Lions and Lilies Advent Calendar – 2015

We have had requests to repeat our advent calendar from 2013. As both authors are hard at work on book four this year, we gladly comply and will repost it for December.

Lions and Lilies wish all our readers a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Welcome to Lions and Lilies Advent Calendar – 2015

 Dec 1 - The Kissing Bush


The Kissing Bush

A Medieval Christmas did not have a Christmas tree. Instead they hung a large bunch of holly on a wooden frame from a slender chain in the hall. It was known as the kissing bush.

 Dec 1 - The kissing-bough


Nativity Box

In medieval England and Europe an early form of the Nativity scene developed which incorporated an ‘advent image’ or a ‘vessel cup’. It consisted of a box, often with a lid that was covered with a linen square and contained two dolls representing Mary and the baby Jesus. The box was decorated with ribbons and flowers (and sometimes apples) and it was thought to be very unlucky if you had not seen one before Christmas Eve.

 Dec 2 - Nativity Box



The Yule Log

The largest possible log the hearth could hold was cut from a tree and brought into the hall on Christmas Eve and lit. It was to be kept burning for the entire twelve days of Christmas so that its last embers still smoulder on Twelfth Night. A small section of the last piece would be carefully preserved to ignite the new Yule log in the following year.

Dec 3 - Yule Log


Deck the Halls

The medieval practice of decking churches and halls with greens for the season had its roots in ancient custom. The early Church had banned the use of evergreens because of their ties with pagan winter festivals, but by the Middle Ages, these plants had been given Christian interpretations and were brought in to brighten and decorate during the shorter dark and cold days of winter.

Dec 4 - Deck the Halls


 DEC 5

Letting in the Season

Before the ceremonies of the Christmas feast can begin, the festive joy must be invited into the hall. This is called ‘Letting-In the Season.’ Usually it is a ‘mummer,’ dressed in green and wearing bands of bells. Wassail! He dances his way in, inviting good fortune to fly in with him. He must be dark-haired too (for Judas was thought to have been a red-head!)

Dec 5 - Letting in the Season

 DEC 6

The Feast of Saint Nicholas the Bishop

December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas the Bishop who is remembered for secretly assisting and providing gifts for the poor. He became associated with Christmas with the idea of the wise men presenting gifts to the baby Jesus.

 Dec 6 - Saint Nicholas


Yule Candle

Before the Christmas food was served a ceremonial light would be lit. A gigantic candle was placed on the high table so that all in the hall could see and admire it. Specially crafted throughout the year and made from multiple layers of coloured wax, one for every month, taking twelve months to complete. The base was surrounded by holly. The candle was lit each night of the twelve day celebration and extinguished on Twelfth Night.

Dec 7 - The Yule Candle



Christmas Roast

A wide variety of what we might consider unusual fowl appeared on the medieval Christmas menu, such as swans and peacocks. The cook would strive to present the birds in artful ways by decorating the roasted carcass with the bird’s own feathers.

Dec 8 - Christmas Roast


The Yule Boar

Among the preparations for winter is the hunt and one of the favourites was the hunt for the Yuletide boar. Great praise was lavished upon the hunter who managed to snare the beast for the Christmas table, often the centrepiece complete with an apple or orange in its mouth. Carried out on a huge tray, it was delivered to the high table with much pomp and ceremony.

Dec 9 - The Yule Boar

DEC 10

Christmas Mead

No medieval Christmas was complete without a goblet of warm, spiced mead. Many families had their own recipes, passed from one generation to the next, but all contained the basic ingredient of honey with added variations of fruit and spices, warmed traditionally by having a hot poker plunged into the jug.

Dec 10 - Christmas Mead

DEC 11


A mummer was an amateur actor who performed in village plays at harvest time and special feasts. Often they performed in masks to hide their identity, a pagan tradition in which they were enticing back the sun to end the long winter but if their identity was revealed, the magic would fail. In medieval times, mummers were hired to entertain with religious plays at Yuletide. Using a wagon as a stage, they could move from village to village, performing.

Dec 22 - We wish you a Merry Christmas

 DEC 12

Mince Pies

Mince Pies were so called because they contained shredded or minced meat and were baked in oblong shaped pans or casings, to represent Jesus’ crib. The pies were not considered authentic unless the contained three particular spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) – the three gifts presented to the Christ child by the Magi, the three wise men from the East.

Dec 12 - Mince Pies - Copy

DEC 13

Multi-bird Roast

In addition to serving whole birds in plumage, another creative dish was the multi-roast.

Some historians claim that these roasts emerged during the middle ages, while others believe they can be traced back to ancient times. At Christmastide, a twelve-bird roast would have included such birds as a woodcock, partridge, pigeon, pheasant, quail, guinea fowl, mallard, aylesbury duck, chicken, duck, and a goose, all within a swan, one bird for each month. The birds would be carefully boned out and folded, one within the other, the smaller birds side-by-side. One multi-roast could feed up to 130 people. But such creations were not limited to just birds. A medieval recipe book Le Viandier de Tailleven (origins late 13thC, early 14thC) gave us the ‘Helmeted Cock’ in which the capon rides a pig and is outfitted in the coat of arms of the honoured Lord. And in Greenland 400 auks (a type of seabird) were stuffed inside a seal!

Dec 13 - Multi Roasts

DEC 14

From the thirteenth century, the four week period leading up to Christmas was celebrated as Advent. It was also considered to be the start of the church year.

The fourth century saw the introduction of the holidays of All Saints and All Souls, followed on November 11th by the feast of Saint Martin or Martinmas. The next four weeks were then a time of preparation, penance and fasting similar to those of lent.

Dec 14 - Advent

DEC 15

 Yule Dolls

Yule dolls were gingerbread figures made with honey, nutmeg, saffron, lemon and currants. Eyes and nose are raisins and the smiling mouth is a curl of orange peel. The first piece could be offered to a favourite animal incorporating the ancient custom of giving gifts of food to the animals so they will be healthy for spring. They were served only during the twelve days of Christmas and thought to be best eaten with a tankard of perry!

Dec 15 - Yule Dolls

 DEC 16


Wassail (Old English wæs hæl,) is a medieval toast or salute which literally means ‘be you healthy.’ It originates both from the salute ‘Waes Hail’ and the drink of wassail, a hot mulled cider traditionally drunk at Christmas.     ‘Wassailing’ was an ancient southern English custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good apple harvest for the coming year. Wassailing also has its origins in Yulesinging or Caroling and during the medieval period the wassail was a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants as a form of recipient-initiated charitable giving, to be distinguished from begging, whereby the singers would receive food and drink in return for a blessing, delivered in the form of a song or carol.

Dec 16 - Wassaill

DEC 17


Frumenty is a sweet simple dish made of cracked wheat (hence its name which derives from the Latin word frumentum meaning ‘grain’), boiled milk, egg yolks, honey, fruit and spices and was considered a real treat. The mixture was left to cool and eaten with a spoon. One of the oldest documented recipes for frumenty survives in a 1390 manuscript The Forme of Cury written by a master cook from the court of Richard II (Black Prince’s son, 1377-1390). It is one of the oldest cookery manuscripts in the English language. The preamble to the manuscript explains that the The Forme of Cury contains recipes for ‘common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely,’ as well as food designed to impress at royal banquets. Frumenty falls into both categories and there’s a basic recipe for cooking the dish with broth but there’s also frumenty with porpoise, a dish fit for kings!

Dec 17 - Frumenty

DEC 18

Christmas Pudding
Christmas puddings in Medieval England may have had the same shape and dark rich colour that we see today, but they certainly would not have tasted very similar. The medieval pudding was made with a spicy kind of porridge, or frumenty. Once the wheat had been boiled, currants and dried fruit were stirred in. The yolks of eggs were also added and, if available, spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. The mixture was left to cool and set before being served.

Dec 18 - Christmas Pudding

DEC 19

 Umble Pie

In the 14th century, the numbles (or noumbles, nomblys, noubles) was the name given to the heart, liver, entrails etc. of animals, especially of deer – what we now call offal or lights. The word numbles became ‘umble’ and it is often used to refer to the pie of lesser value than the pie with the rich meat. Therefore, the poor would often eat ‘umble’ pie. Nowadays, if you have taken a tumble in life and have to live a standard of life you would not usually be used to, it is said that you are having to eat ‘humble pie.’

Dec 19 - Umble pie

DEC 20

 Nativity Play
Saint Francis of Assisi performed Midnight Mass in Greccio on Christmas Eve 1223 in front of a life-size nativity scene (crib or creche) built by Giovanni Velita, with live animals. This is often credited as the first nativity play. Medieval society loved entertainment and in particular plays. Christmas offered ample opportunity for everyone to become involved in the presentations, which were performed both in open public spaces and within larger private homes, with the Nativity Play being a particular favourite.

Dec 20 - Nativity Play

DEC 21

 Frankincense and Myrrh

Drawn from the tale of Christ’s birth, frankincense and myrrh were prominently displayed in the homes of wealthy people during the Middle Ages. The two precious tree resins were presented to the baby Jesus at his birth and were later often placed in or near nativity scenes. Housed in elaborately carved trunks, the resins were also burnt as incense and thrown into the fireplace to perfume the smoke. Today, frankincense and myrrh are readily available at import stores and are an effective way of lending atmosphere to homes decorated in the medieval style.

Dec 21 - Frankinsence and Myrrh

DEC 22

We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Carolling, or traveling to different homes to offer or sing Christmas cheer evolved, as we know, from the tradition of ‘Wassailing’. No one is quite sure when the custom started, but it did give us the song, ‘Here We Come-A-Wassailing’ — sung as carollers wished good cheer to their neighbors in the hope of getting a gift in return. The song gradually became the popular ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ — its last verse, ‘Bring us some figgy pudding’ stems from the wassailers’ original intent of requesting food in return for a blessing.

Dec 11 - Mumming

DEC 23

 The Shepherds’ Play

The Shepherds’ Play (also known as The Second Shepherds’ Play/pageant) is a famous medieval mystery play. It acts as a prelude to the nativity play where it becomes clear that Christ is coming to Earth to redeem the world from its sins. Although the underlying tone of The Shepherd’s Play is serious, many of the antics that occur among the shepherds are extremely farcical in nature. The biblical portion of the play, a retelling of the Visitation of the Shepherds, comes only after a longer, invented story that mirrors it, in which the shepherds, before visiting the holy baby outside in a manger, must first rescue one of their sheep that has been hidden in a cradle indoors by a comically evil sheep-stealing couple. Once they have discovered and punished the thieves, the storyline switches to the familiar one of the three shepherds being told of the birth of Christ. Although nothing is known about the author, or the origins of the play, it is agreed by several scholars that it dates sometime between 1400-1450.

Dec 23 - Shepherds Play

DEC 24

 12 Day of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day (25 December) – which was also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Day of Christmas is always on Epiphany Eve (5 January), but the Twelfth Night can either precede or follow the Twelfth Day according to which Christian tradition is followed;

Day 1 – 25 December: Christmas Day.
Day 2 – 26 December: St. Stephen’s Day. This day is mentioned in the carol ‘Good King Wenceslas.’
Day 3 – 27 December: Feast of Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle.
Day 4 – 28 December: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, the young male children ordered murdered in Bethlehem by King Herod, according to the Gospel of Matthew. The traditional Christmas song “The Coventry Carol” describes this event.
Day 5 – 29 December: The feast day of Saint Thomas Becket.
Day 6 – 30 December: The feast of the Holy Family.
Day 7 – 31 December: The feast of Saint Sylvester. In Scotland this day is known as Hogmanay.
Day 8 – 1 January: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Before the Second Vatican Council, it was also observed as the Feast of the Holy Circumcision of Jesus.
Day 9 – 2 January: Octave day of St. Stephen or the feast day of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. In England, the Lichfield Martyrs are also celebrated on this day.
Day 10 – 3 January: Feast of Saint Genevieve or the most holy name of Jesus.
Day 11 – 4 January: The octave day of the feast of the Holy Innocents or the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint. In medieval times this was The Feast of Saint Simon Stylites.
Day 12 – 5 January: In the UK this was the Feast of St. Edward the Confessor, King of England. The rest of Europe feasted St. Julian the Hospitaller on this day. The evening of the 5 January is also Twelfth Night.

Dec 24 - Twelve Days of Christmas 


Lions and Lilies

wish all their readers a very Merry Christmas

A safe and prosperous New Year


 Don’t forget our FREE Medieval Xmas book featuring the antics of the characters from Lions and Lilies is available for download

A Medieval Christmas by Lions and Lilies

And also from the Apple online Bookstore


In Memoriam to Paris, France


Lions and Lilies would like to express its deepest sympathy

for the tragic loss of life in Paris, France, November 13, 2015

France is a major setting in Lions and Lilies; its people and places,

past and present, will remain always within our hearts.


Awful Offal – only for peasants!

On a recent late afternoon trip home, I was persuaded (by my children) to purchase ‘homemade’ style pies from a very reputable roadhouse. With my youngest in tow, we waited our turn to select four delicacies from the warmer, the smell of the fresh pastry and roasting meats tantalising my taste buds. But, mixed within the tempting aromas was a smell I recognised from childhood, one that I associated with my grandmother, that of steak and kidney!

I was never a lover of offal. As a child I refused to eat kidney, lambs fry or tripe and in some ways I think my dislike led to the period in my teenage years where I choose to be a vegetarian. My grandmother claimed offal was ‘peasant food’, cheap cuts that were both healthy and filling. But was offal really only eaten by the lower class?




We have all heard the phrase ‘eat humble pie’ – to apologise and face humiliation for making a mistake. But did you know the expression derives from ‘umble pie’, a pie consisting of minced offal, in particular from a deer. The word umble evolved from numble (after the French nomble) meaning deer’s innards.  One would have to conclude then that to eat ‘umble pie’ was certainly a step down the social ladder – something that would cause embarrassment.

But we know that there were many intricate and challenging dishes served to royalty and the upper class that contained offal.  A good example is ‘engastration’ where one animal is placed inside another and roasted – chicken, within a goose, within a swan. Each animal is deboned, spiced and forced inside the next, with accompanying stuffing containing ground offal.




And things were not always what they seemed. A traditional Yorkshire dish, known as ‘savoury ducks’, actually contained no duck meat whatsoever! Known elsewhere in England as ‘faggots’ this meat ‘pattie’ was actually made from minced pig’s heart, liver, bacon and pig belly fat.


Savoury ducks


Nor were sweets (desserts) immune from the ‘offal’ treatment. There is evidence to suggest that puddings, including ‘spotted dick’ were consumed in the medieval period and included suet – minced raw fat obtained from beef or mutton. And sweetbreads were NOT sweet breads!


spotted dick


Sweetbread is a culinary term for meat obtained from glands (such as the tongue or testicles) throat and pancreas from beef, pork and lamb.  The sweetbreads were commonly soaked in salt water then poached in milk, with the outer membrane removed. It is believed that the delicacies were called ‘sweet’ as many of the glands are rich tasting, opposed to the savoury flavour of muscle meat. The word bread may come from ‘frombrede’ or brǣd’ meaning roasted meat.

But how much offal do we (middle-class Australian’s) eat today? You might be surprised to learn that you consume more than you realise.

Gelatin – though not technically offal, I think it should be included. Gelatin or gelatine is a flavourless foodstuff, derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food and is found in most gummy candy as well as other products such as marshmallows, gelatin dessert, and some ice cream, dip and yogurt. Gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, horses and fish.


jellygelatin chartgelatin lollies


Supermarket Pies – did you know that the meat in your “meat pie” doesn’t have to be beef! Muscle meat from buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry or sheep can be used to manufacture meat pies, and the type of animal doesn’t need to be specified on the label. However offal does, but ONLY if the pie is manufactured for sale in a supermarket. A local butcher, baker or ‘pie store’ can add what they like!


Steak and Kidney Pie


Sausages – exactly the same applies as with pies, so buyer beware!

Pâté – I was surprised to learn that many connoisseurs where unaware that traditional pate contains the livers of ducks, chickens and turkeys.




Black and White Pudding – Black Pudding is generally made from pork blood and oatmeal and White Pudding contains pork meat, suet, bread and oatmeal. Both continue to be very popular in the UK and Ireland.


Black and White pudding


In our ‘throw away’ society, we think nothing of discarding ‘out of date’ food stuffs, excess fat on meats, the outer leaves and skins of vegetables and four day old leftovers. Had we been forced to hunt, scavenge or bake all our own food, as our medieval ancestors were required to do, we might feel differently about excessive wastage. Nor do I believe that ‘offal’ was only consumed by peasants. Given the continued popularity of offal products in modern society, one must assume that we are attracted to the taste, just as the upper class were throughout history. Sweetmeats and Pâté are recorded as ‘delicacies’, certainly not dishes that I would expect to see served only to the poor.


Medieval cooking

Cathy A

King David’s Tower

Edinburgh Castle sits high above the city of Edinburgh upon an extinct volcano from its position on Castle Rock. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since the Iron Age (2nd century) and there has been a royal castle in situ since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century.

The original fortifications and buildings were constructed of timber, with stone structures appearing in the later 12th century.  Of these, St. Margaret’s Chapel remains at the summit. A succession of battles during the late 13th and early 14th century saw the destruction of many of the original castle features and most of the battlements.

With the Treaty of Berwick (c.1357) ending the Scottish Wars of Independence, King David II returned to rule Scotland to reside within his beloved Edinburgh Castle. He was determined to fortify and remodel the structure and make Edinburgh the greatest castle in the land.

220px-David_II_of_Scotland_by_Sylvester_Harding_1797   Braun_&_Hogenberg_'Castrum_Puellarum'_(Edinburgh_Castle)_c.1581

               David II                                                       Edinburgh Castle c.1580

David II began by systematically replacing many of the remaining timber buildings with stone structures; however, his ultimate endeavour was to create a tower so dominating that it would be seen for hundreds of miles.

David's Tower

Plans were well underway by c.1361, with David referencing his ideas and seeking information of the possibility of including a ‘pit for lions’, but construction did not commence until approximately 1366 or 1367. The tower stood on the site of the present Half Moon Battery and was connected by a section of curtain wall to the smaller Constable’s Tower, a round tower built between 1375 and 1379 where the Portcullis Gate now stands. David’s Tower was built on an L-plan – the main block being 16m by 12m, with the adjoining wing measuring 6.4m by 5.5m, pointing to the west. The entrance was via a pointed-arched doorway situated within the inner angle, although in the 16th century this was filled in to make the tower a solid rectangle. The overall height was recorded at a staggering 18m.

Sadly, David was not to see his piece de resistance completed, dying in 1371 before the roof had been completed. His successor, Robert II, finished the tower in the late 1370s.

Over the successive centuries, the Scottish Royal family choose to make the Abbey of Holyrood their preferred place of residence with King James IV (r.1488–1513) building Holyrood House for this purpose. Edinburgh Castle’s role as a royal home subsequently declined, as did the buildings.  During the 15th century the castle was increasingly used as an arsenal and armaments factory.

Impression_of_Edinburgh_Castle_before_the_'Lang_Siege'_of_1573  Edinburgh Castle c.1570

In April 1573, a force of around 1,000 English troops, led by Sir William Drury, arrived in Edinburgh. This battle was to be recorded as The Lang Siege.  The English troops built an artillery emplacement on Castle Hill, with several others in outlying areas. On about the 17th of May the bombardment began. Over the next twelve days the gunners dispatched around 3,000 shots at the castle and on the 22nd May, the south wall of David’s Tower collapsed.

114 flat,1000x1000,075,f EdinBurghCastle4-S   

Half Moon Battery with sections of King David’s Tower visible

The Half Moon Battery, erected between 1753 and 1588, was built around and over the ruins of David’s Tower, two storeys of which survive beneath, with windows facing out onto the interior wall of the battery. The remaining portions of David’s Tower stand up to 15m from Castle Rock and can be seen sitting below the Half Moon Battery.

701354579753    16_part_of_st_davids_tower     

          Half Moon Battery at location 16.        Underground doorway located in David’s Tower 

The Tower played a significant part in Scotland’s history. It housed numerous political prisoners, including Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany, for plotting against his brother, King James III. In 1479, he escaped by getting his guards drunk and lowering himself from a window with the use of a rope. He fled first to France, then England, where he allied himself with King Edward IV. In 1482, Alexander marched into Scotland with Richard, Duke of Gloucester at the head of an English army. James III was captured and shut up in the very same room in which he had incarcerated his brother and there he remained until he negotiated a settlement.

Perhaps the most infamous event (one supposedly used by George R.R. Martin as the basis of his ‘Red Wedding’ scene from A Storm of Swords) took place within the tower and is remembered as the ‘Black Dinner’. In November 1440 the then ten year old King, James III ruled Scotland with the assistance of Sir William Crichton, the Chancellor of Scotland and Keeper of Edinburgh Castle. But Crichton wanted more – he had his sights set on the Regency, but the powerful Douglas clan stood in his way. Encouraging James III to invite his two childhood friends to dinner, the 16 year old William Douglas, 6th Earl Douglas and his younger brother arrived early afternoon and engaged in normal boyhood pursuits prior to the evening banquet. While they ate, a black bull’s head, the symbol of death, was brought in and placed before the Earl. The two brothers were then dragged out to Castle Hill, given a mock trial and beheaded, all the while King James pleading for their release. It is said that the older brother begged the executioner to remove his siblings head first, so as the boy would not witness what was to be his own fate.

George R.R. Martin has often stated that far worse occurred in history then ever takes place within his fantasy novels, and in this instance I would most certainly agree.

David’s Tower is mentioned on several occasions within The Gilded Crown and in particular, one very noteworthy feature –

‘As my honoured guest I have something else I wish to show you.’ David turned towards the base of a short tower and opened the timber door, pulling Catherine along with him. ‘This is to become my masterpiece, my enduring legacy. It will be long remembered for both its height and its strength.’

Removing a lit torch from the wall sconce, David led Catherine down a dark set of narrow stairs that finished directly over a deep shaft, the bottom of which she could not see.

‘My lion pit.’ David smiled. ‘Very similar to those favoured by the Romans.’

Catherine quivered with fear as David edged her closer.

Archaeological work continues within the walls of Edinburgh Castle as there is so much more to learn. Who knows what will be uncovered in the future?

Cathy A


Medieval Marginalia – Not just pretty pictures

In dark, cavernous chambers, enclosed by cold stone walls with hundreds of candles flickering, the ‘quilled’ servants of God laboured for hour upon hour to produce wonderfully decorated illuminations. Undertaking page after page of text, they decorated the borders with enormous capital letters and fancy foliage. But what prompted the monks to design the lewd and outrageous pictures hidden within the greenery? In a society that was guided by its Church, was it not strange to find religious men drawing vulgarity?


Marginalia could be described as the thirteenth century experimentation with the design of the manuscript page, especially in psalters (a compendium of the 150 biblical psalms), which were being made in large numbers for an increasingly literate population. To the visual schemes already found in earlier scripts, illuminators added a new twist.


 At the most significant textual divisions, they began to extend the decoration of the large initial letters into the margins, enveloping them in creeping vines to create elaborate borders. Upon these vines sat various creatures, often mimicking the subject of the text. Perhaps this mimicry became mockery. Perhaps years of ink saturating the monks’ skin had an ill effect!

2B 2A

One particular fascination seemed to be the use a snail.

3 - 1

(From the British Library) – There has been much scholarly debate about the significance of these depictions of snail combat.  As early as 1850, the magnificently-named bibliophile the Comte de Bastard theorised that a particular marginal image of a snail was intended to represent the Resurrection, since he discovered it in two manuscripts close to miniatures of the Raising of Lazarus.

In another survey of the subject, it was proposed that the snail was a symbol of the Lombards, a group vilified in the early Middle Ages for treasonous behaviour, the sin of usury, and ‘non-chivalrous comportment in general.’  This interpretation accounts for why the snail is so frequently seen antagonising a knight in armour, but does not explain why the knight is often depicted on the losing end of this battle, or why this particular image became so popular in the margins of non-historical texts such as Psalters or Books of Hours.

3 - 0

In La Vie du Prince Noir, (The Life of the Black Prince) written in the later 14th century, the author includes snail-imitation among the frivolous forms of entertainment he condemns (Chandos Herald, La Vie du Prince Noir, ed. Diana B. Tyson [Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1975]):

For how much store men set
And how much more heed they take
Of a jangler or a false liar,
Of a jongleur or a jester
Who would willingly make a face
Or imitate a snail,
At which men can laugh,
As they’ll do without delay
Than of someone who knows how to speak well!
(ll. 15-24)

snail 6 snail 5 snail 4

Does this apparently hilarious snail-imitating relate to the combats in the marginalia?

snail 3 snail 2 snail 9

snail 8 snail 7 snail 1

Note – in the above picture, the snail is armed. Quite an achievement when he doesn’t have any!  The next two show the snail does not always win.

Other scholars have variously described the ‘knight v snail’ motif as a representation of the struggles of the poor against an oppressive aristocracy, a straightforward statement of the snail’s troublesome reputation as a garden pest, a commentary on social climbers, or even as a saucy symbol of female sexuality.  Oh dear, then what do the rabbits mean?

rabbits killing knight 194xr10alc41jjpg bunnie revenge rabbit playing pipe organ

In these the rabbit is quite the warrior and seems to take revenge on man. In others he is making music!

dogs vs rabbits rabbit hangs dog rabbit riding snail fox vs monkey 13th c bible

The rabbit is not above warring with the other animals either, even going as far as to hang a hound!

But it wasn’t just rabbits. It was monkeys, dragons, boars, dogs, lions, cats, fish, demons and of course, just as lewd, humans.

knight slayind dragon naughty monkeys dog bishop monkeys1

Slaying of a dragon; Monkeys um … entertaining; and the hound dressed as a bishop preaching to a flock of geese must surely be a slur.

It would seem in this next depiction that the text referred to astrological ideals or events.  Above the marginalia is a picture where the woman is pointing to the celestial skies and below dancing on the foliage, a monkey with a pillar sundial, a fox with the celestial globe, a goat with an astrolabe and a bear and a ram using a sextant – all the tools required for astronomy.

star gazing 1     star gazing 2

Did some texts have some medical portent? Or perhaps the pictures were simple instructions in the margins for those who could not read? Certainly bodily functions played a part.

amputees enhanced-buzz-24301-1348847277-3 tMB7u0Z

It is possible these images could have meant all these things and more at one time or another. I have saved the most bizarre for last. Let’s see what you make of them.


  221389b117cd5580143d04710be3ef10 ass playing bagpipe ass trumpet

The middle picture depicts a ‘bottom’ playing a bagpipe and the owner’s neck is stretched! 

 194xacz0ag3hzjpg        194xagbdasviljpg  images(2)

They certainly had a fascination with sticking things into the rear cavity! 

ass trumpet real Monty Python

Monty Python did not have it wrong!


enhanced-buzz-24349-1348847801-8 enhanced-buzz-4056-1348805818-7 ass blowing 194xkpi1gfa7zjpg


  stabbing 3 Stabbing 2 Stabbing 1


ambidextrous hunting humans half humans

What are they carrying on that stick?


    headless 1 - headless people headless 2 - knights given a head by ladies devilry devilry 2

And perhaps the most bizarre, especially considering the first picture comes from a poem ‘Romance of the Rose’ mentioned in a previous blog


P1 - penis tree from romance of the rose             P2 - women on flying penis

Well, there you have it.  As to the true meaning of pictures penned more than 600 years ago, perhaps we shall never really know for sure but I do know that if today’s clergy were to sit around in dark rooms drawing such pictures, we would not look upon it so lightly!

Cathy T

Medieval Tower Houses

One of my most romantic fantasies about the medieval period is the idea of living in a castle or tower house. Strolling through those ancient buildings fills me with a sense of excitement and I long to draw back the veil of time and explore the world within the thick stone walls. But would it have been anything like what I imagine?

Built from local stone, the tower house primarily occupied a small foot print. It was utilised as a defensive structure or warning tower and provided accommodation for the occupants. A large concentration of tower houses can be found in Scotland where they include peel towers (watch towers) and bastle houses (fortified farm houses). Tower houses generally consist of a vertical ‘single-pile’ building of four or five storeys with the rooms stacked one above the other. In many instances a small loft or garret was included beneath the roof space which was accessed by a wooden ladder. Most tower houses had spiral staircases providing access to the various floors though some had stairs incorporated into the walls. Many of the early tower houses had one or more barrel-vaulted ceilings between the main floors. The roofs generally consisted of large oak beams and rafters covered by thatch or oak shingles and in later periods, slate.

Tower House

Here are just a few of my favourites …


The lands of Craigmillar were granted to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey by King David I in the 12th century. The Preston family were first granted land in the area by King David II in 1342 and a further grant by King Robert II gave the remaining lands of Craigmillar to Sir Simon de Preston, Sheriff of Midlothian. Work began on the tower house in the late 13th century, which now forms the core of the castle. Craigmillar Tower house features in Book 3, The Gilded Crown.




From Book 3, The Gilded Crown –

Craigmillar manor house was imposing, sitting atop a low hill overlooking the southern township of Edinburgh. The new wing, well under construction, was placed strategically adjacent the original building which had been a monastic house. Catherine was surprised by the number of men working on the inner ward that would connect the two structures.

    She pointed out the stonemasons to Simon. ‘They look like bees buzzing about their hive.’

    ‘And there is the Queen herself,’ he said, steering his mount into the courtyard.

    Catherine followed, resisting the urge to pull back on the reins, hesitant to end their journey.



Castle Stalker is a four-storey tower house located on the tidal inlet of Loch Laich, near Port Appin in Argyle, Scotland. The original castle was a small fort, built around 1320 by Clan MacDougall who were then the Lords of Lorn but it is Clan Stewart who are recognised for building the castle in its present form around the 1440s. The tower house changed ownership on several occasions before it was abandoned in about 1840. In 1965 Lt. Col. D. R. Stewart Allward acquired the castle and fully restored the building over a 10 year period.

Stalker 1

Stalker 3

Stalker 2

Castle Stalker became a popular tourist attraction after it featured in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.



The castle, situated on a headland overlooking Loch Ness, was approached from the west and defended by a ditch and drawbridge. The buildings of the castle were laid out around two main enclosures on the shore. The northern enclosure or Nether Bailey includes most of the more intact structures, including the gatehouse, and the five-storey Grant Tower at the north end of the castle. The southern enclosure or Upper Bailey, sited on higher ground, comprises the scant remains of earlier buildings. The Grant Tower is a wonderful example of a ‘tower house’ styled structure built within the walls of an earlier castle.


Ur tower-450



The castle was originally founded as a fortified tower house by Hugo de Gourlay before 130 0, making it one of the oldest constructions of its kind in Scotland. The castle stands on a promontory of the Scottish River Tyne.

Hailes Castle grounds

Hailes_Castle_on_Tynehailes 3


The ideals of comfort and safety were no different in the 14th century to what they are today though I need only flick a switch for lighting and heating. And what of the beds? My mattress is ‘posturepedic.’ I am sure I would not receive the same level of support from a straw-filled palliasse! My front gate would never measure up to a portcullis and I have no need for an embrasure – but I can imagine the chill from the frosty air and damp mist, with no glass on any window, only animal skin to protect you from the elements. Yet my fantasy continues, for who wouldn’t want to sweep down the stairs, dressed in a warm kirtle, the sound of your poulaines tapping on the wooden floor as you settle before the open fire to enjoy a spiced goblet of perry.

Cathy A

Fifty Shades of Medieval – More Pain Than Pleasure.

With the entertainment industry buzzing over the release of Fifty Shades of Grey last month (a movie about a relationship which nudges the practice of BDSM – Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism), I decided to dedicate this blog to earlier forms and uses of whips and devices – quite possibly the roots of BDSM?

In the words of Chrissy Amphlett from Australia’s 80’s rock group, Divinyls, ‘it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain,’ and whilst Fifty Shades looks at the pleasure, I shall look at the other side – a very real part of life in the Middle Ages – medieval torture.

Read on, if you dare…

(Because of the nature of this post, reader discretion is strongly advised. I do warn you it is not for the faint-hearted.)

Torture in the medieval ages was a brutal reality. The word ‘torture’ comes from the Late Latin tortura, past particle of torquere meaning ‘to twist’ and torture relied upon devices which applied pressure to the body as the Church discouraged the shedding of blood.
It existed either as a punishment for a serious misdemeanour or to extract necessary information from the unfortunate victim and, by exhibiting the most horrendous methods publicly upon the crowds, it was to act as a deterrent to society. It was deemed a legitimate means to extract confessions or to obtain the names of accomplices or other information about a crime. In earlier civilisations, a slave’s testimony was only admissible if it had been gained by torture. What is disturbing was that some creatures actually injected a sense of creativity into the creation of some devices designed to inflict pain. Some of the examples included here were outright death sentences but not without including a great deal of torture first.

When I began to write this, I did expect to separate some of the tortures that had been ‘grouped together’ – after all I wanted to make it divisible in ‘shades.’ But most cases are significantly different to each other, albeit sometimes a collection of these tortures were used together upon a single victim. What I did not expect was to get to the number of fifty! And I did – quite easily.

In fact, in keeping with the title and to stay at fifty, I had to double some up and drop some information off but the discarded ones could probably be better described as outright executions – the exception I made being ‘burned at the stake,’ which involved much torture before death took the victim and it covered the topic of fire, so I have included it.

Out of all the blog posts I have written, this has been the hardest so far and not for the work it entailed but because it’s difficult to read and write of such things and not to feel some compassion for those poor souls, innocent or guilty, who had to endure such horrors and so much pain.

I have tried to put them in some sort of order – possibly ‘least’ to ‘worst’ – with the exception of those grouped together in shades of similarity (eg. water torture) or the body parts used and, in order for the reader not to be overcome by despair, I have inserted some light-hearted sketches in between.

Please note: Where possible, gender-based devices will be noted, and though many tortures were for both sexes, I will simply refer to victims as male.

It is not expected that you will read this entry all in one hit. After all, it’s a pretty grim subject and 50 examples long, but that’s the great thing about blogs. You can revisit in your own time.

You can also be thankful that you do live in ‘this time.’ These tortures were a very real part of life for those who lived in medieval times.

1. Thumbscrew

1 -thumbscrew                    1 -Thumbscrew2               1 - knee splitter

 The thumbscrew or ‘pilliwinks’ were designed to slowly crush the fingers and toes. Larger devices (picture in red) were used to crush knees and elbows. The primary intention was to extract confessions from victims.

2. The Head Crusher

2 head crusher

The head crusher served the same purpose as the thumbscrew. It would slowly and painfully crush the head.

3. The Scold’s Bridle or Brank         (Used in ‘The Order of the Lily’)

3 Scolds bridle 2 3 -Scolds bridle 1

The device was a metal cage which enclosed the head. It included a bridle-bit or a spiked plate, about two inches long, which was projected into the mouth to press down upon the tongue in order to make speaking impossible. It was used to humiliate women, particularly gossipers.

4. The Pillory or Stocks               (Used in ‘The Gilded Crown’)

4 Pillory and stocks 3 4 Pillory and Stocks 2 4 Pillory and stocks 1 Pillory - 16th Century

The pillory was used to restrain a victim for public humiliation, sometimes coupled with flagellation (whipping – see no. 20). Usually placed in a busy marketplace, the crowd could throw harmless objects such as rotten vegetables and animal dung, or if the offense warranted, sharper objects such as stones. The offender was defenseless against other humiliating acts such as the cutting of his hair, marking his body and, for the more zealous, mutilation.

5. The Scavenger’s Daughter

5 Scavanger

The Scavenger’s Daughter worked by compressing the victim’s body. The torturer could tighten or loosen the device, depending upon the severity of the crime. Although not painful-looking, this device was used to publicly humiliate a victim who was at the mercy of the crowd. If the torture was used over a prolonged period, it would lead to madness and starvation.

6. Abacination

6 -abacination

Abacination is a form of of torture in which the victim is blinded by having a red-hot metal plate held before their eyes. A corrosive chemical, typically slaked lime, was contained in a pair of ‘cups’ with decaying bottoms of parchment/leather. The cups were strapped in place over the prisoner’s eyes as he was bound in a chair. The corrosive agent slowly ate through the cups and then the eyeballs. It is a very old form of punishment and was recorded in ancient Persia.

7. Tongue Tearer

7 -Tongue Tearer

Looking like an oversized pair of scissors, the ‘tearer’ could effortlessly cut the victim’s tongue. Their mouth would be forced opened with a device called a mouth-opener (ingenious name) and then the iron tongue tearer would uncomfortably twitch the tongue with its rough grippers. Once a firm hold was maintained, the screw would be firmly tightened and the victim’s tongue would roughly be torn out.

8. Neck Spike

8 - Neck spike

This punishment was a test of endurance where the victim would be fitted into a neck device, either made of metal or wood, which prevented the victim from adjusting into a comfortable position. They were unable to lie down, eat, or lower their head for days.

9. Heretic Fork

9 -Heretics fork 9 - heretics fork 2

This torture device consisted of a metal piece with two opposed bi-pronged forks attached to a belt or strap. One end of the device was pushed under the chin, the other to the sternum, and the strap was used to secure the victim’s neck to the tool while the victim hung from the ceiling or was somehow suspended so that they could not sleep. If their heads dropped, the prongs would pierce their throat and chest.

10. The Garotte

10 -Garotte          10 - Garotte - simple

The Garrotte received its Spanish name due to its popularity in the area (widely used during the Spanish Inquisition). The Spanish also perfected this instrument so it would cause a painful and decisive death.

The victim was tied to the instrument and his neck forced inside the iron collar. With the handle that can be seen in the picture, the executioner slowly crushed the victim’s neck causing death from asphyxia. A simple version of garotte could be used by anyone to outright strangle a person.
11. The Spanish Spider or The Breast Ripper

11 -Breast ripper 1 - the spanish spider                    11 -Breast Ripper

This device was designed especially for women. Used to cause major blood loss, the claws, which were often red hot, would be placed on the exposed breasts as the spikes penetrated beneath the skin. It would then be pulled or jerked causing large chunks of flesh to come off with it. Another version, ‘The Spanish Spider,’ was used during the Spanish Inquisition. The spider was usually chained to the wall – the claws were heated before being fixed to the woman’s breasts. The torturer would pull the woman away from the wall to remove her breasts. This was a brutal punishment that often resulted in the victim’s demise.

12. Denailing

12 - Denailing 3     12 - Pliers for denailing    12 -Denailing

A common method of torture to extract information from the victim. He would be restrained in a position that allowed the torturer full access to the victim’s toes. Depending on the importance of a confession, the torturer could choose to extract each nail rapidly or to extract it as slowly and painfully as possible.
The instruments required for this torture method could be found anywhere, which made it incredibly popular. Additionally, if required and applied correctly, this method could be extraordinarily painful but leave no permanent damage.
Denailing was widely used during the Spanish Inquisition to extract confessions from heretics. This torture method is still being used today in certain countries.

13. Finger and Toe Wedging

13 - Nail wedging 2           13 - nail wedging

Wedging became popular hundreds of years before the Middle Ages; its origins probably date to Ancient Egypt. It was used almost exclusively for confessionary purposes.

The victim’s feet or hands were secured on a small platform. Using wooden or metallic wedges, the torturer slowly fixed the wedges underneath the victim’s nails. What followed next was agonizing pain for the victim. Failure to confess would mean wedging the next nail, and the next.

Toe/finger wedging was considered the prelude to more painful and humiliating torture methods that would ensue if the victim still failed to confess. Since the same wedges were used on several victims, it was common for infections to result, leading to amputations and even death.
14. The Copper Boot

14 - Copper boot 14 - the copper boot 1

The copper boot could be used in a few different ways. First, the torturer placed the victim’s feet inside the boot and secured them with chains. Torturers could then fill the boot with water and place a fire beneath the feet. Another way was to repeatedly beat the boot with a hammer. Although the legs would not suffer lethal damage, the pain this incurred often made the victim pass out. Also they could fill the boot with molten metals. This would result in third degree burns and intoxication, but it also rendered the boots useless for another victim.

15. Mutilation and Castration

15 - Mutilation and castration 2 15 -Castration 1 15 - Castration 2

Castration is where the male loses the use of his testicles which causes sterilisation – the inability to reproduce. It also reduces the production of the male hormone, testosterone. In a male-dominated society, where reproducing an heir was a major factor to ‘normal’ lifestyle, the psychological effect would be profound.
One famous victim of castration was the medieval French philosopher, scholar, teacher, and (later) monk, Pierre Abélard. He was castrated by relatives of his lover, Héloïse.
Bishop Wimund, a 12th-century English adventurer and invader of the Scottish coast, was another victim of castration.
In the Byzantine Empire eunuchs were castrated so they would become a devoted personal servant, having neither family nor heirs to which to adhere. It also made them perfect to protect their lord’s harem for eunuchs were prevented by castration from feeling normal tendencies towards the women.

‘Guards! The upside-down prisoner has to pee!’

16. Strappado (Rope)

16 - Rope torture 16 - Rope 16 -Strappado 1

Strappado (aka ‘reverse hanging’) is where the victim’s hands are first tied behind his back, and then he is suspended in the air by means of a rope attached to wrists, which dislocates both arms. Weights may be added to the body to intensify the effect and increase the pain. While the technique shows no external injuries, it can cause long-term nerve, ligament, or tendon damage.
Another variant is the victim is dropped at intervals and then checked by the rope. The painful jerk would cause major stress to the extended and vulnerable arms, leading to broken shoulders. And a third deviation was to add heavy weights to the ankles. This will not only cause damage to the arms but also the legs and hips. This variant is known as ‘squassation.’

17. Crocodile Shears

17 - Crocadile Shears

The interior design closely resembles a tube containing numerous spikes on both ends. It was used to mutilate. The iron pincer was heated to red-hot before being clamped down onto the victim’s appendages, then tearing them from their bodies. Sometimes used on the fingers, its most common use was to mutilate a man’s penis, the arterial damage provoking death. It was said to be used on those who attempted to assassinate the king.
18. Pear of Anguish or Choke Pear       (mentioned in ‘The Order of the Lily’)

18 - pear of anguish2 18 - pear of anguish3 18 - pear-of-anguish

This was used to punish liars, blasphemers, and homosexuals. The device was inserted into one of the prisoner’s orifices – the mouth for liars and blasphemers (which is why it’s also known as the Choke Pear); the vagina for women, and the anus for homosexuals. Some versions even had blades attached so when the pear was inserted, the blades could be rotated to cause internal bleeding. It was also used to torture women who were accused of facilitating a miscarriage.

19. Lead Sprinkler

19 - Lead Sprinkler

The torturer poured molten metals in one end and its contents slowly rushed to the other side where they fell through the holes on any part of the victim’s body, even the eyes which resulted in agonising pain and eventually death.
20. Flagellation (Whipping)

20 - Flagellation 2    20 - Flagellation

Flagellation, or whipping, is probably the most common of punishments and many towns had a post in the main market area for the sole objective of displaying public whippings. In the Late Middle Ages, flagellation became less common due to newer torture methods.

The whipping generally occurred against the victim’s back, but when a more severe crime was committed his chest could be whipped, which was especially dangerous and painful. Plus there were different types of whips. Some had small metal spikes at the end to rip the skin faster and deeper, thus inflict more pain.
21. The Pendulum

21 - pendulum

The pendulum was a way of extracting confessions. With the same procedure as ‘Stappado,’ (the difference being there is a machine to do the work for you), the victim’s wrists were tied behind his back. As the torturer turned the handle, the rope slowly elevated the victim eventually dislocating his shoulders. This was seldom a lethal torture and many confessed merely at the sight of this device.

22. The Rack

22 - Rack 1 22 - Rack 2 22 - Rack 3

Another common favourite during medieval times, the rack was designed to dislocate every joint of the victim’s body. It was made out of a wooden frame with two ropes fixed to the bottom and the other two tied into the handle on top. Once the victim was bound and placed on top of the rack, the torturer would turn the winch. The victim would be stretched until his limbs where dislocated. It was possible to keep turning the wheel until the limbs where completely torn off the victim’s body.

Sometime this method was limited to dislocating a few bones, but if the torturer went too far, it would render the legs or arms (sometimes both) useless. In the Late Middle Ages, some new variants of this instrument appeared. They often had spikes that penetrated the victim’s back. As the limbs were pulled apart, so was his spinal cord increasing not only the physical pain, but the psychological one of being permanently handicapped.

Many knights from the Knights Templar were tortured on the rack. It was reported ‘the limbs collected were emptied by the hundreds.’

‘You lucky, lucky bastard!’

23. The Picquet

23 - The Picquet 1    23 - The Picquet 2

The picquet was mostly used in the military as a way to maintain discipline throughout the army. The picquet didn’t require any sophisticated tools as all that was needed was placing a stake in the ground and tying the victim’s thumb far above his head. The stake was never sharp enough to draw blood, but it was meant to be very painful. Sometimes, the victim’s whole hand was tied instead of just his thumb to prevent major injuries.

When the victim felt that his thumb was about to dislocate, he would put his weight on the stake. On the other hand, placing too much weight on the stake would lead to much pain. Although this torture method was never meant to end in death, some draconian commanders ordered their victims to be subject to this torture for up to two days – sometimes incurring death.

This method became less popular with the introduction of other more visually-striking torture methods during the Late Middle Ages.

24. Exposure

24 - exposure 1 24 - Exposure

As its name implies, this method consists of exposing a victim to the elements. The victim could be buried up to his neck or tied to a post, letting any animals, insects or other people kill him slowly. In some towns there were permanent chains, stocks or ropes that were used to restrain someone. In many cases, the victim was simply left to die of hunger and thirst.

Due to its cost efficiency and cruelty, the exposure torture was very widespread in medieval Europe. The victim’s remains often served as a warning to the people.

25. Water torture

25 - water torture - drops of water 2   25 - water torture - drops of water

A very painful method of torture consisted of fixing a victim’s head under a small tube that constantly filtered drops of water. These fell on the same spot of the victim’s head leading to, in prolonged periods of time, perforation and eventually death.

26. Freezing with water    (No Picture)

In the winter, the naked victim was forced to stand outside in full view of everyone. The torturer poured water on his head which eventually became frozen, making the victim die slowly and painfully. Sometimes the body was left for the whole winter to terrify the population and dissuade any further crimes, as punishment was imminent.

A variant was to douse the victim’s limbs with cold water, to speed up the onset of frostbite. This was done until the limbs were hard enough to elicit a ringing sound when they were hit with sticks. Afterwards, they could either have their limbs and fingers smashed off or immediately defrosted by hot water which caused all the flesh on the limbs to just slide off.
27. Forced Drinking

27 - Forced Drinking 1 27 - Forced drinking 2

This torture was simple and effective. A tube is forced over the victim’s mouth and he is forced to drink huge amounts of water until he either confessed or drowned.

28. Keelhauling

28 - keelhauling 2 28 - keelhauling

The earliest official mention of keelhauling is from the Greeks in the Rhodian Maritime Code (Lex Rhodia), of circa 800 BC, which outlines punishment for piracy. It is also pictured on a Greek vase from the same era.
The sailor was tied to a line that looped beneath the vessel, thrown overboard on one side of the ship, and dragged under the ship’s keel, either from one side of the ship to the other, or the length of the ship (from bow to stern). As the hull was usually covered in barnacles and other marine growth, if the offender was pulled quickly, keelhauling would typically result in serious cuts, loss of limbs and even decapitation. If the victim was dragged slowly, his weight might lower him sufficiently to miss the barnacles, but this method would frequently result in his drowning.

*29. Cucking Chair /stool (Ducking)     (Used in ‘The Order of the Lily’)

29 - Cucking Chair 2    29 - Cucking Chair

This was a favoured torture to use on women. The victim was tied to a chair and elevated by ropes above a pond or river. She was lowered into the water until completely submerged. The chair could be raised if the victim was about to pass out, or to give the victim a chance to confess.

This method was widely used during the Spanish Inquisition and in England and France.

30. Boiling

30 - Boiling 2 30 - Boiling 30 Boiling 3

The unlucky victim was placed inside an empty cauldron. The cauldron was filled with cold water and beneath it, a fire was set. Eventually the water began to boil, cooking the live victim. This was usually a death sentence but not without a lot of torture first.

31. Tar/Pitch and Feathering

31 - tar and feathering 2    31 - tar and feathering

The earliest mention of the punishment appears in orders that King Richard I issued to his navy on starting for the Holy Land in 1189. The order indicated that any thief or felon, being lawfully convicted, shall have his head shorn, boiling pitch poured upon his head and topped with feathers or straw so that he will be known for his misdemeanour. Upon landing, the victim would be ‘cast up.’

32. Branding

32 - Branding

There were various methods with branding. A red-hot brazier could be passed backwards and forwards before the eyes until they were destroyed by the scorching heat. Red hot pokers were applied to various parts of the body or various marks branded into the flesh using irons.

A branding iron had a long bolt with a wooden handle at one end and a brand at the other. Two iron loops were used for firmly securing the hands during the excruciating process of branding, the victim often falling unconscious at the horrendous odour of burning flesh.
33. The Brazen Bull/ The Crocodile Tube

33 - Brazen bull 1     33 - Brazen Bull 2

Also known as the Sicilian Bull, it was designed in ancient Greece. A solid piece of brass was cast with a door on the side that could be opened and latched. The victim would be placed inside the bull and a fire set underneath it until the metal became literally yellow as it was heated. The victim would then be slowly roasted to death all while screaming in agonizing pain. The bull was purposely designed to amplify these screams and make them sound like the bellowing of a bull.
*May be seen in the movie Red Riding Hood.
The crocodile tube followed the same principal except the victim’s head and feet were left exposed so torture to these parts could be applied before the fire was lit. Facial mutilation and toe ripping were preferred choices.

34. Scaphism – (The Tub or the Boat)

34 - the boat 34 - The Tub

Scaphism, also known as the boat, was an ancient Persian torture/death; the word meaning ‘scooped or hollowed out.’ The victim was placed, naked, within the interior of two boats or hollowed out tree trunks (later a tub), with only head, hands and feet protruding. They would be forced to ingest milk and honey to the point of developing a severe diarrhoea. More honey was poured on them to attract insects. They would lie in their own waste with insects feeding and burrowing into their flesh, eventually dying of dehydration, starvation, and septic shock. Delirium would typically set in after a few days.

35. The Coffin or Crow’s cage

35 - coffin 2 35 - Coffin or Crows cage 35 - Coffin or Crows cage 35 - coffin

The Coffin torture was feared throughout the Middle Ages and when you see one, you realise why.

It involved placing a victim inside a metal cage roughly the size of the human body. Torturers also forced overweight victims into smaller cages to heighten their discomfort as they hung from a tree or gallows. The period of time a victim was kept inside the coffin was determined by his crime. Very serious crimes were punished by death. The victim would be kept outside, under the sun, with animals able to eat their flesh, usually crows, hence the device’s other name of a ‘crow’s cage.’
36. The Iron Maiden

36 - Iron Maiden 36 - Iron Maiden 36 - iron-maiden

This torture device consisted of an iron cabinet with a hinged front and spike-covered interior, sufficient enough to enclose a human being. Once inside its conical frame, the victim would be unable to move due to the great number of steel spikes penetrating the victim’s flesh (but missing vital organs) with the strategically-placed spikes. When completely closed, the screams from the victim could not be heard outside, nor could the victim see any light or hear anything from within. This increased the psychological pain. Additionally, the spikes blocked the wounds so it took many hours – or even days – for death to occur.

If the door was opened, the victim would stand in the same position so if the torturer chose to close the door again, the spikes would penetrate the exact same wounds.
Sometimes the door was intermittently opened and closed to maximise the victim’s pain without delivering death.

Although the ‘Iron Maiden’ is often associated with the Middle Ages no actual account prior to 1793 has yet been found.

37. Sleep Deprivation/Psychological

37 - sleep_deprivation

Psychological torture has its place among the list and no worse can be found than simple sleep deprivation. It has been said that a human can live longer without food or water than they can without sleep.
In stark contrast to torture that inflicts physical pain, psychological torture is directed at the psyche with calculated violations of psychological needs, along with deep damage to psychological structures and the breakage of beliefs, underpinning normal sanity.
Psychological torture includes deliberate use of extreme stress and situations such as mock execution, shunning, violation of deep-seated social or sexual norms and taboos, or extended solitary confinement as well as the lack of sleep. Such deprivation would cause cognitive inability, memory lapses or loss, tremors, aches, severe yawning, hallucinations and increased heart rate until eventually the body shuts down.

38. Starving and Immurement (Walled in)

38 - Immurement 2    38 - Immurement

Historically, starvation has been used as a death sentence. From the beginning of civilization to the Middle Ages, people were immured, or walled in, and would die for want of food. The process was simple. Put them in a niche or chamber and brick them in.
In Sweden in 1317, King Birger of Sweden imprisoned his two brothers for a coup they had staged against him. Supposedly, the king threw the key into the castle moat and the brothers died of starvation a few weeks later.
Another famous unsolved ‘starvation’ in the 14th C is that of King Richard II. Imprisoned by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, it is unclear to this day if Henry starved Richard or the depressed, deposed king simply refused to eat.

39. Pressing or Pienne forte et dure

39 -  pressing or piene forte 39 - pressing 2

Peine forte et dure, meanng ‘hard and forceful punishment’ was a method of torture formerly used in the common law legal system, in which a defendant who refused to plead and stood mute would be subjected to having heavy stones placed upon their chest until a plea was entered or, if the weight of the stones on the chest became too great for the condemned to breathe, fatal suffocation would occur.
A criminal justice system that punished only those who volunteered for punishment was unworkable so this was used to coerce some response. The victim would lie upon his back with his head covered, his body spread-eagled and held by ropes/chains. Then heavy stone would be piled, one at a time, upon his chest until he could bear no more.
Many defendants charged with capital offences refused to plead, since by refusing they would escape forfeiture of property, and their heirs would still inherit their estate. If the defendant pleaded guilty and was executed, their heirs would inherit nothing, their property escheating to the Crown. That’s why it was vital to the Crown to get a plea.

‘Are there any women here today?’

40. Rat Torture

40 -Rat torture 40 -Rats 1

One of the most sadistic of all torture techniques (and cheapest) involved having a cage with one open side strapped against the victim’s body, usually over the intestines. It would then be filled with large rodents. A heating element was placed on the other side of the cage and the rodents’ natural instinct led them to flee the intense heat. In order to escape they would burrow through the victim’s stomach, find the intestines, and dig their way out of the victim’s body with fatal results. This took a few hours of agonising pain for the victim.

Rat torture as applied in ‘Game of Thrones’

41. Spiked Chair

41 - Spiked chair 2

Also known as the Judas Chair, it was a terrible, intimidating torture device that was added to dungeons in the Middle Ages. Used in Europe until the 1800’s, this chair was layered with 500 to 1,500 spikes on every surface with tight straps to restrain its victim. Made of iron, it could also contain spaces for heating elements beneath the seat. It was often used to scare people into giving confessions as they watched others being tortured on the device.
The time of death greatly varied ranging from a few hours to a day or more. Similar to the Iron Maiden, no spike penetrated any vital organ and the wound was closed by the spike itself which delayed blood loss greatly.

42 The Breaking Wheel (The Catherine Wheel)

42 - Breaking Wheel 1 42 - Breaking Wheel 2 42 - Breaking Wheel 3 SAMSUNG

Also known as the Catherine Wheel, this is a torture device used to slowly kill the victim. First, the victim’s limbs were tied to the spokes of a large wooden wheel which would then be rotated as the torturer simultaneously smashed the victim’s limbs with an iron hammer. As the bones were broken, the victim would be left on the wheel to die or could be placed on top of a tall pole so the birds could feed on their flesh while still alive.

When Catherine of Alexandria refused to give up her Christian belief (c 305) she was scourged and imprisoned. Still refusing, she was tortured to make her yield but the breaking wheel broke at her touch. Ultimately, she was beheaded but the breaking wheel then became known as ‘the Catherine Wheel’ in her honour.

43. Judas Cradle

43 - Judas Cradle 43 - Judas Cradle 43 - Judas cradle4

Closely related to impalement, this gruesome punishment entailed having the victim sit on the pyramid-shaped cradle, after which they would be forced down on it by ropes with the intent of stretching the victim’s anus or vagina over a long period of time, slowly impaling them. Sometimes weights would be added to the victim’s legs or oil added to the device, which would increase the pain considerably. To add to the overall humiliation, the victim was usually naked and the device was rarely washed. So if the torture did not kill you, the infection contracted from it would.

44. Spanish Donkey

44 - Spanish Donkey 44 -Spanish donkey 2

One of the torture devices used during the Spanish Inquisition. The victim is put astride, naked, on a donkey-like apparatus, which is actually a vertical wooden board with a sharp V-wedge on top of it. After that, the torturer would add varying weights to the victim’s feet until finally the wedge sliced through the victim’s body.

45. Impalement

45 - Impalement 1 45 - Impalement

The victim was forced to sit on a sharp and thick pole. When the pole was then raised upright, the victim was left to slide down the pole with their own weight. It could take the victim 3 days to die using this method.

In 1436, Vlad III, ascended the throne of Wallachia in Romania and was later given the title ‘Vlad the Impaler’ for having impaled 20,000 people during his lifetime.
46. Crucifixion

46 - Crucifixion

Principally practiced in antiquity, it is one of the most well-known execution methods due to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is a deliberately slow and painful torture where the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until they die, which usually takes days.

‘Next. Crucifixion? Good. Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each.’

47. Flaying and The Spanish Tickler      (mentioned in ‘The Lily and the Lion’)

47 - Flaying 2 47 - spanish tickler 2 47 - Spanish Tickler 3 47 - tickler

The victim was laid upon a table, his arms tied to a pole above his head while his feet were tied below. His body was now completely exposed and the torturer, with the help of a small knife, slowly peeled off the victim’s skin. In most cases, the torturer peeled off the facial skin first, working his way down to the victim’s feet. Most victims died before the torturer even reached their waist.

The Spanish Tickler was an instrument that could ‘rake’ the skin from the body. Due to its shape, neither bone nor muscles were spared. Another device used during the ‘Spanish Inquisition.’

48. Saw Torture

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In this method, the victim is hung upside down, so that the blood will rush to their heads and keep them conscious during the long torture. The torturer would then saw through the victims’ bodies until they were completely sawed in half. Most were cut up only in their abdomen to prolong their agony.
49. Burning at the Stake       (Used in ‘The Gilded Crown’)

49 - Burning at the stake - Joan of Arc     Illustration of Jacques de Molay burned at the stake in 1314

Burning at the stake was a very common way to execute heretics in the Middle Ages.

If the fire was big enough, death occurred first by asphyxia rather than by the flames. However, this was a known fact and the victims were usually burned in a smaller fire so they would suffer until the end.
When the fire was small, death occurred because of loss of blood or a heatstroke which could take hours. Occasionaly (with a gold coin or two) a gesture of mercy would see the executioner step behind the pole during a smoke cloud and discreetly strangle the victim but only if the flames did not endanger him.
The smell of burned flesh was terrible and lasted for many hours or even days after death. Hundreds were burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition.

Joan of Arc and many of the Knights Templar met this fiery end. (Pictured above)

50. Hanged, Drawn and Quartered

50 - and quartered 50 - hanged, drawn and quartered 2 50 -Hanged Drawn and Quartered 3

The penalty for high treason in England was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in public and though it was abolished in 1814, it has been responsible for the death of thousands of people. In this torture technique, the victim is dragged in a wooden frame called a hurdle to the place of execution. They would then be hanged by the neck for a short period of time until they are near-death (hanged) followed by disembowelment and castration where the entrails and genitalia are burned in front of the victim (drawn). The victim would then be divided into four separate parts and beheaded (quartered). Many heads were spiked on the London Bridge.

Some famous victims of this terrible torture were William Wallace and Hugh le Despenser the Younger. (Hugh pictured above on ladder)

On 24 November 1326 Despenser was roped to four horses and dragged through the city to the walls of his own castle, where enormous gallows had been specially constructed. Despenser was raised a full 50 feet and then lowered onto a ladder. A man climbed along side him, sliced off his penis and testicles and flung them into a fire below. He then plunged a knife into Despenser’s abdomen and cut out his entrails and heart. The corpse was lowered to the ground and the head cut off. It was later sent to London, and Despenser’s arms, torso and legs were sent to be displayed above the gates of Newcastle, York, Dover and Bristol.

So, you made it to the end of my version of ‘Fifty Shades’ – Congratulations! In that case, celebrate that in the western world in the 21st century, you do not have to worry about your body being subjected to such tortures.

By Catherine T Wilson.

The Lily and the Lion - thumbnail Order of the Lily cover - thumbnail The Gilded Crown - Thumbnail Medieval Christmas Thumbnail