Monday, February 27, 2017

Codex Gigas

The codex is the largest known medieval manuscript. Bound in a wooden folder covered with leather and ornate metal it is 36 in tall, 20 inch wide, and 8.7 in thick (92 cm x 50 cm x 22 cm) and weighs as much as a full grown man, tipping the scales at a whopping 165 lb (74.8 kg). The codex is is composed of 310 leaves of vellum allegedly made from the skins of 160 donkeys or perhaps calfskin. It initially contained 320 sheets, though some of these were subsequently removed. It is unknown who removed the pages or for what purpose. 

The boring theory is that the missing pages contained the monastic rules of the Benedictines. For more interesting theories see Legend below.


The codex was created by just one scribe known as Herman the Recluse in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in the Czech Republic. The monastery was destroyed during the 15th century during the Hussite Revolution. Records in the codex end in the year 1229. The codex was later pledged to the Cistercians Sedlec Monastery and then bought by the Benedictine monastery in Břevnov. From 1477 to 1593, it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov until it was taken to Prague in 1594 to form a part of the collections of the Emperor Rudolf II who was a devotee of occult arts - not surprisingly the codex contains contains magical formulae within its. Good old Rudolf's collections contain who rooms full of stuff perfect for kicking off all sorts of weird tales historical fiction.
At the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648, the entire collection was taken as war booty by the Swedish army. On Friday, 7 May 1697, a fierce fire broke out at the royal castle in Stockholm, and the Royal Library suffered very badly. The codex was rescued from the flames by being thrown out of a window. This damaged the binding and knocked loose some pages which are still missing today. Currently the codex is preserved in the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, on display for the general public.
The Monastery where the codex was written is destroyed in Hussite religious wars and a number of pages are removed. The Holy Roman Emperor obtains the book and puts it in his castle in Prague for safekeeping, but during the destruction and devastation of the Thirty Years War, the largest religious conflict in Europe, the Swedish capture the book and take it home. Soon after fire breaks out causing massive damage to the Swedish Royal Library where the codex was held and even more pages are lost. 

Are you sensing a theme here? 

Repeated religious conflict aimed at claiming or destroying this book or at destroying or hiding certain pages of the book. The question is, why?

Folio 290 recto, otherwise empty, includes this unique picture of the devil, about 50 cm tall. This illustration is one explanation for why the book is called the Devil's Codex.


According to one version of a legend that was already recorded in the Middle Ages, the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to avoid this harsh penalty he promised to create in one day a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight, he became sure that he could not complete this task alone so he made a special prayer, not addressed to God but to the fallen angel Lucifer, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil's picture out of gratitude for his aid. In tests to recreate the work, it is estimated that reproducing only the calligraphy, without the illustrations or embellishments, would have taken five years of non-stop writing. Scholars estimate the entire work would take 20 years. Presumably this ncludes the illumination and illustrations).

In popular fiction, the 12 missing pages of the Codex Gigas are rumored to contain an apocalyptic text called "The Devil's Prayer".

Those of you who check out the references will notice that this is taken directly from the sources with a few minor additions and comments by me. The entire codex can be viewed.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fiction Friday - Vol 7 Tales of Vengeance, Bk IV: Unlawful Detentions, Ch 5

Chapter 5: The Novice

Father Signoret reflected on the meeting he’d had with the Provincial Father, or Cellotius as the scholarly Jesuit preferred to be called. His latest mission sounded straightforward enough. Escort a young noblewoman to the Convent of the Blessed Heart, a closed convent two days ride from Paris, where she can be lodged for safekeeping. Her dying father, the Baron Deville, was aligned with the Guise clan and a long time friend to the Jesuit Order. The Baron had requested that the Jesuit Order arrange for the girl to be safely conducted to the convent where she is to become a novice. But if this was as simple as it sounds, would the Provincial Father have assigned it to me, he wondered. To be on the safe side, I’ll see if my cousin is available to lend his advice and perhaps accompany me.

Guy, as it turned out, was at his favorite restaurant, Le Bec Doré, but Guy was not alone.[i] With him were two expensively and stylishly dressed courtiers. The stunningly handsome courtier was already known to the Father, though the second man was not. Why is Guy with the Seigneur de Chambré? Well…no matter, de Chambré was handy enough in Gaston’s recent business with the Baron de Villemorin perhaps he will agree to accompany me as well…and if there is trouble, three swords are better than two. Now I’d best find out who the other man is.

The second man was Renaus de Jouvin Baron de Pleurissy, a very well connected noble at court who was acquainted with both Guy and de Chambré. After hearing of Father Signoret’s mission, the other three gentlemen professed their willingness to accompany the Jesuit. The four went to a Paris Town House where Signoret was to meet the young lady. There they learned that the girl’s mother Mme Deville was emotionally distraught, overwhelmed at the thought of losing her husband she just wanted her daughter kept away from unnamed “bad influences at court” and from people who she believed “may have designs on my innocent young daughter.” The family was visiting Paris when the father fell very ill.

While in Paris the maiden, Louise Deville, was relentlessly pursued by Adrian Chenevier the Chevalier de Branville. Father Signoret and Guy have clashed with the Chevalier in the past and he has a reputation as an infamous seducer of women. To date, with the support or her father, the maiden has rebuffed the Chevalier’s efforts. With her father’s death, the situation may change—which may explain the family’s sudden desire to place their daughter in a convent.  

In fact unknown to the Devilles, Branville who was frustrated at being thwarted, planned to take direct action. With the help of his sycophantic friends and hangers-on and a band of hired bravos, he intended to carry the maiden off to a cozy little love nest somewhere outside of the city that he had prepared for her seduction.

While the young lady’s luggage was brought down and the gentlemen finalized their travel arrangements, Guy’s valet Fabré brought him a letter which had been delivered while Guy was out. The letter was closed with sealing wax, but without any seal.[ii]

Your cousin the Jesuit’s life is in danger. If you value his life, then convince him to let someone else escort the girl.
One who is in your debt

Both the Baron de Pleurissy and the Seigneur de Chambré brought their coaches and the first order of business was determining in whose coach the lady would ride. The Baron de Pleurissy won the first engagement, but this led to a more-or-less friendly rivalry for the ladies attentions between the two gentlemen which continued throughout the journey.

The heroes soon discovered that Louise Deville, the novice-to-be, was a spoiled young noblewoman unused to travel. She complained of even the most minor rigors of travel: the dust, the heat, the cold, the rain, the mud, the many bumps and potholes in the road, and, of course, the lamentable state of springs on the Baron’s coach. To alleviate her trials she insisted on stopping to stop to rest, wash, refresh herself, pray at every religious shrine along the way, and drink a restorative glass of fine wine at every likely looking inn. As a result their short two-day ride soon lengthened to a long three day journey.

One of the inns where they stopped for the night was graced with a group of strolling players. At first the music entertained the travelers. But after a few songs the musicians began to argue over the ownership of a musical composition and while all playing stopped the argument grew louder. De Pleurissy mockingly suggested that de Chambré should exert his persuasive abilities to quiet the loudly arguing musicians, but de Chambré refused. So the Baron decided to resolve matters himself. He purchased the piece in dispute from the two musicians paying each of them equally and handsomely with an additional payment for them to play a courtly dance. Then taking advantage of the music that he had obtained, he asked Louise Deville. As they danced together, de Pleurissy smiled in triumph at de Chambré.

The next day they set out to reach the convent, which Guy said they should reach that day. Near lunch time the party stopped at a roadside inn to rest the horses and to get a bit to eat and drink before finishing their journey. But at the inn they were attacked by a band of more than a dozen masked bandits. During the melee they discovered that some of the bandits were gentlemen in disguise.

One of the gentlemen, Herbert Bellou was killed by lightning fast attacks of the Baron de Pleurissy.[iii] Another gentleman, Jean-Jacques de Vignon, surrendered to Guy. While a third, Vincent Graucher was shot and wounded by Father Signoret and then surrendered to the priest. Several other gentlemen bandits escaped on horseback.

Father Signoret’s horse had been put away in a stall so he quickly mounted one of the saddled horses that stood waiting in the stable and set off after the sound of hoof beats. On the way he had to pass the two gentlemen who had surrendered to Guy and himself. Although they didn’t attack him, Vignon and Graucher took their time moving from his path which had the effect of forcing the priest to slow down as he passed. Despite this he was able to catch up to one horseman whose horse had pulled up lame. The Jesuit called on the man to stop and threatened him with a second, loaded pistol. To his surprise the man did stop.

He then revealed that he was the Chevalier de Branville, he politely claimed to have no knowledge of any attempted kidnapping, and he demanded Signoret’s name. When the Jesuit refused to give it, Branville slapped his gloves in his hand and said “Well, well. I am afraid I must insist that you, Monsieur, surrender to me on the charges of threatening a gentleman with murder on the King’s Highway and with highway robbery.” Signoret refused, but while they were conversing Vignon and Graucher arrived. Branville repeated his charges and his demand for the Jesuit’s name and he pointed to the horse that Signoret was riding which was not his own and that Signoret had threatened him at gunpoint. Signoret continued to refuse to give his name. Vignon and Graucher, due to their oaths of surrender, were reluctant to take action against Signoret. Vignon suggested they should all go in front of a magistrate to settle the matter, but Signoret, who feared some sort of trap, refused to comply. In the end Signoret and the gentlemen went their separate ways and he and the other heroes delivered Louise Deville to the convent.

Once they returned to Paris, Branville filed a charge of attempted murder against Father Signoret for his attack on the King’s Highway. Vignon, who had surrendered to Guy, agreed to testify against Father Signoret while Graucher, who had surrendered to Father Signoret, refused. In response to Branville’s allegation the heroes made a claim against Branville for the attempted kidnapping of Louise Deville. However the powerful Guise family wanted the matter hushed up so the Devilles, who were clients of the Guise, refused to support a kidnapping charge.

As a result of the events, Vignon and Graucher were annoyed with Branville due to the honor conflict he had forced on them by trying to compel them to help arrest Signoret on a charge of attempted robbery and murder. They had refused due to their oaths of surrender. The two also blamed Father Signoret for putting them in a conflict with their patron by his stubborn refusal to go before a Magistrate and contest the charges or to give them his name or parole, effectively forcing them to either violate their words of honor in their surrender or make themselves complicit in the Jesuit’s escape from justice. And they blamed Branville for not being more understanding and for insisting they aid him despite their surrenders and his verbal abuse of them in front of others. As a result, both withdrew from positions in his clientele and joined that of an adherent of the Prince de Condé. Vignon was promoted to the position of chamberlain for Abelin de Braux Count d’Anglure while Graucher became part of the Count’s clientele where he could frequently be seen paying court to the Comte’s sister Dominique.

[i] How was Paul’s character introduced? For now, assume he was dining with Guy and de Chambré at the restaurant.
[ii] The note was (probably) from Peyrafon who is in Guy’s debt. Literally. During the Diplomatic Mission to the Netherlands Guy bought up gambling markers.
[iii] Quickcut with a Mighty Success.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Paris in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries

Ice skaters on the Seine in 1608

It's now August of 1624 in my H+I campaign, but I must remember this picture for when winter comes back around. I love the idea of skating on the Seine. On the one hand it looks very prosaic and peaceful, on the other it reminds us that the 17th century was in the middle of a Little Ice Age so it was significantly colder in Europe then than it is now. Additionally I like the idea of the PCs slip-sliding on ice as they try to fight a bunch of adversaries. I envision this like this duel, but with more fighters.

The infamous frozen river duel from "The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge" (1974)

This picture is from the Wikipedia article on 17th century Paris. Every now and then I like to provide links that I find useful for GMs. These four links provide information and some great pictures for historical Paris.


The first is a general overview. It is followed by specific links by century. The links by century have a level of detail that is useful for an historical campaign without being overwhelming. While historians and pedants will want even more detail this will be sufficient to get most GMs started creating a setting for historical fictional campaigns. The tables of contents will give a good idea of the sorts of information as well as a hint at the level of detail that these links contain.

Contents for Paris in the 17th Century

  • 1 Paris under Henry IV
  • 2 Paris under Louis XIII
  • 3 Paris under Louis XIV
    • 3.1 Turmoil and the Fronde
    • 3.2 "The new Rome"
  • 4 The city grows
  • 5 Parisians
    • 5.1 Beggars and the poor
    • 5.2 Charities - Renaudot and Vincent De Paul
    • 5.3 Thieves and the Courtyard of Miracles
  • 6 City government
  • 7 Industry and commerce
    • 7.1 Royal manufacturies
    • 7.2 Craftsmen and corporations
    • 7.3 Luxury goods
  • 8 Religion
  • 9 Daily life
    • 9.1 Public transportation
    • 9.2 Street lights
    • 9.3 Water
    • 9.4 Food and drink
    • 9.5 Cabarets
    • 9.6 Coffee and the first cafés
    • 9.7 Processions, carrousels and fireworks
    • 9.8 Sports and games
  • 10 Press
  • 11 Education
    • 11.1 Academies
    • 11.2 University
    • 11.3 Primary education
  • 12 Gardens and promenades
  • 13 Culture and the arts
    • 13.1 Literature
    • 13.2 Theater
    • 13.3 Comédie-Française
    • 13.4 Music and opera
    • 13.5 Ballet
    • 13.6 Architecture
    • 13.7 Painting and sculpture
  • 14 Chronology
  • 15 References
    • 15.1 Bibliography
    • 15.2 Notes and citations

Here are a sampling of some other pictures. I especially like color drawings and paintings, that show what the city looked like.


I particularly like this picture because the lower left foreground gives a clear illustration of the weird pier-like projection. I think it is a water mill, but can't recall off the top of my head. On the maps of the period it looks like someone started a bridge and never finished it. Here, see what I mean.

The Place de Greve and the Hotel de Ville are at the left, the Pont Notre Dame at the bottom, and the unusual object is in the middle of the picture. See how it looks like another bridge like the Pont Notre Dame that was started and never finished. It looks like a 16th century version of the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. But it's not.

This picture gives a better idea of what a water mill looked like and how it worked. Notice the wheels below the houses and bridge at the lower center and right of the painting.

The Cemetery of the Saints-Innocents, the largest in the city, in 1550. (19th century engraving by Hoffbauer)

The Cemetery of the Innocents was incredibly gross and creepy. Bodies buried on top of bodies. It got so crowded that they created galleries where they stacked up bones to make room for even more burials. And disease. And smells. The miasma was like a D&D Cloudkill...but in reality. What would make a better setting for a confrontation with the big bad villain as the PCs try to stop a blasphemous ritual or prevent the villain from unearthing some terrible relic. Make the villain a necromancer and the adventure practically writes itself.

Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu in 1628

When D'Artagnan is challenged to a duel by each of the Three Musketeers in turn, the second duel, with Porthos, is to take place "behind the Luxembourg." What Dumas was referring to what was the Luxembourg Palace and gardens that were built by King Louis' mother, Marie de' Medici to recall her native Florence. Presumably by "behind" Porthos means in the gardens.

View and Perspective of the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens by Israel Silvestre drawn 31 December 1648

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Malleus Mallifacarum

Rare books are a thing I've added to my H+I campaign. One of the very first adventures was the acquisition and delivery of the Da Vinci Codex a book that was thought lost until a copy was found in a Spanish library. Rare books and weird tomes are an important element of Call of Cthulhu and I found that players seemed to enjoy...and dread...the acquisition of Mythos Tomes. And if you haven't ever seen an actual rare book you should. Just the experience of going to a special collections section of a library is inspiring for GM or player alike. My first experience doing that was at Indiana University. At that time what I was interested in was out of print Shadow stories. Not exactly sanity blasting, but still fun to request your book, wait until the archivist assistant brought it out to you...I think the assistant wore white gloves but that may be an embellishment of memory...and then to sit in the rare book reading room to enjoy your prize. 

Later I had the privelege of seeing an original 1580 edition of the Mallevs Maleficarvm in Tres Divisvs Partes by Institoris, Heinrich, 1430-1505; Published: 1580; 818 Pages. For that book the  special collections librarian (not just an assistant) brought the book out and she wore gloves and turned the pages for me. Here's the long version of the title.

In quibus Concurrentia ad maleficia, Maleficiorum effectus, Remedia aduersus maleficia, Et modus deniq; procedendi, ac puniendi Maleficos abundè continentur, præcipuè autem omnibus Inquisitoribus, et diuini verbi Concionatoribus vtilis, ac necessarius. Auctore Iacobo Sprengero Ordinis Prædicatorum, olim Inquisitore. His nunc primùm adiecimus, M. Bernhardi Basin opusculum de artibus magicis, ac Magorum, maleficijs. Item. D. Vlrici Molitoris Constantiensis, de Lamijs et Pythonicis mulieribus Dialogum. Item. D. Ioannis de Gerson. Olim Cancellarij Parisi[Illegible word], de probatione Spirituum, libellum. Item. D. Thomæ Murner ordinis Minorum, libellum, de Pythonico contractu. Omnia

Which more or less says

Malleus Mallificarum divided into three parts, in which the concurrence of the purpose of sorcery and an abundance about the injuries and the effect of, remedy against the sorcerers, and against the method of denying;  procedures, and punishing a sorceress are contained, especially in all the inquisitors, and to church the word of God of no use, and necessary for him. The author James Sprengero the Order of Preachers, formerly inquisitore. Have inserted the first of these now, M. Bernhardi Basin work of the study of magic arts, and of the Magi, maleficijs. Again. D. Vlrici Molitoris Constance, the Lamijs and Pythonicis women dialogue. Again. John D. Gershon. In former chancellor of the Parisi [illegible word], of the proof of spirits, the little book. Again. D. Thomas Murner of the order of Friars Minor, the little book, of the Pythonico contract. All

The Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for “The Hammer of Witches”, or “Hexenhammer” in German) is one of the most famous medieval treatises on witches. It was written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, and was first published in Germany in 1487. Its main purpose was to challenge all arguments against the existence of witchcraft and to instruct magistrates on how to identify, interrogate and convict witches.

You can see the original of the Malleus at Cornell University Library (among other places) and Cornell's Witchcraft Collection is open to the public. They have even made some of the 3000 volumes in their collection available online. Is this a good thing? Should we be concerned or comforted that this knowledge is widely available to investigators and others who aren't accredited researchers?

And for those of you who want the sensation of holding an actual book in your hands and smelling the paper, binding, and ink Barnes and Noble still  has a translated copy for sale.