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Wolves in War: Ancient and Modern Romans to 1600 AD
Written and Researched by: Ivy Stanmore Sydney, Australia
Wolf Song of Alaska Member and Volunteer
Wolves have been associated with and used in warfare since time immemorial. Every form of the wolf has been utilized to aid man in pursuit of his human enemies. As one source states "there are two-legged wolves, symbolic wolves and wolves spiritual." Wolves metaphoric and wolves metamorphic (a form of shape-shifting) could also have been added to this list. The image of the wolf has permeated human perceptions of war from ancient times until the present day. To trace this influence we can look back to very early times - back to the Romans for instance.
The formidable Roman army made good use of the wolf. The army had an individual in the forefront of the ranks known as a "Signifer." It was a position of much honor, for the Signifer carried the standard of each legion on which were displayed its honors, either those won in battle or awarded to it for outstanding deeds. Over his helmet the Signifer wore an animal skin, which usually fell to his shoulders and down his back. Frequently the skin was that of a wolf in order to make the Signifer appear more fierce to the oncoming enemy.
All Roman armies were divided into two branches. The Regular legions were comprised of soldiers who were Roman citizens. The Auxiliary legions were men who joined the Roman army from captured provinces. They were not Roman citizens but could become so after a period of army service. Both branches took part in actual fighting, and records of Auxiliary legions in service are found throughout the length and breadth of the Roman Empire. In their spare time all legionnaires hunted to provide fresh meat to supplement their diet, for sport or to obtain skins for the use of Signifers or even for their own comfort. It must have been bitterly cold to men from southern climates serving on Hadrian's Wall on the boundary of what is now Scotland and England, or in northern Gaul. An extra wolfskin or bearskin would be most welcome to these soldiers.
Wolf bones have been found in Britbach and Saalfeld in Germany, among encampments of Auxiliary troops; at Caerleon, a Regular legion base and at Caernarvon, an Auxiliary base, both in Wales; and as far north as Falkirk in Scotland at Mumrills, where an Auxiliary unit was stationed. Wolf meat was never a primary source of food, so wolves in these areas must have been hunted for sport and for their skins.
Sometimes, however, the enemies of Rome took a leaf from their book. An example of this comes from the Dacian wars, fought in two campaigns in approximately 100-106 AD. The province of Dacia is in modern day Romania - that name itself being a reminder of the Roman occupation of that part of Europe. But Romania was unheard of when Trajan took his troops into the forbidding province in the first century and, if the Dacians had had their way Romania as we know it may never have existed at all. As history records, it took two savage campaigns to subdue them. The Dacians had a psychological weapon to used against the Romans - though it is doubtful how effective it was against such a disciplined force. The Dacians attached to a spear shaft a metal piece in the shape of a wolf's head with gaping jaws. To the rear of the wolf's head a piece of silk or other material was fixed, its shape like a wind-sock one sees at airfields. This contraption when waved gave out a howling or whistling sound, like the howl of a wolf. Together, many such wolf heads are said to have sounded like a pack of howling wolves. Depictions of this campaign and the Dacian wolf weapon can be seen to this day carved in great detail on Trajan's Column in Rome, a monument commemorating his victory.
The wolf is linked with martial themes in Scandinavian myth and history. An early Viking inscription makes reference to Herass in the form of a fish:
"In what form comes Herass to the land of the Goths As a fish swimming."
The authority in this instance assumes Herass to be a reference to Odin or Woden, an Army God of the Vikings, who is always associated with wolves, usually named Geri and Freki, with ravens and occasionally with a fish. Representations of Odin and his wolf companions are found in items in the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Although no body was actually found in this archaeological excavation, the richness of the funerary accompaniments makes it certain that the person commemorated was a king or warrior of the Viking people, buried with all his possessions, including his battle accoutrements; maybe he even belonged to the Wuffingas, the wolf people, who inhabited this part of East Anglia at the relevant time.
In Scandinavia, too, there is a tradition that on occasions people could turn into animals, especially wolves and bears, taking the characteristics as well as the form of the animal they became. This metamorphosis or "shape sifting" is mentioned in myth and also in some of the sagas. The Volsung Saga tells how two humans, Sigmund and Sinfjotli, put on wolfskins and while wearing them speak with the voices of wolves, though they could understand each other. As long as Sigmund and Sinfjotli wore their wolfskins they remained invincible and inviolate in battle. On removal of the skins and resuming human form they became vulnerable again. The most feared of Scandinavian warriors were the "berserkers," who gained their name from wearing bearskins and from which comes our English language word "berserk," but the alternative name for the berserkers was "wolf coats."
In addition, in some witch trials in Norway testimony was given that both men and women wore belts made from wolf skins, "wolf belts" which transformed them into wolves, and men wore these into battle. But was it only men who wore these "wolf belts" into battle? Again from Norway comes the report of a battle fought about 700 AD between Harald Wilditonn (Wartooth) and Sigurd Hring. We read of shield-maidens who came with the fighting men and carried their standards and shields. Apparently these women were a feature of early Norwegian campaigns and were very formidable. Some of these women are named:
"...the shield-maidens Visma and Heid, each of whom came with numerous host. Visma carried Harald's standard."
Another shield-maiden is named as Vebjord, she was said to come from Gotland in the north. Vebjorg was a heroine. In the battle she attacked the champion Soknarsoti and dealt him heavy blows, one of which cut through his jaw and chin. Vebjorg is said to have worn a helmet and a mail-shirt and to have carried a sword. Late in the battle she met with the champion of Sigurd Hring, one Thorkel the Stubborn. He and Vebjorg exchanged fierce blows and continued fighting until at last she fell wounded and died. In these remembrances of long-dead Norwegian shield bearers, are there found echoes of the Valkryies, so prominent in Germanic folklore and later immortalized by Wagner in the famous Ring Cycle.
The idea of metamorphosis or transformation was believed by people in early and medieval times. Originally this had been a pagan belief, and the Church authorities made great efforts to eliminate it because it taught only humans had souls and therefore they could not be transformed into animals who were soulless. In the second century AD the Roman North African Tertullian taught that metamorphosis was not possible and his teachings were strongly reinforced by Ambrose, a doctor of the Church. In the fourth century St. Augustine taught it was impossible for transformation to occur and St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed the impossibility of metamorphosis. However, among themselves medieval people continued to believe that some events were not always explicable and many things happened which had no rational explanation. Even Shakespeare was to write: "There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy". (Hamlet, Act I, Sc.5). So belief in metamorphosis took many years to die out, and in certain psychological circumstances occurs even to this day.
The use by a war leader of a fearsome name and the appropriation to himself of some of the characteristics of the animal or object in the name could be regarded as an early form of psychological warfare, with the intention of striking fear into the enemy and to project a sense of invincibility into the mind of any opponent.
The Anglo-Saxons employed a form of this tactic. Many Anglo-Saxon names used either the pre-fix or suffix "Wulf". It occurs repeatedly in many Anglo-Saxons writings. A few items from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle will give an idea of how common were names containing the word "Wulf" and also an idea of the activities of persons so named:
In AD 661
"In this year ........ Wulfhere, son of Penda ravaged out from Ashdown" and "Wulfhere, son of Penda, ravaged the Isle of Wight and gave the people of Wight to King Aethelwald because Wulfhere had stood sponsor for him."
In AD 675
"Wulfhere, son of Penda, and Aescwine fought at Bledandeafod."
In AD 786
The Chronicle reports that King Cynewulf was killed in an unexpected attack whilst he slept. Refusing to surrender his warriors fought on until they were all killed save one, a Welshman, who was badly wounded.
In AD 823
The Chronicle reports that in 819 one Coenwulf, King of Mercia, died and was succeeded by Ceolwulf but in 821 or 823, the Chronicle is not clear, after a battle, Ceolwulf was deprived of his kingdom.
In AD 837
"Wulfheard - ealdorman fought at Southampton against 33 ships and made great slaughter."
In AD 840
"In this year Ealdorman Eanwulf with the men of Somerset and Ealdorman Osric with the men of Devon fought against a Danish host at the mouth of the Parret and made great slaughter and won a great victory."
In AD 850
It is reported that Rorik, a Danish Cheftain from Frisia, attacked London and Canterbury. He had 350 ships. King Aethelwulf of Wessex met and defeated Rorik but Rorik stayed on and wintered with his troops on the Isle of Thanet and the Isle of Sheppey.
In AD 860
Osric and Aethelwulf, ealdormen of Berkshire and Hampshire, led their forces against the Danes and defeated them.
King Aethelwulf of Wessex was the father of five sons, most of whom reigned in their turn. His youngest son was Alfred, the only English king ever to receive and deserve the epithet "the Great." Alfred began his reign in AD 871 and spent most of the remainder of his life battling Danish Viking invaders in an attempt to preserve the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. King Aethelwulf's gold ring can still be found in the British Museum. It is a fine example of the Anglo-Saxon jewellers' craft.
In 937 King Aethelstan won a great victory over the Danes at the Battle of Brunanburgh. Describing the feasting and rejoicing following the battle, a contemporary poem states that the kings and princes:
"Returned to their homes, the land of Wessex"
"The horn beaked raven with dusky plumage
The hungry hawk of battle, the dun coated
Eagle, who with the white tipped tail
Shared the feast with the wolf, the grey
beast of the forest."
The Viking raiders were described as "the slaughterous wolves" in the epic poem commemorating the Battle of Maldon. This battle, fought in 991 at Maldon on the Blackwater river in Essex (called the Penta river in those days), was one of vital importance. The English lost to the invading Danes, due mainly to overconfidence in the strength of their position. The English battle leader was named Byrhtnoth and his two lieutenants were Wulfstan and his son, referred to as "young Wulfmaer." Though all three fought heroically, they were slain and the Danes won the day.
In Gaelic the words for wolf are "Lub" and "Madadh Alluidh." In folklore the wolf is sometimes referred to as MacTire - "son of the earth". Scotland had the practice of burying the dead, especially warriors, in graves on islands which it was hoped would protect them from wolves. Areas of Scotland traditionally associated with such burials are the Isle of Handa and islands in Loch Awe and Loch Levan. Describing the Battle of Waterfirth where the Vikings fought the men of Skye, the writer of the Orkneyinga Saga says:
"There I saw the grey wolf gaping O'er the wounded corpse of many a man."
It was in the time of these continuous Viking raids, during the reign of Aethelred the Unready, that the famous cleric Archbishop Wulfstan II of York, noted for his sermons and dissertations, penned his notable sermon entitled "The Sermon of the Wolf to the English" (known in Latin as Sermo Lupi ad Anglos). Therein the Archbishop asserts the English are being punished for their sins by the raids of the Viking Danes and only repentance and remorse would bring victory and peace. None of the battles, however bloody, none of their deeds, however heroic, would be of any use without complete submission to Almighty God. Whether or not the Anglo-Saxons did repent of their sins, the Archbishop and Sermo Lupi were proven wrong. The fact is that the Danes were successful in their raids, established colonies, and a sizeable part of eastern and northern England passed under their control to become known as the Danelaw. Traces of this occupation are still found in place names and local dialects in areas which were originally part of the Danelaw.
Archbishop Wulfstan II was a survivor, having warned Ethelred and the English nation in his sermon, and when the Danish king Canute triumphed, Wulfstan wasted no tears. Because it was clearly God's will (in his view) that a new foreign dynasty should rule over the unrepentant English, he must submit, and submit Wulfstan did, supporting Canute for as long as he lived.
Wulfstan does not seem to have been a popular prelate in his day. His monks did not like him and believed he did not act in their best interests. No contemporary cleric wrote about the life of this Wulfstan, unlike a later namesake, who achieved sainthood, was buried in Worcester Cathedral and had no less a personage than King John as a devoted admirer. Archbishop Wulfstan II went on to write Institutes of Polity in which he instructs on the duties and responsibilities of sovereigns, and states that bishops must instruct their flock and guard it against the depredations of wolves (one supposes that's a metaphor for the human variety in this instance).
It is interesting to note that there is no sign of hostility to the wolf in any reference to the animal in these Anglo-Saxon writings. It is recognized as a creature worthy to be associated with brave deeds and accepted as part of their names, male and female. St. Wulfstan's mother's name was Wulfgiva. Can anyone imagine that these Anglo-Saxon leaders would give the name of a beast regarded as cruel, treacherous and evil to battle leaders and others associated with heroic feats of arms and the defense of their realm? In Anglo-Saxon society the wolf was regarded as a noble and brave creature.
Canute died in 1035 AD, left a disputed succession and was eventually succeeded by Edward the Confessor, who in his turn became a saint. He too left a disputed succession, and at his death in 1066 the kingship was assumed by Harold of Wessex. Before the year was out Harold was dead and William, Duke of Normandy, had won the Battle of Hastings and was crowned King of the English on Christmas Day, 1066.
The Normans were very different from the Anglo-Saxons. They intended to rule as conquerors and set about obliterating Anglo-Saxon culture and customs, replacing them with their own. The old English language was displaced, becoming the language of peasants and serfs; Norman French was the official tongue and remained so for about 300 years. Anglo-Saxon landowners were stripped of their titles, their lands were granted to Normans, and the feudal system was introduced. Names containing the word "Wulf" rapidly fell into disuse and were replaced by "good" Norman names, although an occasional name still appears as late as 1110-1135 AD in the reign of Henry I, William the Conqueror's youngest son, when Wulfhere was Master of the King's Mint - the official moneyer.
The Normans were descendants of the Scandinavian sea raiders, at times referred to as "sea wolves," who settled in western France and from there spread to many parts of the world. Originally called "Northmen" these people were soon recognized by the corrupted form of their own name becoming Norman and giving their name Normandy - land of the Normans - to the western province of France. Eventually the Normans and Anglo-Saxons intermarried and became the English as we now know them today; the old English language assimilated the Norman French words and was re-born. All this took several hundred years, and in 1066 the Normans were the conquerors and the Anglo-Saxons learned to accept them the hard way.
In 1065 a large landowner in what is now Northumbria was named Oswulf. He would soon disappear among the disinherited. The north of England was a turbulent place and William was to have much trouble controlling it. In 1069, Swein Ethrithson of Denmark landed in the Humber and was greeted joyously by the local people, who now regarded the Danes as liberators. A joint force of Danes and English marched on York and defeated the Norman garrison of that city. William marched. He ordered systematic destruction of all property, the people were to be killed, land was to be made desolate and depopulated, and the countryside laid waste so that nothing could find sustenance, not even a wolf. The bitterness of those who survived remained for generations.
But the Normans had a use for the wolf as an emblem. It appears in the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the Normans' greatest artistic achievements. The Tapestry is actually a piece of linen about 33 feet in length, embroidered in brightly colored wool. An end piece is missing and some restoration work was done in the 19th century, but apart from these modifications the Tapestry remains as it was designed shortly after 1066. The designer is unknown but it was almost certainly commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, a half-brother of William the Conqueror. This bishop was a warrior bishop, a feudal lord and a statesman, so his religious duties must have come low on his list of priorities.
The Tapestry tells a secular story, not a religious one. Some authorities hold that Queen Mathilda, William's queen, and her ladies embroidered the Tapestry, though many now discount this theory. No one really knows who put the stitches in the Bayeux Tapestry, though whoever it was had, a very high standard of workmanship. The colors are still bright and fresh, and the humans and animals, especially the horses, still filled with life and spirit.
The Tapestry is divided into three strips lengthwise. The main center portion shows the history of the Norman conquest of England from before the death of Edward the Confessor until William is victorious at the Battle of Hastings. The borders are above and below the main portion and they contain a variety of human and animal forms. Generally they do not illustrate the action taking place and have no connection with the narrative. Border animals usually are shown in pairs. Wolves are shown in the border below a scene where Harold and his retinue are feasting at Bosham before departing on a visit to Normandy. The wolves have very long tongues and appear to be licking their paws. Another illustration shows a wolf and a crane together. Yet another shows a pair of fish, several eels (one of which is being gripped by a man lying on his side, his other hand holding a dagger) - a wolf, a bird, then another wolf together with a centaur, and all these animals are trying to gain hold of the man. This is one instance which may have some relevance to actions taking place in the central portion of the Tapestry. William went on campaign in Britanny and before returning to England Harold joined him. At a ford across the river Couesnon, two Norman knights stumbled into some quicksand and Harold rescued them. The Tapestry shows him carrying one knight on his back and pulling the other from the quicksand with his right hand. The animals shown nearby may be an allegorical reference to the fact that the most unlikely combinations of humans and animals can join together during a time of war or other emergency.
It is not definitely known that the Tapestry was the Norman justification, pictorially, for their invasion of England. Harold always is shown as brave and worthy. Bishop Odo appears almost as often as his half-brother Duke William. Interpretation of border scenes is difficult - who is depicted as the crafty fox, the hunting dog, the wild wolf? Which animal depicts Harold, William or Odo? No one is certain, though theories abound. It has been suggested that the borders are a substitute to tell the story to those who could not read at a time when many were illiterate, but the borders are complex and the central portion tells the whole story of the conquest quite clearly. So the mystery remains.
Wolves appear in other parts of the Bayeux Tapestry, along with lions, ostriches, various birds, dogs and horses. Even fantasy creatures make an appearance, animals such as griffins, dragons and centaurs.
Medieval kings often had to rely on mercenary soldiers to fill the ranks of their armies. In those days standing armies were not kept, and calling out the fyrd or on performance of feudal military duties left gaps in the ranks at times. King John of England (reigned 1199-1216) employed a mercenary captain named Lupescar (the Wolf). Lupescar was placed in charge of various areas of Normandy and his actions caused King John, who was also Duke of Normandy, much trouble. Complaints poured in about the maltreatment Lupescar meted out to John's Norman tenants and people said he (Lupescar) "pillaged them as though he were in enemy territory." It is reported that the Abbess of a nunnery at Caen offered King John 40 marks - a considerable sum - if he would protect her and the Abbey from the depredations of Lupescar and make him return what he had already taken from the Abbey and its estates. But mercenary captains had to earn a profit, to pay their expenses and their men and, in the end, Lupescar probably succumbed to the lure of more money. When Phillip Augustus, King of France, invaded Normandy in 1204 he besieged the castle of Falaise, birthplace of William the Conqueror. Lupescar was in command of the garrison and after holding out against Phillip for a week - a mere token as sieges went at that time - Lupescar and his men surrendered to Phillip and he and his soldiers joined Phillip's army. Most likely Phillip had offered Lupescar what we would call "a good deal" to change sides. It was a frequent occurrence in medieval warfare, particularly where mercenary soldiers were used, and many battles were decided as a result of such tactics. King John was no friend to live wolves. In a decree early in his reign he placed a bounty of five shillings on the head of every wolf, describing them as pests to be exterminated.
A human who became known as the "She-Wolf" and brought much war and destruction in her train enters history at this point. In January, 1308, when Edward II of England (reigned 1307-1327) married Isabella, the pretty 16-year-old daughter of Philip IV ("the Fair) of France, neither he, nor the English people who welcomed their new queen with loud cheering, imagined they would be adding an epithet to this queen which would endure for 700 years. Nor did they consider that the seeds were being sown for a war which would plunge their descendants into triumphs and tragedies for almost 100 years. One authority states that Isabella played a dark and momentous role in English history. It is a fair comment.
It must be said that Edward II was not a satisfactory ruler in medieval eyes, and in the eyes of most historians since. Physically resembling his father, Edward I (known as "Longshanks" due to his height), the second Edward was tall, good looking and muscular. Born at Caernarvon in Wales, his father made him the first Prince of Wales. Although an excellent horseman, Edward II did not care for tournaments and jousting and was said to lack "kingly qualities." Edward enjoyed boating, swimming, thatching, ditching and other country pursuits; he liked music and was interested in the arts. His name is forever associated with the English defeat by the Scots at Bannockburn, but he was not an unsuccessful commander in other campaigns. His greatest faults seem to have been his lack of interest in day-to-day government, over-generosity to male favorites, and his inability to control powerful barons. He has been accused of homosexuality, however, in more modern days, it would probably be nearer the truth to say he was bi-sexual. He fathered four children by Isabella (two sons and two daughters) and had at least one bastard son whom he acknowledged. During his reign there were also several seasons of bad weather, when rain poured down in torrents, no crops could be planted and hunger was rife in the land.
The marriage was a failure, and it must have been a clash of personalities. Isabella opposed Edward at all levels from the start and sometime between 1308 and 1323 the "She-Wolf of France", as she is universally known, emerged and the name has been attached to Isabella ever since. In 1757, she was described as:
"She-wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs That tear'st the bowels of thy mangled mate."
Edward sent Isabella to Paris in March 1325 as an ambassador to meet with her brother, Charles VI, in a dispute which had arisen between the two countries. She took her son, heir to the English throne, with her. Isabella stayed on in Paris, refusing all entreaties to return, refusing even to return the heir to England. Around her she gathered a band of high-born, greedy malcontents, including several clerics, barons and lords, among whom was Roger Mortimer, a Marcher lord who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for treason and escaped. He became Isabella's lover. Some chroniclers say he was one among many, but about this there is doubt. There is no doubt about Roger Mortimer's position. These so-called exiles set about recruiting a mercenary army and, having succeeded in engaging Flemish mercenaries, sailed from Dordrecht, in what is now Holland, on September 23, 1326, landing near Harwich in Suffolk the following day. As one chronicler expresses it "the She-Wolf of France was baring her fangs." After visiting Bury St. Edmunds, the Queen and her army moved on to Cambridge, and by October 15 they were approaching London. Following some mob violence and killings, London admitted Isabella and her troops. Edward was forced to flee to the west country. He finally was betrayed by Rhys-ap-Howell at Neath in South Wales on November 16, captured and imprisoned at Kenilworth.
Isabella and Mortimer ruled England. Numerous executions followed in all their ghastly drawn-out horror. The Despensers, a father and son, who had been aiding Edward with the administration of the kingdom and enriching themselves at the same time, were hanged. The son was drawn and quartered also. Isabella had a particular hatred for the younger Despenser and attended his execution in person. Worse followed. Parliament was summoned for January 7, 1327 and Archbishop Reynolds read out the Articles of Deposition whereby Edward was to be made to abdicate. At Kenilworth on January 24, 1327, Edward II, under threat, abdicated his throne in favor of his young son, who was proclaimed Edward III. In reality, Isabella and Mortimer held supreme power.
A threat more terrible than physical harm was used to induce Edward to abdicate. Bishop Orleton told him that if he refused to sign the people would not only repudiate him, but might also repudiate his children and family. This broke Edward, a Plantagenet who could not accept the demise of his children and family.
Edward escaped once during his captivity, was recaptured and sent to Berkeley Castle. Another attempt was made to free him but was betrayed. It was announced on September 21, 1327 that Edward had died at Berkeley Castle. There is no doubt he was murdered by the order of Roger Mortimer and probably also Isabella, connived at the sentence. Legend has it that Edward died by having his bowels burned out by a red hot spit, which death would leave no mark on his body and that his agony was such that his dying screams penetrated the walls of the castle and were heard in the village. Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt Edward was horribly murdered and most historians have held that the She-Wolf actively participated in the plan to murder Edward.
Isabella and Mortimer ruled absolutely for three years; their rule was arbitrary, ruthless and unpopular. At the age of 17, with the aid of friends Edward III staged a "palace coup" at Nottingham Castle. Mortimer was removed from the bedchamber of Isabella, who entreated Edward III "Good son, good son, have pity on gentle Mortimer." Deserving no pity for his actions against both father and son, Mortimer received none. In London he was tried for treason, found guilty and executed with all the cruelty and barbarism he had inflicted on others.
Edward III banished his mother, Isabella, to lonely Castle Rising in Norfolk. There she lived in comfort, but the She-Wolf of France was caged. Her son visited her sometimes and occasionally she appeared at Court. Never again was she allowed to exert any influence over affairs in England. It must have been a boring existence for one who had been supreme at both the English and French courts. She died at Castle Rising in 1358 and was buried in the Franciscan Church in Newgate, London, wearing the habit of the Order of Poor Clares. Thus ended the She-Wolf of France though not the trouble she caused. Strangely, Isabella the She-Wolf is not regarded as England's most unpopular queen.
For Isabella's murdered husband, Edward II, his son raised a magnificent tomb in Gloucester Abbey, which still exists today. It is regarded as a masterpiece of English art and contains a full-length effigy of the king worked in alabaster. The tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage and the dead king was regarded as a martyr after miracles were reported to occur at his tomb.
Isabella's legacy to her son was a disputed claim to the throne of France. All Isabella's brothers reigned in their turn and all died without children - medieval lore said this was as a result of a curse placed on the Capetian family because of the horrendous and brutal manner that Phillip the Fair, Isabella's father, had dissolved the Order of the Knights Templars. Isabella was Phillip's only surviving child and she seems to have been a "chip off the old block," possessing a character no less warlike and cruel than her father. Nevertheless, Isabella was a female and by the Salic law, which was in force in France, no female was capable of inheriting the throne. However, the Salic law did allow a daughter to pass on her claim to her son and Isabella's son ruled England. By blood he was nearest in line to Phillip IV, being his grandson, but French authorities dismissed Edward's claim and, once again, it came to war: the Hundred Years War. Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, won great victories at Sluys, Crecy and Poitiers and the war continued on and off for years, notably during the reign of Henry V, until it ended in 1453 with the complete loss of all English possessions in France, except Calais. War indeed did follow the She-Wolf to the grave and beyond.
Henry V (reigned 1413-1422) was one of history's warrior kings. By conducting campaigns in France during 1415 and 1417 he was following in the footsteps of his forebears in pursuing war in that country which, after the efforts of Edward III and the Black Prince, had been allowed to lapse. Henry wrote about wolves on at least two occasions. The first time he writes of defensive weapons known as "wolfpits" and "wolf mouths." Wolf pits were holes in the ground in which two pronged stakes were placed as traps to halt or delay the advance of infantry. Wolf mouths were pits lined with many pointed, sharpened poles. In June 1418, writing to his Council in London from Rouen, Henry accurately described Rouen as "the most notable place in France, save Paris." Its walls extended five miles and were strengthened by six bastions and 60 towers. On one side was the river Seine, on the other three sides of the town the walls were defended by especially deep ditches filled with wolf pits.
Henry took Rouen after a bitter siege and found he had live wolves to worry about. In December 1421 he wrote to his wolf hunters in the Pays de Caux district of Normandy :
"It has come to our knowledge that, since these our present wars began and because of them, wolves, she-wolves and other ravening beasts have greatly increased in our said Duchy and especially in the balliwick of Caux, that they have piteously devoured several human creatures at which our suppliant subjects are so sore affrighted in their simplicity that they dare not stay in their houses in unfenced towns or villages or leave their children, and neglect their labour; so that the said cruel beasts have very much diminished the said land, which is nearly devoid of people."
It is reported that Henry wrote in similar terms to his wolf hunters in other towns including Cherbourg, Carentan, Bayeux and Gisors. Perhaps it should be noted that the winters during this period were said to have been severe, especially in 1420, and lack of food due to harsh conditions had made wolves and other animals exceptionally bold.
About the same time that Henry V was writing his letters, a mercenary named Muzio Attendolo Sforza was released from prison in Naples, along with Queen Joanna of Naples, his employer. Both had been imprisoned by the queen's French husband. Sforza could not get along with the new Neapolitan leader, Ottino Caracciolo, and so returned to Rome. The city was in chaos. There was no Pope - the cardinals were in the process of electing Oddone Colonna, who became Pope Martin V. During the summer and autumn of 1417, Sforza wrested Rome from the grip of another of his rivals, Braccio da Montone. Sforza and his army found Rome's streets blocked with rubble, weeds growing everywhere, and the army saw wolves in the streets. An English chronicler of the time wrote that he himself saw wolves hunting around St. Peter's Basilica.
Mention should be made of weapons during this period. The armed knight made his first appearance not in the medieval times but at Adrianople, where in AD 378 the Roman Army of the East was destroyed by the Ostrogoths. With its destruction the days of the legion and its supremacy came to an end, and the man fighting with his sword and lance astride a horse became the way of battle for the next thousand years and longer. It took centuries for this form of warfare to reach its apogee in the armed knight, but his prototype was born on the day the Roman legions were defeated on the fields of Eastern Europe.
Also in Eastern Europe about the 4th century BC the earliest known illustrations of stirrups occur. Just when they came into general use in the west is uncertain. They were not used by the Greeks and Romans, though the Vikings and Norsemen took advantage of them. The use and development of the stirrup over the years gave birth to a new industry, that of the weapon maker: swords, daggers, lances, shields, chain mail and finally plate armour were all part of the weapon makers' trade.
Warriors loved their weapons, especially their swords, and had great faith in the ability, luck or "charm" of each one. The makers of such weapons were highly esteemed in society and names were bestowed on superlative weapons. A sword named "Odin's flame" is Viking; a shield "Sun of Odin" and another "Hall Roof of Odin" - Odin being associated with wolves, also from Scandinavia. A Viking axe is named "the Wound's Wolf." Other weapons were carved with their owner's name. A sword of Norway was inscribed "Thormund possesses me"; yet another short sword found in the River Thames bore the inscription "Bjortelm carries me." The names of actual weapon makers also appeared. Ulfberht and Ingelrii were 10th and 11th century makers. The Crusaders often had "Homo Dei" on their weapons, meaning "Man of God" for such did they see themselves.
If a warrior died a natural death, not in battle, any gifts handed to him by his lord were symbolically returned in a ceremony called, in England, a "heriot," which means "war gear." In one such heriot the war gear of a warrior named Wulfsige contained a spear decorated with gold. Wulfsige must have been a notable warrior to have received such a valuable gift from his overlord. This ceremony also occurs in Frankish society and was not unknown in German lands, when connected with the smaller estates. Gradually the ceremony itself was transformed into payment of feudal dues to one's overlord.
By the 13th century certain towns were specializing in the making of weapons. One such was Passau in Germany, whose famous trademark was the "Running Wolf". Passau-made swords spread far and wide - an example from about 1300 is in the Armouries of the Tower of London. In 1959 another sword, bearing the same wolf trademark, was dredged from the river Thames and is now at the Guildhall Museum in the City of London.
Noblemen and warriors of the highest rank used wolf images on their arms and seals. One was Jasper Tudpr, uncle and guardian of the boy who became Henry VII, King of England, in 1485. Jasper was an upholder and supporter of the House of Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets when its cause appeared forever lost. On his great seal as Earl of Pembroke, Jasper used a mounted knight carrying a shield on the observe side and on the reverse side the Royal Arms of France and England quartered with two wolves as supporters. Jasper added a border of martlets, which denoted newly won nobility. However, later when his nephew was Henry VII of England and the House of Lancaster regained all its possessions, Jasper became Duke of Bedford as well as Earl of Pembroke. For his great seal as Lord of Abergavenny, he retained the Royal Arms of England and France, but the supporting images were now a wolf and a Welsh dragon (denoting the Tudor's Welsh ancestry). The reverse side showed a mounted knight with a shield bearing Jasper's Coat of Arms, with wolves, on the breastplate.
Indirectly connected with wolves and war were Henry VII's tax collectors, Empson and Dudley, who were regarded as "ravening wolves" by the people. In Henry VII's reign (1485 to 1509), Parliament met only seven times in 24 years, mainly for the purpose of granting the king taxes to pursue his wars. On receiving their orders, Empson and Dudley set to work with a will extracting the last farthing from a sullen people. They were aided and abetted by Archbishop Morton, who had his own neat method of extracting money. "You are not spending much," he would point out to someone, "so how about paying to the king?" To another, "You are spending very lavishly, you must be rich, how about giving a share to the king?" This method of collecting taxes is known in history as "Morton's Fork." When Henry VII's son came to the throne as Henry VIII, as a popular move he had Empson and Dudley executed - "thrown to the wolves" according to the popular comment.
As time and tide move forward, the connection of wolves with war begins to center more on weapons and places rather than on kings, whose rule becomes less personal and they themselves less important. Monarchs who survived revolutions and dynastic change became more subject to constitutions and parliaments.
This article has dealt with wolves spiritual, wolves metamorphic, wolves metaphoric, wolves symbolic and two-legged wolves. On a lighter note, wolves were used in entertainment,. Early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) a masque was performed at the Christmas festivities at which those dressed as cardinals wore crows' heads, asses' heads were attached to bishops and wolves' heads to abbots. This was very daring. No one knew at this time what Elizabeth's religious policy was going to be. Her father, Henry VIII, (reigned 1509-1547) had split with Rome and brought about the English reformation; her half-brother, Edward VI (reigned 1547-1553) was staunchly protestant and so was the nine days queen, Lady Jane Grey; and Elizabeth's half-sister, Mary (reigned 1553-1558) was devoutly Roman Catholic. The King of Spain had recently proposed marriage to Elizabeth and his offer was being seriously considered. Il Shifanoya, who recorded this incident, states Elizabeth attended the performance of this masque and was highly amused by the entertainment. The courtiers breathed a sigh of relief and everyone kept their heads on their shoulders.
Thanks must be given to the following people without whom this article would never have been written :
Dr. Carole Cusack of Sydney University, who kindly read the transcript Roger Link for the use of his computer and his for all his assistance. Anne Phillips for information which enabled special research to be undertaken. Michael. Spencer and Pauline Woolford for information provided regarding Roman armies.
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