6 Myths of the Medieval World and Their Reality

Today we’re going to look at accuracy. Naturally, among certain circles this topic can be a can of worms, but we’re not going to be nitpicking over the finer points of the Templar Code or anything remotely approaching that. Today we’re going to talk about two areas where getting it right can make a big difference. In historical re-enactment terms, the participants do their best to mimic the times they are trying to portray, whereas in Live Action Roleplay (LARP) the focus is more on fiction and fantasy. Even so, there is usually a period that players are trying to emulate and for that reason alone it’s worth doing a little bit of research to make sure you aren’t going to fall foul of some historical faux pas. After all, we all know how annoying it is when some anorak insists on explaining the ins and outs of 12th-century metallurgy.

So with that in mind here are our top five tips to make sure you don’t stand out for all the wrong reasons.


Before the 14th-century gemstones were pretty much just dull rocks and it wasn’t until the latter half of the 14th century that lapidary became a thing. After that period precious stones and gems could be cut and polished and it wasn’t long before emeralds and diamonds began to appear around the necks of the nobility. But remember if your character is a noble, just be careful how many glinty gemstones you’ve got on your crown if you’re supposed to be from the middle ages. As a rule, gold and silver torcs and bracelets are a safer bet and if you have to have gems try to make sure they are simpler in design and drilled and polished rather than cut. Turquoise and amber are two good examples of early precious stones and no one is going to take issue with you wearing either of those.


Sure Mel Gibson may have wielded a sword taller than he was in Braveheart and to be fair William Wallace’s claymore, which is still on display at the Wallace Moment in Stirling, Scotland is a massive piece of steel. But there Hollywood and fact separate and go off on their own wild wee adventures. Hollywood would have us believe Wallace wore his greatsword strapped to his back like this… https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/660/cpsprodpb/F553/production/_85330826_mel_gibson.jpg

As you can see, the scene makes the Highlander look like something out of Assassin’s Creed, while the truth is… no one did that. There are scant exceptions to the rule, but generally, longswords were worn on scabbards across the chest or on the hip. As depicted here on the grave of a true Highlander.


Everyone Stinks

There is a common misconception that everyone in the middle ages stank of sewage and human waste. While it is true to say that compared to today’s standards folks were a bit less hygienic, it is a myth to say that they did not wash at all. It was common courtesy to wash one’s hands before a meal and it was said that a pleasant scent was linked to being healthy. As a result of this latter misconception, it was common for people to wear scents and perfumes in a bid to appear more healthy.

Knights were chivalrous

There may well have been chivalrous knights, but this is likely at the request of the church who were essentially tired of these paid thugs raping and pillaging across Europe. In medieval Britain, fiefdoms would have a lord who commanded men and when an argument was struck up with a neighbouring fiefdom, they would send in the boys (knights) to plunder all in their path. There are some historians who go further and suggest that the crusades were just the Church’s way of getting these lunatics off our streets and into trouble elsewhere… So, next time you hear the phrase ‘brave sir knight..’ spare a thought for the innocents slaughtered in the name of coin.

Life expectancy was only 30 years old

This is a tricky one because technically it’s correct, but that word technically is very important. What scholars are actually saying is that the average life expectancy was about 30 years of age and that’s because of the horrendous infant and child mortality rates. The truth is if you survived childhood you would be more likely to reach and age of 50 or 60, which is actually higher than the life expectancy of some UN countries today.

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