October 31 in the Medieval World by Barbara Bettis – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Barbara will be awarding a $25 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

October 31 in the Medeival World

10_30 October- Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry octobre detail-Wikipedia CommonsHere it is, the day before Halloween. Have you stocked up on goodies for the little goblins? Got your costume ready to party? Sir Stephen and Lady Evelynn may not don costumes, but three months after their wedding, they are all set to party—to celebrate the traditional end of summer with their people in Nottinghamshire. Oct. 31 was a major holiday in the medieval world.

In one of the early Christian church’s ubiquitous moves, sometime in the 9th Century the celebration of All Saints Day officially was moved to Nov. 1, the day after the Celtic end of year. That’s Summer’s End, also known as Samhain (pronounced “Sah-win”). Samhain, Oct. 31, was to become known as All Hallow’s Eve or as we call it, Halloween.

10_30 medieval harvest 2Medieval England’s Midlands celebrated the end of harvest at this time, and likely some of the old traditions crept in even through the area wasn’t primarily Celtic. In the “old” religion (before Christianity), a commonly held belief was that on this night, the curtain between Earth and the spirit world was thinnest. Mortals had to be wary of mischief from restless spirits.

As Dr. Madeleine Pelner Cosman writes, “More Halloween divinations ask[d] spirits about love and life than on all other holidays together” (81). Masked children would roam from home to home “singing and begging for soul cakes for wandering spirits” (82). And if no food was forthcoming, “beggars or souls [would] play pranks” (82).

That sounds an awfully lot like some of the Trick or Treat tales from my childhood. At least one home in our rural community had windows soaped or trees T-P’ed every Halloween.

But back to the 12th Century. Many of our other traditions are marked from that time: apple bobbing, music, dancing, bonfires. Lights welcomed good spirits and discouraged bad ones, so tables contained the medieval version of Jack o’lanterns carved from turnips or squash. (Pumpkins came from America, so weren’t known in medieval England.)

Spirits or not, the partying also was considered a celebration for the end of harvest. October saw the end of ploughing, planting, and harrowing of fields for winter crops. It saw the pigs loosed in the woods to fatten up on nuts for six weeks until mid-Blood Month, or November, when animals were slaughtered for the winter.

So whether people were celebrating spirits or winding down a long, hard, year of labor, Halloween was a party. And if things got too out of hand, the church had it covered. Folks could look forward to two days of intense prayer: All Saints Day, Nov. 1 and All Souls Day, Nov. 2.

European Farming During the Middle Ages to 1800s. http://historylink101.com/lessons/farm-city/middle-ages.htm
Cosman, Madeleine Pelner. Medieval Holidays and Festival: A Calendar of Celebrations. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981.
Staples, Andy. http://www.penultimateharn.com/history/medievalfarmingyear.html
Halloween. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween

10_30 Cover_The Heart of the PhoenixSome call him a ruthless mercenary; she calls him the knight of her heart.


Lady Evelynn’s childhood hero is home—bitter, hard, tempting as sin. And haunted by secrets. A now-grown Evie offers friendship, but Sir Stephen’s cruel rejection crushes her, and she resolves to forget him. Yet when an unexpected war throws them together, she finds love isn’t so easy to dismiss. If only the king hadn’t betrothed her to another.

Can be cruel

Sir Stephen lives a double life while he seeks the treacherous outlaws who murdered his friends. Driven by revenge, he thinks his heart is closed to love. His childhood shadow, Lady Evie, unexpectedly challenges that belief. He rebuffs her, but he can’t forget her, although he knows she’s to wed the king’s favorite.

And deadly

When his drive for vengeance leads to Evie’s kidnapping, Stephen must choose between retribution and the love he’s denied too long. Surely King John will see reason.

Convict the murderers; convince the king. Simple. Until a startling revelation threatens everything.

Enjoy an excerpt:

“You were able to find a ship?” she asked.

“Yes.” He gestured with the empty wooden spoon. “We won’t be alone. An emissary for King John bespoke it, but he agreed to share quarters with us.”

Her head tilted to one side. “How did you manage that? I can’t imagine a knight with such authority condescending to share anything with strangers.”

“I told him your brother had ordered you home and would be furious if you delayed. You and the maid will share a small cabin, while the lord occupies the captain’s quarters. I have no idea how large your chamber will be, but we’ll make the best of it.”

“We?” She didn’t look up as she took another bite.

Damn her, what did she find amusing in what he’d just said, for there was no mistaking the humor in her voice. She looked up as he stalked toward the bed. Yes, a mischievous light glimmered in her eyes. He loomed above her and slowly leaned in.

“You’d best try to appear the anxious maiden, in fear of her brother,” he warned. “Or questions might arise that none of us want to answer.”

The amusement faded. “What questions?” Her breath caressed his cheek.

He reared back. “Just behave yourself during the passage.”

“This is the second time you’ve warned me about my conduct. Do you fear I will ride off with one of the guards?”

He clenched his teeth to hold back a retort. Let her have her say. She’d be easier to deal with on the morrow if all her complaints were aired.

“We both know my behavior has been perfectly appropriate. And I’ve accepted each of your edicts calmly.” Her gaze flicked away, as if she knew that statement stretched the truth.

“But that’s not the problem, is it?” she added, her voice low, intent. “Why are you really on this journey, Stephen? We both know it’s not to protect me.”

About the Author: 10_30 AuthorPicAward-winning author Barbara Bettis has always loved history and English. As a college freshman, she considered becoming an archeologist until she realized there likely would be bugs and snakes involved. And math.

A former health insurance claims adjuster, a former journalist, a former journalism teacher, Barbara Bettis plans never to be a “former” author. Currently, she supports her writing habit as an adjunct English instructor at a community college near her home in Missouri.

She now lives in Missouri, where by day she’s a mild-mannered English teacher, and by night she’s an intrepid plotter of tales featuring heroines to die for—and heroes to live for.

Website ~ Blog ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

Buy the book at Amazon or The Wild Rose Press.

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  1. stacey dempsey says:

    I loved the post Oct 31 in the medieval world .There is alot of interesting things I didnt know about

  2. Thanks for hosting!

  3. Interesting post, thank you.

  4. Thanks for the post! I love learning the history of traditions and holidays. And I think the old end of fall is more accurate than our end of September date. The weather never changes until end of October around here at least. 🙂

  5. Thank you for having me here today. Halloween was such a serious celebration 800 years ago. Yes, they celebrated with food and a bit of fun, but many truly believed spirits could slip into the mortal world on this night. And the food? Well, winter might be a long, hungry time for them. Food storage was certainly different from today’s preservation techniques.

  6. Barb, as I read this I could only imagine what fun it would be to go around The Cloisters (that medieval section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of transported cloisters from Europe) with you.
    Sad to report I am flying all day tomorrow and getting in too late to celebrate . Maybe next year…

  7. Ashantay Peters says:

    I’ll be carving my turnip tonight…thanks for the enlightening post!

    • Barbara Bettis says:

      Those must have been unscary little things, :0 Wouldn’t our children these days be surprised if we gave them turnips to set out on the porch !

  8. Oh, loved this post! I would have loved to see the dancing around a bonfire!

  9. denise smith says:

    very good post today love the excerpt and the photos of medievel England above

    • So glad you liked the post and the images, Denise. I can only imagine what the reality was like, walking those furrows, planting. Or harvesting by hand. With my allergies of today, I wouldn’t have lasted long! I appreciate your stopping by!

  10. Great post, Barbara! It’s fascinating that so many of our traditions come from so long ago! Tweeted as well. Happy Halloween!

    • Barbara Bettis says:

      Thanks, Lana. You’re so right about our traditions. This is one that does tend to polarize people these days. But our Harvest Celebrations still have the long-ago traditions, no matter what they’re called.

  11. One of the reasons Halloween is my favorite holiday is because i love to trace its ancient roots, just as you describe. It delights me to think of Lady Evelynn and Sir Stephen enjoying these festivities. “The Heart of the Phoenix” is a wonderful book! Best of luck.

    • Barbara Bettis says:

      Thank you, Laura. We medieval writers do love uncovering these earlier traditions. You’ve uncovered quite a few, yourself 🙂

  12. Thanks for the interesting history lesson

  13. Very interesting post. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot too.

  14. Great post Barbara, I loved it. Thanks.


  16. ^^ Awesome bits of history and i love the medieveal etc. sort of things.

  17. Nicole Laverdure says:

    I never get tired of reading your amazing stories, real delight to enjoy!

  18. Interesting characters

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