Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Guest post: A Medieval Quiz, by Jeri Westerson

Jeri Westerson, a regular guest at Reading the Past, is stopping by as part of her tour for The Demon's Parchment.  Welcome, Jeri!  She has a short and clever quiz to present today, and it's informative to boot.  How many did you get right?

A Medieval Quiz
By Jeri Westerson

In celebration of the release of my third Crispin Guest Medieval Noir, The Demon's Parchment, I’d like to offer you blog readers a quick medieval quiz to see how aware you are of certain medieval terms that might crop up in your reading. Sharpen your number two pencils. Ready?

1. The “mote” of a mote and bailey castle is
A) the high walls
B) the water barrier around the castle
C) the mound the castle sits on
D) the kind of rock used to build it

2. The term “medieval” means
A) dark and evil
B) “middle ages”
C) modern times
D) ancient times

3) A Chevalier is the same as a knight
A) True
B) False

4). What kind of English did Geoffrey Chaucer speak?
A) Anglo-Saxon
B) Old English
C) Middle English
D) None of the above

5. In a palace or manor house, a buttery is
A) the place the wine is stored
B) the place the dairy products are stored
C) the place the weapons are stored
D) none of the above

6. A hauberk is
A) a leather satchel
B) a kind of pack horse
C) a mail shirt
D) the last man in the battle line

Put your pencils down. How’d you do? Time to go through them and see what you missed.

1. The “mote” of a mote and bailey castle is…the mound the castle is built on. The term “mote” is Anglo-Norman French and means a hillock. The Normans built the first of what one might call castles in Europe, which meant a sort of fortified enclosed structure on top of a mound. The bailey is the courtyard within the walls. You thought it was the moat, didn’t you? That’s the water barrier around a castle.

2. The term “medieval” means…“middle ages.” This idea of “middle ages” was coined by the Victorians, those lovers of all things medieval and who were responsible for preserving a lot of what we know about the medieval world, though they were also fond of …well, making stuff up, too. The “middle” of these ages means they are in the middle between the classical Greek period and modern times.

3. A Chevalier is the same as a knight, true or false? True! Chevalier is French for horseman and that is essentially the earlier meaning of the idea of “knight.”

4. What kind of English did Geoffrey Chaucer speak? Chaucer spoke and wrote in Middle English, that is, the English between Old English which was mostly German or Saxon, and Elizabethan English, which is akin to modern English. Middle English was transitional. The difference was that Middle English was phonetic like German. You know all those extra letters we have in words that are silent? Well, they weren’t silent then. Take the word “knight” for instance. We pronounce it “nite.” But in Middle English, you’d pronounce all the letters in something like K-N-EE-CH-T (the ch being a glottal sound like you have a fishbone caught in the back of your throat.) But English it was and this was very important. Prior to the English of the fourteenth century, the nobility spoke Anglo-Saxon and when William the Conqueror conquered England the nobility changed over to Norman French and anybody who was anybody spoke French. It was said that in the twelfth century Richard the Lionheart didn’t even speak any form of English and barely ever set foot in England. Sort of rude of him, being king of England and all. By the time the fourteenth century rolled around, King Richard II and his court were all speaking English and Geoffrey Chaucer merely reflected that, writing his books and poetry in the mother tongue for the first time.

5. In a palace or manor house, a buttery is…the place you store and serve wine and ale. From “butt” meaning a “cask” as in “butt of malmsey,” the thing the duke of Clarence was drowned in during Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s also the place where the food is laid out and ready to be served. The buttery, that is.

6. A hauberk is a…mail shirt. I know you’re thinking “chain mail” but the proper term is simply “mail” because mail means rings or chains. In the early Middle Ages this was worn alone over the clothing to afford protection from sword hits, but by the late Middle Ages it was worn under your plate armor for extra protection where the armor didn’t cover you, like at the armpits, neck, and groin.

So there you have it. A few terms that might help you when you read medieval novels. Some of these might even show up in my novels. You can catch an excerpt of my latest, The Demon's Parchment, on my website www.JeriWesterson.com.


  1. Although I write about people who speak Texan, not Middle English, I still think Chaucer's language in Canterbury Tales is beautiful and should always be read in the original, not in translation.

    I thought I knew "buttery" from the novel Gaudy Night, but I was wrong!

  2. Ah, I got the mote, but I missed the buttery. Thanks, Jeri!

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Shelley and Lucy. Yes, words we see all the time sometimes started with quite different meanings.