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medievl-kites-art - 11/24/00


"Knights and Kites" by Lady Ella du Soleil.


NOTE: See also the files: toys-msg, Toys-in-th-MA-art, medieval-tech-msg, warfare-msg, parchment-msg, paper-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at:



Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


                               Thank you,

                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org



This article was originally published in the "Phoenix" in May 1997.


Knights and Kites

by Lady Ella du Soleil


It is generally accepted that the kite was invented in China long

before written history. Commonly, 1000 BC is thrown out as a round

figure of a date for kite invention. After all, the Chinese had silk

in 2600 BC and bamboo was everywhere. But evidence has surfaced that

a number of cultures developed the kite independently, or

independently developed variations on the Chinese kite.


Dutch, Portuguese and English merchants began routine voyages to the

Far East in the late 16th century. These journeys afforded an

opportunity for sailors to learn construction for Chinese plane

kites. But this is not the first introduction of the kite to Europe.

Windsocks, whose structures consist of a hoop with a hollow tube of

fabric sewn to it fixed to the top of a pole, have been flown in

Europe since about 105 AD. When in use, the windsock was held up into

the wind or above the head of a horseman. They were usually of animal

shapes with gaping mouths. These windsocks came into Europe during

the time of the Mongol invasions. The slithering and undulating

windsocks had a number of military uses including signaling, helping

archers judge the strength and direction of wind, and serving as a

standard for ceremonial purposes. Illustrations in the Psalterium

Aureum (9th Century), and the Bayeux tapestry show the windsock in

use as a large dragon, or Draco. With a smoking torch in the mouth of

the windsock (some say placed there for effect, others say placed

there for lift), one can see how a fire breathing war Draco worked

its way into the myth and popular literature of the period.


Windsocks themselves have no lift, i.e. they don't really fly, and

they are, therefore, not true kites. At the beginning of the 14th

Century, someone figured out it takes wings to fly. But, the windsock

was still so well liked that instead of scrapping it and starting a

fresh idea, wings were added.


Walter de Milemete's De nobilitatibus (1326) manuscript shows a

winged windsock being used to drop a fireball into a besieged city.

Figures illustrate that the kite was rather large; it took three men

to control the winch that moored the kite. It is possible for large

kites to actually lift people off the ground, so a bomb carrying kite

could have worked. But, I suspect the controllers were as likely to

set themselves on fire as they were to catch an enemy because of

variations to the wind's direction and strength.


The Winged wind sock continued to be experimented with in Europe for

the next hundred years or so, then interest in it fell. The Europeans

seemed to discover just how inefficient the design was by the end of

the 14th Century. The winged windsock was replaced by the Pennon Kite

in the beginning of the 15th Century.


The first recorded description of the Pennon Kite appears as a

captioned illustration in Conrad Kyeser's Bellifortis, (1405), a

study on military technology. Manuscripts of this century describe

the same basic parchment kite design with a cloth tail and three

different bridling techniques. Considerations are also made for wind



In 1558, a young man named Giovanni della Porta was experimenting

with kites. His sophisticated design was similar to the Chinese

models.  His kite models were an evolution of the Pennon kite, but

with a unique and efficient tail. He writes of it in his Magiae

naturalis. Della Porta suggested that kites be used for lifting

lanterns and fireworks at night. He also lifted kittens and puppies,

in an attempt to spur interest in human flight.


Kite evolution continued up to the modern age and della Porta's dream

of winged human flight went unrealized until the early 20th Century.

Still, kite enthusiasts search for the perfect breeze.




de Milemete, Walter. Treaties de Nobilitatibus Sapientis et

Prudentiis Regum. 1326.


Hart, Clive. Kites: An Historical Survey. Frederick A Praeger, Pub.

1976. New York.


Morgan, Paul and Helene. The Ultimate Kite Book. Simon and Schuster.

1992. New York.


Pelham, David. The Penguin Book of Kites. Penguin Books. 1976. New York.


Yolen, Will. The Complete Book of Kites and Kite Flying. Simon and

Schuster. 1976. New York.


Copyright 1997 by Emilie Bush. <emitoneb at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org