Medieval Death Trip

A Podcast Exploring the Wit and Weirdness of Medieval Texts

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MDT Ep. 093: "Helmbrecht Returns, or The Dark Robber Knight"

We continue with Part 2 (of 3) of the 13th-century peasant epic Meier Helmbrecht, in which Helmbrecht returns to his family after a year as squire to a robber knight, and cultures clash accordingly.

Today’s Text

  • Wernher der Gartenaere. Meier Helmbrecht. In Peasant Life in Old German Epics, translated by Clair Hayden Bell, Columbia UP, 1931.


Image credit: detail of cabbage harvesting from a 15th-century manuscript of Ibn Butlan’s Tacuinum sanitatis, Paris, BnF, Département des manuscrits, Latin 9333 fol. 20.

MDT Ep. 092: "Helmbrecht Begins, or How to Become a Robber Knight"

Detail from the Luttrell Psalter.

In this episode we learn how important good hair is to becoming a medieval cattle rustler with part one of the 13th-century poem Meier Helmbrecht.

Today’s Text

  • Wernher der Gartenaere. Meier Helmbrecht. In Peasant Life in Old German Epics, translated by Clair Hayden Bell, Columbia UP, 1931.


Audio Credit: A Charlie Brown Christmas, United Feature Syndicate, 1965.

Image Credit: Detail from the Luttrell Psalter.

MDT Ep. 091: "Concerning Wage Warfare after the Plague"

Detail of fieldworkers from BL Royal MS 2 B VII f.78v.
Detail of fieldworkers from BL Royal MS 2 B VII f.78v.

This episode, we follow up on a question from Ep. 90 about why the wandering worker Thomas Fuller might have fallen in with a criminal shepherd by looking at a pair of vagrancy and labor laws from the economically disrupted decades following the Black Death: the Statute of Laborers of 1351 and the Commons’ Petition against Vagrants of 1376. We also learn a bit about late medieval prisons.

Today’s Texts:

  • Henderson, Ernest F., editor and translator. Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages. George Bell and Sons, 1892, pp. 165-168. Google Books.
  • “Commons’ Petition Against Vagrants” of 1376,” reprinted in R.B. Dobson, The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. MacMillan, 1970, pp. 72-74. Google Books.


  • Clark, Elaine. “Institutional and Legal Responses to Begging in Medieval England.” Social Science History, vol. 26, no. 3, Fall 2002, pp. 447-473. JSTOR,
  • Geltner, Guy. “Medieval Prisons: Between Myth and Reality, Hell and Purgatory.” History Compass, vol. 4, 2006, pp. 1-14, doi: 10.1111/j.1478-0542.2006.00319.x. Available at

MDT Ep. 090: "Medieval True Crime IV: In the Shadow of the Gallows Pole"

Image Credit: detail from British Library MS Royal 20 C VII, f. 15

We finish off our Medieval True Crime miniseries with a look at two hangings from the year 1484 and explore some of the practices surrounding and meanings of hanging as a mode of execution in medieval Europe.

Today’s Text

  • Knox, Ronald, and Shane Leslie, editors and translators. The Miracles of King Henry VI. Cambridge UP, 1923.


  • Merback, Mitchell B. The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. U of Chicago P, 1999.

MDT Ep. 089: "Interview with a Devil"

Detail from British Library, Add MS 42130, f. 54v.

In this (belated) episode marking our seventh anniversary, we learn about the infernal realms, straight from the devil’s mouth, going from a 11th-century Old English text to the 16th-century stage. We also learn why you shouldn’t attack your father with an ax and what demonic possession has in common with e. Coli.

Today’s Texts

  • Kemble, John M., editor and translator. The Dialogue of Salomon and Saturnus, with an Historical Introduction. The Ælfric Society, 1848, pp. 86-88. Google Books.
  • Faust Book. In Early English Prose Romances, edited by William John Thoms. Nattali and Bond, 1858. Digital text available at the Perseus Project.
  • Marlowe, Christopher. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus from the Quarto of 1604. Edited by Alexander Dyce. Project Gutenberg, 2009.
  • de Vitry, Jacques. Exempla of Jacques de Vitry. Edited by Thomas Frederick Crane, David Nutt, 1890. Google Books.
  • Gregory the Great. The Dialogues of Saint Gregory, Surnamed the Great: Pope of Rome & the First of That Name. Translated by P.W., edited by Edmund G. Gardner, Philip Lee Warner, 1911. Digital text edited by Roger Pearce, 2004,  


  • Andrew, Malcom. “Grendel in Hell.” English Studies, vol. 62, no. 5, 1981, pp. 401–410.
  • Robinson, Fred C. “The Devil’s Account of the Next World: An Anecdote from Old English Homiletic Literature.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, vol. 73, no., 1/3, 1972, pp. 363-371.

Image credit: Detail from British Library, Add MS 42130, f. 54v.

MDT Ep. 088: "Concerning the Plight of the Paterfamilias"

In this slightly belated Father’s Day episode, we return to the snarky wit of Walter Map as he explains why it’s so hard to be the man of the house.

Today’s Text

  • Map, Walter. De Nugis Curialium. Translated by Montague R. James, historical notes by John Edward Lloyd, edited by E. Sidney Hartland, Cymmrodorion Record Series, no. 9, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1923.


  • Jones, Kathleen W. “Mother’s Day: The Creation, Promotion and Meaning of a New Holiday in the Progressive Era.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 22, no. 2, Summer 1980, pp. 175-196. JSTOR,

Audio Credit: Young Frankenstein. Directed by Mel Brooks. 20th Century Fox, 1974.
Image Credit: Detail of a feast from a Flemish Prayer Book (15/16c). Wikimedia Commons.

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