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History Reading Room Weekly Roundup – Uhtred of Bebbanburg is arriving!

Here’s a roundup of the history stories that I’ve been reading this week!

Stash of Medieval Knickers Discovered
From BBC History Magazine’s HistoryExtra blog:

Medieval bra

Medieval bra

Have you ever wondered what kinds of underwear people wore before there was comfy Fruit of the Loom’s made with nice soft cotton?  I have.  Obviously, being a woman, I’m familiar with the idea of corsets, but mostly within feminist symbolism.  What people in the middle ages actually wore in terms of underwear is something I’ve actually spent some time thinking about.  Turns out, a find in Lengberg Austria is shedding some light on the question.  There was a castle from around 1190 that had an addition built on in the 15th century.  During some reconstruction a vault was found beneath the floorboards of the addition, so the contents are medieval.  The conditions were perfect to preserve the organic matter, including leather and cloth.  The clothes found include a stash of undies.  

In this stash of undies are the first example we have of modern bras, which contemporaries called “breast bags.”  There were several examples discovered in different styles, and with varying amounts of decoration.  Previously it was thought that women simply bound their breasts with a band, but this discovery clearly shows underwear in styles with which we would be familiar.  The bras have been radiocarbon dated to the 14th to early 15th century.

There was also a pair of perfectly preserved underpants, which has started an entirely new mystery.  It has been assumed that women didn’t wear underwear until the end of the 18th century.  There are reports from travelers of women in the Netherlands wearing drawers because of the cold, and some courtesans in Italy also were described wearing them.

This is a really interesting article about the ongoing research of this stash of undies, and what it’s telling us about daily life of medieval women.


Uhtred of Bebbanburg

The Last Kingdom starts on BBC 2 and BBC America
And, in Europe, there’s a fresh installment in the Uhtred saga with Warriors of the Storm 

Bamburgh Castle, on which Bebbanburg is based.

Bamburgh Castle, on which Bebbanburg is based.

If you haven’t read Bernard Cornwell’s series covering the Viking invasions of Saxon England, now is the perfect time.  There are currently 8 books out (or 9, if you’re in Europe) – either way, you have a lot of reading to catch up on.  Bernard Cornwell tells a story magically, pulling you in and immersing you in the world of Uhtred of Bebbanburg (a mythical place based on Bamburgh near Lindisfarne, where the earliest Viking invasions in England took place).  Uhtred watches his father die fighting the Vikings, and his evil uncle takes over his birthright of the fortress of Bebbanburg.  He is raised by Vikings, and decides that he really quite likes their way of life, as well as the Norse gods.

Then Alfred the Great starts to work to unite England into one united country (rather than the kingdoms like Wessex and Mercia) and Uhtred winds up fighting on the side of the Saxons, having made an oath to Alfred.  He’s a talented fighter, and quickly becomes feared throughout the land.  And he goes on a ton of adventures in the 9 books, fights in countless shield walls, and does everything he can to annoy the monks and Christians, who can’t do much about it because they really need him.  

This is one seriously badass guy, and even if you don’t read the books, you should totally watch the series.  Cornwell describes the events around Alfred so perfectly, and it’s fascinating to see the his dream of a united England grow in the consciousness of the Saxons.

The top Dangers of the Medieval Period

Even if you weren’t making war on the Vikings, chances were that you were still going to die pretty young if you lived in the medieval period.  This article lists the top ten dangers in the middle ages, with an explanation for each.

Some are pretty obvious.  Plague, for example.  And childbirth.  Those are pretty clear.

But how about hunting?  Apparently it was pretty common for fatal accidents to happen, like when King Fulk of Jerusalem died after his horse stumbled and his head was crushed by the saddle.  That can’t be a good way to go.

There was also the threat of bad weather, since most of the population was rural, and the food supply was so dependent on the moods of mother nature.  Plus, people believed that bad weather was caused by sin, and was also linked to witches.  So if you were a single woman who had a lot of cats and the crops were bad for several years in a row, you might want to think about moving.  Except, you probably couldn’t because people weren’t mobile like they are now.  So you would probably just be screwed.

It was Medieval Week on the BBC HistoryExtra blog, so there are also these buzzfeed-worthy gems if you want more:

Curious Medieval Ghost Stories

5 strange causes of death:
Hint: beware of animals.

Medieval Tourism and Pilgrimage Destinations:
Grab your passports!  We’re headed to Chartres this year, kids!

A time travelers guide to medieval shopping
The baker’s selection just keeps getting worse each week…