Advent in the Middle Ages

As December gets into full swing, many of you will be popping open a little window on a calendar and enjoying a chocolate surprise to count down the days until Christmas. As you can see, my Advent calendar is far from medieval, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed since I was a child.

As I was eating my Advent chocolate today, I wondered how this period was celebrated in the Middle Ages, and what traditions surrounded the weeks leading up to Christmas. As for the chocolate Advent calendar, that was a nineteenth century German invention, so unfortunately, my favourite method of counting down to Christmas is not medieval.

Continue reading

Posted in Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mutilation and the Law in Early Medieval Europe and India: A Comparative Study

Mutilation and the Law in Early Medieval Europe and India: A Comparative Study


Introduction: In her survey, Crime and Punishment in Ancient India, Sukla Das highlights the occurrence—in religious texts, literary material, and legal digests—of the use of branding and mutilation of the face and body to punish specific misdemeanors, including theft, the sexual violation of women, female adultery, defamation, and assault. Moreover, mutilation (including blinding of the eyes) might also be prescribed instead of the death penalty for acts of treason, and was considered a lenient alternative to death.

Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A calendar page for December 2017


Happy last month of 2017, dear readers! It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over — and we’re a bit sad to be leaving behind the fabulous characters in the calendar of Add MS 36684! As always, if you’d like to know more about the whole manuscript, see January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, check out our calendar post from 2011. 

Add_ms_36684_f013r Add_ms_36684_f013r
Calendar pages for December, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Thérouanne, c. 1320: Add MS 36684, ff. 12v–13r

Continue reading

Posted in Art, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

10 Natural Disasters that Struck the Medieval World

Natural disasters could have a huge impact on the medieval world – they could ruin cities or regions, and leave tens of thousand dead or homeless. These disasters – earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions – were written about by chroniclers of the time, who left vivid accounts of the destruction they caused. Here are ten of the most important natural disasters that took place in the Middle Ages.

Medieval image of an earthquake, with ruins and fallen stars, and the dead in holes. British Library MS Royal 19 B XV   f. 11v

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lords Appellant Part 3: The Merciless Parliament


The Merciless Parliament, convened in Feb 1388, was a successful attempt by the barons and the commons to clean house, so to speak, and bring the king totally under their control. It was very much an “us versus them” scenario, and Richard II did not have the resources to fight the powerful nobles backed by large, private armies, and London, too. In Part 2 we saw the dissipation of Richard’s only royal force at Radcot Bridge, and his subsequent humiliation at the hands of the Appellants. By the time Parliament met, he was lucky to still be wearing his crown, and he had no means to resist any of the terrible condemnations against his friends and supporters.

Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Lords Appellant Part 2: Radcot Bridge


In Part 1, we saw the first year of the Appellants’ attempt to control the kingdom by a ruling council. Richard spent most of that year traveling around the kingdom, trying to secure support (mostly from York, Chester and north Wales). He questioned eminent judges concerning the legality of the last Parliament, trying to reestablish his royal preeminence. Knowing this approach was explosive, Richard swore all parties to secrecy, but in a couple of months the story leaked out, and the Appellants knew that their very existence was threatened unless they struck the first blow. As Anthony Steel tells us in his Richard II, “if the old, lax conception of treason were going to be revived, it was vital for them to make the first use of it.”

Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lords Appellant Part 1: A Great and Continual council


Although the word appellant in modern terms refers to a petitioner appealing to a higher court, when we look at the fourteenth century the whole concept takes a left turn. First of all, you always see the words Lords Appellant capitalized, and it only seems to refer to those involved in the first legal crisis of Richard II’s reign. The Lords Appellant “appealed” (in essence, accused) Richard’s supporters of treason. Not only were their motives questionable, but the whole process had no legal basis from which to act, and the Appellants were forced to make up the rules as they went along, twisting the system to accommodate their self-serving objectives.

Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment