Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Aug 8, 2011

Medieval Mondays: The oldest condom in the world

This picture shows the oldest condom in the world. It dates to 1640 and was found in Lund, Sweden. It's made of pig intestine. Before latex, condoms were often made of sheepskin or intestine. These natural condoms survived into the latex age because some people are allergic to latex, but they've all but died out since they don't protect against HIV.

This condom was reusable and came with an owner's manual written in Latin. The instructions recommend washing the condom in warm milk to stop from catching a disease. This is an interesting detail because it shows the manufacturer realized sheepskin condoms weren't very good at stopping sexually transmitted diseases. Apparently in the 17th century condoms were only seen as a way to avoid pregnancy.

By 1640 condoms had been around for some time. They may have been used in the ancient world, and they were certainly in use in the 16th century. In 1564, Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and advocated using a linen condom of his own design to prevent the spread of the disease. He claims to have run a clinical test of 1100 men who used his condom and didn't catch syphilis. Considering that no condom is 100% proof against STDs, his test subjects were pretty lucky, or made good choices in their sexual partners.

In my fantasy novel Roots Run Deep, the heroine, Kip Itxaron, uses a concoction of herbs to keep from getting pregnant. This was common in ancient times. There was a plant related to Queen Anne's Lace that when ingested worked as a relatively safe and effective abortificant. The Greeks and Romans used so much of it, however, that they made the plant go extinct!

Aug 1, 2011

Medieval Mondays: how a corpse can convict its murderer

In the days before fingerprints and CCTV, people had all sorts of strange ways of finding a criminal. One of the strangest was called the "bahr recht" (bier right). If someone has been murdered, you bring the suspect to the body and force him or her to touch the wounds. If they start to bleed, the suspect is guilty. This practice was common in England, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps other places during the 17th and 18th centuries.

One case in the English Coroner's Court from 1623 provides some interesting details. A woman had been found dead in her Hertfordshire home with her throat cut and a bloody knife stuck into the floor of her room. At first the court ruled it a suicide, but then changed its mind, exhumed the body, and made the dead woman's husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and another relation touch it. The court records that,

. . .the brow of the dead which before was of a livid and carrion colour, begun to have a dew or gentle sweat arise upon it, which increased by degrees till the sweat ran down in drops on the face. The brow turned to a lively and fresh colour, and the deceased opened one of her eyes and shut it again; and this opening the eye was done three several times. She likewise thrust out the ring or marriage finger three times and pulled it in again, and the finger dropped blood from it. . .

Three of the suspects, including the husband, were eventually found guilty.

This little gem came from The Flying Sorcerer by Francis X King, published by Mandrake.