Welcome to the exciting world of the Middle Ages! Knights-in-shining-armor, chivalry, tournaments, and flashing swords - it all takes your breath away. However, there is a lot of folklore out there, and, sad to say, most people's viewpoint about the Medieval Era has been misguided due to the literature and entertainment provided for them. Why don't we take a look at some of the supposed "facts" and see how valid they really are?
People Seldom Bathed - Welcome to one of the most debated subjects of medieval history! Historians simply cannot agree about this one. I've done a ton of research and I consider this perception rather misled. It is a known fact that pages carried warm water to their knight's chamber on a daily basis for washing up and it is also a fact that medieval bath houses have been discovered. There are also several medieval paintings and customs that disprove the anti-bathing myth. A large majority of historians claim that noblemen enjoyed long, hot baths on a frequent basis and that the era of fearing water did not begin until the 17 and 18 centuries. So, with all that said, I think we can safely say that noblemen bathed more than was previously believed and that it was probably only the lower classes (serfs, slaves) that did not wash frequently.
Wizards and Sorcery - Hmmm...how this ever got to be such a popular conception of the Middle Ages, I'll never know. Well, yes, in every culture there has been a certain amount of wizardry and superstition, but, in the Medieval Era, wizards certainly weren't controlling castles, locking maidens up in towers, and casting spells on everybody. On the contrary, witches and sorcerers were executed by the Roman Catholic church. (Concurrently, the "witch hunts" weren't necessarily very common either.) Needless to say, there weren't that many witches and the ones that did exist didn't boldly flaunt their agendas.
(Please note that I am not speaking of the early Dark Ages, the Druids, and their worship. I am dealing solely with what I consider the true Middle Ages and the practices of that day.)
Superstition - Most historians agree that, yes, there was a certain amount of superstition, as with every era (including our own). It thrived mostly among the lower classes, and they had a certain apprehension about ghosts and giants. In my mind, however, the serfs were probably about as superstitious as many 21st century people . It all depends on the imagintion and religious views of the individual, both then and today.
Talking Animals and Dragons - Do we really need to discuss talking animals? No, they didn't exist. As for dragons, however, I believe they probably did exist. Contrary to popular belief, dragons lived with man, and I am not unconvinced that there might have been a dinosaur or two living in England. However, the chance of seeing one was probably quite small and St. George (I'll leave it to your own research to determine whether you believe this tale is true or not) may have been the only knight to battle one.
Knights Were Chivalrous - This one always makes me laugh. The answer is yes and no. Yes, knights were generally chivalrous when it concerned winning the heart of a lady or paying homage to the wives of other men. And, yes, they really did ride about, redressing human wrongs. However, knights could also be very cruel, brutal people. Chivalry ceased to exist in many marriage relationships and knights often forgot "mercy" and "defending the innocent" when it came to training their own page or squire. Still, I think our fascination with knights-in-shining-armor comes from the truly chivalrous men of the Middle Ages - men who honored chivalry in every walk of life.
Normans Mistreated Saxons - Here is another debatable topic! Once again, I'd say yes and no. I think the goal of Normans was to fit in with the Saxons - to become Englishmen and not just the invading conquerors. However, all noblemen, whether Norman or Saxon, had the right and sometimes tendency to misuse the lower clases. I'd say that rank, not race, had a lot to do with who had the upper hand.
Prince John Was Cruel to Saxons - This perception is probably derived from old movies. And the answer is no. Prince John was cruel to everybody, Norman or Saxon. In fact, as far as my studies went, he was a Saxon, or at least had some Saxon bloodlines. Prince John was the most hated ruler/king in English history and he can be summed up in a few easy words: tyrant, dictator, coward, and bully.
The Dark Ages and the Middle Ages Were the Same Time-Period - Once again, here is a well-debated topic! As with all things medieval, I've done quite a bite of research, and my answer is (again) yes and no. The Middle Ages began in the year 476 and ended in roughly the 1500 or 1600's. The Dark Ages also began in 476, but it ended in 1000. In my mind, the Dark Ages was the transitional stage which set the scene for the true Middle Ages. So, yes, the Dark Ages was a part of the Middle Ages, but they weren't the exact same time-period. The Middle Ages is divided into three subdivisions: the early, high, and late Middle Ages. And, no, the Crusades were not in the Dark Ages, just for the record!
Knights Had Magical Swords - No, absolutely not! Magical, talking, and singing swords did not exist. The only exception to the rule may be the "singing" swords. While they certainly did not have the magical ability to sing, some swords may have been fashioned to whistle or create musical notes as they cut through the air. On a side-note, while swords contained no mystical powers, knights really did name them (similar to Davey Crockett and his rifle).
I hope this page has erased some of the popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages. I'd encourage you to do a bit of your own study - there is so much fascinating history about the Medieval Era that I simply cannot fit onto this website. And, of course, my books contain a lot of information, all woven into the exciting storylines.
Copyright 2014 by Alicia A. Willis. All Rights Reserved
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