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20 Horrible Ways to Die Living in Middle Ages, a Guest Post and Giveaway from Elsie Park

Karina:  Hi, peeps! When Elsie contacted me about her book, I had this idea for a guest post straight away, because frankly I've always been fascinated by Middle Ages. Not only it's romanticised and bleached to the max in modern perception, people don't seem to realise how easy it was to die in such volatile era and how hard it was to live to the good old age.... So I hope you forgive me for raising such a morbid topic in the interest of educating the masses :)

I pass it on to Elsie now.

I had to chuckle at this topic, not because I’m morbid and twisted, but because it’s a subject usually touched by the History channel or the like.

Most people deem it taboo to discuss death and torture for fear of seeming psychotic. I am not a psycho, though you’ll have to take my word for it, of course. But I’m intrigued by this subject. And since everyone has a different view of what may be the “worst” way to die, I’ll simply discuss the ways I think are the worst, ways in which I would personally hate to die, which invariable includes anything of a slow or extremely painful nature *cringe*.

 I’ll have you know, however, that giving me this topic has opened up a can of worms, especially after I discussed it with my pediatrician-father and got way more information than I could possibly use in this article.

As it is, I’ve made two lists: Ten ways to die from TORTURE AND EXECUTION and ten ways to die from ACCIDENTS AND NATURAL CAUSES. Perhaps someone can utilize this information in a research paper or a historical novel. I used the info about poison hemlock in SHADOWS OF VALOR.

Torture and Executions

1.  Being DRAWN AND QUARTERED is the most painful that I can think of. It’s pure, unadulterated torture. First a person is hung until he’s unconsciousness, then he’s revived so as to be awake while being slit open with a blade and his intestines are pulled from his body. He probably dies after this, but his body is then cut into four quarters and his pieces given back to his surviving family.

2. Being HANGED can be quick and relatively painless if the hanging is done right, allowing the neck to snap immediately and the person to die instantly. If the hanging doesn’t go as planned, the person can swing from the rope around his neck for minutes, gasping for air and feeling the pain in his near broken neck radiating through his entire body until he finally succumbs to the lack of oxygen and die.

3. Being BURNED AT THE STAKE is something truly harrowing for me, as I’ve often felt the intense heat from flames as a former wildland firefighter. Small first-degree burns are so painful, and I just can’t imagine my whole body being burned with second- and third-degree burns. Horrible!

4. Being placed in an IRON MAIDEN, an upright metal coffin lined with long spikes on the inside. These devices are often associated with the Middle Ages, though according to Wikipedia, no account has been found earlier than 1793. So the existence in medieval times is debated. Still, I’d hate to be put in one and impaled by the spikes when the door closed.

  5. THE RACK was mostly used for torture to extract information from someone. Those who survived the disjointing of their shoulders and hips were often crippled for life, but the rack still caused death in those whose poor stretched limbs reached their ultimate limit and simply tore apart, causing terrible pain, blood loss and hemorrhaging.

  6. HOT COALS AND IRONS being gouged into the eyes, causing the eyeballs to explode into the head and damaging the brain, obviously causing death.

7. TARRING AND FEATHERING didn’t always cause death, unless the tar was hot enough and the amount used was excessive, then the poor soul sentenced to endure the searing pain of the tar and subsequent skin loss from the burning ooze would invariably die.

8. THE IRON MASK, similar to the iron maiden with spikes protruding on the inside. When the mask was placed on the face, the spikes would stab into the forehead, causing one of two possible deaths. The first, if the spikes hit a main artery, would cause blood loss, hemorrhaging and death. The second, a slower death, but just as painful, as the spikes entered the brain, eventually causing meningitis (infection in the brain) and death.

9. BEHEADING with an axe or sword could be swift and painless if done right, but if the executioner missed his mark, or lacked sufficient strength to cut through the neck, or if the blade was dull, then the ensuing torture and pain is obvious.

10. Being POISONED BY POISON HEMLOCK, a root resembling a white carrot. The liquid extracted from this plant caused respiratory problems, seizures and paralysis. Unless tended to immediately by making the person throw up the poison or helping him to breathe somehow (something people didn’t know how to do in medieval times and something we do with technology today), then he would die.

Accidents and Natural Causes

1. The big one, the BUBONIC PLAGUE (or Black plague/Black death) from infected rats whose fleas spread the disease. The “bubo” was a ruptured lymph node in the neck or groin area, which would ooze puss and get infected, usually killing the victim within a week or two. Very few survived the disease once they contracted it. A third of the European population died from this. Another part of the plague was the PNEUMONIC which entered the lungs through inhaling when someone who had it coughed or sneezed. A faster death than the Bubonic, the Pneumonic killed its victims within hours to a few days.

2. FOOD POISONING was caused by people preparing food with hands that hadn’t been washed after using the bathroom and then not cooking the food sufficiently to kill the bacteria. This caused vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration and sometimes death.

3. DROWNING was a common accident around water because many people in medieval England didn’t know how to swim. The person gasps for air, but inhales only water into the lungs, coughing and sputtering and ingesting more water until the body succumbs to the lack of air and liquid-filled lungs.

4. TUBERCULOSIS was a respiratory issue, something that could go on for years with coughing and other lung issues. The person would eventually die from respiratory failure.

5. TYPHOID outbreaks in the water supply were a common occurrence, causing diarrhea and/or fever. If accompanied by fever it was usually fatal.

6. SMALL POX hit a person all at once, overwhelming the body. Small Pox killed within a few days. Small Pox localized in the small blood vessels of the skin, mouth and throat, creating a terrible scaly rash and raised fluid-filled blisters. The mortality for Small Pox was extremely high. Today, however, it’s all but eradicated in most areas of the world.

7. GANGRENE was associated with wounds that weren’t cleaned and cared for properly. Gangrene was an infection of a wound with the tissue rotting and turning putrid. If not cleaned out or stopped by amputation, it continued to spread to the circulatory system, thus killing the person.

8. TETANUS was a bacteria associated with “lock jaw” and muscle spasms. Today, many people believe this is caused by the rust on old nails, but this isn’t true. The tetanus is in the SOIL, from left over animal or human feces and junk mixed in with it. If untreated, the person dies within 1-2 weeks.

9. RABIES was (and is) 100% fatal if untreated, the person dies within 1-2 weeks. Rabies is a bacteria spread through the salivary glands of an animal carrying it. It’s an unusual bacterium in that it “enrages” the animal, causing it to lash out and bite. Some believe animals with rabies fear water, but it’s simply that drinking water causes so much pain with the swollen and extremely sore throat that they avoid it. Rabies spreads up the nerves and right to the brain causing spasms, foaming at the mouth, seizures, comas, and eventually death. Animals with canine-like teeth usually spread rabies. Other animals like squirrels and rabbits can contract it, but not spread it because they typically don’t get enraged and bite like canines do.

10. I have to add ACCIDENTAL BURNING here as a way to die. It was quite common and a terribly painful way to go.

Like I said, hopefully this information can be useful for research into historical happenings or for literary works. Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Karina! It’s been neat sharing interesting facts and info!

From a wildland firefighter to a security guard, police officer, and student of botany and zoology, ELSIE PARK has done it all. It was only a matter of time before she wrote her first novel. While on a hiatus to Italy, Park was inspired by the thick presence of ancient and medieval history. She felt it in its walls, and slowly, yet surely, a story was born.
Find Elsie:

On the surface, Graywall is content and booming. Lord Shaufton, who presides over the city, is a fine ruler. The poor are well-cared for, the area is popular, and morale is high—but within Graywall’s roots, something dark is stirring. This darkness threatens to overpower the once-peaceful town, until a mysterious figure appears: The Shadow.

As much a figure of fear to the unruly as legend to the innocent, The Shadow is an enforcer of justice and aid to the King. Due to an outrageous export tax set by King Edward, smuggling has tainted the kingdom, so The Shadow is sent to hunt the smugglers down. Contrary to legend, The Shadow is simply a man known as Sir Calan who, although talented and just, struggles to keep his dark thoughts of revenge from becoming ruthless action. 

Due to sheer coincidence, The Shadow learns of a deadly plot against Lord Shaufton on a journey to Graywall. Now, he must enter a pseudo courtship with Lord Shaufton’s daughter under his original guise of Sir Calan, all while old emotions are stirred by the lovely Elsbeth, Lord Shaufton’s niece. Elsbeth, it seems, is the only woman who can heal his troubled soul, but she has a story of her own. What transpires is a glorious tale full of deceit, greed, inner struggles, betrayal, and most of all—love.
 open to all who can use Amazon US
and ends September 23rd 2013.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


zEmfIrKa said...

Oh my! This is quite a post! :) Now I shall go sleep, and be thankful I don't live in middle ages. Thanks for educating ladies. ;)

Elsie Park said...

Thanks for highlighting me and SHADOWS OF VALOR on your wonderful blog, Karina! The pictures you added to the article were neat in the sense that they looked to be right out of a medieval book. Great addition! And, DITO to Victoria S.'s comment above, I'm thankful I don't live in the medieval times either. I'm satisfied with just writing about them *laugh*.

Unknown said...

Er...thanks? Morbid curiosity satisfied. :) This sounds like a book I'd enjoy, ladies.

Thanks for sharing!

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