Created on: February 11, 2013 Last Updated: February 13, 2013
Something strange and wicked was happening in Medieval England. In Buckingham, a deceased man rose from the grave to visit his wife. In Berwick, a despised and rich man routinely returned from “purgatory” until the villagers destroyed the corpse. In Melrose, a dead chaplain haunted and terrorized noblewomen at a monastery. And, finally, an evil undead man came back to life and brought “pestilence” to the town of York.
Such events sound like folklore or moral tales meant to warn the populace of the pending evils that surrounded them. In all due respects, serious and influential historians of that era would never have taken such stuff seriously.
That’s where things take an unusual turn. The events mentioned were recorded by one of Medieval England’s most noted historians, William of Newburgh.
William of Newburgh was a monk from the Newburgh Abby (also known as Newbury). He chronicled many events during his lifetime (1138-1198) and was noted for his accounts of the contentious reign of King Stephen of England.
William followed in the footstep of another influential historian, the scribe known as the Venerable Bede, and made careful and thorough studies of the era following the Norman conquest of England. In fact, his work is so highly regarded that modern historians often study his work to learn more about this particular era.
He was also a pioneer in critical writing and an advocate for producing research-based documents. Famously, he ridiculed another noted historian of the time, Geoffrey of Monmouth, for relying too heavily on mythologies and legends when writing about the reigns of English kings. He referred to Geoffrey as “being ignorant of ancient history” and that he “shamelessly and impudently…lies in almost everything.”
Ironically, William of Newburgh is considered by many folklorists to be the second Englishman to document accounts of the undead (Walter Map, his contemporary, beat him by six years). And that’s not all. There was an account of green children emerging from the forest.
With this final accomplishment, it makes one wonder - was one of Medieval England’s most noted historians also a chronicler of paranormal activity?
Tales of the Revenants
Writing about the paranormal was not William’s main focus. In his major work, “Historia rerum Anglicarum” (“History of English Affairs”), he concentrated on such
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