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Denim “Homophone” Gansey: Week 3 – 15 November

You may perhaps have noticed that I have something of a problem with the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart. Or, to be more accurate, I don’t so much have a problem with the film, I have dozens; it being, like Tim Vine’s joke about crime in a multi-storey car park, wrong on so many different levels. Let’s face it, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a more accurate depiction of the Middle Ages, and that’s got a cartoon Edward VII as God. Braveheart strays from the path of righteousness right from the opening titles—King Alexander III died in 1286, not 1280—and alas it’s all downhill from there.

Old Lifeboat shed and harbor lighthouse

But of all the untruths and distortions in that film, the one that bugs me the most is that it presents “droit de seigneur” (or jus prime noctis)—the so-called custom whereby a feudal lord took the maidenhead of a village beauty on her wedding night—as if it were true. It’s not. There’s no contemporary evidence it ever happened. It’s a myth, like the Vikings wearing horned helmets (not much evidence they wore helmets at all), people thinking the Earth was flat (it’s literally a globe on medieval maps) and the Supreme Being looking like Edward VII (absurd; He looks like Ralph Richardson). Aubrey Beardsley did a similar hatchet job on the Victorians when he mischievously made up the story about them covering piano legs because it was immodest, when really they did it to protect the varnish.

Abstract Waves II

Not that Medieval justice wasn’t sometimes bizarre.  After all, these were the guys who formally tried animals for crimes. In 1474 a Swiss court ordered a rooster to be burned at the stake for laying an egg, which feels not so much like a miscarriage of justice as a cheap excuse for a barbecue. Other courts sentenced criminals to wear animal masks as a punishment (“Prisoner at the bar, you have been found guilty of murder; which is it to be: hanging by the neck until dead, or the dreaded duck mask?” “Er…duck mask, my lord.” “Really? Are you sure? I mean, we’ve got a nice new rope and everything.” “Still going with the duck mask, my lord.” “Damn!”). In 897 Pope Stephen VI actually had the eight-month-old corpse of his predecessor dug up, dressed in his papal vestments and put on trial (when he was unable to answer the charges he was, with undeniable logic, found guilty). The past, it is said, is another country; if so, the Middle Ages sometimes seem like another part of the galaxy. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. For, as the man in the movie famously observed, “When truth becomes legend, just feel free to make up a bunch of stuff”.

Seals at Sarclet



As promised, here is the pattern chart for this gansey. It combines two of my favourite patterns: the trees from Mrs Laidlaw of Seahouses, and the cables of Mrs Laidler of Whitby. There are actually variations on the tree pattern in Rae Compton and Michael Pearson (the number of branches differs), so in the end I went with Rae’s version (five branches, as opposed to six). In order to make the panels fit the number of stitches at my disposal I had to make then each two stitches narrower, so the pointy bits either side of the trees are six stitches wide, not seven. But, to use the current management jargon, the recorded patterns are signposts, not railway tracks; and I feel that altering them at need is part of what keeps the tradition alive. Tune in for next week’s exciting episode, when I divide for front and back…

7 comments to Denim “Homophone” Gansey: Week 3 – 15 November

  • And if they were not signposts how would we fit in the different sizes for each member of the family?

    • Gordon

      Hi Rita, exactly! And I’ve come to believe that many of the variations in patterns – that the academics search for meaning in – are in many cases the result of knitters cutting their cloth to fit their subjects!

  • Deb

    Loads of variations on trees of life (see also ladders, diamonds, flags et al), sometimes even within the same gansey (I’m thinking of an old favourite from Scottish Fisheries Museum). Some are extended & resemble weeds, whilst 7 branches? – so, you have a menorah. Perhaps Mel got it right & was actually thinking of notating a Gansey for himself when he roared ‘Freedom!’ Scots, wahey!

    • Gordon

      Hi Deb, you are coming dangerously close the plot of my new thriller, where it turns out that Joseph of Arimathea hid the Holy Grail under a curing station in Wick, and devised a code in gansey patterns – so that if you get half a dozen fishermen to stand in line you get detailed instructions to the locations to the Cup of Christ!*

      [*Alternatively a tea tray in some Grail legends…]

  • =Tamar

    I believe I have never yet seen a Mel Gibson movie. I intend to keep that record.

  • =Tamar

    P.S. Wearing animal masks is a punishment? They’d have real trouble understanding Furries.

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