Medieval Advice for Election Day (Mmm… Marginalia #19)

Feeling stressed over the outcome of today’s election? Is the suspense getting to you? Consider this image from the Bodleian Alexander MS:


Here we have two knights barreling towards one another, caught in the final second of their joust. One moment more, and one of them will be other ground with a splintered lance sticking out of him, and the other will be kneeling before the lady who graces the center margin, receiving the victor’s crown.

If we follow the floral margins beneath the two knights, we find the artist has also included images of them from some time before the joust, receiving their respective helmets from their respective ladies. The perfect symmetries of space and time here collude, I think, to enhance the sense of suspense and tension in the center of the image. Everything is coming down to one last moment. Everything hangs in the balance.

But follow the righthand border just a bit longer, and the tension is undercut:


Frequent readers of Got Medieval will no doubt recognize, even at this distance, that the interloper in the right hand margin is a mischievous little monkey. It may be a little hard to make out what he’s doing, however, so here is a closeup:


Up above the fray of the long-fought chivalric contest, our monkey friend is free to indulge in an idyllic hobby, chasing butterflies with a knotted up hood (no doubt stolen from the marginal peasants playing blind man’s buff a few pages back).

Today’s electoral battle is going to play out how it’s going to play out. Until the lances are splintered and the crown is bestowed, take a moment to indulge yourself in your own idyllic hobby.

This is a monkey, and he approves of this message.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous Soprano

    Is there ANYTHING these people didn’t imbue with monkeys? Seriously!

  • LallaLydia

    But prithee (sorry couldn’t help myself) answer me this: why is the chick half dragon-half maiden? Is that too the work of a mischievous monkey?

  • Got Medieval

    And here we have (more) proof that I’ve been staring at medieval manuscripts too long. I didn’t even notice that the lady didn’t have normal ladyparts below the belt.

    Other than the general medieval fondness for grotesques, I can’t say.

  • Flying Lily

    I believe the lady is astride the dragon, rather than being half dragon herself. Dragon’s horned head appears to my election-tortured vision.

  • Kath

    It seems to me that the ladies in both left and right margins are probably semi-monstrous (unfortunately the far left of this folio is obscured in the photo provided through the Bodleian website, and being about 12000 miles away, I can’t check it myself!), while the central (uncrowned) lady is the only ‘human’ one. Neither of the two ‘side’ ladies is dressed the same as the central one, although the knights are identifiable by their garments. I suggest there is a comment being made about the base motives of the jousters: although a ‘real’ crown/reward is on offer, they each accept their helmets from the monstrous marginal women… Happy to be contradicted, particularly by anyone whose Old French is superior to mine who can tell me what the rubric says: Comment les gens alexander firunt noies le moure des femmes en le lew

  • Kath

    Whoops; eye-skip!

    Naturally, I meant to type “ des femmes demorant en le lew“.

  • Grymm

    Alright, playing the pedant here but if you look at the lancehead on the right you’ll notice that it is a coronet not a sharp sooooooooooo they are jousting en plaisant the idea being that a good strike with all the coronet points contacting together will cause the lance to explode, shatter under compression, and the knight who ‘breaks’ more lances with better strikes gets the girl. Jousting was a skill at arms contest and very rarely ‘to the death’ on purpose. Accidents did happen usually big splinters from the lances going through visor sights or breaths but the main idea is to show the perfect strike(and not to knock them off either)
    Rant over nothing to read here.

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