In the weeks leading up to the recording of this episode a plague of scary clowns has appeared in many Western countries. The obvious question for Ars Magica players is : if the same thing happened in Mythic Europe what would people do. Strangely enough we know the answer to this question because in 1221, slightly after the standard beginning period for the game, Frederick the Second (Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily, and wonder of the world) passed a law that said that no man could be harmed for beating up a clown.

I’d like to lightly touch upon the point that, like most urban myths and social phobias, the clown plague could be caused by faeries.  I don’t want to stress this too much because all of the iterations of that are obvious, and I’d like to focus instead on this legal aspect.

Frederick the Second probably wasn’t facing a plague of scary clowns. What he was facing was an imminent crusade, and the belief that heresy would cause that crusade to fail. Looking around his kingdom, he decided to hammer down the rights of people who might be displeasing to God. The first people he went after in the Azzizes of Messina were the Jews. He didn’t treat them quite so badly as clowns, because he still needed them. He used them in the imperial service, particularly as money lenders. It was he, later in 1231, that passed the law denying Christians right to practice ursury, leaving the lending of to Jews. He might have done this for religious reasons, or he might have done it to annoy the great merchant banks of the other Italian city states. His mistreatment of the Jews aside let’s move back to the rest of the text of the Azzizes of Messina.

It will seem familiar to those interested in the Norman invasion of England. Essentially when the Normans invaded England they said “We now own it, and things will be done as we say they will be done. If you have traditional laws, that’s fun for you, and we’ll keep the ones we find useful, but otherwise everything is up to us.”  Later this watered down into feudalism.

In much the same way when the Normans invaded Sicily the king of Sicily now owned and ran everything. This degenerated into feudalism but Frederick the Second, when he took over, made certain to confiscate every castle, even from his allies. Her made the dispensation of justice something done solely by people that he personally appointed. His instruction through the Azzizes was to his sheriffs (as we would call them in English) that they would never charge anyone for robbing or harming a bufoon or jester.

Now he took this step because the easiest way to get a laugh in 1221 Sicily was to make fun of the pretentions of the clergy. There was apparently a great deal of social-class based humor in Thirteenth Century Sicily, very little of which survives. It might not be too much a stretch to suggest that it was similar in tone to the stories first written down, but orally present in the culture previously, in the Decameron in the next century.

So Frederick is thinking about a crusade and he doesn’t want people mocking the Church, because he believes it makes God angry, but also because he believes it’s harder to get together the political, financial, and volunteer support necessary for the construction of an army, if it’s clear that the people who would benefit from it are hypocrites. Clowns and Jews are mistreated. Prostitutes are also mistreated: well they forced to live outside cities and wear distinctive garb. Sadly this appears to be a red hat which means that the messengers of the Order, at some point, will need to punch someone in the face. Moving on: he does allow gambling but there is a specific punishment for gamblers who take the name of God in vain when they lose.

So he it we can see for Frederick there is a taxonomy of impurity of action. Least troublesome are the prostitutes. Next most troublesome are gamblers who take the Lord’s name in vain, then the Jws, then clowns. I’ve often wondered whether Terry Pratchett was aware of this when he wrote about Lord Vetinari’s hatred of mimes. So, strange to say, we know how Mythic Europeans would have responded to the clown plague. They would have passed a law saying that you could rob the clowns and no one will care.

We’ve had covenants get money from all sorts of strange places. We’ve had covenants where people hunt whales. We’ve had others where people mine custard from the ground. Some make magical peppercorns and then transport them far away, so that no one knows that they’re the ones who made them, throwing the European spice industry into chaos. We have covenants that sell dye extracted from lichens from rocks from the end of the world. Is it possible that a small covenant could make its living bounty hunting clowns? I think it’s possible. I think that this might be a variant of the Crime Hook because although it’s not illegal it does involve young men strong-arming people and stealing their cash. It’s certainly an interesting way for grogs to make extra money and it’s particularly safe in Sicily, because there it is illegal to carry weapons.

With the exception of people who work directly for the Holy Roman Emperor, in his role as King of Sicily, no one ‘s allowed to carry swords or other weapons. Such weapons are kept locked in armories, under the guard of the king until such time as required. This includes all of your characters unless they somehow have a warrant from the Emperor. Some listeners might be thinking this wasn’t all that unusual: in medieval European cities there was a requirement to tie down weapons, or hand weapons in at the gate. In Sicily the law went further: most medieval European characters carry a knife as a work tool or eating implement. These were not allowed in Sicily.

This means that when fights break out in Sicily people tend to use improvised weapons. This includes work tools and farm implements. This also means that if your character is a good brawler, his or her skill is of far greater importance in Sicily than in any of the other kingdoms of Mythic Europe, where people wonder about more aggressively quipped. Similarly people don’t wear armor in Sicily. If you want around wearing armour the people who have the right to go around in armour will quickly track you down and insist that you stop doing it, after levying a fine.

Thism eans that if your covenant is rolling clowns cash, the clowns could not be armed, or wearing armour. If you roll a clown for cash and he has a sword with him then he goes from just being someone who you can attack with impunity to someone who it is your civic duty to attack: from someone who the courts will not defend, to someone the courts will actively hunt down.

Photo credit: mrpolyonymous via / CC BY


9 replies on “Clown punching in Mythic Europe

  1. Hi Timothy! I’d like to ask for more info on the covenant which makes money by hunting whales. It so happens a saga I am in is about to start doing this, and I would love to see what others have done.


    1. Jason, there are a handful of lines in the Rhine book.

      That being said, I went looking for information for this, and I’ll be doing a whaling episode in early January, so thanks for the idea.


  2. Jason, I’ve scripted most of the podcast on whaling, but I have asked for an academic paper called “The use of Baleen for Arms, Armour and Heraldic Crests in Medieval Britain” as a freebie from its authors. If they won’t supply it, I can get a second-hand copy of the magazine it was published in.

    This might delay that episode though. If I find out it’s going to majorly delay things, I’ll put my partially completed script up, so that you can steal anything useful from it.


    1. Wow, that sounds great. Please include any other sources you are using, so I can look them up myself. I initially had thought to do an article on Hermetic Whaling for Peripheral Code, but if you’re already covering the topic, I may end up just doing a grimoire of useful whaling spells. Thank you so much!


        1. Mythic Whaling? How interesting and very relevant to the Basques of Provencal detailed in “Faith and Flame” – IIRC Ben MacFarland detailed a whale in that supplement. Here’s looking at Bjornaer whales and Tytalan magi based on Captain Ahab or Nemo eh?


            1. The Basque whalers is the one part I found easily online, and the Companion I made for the saga I’m in is from one of these towns which got a license to whale hunt from King Ferdinand. Thanks for the tip on that book, Timothy. It looks like I can get a digital copy though my campus.

              Liked by 1 person

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