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Friday, October 24, 2014

Venetia Green and The Flagellants

This week's guest has brought with her a little sting in the tail (pun intended!).  Last time I spoke to Venetia Green we discussed Vikings (Click HERE to see that post). For her latest book, MY LADY OF THE WHIP, Venetia has moved a few centuries forward in time to 1348 and the time of the Black Death - a period in history ripe with superstition and fear and one or two really interesting little facts.

In more modern times when I think of flagellants, I think of the "mad monk" of  Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, but of course the origin is much, much older. 


Not everybody has heard of the Flagellants. A uni tutorial I once attended is a case in point. During our analysis of some medieval historical text or other, I stuck up my hand and piped up nice and loud: “What about the Flagellants?”
There was a stunned silence. Twenty faces peered at me in disbelief. “Did you say flatulence?” someone asked.
I was a giggling wreck for the next ten minutes.
Apparently the Brotherhood of the Flagellants – the phenomenon which inspired My Lady of the Whip – requires explanation.

Flagellum is the Latin word for whip. Thus to ‘flagellate’ oneself is to whip oneself – which is precisely what the medieval Flagellants were notorious for.

Whipping one’s own (preferably bare) back began as a form of private penance in the Catholic Church. It was the sort of thing a rather devout monk might do in the privacy of his own cell. The Brotherhood’s innovation was to take the whipping out of the monasteries and onto the streets, turning self-flagellation into a public spectacle of bloody atonement for sin. 

Although originating in Italy c.1260, Flagellant processions peaked in popularity in Germany, 1348-50. This was the period in which the Black Death, absent from Europe for a millennium, returned with a vengeance. God was expressing His Wrath through the gruesome death of an estimated third of the population. The logical response was to punish oneself before God saw fit to do so.

 Chanting, all-male processions would appear in town and city centres, each man naked from the waist up:
Each had in his right hand a scourge with three tails. Each tail had a knot and through the middle of it there were sometimes sharp nails fixed. They marched in single file … and whipped themselves with these scourges on their naked and bleeding bodies.
(Robert of Avesbury)

Unfortunately, the processions had no noticeable effect on the Plague – beyond assisting it to spread.


Be careful when you pick up a whip. Your fingers curl about that seductive handle, your wrist flexes its subtle weight and then… Yes, you wonder what would happen if you plied those innocent leather strips against another’s flesh.

1348. The Black Death is sweeping medieval London, social order is collapsing, and the virtuous Lady Elizabeth seizes a whip to defend her honor. But when death seems inevitable, Bess throws caution to the plague-ridden vapors …

… to save the man she can never have – William de Montagu, the handsome, persuasive and soon-to-be-married Earl of Salisbury.

A little bit about VENETIA GREEN

Venetia was spirited from misty England to the wild west of Australia as a child and is still unsure which world she belongs in. Perhaps that is why she escaped into the past...

When she grew up, Venetia spent 10 years studying literature and history before the need to write her own overwhelmed her – at which point she abandoned her PhD and dived headlong into historical fiction. Now she writes dark and sensuous romances set amongst the fjords of Viking Age Scandinavia and back-alleys of medieval London.

Connect with Venetia through her website: Click HERE