A Mediaeval Burglary
March 24, 2007 10:16 AM   Subscribe

A Mediaeval Burglary (alternate formats, wikipedia) is a 24-page lecture transcript from 1915 about a little known burglary of King Edward I's treasure room in 1303. It is a real-life medieval mystery with interesting characters, scandal, cover-up, and an accurate feel of the times from a ground-up perspective, as told in a smoky Victorian library about 100 years ago. Entertaining, includes a hand-drawn map and two relevant manuscript pages.
posted by stbalbach (35 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The story of the burglary really begins on page 7 (page 11/34) "When our burglary took place.." The first few pages provides background.
posted by stbalbach at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2007

I love this kind of thing! Thanks stbalbach.
posted by Abiezer at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2007

Can't read it right now, but this sounds really cool. Thanks!
posted by brundlefly at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2007

This is fabulous. Great find, stbalbach. Besides being a great mediæval yarn, is also an interesting document of the time of its publication (the bit about the emptying vaults of Prussia, the repeated comments about oriental shiftiness*). I wonder if this has ever been turned into a novel/film/tv show. Incidentally, does anyone know the spelling history of the word medieval? I know that mediaeval is primarily used by unAmerican Anglophones, but is it the older spelling or is it hypercorrection in the manner of island?

*MetaFilter: Repeated comments about oriental shiftiness
posted by Kattullus at 12:55 PM on March 24, 2007

Entry: medieval, a. and n.
Forms: 18- mediaeval, medieval.

[ < post-classical Latin medium aevum the Middle Ages (1604; < classical Latin medium, neuter of medius middle (see MEDIUM n. and a.) + aevum AEVUM n.) + -AL, perh. after PRIMEVAL a. or EVAL a. Cf. French médiéval (1874), Italian medievale (1868). Cf. the Middle Ages s.v. MIDDLE AGE n. 2]
I'm a newcomer to the OED — I take it that means "mediaeval" appears first n the nineteenth century? Nowhere in the etymology section do they use an an æ diphthong. Is this a limitation of the online edition (re fonts, browsers etc) or intentional?
posted by Aloysius Bear at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2007

Well done.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:21 PM on March 24, 2007

Indeed. Fascinating.
posted by event at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2007

This was great and I don't want to be pedantic or anything, but it ain't Victorian -- two monarchs on, in fact. The lecture was given in 1915, during the First World War, which explains the lecturer's delight at the draining of the German treasury.
posted by CCBC at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2007

it ain't Victorian

Technically true, but the author was born in 1855, so to that extent his instincts might be Victorian. Or not.

Not Victorian at all is Paul Doherty, the author of the briefly mentioned book The Great Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303.

You have to like someone whose "one great ambition is to petition the Privy Council of England to open the Purbeck marble tomb of Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral. Paul believes the tomb does not house the body of a King, but an impostor as the real Edward II escaped from his prison in Berkeley Castle for exile in Italy."
posted by IndigoJones at 2:29 PM on March 24, 2007

but it ain't Victorian

stbalbach described the library in which it was told as Victorian, not the text.

The John Rylands Library is the library of Manchester University, and was inauguarated in 1899, which makes it Victorian.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 2:30 PM on March 24, 2007

(Actually, he said the library was Victorian, and as she died in 1901....)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:34 PM on March 24, 2007

(Or- what Aloysius Bear said.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2007

Well, not to belabor this but, in my own defense: stbalbach's linked comment refers to the "Victorian character" of the piece, not the John Rylands Library.
posted by CCBC at 2:56 PM on March 24, 2007

I'm a newcomer to the OED — I take it that means "mediaeval" appears first n the nineteenth century?

Aloysius, the OED citation says only that the word appears first in 1604, and gives comparable French and Italian citations from the 19th century, but does not specifically differentiate between the English spelling with and without digraph.

Spelling before 1800 or so was generally quite flexible, anyway. The main thing we can say is that the British have preferred the digraph and the Americans have not. It is not a hypercorrection, because it is, um, correct.
posted by dhartung at 2:59 PM on March 24, 2007

dhartung, what about the "Forms: 18— mediaeval, medieval" bit? Does the "18—" mean that the mediaeval form appeared the nineteenth century? The first English citation (as opposed to post-classical Latin) is from 1827, and uses the digraph. I realise that the OED isn't saying that one spelling is "correct" and the other isn't.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 3:08 PM on March 24, 2007

Maybe I've been MF-hoaxed one too many times, but this seems a bit fishy to me. I'm no medîåéval scholar, just a PDF wonk. The PDF linked here has weird attributes -- the text layer is a bitmap overlayed on a blank paper texture -- this is possibly some artifacts caused by Acrobat's OCR features, but maybe not. If you scroll through the document rapidly, you'll see completely blank sheets, followed by the text layer. The first page doesn't have this issue, but the rest do. Maybe the content is legit, but this PDF suffers from some odd processing.
posted by dylanjames at 4:26 PM on March 24, 2007

Isn't that exactly how PDF OCR should work, dylanjames?

The point of OCR is to make the text selectable and so on, so of course it needs to be on a text layer. It makes sense for the Adobe OCR software to remove the OCR'd text from the image layer underneath, to avoid ugly aliasing effects creating a "shadow" around the OCR text.

And there's no doubt as to its authenticity; it was uploaded to archive.org by the University of Toronto.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:43 PM on March 24, 2007

it ain't Victorian

Technically true, but the author was born in 1855

Well, consider Robert Louis Stevenson was 1850-1894, the Norton Anthology of English Literature classifies Stevenson as "Late Victorian" .. by 1915 the author of this piece (b.1855) would have been 60 years old, a peer of Stevenson (and Conrad and Kipling). But more clearly, the text is Victorian in character and values. Issues of periodization are always debatable, but in terms of generation labels, like Generation X, or Baby Boomer, or Greatest Generation, there is no precise end, they just kind of fade away.
posted by stbalbach at 6:11 PM on March 24, 2007

Continuing the derail: this really is a strangely processed a PDF, to me anyway. The text is selectable as characters, yet there's no font embedded other than Courier, which that definitely ain't. Also, if you delete the top layer of selectable text, you get another layer beneath, which is the same text rendered as a bitmap image; unselectable as individual characters. And then, if you delete that layer, you get this. I don't get it. Did someone go through each page with the clone stamp in Photoshop to smooth out the backround under the editable text? Even the PDF is a mystery.
posted by sklero at 6:21 PM on March 24, 2007

Regarding medieval:

The term "Middle Age" (medium ævum) was first coined by Flavio Biondo in the early 15th century. Enlightenment era writers then contracted it to mediæval, or more precisely "middle epoch", a sort of snub against what the enlightened folks considered 'barbaric dark ages'. Some say that because of typesetting issues, not every printer had, or bothered with the expense, of using the Latin diphthong Æ, so it would sometimes be abbreviated (or corrupted) as mediaeval which gained in popularity over time. This was then further corrupted by later generations to the modern medieval.
posted by stbalbach at 6:53 PM on March 24, 2007

Is this something I need to give a crap about to understand?
posted by Wonderwoman at 8:51 PM on March 24, 2007

Aloysius Bear: I agree that OCR does do weird stuff to a document, however, as sklero much more succinctly (and compellingly) put it: this darn document has layers, and the backmost one is blank. Now I don't know of any scanning process that would do that feat. Weird. Perhaps we're being introduced, in a reverse-engineering kind of way, to the amazing tools big modern libraries like the U of Toronto have at their disposal. or...
posted by dylanjames at 8:53 PM on March 24, 2007

dylanjames --

The PDF document made me suspicious, too.

Also, the writing style does not seem convincingly 1915, to me. I haven't found anything decisive, but there are little things that don't ring true for that error, little matters of tone and voice that seem contemporary to us.

(But maybe I am just looking for some reason to cry "hoax.")
posted by jayder at 9:17 PM on March 24, 2007

for that error

uh, I meant "era."
posted by jayder at 9:17 PM on March 24, 2007

Yes, dylan, it's a bloody conspiracy. You've uncovered it, you've thwarted their plans, yay you!

The University of Toronto will surely 'fess up to their crimes now.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:29 PM on March 24, 2007

It's a mystery wrapped up in an enigma wrapped up in an image layer!
posted by Abiezer at 9:38 PM on March 24, 2007

Is this something I need to give a crap about to understand?
Joined: March 20, 2007

Welcome to Metafilter!
posted by stbalbach at 9:39 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

does not seem convincingly 1915

True. Since the lecture was given on January 20th 1915, using the Chinese calender, it is still "1914", since the new year did not happen until Feb 13th 1915.
posted by stbalbach at 9:47 PM on March 24, 2007

True. Since the lecture was given on January 20th 1915, using the Chinese calender, it is still "1914", since the new year did not happen until Feb 13th 1915.

Ah, that explains it.
posted by jayder at 9:54 PM on March 24, 2007

Hey fresh fish^5 -- I'm not screaming "conspiracy, conspiracy!" -- but I have been burned a couple times here, and this thing looks weird. Being the PDF wonk that I am, either I've just learned something new about PDF, or something fishy is going on. I don't care which case happens to be the truth...honest! I love learning new things about PDF.

yay you Hey, I'd appreciate constructive advice about how to gently pose this kind of question without being a magnet for taunting... oh, nevermind, I forgot where I was for a sec. Yay you!
posted by dylanjames at 10:00 AM on March 26, 2007

After a little research and a brief jaunt over to our main library, I can confirm the existance of the original paper/lecture.

While we don't have that specific book, the paper is included in The collected papers of Thomas Frederick Tout, Vol. 3 (Manchester / 1934 / pp.93-115). It seems to contain the exact same text and the same plates, although I didn't bother to do a thorough comparison.

Of course, it is also entirely possible that I am working in collusion with whatever mysterious forces are perpetrating this hoax.

Although it's for more likely that I'm an unwitting dupe.
posted by zueod at 3:11 PM on March 26, 2007

zueod wrote:
> Although it's for more likely that I'm an unwitting dupe.

I doubt it. I suspect we're seeing some modern PDF creation tools. Thanks for checking!!
posted by dylanjames at 7:35 PM on March 26, 2007

And thus concludes another exciting episode of...the Metafilter Mystery Team™!
posted by sklero at 8:47 PM on March 26, 2007

stbalbach, that is way cool.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 PM on March 26, 2007

Digging a bit deeper, here's some technical info on the technology used to produce this PDF:

"LuraDocument JPM is the world’s first implementation of the new ISO standard JPEG2000/Part6 for the compression of scanned color documents containing both bitonal elements (such as text and technical drawings) and images. Text and image components are segmented and compressed separately, each with the optimal algorithms. In the process, the bitonal layer is stored losslessly in Fax Group 4 format,while the fore- and background layers are compressed using the JPEG2000 standard. "
posted by dylanjames at 7:18 AM on March 27, 2007

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