Category Archives: Medieval History

Medieval Myths about Witchcraft and Sorcery

The Middle Ages was a time when witches were burnt at the stake or drowned in ponds to prove whether they were really witches or not.
Again another myth about the Middle Ages.
The persecution of witchcraft really didn’t get going until what is called the Early Modern period – late 15th century to 17th century. In fact until the 15th century sorcery itself although acknowledged to be evil and to exist was not actively pursued or persecuted.
Sorcerers could be burnt for their crimes and occasionally were, but really the accusation of sorcery tended to be tacked onto accusations of heresy, or to be used as a means of defaming opponents – such as the Templars for example.
Things started to change somewhat in the early fourteenth century, a time of rising pressures in society in general. From about 1320 onwards the Inquisition in Europe started to take a more serious role in tackling accusations of sorcery. The cases of sorcery actually seem to have increased as the authorities pronounced against it – for instance Pope John XXII actually made accusations that certain sorcerers had attempted to kill him. High profile cases such as this only served to increase the interest in sorcery, and thus the persecution of it. This culminated in the mid-15th century with the infamous Gilles de Rais.

With the increase in publicity sorcery and witchcraft were becoming increasingly trendy, and by the Early Modern period both had captured the imagination as something to be feared or to experiment with.

It’s ironic that the era of the Renaissance was the time when the particularly brutal repression of witchcraft really began.
Henry Charles Lea’s A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages: Volume 3 is a great source for more information on the subject.

Medieval Myths about Peasant Hovels

This is the first in an occasional series of posts looking at commonly believed ‘myths’ about Medieval times. For instance many people, including some writers of popular history, often picture the medieval peasant as living in fairly primitive housing – perhaps basic wattle and daub or wooden structures.

However, evidence from archaeology shows that is not always the case. In fact where excavations have been made stone buildings are not uncommon. It might have been the case perhaps that these were owned by the wealthier peasants in the village – the free farmers who had managed to achieve a surplus after paying their rents. But sometimes it’s not just one or two houses in a village that are made of stone, but a whole cluster of them.
Colin Platt’s book Medieval England is a great book for demonstrating how archaeology can inform our historical understanding of the Middle Ages – and for debunking those medieval myths that we still have!