Archive for the Middle Ages Category
If you were to find yourself on the outskirts of the small village of Crecy, France, on August 26 1346, you would find a sight very strange to modern eyes. Thousands of Englishmen arrayed for battle against the French, and at the head of one of the English divisions, a 16 year old boy.
His name was Edward, and he was the son of Edward III, the King of England. Today he is commonly known as the Black Prince. As the story goes, this was because he wore black armor, but this name seems to have been invented after his death. At the time, he was known as Edward Woodstock. He was only 13 when he was made the Prince of Wales. While that is a ceremonial title today, in the 14th century it involved actually governing the country of Wales. This was a large responsibility to place on a lad who was barely a teenager.
Edward was 16 by the time of the Battle of Crecy, and had a great responsibility placed upon him. The English army was organized into three divisions, or “battles” as they were called. One of them was given to the Prince of Wales. A boy of only 16 commanding about a third of the English army, around 5,000 soldiers. He did have experienced knights surrounding him, such as the earls of Warwick and Oxford, who doubtless gave him plenty of advice. However, it was still a position of great responsibility.
Although the chroniclers differ as to how the English army was positioned, it is likely that the three battles were lined up one in front of another, with the Prince of Wales in front. Whatever his position, it is clear at some point in the battle that his men came under heavy attack. The fighting was so fierce, that a messanger was sent to the King, who was overlooking the battle from a nearby windmill, to ask for succor. The knight said:
Sir, the earl of Warwick and the earl of Oxford, sir Raynold Cobham and other, such as be about the prince, your son, are fiercely fought withal and are sore handled; wherefore they desire you that you and your battle will come and aid them; for if the Frenchmen increase, as they doubt they will, your son and they shall have much ado.1
King Edward answered:
‘Is my son dead or hurt or on the earth felled?’ ‘No, sir,’ quoth the knight, ‘but he is hardly matched; wherefore he hath need of your aid.’ ‘Well’ said the king, ‘return to him and to them that sent you hither, and say to them that they send no more to me for any adventure that falleth, as long as my son is alive: and also say to them that they suffer him this day to win his spurs; for if God be pleased, I will this journey be his and the honour thereof, and to them that be about him.’ Then the knight returned again to them and shewed the king’s words, the which greatly encouraged them, and [repined] in that they had sent to the king as they did.2
The Prince and the rest of the English fought well that day, and at last the French were defeated.
Edward Woodstock lived on to become one of most famous English knights in history. A decade later, in fact, he captured King John of France at the Battle of Poitiers. Although he was next in line to the throne for many years, he never became King of England. He died in 1376 at the age of 45, just one year before his father.
When most historians today analyze why a battle was won or lost, they focus on military matters – differences in weapon technology, positioning of the troops, mistakes of the generals, morale of the soldiers, and many other factors. And while those issues are important, they leave out a major aspect. Older historians, especially those in the Middle Ages, attributed victories to the Providence of God – that God was working out His plans in the world by doling out victory or defeat.
One example of this is from the Battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346. With very heavy fighting, the English army under King Edward III defeated a vastly larger French force under King Philip. Today we can attribute the victory to the poor leadership on the French side and their rash and disordered charge, along with the professionalism of the English soldiers, and their effective use of the longbow. At the time, both sides recognized this victory as coming from God’s hand. The French attributed their defeat as from the hand of God for their pride and vanity, their greed in seeking better terms in negotiating with the English, and for their failure to launch a Crusade as they had promised to do.
At this point, King Edward’s confessor and chaplain was Thomas Bradwardine. He was present at the Battle of Crecy, and not long thereafter he preached a sermon before the king giving thanks for the victory. In his message, he systematically tore apart every argument that could be made to attribute the English’s success to anything but God. As he said, “[T]he grace of God makes us to conquer, and to triumph over adversaries … not a star, not luck, not fortune, not an accident, not an omen, especially not ourselves, but the grace of God in us.”
At the time, the church in Europe was Catholic. True Christians in the tradition of the early church were few and far between. However, Thomas Bradwardine was one of those. He was a leading scientist and diplomat, but most importantly a theologian. He was an Augustinian, and wrote against the Pelegians, who hold that men can be saved by good works. In his book entitled De causa Dei, he argued that most of the Catholic church at that time believed in a form of Pelegianism. This theological tradition continues today in Arminianism, which is just a diluted form of Pelegianism.
Bradwardine was eventually made Archbishop of Canturberry, but not long thereafter he died, a victim of the black plague. He was one of the few Christians at the time who could be said to have sound theology. He believed in predestination, holding that grace was necessary for salvation. He said that the church fathers were fallible, and that scripture was the perfect standard. With this theology, he was one of the forerunners of the Reformation. Not long thereafter, John Wycliffe arrived on the scene. Bradwardine’s writings were an influence on him, and with Wycliffe the Protestant Reformation began in England, eventually transforming the entire world.
There is an interesting prayer that appears in books and websites and is attributed to Sir Francis Drake, an English 16th century explorer and soldier. It goes like this:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Finding a source for this is far from easy. It is easy to find it quoted in many books, but only in books of inspirational prayers and quotes, not real history. These books rarely have footnotes, and finding the source of this quotation proved difficult. There is an article called Drake’s Prayer by D. Bonner-Smith from 1950 that examines the history of a prayer from Drake, but it runs much differently:
O Lord God, when though givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory; through him who for the finishing of they work laid down his life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.1
This came from the 1941 book Daily Prayer, which modernized quotes of historical figures “who did not deliberately write prayers as such, but wrote something closely akin to prayer….”
This quote originated in an article in the London Times of November 20th, 1939:
There must be a beginning of every matter, but the continuing unto the end yields the true glory. If we can thoroughly believe that this which we do is in defence of our religion and country, no doubt our merciful God for his Christ our Saviour’s sake is able and will give us victory, though our sins be red.
Published at the beginning of World War II, it served as a inspiration to a nation embarking on war.
This quote was not without basis. It seems to have come from a letter written by Drake to Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State, on May 17, 1587. He said:
There must be a begynnyng of any great matter, but the contenewing unto the end untyll it be thoroughly ffynyshed yeldes the trew glory. Yf Hanybull hda ffollowed his victoryes, it is thowght of many he had never byne take by Sepyo.
God mak us all thanckfull agayne and agayne that we have, althowghe it be lettell, mad a begennyng upon the cost of Spayne. If we can thorowghly beleve that this which we dow is in the defence of our relygyon and contrye, no doubt but out mercyfull God for his Christ, our Savyour’s sake, is abell, and will geve us victory, althowghe our sennes be reed. God geve us grace that we may feare hym, and daylly to call upon hym, so shall nether Sattan, nor his menesters prevayell agaynst us; although God permett yow to be towched in body, yeat the Lord will hold his mynd pure.2
The author in the Times took this quotation, modernized the language, and removed the references to Hannibal and the Spanish Coast.
But even this does not find us a source for the prayer given at the beginning of this post. We could find no reference to it in historical works. The first work we could find that referenced it was Cathedral Age published by the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation in 1985, but there we can not be sure it is even attributed to Francis Drake as we don’t have a copy of the book. The date 1577 is referenced at times, perhaps this is a corruption of the 1587 date for the other rewritten prayer.
Do you have any thoughts or more information about either of these prayers? Please contact us and let us know.
1. Drake’s Prayer by D. Bonner-Smith in The Mariner’s Mirror, volume 36, issue 1, 1950, p. 86-87.
2. The Life, Voyages, and Exploits of Adirmal Sir Francis Drake, Knt by John Barrow (London: John Murray Albemarle Street, 1843) p. 233-234.
The First Crusade, from 1096 – 1099, was a truly remarkable event. Tens of thousands of soldiers, pilgrims and churchmen from all across Europe, impelled by religious zeal, a search for adventure, or a desire for money, fame or glory, set out to capture Jerusalem from the Muslim. There are many facets to the story, but one of the most interesting is the rise and fall of Peter Bartholomew.
Finding the Holy Lance
In 1098 the Crusade was in crisis. It was held up at Antioch, still hundreds of miles from its target – Jerusalem. After a long and difficult siege they had captured the city, but a large Muslim army arrived almost immediately and besieged them. The Christians were starving and dying of disease. It seemed uncertain that they would be able to hold out. In this time of peril the crusaders received a message that many believed was divine interposition on their behalf. An insignificant pilgrim named Peter Bartholomew came to the leaders and reported that he had had a vision in which St. Andrew told that the Holy Lance, the spear used to pierce Jesus’s side, could be found buried at a church in Antioch.
Workmen went to the church and dug into the floor. They found nothing and were about to abandon the attempt, when Peter jumped into the hole and pulled out a spear. Most were convinced by this discovery. With the soldiers encouraged by this supposed sign from heaven, they sallied out from the city and defeated the encircling armies on June 28th.
The Ordeal by Fire
During the next months, Peter Bartholomew came to hold a place of power with the leaders of the crusade. He reported that he had many visions from St. Andrew, crusaders who had fallen in battle, and even Jesus Christ himself. He reported messages which he said they had given him, in which they gave instructions for the army and rebuked or encouraged the crusaders. Peter and the Lance were being used by Count Raymond, who was struggling with Bohemond for power.
There were those who harbored doubts. Why was it Peter who had discovered the Lance, when so many were looking for it? Why was the Lance in Antioch at all? Why was it a fanciful Arabic weapon, rather than a simple Roman spear? Finally matters came to a head. In a council of crusade leaders, Peter declared:
I wish and beg that a very large fire be built; and I will pass through the midst of it with the Lance of the Lord. If it is the Lance of the Lord, I will pass through the fire unhurt, but if it is not, I will be burned in the fire. For I see that neither signs nor witnesses are believed.1
What Peter was requesting was an ordeal of fire, a practice not unheard of during the Middle Ages. The person being tested would be exposed to either fire or red hot iron, and then they would be examined immediately, or three days later, to see if the person was either uninjured or had a wound that was healing quickly.
On April 8, 1099, two large fires were built next to each other, the flames reaching 50 feet into the air. Before a large crowd who had assembled to watch the proceeding, chaplain Raymond spoke:
If Almighty God spoke face to face with this man … let him pass through the fire unhurt. If, however, it is a falsehood, may he be burned, together with the Lance which he will carry in his hand!2
After kneeling for a moment in prayer, Peter set off through the fire, Lance in hand. He emerged on the other side living, though he did have sizable burns on his body. The ordeal was declared a success, and the multitude crowded around him, rejoicing and trying to seize a piece of his garment to keep as a relic.
The leaders had spoken too soon. Several days later, on April 20, Peter died. Some reported that he had received mortal injuries in the fire, though his remaining supporters argued that he was injured by the crowd.3
It is impossible to establish events of Peter Bartholomew’s life with absolute certainty, especially regarding the many visions that he professed to have seen. However, several points can be established with certainty, and they may prove applicable in evaluating other mystics.
First, Peter was a fake. If God was indeed sending him visions, he would not have allowed him to fail the test, by dying either from wounds received in the fire, or inflicted on him by the crowds. Whether he was somehow seeing visions, or he was just inventing them in his own head, they were not from God.
Second, he fully believed that he was receiving genuine visions from God. He willingly subjected himself to the ordeal of fire. If he had known he was inventing them, he would never have consented, as he would have obviously been burnt. Again, it is impossible to know with certainty what was happening in Peter’s mind. He may have really been seeing things, or perhaps he deceived so many others that he convinced himself. Either way, Peter was a fraud who was exposed at his own request.