6 Natural Phenomena That Freaked Out Our Medieval Ancestors

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, especially of old Chronicles. And it's amazing how much, just like us, they talk about the weather. But back then, they didn't have scientific knowledge to help explain light refraction or dust clouds so quite often took these things as omens. 

Photo by Michelle McEwen on Unsplash

Here are some natural events that really freaked out our Medieval and Tudor ancestors... 

Bloody Rain

In 1459-60 the writer of the Davies Chronicle records that in 'the 38th year of King Harry, in a little town in Bedfordshire, there fell a bloody rain, whereof the red drops appeared in sheets, the which a woman had hanged out to dry'. We know this today as the red sploshes we occasionally see on white door frames or on our vehicles, caused by dust clouds floating across from the Sahara and into Europe. Not blood at all. But without that explanation literally how frightening is that? 

Freak lightning storm
John Capgrave wrote that in 1228 'fell a marvellous thing storm at London. For even as the bishop was at Mass at Saint Paul's there fell a thunder, and a weather so dark and loud, that men supposed the church should fall. All that were there run away for fear'. 

The Devil
Holinshed records this one. In 1402, in Henry IV's time the devil apparently popped into a church in Danbury in Essex 'in likeness of a greyfriar'. He behaved 'very outrageously, playing his parts like a devil indeed, so that the parishioners were put in a marvellous fright'. Obviously this visit from the devil came with the displeasure of God. Yes, you've guessed it, in the shape of a thunderstorm. Holinshed speaks of 'such a tempest of wind, thunder and lightning that the highest part of the rood of that church was blown down, and the chancel was all to shaken, rent and torn in pieces.' 

Blood Moon
You know when the moon sometimes turns red and we all get excited because it's a 'Blood Moon'? Well our Medieval ancestors took it literally. Stowe writes that in 1117 there were thunderstorms in March and December 'and the moon at both times seemed to be turned to blood'. 

A what-a-helion, you say? A Parhelion is when light particles split across the sky, and they can give the appearance that there are three suns in the sky. But before the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1461 Edward Earl of March knew nothing about light particles, and took it as a sign of their impending victory instead. The Davies Chronicle explains: 'about ten o clock before noon were seen three suns in the firmament shining full clear, whereof  the people had great marvel and thereof were aghast. The noble earl Edward them comforted and said 'be of good comfort and dreadeth not; this is a good sign, for these three suns betoken the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and therefore let us have a good heart, and in the name of Almighty God go we against our enemies'. He would later adopt the 'sun in splendour' as his emblem, in recognition of this divine support.  

It's pretty exciting that the falling of a meteorite was recorded in 1496. A chronicler wrote in wonder on the '18 day of June a stone of a great bigness fell in Italy and came out of the air and brake in three pieces it was as though it had come out of the air in fire'. Considering that this news had whispered itself from Italy to London, this is a pretty accurate description. 

Many of these events occurred during the Wars of the Roses, the battle for the crown during the fifteenth century. I've recently been researching some of the women that had an impact on the conflict, you can find them in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword. Order your copy here. 

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