden dowel. I think I'll try heating the sides with my propane torch before I curve them. I've done it cold in the past but it takes a lot of force to get that metal to move. Once they are in position I'll just add a rawhide spiral-wound covering and the grip is finished.

I have made good progress on the central ridge for my new helm. I did a first pass of creasing the ridge with a blunt chisel, working with a 1/2" channel routed into a piece of pine board which I then clamped to the top of my workbench with side blocks to keep the metal band centered over the channel and a wood shim clamped in place to provide a guide for the chisel. This gave me a very straight first crease, but I could feel that a lot of the energy was being absorbed by the soft wood. So for a second pass I used 2 steel pipes about 1.25" in diameter, clamped into my vice. Using the initial crease as a guide I was able to place the chisel accurately and bend the metal band into a much deeper V. My son also helped a lot by coming out to the garage and holding the band while I worked with the hammer and chisel. Then for a third pass I placed this V inverted over a 1/4" rod that Gaston and I had welded to the side of my dishing form (the cut-off end of an oxygen tank) and hit it on both sides of the V with my customized peening hammer. My thanks to Halberds on the Armour Archive ( for this idea. A bit more work to even up the shape of the cross-section and I will be ready to adjust the curve and begin marking and punching holes. This helm is made of 16 gauge 410 alloy spring stainless steel, and it will be pretty much bullet proof when it is finished.

The Quest

Ok, with too much on my plate already, why start a blog?

I wanted a place to collect some online essays, to report progress on several projects, to solicit feedback and suggestions about project designs and techniques, and to share tips and suggestions for others who may find themselves on a similar quest.

So what is the Dragon? In The Right Stuff Chuck Yaeger speaks about a dragon that lives in the air. To him the dragon was the sound barrier. For me the Dragon represents several things, all related to my study of medieval history. It is Prowess and Craftsmanship and Authenticity and Knowledge and Franchise. It is Largesse and Loyalty and Comradery. It the sum of all good things that I seek to achieve within the context of a game that is also both a hobby and a lifestyle.

But on a deeper level, the Dragon is my own weakness, a set of virtues in which I often fall painfully short. It is Dilligence and Patience, Consideration and Empathy. The Quest is a quest for self-improvement that reaches into every part of my life, my relationships, and my work.

I am not questing against the Dragon. I do not seek to defeat him. I seek to come to grips with him, to tame him, and to ride him off into the future.

(There, is that broad and grandiose enough for a first post?)