One of the best things about living in Spain is being able to visit the many castles that dot the landscape. Actually it’s the food and wine and relatively low cost of living, but the castles are nice too. Not far from Madrid is the Castillo de Manzanares El Real. It was built in 1475 by the I Duque del Infantado, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, and is billed as one of the “jewels of Spain.”
The castle replaced a smaller and less elegant castle in town, and was constructed as both a fortification and a residence. The choice of construction was a bit outmoded, as artillery was already making fortifications such as this one ineffective. Fortunately for the duke, it was never attacked and in fact the family only lived there until 1530.
There are a lot of how-to manuals for writers out there–books about world building, books about grammar, books about finding markets, books about almost every aspect of the writing life. Sadly, there’s no book telling writers how to defend themselves if an axe murderer invades their home office.
A Guide to Improvised Weaponry is the perfect self-defense manual for any writer. It tells you just how to defend yourself when ISIS terrorists decided your work in progress makes you a candidate for their next YouTube video. It’s written by Terry Schappert, a Green Beret and Master sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Forces. This guy knows how to kill you with a pencil. It’s co-written by Adam Slutsky, a professional writer who probably had to explain to Terry that a disappointing advance, low royalties, and non-compete clauses are not valid reasons for killing an acquisitions editor with a pencil.
Each chapter focuses on a common object that you probably have in your home. I was especially interested in objects that are in my home office, ready to be picked up the moment one of my many anonymous online haters kicks in my door.
First, my coffee cup, strategically located to the left of my computer, ready to protect me and mine. Schappert makes the obvious suggestions, like flinging my hot Ethiopian brew into my attacker’s face or using it as a knuckle duster, with the caveat that there’s a good chance of hurting your hand with that second method. He also explains how you can use it to catch the tip of your attacker’s knife and deflect the blow.
Last week we looked at the Royal Armory of Madrid, founded by the Hapsburgs in the 16th century. Another of the great Hapsburg armories of Europe is the one in Vienna. Part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and housed in the Neue Burg palace, it is one of the most impressive collections of royal arms and armor anywhere.
Europe is rich in collections of early arms and armor. Most major cities and many smaller towns have their local armories. Generally these collections span a broad range of time, but La Real Armería, the Royal Armory, in the Royal Palace in Madrid, is unusual in that most of the collection dates to the lives of Charles V (1500-1558) and Philip II (1527-1598). This makes it perhaps the best collection of high quality sixteenth-century arms and armor in the world.
After the initial couple of months of World War One, the front stagnated and both sides began to dig in. The war settled in for four years of trench warfare. While trench warfare was nothing new — the American Civil War, Russo-Japanese War, and the Balkan Wars all saw the use of trenches — this was on an unprecedented scale.
The new situation called for new measures. None of the participating armies had an adequate number of grenades and it took a year for supply to catch up with demand. Some countries never managed to produce enough. Artillery commanders discovered that shrapnel, deadly in the open battles of the past, did little against entrenched enemies unless the gunners were lucky enough to score a direct hit. There was a long lag before enough high explosive shells made it to the front.
Europe is filled with many fine museums showcasing medieval arms and armor. Famous collections such as the Tower of London or the Hofburg in Vienna get top billing, but there are dozens more. One interesting collection can be found at The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History in Brussels, Belgium.
The medieval section is well laid out with displays running chronologically. Armor and weapons from the same half-century are displayed together, giving the visitor a good overall idea of the military technology of that time.
Living in Spain, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of the country’s castles.
The most stunning, and most popular, is the Alcázar in Segovia, an easy day trip from Madrid. It’s in great condition, mainly because it was never caught up in the Reconquista or blasted apart during the Spanish Civil War. Built on the end of the rocky promontory atop which Segovia stands, it’s literally cut off from the rest of the town by a deep moat cut through the bedrock.