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Medieval Poisons

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LoveHistory
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Medieval Poisons

Post by LoveHistory » Mon February 2nd, 2009, 8:36 pm

Anyone know of a good source of info for various poisons that could have been used on arrows in the first half of the 15th century?

Also other methods of poisoning are welcome. The only other method I can think of is food/drink.

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Post by Volgadon » Mon February 2nd, 2009, 8:53 pm

I'm not entirely sure how well it worked in reality, but Dumas has Charles IX leafing through a book with sticky pages. He licked his fingers repeatedly to open the pages, which were coated with arsenic.

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Post by Amanda » Mon February 2nd, 2009, 9:52 pm

They were always worried about Elizabeth I being assassinated via poisoned clothes.

Wasn't it rumoured that Jeanne of Navarre was murdered by Catherine de Medici via poisoned gloves? IRC this comes up in Duma's La Reine Margot, and it is also part of the plot in The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll.

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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon February 2nd, 2009, 9:56 pm

Belladonna ( an extract of the nightshade plant) was often used as eyedrops by women because it made the pupils dilate. Perhaps too much would get through to the bloodstream?

BTW, in Hamlet, the King is poisoned through his ear. Is this actually a viable method? Anybody know?

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Post by annis » Mon February 2nd, 2009, 11:52 pm

There's some speculation that Shakespeare may have known of the medical discovery that the ear connects to the throat through the eustachian tube, and thought that poison could go straight through ( it can't unless the eardrum is perforated)
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.h ... gewanted=1

What the actual poison might have been is unclear. It's called hebenon in Hamlet.
Other writers, in the same era, used "heben" or "hebon" for the name of a deadly poison, or for something that was considered especially deadly. Christopher Marlowe, in his play 'The Jew of Malta,' wrote: "... the blood of Hydra, Lerna's bane, The juice of hebon, and Cocytus breath, And all the poisons of the Stygian pool ..."

Modern chemical nerve agents would do the trick by touching the skin, but whether there was any poison in Renaissance times with a similar effect I don't know. The Renaissance period was after all famous for the development and use of subtle but deadly poisons, and I've seen mention of poisoned gloves and so on in novels.

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Post by LCW » Tue February 3rd, 2009, 1:11 am

Human skin absorbs substances extremely well. I'm sure there were plenty of topical poisons back then, although I'm not sure how subtle and slow acting they'd be.
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Post by annis » Tue February 3rd, 2009, 2:55 am

Posted by LoveHistory
Anyone know of a good source of info for various poisons that could have been used on arrows in the first half of the 15th century?
Henbane juice was used to poison arrow tips.
Aconite(Monkshood) was also used.
Smearing the arrow tips in yew sap was another a technique used - the yew tree is extremely toxic.

There's a collection of articles on the general subject of medieval poisons and antidotes at Stefan's Florilegium which you might find interesting.
Last edited by annis on Tue February 3rd, 2009, 3:47 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Post by LoveHistory » Wed February 4th, 2009, 3:02 am

Thanks to all for your responses!

I love the Florilegium! Why didn't I think of that? I publish Stefan's updates every month in my Canton's newsletter. *smacks head on keyboard*

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Post by Libby » Wed February 4th, 2009, 8:50 pm

[quote=""annis""]Posted by LoveHistory


There's a collection of articles on the general subject of medieval poisons and antidotes at Stefan's Florilegium which you might find interesting.[/quote]

That's a fantastic resource that I hadn't seen before. I've bookmarked it!
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Post by Carla » Wed February 4th, 2009, 9:23 pm

[quote=""LoveHistory""]Anyone know of a good source of info for various poisons that could have been used on arrows in the first half of the 15th century?[/quote]

Archers in battle stuck their arrows point down in the ground because it was quicker to pick them up that way, so the dirt on the arrow points would have increased the risk of wound infection and would have acted as quite an effective poison, with the benefit of being free and easily obtainable. Dipping the arrow points in the latrine pit or something rotting would have been a slightly more extreme version of the same thing.
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