Medieval Book Curses

Medieval Book Curses by Catherine T Wilson

Life in a medieval society could be both simple and contrary. As quoted by author Barbara Tuchman1 ‘any statement of fact about the Middle Ages may (and probably will) be met by a statement of the opposite or a different version.’ We know their lifestyle was based upon an explicit hierarchy and failure to comply could result in serious consequences. There was feudal law, civil law and when that failed to keep order, religious law often intervened to overrule or frighten a subject into compliance for the church could hold your very soul to ransom. When practical measures failed, fear of damnation could hold sway and this gave the monks who laboured long hours in the scriptoriums a unique way to protect their work from thieves.

Fig 1 – Monks in scriptorium – Photo by Cathy T © – Mont St Michel

The law of copyright would not exist until the 18th century. In order to protect their precious books from thieves, religious houses used a practical method of chaining their volumes to fixtures. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will have recently seen Sam Tarly working around the chained books in the Citadel’s library in Oldtown. This was not merely fiction – an example of such a library exists at Hereford in the UK.


                             Fig. 2 and 3 – Chained Library at Hereford – Christopher Furlong/Gerry Images Europe

                                              Fig 4 – A chained book –  University of Kansas, Spencer Library, MS D84
                                   (This book is a bound manuscript dated circa 1370. The text is Sermones de sanctis, writings of Frater Soccus, a monk from the Cistercian order.)

                                                                                  Fig 5 – Sam Tarly in the Oldtown Library

(I once read a comment where a lady said ‘I wish my partner would look at me the way Sam Tarly looks at books!)

If chaining books wasn’t enough to deter would-be thieves then there was one other path open to them – the insertion of a curse, usually on the first page or as part of the colophon, there to forever reside within the volume like a sentinelled demon. If punishment to the body via common law wasn’t enough to dissuade a criminal, perhaps the idea of chastisement to the eternal soul could.

Book and parchment curses date back to ancient times, one of the earliest coming from a 7th century Assyrian king who placed them on his clay tablets which were discovered in 1849 in a library at Ninevah.2

One of these curses states:

‘He who breaks this tablet or puts it in water or rubs it until you cannot recognise it [and] cannot make it to be understood, may Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Adad and Ishtar, Bel, Nergal, Ishtar of Ninevah, Ishtar of Arbela, Ishtar of Bit Kidmurri, the gods of Heaven and earth and the gods of Assyria, may all these curse him with a curse that cannot be relieved, terrible and merciless, as long as he lives, may they let his name, his seed, be carried off from the land, may they put his flesh in a dog’s mouth.3

Be it in Latin or vernacular, the good brothers of the Middle Ages were not afraid to apply such curses to their parchments either, calling down horrible punishments on miscreants.

To steal this book, if you should try,

It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high.

And ravens then will gather ‘bout

To find your eyes and pull them out.4

In a digitised manuscript at the British Library, a Middle Dutch botanical and bestiary compilation ‘Der naturen bloeme’ (The Flower of Nature) commissioned by Nicolaas van Cats and written by Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant, included a curse written beside a cross which states that ‘its borrower swears that he/she will return the manuscript or die.’ The oath is signed by a woman, in a 14th- or 15th-century hand, who identifies herself as ‘abstetrix heifmoeder (obstetrix: midwife).


Fig. 6 – The British Library – Digitised Manuscript Division – Details of an Oath f. 94v    Fig.7  The Oath

The 14th century was filled with such curses calling upon the wrath of God for sinners. In William of Nottingham’s Commentary of the Harmony of the Gospels,6 the colophon first praises the scribe and rewards him with a high-quality wine then condemns any offender with death.

Morteque malorum: raptor libri moriatur.’ (Death from evil things: may the thief of this book die.)

Fig 8 – William’s curse in his Commentary of the Harmony of the Gospels

Other curses call for the perpetrator to be ‘hauled up by the neck.’

‘Thys boke ys sancht audatys; he þat stelys þe boke shall be haulynth by þe neck.’7

Another from the The Arnstein Bible8 promises to afflict the thief with torture and sickness. 

‘Liber sancte Marie sancti que Nycolai in Arrinstein: 

(The holy books of St Mary and St Nicholas)

Quem si quis abstulerit                          

Morte moriatur in sartagine coquatur

caducus morbus instet eum et febres · et rotatur et suspendatur


Which translates along the lines of ‘whomsoever shall steal it or take it away, let him be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness (epilepsy) and fever attack him. May he be rotated (on a breaking wheel) and hanged. Amen.’

And a curse from a monastery in Rochester for anyone who dares to steal the Book of Distinctiones9 will mean his own name shall be deleted from the Book of Life, a tome in which the names of those to be saved at the Last Judgement are recorded. That is definitely a one-way ticket ‘down’ after death!

And if that wasn’t enough, then there were plenty of illuminations to reinforce the idea of eternal damnation (a very popular medieval concept) like early Renaissance artist, Fra Angelico’s ‘Last Judgement,’ the right-hand side clearly showing the horrors that awaited sinners in hell.

Fig. 9 – Fra Angelico, Last Judgment, 1431-1435, tempera on wood.  Museo di San Marco, Florence


Fig. 10 – Details of the right side panel top half – and bottom half – Fra Angelico, Last Judgment, 1431-1435, tempera on wood.  Museo di San Marco, Florence

Or this in the New Minster Liber Vitae 10 in Winchester showing 11th century drawings of the Last Judgement, where angels lead souls to St Peter, two saints watch on as St Peter and a demon fight over a soul and the Archangel Michael locking the door as a demon drops the damned into the mouth of a beast in hell. (And the number of the beast is … )

Fig 12 –   New Minster Liber Vitae, Stowe MS 944, ff.

And last but by no means least, a manuscript11 depicting what horrors were waiting – torture, being eaten, hot oil poured onto genitals or boiled alive in a huge cauldron. Take your pick! (Is that book worth all of this later?)

Fig 13 – Hours, chiefly in Latin, containing Calendar. Fr. f. 1.  Hours of the Virgin, f. 20. Penitential Psalms and Litany,f 89. ‘Les heures de la …’

There are many more depictions, most condemning the perpetrators of crime directly to hell, such was the feeling of abhorrence to thievery of God’s work. I am sure today’s authors might feel the same.

Having discovered such a wonderful medieval custom, I could not resist inserting our own curse into The Traitor’s Noose, the fourth book in our Lions and Lilies series. This curse is no kinder than its Middle Age predecessors and the warning comes in the book’s ‘own words.’

From my spine to yours, a word of warning,

If you think to harm me, be it night, noon or morning,

I feel I should tell you if you have evil intent,

That I am protected by a potent enchantment.

Terrible things will happen until they cannot be worse,

This is the power of a medieval book curse.


When my authors learned of this, like cocks on a midden,

They crowed with delight and a curse was hidden,

Within these pages, from quill to sword,

Double-edged and sharp, to any lady or lord,

Who thinks to plunder is honourable – it’s not!

So, if you are tempted, I beg you to stop.


Like witches around a cauldron, my authors chanted and weaved,

A conjuration so shocking, it’s hard to believe,

Such words could pass the lips of these gentile dames,

But I swear on my binding, they were not playing games.

They called down a plague, a scourge, damnation,

Condemnation and castration to ensure ruination.


Should you mark me, or rip me, or steal my contents,

You will find yourself in the devil’s presence.

This invocation is no jest, it’s proven fact,

The 14th Century protected my relatives like that.

From my first page to my last and every parchment betwixt,

Is steeped in sorcery, on my oath, this is no trick.


My innards are sacred, my humour sublime,

But do me an injury and given time,

You will begin to notice that all is not well,

As you slide down the path which leads straight into Hell.

May your eyes fall out and hair, teeth and nails

As the prettier elements of this incantation prevails.


So, read me and love me, but don’t tamper with my text,

Or you will find yourself bewitched by a terrible hex,

And it’s not only me but my siblings too,

Books One, Two and Three, I tell you true.

Lions and Lilies is protected by a divine light,

And a tiny curse safeguarding medieval copyright.

By Catherine T Wilson ©



  1. A Distant Mirror – The Calamitous 14th Century – (forward xvii)
  2. Norton, Jeremy. “Knowledge as Power: The Earliest Systematically Collected Library as Distinct from an Archive (668 BCE – 627 BCE)”History of Information.
  3. Libraries in the ancient world. Casson, L. (2001).New Haven: Yale University Press., 2001, pp. 13-14
  4. Anathema – Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses – Marc Drogin, Page 78.
  5. The British Library – digitised manuscripts division (Add MS 11390)
  6. William of Nottingham’s Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels, Evesham, c. 1381, Royal MS 4 E II, f. 471r
  7. From the church of St Aldate in Gloucester (Add MS 30506) f. 170r
  8. The Arnstein BibleHarley MS 2798
  9. The Book of Life, from the Distinctiones, 13th century, Royal MS 10 A XVI, f. 2r
  10. New Minster Liber Vitae,Stowe MS 944, ff. 6v–7r

  1. Hours, chiefly in Latin, containing Calendar. Fr. f. 1. Hours of the Virgin, f. 20. Penitential Psalms and Litany,f 89. ‘Les heures de la …’

Blog by Cathy T Wilson

The Traitor’s Noose has been shortlisted in Chanticleer’s Chaucer Award and Cathy T and Cathy A will be attending the CAC -2018 Chanticleer conference in Bellingham, USA in April this year with fingers crossed for a fourth win!




Lions and Lilies Advent Calendar for 2017 – Merry Christmas!


Competition Details (for Aussie Residents Only – Sorry!)

Would you like to win one of the four books in the series? Welcome to our Christmas competition. On the even dates (Dec 2, 4, 6, etc) there are two hidden figures in each picture – a little girl and a little boy (see separate picture for details). Like most women, ‘Cecile’ chooses to change her dress to match the picture. Gillet, on the other hand, is far less imaginative and has only two outfits and two poses.

All you have to do is find and describe where each figure is hidden for the twelve dates (a magic number – 12 apostles, 12 signs of the zodiac, Viking God Odin had 12 sons, King Arthur subdued 12 rebel princes and of course, Twelfth Night following the 12 days of Christmas) Send us these locations by Jan 7 via email (attach a doc if you like) to

It may help to download the picture so you can zoom in but also we’ll let you know when an ‘obvious’ character is not the hidden figure. Have fun!

Sorry but due to the extremely high postal costs in Australia, this competition can only be open to Aussie residents.

Lions and Lilies


The hidden figures will look like one of these.

The various hidden figures


December 24 download


Dec 24


Decemeber 23 dove


Dec 23


December 22 bow


Dec 22


December 21 images-14


Dec 17


December 20  images-23


Dec 20


December 19 images-24


Dec 11

December 18 bells

NB.  The two male figures in white at the bottom of the picture (representing Gillet and Armand) are not the hidden figures.

Dec 18


December 17 download-10


Dec 5



December 16  images-20


Dec 16


December 15  holly_ribbon1

Dec 21


December 14 holly



 Dec 14

December 13 garland

Dec 15

December 12 

December 11 

December 10 

December 9 

December 8 

December 7 

December 6 

December 5 

December 4 

December 3 

December 2 

December 1 


All 4 covers for small use


Lions and Lilies – by Catherine T Wilson and Catherine A Wilson


Halloween is coming!

By Cathy T

Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve – the time the land is dying (summer is ending) and winter approaches … No! Don’t make me say it …. Oh, okay – Winter is coming!

Did you ever wonder how the change of seasons became known as All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween? It started as a feast to celebrate the end of summer or ‘Samhain’ to acknowledge the coming difficulties that winter would surely bring. Here then, is Lions and Lilies salute to Halloween…


The orchards are spent and the leaves are falling. The wind whispers from the north and darkness approaches in the cycle of life and land. The earth hails the approaching winter whereupon it will sleep beneath a layer of snow until the season of rebirth. During this ‘dying of the land’ the sunlight diminishes and the veil between the ‘world of the living’ and the ‘world of the dead’ grows thinner with each night.


In order to protect themselves against the coming winter and its devastations, villagers celebrate the feast of Samhain (summer’s end), the last harvest.



In the Middle Ages people were well aware that their livelihood depended on the land. The Gaelic calendar recognised this with four main festivals, Imbolc (spring), Beltane (summer), Lughnasadh (harvest season also known as Lammas), and Samhain (the onset of winter). Cattle were brought down from the summer pastures for slaughter and great bonfires were lit for the rituals of cleansing and protection.


It was also seen as a time when the spirits or fairies could enter the human world on All Hallows Eve – cross over to visit the living or perhaps, wreak havoc.

Samhain cropped

The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes and feasts were held where the ancestors were beckoned to a place set at the table just for them.

Image 6

Eventually there arose the custom of the living dressing up in disguise so that they could not be distinguished from the dead and have their souls snatched prematurely.

As Christianity took over the pagan beliefs, Pope Gregory I issued an edict (601 AD) to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.


In the 9th century, the Roman Catholic Church shifted the date of All Saints Day to November 1st, while November 2nd became All Souls Day (for the souls awaiting full sanctification and moral perfection in Purgatory so they may gain entrance into Heaven) in line with the Celtic tradition of Samhain. The Triduum of All Hallows being Samhain or All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day was known as Hallowmas but eventually became just Halloween (Oct 31).

The feasting was a typical medieval event, much food, drink, games and fraternising.



One game played at Samhain called for a noble at the high table to be disguised as King Crispin. Dressed in magnificent robes, crowned and flourishing a sceptre, he wears a heavy chain around his neck. Attached is a large medallion with the design of one big boot. King Crispin, (really Saint Crispin) is the patron saint of Cordwainers – cobblers, tanners and leatherwork (Cordwain or Cordovan leather from Spain). Since Saint Crispin’s Day is only a few days beforehand (Oct 25th – also linked with the battle of Azincourt 1415) the two were often combined.


Seven people who will be the ‘soulers’ have their masks ready (note the use of the Templar number seven).  At some point during the evening, the soulers will put on their masks and, carrying a small basket, set out to collect soul cakes. Walking briskly though the hall, the soulers will chant:

One for Peter, two for Paul

Three for Him who made us all.

If you haven’t got a cake, an apple will do,

If you haven’t got an apple, give a pear or two,

If you haven’t got a pear, then God bless you.

Soulers, still chanting, approach guests with much hilarity to collect gifts and everyone offers their soul cake, (a flat, oval cake with currants, cinnamon and nutmeg) or a piece of fruit. The soulers threaten punishment to those who do not contribute. One can imagine how, after several hours of ale-drinking, the evening would become! Eventually the seven baskets are set beneath the bonfire candelabrum for alms distribution.


As this was the time of year for divination, another game played was ‘Apple Bobbing.’ Each apple bobbed for was given the name of a desired mate. If the bobber succeeded in biting the apple on the first try, then his/her love would thrive. If the apple was caught on the second try, love would exist only briefly. Success on the third chance meant hate and four tries or more meant no luck with that person; name another.


The game dates back to when the Romans conquered Britain. bringing with them the apple tree, a representation of the goddess of fruit trees, Pomona. The combination of Pomona, a fertility goddess, and the Celts’ belief that the pentagram was a fertility symbol began the origins of bobbing for apples. When an apple is sliced in half, the seeds form a pentagram-like shape, and it is thought that the manifestation of such a symbol meant that the apple could be used to determine marriages during this time of year.


Here then are some of the ancient customs from which our modern day Halloween celebration has sprung; the dressing up, bobbing for apples and asking for candies in a basket (in place of soul cakes).

LandL blog3

By Cathy T










All 4 covers for small use

The Lily and the Lion – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014

The Order of the Lily – 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2015

The Gilded Crown – 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016

The Traitor’s Noose – Entered into Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017



It’s getting closer!


‘Get out of my way! Book Four is coming soon! I want to get it first! Get out of my way, you fool!’

You get out of my way! I want to be the first to read it!’

See below to find out what all the fuss is about …

Letter Head title only 2

Christmas Crossword Puzzle – Medieval Mayhem


Well, here we are at the end of 2016! As most of our readers know, we made writing the fourth book to our series a big priority this year and so had little time for other activities. However, we decided to dive into our basket of goodies to see what we could devise for Xmas.  And here it is – A medieval crossword puzzle with entry into a prize draw for all readers who solve it!

We shall post as this year’s advent calendar, six clues daily and then four on the last days, until you have them all by December 24th. Then send us a scanned copy of your completed crossword puzzle for entry into the draw. The winner will receive a copy of one of our books, or if you have the current three, then we’ll reserve for you, one of the new release copies of book four ‘The Traitor’s Noose.’

We wish all our readers a very merry Christmas and hope you have some fun with this puzzle!

Lions and Lilies would like to thank Cathy T who manually designed the crossword – that is to say, without using one of those ‘crossword puzzle makers!’

Send a scanned copy of the completed puzzle to

Competition closes on January, Friday 13th, 2017 and winner will be drawn on Catherine and Cecile’s birthday – January 17th!

(Please note :- Due to high postal costs in Australia, a print copy will be drawn for Australian Residents only – An EBook copy will be presented via Amazon to an overseas winner)

Good luck everyone!





1              Duke of Normandy (Born 1027 – Died 1087)  (7,3,9)

7              Plague (5,5)

14           Famous meadow where a charter was signed by 17 Across


1              Name of the struggle between two houses for the English throne in 1455 – 1487 (3,2,3,5)

2              Castle in England that houses one of the four remaining copies of 99 Across

3              One of the herbs of St John, brought indoors only at the 12 days of Christmas




15     Arch Bishop of Canterbury under Richard II and under Henry  IV

16      Tender

17      Youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine


4         Author of the Canterbury Tales

5         Set of instructions laid down when entering a tournament

6         King of England (1189 – 1199) (7,3,9)




19        Victuals

20       Before you could joust you had to be able to do this well                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           21        King of France 1380 – 1422, suffered bouts of madness


8          One of the royal houses involved in 1 Down

9          Danish King of England (1016) and first Norse ruler to be accepted as a Christian King

10        Usurped Richard II for the English throne. King of England until 1412 (5,2,11)




22           Thomas Becket was murdered in this cathedral

24           Not a she

26           This series of battles was known as The  –   –   –  (7,5,3)


11           A dealer in textile fabrics

12           Point on the body where 44 Across was struck by an arrow at 21 Down

13           Vikings who settled in France became known as (6, 8)




27           Italian poet 1265 – 1321

31           A move made in fencing

32           A heraldic charge used by the vikings


18           Nowadays part of Belgium, in the Middle Ages this city was the capital of Flanders

21           Famous English battle in 1066

23           The other royal house involved in 1 Down





33           Wheel indentation in the roads

34           First King of England with this name ascended the English throne in  1272

35           The first born of a king


25           Count of Blois, King of England (1135 – 1154)

28           Son of Charles VII of France, grandson to 21 Across. King of France 1461 – 1483                          (name + number)

29           French royal house that reigned from 1328 – 1589 replacing the Capetian line




37          Viking who colonised Greenland

38          Mischievous demon in folklore

42          An impression in a piece of wax


30          16th Earl of Warwick known as ‘The Kingmaker’. His daughters married 90 Down and 82 Across

36          Won the English throne at the Battle of Towton. (name + number)

39          Archers on horseback were known as this type of infantry




44           Last Anglo Saxon King of England (1022 – 1066)

45           Birthplace of 87 Down was Domremy, a small village in the province of ——-

47           Farm animal


40           To decompose

41           Daughter of 36 Down, married 106 Across in order to bring an end to 1 Down

42           Commoner




48          What every fighter wants to do

49          A combination of this and strength made a formidable fighter

50          To house 47 Across


43          Not ‘out’

46          Sad song

52          The two sons of 36 Down became known as this when 82 Across took them into custody


DEC 10


51           Ammunition shot from bows (singular)

53           Luxury condiment used on the high table

57           Traditional name of Highland outlaw from Clan McGregor (1671 – 1734)


54           Arable land sown with legumes or grass; pastureland

55           The King known as Longshanks

56           Region of France with Dijon as its capital. Sported many famous Dukes


DEC 11


58          Oneself

60          Ointment

61          Religious ceremonial act


59          Royal house of England that took the throne from 82 Across – surname of 106 Across

63          This building in Paris has been an arsenal, fortress, a royal residence, prison and museum

67          Cease


DEC 12


62           Used widely in food preparation

63           Most battles were fought in order to possess more of this

64           To sharpen the blades of swords


68           A circular band of metal

73           Lover of Queen Isabella of France, wife to Edward II (first name)

75           Type of bow


DEC 13


65          An early Scottish/English rank between Earl and Freeman who holds lands for the king

66          Archaic form of do

69          Wife of Henry Plantagenet


77          Victor of 96 Down (name and number)

79          Singular

82          A heraldic device


DEC 14


70           118 Across is one of these

71           Archaic form of does

72           Plaid


83           Gascon family name who supported 87 Down. It became the name of the political party opposing the English

84           King of France 1137 – 1180 and married Eleanor of Aquitaine (name + number)

85           Surname of one of Henry VIII’s wives


DEC 15


74          Birthplace of brother to the Black Prince. Father to 10 Down

76          English version of French word ‘non’

78          Peasants are usually (and sometimes wrongly) depicted covered in this


86          Nickname of 17 Across because he received no major feoff from his father

87          17-year-old warrior who led the French against the English

88          Resin


DEC 16


80           The handle of a sword

81           Scottish version of ‘John’

82           Brother to 36 Down. Depicted by Shakespeare as a hunchback (Name + number)


89           Royal house to ascend the English throne in 1154

90           Brother to 36 Down – George, Duke of ——– supposedly drowned in a vat of wine

93           King of Scotland 1406 – 1437 (name + number)


DEC 17


83          Two letter word used to indicate proximity

88          Conjunction word used to join words and phrases

89          First name of two of Henry VIII’s wives


94          87 Down was known as ‘The Maid of ——-‘

96          Decisive battle in France in 1415

101        Surname of 73 Down


DEC 18


91           A tot of rum

92           Queen of England for a total of nine days in 1553 (4,4)

95           Alcoholic beverage from molasses

97           Cathedral which houses one of the remaining four copies of 99 Across


107         The main body of a church


DEC 19


98          The metal mounting or trimming of a scabbard

99          Name of the charter signed in 14 Across (5,5)

100        To consume completely

101        Freely split in battle


109        Thrusting weapon


DEC 20


102         A member of the Indo-European people – Irish, Gaelic, Welsh & Breton

103         Alcoholic beverage from grapes

104         Precious stone

105         An arrangement of order especially in battles


110         Beheaded at the Tower of London on May 19, 1536 (surname)


DEC 21


106         Usurper of 82 Across, triumphant at the Battle of Bosworth (name + number)

108         Nowadays displayed in 63 Down

111         An inhabitant of the area south of Guyenne (Acquitaine). Musketeer D’Artagnan was one. (So are the Albrets and Armagnacs in Lions and Lilies)


112         Colour of one of the flowers in 1 Down


DEC 22


115         Scottish pants

117         Skill in dealing with delicate situations

118         Port in Picardy on the French side of the Straits of Dover

119         Welsh boys name and name of grandfather to 106 Across


114         Successful ammunition used at 96 Down


DEC 23


120         You, me, all of —

123         Surname of one of Henry VIII’s wives

124         Scottish dance

125         A law that protects oneself against defamation


116         Wears a kilt


DEC 24


126         Small town in France where the English burned 87 Down at the stake

127         Crowned King of Scotland at Scone in 1306 (6,3,5)

128         Edward II suffered a humiliating defeat here by 127 Across in 1314


121         A Viking drinking vessel

122         Bears the acorn


Lions and Lilies hope you have enjoyed our Christmas Medieval Crossword. We wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.