Bleeding in the Middle Ages



Hello all! This week we are going to be exploring menstrual bleeding in the Middle Ages. Drawing greater attention to what life was like for these women and what the general consensus surrounding periods was during this time. 

While we may think that life was beyond awful for women during the Middle Ages suffering from their periods, there are some evolutionary or biological factors which may have contributed to why life wasn’t as ‘medieval’ for women as we may have originally thought. For starters, medieval women didn’t have as many periods as we do today. They also had more children during this time and breastfed their children longer, stopping or lessening the bleeding. This was because women during this time reached menopause much earlier, usually in their late thirties. As a result, they had fewer regular monthly periods. As we know, the nutrition of an average person during the Middle Ages was not the best. This, coupled with hard work meant that their body fat was generally very low. Biologically speaking a woman must have the right amount of body fat in order for her reproductive system and subsequently her period to work in harmony. If her body fat did become very low, then eventually menstruation would stop altogether. In modern day society this is comparable with women who are suffering from eating disorders many causes of bulimia or anorexia to name just two ended up experiencing this drastic change. Competitive athletes like runners or gymnasts are also prone to the stoppage of menstruation.

So, now that we have a vague idea of what an average woman’s menstrual cycle was like we can now move on to how they actually dealt with it one a more practical level. I don’t know about you but I always envisaged medieval women as either free bleeding or using manky old rags. However this was not the case. Like us, they used pads which were made of scrap fabric or a rag. Usually cotton was the preferable material as it absorbed fluid much more effectively than wool. Archaeological research tells us that some women may have worn garments similar to the usual knicker in order to hold the menstrual pad in place. Sphagnum cymbifolium which was ‘bog mass’ was used as the stuffing for menstrual pads as well as toilet paper and for dressing wounds. Blood is blood I suppose no matter where it comes from! They also wound cotton fabric around a twig and used it as a proto tampon. I can’t imagine how comfortable shoving a twig up there would be, hopefully there weren’t any splinters, ouch! It would be interesting to see whether using a twig had an adverse effect on these women, the possibility of it scraping the woman’s insides was I imagine quite high. Another topic for another post I think.

As we can see from what these women used they weren’t exactly what I call foolproof. Even in today’s society sanitary products are not one hundred percent leak proof. As a result, women who were on their period were worried about leaking through their clothes and potentially offending the male sex. So much so that they carried nutmegs and bunches of nosegays (flowers) to conceal any arising odour. There was a great deal of religious shame relating to periods during the medieval period which brought negative connotations whenever menstruation was mentioned or acknowledged. Members of society believe that menstrual cramps were a reminder of eves original sin. As a result pain relief was unavailable as the church believed that women were deserving of the pain. Ultimately the church vowed the menstruating woman as unclean and unworthy. Interestingly women who where of a holy nature took part in fasting and adopted a very abstemious way of life found that their periods naturally stopped. While this was obviously down to the lack of body fat other members of the church took it as a sign from god instead. Women were not allowed to take holy communion during menstruation and couples should refrain from sexual intercourse as any children born would be red haired and puny. Menstrual blood was said to

  • damage the penis
  • turn wine sour
  • make fruit fall from trees
  • kill beehives
  • give dogs rabies
  • make crops barren

Other methods of treatment included the more bizarre categories like toads and frogs. These were said to cure a heavy flow by boiling the toad and wearing its ashes near the vagina. There is little evidence to support how many women actually went through with this procedure but I think it’s fair to say that the majority, in all probability most likely resisted this one. Similarly, in order to subside a particularly heavy flow women were advised to take the hair from an animals head and bind it to a green or young tree. Because so many women shared the same concerns, red was deemed a popular colour for medieval petticoats, genius! This was especially helpful for those women who chose to free bleed letting the blood run down their clothes and legs.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve come a pretty long way since the middle ages. While sanitary protection and pain relief have obviously advanced, period poverty and period prejudice are still rife in today’s society. Normalising periods is the first step to an open and honest discussion without fear of stigma or taboo. I hope you enjoyed this post let me know your thoughts down below.


Bleeding through the Periods: Ancient Greece


Hello all! I’ve decided to start a little mini-series on this blog called, ‘bleeding through the periods’, (I’m really too proud of that pun) as the title would suggest. This will be a look into menstruation throughout different times in history, This week we will be looking at Ancient Greece. 

I’d like to think I have a pretty good idea of the general understanding of menstruation and women’s bodies having written my masters dissertation on the topic. However, while my dissertation focussed on attitudes during the early modern period, this post will be looking at Ancient Greece and will be touching on Ancient Egypt.

Originally, blood (of any kind) was thought to be the ethereal fluid that pertained to the Greek God’s blood, within Greek mythology. It was also sometimes said to retain the qualities of the immortals’ food and drink ambrosia and nectar. Unsurprisingly, there hasn’t been much written or recorded on the experience of a woman during her monthly flow. Like a great deal of history, these events were written by men, and so unadulterated avoidance and ignorance was bliss. These male scribes were bound to be more concerned with other matters such as enslavement and erecting monuments of their leaders. Ultimately, Ancient Greecians were pros at incorporating menstrual blood into their various festivals and events of worship. For example, the spring planting festival involved the spreading of menstrual blood mixed with wine over fields. They believed that this would increase the fertility of the soil. It’s interesting to compare the attitudes between Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. While some regions held menstruation in a somewhat positive light which helped increase fertility and the general improvement of one’s life. Other regions like Ancient Egypt held this overriding negativity towards a woman’s natural bodily function. Why was this?

In Ancient Egypt, superstition was much more frequent where members of society believed menstrual blood to be linked with magical qualities and spell casting. Of course, this ideal became rife during the sixteenth-century where female ‘witches’ were condemned and hanged for their dealings with the devil, which some historians have labeled ‘the women’s holocaust’. However, in classical Greek texts which were linked to Hippocrates, it was noted that a ‘nosebleed is a good thing if the menstrual period is suppressed’. This was also the case with vomiting blood, an idea that lasted in Western Europe until the mid-nineteenth century. Many physicians argued that any type of bleeding was good as it proved that a woman was fertile. This was because the blood was meant to form the baby and in turn, to nourish the womb. They also argued that the vision of a woman bleeding was comparable to, ‘a sacrificed beast’. In Ancient Greece, this was seen as being admirable as animal sacrifice linked the lives of the human race, to those of God. Clearly, Greek mythology had a huge part to play in the perception and ideas of female bleeding.

One of the most interesting aspects of looking at this particular topic is to explore how these women dealt with their periods. While not having the luxury of the foolproof ‘always’ pad or the famous Tampax, dealing with that much blood would have been pretty tricky. However, these ladies of the land weren’t stupid. For example, Ancient Greeks wrapped cotton lint around splinters of wood and used that as sanitary protection. These were also very sustainable as they were said to have been re-used every month, the height of convenience! Similarly, Ancient Greece adopted a method where tampons were crafted out of soft papyrus around wood or they would make pads out of wool, paper, moss, even animal skins, or grass. Supporting the positive view of menstruation, this time in a woman’s life was seen as a cleansing time where the blood was supposed to have healing powers. Clearly, the fog of superstition and intrigue was high surrounding the beliefs around menstruation.

Ultimately, mythology and superstition are the backbones of how societies think and view menstruation. Throughout history, the views on menstruation were constantly altering, from bad to good, and then good to bad and then bad to good again! I don’t believe there is one singular reason as to why this happened, but it must be said that men had quite a lot to do with it.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Until next time,



Back Again!


Hello all! I can’t explain how much I’ve missed writing on this blog. I’m writing this post to tell you that I’ll be uploading posts a lot more regularly than I have been these past few months as I’ve just handed my dissertation in and am ready to get back into the swing of things! Please please let me know if there’s a topic you would like me to explore as I am open to any and all suggestions 🙂 Thank you!

Sexual Deviants and Attitudes Towards Prostitution in the Early Modern Period

Hello everyone! I know I’ve missed a couple of weeks but as I had the flu I needed some serious time to recover and take it easy. But here I am back again and ready to bring you a new blog post! This week we’re going to be covering prostitution and attitudes towards prostitution during the early modern period. I was thinking about doing prostitution during the twenty-first century as it’s such a hot topic at the moment with legalisation in certain places, but for now I’ll leave that one for another week.

So, prostitution is most commonly referred to as the ‘world’s oldest profession’. And it’s really not hard to see why. While the legal status of prostitution varies greatly from country to country; going from unregulated to a regulated profession, (think the red light district). It is estimated that there are around 42 million prostitutes worldwide. What I’m most interested in is where did this all begin?And when was it at its most popular? Why was is widely accepted in some areas whereas in other areas it was viewed with insurmountable prejudice. What cemented this views, and why? While I’m sure I won’t be able to answer all of these questions, I’ll certainly give it a go!

Prior to the 15th century attitudes were fairly tolerant of prostitutes or sex workers. However, by 1494 attitudes began to change. Many historians have argued that this was a result of the outbreak of syphilis which occurred in Naples in the same year. It ended up affecting most of Europe and is said to have originated from the Columbian exchange as well as speculation being shrouded in the prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases which could have occurred during the early 16th century. By the time the 16th century was underway prostitution became a profession which was associated with the plague and disease. Many different contagions also emerged which caused many of the brothels to be outlawed by secular authority. Not only did this mean a significant drop in wages for these women but it also meant that prostitutes were being portrayed as something they weren’t. Nearly everyone was affected by the plague, and in this case it could certainly be argued that prostitutes acted as a scapegoat during the time of the great plague.

While prostitutes were considered to be an integral part of the community, ultimately there was a double standard where a man’s sexual promiscuity was accepted whereas a woman’s was looked down upon. For example, sexual promiscuity outside a marriage for men and women was condemned by the church. But a man’s sexual promiscuity was considered less harmful than a woman’s and a man was far less likely to be punished. There have been many theories as to why a man’s sexual deviance was viewed as less harmful. The most obvious explanation would be the idea of gender roles that was so drilled into the minds of everyone in society. As a man grew up he would go through various different stages in his life, these would include: boyhood, adolescence, and manhood. During adolescence the man would be encouraged to experiment sexually with prostitutes, a ‘get it out of your system’ kind of approach. Men’s sexual activity began at an early age long before masturbation and often involved pre-marital sex with prostitutes or servants. Interestingly, respected men kept mistresses and appeared in public with them as well as often recognising their bastard children. If this theory stood firmly with all the males in society, then ultimately prostitutes, mistresses, sex workers or whores were needed within society so that things would run the way they were meant to. In comparing this life cycle with a woman’s, things are somewhat different. A woman during her life will go through, girlhood, adolescence, womanhood, and motherhood. Nowhere in each of these stages is a woman encouraged to experiment sexually. She is to marry, settle down and have children, even with the knowledge that her husband is visiting the local brothel every week. Conduct books were published to treat women who committed adultery and were treated as a crime which was considered far worse than theft. Women whose husbands cheated on them were advised not to complain but to attempt to reform their husbands by setting an example of virtue. This idea is incredibly clever, because no matter what the woman does, she is stuck. Women who took part in sexual misbehaviour were constantly insulted whereas nothing was said about male fornication unless it involved sodomy (and even then it was intellectualised, especially in erotica!), brothel keeping or a bastard child and even if this did occur accusations soon petered out with time.

Ultimately, prostitution was condemned by religious figures. However, many saw it as a necessary evil that helped to satisfy men’s lust while keeping the women clean and pure.

Sorry this is a bit mismatched, the disadvantages of being away from the keyboard for a few weeks! I would love to know your thoughts on this and whether you think prostitution should be legalised! 

The Ku Klux Klan

Hello everyone! This week I’m going to be delving into the history and details of the KKK as I thought it was a nice cheery topic for an average Wednesday evening. Of course I’m joking. The KKK and its ideologies have always fascinated me and when I did my research for this post I was actually quite surprised at how wide and varied its history actually is. Hope you enjoy!

The KKK was founded in 1866 and extended into almost every southern state by 1870, demonstrating how its ideals had become so popularised. The organisation of the KKK coincided with the beginning of the second phase of past civil war reconstruction. As a result the organisation became a vehicle for white southern resistance to the republican party’s reconstruction era policies which were aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. Ultimately, its primary goal was to re-establish white supremacy. They attempted to achieve this by advocating extremist reactionary positions such as white nationalism, anti-immigration as well as Nordicism, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. They used terrorism, physical assault and murder against groups or any individual who they were opposed to. Their main target were those who were set free after the American civil war; the African Americans. Members of the Klan killed black people by hanging without trial, otherwise known as lynching. This meant that they were able to take the law into their own hands as often as they pleased; rope law. This continued so frequently that the police were not always able to protect the victims and even took part in the killings, a huge conflict of interest. Those who were responsible very rarely were brought before the court and Klan members often knew friends in the courts as a result of the ever growing organisation, and would not find them guilty. During this time it was very difficult for the government to change the attitudes of the white people in the south in case it lost votes.

Their goal was to purify American society, because of this KKK organisations fall under the label right wing extremists. During the civil rights movement in the 1960s the activity of the KKK saw an increase which included the bombing of black schools, churches as well as violence against black and white activists in the south. They often used public violence against black people and left their bodies behind on the roads. When black political leaders were killed they endeavoured to take the heads of families along with the leaders of churches and community groups because of their high role in society. The violence they inflicted during this time was to suppress black voting and campaign seasons were a highly dangerous time for everyone who was involved. More than 2,000 people were killed, wounded and injured in Louisiana within a few weeks prior to the presidential election of November 1888.

In order to gain anonymity as well as sparking feelings of fear and intimidation the members of the organisation wore masks and robes. This was because many operated in small towns and rural areas where everyone was familiar with one another. While their goal was to be completely anonymous, it has been noted that they were sometimes still recognized by their voice and mannerisms. The idea of them wanting to be anonymous has always been a fascinating one, why be anonymous if you’re proud of what you’re taking part in? Which to me, seemed like they clearly were. It could be argued that it was fear on their part but I find this notion quite hard to believe, especially while there were so many members and how large the organisation had become during this time. It would certainly make sense to include anonymity today, but back then is a different story. The burning of the Latin cross for example has become iconic when looking at the history of the KKK, burning it was a dramatic display of symbolism. However, it is important to note that no crosses had been used as a symbol by the first Klan but became a symbol of the Klan’s quasi-Christian message. They even went so far as to include prayers and hymns among others.

In total, there were 3 klans:

1st Klan = 1865-1971

2nd Klan = 1915-1944

3rd Klan = 1946- present

The first Klan aimed to weaken the black political establishment through assassinations and threats of violence and they drove some people out of politics. They also caused friction with the passage of federal laws. Eric Foner argues that they were in fact a success in terms of ‘restoring order, reinvigorating the morale of southern republicans and enabling blacks to exercise their rights as citizens’. However, George Rable argues that the Klan was a political failure and therefore was discarded by the democratic leaders of the south.

The second Klan was founded in 1915 in Atlanta, Georgia by William J. Simmons. This was a fraternal organisation with a national and state structure. It grew quickly and by 1921 it had over 100,000 members. By the mid twenties membership was as its strongest with 5 million members.

The third Klan was used by numerous independent local groups who opposed the civil rights movement and desegregation especially in the 1950s and 1960s.

Most historians classify the KKK as part of the post civil war insurgent violence which related not only to the high number of veterans in the population but also to their effort to control the huge change in the social situation by using extrajudicial means to restore white supremacy. The organisations highest membership came in the 1920s where it exceeded 4 million people nationwide.

I was actually meant to centre this post around what we know as the modern day KKK but got so steeped in its history that it’s turned into something else! The modern KKK is not one big organisation but is composed of small independent groups across the United States. In 2017, the southern poverty law centre which monitors extremist groups like the KKK estimated that there were, ‘at least 29 separate, rival Klan groups currently active in the US and they compete with one another for members, dues, news media attention and the title of being the true heir to the Ku Klux Klan’. Generally speaking, it is fair to say that the organisation is on the decline. However, many KKK groups formed alliances with other white supremacist groups like the neo-Nazis. As a result, some groups have become increasingly ‘Nazified’ adopting the look as well as the emblems of white power skinheads.

I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy post and learnt something new!


P.T. Barnum: a Short History


Hello all! Now I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a very specific reason for the topic of this blog post. Last Wednesday I went to see The Greatest Showman and to say that I enjoyed it would be a huge understatement. If you get the chance seriously go see it. After the film I got to thinking about what the real Barnum was like and if he was anything remotely similar to Hugh Jackman, it’s fair to say I was slightly disappointed. While the film never claimed to be historically accurate or a biopic in any way, I still wanted to get into the crux of who P.T. Barnum was, and if you want to know too, keep reading!

Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in 1810 and was an American showman, politician and businessman. He was most famously known for founding the Barnum and Bailey circus 1871-2017 and was also an author, publisher, philanthropist and politician.

In 1835 Barnum began his career as a showman and purchased and exhibited a blind and almost completely paralyzed slave woman named Joice Heth, who Barnum claimed was 161 years old. While slavery was outlawed in New York at the time, Barnum exploited a loophole that allowed him to lease her for a year for $1000 and borrowed $500 in order to complete the sale. She ended up dying in 1836 and was no more than 80 years old. This is where the demonization of Barnum really takes root. Barnum was said to have worked her for 10-12 hours a day and then went on to host a live autopsy of her body in a New York saloon where spectators paid 50 cents to see her be cut up. I’m not trying to defend his actions but I think what people have to remember is the time he was living in. It was the Victorian era, levels of poverty were incredibly high and it was every man for himself, as the saying goes. I feel like this one instance overshadows every other achievement he made.

In 1842 he displayed the Feejee mermaid in Barnum’s American Museum which had the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish. As a result, many argued that he was a fraud and should not be trusted. However, Barnum argued that they were simply, ‘advertisements to draw attention…to the museum. I don’t believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them’. I think there’s a lot to be learnt from this quote, is this not true in every aspect of life? Look at clickbait for example, it’s exactly the same thing and very many successful people do it! Barnum was actually referred to as the ‘prince of Humbugs’ as he saw nothing wrong in entertainers or vendors using hoaxes or humbugs to promotional material so long as the public was getting good value for money. While this was true, apparently he was contemptuous of those who made money through deception such as spiritualist mediums or illusionists. In some ways, this depicts Barnum as being somewhat hypocritical. The reason I think he argued this was because he believed that even though some of his oddities were either exaggerated or not entirely true, the public were ultimately gaining an authentic experience, whereas with mediums and such, the public aren’t left with all that much. He went so far as to expose ‘the tricks of the trade’ used by mediums to cheat the bereaved by offering $500 to any medium who could prove their power to communicate with the dead.

Possibly Barnum’s most successful ‘oddity’ was General Tom Thumb. When he was recruited by Barnum he was in fact 4 years old but was stated to be 11. He was trained and eventually took on roles such as Hercules and Napoleon, much to the public’s delight. By the age of 5 he was drinking wine, and by the age of 7 he was smoking cigarettes for the public.

In 1865 Barnum’s American Museum caught fire and burned to the ground. Shortly after another museum opened but this was also demolished by a fire in 1868. As a result Barnum retired from the museum business and opened ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Here, he teamed up with Dan Costello and William C. Coup to launch P.T. Barnum’s Grand Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome in 1871. After a successful run, Barnum joined forces with fellow circus managers James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson. A year after they introduced Jumbo the elephant who was 11 1/2 foot and weighed 6 1/2 tons from the Royal Zoological Society in London.

Barnum’s life came to an end in 1891 as a result of a stroke. Most critics had forgiven Barnum and was actually praised for good, demonstrating how much more valuable a person becomes once their gone. He was hailed as an icon of American spirit and ingenuity and was considered to be perhaps the most famous American in the world, certainly high praise for a man who was considered to be morally inept. In 1893 a statue was erected in his honour and was placed at seaside park in Bridgeport, as a way to celebrate how Barnum founded the Bridgeport Hospital after he was elected Mayor of Bridgeport in 1875. As well as this, the Tufts University biology building in named in honour of Barnum. Jumbo the elephant also became the mascot of Tufts University in honour of Barnum’s 1889 donation of the elephant’s stuffed hide.

His circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers in 1917. Initially, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses ran separately until they merged in 1919 which saw the birth of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus.

Like every major character in history, Barnum had his flaws, and there were many of them. But he inadvertently changed the way the world looked at things, he introduced a new inclusivity that America and the world had never seen before, making him, in my books anyway, one of the greatest showmen in history!


Capital Punishment: Ruth Ellis

Hello all and welcome to this week’s blog post! Today we are going to be delving into capital punishment and the very famous case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Before I begin I hope that I  cause no offence to anyone who has been personally or directly linked with this criminal case, thoughts and opinions are all my own, and please remember that that is all they are.

Ruth Ellis was a British model and nightclub hostess and on the 10th April 1955 she shot David Blakely outside the Magdala public house in Hampstead and was subsequently arrested. Ellis had a troubled life where she continually got involved with the wrong kinds of people. She became a nightclub hostess as a result of her nude modelling work suggesting that she did have prospects for the future but these were soon deterred when she turned to prostitution and later became pregnant. Due to her continually limited funds, she decided to have the baby illegally aborted so that she could return to work as soon as possible. However, she later went on to become the manager of ‘The Little Club’ and as a result was lavished with expensive gifts from multiple admirers, resulting in a fourth pregnancy, again, having another abortion. The father of the child was David Blakely who remained with her while they both continued to see other people. Blakely was a violent character and offered to marry Ellis which she accepted but lost yet another baby when he punched her in the stomach after a violent argument. From this alone, we can see what a troubled individual this culmination of events would have made someone do. Usually, I wouldn’t go so in depth into the background of someone who has committed a crime as it doesn’t always hold the deepest relevance. This case is different in that her life tells us a lot about the motives she had behind what she eventually came to do.

In total, five shots were fired at Blakely. The first shot missed and Ellis began to run after him where she fired at him for the second time, resulting in his subsequent collapse. Afterwards, she stood over him and fired her gun three more times. It has been noted that one bullet was fired less then half an inch from Blakely’s back which meant that powder burns were left on his skin. The last bullet to be shot went into the ground where it ricocheted off the road landing on a civilian, Gladys Kensington’s thumb, clearly unplanned.

What is most interesting about this case is the level of acceptance Ellis had from the moment she was arrested, ‘It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him’. She also told her mother that she did not want a petition to reprieve her from the death sentence. In this sense, it could be argued that she did not want to continue to live her life anymore, and that a death sentence was an easier way out then continuing as she was. Many physicians claimed that she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the terrible life she lead with abortion after abortion and violent lover after violent lover, ‘It is quite clear to me that I was not the person who shot him. When I saw myself with the revolver I knew I was another person’. Further evidence that this case was not given the fair trial it deserves lies in the time that jury took to actually make a decision, a total of twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to decide whether someone lives or someone dies. In this respect, we can be sure that this would not have been enough time to make a fair and complete deliberation without their being some leniency, which I’m sure there was. It is fair to say that psychiatry techniques and methods have advanced since the fifties, and with this in mind, it could have been the difference between guilty/ innocent verdict, or at least one that wasn’t punishable by death. However, doctors during this time confirmed that Ellis did not have a mental illness and was certainly not insane.

I think what this case does best is highlight the clear questions society had around capital punishment. Personally, I’m glad the UK has stopped capital punishment, I’ve never though ‘an eye for an eye’ was the way forward, and more time should be taken to understand the reason these criminals did what they did and work out a way to rehabilitate them and ultimately give them a second chance, whether you think they’re deserving of it or not.  





Later, she was found guilty and was sentenced to death where she was hanged at HM prison Holloway.