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pg. 1-2 – Uther’s castle – the castle here is based off of Carreg Cennan castle in Wales, reconstructed to the best of my abilities. While Arthuriana reached many other countries and continents, I’ve been sourcing the bulk of castles from Wales as a nod to its Welsh origins. An interesting point here with this reconstructed castle drawing is that no original medieval roofs survive for us to study. We’re used to seeing them without any roofs at all—and this one possibly seems to be missing one as well. But in reality, it was common to build walls tall enough to hide the roofs from access, to block them from being besieged or lit on fire. Being mainly made of timber, they were comparatively very weak points in castle structure. We can assume that the castle roof here, then, is covered as well.
It should also be noted that there is evidence for lime-washing the exteriors of castles—the White Tower of London is named precisely that due to it being lime-washed at some point in its life—but I have not elected to do this here, and will probably not for the duration of the comic since I think it’s rather ugly. Sorry/not sorry, but aesthetics win out with this one.
pg. 4 – hosen – the old plural of “hose”. They’re leggings, more or less, that extend up to the thigh and attach to braes (drawstring linen underwear) beneath. I take a good amount of artistic license here throughout the comic in drawing them as tight and form-fitting as they are. While hosen were cut on the bias for some stretch, they still were not made of stretchable knit fabrics, so the woollen reality is slightly more wrinkled and shapeless, though certainly not horrendous.
pg. 7 – “Of course I wait until spring!” – Springtime was the traditional time for warfare in the late middle ages for various reasons, the two main ones as I can tell being that 1) the weather was fair 2) castle stores would be low after winter and before the first harvests of summer. The weather is perhaps easier to understand, but food stores are relevant that, in the even that an army was unable to successfully siege the castle and gain control of it that way, starving the castle out would be their next tactic. I had a quote from a book I was going to enter here about how spring was synonymous with war-season, but I can’t find it. I looked through every book I own on the middle ages and it eludes me. So just take my word on this until I find this damn fucking quote. But the point is, Merlin reminding Uther to wait until spring—though he warns him to wait because he knows Uther is impulsive—is taken as condescending, since even a child would know something so basic.
pg. 11 – here’s the toilet I kept talking about on twitter. Why is it important? Because the latrine shaft is an access point for the castle. Gross, but real.
pg. 15-17 – I am not very well versed in Medieval battles/battle tactics, as demonstrated in these pages. Future battles will very likely be based on real battles from the reign of Edward III. This one I pulled out of my ass. Can swords go that deep into someone? I dunno, man. I mean it looks good though right? Forgive me for all of this.
pg. 18 – The castle here is a (silhouetted) reconstruction of the ruins at Tintagel in Cornwall. The makeup of the cliffs has surely changed in the past few hundred years, so I can’t say those are accurate.
If you want to see the ruins yourself, there are some excellent photospheres via google maps: Inside the ruins; looking towards the gatehouse; more or less the same POV as on page 18. If you want an extra treat, check out Merlin’s cave which is nearby.
pg. 24-25 – I tried to make it apparent that Merlin’s travelling down to the ground floor to the castle cellar, which is where his chamber is. Most chambers in castles were not on the ground level, but on upper stories. It’s basically a slight: Uther’s put his weirdo astrologer in a gross, leaky cellar room where there are rats scurrying around (there’s on in the first panel on p. 24 thought it’s slightly obscured by shadow) and lime wash falling off the walls. I also imagine Merlin is a little bit too tall for some of those ceiling arches in his room and is always having to duck to get around as to not smash his head.
pg. 33 – the dialogue: “My lord Uther, the queen is in labour” is not really historically sound for a handful of reasons, but it’s my attempt in filling in the reader that Ygerna is now queen. It’s more realistic that Ygerna and Uther would’ve been in different castles and Uther only would’ve been told of Arthur’s birth a few days after the fact.
pg. 34-35 – these pages feature a birthing chair, which is a medieval element I researched so long ago I have no sources to site about these being used. I don’t feel it’s a great sin to include one, though, since they have been in use in different eras and cultures all over just due to how some births are more successful in different positions. It is, also, a very good way of avoiding having to draw or awkwardly frame out Ygerna’s vagina pushing out a baby.
pg. 40 – the riddle here is from the 10th century Exeter book. The original reads something like: I have heard of a something-or-other, growing in its nook, swelling and rising, pushing up its covering. Upon that boneless thing a cocky-minded young woman took a grip with her hands; with her apron a lord’s daughter covered the tumescent thing. It appears here very much shortened and paraphrased, as a riddle spread by word of mouth would, with some word choices by Kay that make it a bit lewder. The answer to the riddle appears later in the chapter.
pg. 44 – Lady Matilda remarks here “It was smart of you to come on a feast day” to Merlin, which means that he’s visiting on a day where meat was being served, as opposed to a fast day which would only feature fish.
pg. 45-49 – the dining scene has some accuracy issues, some of which are wilfully altered, some of which are pure mistakes. As for the mistakes, and this is blindingly embarrassing for me, I drew them seated at the wrong end of the hall, near the service doors to the kitchen (which, as an added historical note, would’ve been a separate building outside of the manor). I don’t know how this happened. Even though wrong, it gives the scene a bit more of a humility to it with Sir Ector not being seated on a dais at the front end of the hall. But then Sir Ector and Lady Matilda eating in the great hall with their children (even the young ones, unless Elaine only came out after the formal dining was over) is not accurate; by this time, Lords ate in their chambers on more intimate terms day to day, dining in the hall with their family and servants only on major holidays. The great hall on a daily basis was more of a dining hall for servants.
The seating arrangement is also odd. Merlin being sat to the right of Sir Ector is far, far too high of a seat of honour for someone coming to them as the King’s herald. There’s no real excuse for it except for drawing the scene the way I wanted to. I’m also honestly unsure where Arthur and Kay should be sitting in this scene—the resources I’ve found for seating charts for the era list people by occupation and deal generally with seating arrangements at royal courts instead of countryside manors. Where do first sons sit? Where do rowdy foster sons sit? The number of people seated at each table I’m also a little foggy on. So for all these sins, please forgive me. I will either learn and get a better handle on it or I’ll stay in the dark and ultimately no one will care because there will be hot gay sex distracting you from it all.
As for accuracy, the table messes are more accurate than they aren’t, showing properly plated foods (it’s very hard to see, but there’s some custard by Merlin which has been cut up in cubes, that being the proper way of serving custards in the era), trenchers (bread plates), the salt cellar near Sir Ector, and there’s even the ewery (L) and cup board (R) on the back wall. Medieval dining was incredibly complex and something ASC is sure to see in more detail later.
pg. 46 – the construction of the sword in the stone here is taken straight from Malory: “…against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in the midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters were written in gold about the sword…” My exact proportional dimensions may be off, but it is still at least an attempt to get it accurate by this canon. I have, however, placed it outside St. Paul’s in London as opposed to inside. What exactly St. Paul’s looked like before the Great Fire of London in 1666 I’m not entirely sure, however, so it might not be the more accurate form of it here (or in the rest of the chapter.)
In Le Morte Darthur, Malory says the sword appears at the “greatest church in London (whether it were Paul’s or not the French book maketh no mention)”. I chose St. Paul’s rather blindly, not entirely sure how many great churches there were in London at the time, but it’s a choice that seems to have worked out well in my favour, since it’s near Cheapside (Eastcheap, contemporarily), which is where the New Year’s tourney is to take place. (Once the tourney happens there’ll be more historical notes on this.)
pg. 51 – Arthur’s appearance here in the middle of the night suggests the Medieval phenomenon of “biphasic” sleep, an idea presented by some historians that, due to a lack of artificial lighting and sleep being solely regulated by the sun, the body adjusted itself to sleep in two phases during the night. One would sleep for a few hours, wake naturally and stay awake for about an hour, and then go back to sleep, giving us a “first sleep” and “second sleep”. What you did in that hour of wake was up to you, but it was usually praying, reading, or fucking. Arthur’s chosen to sneak food and go talk to Merlin, who, still being fully dressed, we can assume is awake due to insomnia. Arthur’s comment that Merlin won’t tell on him doesn’t mean he’s asking to not be told on that he’s out of bed—that’s not too abnormal for this time of night—but that he’s evading his punishment of not being allowed to eat.
pg. 51 – Arthur’s dog Venus (who surely has a brother named Mars in the kennel) is an extinct breed of hunting dog known as an Alaunt. The Master of Game, a hunting book written by Edward of Norwich, the second Duke of York, in the early 15th century, gives us a look at them. He writes that they “should be made and shaped as a greyhound, even of all things save of the head, the which should be great and short.” As for their character, they were “commonly… stordy [giddy] of their own nature and have not such good sense as many other hounds have, for if a man prick [chase] a horse the alauntes will run gladly and bite the horse. Also they run at oxen and sheep, and swine, and at all other beasts, or at men or at other hounds.” He goes on to add: “In all manner of ways alauntes are treacherous and evil understanding, and more foolish and more hare-brained than any other kind of hound.” Modern dog breeds are a confusing tangle, and something that the Medieval mind was not concerned with much, so a hard parallel to something close to a medieval Alaunt is hard to make. I made the choice to draw Venus being more or less a Pitt bull. I imagine she’s a bit of yard dog who wanders around barking all day and being shooed out of the hall when she sneaks in, much like Arthur himself. Her being out of the kennel at night either suggests that Arthur lets her sleep in his room with him (and Kay, as well as some of the other siblings we haven’t met) or she guards the hall at night and followed Arthur out after he snuck into the larder for his midnight snack.
pg. 52 – Arthur shows an interesting combo of good manners and really bad manners here in his offering of food to Merlin. He holds his bread and cheese the proper way, the cheese held in the fingers against the thumb to be cut, the bread against the heel of the hand, but then he turns to Merlin with his knife and jabs it at him. Jabbing your knife at someone even today would be a bit rude, even if you are offering them some cheese because you think they’re too scrawny.
pg. 53 – Sir Gacas is the knight that Kay has been living in service to and would be Kay’s uncle on his mother’s side. Earlier in the chapter it’s mentioned Kay just came back from their manor–either kicked out for causing trouble (which I think likely) or because he finished his service. This means, however, that Arthur and Kay have not grown up together, and had I been more on top of my game and realised this earlier, I would’ve made Kay Arthur’s cousin, since that would’ve assured they’d grow up together in a way that’s more like the brothers they’re usually presented as.
pg. 59-60 – What Arthur describes here is the life of a Knight Errant (errant meaning “wandering”) which, due to the popularity of tournaments despite the church’s constant attempt to stop them, was a very viable way of making a living. Knights bested and captured in tournaments either gave up their arms and armour as their ransom, or paid a sum to be let free by their victor. Arthur could prove his prowess this way, travelling all over England while making a pretty penny, and perhaps catch the eye of a lord who would have him in his service. The word “joust”, by the way, is not actually pronounced like jowst but joost.
You’ll note that in the jousting scenes, no tilt appears (that’s the divider between the two jousting knights) because they weren’t in use in this era. Knights—or rather their horses—just fucking ran at each other. The jousting armour is not super accurate; both Arthur in the first panel and the knight he unhorses are lacking any arms to tell the audience who exactly they are (woops) but I remembered by the time it came to the French knight. This isn’t really my wheelhouse, and I was fretting so much about getting the action across in these panels that I totally forgot to check.
pg. 61 — well, we’ve got a white Jesus on our hands. If it wasn’t Arthur’s daydream, I wouldn’t have drawn him white, since I hate that guy. Fuck white Jesus. But in Arthur’s mind, and the Medieval mind, Jesus was white and Roman soldiers look like English knights. I followed the Medieval tradition of placing Biblical scenes in a contemporary setting to show the reality Arthur is familiar with, instead of a personal belief that Jesus was a white guy, or that Romans had 14th century armour. It’s been suggested that placing Biblical and historical scenes of all sorts in a contemporary setting is partly due to the Medieval mind not having a thorough concept of cultural progression through time, but I’m not completely sure I believe that.
pg. 64 – Merlin’s horse has appeared before, but I forgot to mention it’s taken right from Malory, who describes him as riding a great black horse. I decided to make that great black horse a Friesian, which I think I finally managed to draw huge enough on this page. Medieval people didn’t bother with breeds like we do, for horses or dogs, but classified horses by what they were for; a huge horse like this would be a courser, which was not a horse for riding, like palfrey or a rounsey, but for a knight in battle. Why he has a giant horse is probably just for style—he’s Aquarius rising after all, and likes making an impression. And he’s a wizard so, like, fuck the rules.
pg. 67 – What exactly London looked like in the early 14th century we don’t really know. I based my drawing off of the Copperplate map from the 1550s (the link takes you the section of the map I directly referenced) with a little extra help from the 1543 Wyngaerde Panorama. I did my best to change the buildings a little bit and omit some that were built later, but I probably did fuck up somewhere. The important bit is there, however, which is St. Paul’s Cathedral, which I’ll talk about more when we get a closer look at it.
pg. 68 – First, a bit about New Year’s—this is the one we’re familiar with, the one that happens in January and ends the Christmas festivities. There were other new years in the medieval year, however, like the agricultural year (spring, sometime, I can’t remember exactly when), and the start of the regnal year. Years in the Middle Ages were noted as the first year of King Edward III, etc, instead of using the Anno Domini—The year of the Lord—date like we do now. There was, then, a start to the Regnal year (which would’ve been the king’s coronation date) that was different from the start of the other new years. This is why Medieval dates can be so funny to pin down, because you had to know when the king was crowned and adjust the regnal date to the A.D. date. I have no idea what regnal year it might be in the comic now, given there’s no king, but perhaps they’re still using Uther years despite him being dead.
At any rate, this is the standard January New Year. This was also the only time gifts were commonly exchanged, since birthday celebrations weren’t a thing (and wouldn’t be until the 19th century, and even then they were only for children.) It wouldn’t be uncommon, then, for Arthur to give a gift to someone on the New Year, though his generosity does shock Merlin since I don’t think he even considers Arthur a friend (yikes.)
Arthur comments that the gift is “only rabbit” and that he hopes it doesn’t offend Merlin. This is because different furs were designated for different levels of society. There were sumptuary laws about who could wear what; Arthur doesn’t really know what the hell Merlin is or what his station might be, and rabbit is a rather low-end fur that almost anyone could wear. His assumption that it might be beneath Merlin is correct, especially given where Merlin was seated (to the right of Sir Ector, which wow, fuck) when he visited in the summer. Nevertheless, he puts it on Merlin anyway without Merlin having much say in the matter. (And he fixes it on him with a lady’s hair pin that I like to think he stole from his step mother.)
pg. 69 – Arthur is Kay’s squire for the melee only because Malory says he is. Realistically, as a second son, Arthur would be in training to become a priest. My excuse is that Merlin instructed Sir Ector to raise Arthur like a first son, since he is bound for greater things than any second son ever was. Merlin may mention this sometime if I have room for it and it’s relevant enough. Still, I’m not sure how usual it would be for someone to be their brother’s squire. This is one of the things that’s gotten a bit messed up by both aging characters up a bit (in Malory, Arthur is about 14 here) and staying very faithful to Malory.
pg. 70 – Merlin gets distracted by sighting Sayid, a Middle-Eastern merchant, because he owes him a shitton of weed. Yes! They had weed back then. Good old hashish, which was enjoyed in the Middle East and I assume could be delivered as far west as England if someone was willing to pay for it. As I understand it, it was made into a paste and eaten in small lozenge form instead of being smoked (wow tho, I hear edibles are kind of rough.) If you want to read more about medieval weed, Medievalists.net gives us a good article on it. (Also if anyone wants to buy me the book referenced in it, Hit Me Up please)
pg. 71 – Malory states that Kay is knighted on All Hallows Mass. This means Kay is probably somewhere around 21 at this point.
pg. 74 – So, St. Paul’s Cathedral. The version we get to see here in ASC is what’s referred to as Old St. Paul’s, which burnt down in the great fire of London in 1666. All we really have as references for what it used to look like are the Copperplate map, a few panoramas like the Wyngaerde panorama and some 17th century drawings from The History of St. Paul’s Catherdral in London, From its Foundation until These Times by William Dugdale from 1663.
The latter drawings helped me create the Eastern façade in detail that we see here. It is a little bit too short, admittedly; that rose window should be way way higher up. I fudged it because I wanted it to surround Arthur’s head like a nimbus. Hell yeah it looks good.
The church yard I based off of this image of the church from Early Christian Architecture. There are some modern speculative drawings that place timber buildings against the sides of the church, and I know of contemporary (or contemporary enough—15th-16th century) accounts of markets in the church yard of St. Paul’s. These we don’t see here, if only for the ease of drawing it.
Also, since this is the most detailed drawing we get of Arthur in this update, I wanted to mention that the brooch on his cloak is, in fact, a real extant item. This is what the real one looks like:
This brooch is featured in Dress Accessories: 1150-1450, which surveys the finds of digs in London in great detail. More detail than even I find I need (but great if you’re trying to reproduce these items yourself.) The actual pin is actually quite small (too small to fasten a cloak) and unlike everything else in the book, is actually a find from Norway. Why did I pick it, then? Because it’s in the shape of two dragons. Quite fitting for a Pendragon, even if he doesn’t know he is one.
pg. 77 – Latin and French were used as written languages, rather than English, which is why the writing on the stone here appears in Latin. In full it reads Quisquis hunc ensem ex hac petra extrahere potest ille juste totius Angliae rex natus, the style of the text itself being borrowed from a 10th century illuminated manuscript since I like it so much. Arthur’s translation of it is a little less poetic and more unsure than Merlin’s; he’s evidently been learning Latin for a while, but still has a bit of trouble with it. Given Merlin’s role as an astrologist and as a practitioner of medieval occult magic, he would unquestionably have a very firm command of Latin, since he wouldn’t be able to study either of these things without it.