Medieval Monday: Insults

I thought this week I’d amuse you with some medieval insults. Some were used for good-natured ribbing, whereas others might be more defamatory in nature. Reputation was important in the medieval world, and slandering the wrong person meant you could find yourself in court. Men typically based their reputations on social status, whereas the reputations of women were more based on their virtue and the way they conducted themselves. Depending on where you live, some of these insults (or versions of them) might still be in use today. If this is the case, please know that no real offense is intended—this is all in good fun!

Bespawler: Someone who spits when they talk.

Bobolyne: A fool.

Churl: Coarse and peasant-like. Its origin is the Old English “ceorl” which meant “one level above a slave.”

Cox-comb: A vain, narcissistic person.

Cumberworld: A useless person.

Dalcop: A very stupid person.

Doxy: A promiscuous woman. Also literally the wife or lover of an outlaw who robbed people on the road.

Driggle-Draggle: A messy or untidy woman.

Fopdoodle: A stupid, idiotic person.

Fustilugs: A large, clumsy slob.

Glos Pautonnier: An Old French word for a gluttonous scoundrel.

Hedge-born: Of base birth, or illegitimate

Levereter: Corrupt (“Liver-eater”)

Mandrake Mymmerkin: Childlike. A puppet, or little man.

Muck-sprout: Someone who is overly talkative and curses a lot.

Mumblecrust: A toothless beggar.

Puterelle: A woman of ill-repute.

Raggabrash: A grubby, disorganized person.

Rakefire: A guest who has outstayed their welcome.

Ronyon: An old, mangy, scabby woman

Saddle-goose: A very stupid person.

Scobberlotcher: A lazy person who never works hard.

Skamelar: A scrounge, or parasite.

Snoutband: Someone who constantly interrupts a conversation to correct or contradict the speaker.

Sot: A drunkard.

Stampcrab: A clumsy person.

Trencherman: Someone who overeats and attends social events just for the food.

Wandought: A weak, ineffectual man.

Whiffle-whaffle: An indecisive person who wastes others’ time.

Yaldson: The son of a prostitute.

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.



Medieval Monday: The Minstrel

It’s the beginning of the month, so here’s another episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. I was actually surprised at the number of things I didn’t know about minstrels and their place in history. And Terry Jones, as always, has a certain flare for telling it! 🙂

Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Medieval Monday: Making Barrels and Wooden Vessels

Medieval coopers were important craftsmen in the Middle Ages. Many different types of goods were kept in barrels, such as alcohol and salted meats. But barrels were not the only things coopers made. A variety of wooden vessels were needed for daily use by the average person as well as many other medieval craft and tradesmen. Buckets were needed to draw and transport water, and pails collected milk from cows, sheep, and goats. Wooden churns helped to preserve that milk by turning it into various types of butter and cheese. Tub like containers would have been used for jobs such as mixing flour into dough, pickling vegetables and fruits, salting meat, or making beer, ale, and cider. Larger tubs would have been used for fulling (processing wool), dying fabric, tanning, washing clothes, bathing, and crushing grapes for winemaking. Serving pitchers might also be made out of wood. Their sides were curved for pouring, just like vessels made out of glass or ceramic would have been. When barrels and large tubs had out-lived their usefulness, they were either taken apart and the wood re-purposed, or they were used to line wells and pits.

Oak, which was strong and durable, was the favored choice for wooden vessels, but beech, pine, and silver fir were also sometimes used. The wood grain needed to be straight. The tools of the trade were simple ones, with coopers using mallets, axes and shaving tools to shape the staves. These could be fit together to make the vessels water tight, though not all barrels were. Some were used for dry storage and water tightness was not required. Surprisingly, metal hoops were not used for large barrels until well after the Middle Ages. They were reserved for use on some buckets and expensive drinking vessels. Barrel hoops were made of wood, primarily willow, ash, hazel, and chestnut. Hoop making was a specialized craft of its own.

I tried to find a video of someone using medieval methods to make wooden vessels, and this is the closest I got. George Smithwick is a 6th generation cooper and has been doing this for over 30 years, so I’d say he’s a great authority on the subject! The video is a bit long, and he does occasionally use modern day power tools, but his methods are rooted in tradition and he goes a bit into the history of his trade, which is very interesting. If you have time, I hope you’ll watch this one, even if you need to fast forward through parts of it. Nothing compares to actually watching how things were made–it gives you a real appreciation for the work involved in making simple, every day objects we take for granted in our post-industrialized world.

Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Medieval Monday: The Damsel

It has been a while since I made a Medieval Monday post, but I’ll get back to it now that my book is finished. I’ll resume with this BBC episode of Medieval Lives, which is all about women’s roles in medieval society. A very interesting take which somewhat debunks current views of how women were expected to behave and were treated during the Middle Ages.

WARNING: This is probably NSFW, as it does deal in part with how women’s sexuality was viewed from medieval times through the Victorian era. There is some “nudity” as taken from medieval artwork, so maybe not something you want to watch with kids hanging over your shoulder, either. I considered not posting this one at all, but the purpose of my Medieval Monday series is to show what daily medieval life was really like, and this was a significant part of life, particularly in a society where having children was critical to survival and marriage was often more about politics/social maneuvering than love.

Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Medieval Monday: The Monk


It’s the beginning of the month, so here’s another episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Lots of interesting information about the role of monks in medieval society, some of the different orders and how they got started. Lots of beautiful architecture in this one! Definitely worth watching.

Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Medieval Monday: Easter!

Easter was the most important holiday in the medieval world, with many medieval calendars beginning the “new year” with Easter. The holiday included both serious reflection and joyous celebration. Lent was taken quite seriously—forty days of fasting was strictly observed, and the preparations made in anticipation of Easter were extensive. The days before Easter were largely spent in church, starting with the previous Wednesday when services called the Tenebrae began.

On Maundy Thursday (celebration of the Last Supper) the service was solemn and very quiet, with the altars stripped bare of all their decoration. Instead they were covered with branches. This was symbolic of the treatment Jesus received when he was stripped, beaten, and forced to wear a crown of thorns on his way to the cross.

On Good Friday, the medieval world mourned Christ’s death, and a common practice was to begin the day by “creeping to the Cross” barefoot and on one’s hands and knees. Church services were held in almost complete darkness, with just one candleholder (a Hearse) that was gradually extinguished to symbolize the earth falling into darkness. Only the central candle, which represented the light of Christ, remained lit. The priest would read the story of the Passion from the Gospel of John and lift up prayers for God’s mercy and the cleansing of their sins. It would have been a powerful ceremony. No one used tools or nails made of iron on Good Friday. Holy Saturday would have been another day of somber reflection as the world remained in darkness with Jesus lying in the tomb.

But on Easter morning, everything changed—Jesus had risen from the grave, and it was time for a celebration! Church began at sunrise, with everyone gathered outside of the church to sing hymns before going in for services. The darkness from before was replaced with light and the somber mood replaced by joy. Some monasteries put on plays to re-enact the day’s significance. The monks would wear white robes to represent the women who first discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and that he was indeed risen. The forty day fast was finally over, and once all of the church-related activities had ended, it was it was finally time for feasting. Feasts were usually put on by royalty, lords, and wealthy nobles. Symbolically, putting on a great feast for the community was reminiscent of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. With no expense spared, it was an act of charity toward those who had much less, and whose winter reserves were nearing depletion (if not already depleted).

Certain fun traditions were observed as well, such as wearing or receiving new clothes and enjoying colorful Easter eggs. Eggs were boiled in salt water to preserve them during Lent, when eating them was forbidden.  They made their re-appearance on Easter, sometimes painted or dyed for the occasion—usually red to symbolize the blood of Christ.  In Germanic regions they were painted green and hung on trees. Children made games of rolling them downhill, or they were hidden (and found) to represent the disciples finding Jesus’ empty tomb.  Egg coloring could be as simple as boiling them with onions to give them a golden color, or they could actually be decorated with gold leaf, as Edward I did with his Easter eggs in 1290.

The celebration did not end on Easter Sunday, however. Hock Monday followed, during which young women “captured” young men and would only release them if paid a ransom (really a donation to the church). On Hock Tuesday, the roles were reversed and the young women were captured. As you can imagine, these antics did not always end well, and eventually attempts were made to better control them—sometimes even forbid them outright.

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Monday: Pigeons and Dovecotes

Doves and pigeons were an important resource in the Middle Ages,  valued primarily for their meat, eggs, and feathers. Falconries used them as quarry, and their guano was a highly sought-after fertilizer. In southern Europe, it was spread on hemp fields and vineyards. In Northern Europe, it was said that pigeon guano was worth ten loads of any other type of fertilizer.

Until the 1600s, strict laws forbid anyone other than the nobility or monasteries from keeping doves and pigeons. Though some castles and manors had built-in nesting boxes, for the most part these birds were housed in freestanding structures called dovecotes. They were round, stone buildings with either a domed or conical-shaped roof. The round shape made it easier for people to collect young doves or pigeons (squabs) from the nesting boxes. Squabs were considered a delicacy.

The inside of the building had a large open space, with ledges or cubicles jutting out from the walls. Pigeons would enter and exit from openings just beneath the roof. The nests could be accessed with a ladder attached to a revolving pole called a potence.

There is some evidence that pigeons were also used for communication, but only after exposure to Middle Eastern practices during the crusades. For the most part Western Europeans had no concept of how birds migrated. (They thought that Swallows hibernated during the winter in the mud beneath ponds.) The use of homing pigeons to communicate over long distances didn’t become common throughout all of Europe until after the medieval era. However, those regions that continued to trade and communicate with the Arab world during and after the crusades began to build networks of homing pigeons. The Republic of Genoa was the most notable of these, and built towers for that purpose along the Mediterranean Sea.

Pigeons were able to deliver messages relatively reliably and quickly over hundreds of miles from their home. By feeding them in one location, and nesting them in another, they could be trained to fly back and forth between two locations. But more often, once they were released and delivered their messages, pigeons had to be transported back and forth by cart. This method of communication was not without its limitations, however. Any message sent by pigeon had to be very short, and the receiver on the other end would have to be literate enough to read it. Such messages could also be intercepted by trained falcons and hawks, or by archers.

Learn more about daily life in the Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.