Medieval Travellers: The Rich and the Restless – Margaret Wade Labarge

4 Sep

I really want to tell you about this book but there are two things getting in my way: the writer’s name and the keywords people are using to find my blog. 

First, Labarge.  Every single time I picked up this book I kept thinking of the 80s pop song “Rhythm of the Night” which you can see lyp synced here.  The urge to dance until the morning light kept coming over me.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do and other times you have to lay in bed and read about rich people in the 1400s, know what I mean?  Two chapters in and I just stuck a Post-It™ over the cover to make. it. stop.

Secondly, you keyword searchers.  I know that you’re trying to get out of writing a book report by reading my take.  You know how I know?  Because you type in things like “summary” and “synopsis” after the book title.  Listen, if desperation has brought you to the point of counting on me for helpful advice then keep on being desperate, kids.  Oh, and thanks for stopping by.  I seriously do appreciate it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the book.  Basically during the medieval period leaders had to get out and show everybody that they were still the boss.  They didn’t do this by diamonds on their grills or firing people on national TV.  What they did was gather a bunch of their staff, friends and the dark ages version of Kato Kaelin and stomped all over their kingdom.  Doing this took a bunch of money and a bunch of time.  First off, the size and splendor of your particular wagon train had to be equal to how much of a rock star you were.  Kings are traveling with 40-60 people as a general rule.  Lords, priests, bishops, queens and other celebs didn’t have as large of a posse but they also didn’t gather their frequent flier miles alone.

So large groups of people traveling together, what does this sound like?  Oh, a tour.  And on a tour, you are with a bunch of your countrymen so this kind of prevents you from having to talk to outsiders which is exactly what happened.  They had one or two guys who were responsible for translating and guiding.  No guidebooks and no phrasebooks for these guys.  They didn’t even have to worry about changing money which was a huge concern back then as going from Paris to Rome could cause you to change through over a dozen different currencies.

Though you didn’t need a passport during these times (or a horridly unfortunate passport photo) you would need a letter of introduction or a go sign from the leader of the country that you would be passing through.  This was back in the day when a lot of the land was city states.  Meaning, if I left Minneapolis today and headed to Eau Claire, I’d have to get someone to sign off on me in St Paul, too. 

And I’d have to bring the guy sweet presents.  In the book Lab… let’s just call her Maggie, describes all these crazy presents that people were giving each other.  Poor servants are tasked with moving leopards, falcons, giraffes and all other wackadoo gifts across the Alps and the sea and plenty of other places.  The leaders of the known world at that time became super hard to shop for because everyone was trying to outdo each other.  You laugh but I better not see you in a stretch Hummer.

Anyway, this book was a fun read and I learned a lot, more than I’m sharing here.  The main point is that people always travelled.  I’m not the first white person to head over to Europe.  In fact, us crackers like to get over there quite a bit, according to Stuff White People Like.  I’m happy to continue the tradition.  While I’m at, remind me I need a falcon.


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