Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life in the Middle Ages - Welcome

Welcome to the C. Dale Brittain blog, "Life in the Middle Ages."

Between "Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones," there's a whole lot of interest in what life in the Middle Ages was really like.  As both a professor of medieval history and a fantasy writer myself, I've been studying medieval times for over 40 years.

In this blog, I'll be posting fun bits of information about the period--some funny, some sad, some downright weird.  I'll also be putting up some pictures of medieval architecture and the like, almost all of them mine.  There is an amazing amount of misinformation about the Middle Ages out there (no, not everyone was middle-aged!), so I'll be correcting some of that too.

First tidbit of information:  The Ox.

An ox was a crucial medieval animal.  An ox is just a bull who was castrated as a calf, so he (it?) grew up with a bull's powerful muscles but none of a bull's testosterone-fueled fury.  Strong and placid, able to subsist on grass rather than needing expensive grain (because of the multiple stomachs all cattle have, good for getting the last ounce of nutrition out of something), an ox made a great draft animal.  Carts and plows were normally drawn by oxen.

And when an ox got old and died, its skin was used for leather (ox hide is thick and tough), and its meat could be boiled up and eaten (though also thick and tough).

(Click here for more on medieval farm animals.)

© C. Dale Brittain 2014


  1. Dale, I have a question for you. Am I right in thinking that if a nobleman wanted a divorce, he could send his wife to a convent and be free to marry again? I am not sure where I got this idea from, but I think I read it was the way King John got rid of his first wife so that he could steal her lands and marry another wealthy one. If not, is there another way he could have got a divorce (apart from King Henry VIII's way of course)?

  2. Good question, but the answer is No. If either spouse went into the convent/monastery, the other one was supposed to also, and no self-respecting monastery would accept someone with a spouse still in the world. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, one usually got rid of spouses by "discovering" they were "cousins." Before 1215, one was supposed to have 6 or 7 generations back to the common ancestor. In practice, everyone was related, at least among the upper aristocracy, making divorce on demand essentially the case. This is how Louis VII divorced Eleanor, who then married Henry II of England--who was in fact just as closely related.

    1. Thanks for that Dale. That rather screws with my storyline a bit, but I can fix it on those grounds. I just wanted to be sure. I was going to mention Eleanor of Aquitaine, but as royalty got away with murder (literally in Henry VIII's case) I wasn't sure it was relevant.