Anna Markland is a Canadian author with a keen interest in genealogy. She writes medieval romance about family honour, ancestry and roots. Her novels are intimate love stories full of passion and adventure. Following an enjoyable career in teaching, Anna transformed her love of writing and history into engaging works of fiction. Prior to becoming a fiction author, she published numerous family histories. One of the things she enjoys most about writing historical romance is the in-depth research required to provide the reader with an authentic medieval experience. You can find a complete list of the books of her two series, The Montbryce Legacy, and Sons of Rhodri, on her website or on Amazon.com
Since Mimi’s blog is entitled Believe!
I am writing today about beliefs in the Middle Ages, the period setting for my
In those bygone times, at least three different locations claimed to possess
the severed head of John the Baptist. If such a claim were made today, we’d
witness an immediate outcry and investigation. CNN would have a field day.
Anderson Cooper would be in his element.
A lone medieval scholar, John of Salisbury, did note that two of the claims
must be wrong, but most medieval people were not remotely bothered by such
issues. Because of the distances involved in travelling to those three places,
they didn’t have to deal with the problem of John the Baptist having three
heads (or the problem of the church propagating untruths). Divine Providence
explained everything. Things were as they were because God had determined it.
For them the real threat was the Devil.
In my latest release, The
Winds of the Heavens, the people of the Welsh village of Llanfarran
resign themselves to the ravages of a plague, believing it to be the will of
Signs of the Devil’s presence were to be found everywhere. In my novel, Passion
in the Blood, the hero, Robert de Montbryce, glances out the window of
his castle in Normandy and sees a flock of crows flying overhead. Foreboding
sweeps over him that something evil has happened to his heroine, Dorianne de
Celtic speakers were often shunned as agents of the Devil. The persecution
of the Welsh Celts by the Normans is a central theme in Conquering
Passion, which, BTW, is available FREE
on Amazon until May 9th. (You can find two of Mimi’s books FREE until then as
well). My novella, Defiant Passion tells
the same story of the Welsh resistance to Norman rule, but from the Celtic
Another widely held belief was that women should be seen and not heard. They
were the property of men. The word ‘chauvinist’ wouldn’t be coined for several
hundred years, but it describes perfectly the hero of Conquering Passion, Ram
de Montbryce, at least at the beginning of the story! My spunky heroine,
Mabelle, has a difficult time accepting that!
Superstition ruled people’s lives. They had no understanding of the laws of
physics, nature, nor even how the human body worked. In their minds, anything
could happen—there were no limitations. Sorcery really did work. An astrologist
should be consulted for advice on when to take medicine or when to take in the
washing. Lead could be turned into
There was widespread belief in prophecy and, difficult as it might be to
believe the acceptance of some of the political prophetical works, sometimes
works of science and philosophy were even more outlandish.
Here, for example, is a famous passage from Roger Bacon, a 13th century
scientist and philosopher:
“Ships may be made to move without
oars or rowers, so that large vessels may be driven on the sea or on a river by
a single man, and more swiftly than if it were strongly manned. Chariots can be
built which can move without any draught animal at incalculable speed…Flying
machines might be made in which a man might sit, turning a certain mechanism
whereby artfully built wings might beat the air, in the manner of a bird in
flight. Another instrument could be made which, although small, will lift or lower
weights of almost infinite greatness…Again, instruments might be made for
walking in the sea, or in rivers, even to the very bottom…bridges might cross
rivers without pier or prop.”
In health matters, medical knowledge was based largely on astrology,
herbology, religion, philosophy, hearsay and desperation. A priest at St.
Bartholomew’s Hospital at the end of the 14th century—John Mirfield—recommended
the following procedure:
“Take the name of the patient, the
name of the messenger sent to summon you, and the name of the day on which the
messenger first came to you. Join all their letters together. If an even number
result, the patient will not escape. If the number be odd, he will recover.”
They believed the entire universe was made up of four elements: fire, water,
earth and air, which were mirrored in the four basic humors of the body:
choler, phlegm, black bile and blood. Sometimes doctors did not actually see
their patients, basing their diagnosis on the position of the stars, the colour
and smell of the patient’s urine and the taste of his blood.
Magic was tolerated, even encouraged. One of my villains, Morwenna, has as
many sickly customers from the village for her hexes and spells as the heroine,
Rhonwen, a healer known for her skill with herbs, salves and potions.
Magic was one thing. Heretical magic was another. In 1324, an Irish
gentlewoman, Dame Alice Kyteler, and her companions, were accused of renouncing
Christ, making sacrifices of living chickens to demons, cursing their husbands
and creating unguents from the intestines of the chickens. They had, it was
claimed, boiled these intestines with worms, dead men’s nails, various herbs
and the garments of unbaptized dead children in the skull of a beheaded thief.
Unfortunately for the “heretics” these claims were made in Ireland. Had they
been made in England, they would probably have been hung. As it was, Alice and
her companions were burned alive.
As Ian Mortimer states in his book, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval
England, “the past is a foreign country”.
Or is it?
There are at least two sites in the world today that still claim to be the
repository of the skull of John the Baptist. Where is Anderson Cooper when you
need him! Do you shudder a little when you see a mass migration of crows? Seen
“The Birds” recently? Maybe I should
ease off the husband cursing for a while! And flying machines? Don’t make me
Did someone say Feng Shui?