Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why Pope Celestine V wasn't murdered and why Stephen le Clerk probably wished he had been

Turning to medieval violence, we have two items to share:

Medieval Hermit Pope Not Murdered, as Believed reports that Italian researchers have debunked the theory that Pope Celestine V was killed by a nail to the head. They explain that a half-inch hole that can be seen in the remains of his skull was made long after he died, probably during one of his reburials.

Pope Celestine was a hermit monk who accepted the papacy in 1294 at age 85, but then months later resigned. It was believed that his successor, Pope Boniface VIII, had him murdered.

Tor Vergata of the University of Rome explained, “We can’t establish the real cause of death. A previous research carried test for heavy metal poisoning with negative results.”

The researchers have also reconstruct Celestine’s face in the form of a silver mask. Click here to read the article from

See also The Five Worst Popes of the Middle Ages

Husband Castrates Wife's Lover, Then Sues (Medieval Style!)

Katherine O'Meara, writing in The Prodigal Ex Pat, tells us about a court case from Ireland in the year 1307. She came across the court case while her writing her thesis - it involves John Don (Dunne) of Youghal, Cork, his wife Basilia, and her lover Stephen le Clerk. I won't give it away, for it is a good read, but now I know what 'abciderunt ejus testiculos' means and that I should never trust a taverner!

You can read the post here.

What's new about the Vikings

Several articles have recently appeared online that talk about the Vikings:

Unearthing Viking jewellery

Jane Kershaw from University College London has recently published her book on Viking Identities: Scandinavian Jewellery in England. In a post on the Oxford University Press blog, she writes about how over 500 examples of Viking jewellery have been discovered in England. These brooches and pendants worn by women are contributing much to our understanding of the Norse presence in Anglo-Saxon England.

Kershaw writes, "Although Anglo-Saxon women also wore brooches, they were of a very different style to those favoured by Scandinavian women, so it’s clear that the new jewellery finds represent a distinctly ‘foreign’ dress element. The jewellery being unearthed in England is strikingly similar to that found in Scandinavia, particularly its southern regions: there are disc, trefoil, lozenge, oval, and bird shaped brooches decorated with animals and plants from the Scandinavian art styles of Borre, Jellinge, Mammen and Urnes. Encountering women on a walk around tenth-century Norfolk, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Denmark."

Click here to read her blog post

Viking hoard discovered in Denmark

Karen Schousboe details in Medieval Histories how 162 coins dating from the late tenth century have been discovered in northern Denmark. One of the most interesting finds in this hoard is over fifty coins minted by King Harold Bluetooth (958 – 987).

Schousboe writes, "The coins are believed to reflect the conversion of the king in 963 as it is witnessed on the Great Jelling Stone, according to which the king claims to have “ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of ThyrvĂ©, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” Obviously the coins were meant as part of the king’s effort to market his new religion."

Click here to read the full article from Medieval Histories

The Vengeance of Ivarr the Boneless

The Smithsonian blog Past Imperfect reminds us that besides being traders and settlers, the Vikings also enjoyed "gory ritual killings". They detail the several recorded instances of the blood eagle ritual, which is described this way:

First the intended victim would be restrained, face down; next, the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings would be cut into his back. After that, his ribs would be hacked from his spine with an ax, one by one, and the bones and skin on both sides pulled outward to create a pair of “wings” from the man’s back. The victim, it is said, would still be alive at this point to experience the agony of what Turner terms “saline stimulant” — having salt rubbed, quite literally, into his vast wound. After that, his exposed lungs would be pulled out of his body and spread over his “wings,” offering witnesses the sight of a final bird-like “fluttering” as he died.

Click here to read the full article from the Smithsonian

Meanwhile, author Marcus Sedgwick believes that school children don't get to learn enough about the Vikings and Norse mythology. He tells The Big Issue, "“As alluring at the Greek Myths are, I’ve always argued that we ought to pay as much if not more attention to another set of myths, those of the Vikings, since they are much more directly our heritage. Yes, we take the names of our days from the Norse Gods, and most people can tell you a little about Thor, but that’s probably about it.”

Click here to read the full article from The Big Issue

Finally, check out Searching for the Vikings on the Isle of Man on

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Why the soldiers of the First World War should have looked more like medieval knights

Michael Vlahos offers a fascinating article in The Atlantic about how "hundreds of thousands of lives" in World War I could have been saved if soldiers wore helmets and body armor just as medieval knights did hundreds of years earlier.

He writes, "medieval armorers and men-at-arms knew a secret that would have spared perhaps 30 percent of those who died in battle. We have the evidence right at the Metropolitan Museum itself."

For example, when helmets were introduced (two years into the war) the British and French made them in a way that wasn't very effective at protecting the head and neck. Meanwhile, the Germans based their design on the medieval Salade (or Sallet) helmet, which was much better preventing injuries or deaths.

Bashford Dean, an expert on medieval armor at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, even designed a battle harness that would offered strong protection against shrapnel from exploded bombs and even bullets from pistols, but the American army never made use of it when they entered the First World War.

You can read more at Could Body Armor Have Saved Millions in World War I?