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Monday, 14 June 2010


I haven't done a blog in a long time so I thought I would share a good book.  I am currently reading a 'The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England' by Ian Mortimer.   I've not enjoyed a book quite so much since my last Bill Bryson (Made in America). It really opens up the world of 14th century England in way I never thought about before.  Not that I have ever spent much time thinking about life in the 14th century but here are a few choice quotes:

" ...a society in which men are led to believe that their wives are constantly aching to have sex as often as they can. At the same time women are led to believe that they are the physical manifestations of lust, and that their wombs will suffocate with excess seed unless they have sex regularly"

"Consider the medical practice of John Mirfield, a priest and advisor at St Bartholomew's Hospital London at the end of the century.   He advises he fellow physicians that, if they wish to know whether a patient might survive or not, they should follow this procedure: Take the name of the patient, the name of the messenger sent to summon you, and the name of the day upon which the messenger first came to you; join all their letters together, and if an even number result, the patient will not escape; if the number is odd, he will recover".

"Like everyone else monks do not eat any flesh on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, nor in Advent or Lent.  In addition they are not supposed to eat meat of four-legged animals at all, according to the rule of St Benedict.  However St Benedict lived a long time ago - in the sixth century - and over the subsequent eight hundred years, monks all over Christendom have found ways to circumvent the rule".  "And the rule states only that they should not eat meat in the refectory...Consequently, many monasteries have built a second dining room called the 'misericord' (place of mercy) where meat-eating can take place.  Also, although eating quadrupeds is banned, there is nothing in the rule specifically against eating offal, which is removed from an animal prior to roasting it.  Realising that all is not wholly within the spirit of the rule, but realising also that he cannot stand in the way of progress, Benedict XII suggests a compromise.  As long as at least half of the monks eat in the refectory, the remainder can head off to the misericord and gorge themselves on whatever they choose, provided it is not Wednesday, Friday or Saturday or a day in Advent or Lent.  Those who remain in the refectory must refrain from eating the flesh of quadrupeds but may eat fowl and can include meaty ingredients - such as liver from the offal in the cooking"

The last thing you expect with a history book is to be chuckling away (actually now I come think of it Bryson's history books are very funny) but Mortimer highlights the ridiculous scenarios medieval people find themselves in and the contrast in beliefs, understanding and general way of life...well we've just come along way in 600 years.  Certainly a lot further and a lot faster than the preceding 600 years.  This wasn't meant to be any kind of book review I was just enjoying the book so much that I though I would share a few extracts.  It is well worth a read and it contains some great medieval images.

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