First Podcast! Strange stories from medieval histories

Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge!

In our inaugural podcast, Rachael and I discussed some oddities from twelfth-century histories that I’ve encountered in my research. They’re just little tidbits that made me raise an eyebrow or laugh when I came across them – medieval histories are rarely dull (from my *completely unbiased* perspective), but these are stories that have stood out for their particular weirdness.

The first of these is found in some of the earliest Brut texts, the mythical “histories” of the kings of Britain, of whom King Arthur was apparently the most notable. These include Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, Wace’s Roman de Brut, and Layamon’s Brut. In a bizarre (and frankly rather upsetting) episode, the besieged town of Cirencester is taken by attaching flammable materials to the feet of the sparrows that had nested in the eaves of the houses. When these sparrows – rather panicked, no doubt– returned to their homes, the buildings caught fire and the warlord, Gurmunt, was able to take the town.

While it’s a pretty ingenious siege technique, who knows whether it would be a match for the cats and birds with jetpacks (?) found in some German manuscripts from the 16th century, which recently made the rounds on the internet:

Franz_Helm_rocket_cat_full_page_1

Public domain/Wikimedia Commons. From UPenn MS Codex 109, f.137r

For more details, check out: https://uniqueatpenn.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/a-rocket-cat-early-modern-explosives-treatises-at-penn/ and http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/06/fur-flies-rocket-cats-warfare-manual

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