Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

Medieval Quiz

How well do you know the culture and times of the Middle Ages? Is your knowledge accurate or is it based mostly on myth and urban legend? Take this quiz to find out!

1. During the 354 years in which it was active, from 1480-1834, the Spanish Inquisition was responsible for the deaths of:

a. 3 million – 5 million people
b. 300,000 – 500,000 people
c. 30,000 – 50,000 people
d. 3,000 – 5,000 people

2. Scholars of the day opposed Columbus’s 1492 voyage across the Atlantic because:

a. They believed the Earth was flat.
b. They believed that God would punish Columbus for his overweening pride.
c. They believed Columbus’s calculation of the Earth’s circumference to be incorrect.
d. They believed that sea serpents would sink the ship before it could circumnavigate the globe.

3. The medieval church condemned Galileo to death for:

a. Teaching that the Earth is round and not flat.
b. Denying the existence of God.
c. Teaching that the Earth orbits the sun.
d. None of the above.

4. True or False: The jus primae noctis gave a feudal lord the first right to sleep with any of the newlywed maidens of his fiefdom on her wedding night..

5. Which statement best reflects Western knowledge of Islam during the time of the Crusades?:

a. Crusaders believed that Muslims worshipped a god called Mohammed.
b. All preachers of the Crusades had read the entire Koran.
c. Muslims were believed to be involved in polytheistic worship of ancient pagan deities.
d. Only a few of the bishops of the day knew many of the teachings of Islam.

6. True or False: Medieval people thought bathing was unhealthy and did it as infrequently as possible.

7. Which was not a result of the decay of Roman law after the fall of the Roman Empire?:

a. Women obtained more freedom in society, gaining in various places the right to vote, own property, ply a trade, and rule politically.
b. The institution of slavery gradually disappeared.
c. General disorder and lawlessness reigned.

8. One example of the superiority of Muslim culture during the Middle Ages is:

a. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
b. The development of Arabic numerals.
c. Superior fleets of ships.
d. The medicinal arts cultivated by Arab physicians.
e. None of the above


1. d. 3,000 – 5,000 people

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Though the Spanish Inquisition is often portrayed as a bloodbath, only 3,000-5,000 people were executed during its 354 years. This gives an average of about 14 people per year being executed. This is slightly lower than the number of criminals executed in the state of Texas last year, 17 (2010).

Compare this to the estimated 16,000 – 40,000 who were killed in France during the Reign of Terror from Sep. 5, 1793 – Jul. 2, 1794. If we take a low estimate of the Reign of Terror in France and a high estimate of the Inquisition that means that the French Revolution killed more than 3 times as many people in under a year as the Inquisition killed in 354 years. If we take a high-end estimate of the Reign of Terror, then the French Revolution killed 8 times as many people in less than a year as the Inquisition did in 354 years.

Another little known fact is that the Spanish Inquisition ended witch trials in Spain long before the rest of Europe gave up burning witches. Apparently very few witch trials rose to the level of scientific proof demanded by the Inquisitors.

H. Rawlings, The Spanish Inquisition
Gustav Henningsen The Database of the Spanish Inquisition
Charles Williams Witchcraft

2. c. They believed Columbus’s calculation of the Earth’s circumference to be incorrect.

The knowledge that the earth is roughly spherical dates to the 3rd century B.C. No scholar in Columbus’s time believed in a flat earth. This was a myth created by Washington Irving in his fanciful 19th century biography of Columbus. The issue at stake was the circumference of the earth. Eratosthenes, a 3rd century B.C. librarian at Alexandria, accurately calculated the circumference of the Earth and the tilt of the Earth’s axis using mathematical principles. In Columbus’s day, Eratosthenes’s measurements were accepted by scholars. Columbus, however, used the measurements of another ancient cartographer, Strabo, who estimated the circumference of the Earth to be much smaller. Columbus reasoned that he could easily sail west from Europe and hit Asia. His detractors said that the distance would be too far. His detractors were right in this case, and if a previously unknown continent hadn’t been in the way, Columbus and his men would most certainly have died a horrible death at sea.


3. d. none of the above.

There are two problems here.

a) Galileo was not condemned to death.

b) Galileo’s teachings were condemned, but not by the medieval church. Galileo’s famous trial occurred in A.D. 1633. By this time in history Shakespeare had come and gone, the Reformation had occurred over a century before, and the Jamestown Colony had already been established in America. Despite the fact that everyone tries to pin Galileo’s trial on the medievals, it was actually a very modern world that condemned the heliocentric theory, which theory would not be completely accepted until well into the 1700s.

This is common historical knowledge. Just look it up in any encyclopedia.

4. False

Despite what the movie “Braveheart” would have you think, there is no evidence that such a law ever existed. The idea of such a law was attacked by Voltaire and others during the 1700s, but it is well known that on the eve of the French Revolution all sorts of horrible things were attributed to the “Feudal” period. This is despite the fact that most of the harsh laws under which the French peasantry suffered were established after the Middle Ages in the 1500s and 1600s, well after the end of the feudal age.

The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process by Albrecht Classen. Chapter 3

5. b. All preachers of the Crusades had read the entire Koran.

Peter the Venerable had the Talmud and the Koran translated in 1141, and it was afterwards required for all preachers of the Crusades to study the Koran.

Those Terrible Middle Ages!: Debunking the Myths by Régine Pernoud, page 135.

6. False.

Medieval people, including commoners, frequently bathed, washed their hands after getting them dirty and washed their clothing.

The Ties That Bound by Barbara A. Hanawalt, page 61

7. c. General disorder and lawlessness reigned.

It is true that slavery disappeared in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, and that women enjoyed unprecedented freedom in society due to the Christian principles of the Middle Ages.

Those Terrible Middle Ages!: Debunking the Myths by Régine Pernoud, see especially pages 85-88 and 109-112

8. e. None of the above.

The Dome of the Rock was designed by Byzantine architects, so-called Arabic numerals are actually Hindu in origin, Arabic fleets of ships were designed by Coptic shipwrights and mostly manned by Byzantine mercenaries, and most of the medicinal arts practiced by the Arab physicians were learned from Nestorian Christian centers of learning. None of these things arose from a primarily Islamic worldview and none are evidence of a sort of Arabic “civilization” which was opposed to a European “barbarism”.

God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark, chapter 3.


Rose said…
I flunked. :-/ But I got #2 right! :D For what that's worth lol.
Rick said…
That's okay. If you remembered number 2 from class, then I must have done something right as a teacher! :) I would have flunked a year or two ago as well. It's amazing how many myths were invented about the Middle Ages during the Enlightenment, and how many of them have survived into present times.

This is a great book by the way: