Grim Anniversary + Medieval Law & Order

The blogger behind asked me to post a link to his blog today, as November 13th marks the 1005th anniversary of the St. Brice’s Day Massacare, when Aethelred–not yet the Unready–is said to have massacred a huge number of Danes who lived in England.

I’m no expert on pre-Norman England, but I am an expert on talking medieval babies.* That is why I had no idea that there was a massacre named after St. Brice, but I did know that he had the magic power to make babies talk. According to the Golden Legend, also known as The Bumper Book of Weird Medieval Saints,** St. Brice took over the bishopric formerly occupied by St. Martin of Tours and was well-known among his flock for being a lech. This all came to a head in the thirtieth year of his bishopric, when…

A woman who had taken religious orders, who did Brice’s laundry regularly, had conceived and borne a child who all the people said the bishop was the father of, so they assembled at his gates with stones, and said: We have long suffered your lechery for the love of St. Martin and for his pity, but now we will no more kiss your accursed hands. But he denied the charge and the deed completely and said: Bring to me the child. And when the child was brought he was only thirty days old. And S. Brice said to him: I conjure you by the Son of God that you shall say to me before all these people if I have engendered you. And the child said: You are not my father. And the people, yet not content, asked him to ask the child who his father was. And the bishop said: That appertaineth not to me to do.

I cleaned up the translation a little to remove some of those eths and ests and such, which you can find in all their glory at the link above. I kept the last, though, as this is my new motto: That appertaineth not to me to do. I’m going to put it on tee-shirts and coffee mugs. And when my wife asks me to do the dishes, I’ll just point at the (dirty) coffee mug and nod knowingly.

For what it’s worth, the crowd isn’t pleased with the talking baby antics and burns St. Brice in a fire for sorcery. Fortunately for him, he is fireproof, because of his holiness. What can we learn from this? Primarily that saints had odd ideas about what makes for compelling evidence of innocence. Nothing’s more convincing than a talking baby!

I only know about St. Brice because his is an analogue of some of tales told about Baby Merlin. When Merlin’s mother is going to be buried alive for sleeping around, as related in the Vulgate Lancelot Cycle, Merlin takes the witness stand at one month old and explains that not only is his mother innocent, the judge’s mother is herself guilty of sleeping around. The mother is brought in to testify and, lo and behold, Baby Merlin is as right as he is cute.

Anyway, my point here is that The Family Guy isn’t just ripping off the Simpsons. It’s ripping off The Adventures of Young Merlin. Talking babies are so thirteenth century. Oh yeah, and go visit that dude’s blog. You’ve got four hours until it’s the anniversary of St. Somebody Else’s Massacre.

*Though I often neglect to put this on my CV, ‘talking baby expert’ should go right between, ‘expertise in European intellectual history’ and ‘experience teaching world literature in translation.’ If you have one of my CV’s, please amend it appropriately.
**At least to me, anyway.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jason

    If a talking baby works for Kirstie Alley and John Travolta, who are we to question it?

    Thanks for the link and the lesson. Small correction: today’s medieval execution turns out in fact to be of the guy who actually killed the saint.

  • Tidor

    As someone with very hazy memories of the Adventures of Young Merlin, I don’t remember any talking babies or harlotry.

    Of course, that was a long time ago and I was always pretty bad at the Super Nintendo, so who knows?

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