Friday, May 22, 2015

Back to Mesa Verde with the Watkins and Square Tower House for the First Time


The Wednesday before last we rose early and drove to the Durango Airport to collect Mark and Michelle Watkins, friends we haven’t seen in way too many years.  And as we hugged and bundled backpacks and luggage into the car it was also as if we’d seen them yesterday.  The last time we were together we did Horseshoe Canyon and the San Rafael Swell.  This time we were headed for Mesa Verde.

It could be the best way to make sense of Mesa Verde would be with one of Edward Tufte’s clever strategies for projecting high-dimensional objects into a diagram that would necessarily be a map but something else, too.  It was a geographic center of civilization on the Colorado Plateau at a critical time, the twelfth century, but it was also a cultural center, too, exporting exquisite, geometric ceramic art to many other places in the Colorado Plateau and importing exotic objects like Glymeris shell armbands from the Gulf of Mexico.  In an entirely different sense it is a unique temporal nexus for the American Southwest.  It was where cowboy history touched prehistory on a snowy night in December 1888 when Richard Wetherhill discovered Cliff Palace whilst looking for lost cattle.  Wetherhill also first hosted Gustaf Nordenskiöld, the Swedish Scholar who first brought a professional practice of Archaeology to the Southwest.  How many dimensions does that make?  How do you draw a picture?

Then there are the cliff dwellings.

We were insanely lucky.  Cliff Palace, the largest and most famous cliff dwelling, was closed for restoration.  The night we arrived rain thundered on the roof then, in the morning, turned to snow on the Mesa.  The result was that our necessarily ranger-guided early hike to Balcony House only had 10 people.  Did I mention how dangerous it is to do Balcony House in those conditions?  The slippery, steep descent from the cliffs?  The climb up a narrow, icy thirty foot ladder to the site itself in shrieking winds?  The long dark passages with surprising drops and low doorways, some so close you’re on hands and knees pushing your pack ahead of you with your nose?  Well, actually, the weather broke just before we began the hike so that while it was cool and a little damp, it was otherwise beautiful.  Further, the trail is more than polite in almost any weather and the ladder was neither narrow nor icy, though it is 30 feet high.  The dark passages, which are great fun, do exist.  Frankie Anderson, the ranger who led us was professional, very well informed and gave us sufficient time to explore and photograph.  As we were doing so, Mark commented that cliff dweller culture must have shared aspects with contemporary Japanese culture:  the people must have been adept at sharing close personal space and, perhaps, at developing an internal psychological space as a counter balance.  Perhaps there were even similarities in etiquette.  I’d glimpsed Anasazi culture from a new point of view even though I’d been in Balcony House many times before.  As far as I know, no one bumped his or her head.  And the climb out, though quicker, was as fun as the one in.

In the afternoon we visited the park museum, did the Soda Canyon hike which leads to an overlook of Balcony House and also walked down to Spruce Tree House.  There we encountered Ranger Luann Andrew, who shared my perplexity at how Craig Childs, the author/adventurer who wrote the admirable House of Rain about his pursuit of Anasazi culture and prehistory, managed to get access to the back of the site, almost 89 feet into the cliff face, which is always off limits.  More interestingly, she gave us a comprehensive tour of the remnants of the visual art on the ruin left by the inhabitants as well as Nordenskiöld’s site number and James Wetherhill’s initials.

Dinner at the lodge’s restaurant, “the Metate Room,” was a disappointment.  We learned that the original chef had left and to my mind the new one hasn’t found his footing yet; I hope he does so.

The sunset view of the rolling green mesa and red rock canyons from the balcony patio and restaurant are one of those glorious top of the world vistas.  It’s an archetypical vision of the West, its great distances and cerulean and cumulous skies, suggesting promise, glory, mystery and loss.  In the far distance Ship Rock stands on the horizon like a ghostly castle.  Though I grew up far to the north, it’s one of those views that feels as much like home as an old backyard.  We forwent our usual evening Bridge game for an early night.

The next morning we drove to the Square Tower House Overlook where we met our guide for a hike down to the Square Tower House itself.  It was one of the first hikes into the site since it had been closed for restoration and the Park service only offers a half dozen or so every year, limiting those to less than ten participants.  Ironically, the guide turned out to be the same Ranger Andrew we’d met yesterday.  She appraised us while telling us what to expect, decided we were fit enough for the trail and then we set off for the descent.  The first 20 foot ladder was straightforward.  The second came after a short, but protected, ledge walk to stairs blasted into the rock in the 1920s beside much shallower steps carved out of the rock by the original inhabitants.  The transition from the rock stairs to the ladder disappearing below looked tricky but turned out to be simple.  After that it was a straight-forward back country walk with the site slowly revealing itself through the Pinion and Juniper forest before us.

Only half the site is visible from the overlook above.  What you don’t see is the intricate multi-story construction into the cliff itself which rises to a beautifully bricked rounded tower room called the Crow’s nest.  I was so entranced by the architecture that I didn’t do what I normally do at such sites, which is spend time ruminating about how the site was built and what life was like here.  Frankly, it was just too beautiful and mysterious.  Next time.  Ranger Andrew turned out to be one of the best guides we’ve ever had in the Park; she gave us an excellent précis of the site’s history and prehistory and  ensured we saw all of the rock art, much of which is easily missed.

In the afternoon we did the Cliff top Petroglyph trail, which was rather muddy from all the weather, and made it back just as a another storm broke.  We’d hoped to do Wetherhill Mesa as well that day but it was closed due to lightning danger.  As we drove back to the lodge for our last evening I was already missing Mesa Verde.

The next day we decamped for Cortez and an afternoon at the Anasazi Heritage Center Museum which, next to the Edge of the Cedars, has one of the best displays of Anasazi artifacts.  Visiting either museum is always a wistful and melancholy experience for me:  I’m always reminded of what’s lost, not just particular artifacts, but the individual stories of the people themselves.  Their architecture, their migrations revealed in the archaeological record and their art suggest a lost history which must have been rich, dramatic and probably pertinent to the stresses our own culture faces.

In the evening, thanks to recommendations made by two different people we’d met at Mesa Verde, we found our way to the newly opened Loungin’ Lizard Restaurant in Cortez.  It’s a project of the former chef at the Mesa Verde Lodge, Brian Puett and his wife Amanda.  The chalk board menu, is definitely reminiscent of the one of the one he created for Mesa Verde, but clearly aspires to take a step up in quality and innovation.  It’s a very pleasant space, clearly frequented by the locals, including the proprietor of Drew Vineyards who dropped by our table to introduce himself when he saw us enjoying one of his wines.  I recommend the Pork, the Bison burger with Pork belly, the white chili and their root beer floats.

Monday we set out for some casual hiking in Hovenweep and were once again graced with remarkable weather.  We hiked in a particular light breeze beneath uncertain clouds that  reminded me of adolescent adventures in the San Rafael Swell and Goblin Valley to the west.  So “I walked in shower of all my days” to quote Dylan Thomas.  The castle like structures of Hovenweep, with circular towers similar to the construction of the Crow’s Nest of Square Tower House in the mesa to the east suggest cultural and technological coherence but there are enough differences to suggest pluralism and diversity as well, especially when you consider the nearby Lowry ruins site.  A paper we’d heard at the Big MACC Conference in March came to mind:  Shanna Diederichs presented evidence intimating that two cultural traditions may have lived concurrently side by side at the Dillard site which was also not far away.  The Anasazi, or Ancient Puebloans if you prefer, are growing more complex and interesting the more we tease details from what remains and that may be the only consolation for what’s lost.

Tuesday, we traveled east for a short trip to Chimney Rock and the adjacent Chacoan Great House.  Unfortunately, (and completely unnecessarily to my mind) we had to make the hike with a group but the views from the top were as spectacular as ever.  The last time we were there it was for a solstice moonrise between the pinnacles.  Then it was back to Durango for Mexican food and a last evening together at the rambling, nicely preserved Strater Hotel.  After dinner, a helpful desk agent guided us to an empty party room in the basement where we indulged ourselves with Ginger Snaps, Dalwhinnie Scotch and Bridge.  Mark and I had consistently phenomenal hands; Michelle and Lynn, not so much.  In the next room, a group of local Blue Grass enthusiasts played the night away.  I mostly listen to classical music and so that night I heard the Bob Dylan/Ketch Secor song “Wagon Wheel” for the first time.  It was lovely, as was so much of the music they played.

In the morning I took one last photo of the door of room 323, dedicated to Gustaf Nordenskiöld who’d been held in the hotel by the sheriff for exporting artifacts even though there was no law against it at that time.  (According to Ranger Andrew, that event subsequently led to the Antiquities Act of 1906.)  Then it was time to take Mark and Michelle to the airport and head home.

(And so we’re back; I will return to the subject of Sir Thomas Malory shortly.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Fine and Terrible Mystery – Episode 15: Constructing Necessity


This is the 15th  episode in my investigation of the discordant life of Sir Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur.  Episode 1 can be found here.

By the end of the 13th century only the rape of virgins was punished by death; for others it was blinding and castration, carried out, at least in one instance according to Christina Hardyment, by the victim herself.  Sir Thomas Malory was accused of two incidents of rape suddenly, and for the first time, in August 1451.  The incidents supposedly occurred twelve months and fifteen months before, involving the same woman, Joan Smyth, wife of Hugh Smyth.  This post addresses the legal context for those accusations.

The word “rape” originally referred to two kinds of seizure:  one preceding sexual violation and the other preceding abduction.  The words “ravish” and “ravishment” were also used for any abduction.  Thus a child might be ravished by her or his parents without sexual connotation.  A common kind of abduction was of a married woman and such charges often included the theft of a husband’s goods.

Traditionally, in the case of sexual assault, a hue and cry was raised as soon as the incident was revealed or discovered, the wronged woman would show evidence:  torn clothing or injuries.  The perpetrator was arrested and the victim would personally “appeal” him in the county court or before the King’s Justices, who might be presiding over a traveling court, or in Westminster.  Married women, lawful concubines, prostitutes, widows, i.e. anyone presumed to have sexual experience, were precluded from personal appeal.  Such a case had to be indicted by a “jury of presentment,” 12 local men who agreed to the truth of the charge.  Perhaps this was intended  to prevent casual or malicious accusations.

Not unexpectedly, since punishment was severe, both appeals and indictments were highly detailed, both in the physical description of the event and the consequent damage or injuries.

In 1275 a new statute, now generally referred to as “Westminster I” was passed, possibly reflecting the influence of the unified canon law “Decretum Gratiani,” (which, for the first time, differentiated between abduction and forced sexual intercourse.)  “Ravishment” was defined as the abduction of a woman by force.   After 40 days, the crime could no longer be appealed by the victim, it had to be indicted by the crown.  Also, it now became a “trespass” punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a fine.

In 1285 a second statute, “Westminster II” amended the law further.  If a woman was abducted with property, but without her consent, the crime was a felony, even if she consented afterwards.  The penalty, (only on prosecution of an indictment, not an appeal) was death or castration.

According to Henry Ansgar Kelly, the renowned scholar of medieval law who surveyed the cases to place Malory’s case in context (“Statutes of Rapes and Alleged Ravishers of Wives:  a Context for the Charges against Thomas Malory, Knight,” Viator, volume 28, 1997, pages 361-419), the law was used for many applications beyond straightforward sexual assault.  For example, it was used by families to force unwilling parties into marriage, by girls attempting to force parents to accept an undesirable marriage through a fait accompli, and by discarded mistresses to force compensation.

In 1382, during the reign of Richard II, a third law was passed.  It’s primary sponsor, Sir Thomas West, was legislating in order to create legal redress for himself:  his own daughter was abducted and married by her preferred suitor instead of the man he’d selected to advance the family’s social position.  Under this new law,

-          - “ravishers and ravished” were “disabled from dower, jointure, inheritance” after the death of their barons or ancestors.”

-          - “barons of such women, if they are married, or their fathers or next of blood if they have no barons living, shall have suit to prosecute.”

-          - No defendant shall be admitted for wager of battle; truth must be tried at inquest.

The most novel aspects, both of which were pertinent to Malory’s case in particular, were that the family of the victim could now personally appeal the crime, not just the victim herself, and the defendant was precluded from trial by wager of battle.  The Commons almost immediately recognized the dangers, describing the law as “too rough and redde” and petitioned for repeal one year later.  It was denied, but the law was almost never applied:  there is only one recorded occurrence, in 1409, before Malory’s case.

Two perverse themes emerge in the three cases I’ve looked at most carefully, including the 1409 case, Nanteglo versus  Vide, Hotoft versus  Alexander et al in 1278, and Witchingham versus Langstrother in 1451.  Women with wealth or good expectations were abducted and held in order to extort money or force them into marriage.  Further,  abductors in such cases would prosecute rescuers or an original betrothed for rape ironically using the law to accomplish what it was originally intended to discourage and punish.

What about Malory’s case?

The details in the indictment and Hugh Smyth’s appeal make it clear that this was not a case of a member of the gentry abusing someone of lesser rank.  Both the amount of the alleged theft and subsequent research shows the Smyths to have had substantial means.

Kelly strongly suspects legal chicanery was used to entrap Malory, “it is possible, even probable, that carnal knowledge was specified in the indictment because Smith and his lawyers (and Buckingham and the other colluding justices) believed that sexual violation was necessary for the offense to be classified as a felony.”  This is consistent with the strategies John  Paston discusses in the context of the Witchingham/Langstrother case.

The lack of mention of physical evidence in the indictment is most telling as is the absence of any testimony from the victim.  Further, the indictment explicitly did not say, as indictments for sexual assault often did, that Malory violated Joan bodily (corporaliter violavit) or forced her against her will (afforciavit contra voluntatem).   Indeed, Hardyment argues that the language of the indictment implies that the “rape” was actually a rescue, though I am less sure.  Nevertheless, Kelly clearly establishes that “the statutory language used by the alleged husband amounted to an admission that his wife had consented to the abduction.”

Indeed, as Shannon McSheffrey and Julia Pope discuss (“Ravishment, Legal Narratives and Chivalric Culture in Fifteenth Century England,” Journal of British Studies 48, October 2009, pages 818-836) legal narratives were often shaped according to statutory definition.  Incidents were embellished or even created for that need;  “truth (was) crafted as much as discovered,” quoting Malcolm Gaskill.  The absence of many of those elements in the Malory indictment is what is most revealing.  Interestingly, McSheffrey and Pope go further, positing  that the legal narratives were highly informed by chivalric literature and romance.

To my mind, one of the saddest aspects of the legal history surrounding rape in the late 14th and early 15th centuries is how so much of the legislation is intended to control women’s behavior and bodies through property rights, and as de facto property, which is perhaps partly a consequence of the socially dynamic, politically uncertain and dangerous times.

It’s particularly interesting how the laws were leveraged to construct necessity, the force of which enabled women and men to escape social, economic or familial strictures to be with their preferred mate. 

As is apparent, I am particularly indebted to Christina Hardyment’s illuminating and comprehensive examination of all the issues surrounding the accusations of rape against Malory:  legal, cultural and literary, as well as the work of Henry Ansgar Kelly to which she refers.

Episode 16 can be found here

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Fine and Terrible Mystery – Episode 14: The Two Accusations of Rape


This is the 14th  episode in my investigation of the dramatic and difficult life of Sir Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur.  Episode 1 can be found here.

In August of 1451, the first set of specific charges against Sir Thomas Malory were presented in an indictment at a special court convened under the Duke of Buckingham at the Priory of Nuneaton.  Among the most serious were two counts of rape.  The indictment specifically states that on both occasions Malory had sexual relations with Joan Smyth, “felonice rapuit & cum ea carnaliter concubit.”  There is no indication the Malory was present to hear the charges read.

This is one of the most difficult issues in his life to address.  So many have written about it from so many points of view from so many different levels of understanding of the extant evidence of Malory’s life, of medieval law, of culture in 15th century Warwickshire.  Notable, careful scholars take widely different positions, from complete acceptance of the accusations to insistence upon his innocence.  Then there is the problem that our own perception of the prevalence, severity and consequences of sexual assault in our own time is dynamic.  Is it possible for us to determine what happened almost 600 years ago?  Do we have the information and perspective to do so?

If the evolution of modern media teaches us anything it is that people will judge anyway.  It seems to me, therefore, that it’s incumbent upon anyone addressing the subject to present his or her evidence and reasoning with as much clarity and precision as possible with all pertinent context.

And context is where I want to begin.  My deductions from data in English Medieval Population:  Reconciling Time Series and Cross Sectional Evidence, by Stephen Broadbury, et al., place the population of Warwickshire in 1451 at around 44,000.  Carpenter’s study of Warwickshire landed society, indicates that in 1436 there were 55 gentlemen, 59  esquires and 18 knights residing in the county.  Given the demographic changes she discusses, I would expect that by 1451, the number of gentlemen and esquires to have increased very modestly while the number of knights would have decreased, possibly substantially.  The county itself was heterogeneous with the great proportion of farmland to be found in Feldon to the east and the greatest proportion of forest in the Arden to west.  The largest towns lay, not surprisingly, along the River Avon drainage, i.e. Coventry, Warwick, Leamington, Stratford.  Sir Thomas Malory, was one of relatively few at the top of the lesser gentry.  It is probable that he would have been commonly and easily recognized by many.

29 days after the indictment at Nuneaton, King Henry VI and Queen Margaret arrived in Warwickshire “to judge noble peacebreakers” in Coventry according to the chronicler William Worcester.  Malory’s case wasn’t among those arbitrated; instead on October 5, a writ certiorari was issued, elevating Malory’s case from Warwickshire to the Court of King’s Bench in Westminster.  Hardyment states that the reason for the writ was revealed a week later when Hugh Smyth stood personally before the Court of King’s Bench and appealed Sir Thomas Malory, William Weston, gentleman, late of Fenny Newbold, Adam Brown, weaver of Coventry and Thomas Potter, husband of Bernangle  for the rape of his wife Joan.

The accusation differs from the Nuneaton accusation:  no time(s) or place is specified and on this occasion  Malory is identified as one of four.  According to P. J. C. Field, the appeal again unambiguously states that sexual relations took place.

The Nuneaton indictment, the writ certiorari, and Hugh Smyth’s appeal together are an example of elegant 15th century legal engineering.  The Nuneaton indictment, emanating as it did from a court, gave the accused no opportunity to appeal his accuser if he weren’t convicted, which would have been the case had the first accusation been a direct appeal by Hugh Smyth or Joan Smyth, whose voice is not present in the record.  The defendant was precluded from seeking ‘trial by combat,’ nor could he sue for damages.  However, the second personal appeal by Smyth meant that in the case of a conviction, Smyth could expect substantial financial compensation personally, both for incident and for the stolen property mentioned in the indictment.  Finally, the writ took jurisdiction from Warwickshire to London, which may have been essential for any hope of conviction.  The date for the hearing was the 20th of January.

Malory didn’t appear.

Hardyment speculates he may have been in Warkwickshire restructuring the feofees (trustees) of his estates to insulate his property from the damages from a conviction should that come to pass.   Indeed, the Sherriff of Wawickshire who was ordered to “attach” them, i.e. confiscate all their goods and chattels as surety for their appearance, responded that “they had nothing.”  Their arrest was ordered.

Two sheriffs of London, Mathew Philip and Christopher Warton brought Malory to the bar 5 days later to answer the Nuneaton indictment.

Malory declared himself “in no wise guilty.”  Further, “for good or for ill” he put himself “upon his country.”  He was claiming the right to be tried by a jury of his own Warwickshire countrymen.  He was then returned to the custody of the sheriffs and a trial date of 9 February, 1452 was set.

Those are the events.  In subsequent posts I will be examining 15th century English law pertaining to rape which is surprisingly interesting in its own right, both legally and culturally.  I also want to evaluate what evidence, if any, can be deduced, from Malory’s own writing in the context of the pre-eminent scholar’s opinions and the case of rape against Geoffrey Chaucer.  At that point it will be time to visit the accusations again and evaluate their meaning and veracity.

Episode 15 can be found here.