History Girls

{April 10, 2011}   Lady Godiva


The countess Lady Godiva pleaded with her husband to lower the heavy taxes he had imposed on the people of Coventry; Annoyed with her persistent appeals, he eventually agreed to accept her demands if she would ride naked through the streets of the town.

As a virtuous, respectable medieval lady, she was horrified at the suggestion but the fact that she did as her husband told her showed the level of compassion she had for the people. So the legend goes, she ordered everybody to stay in their houses and shut all their windows and doors. She then loosened her hair to cover her body and mounted her horse.

Out of respect, all but one of the citizens of eleventh century Coventry obeyed her command. A man by the name of Tom could not resist a peep at the Countess, (giving us the term peeping Tom) but as he looked at her, he was struck blind. After completing her journey, her husband lived up to his word and abolished all taxes in the town except for those on horses.

Read about the real history behind the legend of Lady Godiva


In his book, ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ or ‘Concerning the Ruin of Britain’ Gildas Bandonicus, a British monk denounces the evil ways of the Celtic people of his time. Written in the 540’s, it is by far the most comprehensive primary source from the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.

“Whatever in this my epistle I may write in my humble but well-meaning manner, rather by way of lamentation than for display, let no one suppose that it springs from contempt of others, or that I foolishly esteem myself as better than they; -for, alas! the subject of my complaint is the general destruction of every thing that is good, and the general growth of evil throughout the land;- but that I would condole with my country in her distress and rejoice to see her revive therefrom: for it is my present purpose to relate the deeds of an indolent and slothful race, rather than the exploits of those who have been valiant in the field…….

I revolved again and again in my amazed mind with compunction in my heart, and I thought to myself, “If God’s peculiar people, chosen from all the people of the world, the royal seed, and holy nation, to whom he had said, ‘My first begotten Israel,’ its priests, prophets, and kings, throughout many ages, his servant and apostle, and the members of his primitive church, were not spared when they deviated from the right path, what will he do to the darkness of this our age, in which, besides all the huge and heinous sins, which it has in common with all the wicked of the world committed, is found an innate, indelible, and irremediable load of folly and inconstancy?”

Read more on The Primary Sourcebook


Courtly love is epitomized by the idea of the lover’s unworthiness, the educative and ennobling effects of love, the need for secrecy, the idealization of the woman, and the pain that the lover feels.

Often the love is characterized as hopeless: the lady is stony-hearted or far away. Courtly love was predominantly an institution of serving male interests: the acquisition of honor and status. 

Yet women were necessarily implicated in the tradition. The rhetoric and practices of courtly love did nothing to raise the status of women in the regions where courtly love flourished. If idealization of the feminine became culturally widespread, there were no tangible benefits to actual women in terms of individual autonomy.

The ideology of courtly love was evolved by men intent on working out their own ideas of what women should be, ideologies which fulfilled their own emotional needs and desires.


Although the great majority of the female population were married at some point in their lives, the writings by women which survive are overwhelmingly those monastic women, who have never been, or were no longer, married. Yet the universality of marriage in one form or another is such that there are many texts which serve to flesh out a conception of the changing institution emerging in law codes and theological writing throughout the period.

Marriage customs varied by region and marriage patterns were modified by class. At the most general level marriage is a social mechanism designed to regulate the distribution of women between male members of society and to formalize the links between a man and his offspring. In western Europe men have tended to have only one wife at a time: serial monogamy.

In early medieval Europe divorce seems to have been relatively easy to obtain. A declaration before witnesses that a husband or wife was divorcing his or her spouse was all that was necessary. However, by the tenth century, marriage had changed from an essentially private arrangement between a man and a woman and their respective families, into a Christian and lifelong monogamous partnership.

The wife had to have useful kindred to cement political alliances, be able to provide sons and heirs in sufficient numbers to ensure inheritance, and, increasingly, to be a companion to her husband.


Medieval medical writers and natural philosophers, as opposed to theologians, viewed sex as necessary to both men and women. Without a regular outlet for sexual desire both sexes were likely to become ill. Male seed, and the female equivalent which many writers believed to exist and be discharged by the woman during orgasm, had to be eliminated from the body periodically, just as other discharges such as phlegm, saliva, etc.

Thus, sexual pleasure of the woman was regarded as a precondition of conception. Without orgasm, it was thought, ejaculation of the ‘female seed’ would not occur and conception could not take place. Women were then expected to take pleasure in sex. It was commonplace in writing that women were naturally more lustful and voracious in their sexual appetites than men, and that they could easily exhaust and destroy their husbands’ with their relentlessness.

Source: uiweb.uidaho.edu
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Women’s History Magazine

The years after the Battle of Hastings and the death of Harold were full of turmoil. Collusion, treachery and rebellion were rife, and that was just the English. Threats from enemies, both foreign and domestic, to William’s hard-won Kingdom never left him, yet he was able to complete Domesday Book, Britain’s earliest, and still valid, public record.

William intended to make his rule easier as the successor to Edward, with the co-operation of the English. In this, the English magnates readily acquiesced, remembering the lessons learned from the Danish Conquest 50 years before.

After all, Edwin and Morcar were the grandsons of one of the most successful collaborators, and Waltheof had nothing to lose by supporting the new régime. We should also note that William did not move immediately against Stigand, despite the disapproval of the Pope. In fact, the two chief prelates of England were perhaps the staunchest supporters of William among the English magnates, once they had accepted William as God’s chosen successor to Edward the Confessor.

William returned to Normandy in 1067, taking the three English Earls with him as hostages and leaving Odo of Bayeux and William fitzOsbern in charge of England. During these early stages of the Conquest, he was most concerned with the security of his newly won kingdom.

He ensured this security by granting a compact area of land to trusted Norman nobles whose task it was to build a castle and guard it against all comers. These were the castleries. The earliest were the so-called ‘rapes’ of the south, granted to William’s two half-brothers, Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain as well as his two trusted followers the Comte d’Eu and William fitzOsbern.

Orderic Vitalis: The jeers of the English outside Rochester reflect one attitude to the Conquest, expressed eloquently by Orderic Vitalis:

And so the English groaned aloud for their lost liberty and plotted ceaselessly to find some way of shaking off a yoke that was so intolerable and unaccustomed. Some sent to Swegn, King of Denmark, and urged him to lay claim to the kingdom of England which his ancestors Swegn and Cnut had won by the sword. Others fled into voluntary exile so that they might either find in banishment freedom from the Normans or secure foreign help and come back to fight a war of vengeance. Some of them who were still in the flower of youth travelled into remote lands and bravely offered their arms to Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, a man of great wisdom and nobility.

Source: bbc.com
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{June 12, 2010}   The Pleasures of Courtly Love

It would be false to conclude that love involved nothing but suffering. Medieval love involved two main components: suffering and pleasure. I would first argue that love was pleasurable because it involved the sating of ones desires. When one loves something, one desires it.

Therefore, when one is with the object of one’s love, then the desire is being sated. The sating of one’s desires is clearly a source of pleasure. Hence, when one sates the desire that is involved in one’s love, one is pleasured.

In addition to the larger characteristic of pleasure, there are three “mini-elements” of love in the Middle Ages. These three “mini-elements” support the fact that pleasure is a characteristic of love in the medieval period.

Sexual Pleasure

The most obvious “mini-element” of love is sexual pleasure. This element clearly supports the idea that love involved pleasure. Andreas Capellanus touches on this element of love when he quotes the Queen (of the so called “court of love”) as saying that women prefer young men for lovers because of “physiological reasons”.

The “physiological reasons” that she is referring to are clearly sexual. Apparently, “medieval ideas were far from the Victorian notion that women did not enjoy sex”. In fact, “thirteenth-century German scholar, Albertus Magnus” believed that “greater [sexual] pleasure and appetite belonged to the woman”. Whether or not this was the case, it seems that sexual pleasure was enjoyed by both partners involved in the love affair.


The second “mini-element” of love in the Middle Ages will be termed fantasy. Though it is not certain exactly what role courtly love played in medieval life, it is certain that it existed in the fantasies of the medieval people. The songs and poetry of the time period often centered on themes of love: “courtly love, the pure love a knight felt for his lady whom he sought to win by military prowess and patience; or the love he felt for the wife of his feudal lord; or carnal desires seeking satisfaction”.

Whatever the exact theme, love was often the topic of these works. Also, these works often involved fantasy. In fact, fantasy was especially involved for those who read or sang the songs or poems. This is because the enjoyment of these things is predicated upon imagining that what they describe is actually taking place.

This imagining, I think, can be called fantasizing. Clearly, then, love was often the topic of these fantasies. In this aspect, love is again found to be pleasurable. For what are our fantasies if not creative imaginings for the purpose of pleasure.

Heightening of Honor and Worth

The fact that love involved the heightening of honor and worth conveys the final “mini-element” of love. Andreas Capellanus wrote about the effects of love which, according to him, included this characteristic:

Love causes a rough and uncouth man to be distinguished for his handsomeness; it can endow a man even of the humblest birth with nobility of character; it blesses the proud with humility; and the man in love becomes accustomed to performing many services gracefully for everyone. O what a wonderful thing is love, which makes a man shine with so many virtues and teaches everyone, no matter who he is, so many good traits of character!

The Countess Marie seems to agree with Capellanus. In a letter to him, she writes about the necessity of love to increase a man’s honor and worth of character.

Certainly, pleasure is involved in the increasing of a man’s honor and goodness of character. But is this pleasure only afforded to men? Georges Duby suggests that the answer is no. He believes that courtly love “gave a woman a definite [though confined] power”. Duby also writes that women engaged in love affairs “were entitled to certain marks of respect”.

Additionally, this characteristic of love is applicable to women in that love “compensated the medieval lady for the brutalities of marriage and recognized her existence as an individual”.

The respect and compensation that love offered to women of the Middle Ages prove that love was pleasurable to women as well as men in that it involved the heightening of honor or worth of character.

Source: westminstercollege.edu
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  • The afflicted person makes a complaint to the Magistrate about a suspected witch. The complaint is sometimes made through a third person.

  • The Magistrate issues a warrant for the arrest of the accused person.

  • The accused person is taken into custody and examained by two or more Magistrates. If, after listening to testimony, the Magistrate believes that the accused person is probably guilty, the accused is sent to jail for possible reexamination and to await trial.

  • The case is presented to the Grand Jury. Depositions relating to the guilt or innocence of the accused are entered into evidence.

  • If the accused is indicted by the Grand Jury, he or she is tried before the Court of Oyer and Terminer. A jury, instructed by the Court, decides the defendant’s guilt.

  • The convicted defendant receives his or her sentence from the Court. In each case at Salem, the convicted defendant was sentenced to be hanged on a specified date.

  • The Sheriff and his deputies carry out the sentence of death on the specified date.

Source:  umkc.edu

Historians have trawled the archives searching for a real Robin, sadly without much luck. By 1300, at least eight people had assumed the name Robin Hood (or Robehod etc.), but it seems likely it was just a nickname given to outlaws and fugitives, whose real names were unknown to the authorities.

In Ye Olde English, the origin of the name is perhaps clearer — “Robin” being used as a shortened version of Robber and the Hood referring to the common attire of Medieval England, an era defined with the fashion sensibility of the hoodie.

Robin really entered the public space through the ballads of the 14th and 15th centuries — “Robin Hood and the Monk,” “Robin Hood and the Potter,” and “A Gest of Robyn Hood.”

In these early stories, there was no love interest from Maid Marion, no link to Richard I, no mention of the resistance versus the Norman Conquest. Instead he was a yeoman, not a peasant, knight or disposed Nobleman, and he wasn’t even a social rebel.

But the identity of the man matters less than the persistence of the legend. Through 700 years of ballad, book, poem, play, radio and film, Robin has stood the test of time, foreshadowing the superheroes, whilst constantly being reinvented to meet the changing social and political landscape of his changing audience.

Robin has travelled beyond literature into culture, politics and economics to become an attitude and a social philosophy. Chancellor Darling’s last stab at house taxation was labelled a Robin Hood Tax, there’s even a Robin Hood Tax Campaign in the U.K.

Robin exists beyond the English shores, in Switzerland and Latvia where hackers and thieves are claiming the Robin Hood defense for stealing and leaking data about corrupt banks and tax evaders.

Even on the Arab street, some young men refer to Osama Bin Laden as Robin Hood — a man who gave up great family wealth, became an outlaw to fight in the trenches against what he believes is evil and defend what he believes is right, surrounded by the kinship of his rebel army and offering to some a principled resistance to wrongful authority.

Source: Discovery News

Bernard Gui was Inquisitor in Toulousel 1307-1323. The medieval inquisition had been created during the reign of Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241). Its main technique was to extract confessions. Bernard describes the techniques used in interrogations.

When a heretic is first brought up for examination, he assumes a confident air, as though secure in his innocence. I ask him why he has been brought before me. He replies, smiling and courteous, “Sir, I would be glad to learn the cause from you.”

I You are accused as a heretic, and that you believe and teach otherwise than Holy Church believes.

A. (Raising his eyes to heaven, with an air of the greatest faith) Lord, thou knowest that I am innocent of this, and that I never held any faith other than that of true Christianity.

I You call your faith Christian, for you consider ours as false and heretical. But I ask whether you have ever believed as true another faith than that which the Roman Church holds to be true?

A. I believe the true faith which the Roman Church believes, and which you openly preach to us.

I Perhaps you have some of your sect at Rome whom you call the Roman Church. I, when I preach, say many things, some of which are common to us both, as that God liveth, and you believe some of what I preach. Nevertheless you may be a heretic in not believing other matters which are to be believed.

A. I believe all things that a Christian should believe.

I I know your tricks. What the members of your sect believe you hold to be that which a Christian should believe. But we waste time in this fencing. Say simply, Do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

A. I believe.

L Do you believe in Christ born of the Virgin, suffered, risen, and ascended to heaven?

A. (Briskly) I believe.

I Do you believe the bread and wine in the mass performed by the priests to be changed into the body and blood of Christ by divine virtue?

A. Ought I not to believe this?

I I don’t ask if you ought to believe, but if you do believe.

A. I believe whatever you and other good doctors order me to believe.

I Those good doctors are the masters of your sect; if I accord with them you believe with me; if not, not.

A I willingly believe with you if you teach what is good to me.

I. You consider it good to you if I teach what your other masters teach. Say, then, do you believe the body of our Lord,lesus Christ to be in the altar?

A. (Promptly) I believe that a body is there, and that all bodies are of our Lord.

I I ask whether the body there is of the Lord who was born of the Virgin, hung on the cross, arose from the dead, ascended, etc.

A. And you, sir, do you not believe it?

L I believe it wholly.

A. I believe likewise.

L You believe that I believe it, which is not what I ask, but whether you believe it.

A. If you wish to interpret all that I say otherwise than simply and plainly, then I don’t know what to say. I am a simple and ignorant man. Pray don’t catch me in my words.

I. If you are simple, answer simply, without evasions.

A. Willingly.

I Will you then swear that you have never learned anything contrary to the faith which we hold to be true?

A. (Growing pale) If I ought to swear, I will willingly swear.

I I don’t ask whether you ought, but whether you will swear.

A. If you order me to swear, I will swear.

I I don’t force you to swear, because as you believe oaths to be unlawful, you will transfer the sin to me who forced you; but if you will swear, I will hear it.

A. Why should I swear if you do not order me to?

I So that you may remove the suspicion of being a heretic.

A. Sir, I do not know how unless you teach me.

. I. If I had to swear, I would raise my hand and spread my fingers and say, “So help me God, I have never learned heresy or believed what is contrary to the true faith.”

Then trembling as if he cannot repeat the form, he will stumble along as though speaking for himself or for another, so that there is not an absolute form of oath and yet he may be thought to have sworn. If the words are there, they are so turned around that he does not swear and yet appears to have sworn.

Or he converts the oath into a form of prayer, as “God help me that I am not a heretic or the like”; and when asked whether he had sworn, he will say: “Did you not hear me swear?” [And when further hard pressed he will appeal, saying] “Sir, if I have done amiss in aught, I will willingly bear the penance, only help me to avoid the infamy of which I am accused though malice and without fault of mine.”

But a vigorous inquisitor must not allow himself to be worked upon in this way, but proceed firmly till he make these people confess their error, or at least publicly abjure heresy, so that if they are subsequently found to have sworn falsely, he can without further hearing, abandon them to the secular arm”.

Source: The Medieval Sourcebook

The ancestors of modern Scottish people left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843.

The highly stylized rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art or tied to heraldry. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, instead concludes that the engravings represent the long lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland.

“We know that the Picts had a spoken language to complement the writing of the symbols, as Bede (a monk and historian who died in 735) writes that there are four languages in Britain in this time: British, Pictish, Scottish and English,” lead author Rob Lee told Discovery News. “We know that the three other languages were — and are — complex spoken languages, so there is every indication that Pictish was also a complex spoken language,” added Lee, a professor in the School of Biosciences at the University of Exeter.

He and colleagues Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman analyzed the engravings, found on the few hundred known Pictish Stones. The researchers used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.

Source:  Discovery News

De Umbrarum Regis Novum Portis (Door to the Kingdom
of Shadows), published by Aristide Torchia, is based on
the Delomelanicon, written by the devil herself.

For publishing this book, Aristide Torchia was committed
to flames by the Holy Inquisition on Campo dei Fiori in
the Year of Our Lord 1666, together with the printed copies
De Umbrarum Regis.

There are only three, recently discovered copies
of this book.
Summon the
Princess of Darkness
Gr. δηλοω, to summon,
and μελας, black, dark.
To summon the devil, arrange the engravings
in the
Delomelanicon into the correct order
and decode the message hidden in the Umbrarum
 Regis Novum Portis. However, to do that,
 you have to learn Latin first.
Click here to learn latin and summon the devil!!

et cetera