5 Horrible Facts About the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages are thought to have ended over 550 years ago on the 29th May 1453 (yes, some historians are that specific!). Although there were many different reasons why historians think the Middle Ages came to an end around this time, including the plague, a change in religion and new developments in literature and art, some claim that it was the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 that really saw this time period come to a close. So, in honour of End of the Middle Ages Day which is not celebrated each year by history buffs, we've picked five of our most favourite gruesome and bizarre facts from Terry Deary's excellent Horrible Histories book, Measly Middle Ages, to share with you.

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1. Peasants, choose your outfit wisely...

"In many countries laws were passed in the Middle Ages saying that only nobles could wear fine clothes. Peasants were not to be seen wearing rich clothes - otherwise people would mistake them for someone better!"

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2. A rather ludicrous way of doing laundry...

"Careful housewives collected the family urine because it helped with the laundry! They made their own soap by boiling wood ash with scraps of meat fat. The urine was stored until it was really strong and then added to the wash where it acted as a sort of bleach."

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3. Be careful what you drink...

"Drinks could be pretty nasty with lots of 'foreign bodies' floating in them. One 13th-century writer complained that some ale was as thick as soup. 'You didn't drink it, you filtered it through your teeth.' Of course, King Edward IV had his brother, Clarence, drowned in a barrel of wine in 1478. Now that's what you'd call a foreign body in your drink!)" 

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4. Before they knew what caused the plague there were some very strange theories...

"In Messina, on the Italian island of Sicily, people believed that plague death appeared as a large black dog. It carried a sword in its paws and smashed the ornaments and altars in their churches. Many swore they had seen it!"

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5. And, finally, Terry shared this hilarious quote from a medieval writer about the strange flying contraption of the Scottish Doctor Damien...

"Damien took it in hand to fly with wings, so he made a pair of wings from feathers. These being fastened around him he flew from the wall of Stirling Castle, but soon fell to the ground and broke three bones. He blamed the failure on the fact that there were chicken feathers in the wings. He said, 'Chickens belong on a dung heap and not in the air.'" 

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We nearly didn't believe these facts about the Middle Ages when we first read them! All of these facts are taken from the hilarious Measly Middle Ages, one of Terry Deary's Horrible Histories books, which are great introductions to a whole range of fascinating time periods for children aged 7 and up. 

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    All the foul facts about the Measly Middle Ages are ready to uncover, including why chickens had their bottoms shaved, a genuine jester's joke and what ten-year-old treacle was used for. Refreshed with a fantastic new design for 2016, these bestselling titles are sure to be a huge hit with yet another generation of Terry Deary fans.