Medieval Forensics

Many authors have written medieval murder mysteries, including me! In The Irish Bride, my latest medieval mystery, a monk is found dead within moments of Gwen and Gareth’s arrival in Ireland. As medieval detectives, how do they go about finding the killer? What can they possibly determine forensically without laboratories, fingerprints, and all the trappings of modern investigations? Medieval forensics was primitive, but there were some things a medieval detective could determine, including time of death, whether poison was involved, and whether the body was moved (thanks to another author, Jeri Westerson, for some of this information): Time of death:  Rigor mortis—literally, “death stiffness,” happens very predictably. Beginning two hours after death and starting from the face and moving down the body, the body takes eight to twelve hours to become completely stiff, remains rigid for the next eighteen hours, Read more…

Medieval Poisons

King Henry I died of eating a surfeit of lampreys … but was it poison instead? King Henry I died in Normandy in 1135 of food poisoning “according to legend from eating a ‘surfeit of Lampreys’ (an eel type fish).”  http://www.britroyals.com/kings.asp?id=henry1 In the new mini-series on Starz “Pillars of the Earth” based on the book by Ken Follett, he was deliberately poisoned by King Stephen (who succeeded him) or someone working for him.  For those watching the show, in point of fact, King Henry did not die within moments of the birth of Maud’s son, Henry (born 5 March 1133), who ultimately succeeded Stephen as King of England, but two years later. King Henry died of food poisoning despite the high likelihood of having some kind of ‘food taster’.  Admittedly, such a person could be circumvented by a slow-acting poison.  Read more…