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Updated: 1 day 17 hours ago
Turning to medieval violence, we have two items to share:
Medieval Hermit Pope Not Murdered, as Believed Discovery.com 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 Discovery.com
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.
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 Thyrvé, 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 Medievalists.net
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?
The story of King Arthur and the Round Table became a national myth thanks to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Brittaniae – the History of the Kings of Britain. New research has unveiled that this work was written in Oxford.
Helen Fulton, professor of medieval literature at York University has found evidence that Geoffrey was in the English city from between 1129 and 1151, the period when he wrote the legendary account. She tells The Oxford Times, "Geoffrey can certainly be traced to Oxford between 1129 and 1151 because his name appears as a witness on a number of charters – grants of land normally awarded by the king to a particular priory.
“One was the foundation charter for Osney Priory and he had a close connection with the canons of St George in Oxford. His life of Merlin was dedicated to one of the canons of St George.”
Sarah Peverley, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, added “Scholars were already aware that Geoffrey spent a great deal of time at Oxford, studying and teaching there, but the new attention given to documentary evidence linking him to the city is fantastic; it will help us to re-evaluate his social milieu and the cultural influences at work on him as he was composing the Historia.
“Though the British fascination with Arthur dates back much further than Geoffrey’s Latin chronicle, Geoffrey is ultimately responsible for the enduring popularity of King Arthur’s story today. He took stories of Arthur’s deeds and achievements from oral culture and brief references to him in earlier works, such as the Historia Brittonum, and invented a golden Arthurian age in the British past.
“His narrative presents history as it should have been, not as it really was. The chronicle’s influence was far-reaching in the Middle Ages, and the Arthurian tales that Geoffrey inspired went onto influence Arthuriana in every subsequent age.
“King Arthur’s appeal is timeless because he’s a touchstone for greatness: he answers society’s desire for strong and just leadership."
Click here to read the article about the discovery from The Oxford Times
The minaret of Aleppo's historic Umayyad mosque has been destroyed, with video showing the famous structure in ruins. The Syrian government and opposition forces are blaming each other for the destruction. In a video released by opposition forces, one man claims that "tanks began firing in the direction of the minaret until it was destroyed."
The minaret was originally built in the eighth century, and rebuilt in the 13th century. The Umayyad mosque has been the scene of heavy fighting between Syrian government soldiers and opposition fighters over recent months, which has left the mosque damaged and looted.
They bill themselves as 'America's Finest News Source' and after seeing the competition, its hard to disagree. The Onion is well worth reading, as is the site Literally Unbelievable, which shares peoples reactions to their stories.
It seems someone at The Onion has a soft spot for the Middle Ages. Here is their latest article to feature our era of history:
If I Could Live In Any Decade, It Would Definitely Be The 960s
Jonathan Soifer is nostalgic for the time of Edgar the Peaceful, Reginold of Eichstätt and Heriger of Lobbes! At least when the Byzantines and Bulgarians weren't fighting each other.
The best lines: "God, what I wouldn’t give to have been a vassal. Or even a peasant. Wouldn’t matter—everyone was cool back then. Primogeniture wasn’t even the law of the land yet, so a king’s death just signaled a free-for-all among his family and neighboring lords."
That is not the only article to be featured. Check out these other journalistic gems from The Onion:
I Would Have Been Considered Very Attractive In The Middle Ages
Lyle Hume thinks he "would've turned more than a few wenches' heads back in 1350." Judging by his picture I think he would he is being overly optimistic.
The best lines "Of course, at 27, I would've been getting on in years, but I don't think the maidens would have held it against me. They might have been greatly attracted to someone roughly their fathers' age who had managed to hold onto most of his teeth and remain leprosy-free. Plus, I have gout. The disease of kings!"
Byzantine Empire Will Fall To Turks, Historian Warns
This article, from 1997, was eerily accurate! Best line: "Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI could not be reached for comment."
Society For Creative Anachronism Seizes Control Of Russia
I guess we were all so concerned about the Byzantine Empire that we did not see this other major geo-political event. Best line: "I can't believe how easy it was to claim Kiev for the Kingdom Of Ealdormere," said Royal Peer Gawain Falconsfyre, a 44-year-old tech-support assistant from a suburb of Toronto. "It was a piece of cake. Haven't any of these Russians ever heard of a moving-shield-wall offense?"
Found in China, what to find in Iceland, and why we may never find the secret of the Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript has confounded scholars ever since it was revealed by a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich in the early part of the 20th century. There have been several theories of when this odd manuscript, which contains bizarre images and indecipherable writing, was created, with some believing it dates back to the Middle Ages.
In his article Cracking the Voynich Code, Batya Ungar-Sargon takes a look at the history of the manuscript. Radiocarbon dating finds that the manuscript was made between 1404 and 1438, although we do not know when the ink was written on it. Still, some believe the manuscript is really just a hoax, perhaps created in the 17th or even the 20th century. You can read the article on Tablet Magazine.
Icelanders are seeing the potential value of its medieval archaeological sites as tourist attractions, according to an article in the Iceland Review Online. Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board, explains that “Nature still has the most attraction but culture, in a broad sense, is gaining popularity. Tourists are constantly seeking new experiences and not least the interplay between daily life and nature through centuries. Strategic development of tourism related to cultural values like archaeological remains plays a big part in that context.”
However, she also warns that the her country needs to do a better job protecting archaeological sites from environmental degradation. Click here to read this article from Iceland Review Online.
Meanwhile, Chinese archaeologists report that they might have discovered the tomb of Emperor Yang Guang, who was the last ruler of the Sui Dynasty. The small tomb contains a gravestone that identifies the emperor and relates events about the year he died, 618. However, Shu Jiaping, head of Yangzhou's Institute of Archaeology, warns "we're still not sure whether it was the emperor's final resting place, as historical records said his tomb had been relocated several times."
Emperor Yang Shang had a very active rule, ordering major building projects including a Grand Canal and rebuilding large parts of the Great Wall. But his construction work and military campaigns bankrupted the state, eventually leading to a coup in which he was murdered. Click here to read the full article from the China Daily.
Archaeological work being done at St.Hilda's Church in Hartlepool has turned up an Anglo-Saxon grave. Other burials from the Early Modern period were also found, as the church is digging up a section of its floor to install a new heating system.
The discovery might be evidence that an Anglo-Saxon monastery existed on this site. Bede records that a nun named Heiu founded a monastery in the area named Heruteu in the 640s.
Dr Steve Sherlock, of Tees Archaeology, said: “It’s an exciting thing. We hope to do more work to understand it. It’s always presumed that there was a church here in Norman times in 1066. We note that the church is sited in the area of St Hilda’s Anglo-Saxon monastery, about 60ft north of the present church.
“It’s always been presumed that this church was the site of St Hilda’s Anglo-Saxon monastery. We haven’t found any trace of that, but this one burial may be one of the clues pointing towards that.”
Click here to read the full article from the Hartlepool Mail
Click here to read more about an Anglo-Saxon Monastery at Hartlepool from Teeside Archaeology
A historian in Germany has come across a new collection of medieval Arabic stories - a kind of precursor to the famous book known as One Thousand and One Nights. Claudia Ott, a professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, discovered The Book with the Story of the 101 Nights in a 13th century Andalusia manuscript.
The 101 Nights contains 17 stories, two of which can also be found in the 1001 Nights, with most set in India. Ott adds, “It is certainly not by chance that this backdrop has something Oriental about it when seen from an Arabic perspective. It is an image of an Orient that is far away, unfamiliar and exotic — for this reason, particularly attractive."
Ott first saw the manuscript on display at a museum in Berlin, and when she had the chance to look at, soon discovered its importance. She has translated the work into German.
You can read more about this discovery from the Egypt Independent
Andy Wilkinson has recreated a miniature version of the Bayeux Tapestry - the eleventh-century embroidery that depicts William the Conqueror's invasion of England and victory at the Battle of Hastings. It took him 18 years to sew the 40 foot-long replica and he estimates that he spent about 10,000 hours to complete it.
In an article in the Daily Mail, Mr. Wilkinson explains, "I work a lot of night shifts and used to come home and find myself with not a lot to do for a few hours. I had seen a copied section of the tapestry at a medieval fair and thought that if they can do that so can I.
"Having never done a tapestry before, I came home and found a picture and just started to draw and sew. I had no formal training in sewing or drawing. I just drew the outlines of figures and animals like the horses onto a piece of calico material and then just stitched it."
This version of the Bayeux Tapestry depicts the portion of the Battle of Hastings. It will be going on display at Battle Abbey, the site of the battle that was fought in 1066.
Click here to visit the Battle Abbey website
Click here to learn more about the Bayeux Tapestry
BoingBoing has just posted an article Shedding light on the Black Death, which offers a good overview of recent research on the plague that struck the medieval world in the 14th century. It includes an interview with Sharon DeWitte of the University of South Carolina, who is one of the leading researchers in the field. She raises some of the important questions still being asked about the Black Death, such as why it was destructive. “The Black Death killed between 30 and 50 percent of the affected population,” she notes. “Modern plague, at most, kills between 2 and 3 percent, and that’s even in areas without access to modern medicine.”
They also note that the recent find of a possible Black Death cemetery in London might be very helpful in this area of research.
The Northampton Chronicle and Echo reports that archaeologists have discovered one of the buildings that was part of Northampton Castle in the 12th century. One archaeologist comments that "we’ve had an awful lot of animal bones, including a dog’s jaw, which could have been a hunting dog from the castle, or maybe a domestic animal.”
Here is a video about the dig:
For those looking to donate some money to worthy history-related causes, please check out a couple of items on Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Tania Picard-Braun emailed us to let us know about her fundraising drive Help Me Go To Graduate School. She is hoping to raise $1000 to help her go to the University of Manchester where she will study for a Master's degree in Medieval Studies. Tania wrote "I've known I've wanted to be a historian since I was a little kid and that the Middle Ages was my favorite historical period since I was in High School. While still an Undergraduate, I presented my first academic paper at Plymouth St. University's Medieval and Renaissance Forum titled “The Middle Ages in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Images and Symbols".
Meanwhile, at Kickstarter you can find Ian Crowe looking to raise $9000 to create an art book featuring the 100+ stories of Ovid's masterpiece, Metamorphoses. He writes, "The fact is, despite being so pivotal, Metamorphoses is not as widely read as you'd think. Not anymore, anyway. Maybe it's the length of the book that turns people off. Maybe it's the lack of pretty pictures. Either way, I intend to do something about it."
Speaking of worthy causes, we could always use your support too! :)
With the media sensation caused by the recent discovery of Richard III, and the resulting boom in interest at it is not surprising that that some communities are desperate eager to find another lost monarch in their midst. In recent weeks a couple of stories have come out about searches being done in England.
King Stephen At Queen Elizabeth School in Faversham, Kent, the building of a school auditorium is allowing archaeologists to explore an area where King Stephen was laid to rest back in 1154. Back in the twelfth-century, this site was home to Faversham Abbey, and the English monarch was buried there along with his wife and son. In the sixteenth-century, this Abbey was destroyed, leaving unknown the whereabouts of Stephen.
Laurence Young, the Manager of Faversham Enterprise Partnership, commented “It’s time to get to the truth about King Stephen and his burial place. The worldwide interest in Richard III has been colossal and, while Stephen doesn’t have his profile as a leading historic figure, he is one of very few English kings whose fate is not known certainly. From a national perspective it is something that ought to be investigated and settled one way or the other.”
Click here to read this article from Kent Online
Meanwhile in Winchester they have already found a body, and are now working to see if they are the remains of the famous Anglo-Saxon ruler Alfred the Great. In March, the skeletal remains discovered in an unmarked grave at the church of St Bartholomew in Wincester were exhumed. Some scholars and archaeologists believe that these might belong to Alfred, who died in 899. Archaeologist Katie Tucker who is leading the search says that while it would be difficult to prove they belong to Anglo-Saxon monarch, "if the bones are from around the 10th century then that is proof they are Alfred and his family, because Hyde Abbey was not built until the 12th Century, and there is no reason for any other bones from the 10th Century to be there."
Click here to read this article from The Guardian
St.Bartholomew's Church in Winchester
According to The Independent, searches are also underway for both King Arthur (good luck on that one) and Boudicca, who fought the Romans in the first century AD. The enthusiasm for finding lost kings has also spread to Scotland, where local politicians and history-lovers are calling for a search to be made for the grave of King James I, who was murdered on February 21, 1437.
Murdo Fraser, the Member of Scottish Parliament for Perth, told The Herald "Leicester will no doubt benefit from the worldwide attention brought by the exhumation of Richard III. A similar project in Perth would have the potential to attract similar global acclaim – which can do no harm in promoting the city. The story behind the assassination of King James I is well known and historians are almost certain that he lies buried underneath Hospital Street in Perth."
Click here to read this article from The Herald
Finally, it looks like the people at the University of Leicester are not done with looking for kings themselves. Yesterday, they announced the search was on...for Richard IV.
Every month we will try to post a list of books about the Middle Ages that caught my eye in the bookstore.
The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century
By Paul Collins
The tenth-century tends to be a somewhat overlooked period in medieval history, so I am intrigued by this lengthy (496 pages) account of what was going on in continental Europe, which includes some of strangest popes in history and the emergence of states from the Carolingian Empire.
Click here to read an excerpt from the Publisher's site
By Leonie Frieda
Non Basic Stock Line
Covers some of the famous women of the Italian Renaissnace: Lucrezia Turnabuoni, Clarice Orsini, Beatrice d'Este, Caterina Sforza, Isabella d'Este, Giulia Farnese, Isabella d'Aragona and Lucrezia Borgia. It looks like the character list of the show Borgias.
Before Galileo: The Advancement of Modern Science in Medieval Europe
By John Freely
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad
By Lesley Hazelton
From the publisher: Hazleton follows the arc of Muhammad’s rise from powerlessness to power, from anonymity to renown, from insignificance to lasting significance. How did a child shunted to the margins end up revolutionizing his world? How did a merchant come to challenge the established order with a new vision of social justice? How did the pariah hounded out of Mecca turn exile into a new and victorious beginning? How did the outsider become the ultimate insider?
Click here to visit the First Muslim website
See also this video:
The History, by Michael Attaleiates
Translated by Anthony Kaldellis and Dimitris Krallis
Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (Harvard University Press)
I quite enjoy reading through primary sources - the stories written by the the eyewitnesses of the Middle Ages - so I picked up this edition and translation of a Byzantine chronicle that covers the years 1034 to 1079, including the Battle of Manzikert (1071). I hope to post a review of the book on Medievalists.net in a few weeks.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio has become the latest man to follow in the footsteps of Saint Peter and become the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church. The Argentinian Cardinal has chosen his papal name to be Pope Francis, inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th century Italian who founded the Franciscans.
In an article from the Washington Post, some of the reasons why Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Francis are discussed. Chad Pecknold, assistant professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, commented “I think he’s going to be the people’s pope. We often associate Saint Francis with incredible love for humanity.”
You can learn more about the founder of the Franciscan Order from there two articles:
Love and Saint Francis of Assisi: A Performer in the Middle Ages
The Friar and the Sultan: Francis of Assisi’s Mission to Egypt
It was hard to find a video detailing the life of St Francis of Assisi, but I did come across this - A Day in the Life of St Francis - which has its own unique take on the man...
I also wanted to point out this excellent article How History Can Help Us Predict the Next Pope, by David Perry, a history professor at Dominican University in Illinois.
Perry notes that:
Voting is a quintessentially medieval activity. Sure, popular representations of the Middle Ages focus on kings and knights, princesses and peasants, but medieval people, especially in cities, loved to vote. They organized themselves into groups - guilds, religious fraternities, charitable organization, drinking societies - and wrote complicated bylaws governing elections. Many cities embraced various kinds of representative government during the High Middle Ages. Even the army outside the walls of Constantinople in 1204 took time to develop a voting system to elect the next emperor.
With a new Pope about to be chosen, it might be a good time to look at some of his predecessors, and hope that the next heir to St. Peter will not be like any of these pontiffs from the Middle Ages...
Pope Stephen VI
Also called Stephen VII, this Pope's short reign is mostly known for having put on trial the previous Pope...who was dead. Stephen ordered the body of Pope Formosus exhumed, dressed in the Papal vestments, and set upon a throne. In what is known as the Cadaver Synod, Stephen charged the rotting corpse with perjury, coveting the Papacy, and breaking other church laws. During the trial, Pope Stephen screamed at Formosus, as well as mocked and insulted him.
Formosus was found guilty, and was punished by having his clothes stripped off, three of his fingers chopped off, and the rest of the body thrown into the Tiber River.
Stephen's reign did not last much longer - he was strangled to death.
Click here to read The Cadaver Synod: Strangest Trial in History
Pope John XII (955-964)
For much of the tenth century, the city of Rome was dominated by the Theophylact family, and they often made the decision who would sit on St. Peter's Throne. Perhaps they didn't have too many choices, but it is hard to imagine they could not have picked someone better than John XII, who is about 18 years old when he became Pope. His youth had one benefit, as began his pontificate by personally leading armies against the local enemies.
However, it soon became apparent that John was more interested in the women of Rome than in handling church affairs. His antics eventually led to Emperor Otto I calling a synod to depose the young Pope. According to one chronicler, the charges against John included:
He had fornicated with the widow of Rainier, with Stephana his father's concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece, and he made the sacred palace into a whorehouse. They said that he had gone hunting publicly; that he had blinded his confessor Benedict, and thereafter Benedict had died; that he had killed John, cardinal subdeacon, after castrating him; and that he had set fires, girded on a sword, and put on a helmet and cuirass. All, clerics as well as laymen, declared that he had toasted to the devil with wine. They said when playing at dice, he invoked Jupiter, Venus and other demons. They even said he did not celebrate Matins at the canonical hours nor did he make the sign of the cross.
Pope John retaliated by excommunicating the synod, and when he caught three of the men who took part, he had one flogged, cut off the right hand of the second, and removed the nose and ears of the third. Alas, his reign ended soon after, at the age of 27, when was "stricken by paralysis in the act of adultery" and died.
Pope Benedict IX
(1032 - off and on to 1048)
Another descendant of the Theophylact family, Benedict was at least 20 when he became Pope. Sexual scandals soon started, leading many church officials to complain about him. The Abbot of Monte Cassino, who later became a Pope too, wrote about "his rapes, murders and other unspeakable acts. His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it."
What also sets Benedict apart from most other popes was that he resigned as well. Unlike Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned because of his old age, this Benedict resigned in exchange for a large sum of money - bribed by his godfather John Gratian, who then became the new Pope, Gregory VI. However, Benedict soon had seller's remorse, and over the next Rome and the St.Peter's was fought over between the various sides. Eventually the German Emperor came down and removed all the contenders, naming a new Pope. Benedict lived on until 1056, but never regained the Papacy.
Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303)
Before he became Pope, Boniface was instrumental in persuading his predecessor, Pope Celestine V, to retire. Once he got to the Papal Throne, Boniface decided that having Celestine around was too much of a threat, so he captured the elderly man and imprisoned him until his death ten months later.
Most of his reign was spent in conflicts with the other states in Italy, but Boniface got in trouble when he decided to pick a fight with Philip IV, King of France. Eventually, he excommunicated the French king and proclaimed that all monarchs were subordinate to the Papacy. Philip responded by sending an army into Italy, where they captured Boniface at his summer retreat in Anagni. The French troops beat up and nearly killed Boniface - three days later he was dead, perhaps killing himself.
The Italian poet Dante, in his work The Divine Comedy, has Boniface relegated to the eight circle of hell for simony.
Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503)
While he may not have been guilty of all the deeds depicted in the popular show The Borgias, Pope Alexander VI was one of the most notorious schemers to hold the papacy. He made many efforts to enrich his family and get his children into positions of power, and he also had enough time to have a mistress.
His death in 1503 is something of a mystery - Alexander may have been poisoned, and his son Cesare Borgias was suspected of committing the crime. Rumours soon spread, aided by the rapid decomposition of Alexander's remains. One person who saw the body commented, "It was a revolting scene to look at that deformed, blackened corpse, prodigiously swelled, and exhaling an infectious smell; his lips and nose were covered with brown drivel, his mouth was opened very widely, and his tongue, inflated by poison, fell out upon his chin; therefore no fanatic or devotee dared to kiss his feet or hands, as custom would have required."
Click here to read more about the Medieval Papacy from Medievalists.net
A Dash Of Olive Oil May Preserve British Cathedral
A report from NPR about using the oleic acid from Olive Oil to preserve York Minster in England
Will this be the last Pope?
According to a report from Discovery.com, a 12th century prophecy suggests that the about-to-be-elected Pope will be the last one before the Last Judgment. Apparently, in 1139 an Irish archbishop named St. Malachy gave Pope Innocent II a list of who the next 112 Popes will be. This 112th Pope will be named Peter the Roman, and according to the prophecy will “feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the City of the Seven Hills shall be utterly destroyed, and the awful Judge will judge the people.” The document containing the prophecy was found in the Vatican Archives in 1590, and many scholars believe it was actually created in the sixteenth century.
The Cat and the Manuscript
This great picture went viral last week - Emir O. Filipovic, a scholar working in the Dubrovnik State Archives in Croatia, found this when he opened up a manuscript. Apparently, a 15th-century cat must have got his paws into the ink, then onto this document. Emir took a photo of it, and later on tweeted to Erik Kwakkel and from there it went call over the world. Click here to read Emir's article about it.
When you think of the Middle Ages, chances are you picture gallant knights sitting astride brilliant destriers galloping through a sea of plagues, ignorance, and filth. And you can hardly be blamed for that, when everything from the movies you watch to your high school history teacher (who was mainly the football coach) has told you that ...
1. Scientific Progress was Dead
2. Everyone Smelled like Complete Shit
3. Knights were Honourable, Chivalrous Warriors
4. Everyone was a Prude
5. Women were Treated as Cattle
6. Life was Horrible and Everyone Died Young
Check out this funny post from Cracked.com
See also 5 Artifacts That Will Shatter Your Image of the Middle Ages
Beginning today, we will be changing how the Medieval News blog is presented. We hope to bring you a new post every day or two, which will cover what medieval and history news stories are out there, and some interesting things that were also found online. We hope you enjoy the links and videos!
Can the Pope Resign? Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he will be resigning as the Pontiff effective February 28, 2013. Also known as Joseph Ratzinger, the 85-year old Pope has been suffering from poor health. Still, this is a very surprising announcement, with the last Pope to resign being Gregory XII in 1415. A few months ago, we posted about The Pope who Quit, by Jon M. Sweeney, which details the papal intrigues surrounding the resignation of Celestine V in 1294.
Lines of beauty: British Library’s medieval manuscripts go digital The Financial Times has profiled the British Library's efforts at digitizing its 25,000 medieval manuscripts, and profiles six of these items. Claire Breay, head of medieval and earlier manuscripts at the British Library, explains “Anybody can enjoy them whether they are the leading academic on some aspect of that manuscript … or a schoolchild doing a project." Some beautiful images here.
How I mapped the “lost” forests of Huntingdonshire Jason Peters has been examining records related to royal forests in Huntingdonshire during the Middle Ages. Using local archives and geographic computer programs, he was able to locate various royal and private forests in the county. In fact, nearly all of the county was legally considered a forest.
Peters explains, “A Norman-Medieval forest was, in effect, a legally defined conservation area where no matter who was the landowner construction, resource exploitation, habitat degradation and hunting of game could not be undertaken without Crown approval. The Forest of County Huntingdon was an evolving, dynamic, socio-political phenomenon, not limited to woodland habitat but extending across pastures, Fenlands, arable, meadows and rivers.
“There is 800 years of history that hasn’t been understood. People could be living somewhere that was a forest. By mapping areas that we now know were woods, we can understand the ecology of the area, which could be very important when considering any future development.”
You can check out Jason Peters' website, Posthumous Plans: Mapping Lost Landscapes, which officially launches later this week.
Richard III: Exhibition draws in the crowds at Leicester's Guildhall The City of Leicester is already showcasing the story of Richard III, and has a temporary exhibition about the discovery of the English King. Here is a video of how it looks:
Richard III Memes
Some pretty funny work being done with Richard III this week...
Top Tips for Visiting Medieval Cairo
Finally, I want to point you to a podcast I heard the other day: Elizabeth Eva Leach, Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, spoke as part of the Engage: Social Media Talks series, about Blogging and Tweeting. Professor Leach is a medievalist who has developed a very good website about her work, and also tweets from @eeleach. For those interested in using social media as part of their academic career, this is well worth a listen too!
His remains are believed to lie in an unmarked grave in Winchester and a team is reportedly applying for permission to dig up the spot at St Bartholomew’s Church. It is thought Alfred’s skeleton could be found among a collection of bones there.
But the job is expected to be much harder than the analysis on Richard III, as finding a living relative to provide a DNA sample would involve searching a much older family tree.
Katie Tucker, an archaeologist from Winchester University, told The Times: “As far as we’re aware there are five skulls plus other bones. The most simple part will be to work out ages, sexes, and put the bones back together. The problem is, where would we get a comparative sample from? It’s a hell of a lot further to go back to trace a living descendant.”
Click here to read this article from The Telegraph
The University of Leicester made the official announcement today that the human remains recovered last September in a car park in Leicester do belong to the English King Richard III.
Please see our article It is Richard III: ‘beyond reasonable doubt’
Other media reports:
BBC - Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king's
The Globe and Mail - Experts say Canadian DNA confirms parking lot skeleton is Richard III