2017 is the 240th anniversary of Saratoga

2017 marks the 240th anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle of Saratoga. Saratoga ranks as one of the most pivotal battles of the war. (Arguments could also be made for the battles of Long Island, and Trenton in terms of “the most pivotal”)

When the British drew up the battle plan for the campaign that ultimately culminated in Saratoga, the plan was to have three armies converge on Albany and thereby end the war by dividing and conquering New England.

One by one the British armies were defeated. When the third army suffered a staggering defeat in the thick pine forests 30 miles north of Albany, France declared war on Britain and joined the war on the American side. (A war that became much easier to win with French aid). Rather than hasten the end of the war, the campaign had the exact opposite effect. It greatly raised American morale and brought France into the war.

The Saratoga campaign ended in mid-October 1777 with the surrender of the third British army led by Gen. John Burgoyne.


Brown Bess muskets might be nicknamed for Queen Elizabeth I.  She is the best answer to the question.


Which British officer invented a breech loading musket?

A. Fergus Robertson

B. Patrick Ferguson

C. Robert Ferguson

Friendly fire

As Flag Day and Independence Day draw closer, there will be a greater frequency of posts relevant in some way, close or tangential, to those holidays.

Friendly-fire has long been an issue in wars. During the Revolutionary War, the Pennsylvania Militia discovered that the red and blue color scheme on their uniforms was similar to that of the Hessians. Similarly, a British artillery unit modified its hats to be more distinct at a distance because both British and American gunners wore blue coats.

One of the most famous friendly-fire casualties of all-time occurred during the Civil War when Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally shot by a nervous picket when Jackson was returning to camp.

Civil War General Robert E. Lee’s father, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, was a cavalry officer with the the Virginia Dragoons during the Revolutionary War. Cavalry were mostly used for raiding and scouting during the Revolutionary War because both sides had a terrible time accumulating enough horses and fodder for large scale cavalry actions. In 1779 Light Horse Harry led 300 troops (a mix of cavalry and infantry) on a successful raid on a fort at Paulus Hook, New Jersey, that led to the capture of 159 British troops with the loss of only 2 Americans.


False.  Cinco de Mayo is not the equivalent of Independence Day in Mexico.  Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th.


A popular musket during the Revolutionary War was named for which monarch?

A. Charles I

B. Elizabeth I

C. James I

Cinco de Mayo

May 5th is the celebration of Cinco de Mayo or the Fifth of May.  It celebrates a military victory of Mexico against France.  It is a popular celebration in the United States, in some ways it is a lot like the way that St. Patrick’s Day is observed by people who are neither Catholic nor Irish.  Cinco de Mayo celebrations are most common in the United States in areas with large Mexican-American populations.


The Haymarket Square in Chicago was the scene of a major labor battle.


True or False.  Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July?

Magna Carta and May First

William Marshall is the famous knight associated with Magna Carta.  He advised King John and helped negotiate the signing of Magna Carta.

What famous deadly confrontation between police and strikers occurred in Chicago on May 1st?

A. Addison Street

B. Haymarket Square

C. Lakeshore Drive

Knights armor and Magna Carta


Chain mail armor is heavy on the neck and shoulders.  Contrary to what is seen in many movies, chain mail armor does not make good casual-wear.  Armor like that would be worn when trouble was expected but otherwise would probably not be worn.


A. John Falstaff

B. Roger De Lacy

C. William Marshall

Knights soon

I can’t find the piece of paper that I had the answer to my most recent trivia question written down on.  Once I find it, I will repost the question and answer.

In the meantime another question:

Which of the following best describes chain mail armor made of hundreds of links of chain riveted together to form a steel sweater?

A. Extra weight on the wearer’s hips with chain mail

B. Extra weight on the wearer’s shoulders with chain mail

C. The weight for chain mail is evenly distributed

Knight over time


Knights changed over time.  Originally they had a strong link to the aristocracy (only the nobility could be knights) but eventually men who were wealthy enough could become knights.


How high are the highest towers on “authentic” medieval castles?  (Castles built before 1400, so 200+ foot high Neuschwanstein Castle doesn’t count)

A. Around 100 feet

B. Around 125 feet

C. Around 150 feet

Knights on horseback


A warhorse could carry about 500 pounds or roughly 25 to 33% of the horse’s weight. Warhorses weighed roughly 1400 to 2000 pounds.  Most often Arabian horses are used in the movies, these horses are faster, lighter, more maneuverable, and safer than the draft horses (looking more like the modern Clydesdale horses).  In real life war horses tended to be favored for power and strength rather than speed.


Which phrase best describes medieval knights?

A. A knight in the 800s was very similar to one in the 1300s

B. A knight in the 800s was very different than one in the 1300s


Happy Hocktide! Do you have your feudal taxes and winter rents ready to be paid to your liege tomorrow?  As you may have gathered from that rhetorical question, there has been a long association with Easter and taxes.  It is an association that is most noticeable nowadays when Easter happens to fall near the annual income tax deadline.

Having an Easter deadline for taxes is an interesting choice.  Obviously in the middle ages when not everyone had easy access or even totally clear understanding about how a calendar worked, picking a day like the day after Easter as a tax deadline has the advantage of being a memorable date.  It is a also a date that has an informal warning about the approaching deadline in that the start of Lent marks a countdown to Easter.


About how much weight can a warhorse carry?

A. 500 pounds
B. 750 pounds
C. 1000 pounds

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

Easter is the oldest Christian holiday.  Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Easter was observed right away.  Christmas did not become widespread until 300s.  (More on that in another post).

Some Easter “fun facts”:
-The earliest written reference to the Easter Bunny dates from the 1570s. (A German book that technically is referring to the Easter Hare).
-In the 1890s the first Easter candy was sold in the United States.
-The tradition of eating ham on Easter dates back to the 11th century
-Easter has been celebrated since about 30 AD, Christmas was not widely celebrated among Christians until closer to 300 AD
-King George II originated the custom of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah.
-In Italy it is customary to buy new church clothes to look your best on Easter Sunday. This custom again relates to a time when many new converts would be joining the church on Easter Sunday and would be dressed in new white clothes.
-In Mexico fireworks are part of the Easter celebration.


True.  In Europe there are folk customs associated with bonfires on Holy Saturday.


This year in 2017, Easter falls on April 16th, right around the American income tax deadline of April 15th.  Was Easter associated with tax deadlines in the middle ages?

A. Yes

B. No

Holy Saturday

In answer to yesterday’s question, Good Friday is considered a mournful day.

Holy Saturday is known as Great Saturday in the Eastern church.  There is a mixture of imagery for Holy Saturday.  In German it is known as mournful Saturday.  Among Middle Eastern Christians it is known as the Saturday of Light.  In the early church Holy Saturday was a day of fasting but not a day of worship in observance of Christ being in the tomb.  However, Holy Saturday was a popular day for new members to be baptized into the church (or during the Easter vigil service held Saturday night/Sunday morning).  In the days before electricity it was often quite a spectacular view to see a city from the distance as all of the homes became lit with candles in preparation for the Easter vigil.


True or False.  In many parts of Europe, there a folk customs for lighting bonfires on Holy Saturday?


Good Friday

The Friday before Easter is known as Good Friday in the West.  The Eastern churches know the day as Preparation Friday.


Maundy Thursday is associated with the color green in Germany.  There was a tradition of wearing green vestments on Maundy Thursday in Germany and that tradition may have led to the nickname for Maundy Thursday of Green Thursday.  The words “green” and “mourn” are similar in old German grun (green) and grunen (to mourn).  It is possible that Maundy Thursday had a more mournful nickname that became more colorful because of a corruption of the old German.


Is Good Friday a happy day or a mournful day?

What is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week, it celebrates the observance of the Last Supper.  The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word Mandatum from which the word mandate is derived.  Maundy Thursday refers to the great commandment or mandate.   “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)


Miserere was a Lenten composition that was kept unpublished by the Vatican so that it might be used exclusively in the Sistine Chapel until young Mozart transcribed the piece from memory after hearing it only once in 1769.  Pope Clement XIV was impressed at Mozart’s skill and ordered that Miserere be published.


What color is associated with Maundy Thursday in Germany?

A. Blue

B. Green

C. Red

Holy Week

Miserere is a famous piece of music that is often heard during Holy Week.


Palm Sunday is also known as Blossom Sunday.  This nickname comes from the old tradition in many churches of blessing flowers on Palm Sunday, in addition to blessing palm branches.


Which famous composer memorized and transcribed Miserere after hearing it only once?

A. Bach

B. Handel

C. Mozart

More about Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is called Pascua Florida in Spanish.  This name was originally applied to just Palm Sunday but the usage spread to Holy Week, including Easter.  Florida was sighted by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon on Easter Sunday 1513 and given the name of Florida in honor of Holy Week.


Willow branches were often used as a local substitute for palm branches for Palm Sunday.  Olive branches and yew branches are other local substitutes.


What other name also refers to Palm Sunday?

A. Blossom Sunday

B. Donkey Sunday

C. King Sunday