A guest post on finding the memory held in the land, by Kirsten Bayes
Yet it is fear and loss that provide the most difficult navigation. Battles in the Middle Ages would typically end in a rout, where the losing side fled the field, discarding their armour and weapons as they ran, pursued by their enemies. This was when the bulk of fatalities typically took place. On the approach to every battlefield, I have experienced a wrenching feeling, reliable enough to say “ah, we’re here”. Sometimes, the names of local places, “bloody meadow” or “hanging wood” suggest that nothing good happened there. It is telling that even before Planning Committees or Heritage Societies existed, nobody wanted to live in such places and so they often remain open fields. Even if people forget, the land remembers.
One can ask, what relevance do these events have to us today? They were, at first glance, not conflicts about our current arguments, say the role of government or of free trade. Yet the people of the time were navigating a new era: one which would become the time we live in. The expansion of the printing press and literacy, of naval exploration and the creation of overseas empires, the spread of “guns, germs and steel“. Technology aside, while the struggles of 15th century nobles and royalty may seem remote, their descendants still reign over us, holding land and power. The questions the wars raised, around legitimacy and the limits of power, still matter today. The answer the people of the time came to, that it is in fact by the popular will as much as by family history that leaders are chosen, and that governments must obey laws made in Parliament to keep their legitimacy (even if they write laws to suit themselves), are answers that still shape who we are. The darker answer, that even when legitimacy is absent, power can be secured by armed force and propaganda, at least for a time, is as regrettable now as it was then.
Deeper still, these were men and women who lived on the same land, breathed the same air, walked the same streets, even lived in and visited the same buildings we do. They didn’t see themselves living in the Medieval era: for them, it was modern times. We share their names, look at their art, even sing their songs at Christmas. We still tell stories of lost ages of chivalry and heroism, as they did: tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood are as popular now as then. A noble from that time would have no difficulty recognising the characters in Game of Thrones or House of Cards. Their stories, in a real sense, are ours.
So as we navigate their land and lives, we are navigating our own. And if the roars of the battles they fought seem quieter now, it is perhaps only because we have grown accustomed to the din.