Amazing Historical and Contemporary Facts From Your Favorite Authors.
MEDIEVAL POISONS, Or DON'T EAT THAT!
Shana Abe shares this "tidbit" with us...
"General Disclaimer: Hey, this is just for entertainment. Don't do ANY of this!!"
Ah, the good ole days of medieval murder and mayhem. No DNA testing, no fingerprinting, no telephone taps, no blood analysis, no ballistics, no bull. But even without the crime-fighting techniques we take for granted today, murder in medieval times was no easy feat. (Okay, unless you were "really" good with a crossbow and your victim liked to hunt a lot. Alone. In a heavy forest.
Certainly, there were the run-of-the-mill stabbing, sword fighting, and jousting "accidents". But a far better, more anonymous ways, to kill someone was that great historical standby - poison.
Poisons were readily available to just about everyone in medieval times, simply because poisonous vegetation grew everywhere. Highly toxic plants like mistletoe, hemlock, henbane, mandrake and nightshade were almost as common as weeds. Beautiful flowering plants you probably and rightfully, would not think to eat, like foxglove or columbine or monk's-hood, could kill. Toadstools abounded right next to their edible kin. Even ordinary herbs that generally do no harm, such rosemary or flax seeds, could be deadly in excess.
So, getting poison wasn't difficult. The tricky part was administering it. The killer would have to have access to something the intended victim would touch, wear, drink or eat. Administering poison through food seemed to be the most common method. After all, a medieval stronghold was usually a bustling, crowded place, and the kitchens would be filled with all kinds of people doing all kinds of jobs, from kneading bread to roasting meat to chopping vegetables. In a truly large household, one new face might easily go unnoticed.
You've probably heard of medieval food-tasters. They had the unfortunate job of trying a bite or sip of everything that was meant to pass their lord's lips. Talk about deserving hazard pay! Those poor guys must have been a mess of nervous tics and chronic ulcers.
Poisoning through physical contact (without ingestion) was harder. The poison would have to be extremely toxic, enough so that merely touching the tainted object would do the job, either slowly or at once. Also, it'd be good to consider who else would be touching the object. Assuming the poisoner wasn't completely psycho, they'd probably want only the intended victim to handle it. The interior lining of personal clothing was sometimes chosen; I've heard tales of gorgeous poisoned gowns, or deadly new gloves. Ouch. A rather steep price to pay for your keen fashion sense.
An interesting side note: even though possible poisons seemed to lurk everywhere, there were other plants thought to hold magical powers of protection from them, such as angelica or fennel or rue.
Yeah. Tell that to the food-tasters.
Shana Abe is the author of THE SECRET SWAN, a medieval romance, to be release in April 2001. She is author of five other award winning historical romances. Her first book, A ROSE IN WINTER, was nominated for "first best book".
Her list of outstanding romance novels include: The Secret Swan, Intimate Enemies, A Kiss At Midnight, The Truelove Bride, The Promise of Rain, A Rose in Winter.
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Read To Reader Review of THE SECRET SWAN