The Master of Elsloo: medieval marvel in Limburg.

Medieval exhibitions are quite rare. Exhibitions about medieval sculptures are of the unique kind. The Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht, Limburg (NL) has the honour of showing ‘The Master of Elsloo: from lonely hand to collection of Masters’, and displayed a beautiful group of more than 50 late 15th century and early 16th century sculptures.

The name of ‘Master of Elsloo’ was first published in 1940 by art history student J.J.M. Timmers. Later on, he developed an impressive career as a Professor. In 1936 he had organised an exhibition, which included two sculptures of St. Anne with Virgin and Child. He then noticed similarities in style and techniques, such as the colorful paint, the drapery of the fabric, the position of the child Jesus. He attributed them to one sculptor and named it after the village where the scupltures were originally from: Elsloo.

Statues of St. Anne with Virgin and Child, ©MedievalMonologues

For over three decades Timmers was the only one who published on this subject, before it sparked new interest. Unfortunately, the original patrons are unknown, so this gives us no information at all. Extensive research on the sculptures and woodworking techniques was done and instead of similarities, there where also a lot of small, but distinctive differences found. This ultimately led to the conclusion that ‘The Master of Elsoo’ was in fact a group, or even several groups, of sculptors, and were in business for several generations.

At the Bonnefanten museum you can see the result of the current research project, initiated in 2010 by the Belgian Royal Institution for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA). Next to researching the development of the body of work, using archival and technical research, it also shows you the issues of the national border of Limburg. When first named, the body of work was limited by borders and viewed as part of the history of Limburg. However, those borders didn’t exist in the Middle Ages and is a limited perspective. The research team focussed on the Belgian, French and German influences.

You are led on a tour through the chambers, and are invited to find out who ‘the real master of Elsoo’ was. At the end of the tour you can cast your vote, and perhaps you’ll discover the truth about this mystery.

Corpus of the Crucified Christ of Ellikom, BE (restored), one of 10 of the corpora of the ‘Master of Elsloo’ sculptures. ©MedievalMonologues
Virgin and Child on a Crescent Moon, originally from Bocholt, BE (l.), and Wijlre, NL (r.) ©MedievalMonologues

While trying to unravel the mystery of the sculptors, this all sounds a bit technical and detached. It is certainly most interesting, but for me the best thing to do is to just look at the sculptures. They are of high quality wood and craftmanship, and very well preserved and restored. Most of the paint has been restored in the 19th and 20th century. In the spacious layout of the chambers you have plenty of room to admire all sculptures from up close and from different angles. They often stand alone, just for this reason.

Collection of Saints, from left (upper) to right: St. Catharine, St. Agnes, St. Helena, St. Ursula, St. Michael (without sword), St. Barbara, St. Peter, and St. Catharine ©MedievalMonologues

However, they are also out of context. Originally they were a part of a cloister, an abbey, a church, a chapel, a procession. And I wonder, how did people perceive these colourful sculptures ? Did they see only the saint they were praying to ? Or also the beauty of the sculpture ? Did they touch the sculptures? The exhibition leaves that to your -historical- imagination.

If you want to know more about the Master of Elsloo and medieval sculptures, the exhibition catalogue is a good start. It contains several essays and a complete exhibition catalogue. In general, the province of Limburg has a very rich history and offers many medieval sites, castles, ruines, churches, cathedrals to explore. Catholicism left a clear mark on the beautiful cities and countryside.

>> The exhibition runs untill 16.06.2019 at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. Visit the old city centre with beautiful streets and churches. <<

Voting booth and ballot, and exhibition catalogue

Support your local Medieval scene.

Today I went to the bookstore. No surprise there, I happen to be in a bookstore quite often. And I was wondering about life without a bookstore. Off course, in the past books were not available to all, or even literacy. But what about the future ? I can well imagine a past without bookstores, but would be horrified by a future without bookstores.

So, I make an effort to shop in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. It is so easy to buy everything online, click-click-click and it’s delivered at your doorstep. However, it usually supports bigger companies, while your local independent bookstore might be struggling to survive.

I admit that not all independent bookstores have a great history section, and medieval history is usually a small niche, although it is highly popular in the online world. With the exception of Waterstone’s bookstores, I’m lucky if I can find 1 shelve of medieval history. Usually they carry only the mainstream bestsellers. On top of that, the supply of medieval history books leans heavily on the Atlantic influence: England is leading in a lot of historical research, debate and education. In the Netherlands most of the history BA’s and MA’s are taught in English, with mostly English books. Don’t get me wrong: I totally love British history! But there is so much more going on.

Where ever you live, I’m sure there is a lot of historical research being done in your country or city, and a lot of interesting books are being published about it. So, keep an eye open for those in your local bookstore. And don’t forget: the 2nd hand section can be a real treasury for medieval history finds.

Recent ‘Dutch’ purchases from the local bookstore. See full list below. ©MedievalMonologues

Since I consider myself a ‘cultural being’, I feel I owe it to culture to support it. Art and history are a great joy in my life, that I share with friends. A lot of people put in a lot of time and love to contribute and create all kinds of ‘products’, like blogs and vlogs, websites, magazines, online courses, festivals, lectures, tours etc. etc. There are a lot of initiatives deserving of support, in time or money.

For instance, I have a Museum Card, which gives me free acces to most museums, exhibitions and castles. Since museums are not free in the Netherlands, this is a good option to enjoy history and art. In case of free visits, I try to give a small donation every time. You can also support online. I use Patreon to donate to smaller initiatives, and sometimes I join a crowdfunding project. Or even just sharing and liking posts of things I want to support.

Off course, it is up to you how and if you support, and not all of us have time or money to spare for that. But you might want to reflect upon that some time, and feel free to share. How do you support your local and/or medieval scene ?

List of books

All that glitters…. is gold! The Treasure of Münster on tour.

On a beautiful spring day I was visiting one of my favorite Dutch cities: Utrecht. The city centre has lots to offer for those who are interested in medieval history, since Utrecht was a very prominent diocese in the Middle Ages. Utrecht has one of the best museums for medieval religious artifacts in the Netherlands. The Catharijneconvent is housed in a former monastery, and shows the public a great permanent collection. The museum focuses on the cultural and historical heritage of Latin Christianity. Last year they also organised some very succesfull exhibitions to open the medieval world for the public (“Magical Miniatures” and “Relics”). Currently, they are showing ‘The Treasure of Münster’.

The museum is located in the beautiful Museumquarter. Take a walk to St. Martin’s Cathedral and enjoy the city centre of Utrecht. Next to the cathedral you’ll find one of my favorite spots in the Netherlands: the Pandhof, an enclosed medieval garden with Gothic archways. When I studied in Utrecht, I used to sit here and read (or daydream). From here it is just a 10 minute walk to the museum.

Utrecht, St. Martin’s Cathedral and Pandhof, details ©MedievalMonologues

While walking to the museum I try to think about this ‘Treasure’ I’m about to see. Do I even know what it is, except that is very valuable ? Luckily, at the museum it is explained at the start of the exhibition. A Treasure is “a collection of historical art that is displayed in the treasury of the church or cathedral, and contains reliquaries and other valuable items”. In the case of the Treasure of Münster it is extremely well preserved and complete.

The exhibition in Catharijneconvent explains why the Treasure of Münster is displayed in Utrecht. Both Münster and Utrecht were part of the archdiocese of Cologne at the time. The diocese of Münster lost all of it’s medieval archives, so very little is known about the origin of the Treasure. Utrecht still has several archives, but unfortunately the Treasure of Utrecht didn’t survive. Most of this Treasure was melt down during the Iconoclasm in the 16th century. Only the actual relics where kept safe, mostly at the St. Gertrudis church. By combining the archives of Utrecht, and the Treasure of Münster in one display, a complete image is formed about why and how a treasure is built.

After the introduction your tour kicks off with a series of books, manuscripts, letters and chapters. In the pursuit of uniformity in the Latin Christian faith every church and abbey needed the same type of objects to show and use in the liturgy, and therefore needed to own a treasure. In the surviving archives we see that it is described in detail what is donated, and by whom. Donating to the church was serious business!

At the artifacts the few remaining items from the Utrecht Treasure are on display. The relics are encased in objects that are richly decorated in all the best and most expensive materials: gold and jewels, silks and goldthread, silver and cristals. No expenses were spared. I admire the creativity, very clever ways of preserving relics and display them at the same time.

Codex Ansfridus (r) – book ca. 950-1000, bookcover 1200-1400 [Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht ABM h2] ~ Photo’s by ©MedievalMonologues
A few items from the Utrecht Treasure. Details: reliquary bones wrapped in silks, a jaw bone partly wrapped in silks, and detail from St. Martin’s hammer [collection Museum Catharijneconvent]. Photo’s by ©MedievalMonologues

As the exhibition continues, you are led to a ‘grand finale’. In a dark room all the gold and silver shines brightly. My eye is drawn to the relics of female saints. I am reminded that women could play a very powerful role in religion indeed by becoming a saint. Unfortunately, you had to die first ….

One of the exhibition rooms. Sparkling treasures in the dark. ©MedievalMonologues
Details from the St. Felicitas arm reliquary, with bone displayed, Münster 150/1260 [Treasure of Münster], and reliquary statuette of St. Agnes, Münster 1520 [Treasure of Münster]. Photo’s by ©MedievalMonologues

‘Church life’ in the Middle Ages is not a particular interest of mine. Off course, you can’t study the past without studying religion. I tend to see insanely expensive religious artifacts, almost a waste of money. I can’t even imagine the value it represents today. I can only assume that the impact it left on people at the time was much, much bigger when these items were actually used in services and processions. It is indicative for the importance of the Christian faith and the power that it had in medieval daily life.

I really enjoyed this exhibition. Overall, it was not very crowded, mainly due to the beautiful weather. But also maybe of the religious character of the exhibition, that may not appeal to the general public. However, for those interested in the Middle Ages, it is certainly recommended. I think the Catharijneconvent did a wonderful job with this exhibition.

The catalogue for this exhibition is a true treasure: good quality paper which bring out the photographs really well. It even has a preface by the current bishop of Münster. Since the exhibition will travel to Germany (Aachen, Bamberg, Hildesheim, Cologne) and to the USA (Cleveland, Ohio), it is a bilingual catalogue, in English and German.

Exhibition catalogue, red. Udo Grote, “The treasure of Münster. [ISBN 978-3-402-13399-6, Aschendorff Verlag]

>> You can visit the exhibition “The Treasure of Münster” in museum Catharijneconvent untill June 10th 2019 . Combine your visit with a tour of the city of Utrecht <<

Books, books and…. oh, more books! A neverending story.

Being a booknerd is almost a bare necessity if you want to study history at BA or MA level. To keep up with the vast reading requirements, you really must love reading and be prepared to invest a significant amount of your time in books and libraries. I’m not complaining! Best thing ever, right ?

So I checked my TBR list of books. I can tell you it is not getting any shorter. Sometimes I don’t know what I like better: reading the books, or browsing and buying books. Don’t underestimate the uplifting power of a good bookhunt. And off course, then there are the (online) magazines, myriad blogs, social media, and some historical fiction……

Last year I decided to clean up my bookshelves and start buying and reading more focused on a few subjects. The main part for the ‘non-fiction section’ is now focused on medieval history and art. I still buy a lot of ‘random medieval’ books, so I’m still trying to find more focus and specialize in some subjects. But which ones…. too many interesting topics.

As I checked my list, I noticed I accidentally created a theme, so I’m going to stick with that for now. I really want to know more about the ladies of the middle ages (not to be confused with middle aged ladies ;-). I think they played an essential part in the expansion of the medieval kingdoms and are deserving my attention. I noted that as I’m back at the university again after 15 years, a lot of perspectives have shifted away from ‘white male history’ and a lot of new perspectives are being explored. I like it!

Also, I have some other lovelies to read. As you see, this is more of ‘the random’ kind of books. Of the many interesting topics I can’t choose from, I know that ‘medievalism’ is one of my favorites: the Romantic image of the middle ages, systematically formed in the 19th century in reaction to the industrial society. For a large part it was responsible for a strongly romanticized and idealized Middle Ages that also influenced knowledge, image, views and study of the middle ages for some time. But, who knows, I’ll pick up the Ravens (cheeky birds!), Chaucer’s people (fun!) or Robert de Bruce (Scots!) first.

All I need to do now is find the time to read it all. So, new plan (or essentially the same plan as ever, but a good reminder):

  • put down my phone
  • stay away from Netflix
  • keep a blanket and my cat on stand-by
  • don’t read 6 books at once (but maybe 2)

Reading books should never feel like a chore. I admit, in a busy week it is sometimes difficult to find enough time to read. And if it is really busy, I start longing for some quiet reading time. It’s one of the things I can really relax to and can take my mind of things.

Books are a great joy and an essential need in my life. I actually live right on top of our local bookstore, so I can get my ‘fix’ very easily. Just some browsing is enough to brighten the day. As much as I love the Middle Ages, I really like living in an age (and country) where books are available everywhere.

The Book of Kells: free online course!

Detail from folio 114r © The Board of Trinity College, University of Dublin [IE TCD MS 58]

I’m a big fan of MOOC’s: Massive Open Online Courses. I follow them regularly on several platforms. If, like me, you are always interested in learning something new, this is an easy way to start. You can fit it into your schedule and ,usually, MOOC’s are free of cost.

If you browse these online platforms, like Futurelearn, EdX, or Coursera, you’ll discover a ton of interesting courses for history buffs. Medieval history is well represented with courses from renowned universities all over the world. Courses vary in length and in the level of actively participating: some have assignments and tests, some don’t.

Online platform Futurelearn will offer ‘The Book of Kells: Exploring and Irish Medieval masterpiece’ again, after a very succesfull run in 2018. I joined this course then, because I love this most famous medieval Irish manuscript. And although I visited the Book of Kells exhibition in Dublin at Trinity college, I learned a lot of new stuff.

This is a short course of 4 weeks and will explain not only the historical context, but also how a book like this is made. It shows you the entire journey through history of this book, untill it was put on display on permanent display at Trinity College. You’d be surprised what uses and abuses have marked this book in a 1200-year journey!

The course is taught by Dr. Rachel Moss (Associate Professor in the History of Art and Architecture) and Dr. Fáinche Ryan (Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Loyola Institute, both at Trinity College Dublin. Aided by short video’s, articles, photo’s and source material, they will share their knowledge in a very accesible manner.

If you really can’t wait, you can take a good preview of the digital Book of Kells. It is available for the public, since not everyone has the opportunity to visit the exhibition. And even if you do, there are only 2 pages on display at a time. You can find the complete manuscript at the digital collection of Trinity College Library.

Folio’s 12r, 27v en 34r. © The Board of Trinity College, University of Dublin [IE TCD MS 58]

>> Join now, together with many enthousiasts from all over the world, and start the course at March 18th. Enjoy!<<

Citywalk: Churches of London

There seems to be an abundance of churches in London. The square mile area of the City of London alone counts over 40 churches. As I had planned for a citywalk after visiting the Tower of London, I armed myself with Google Maps and an umbrella to enjoy this friday afternoon.

As the name states, All Hallows at the Tower is a must-see stop right next to the Tower. This small church is one of the oldest in London, it was built in the Ango-Saxon era in 675 on a former Roman site. It has seen many alterations, mainly in the Romanesque style. It suffered quite some destruction in WWII, as many of the churches in this area. A large part of the building has been rebuilt, like the roof.

Old walls and original Anglo-Saxon arch, and new in the interior of All Hallows ©MedievalMonologues
Anglo-Saxon foundation upon a Roman paveway at the crypt ©MedievalMonologues
Upper half of a Celtic cross, found after WWII, dated to 900AD ©MedievalMonologues

Located a little further westward in the City is St. Dunstan-in-the-East and is one of the most beautiful sites, perhaps more so because it is hidden between modern buildings and is a small haven in the bustling City. Built in ca. 1100 as gothic cathedral, it suffered severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After being almost completely destroyed by bombs in WWII, it is more of a ruin than a church. Only the tower remained intact. Nowadays it has been transformed to a public garden. If I was working in the City, I would be taking lunch here everyday. It is beautiful!

Weathered walls and arches of St. Dunstan-in-the-east ©MedievalMonologues

I had some time to spare before I needed to board the Eurostar back to Holland on Sunday. Since the weather was sunny, I went for a stroll. At an ideal spot for travelers, St. Pancras Old Church is located at a 10 minute walk behind the station. Situated on a small hill in park this little church was basking in the sun. Although it is inconclusive when it was exactly built, it has it’s origins in the dedication to the Roman martyr St. Pancras and was most likely founded before the Norman conquest. As it has been added on, rebuilt and expanded many times, the interior is a bit of an odd collection of styles, but the exterior is most charming.

St. Pancras Old Church ©MedievalMonologues

Off course, today I show you only a few examples. I hope to visit London many times and see more of the churches and cathedrals it has to offer. What surprised me is that many are still active churches in the London communities. People are really proud of the buildings and make good effort to preserve them. They have been there for a 1000 years, and hopefully will still be there in the future.

>> If you are on a budget, citywalks are an ideal way to explore London. There is so much to see! The area of the City of London offers a lot to explore by foot: many churches, St. Paul’s, gardens, Leadenhall Market, Guildhall and Guildhall Museum, the Monument, and the Thames. <<

Gothic gem at London’s southbank: Southwark Cathedral

During my stay in London I visited several churches, but Southwark Cathedral deserves a dedicated blog. This beautiful building is hemmed in between several very modern buildings and streets, but is not to be overlooked by medieval history fans.

Officially known today as the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie, it stands at the oldest crossing point at the Thames. References go back as far as the Domesday Book of 1086, although it is believed there was a community on this site long before that in the 7th century.

In 1106 it was refounded by the Bishop of Winchester as an Augustinian priory. It was dedicated to St. Mary, and later became known as St. Mary Overie (‘over the river’). During the reign of Henry VIII the building was rented to a congregation, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1539). In the 17th century a group of merchants bought the church from King James I for a mere £800. It served as a parrish not only to merchants, but also courtiers, actors, craftsmen and the (in)famous ladies of the Southwark brothels. In 1905 it became Southwark Cathedral and now consists of 300 parishes in the London area.

If it ever was the goal to design a Gothic cathedral to capture the divine light, it was certainly achieved here. Today I was lucky enough to see the winter sunrays cast a beautiful light through the arches. After I was welcomed by a lovely lady of the church and purchased a £1 photograph permit, I was captivated by the lightfall. Simply divine, isn’t it?

Beautiful lightfall shines through the Southwark Cathedral arcs ©MedievalMonologues

In the north choir aisle you will find a wooden effigy for a knight, carved in minute detail. Usually carved from stone, it is similar to effigies of the period of ca. 1280 considering his mail coat and coif. His identity is unknown, but it could be a member of the Warenne family who had strong ties to the church. This lonely knight’s effigy is in excellent condition.

Wooden effigy for a knight ca. 1280 ©MedievalMonologues

The most famous resident to have lived in Southwark has his own memorial: William Shakespeare. Even dear Will is happy that it’s almost spring again. He is holding fresh twigs in his hand and is contemplating a sonnet on summer, untill he can compare thee to a summer’s day and rough winds shake the darling buds of May.

William Shakespeare memorial in Southwark Cathedral ©MedievalMonologues

This was a £1 well spent, it was a very good day for taking photographs, even with my phone. I would like to invest sometime in a real camera, but that’s going to cost me a lot more than £1!

>> Take the tube to London Bridge station and walk through Borough Market – a fabulous and busy foodmarket. After your visit take a stroll along the Southbank area to see great Thames views and landmarks. <<

Southwark Cathedral as seen from the garden against the blue winter sky © MedievalMonologues

The Tower of London – we meet again

After 7,5 years I decided it was about time to visit the Tower of London again. This weekend I set out early morning, armed with my online bought ticket. Expecting a crowd, I was hoping to enter early and get a better view than last time. However, the amount of visitors was a direct result of the dreary and cold weather. I was actually first in queue, together with two ladies. When the gates opened, I walked into an empty Tower of London.

No elbows, no overexcited kids, no stressed out mums, no Babylonic confusion of tongues, no chaotic crowds, …. Wow! It is no nice to be able to take your time and take a good look around. As usual I just like to walk around a bit, just to soak up the surroundings and get a general impression, before I follow the map and routings.

Empty streets at the Tower of London ©MedievalMonologues

Initially founded by William the Conquerer 10 years after the Norman conquest, with the building of the imposing and dominating White Tower, his successors added towers, walls, fortifications and a moat. Many changes have been made in centuries of history, as is reflected in the many different styles of the towers and buildings. I especially liked the Medieval Palace. This part was added in the 13th century by king Henry III (r. 1216-1272) and his son Edward I (r. 1272-1307). It actually consists of several buildings: St. Thomas’s Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower.

Details of the reconstructed Council Chamber with throne in the Medieval Palace ©MedievalMonologues
Wall and entrance to Lanthorn Tower ©MedievalMonologues

The White Tower now shows the Royal Armory collection. In historical order along the Line of Kings you can admire the armour for men and horse. No armour was made for Queens. I guess ladies don’t dress in a tin can and ride to war. Maybe that’s why some of the queens reigned for such a long time. It seems that harness was far from comfortable to wear, even if it could move at the joints, but preferred to being skewered in the field. It’s the warhorses that I respect most, they must have been so strong to carry all that extra weight. How different history – and today – would be like if there were no horses to fight all those wars.

Detail of the White Tower wall © MedievalMonologues

After reading ‘The Ravenmaster’ by Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, caretaker of the ravens, I really wanted to see the ravens at the Tower. There was a little patch of snow left near the raven’s pen, and apparently some ravens are quite fond of snow. Nothing like a good roll in the snow to clean your feathers. I watched it for some time, and I never saw a bird enjoying himself so much. I absolutely adore these cheeky, intelligent birds. I filmed it with my phone. Not the best of films, I admit, but nevertheless I want to share it with you:


The Crown Jewels are the least appealing part for me, but perhaps a second visit would change that. It seemed a waste to not profit from the total absence of queues. Last time it was so crowded that you could only squeeze through the escalator and barely could get a view. Now, it was completely empty. Together with a handfull of visitors I walked around twice and tried to be impressed. Although beautiful (I’m like a magpie: if it’s shiny, I’ll like it) – I can’t really appreciate it. It is too much value, just sitting there, representing power, at the cost of what ? I half expected, or hoped, for Moriarty to turn up and pose in the Crown jewels. That would have been a sight!

After a well spent friday morning, I set out for a walking tour along the City of London’s churches. Next to the Tower of London, you’ll find All Hallows at the Tower, one of the oldest churches in the City of London.

>> Plan your visit to the Tower of London. Go early, book your ticket online to save £4  and spend 2-3 hours (4 if your in queue for the Crown Jewels during seasonal peaks) <<
Old and new towers blending in almost flawlessly © MedievalMonologues

Back to university: a new adventure

Yes! This is happening. I’m so excited!

In exploring my options to make the most of my ‘medieval hobby’ I checked several universities with a Medieval studies programme. I ended up choosing between Utrecht or Leiden. A though choice, since Utrecht is my alma mater and I always enjoyed the atmosphere there. However, Leiden offered better opportunities for me to combine it with my parttime dayjob. The University of Leiden is the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575, and offers a great curriculum in Medieval studies.

When I was first studying for my BA degree, I always contemplated that I would probably be one of ‘those old people who would return to college one day because they can’. And guess what? That’s me now. OK, I’m not thát old (and still pretty cool, off course ;-), but problably will be compared to this generation of college students.

Now, on a more humble note: I decided to start this adventure small. Initially, I had a wild plan to start with a full MA programme. But that asks a lot of commitment, time, commuting, and also money. It would be very taxing next to my dayjob and not a very achievable goal for the moment. So I chose a lighter curriculum.

I will follow a series of contract courses on medieval topics. I will start this semester with a more generic mid level course on Medieval expansion  in Europe. Consider this a test run, just to see if my brain still can handle university level after all this time. Let’s dust off the cobwebs and release the rusty chains first.

In the next semesters I hope to enroll for the courses on Middle English Language and Literature. I really want to understand medieval languages and manuscripts better. This is a part that I did not make the most of during my first time in college, and would really like to make up for it. Off course, I’ve been seeing and reading a lot of medieval history and art over the years. With the blog and these courses I hope to consolidate my love of learning and all this ‘random’ knowledge to a more tangible form.

One of my favourite benefits of attending university again, is full access to the entire collection of the university library, brick and online.
A lot of source material and articles are available on the internet these days, but this opens up a whole new world of possibilities and enables me to start doing better research again.

It feels like a new chance, a dream that actually can happen. I just have to make it happen. So, I will start this semester in February as a student at Leiden University. Yeah!

Outlaw King – Netflix’s Medieval movie

Offical trailer © Netlix

I didn’t spend much time on Netflix the last months, since its digress into mediocrity. In my opinion it is leaning to much towards to B-status series and old movies. So when I saw the anouncements for Outlaw King, it caught my attention immediately. Would there finally be a distinctive, new movie on Netflix ?

We are dropped into the story post-William Wallace, in 1304, as the Scottish nobles swear fealty to Edward I. This intro will show you the intracacies of the court, clans and nobles. Almost immediately I was offered reassurance by the appearance of James Cosmo (as the Bruce sr.). No movie about Scottish history would be complete without him.

Outlaw King shows us not the most aspiring or ambitious of wannabe kings. He only declared for the kingship after the death of his father. His choice was most clear when he killed John Comyn, this warped him into the front of the conflict. He seems not be a very outspoken person, so no rallying speeches and declarations. Only a man who is caught up in  warfare and betrayal with no choice but to go on, faced by the consequences of his own mistakes. With a gritty perseverance he wins back clan by clan and castle by castle. His personal life is shown through his family: his daughter, wife, and brothers. This personal touch seems also to be his strength as a leader: to act as a soldier commands the loyalty of the Scottish people.

The decisive battle of Loudon Hill in 1307 marks the end of the movie, as it is the turning point in history for Scotland. At that point it doesn’t bode well for Edward II, who excels in making a fool of himself.

American actor Chris Pine as Robert de Bruce ? Yes! Not perfect, but very adequate. His Scottish accent is not overdone, as is often the case by non-native actors. Pine certainly manages to convey his inner struggle and reluctance. He is supported by good actors: Stephen Dillane as Edward I is very convincing as the seasoned king and commander. Florence Pugh shines as his loyal second wife. Some of the acting is a little off, for instance the character of James Douglas as played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I’m sure he studied some of the old lore concerning battle frenzy, or Viking beserkers.

However, the true leading role in this movie is the absolutely stunning Scottish landscape. For a large part it defined the nature of the warfare. This is also what gives the movie an overall very Scottish ‘feel’ – the entire story was blended in very well with beautiful scenery and castles. It made me yearn immediately for a trip to Scotland!

It is a merit to this movie that it’s not too ‘Hollywood’ – the story is not ruined by cheezy romance and dalliance, but focusses on the history. It shows you the bloody, muddy and brutal reality of warfare in the Middle Ages. To be honest: I’m not an expert in Scottish history. I can’t tell you how acurate the story of Outlaw King is. Off course, choices were made in what to show in the movie, but it shows legitimate.  I know it has triggered me to want to learn more about these events, and so I will.

To answer my initial question: yes, this is certainly a distinctive movie on Netflix. Well done, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t think this movie could be a blockbuster in the cinemas – without too much of the ‘trapping frills of Hollywood’ it is most likely not for the masses. Netflix is perhaps the better choice for showing us this movie, where it can reach all fans of historical movies worldwide and let them appreciate it in their own livingroom. And the best part ? You can watch it again.

Want to know more about the Outlaw King? I recommend reading ‘Robert de Bruce. King of Scots.’ by Michael Penman (2018) – ISBN 9780300240313.