History Group Talks May 2009

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* Violence - criminal justice was very severe and a third of those convicted of any crime were hanged. It was not safe to travel far without company. For instance to go to Ashburton to market or to purchase a sword, knife or other article of importance or value you would not travel alone for fear of being ambushed. Food - this was extremely basic and the only meat available to the ordinary person would have been vermin. The price of a chicken in those days would be the equivalent to £115 today.  Costumes - in this period, the majority of people would have worn a loose cloak hanging off the shoulders. In the mid-thirteen hundreds buttons were invented which meant that clothes could be opened down the front and fastened across. By 1360 hems began to rise and the better-off wore hose to cover their legs and by 1390 the hems were so high that men wore a ‘cod-piece’ in the front of their tunic. Dress continued to alter and the type of clothes worn often depicted the rank of the individual during this period.  Medicine - Physicians began using Urine to treat some complaints, they would taste samples of blood to ascertain the salt content. To cure Quincy they would make use of small animals mixed with liquid and by the fourteen hundreds surgery was beginning to make use of old Arabic treatments. Religion, the study of the Planets, and superstitions, sometimes recommended by people considered to be Witches/ Faith Healers were all part of the Physician’s cures. The Law of the Land - was brutal, anyone accused of theft was generally put to death, or hung drawn and quartered, those that committed minor offences were put in the Stocks. Constables were appointed and they were responsible to the County Sheriff, and hence to Royal Justices. People were held in prison for ages until the County Judges came to places like Exeter to hold Court. Some were pilloried, nailed to a post to stop them moving, and others held in prison in terrible conditions.  When reading Chaucer, it is possible to get a very accurate picture of what life was like at that time, his writings are like a living history. Girls were mostly wed by the time they were fourteen years old and in general girls were never taught to read or write. Two percent of the male population were Clergy, and the power that they held over the people was considerable, they in turn were generally sons of the upper-classes so their judgement and decisions were never questioned. For the poor a few bones and some stock with a few vegetables or herbs was the mainstay of their diet, meat being far too expensive. Dr. Mortimer was thanked for an interesting and informative talk, and the Group look forward to hearing from him again one day. His latest book “Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England in the Fourteenth Century” is a fascinating read. It is recommended to anyone interested in Medieval History.  * Interesting fact: Watching Place, near Beetor Cross, in the parish of North Bovey, was a very popular place for highway men to lie in wait for the unwary traveller. It is recorded that they would wait to ambush businessmen travelling between Ashburton, Chagford, Moretonhampstead. The business men would be observed travelling between these towns with their wares, wool, tin, potatoes and cloth etc, and on their way back, without the commodity but instead with the money in their pockets, they were 'sitting ducks' for these villains.

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