Learning Zones

Confirmed talks in 2017 are The Mediaeval Housewife who will be talking about mediaeval fashion and life of children in mediaeval times, The Executioner, in his brand new torture zone who will be talking about mediaeval torture and The Copper Pot who will be talking about mediaeval food.

See below for Learning Zone topics from previous years…


Mediaeval England was not a good time to be a criminal.

Justice not only had to be done, it had to be done as visibly as possible. There was a range of punishments for different crimes, as executioner Gilbert Savage recounts in the Learning Zone.

For crimes against property, offenders were mutilated in various ways, and some even put to death. For example, hunting in the King’s Forest could lose you an eye, while stealing something worth a shilling could disconnect you from the earth – via a rope and your neck. Treason was the most severe of all crimes, for which death was metered out spectacularly for peasants through ‘hanging, drawing, and quartering’, and the less gruesome (but equally public) ‘block’ for the high-born.


With a legal system that, at the very least, requires an alleged offender to enter a ‘plea’ (although a full confession is always preferred), the office of Torturer has long furnished the state with the pleas and confessions that the system demanded. Master Topcliffe, with his array of tools and special devices, has perfected the subtlety of his art: that of inflicting just enough pain to extract a confession, but not too much to render his subject beyond reach – the dead are not known for their conversation.


Today, you may think of astrology as mere entertainment to be found in the horoscope columns of magazines, but in mediaeval times astrology was taken very seriously as signs from heaven that influenced our daily lives. Words from ancient astrology are still in our language – Mars, the bringer of war, gives his name to ‘martial law’ and ‘martial arts’. Jupiter, father of the gods and known to the Romans as Jove, describes someone with a ‘jovial’ personality.

The night sky was much more noticeable in the days before street lights and big cities, and the sky ‘spoke’ to people in all walks of mediaeval life – to sailors for navigation, to farmers for planting, to those in power looking for doom-laden portents, to writers and poets, to monks and priests… and of course to those seeking to predict the future.


Did you know that in the early 15th century, the King of France was an Englishman who was born in Wales, educated at Oxford, survived being shot in the face with an arrow and banned the game of football? Come along to the learning zone where The Pedlar will give a talk on the history of mediaeval battles, including a description of the battle of Agincourt and a demonstration of the weapons and tactics used.


Need a cure-all elixir for your mediaeval malady? You need Venice Treacle – which can only be made using dragon’s blood collected from a fight between one of the scaly beasts and an elephant. Naturally, elephants always win, which is why we have many more elephants than dragons these days. So an apothecary would tell his customers, whether they came to see him for a headache, a bladder infection or dysentery. The Mediaeval Housewife will regale you with stories of medical madness from the middle ages.

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Girls as young as 12 could be married, and very often to much older men.

A mediaeval wedding ring would more likely have a stone; a plain gold band meant you were a nun.

Any respectable woman would never be seen without her apron.

Mediaeval women had detachable hems from their dresses that could be washed separately when they got muddy.

Married women would never show their hair in public.

Housewives would regularly brew beer for their family, and sell the leftovers from home.

Women could lace up their dresses so they fit better, but if you’re respectable you would be careful to always be ‘straight laced’.

The only thing you would wear in bed was your hat.

All housework was expected to be completed before breakfast.

Husbands could expect to have their feet washed when they got home from work.