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4 Important Medieval Figures Commonly Misunderstood

How Well Do You Know Your Medieval History?

The Medieval Era spanned from the 5th to the 15th century and involved many European countries. It was a time of unrest, unknown diseases, and, some would argue, backward thinking.

Renaissance scholars didn’t bestow much praise on the Middle Ages, but the period was actually full of inspiring figures who performed epic deeds. In fact, this period was far more prosperous than the Medieval-like settings of many sorcery stories would have you believe.

Some images are so ingrained in Medieval-inspired fantasy stories that it becomes pretty tempting NOT to think they represent Medieval life’s fundamental aspects. But these stories often reinforce myths and misconceptions about life and people in the Middle Ages.

Do fantasy novels have to be historically accurate? Of course not. But If you read many books or watch lots of movies with pseudo-Medieval settings, you may come away with a mistaken impression that you know what people in the Middle Ages were like.

Here are 4 famous medieval legends and what we’ve gotten wrong about them.

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We all know this medieval legend. Dracula is the miscreant of Bram Stoker’s novel, a menacing threat to a group of unfortunate outsiders and their elderly advisor, Van Helsing. This story popularized vampires with modern Western audiences.

Bram Stoker took inspiration for his novel from the historical character of Vlad III, Aka Vlad Tepes,  Vlad the Impaler, or… Vlad Dracula.

But in all actuality, despite being the central villain of Stoker’s tale, the Romanian noble wasn’t associated with vampirism until the author made him so. Vlad was born in Transylvania, a historical region of Romania, in 1431.

His father, Vlad II, ruled Wallachia and fought with the Christian Order of the Dragon to stop the Ottoman Turks from invading. Wallachia happened to be a deadly stomping ground at the time, a bloody barrier between the hostile forces of Christianity and Islam.

When Vlad II, his sons Radu and Vlad III, and Sultan Murad II had a diplomatic meeting, it resulted in Vlad II’s imprisonment. He would be later released under the condition that he would leave his sons in his stead. Unfortunately, local warlords later killed him.

As for Vlad III, he was eventually released and became ruler of Wallachia. So here’s where Stoker might have gotten his inspiration. While Vlad might not have been a vampire, he WAS out for blood.

He had all of the disloyal warlords in the area eliminated by inviting them to a banquet and stabbing them. He also repelled several major Turkish invasions.

His nickname of Vlad The Impaler came about because of his tendency to impale his enemies upon a sharp pole through their rectum and out their neck, shoulder, or mouth. The rod would then be placed on the ground, and the victim would be displayed to the public.

He reportedly killed approximately 80,000 people, of whom 20,000 were impaled and displayed. Vlad was heralded as a Christian hero for his efforts against the Turks, even receiving commendations from Pope Pius II, but it wouldn’t last. He was ambushed and killed in 1476.

King Arthur

King Arthur is probably one of the most legendary figures of medieval times. In fact, even some scholars are absolutely sure the fictional English king must have a historical basis. They just haven’t been able to nail down a “who” yet.

Three popular candidates include Lucius Artorius Castus, Owain Ddantgwyn, and Ambrosius Aurelianus. Castus was a Roman cavalry officer who led in the second century. Could this have been the inspiration behind the Knights of the Round Table?

His family name, as you might have noticed, was Artorius. Ddantgwyn, on the other hand, was a sixth-century Welsh king. His people knew him as “bear,” which is “Arth” in Byrthonic.

Another interesting aspect about him is that his father was named Enniaun Yrth, similar to Uther-Pen-Dragon, the father of King Arthur. Ddantgwyn was succeeded by his nephew, just like the legendary Arthur was overthrown by his.

And last but not least, we’ve got Ambrosius Aurelianus, a fifth-century British king of Roman origins. He was known to defend the Britons against the Anglo-Saxons and was viewed positively by historians.

So which of these men inspired all those legendary tales we love so much? Well, we think King Arthur was just simply invented by Welsh historian Nennius.

His histories include the first known mention of Arthur in print, around the year 800, and he could have inserted him into the Saxon conflicts of the 500s.

This is one medieval mystery historians haven’t been able to solve. So what do you think? WAS Arthur based on a real character?

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Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469, just as medieval times were coming to an end. It was a time of limbo when many Europeans began questioning monarchical power.

As a native of Florence, Niccolo was preoccupied with his many political thoughts, and it was at these crossroads that he wrote his legacy. His most well-known work is The Prince, completed in 1513. Today, the work is widely criticized as a guidebook for tyrants.

It contains advice on the monarchical rule of a nation and proposes tactics that seem amoral and dishonest, all in the name of the greater good. This book is known to be the backbone of the phrase “the ends justify the means.”

What led to the book’s completion was the Medici family’s return to power in Florence. Trying to obtain as much power as possible, they despised anyone opposed to them. What followed was the torture of Machiavelli and the rest of his republican pals.

Yes, you read that right… Machiavelli greatly supported republicanism, NOT the monarchy. When the Medici came to power, they charged Machiavelli with conspiracy against the rulers. He was dismissed from his political office, imprisoned, and tortured for a year.

Upon his release is when Machiavelli wrote The Prince. He dedicated his book to Lorenzo de Medici, the man somewhat responsible for his torture. It’s quite possible that Machiavelli wrote this book to appease the Medici and avoid further suffering.

But it’s also likely that Machiavelli still held his republican beliefs. So even though it was considered practical and good advice for a ruler, it’s entirely possible to read The Prince as a mockery or sabotage to bring down the Medici and make way for a Florentine republic.

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Joan Of Arc

Joan of Arc was born sometime in 1412 in Domremy, France. She was the daughter of a peasant farmer. Domremy was on the border between France and Burgundy, which we know was a hotbed of conflict during the medieval period.

The unexpected but remarkably successful leader, Joan of Arc, supplied the French with some very much-needed confidence during the Hundred Years’ War.

Allegedly enlightened by the voices of saints she heard, Joan was captured by the English and burned at stake for heresy in 1431. But the French ultimately won the conflict about 30 years after her death.

But all the stories and movies we’ve seen got one thing wrong in this entire story. Joan never actually killed anyone. This medieval force never even actually fought! It’s true, she WAS on the front lines and was wounded as a result.

But she served as a motivating figure for the French army, not as a warrior. Dressed in a hand-crafted suit of armor, Joan would raise her iconic battle standard above during combat to rally her troops to victory. She was also heavily involved in reforming the army.

She banished courtesans and ordered church attendance and confession. She also banned looting, swearing, and harassing. She even played a significant role in the army’s tactical decisions. Joan was canonized in 1920, and she’s remembered as a national icon in France.

Do you wish to know more about this iconic historical figure? Check THIS out!

We hope that you’ve gained a better insight into these legendary medieval figures. Ready for some more? we highly recommend reading: 14 Scandalous Facts About Old Hollywood Stars


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