2nd Edition

Strange Histories The Trial of the Pig, the Walking Dead, and Other Matters of Fact from the Medieval and Renaissance Worlds

By Darren Oldridge Copyright 2018
    210 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    210 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Strange Histories is an exploration of some of the most extraordinary beliefs that existed in the late Middle Ages through to the end of the seventeenth century. Presenting serious accounts of the appearance of angels and demons, sea monsters and dragons within European and North American history, this book moves away from "present-centred thinking" and instead places such events firmly within their social and cultural context. By doing so, it offers a new way of understanding the world in which dragons and witches were fact rather than fiction, and presents these riveting phenomena as part of an entirely rational thought process for the time in which they existed.

    This new edition has been fully updated in light of recent research. It contains a new guide to further reading as well as a selection of pictures that bring its themes to life. From ghosts to witches, to pigs on trial for murder, the book uses a range of different case studies to provide fascinating insights into the world-view of a vanished age. It is essential reading for all students of early modern history.


    Figures; Preface to the second edition; Introduction: strange worlds; Angels on a pinhead; They hang horses, don’t they?; The roaming dead; "A shipwreck of souls": understanding witchcraft; Werewolves and flying witches; Raptures and forbidden words; Suffering saints; The case for killing heretics; Conclusion: the edge of wonder; Further reading; Index


    Darren Oldridge is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Worcester, UK. He has published extensively on religion and belief in the period. His other books include The Supernatural in Tudor and Stuart England (2016) and, as editor, The Witchcraft Reader (2nd ed. 2008).

    'This is a fabulous book, in every sense of the word, reminding us that the fantastical and the magical were once real and every day. Succinct and accessible, yet always scholarly, it is model of how to approach the study of the past with both empathy and a lively critical awareness. And, as today’s ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories sway popular opinion, the central question of ‘why do people believe ‘strange’ things?’, seems more important and relevant than ever.'

    Gervase Phillips, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

     'We take it for granted that the premodern world swarmed with angels and demons, witches and werewolves, as if the people who believed in such creatures belonged to a different human species. Their histories were indeed strange, but as Darren Oldridge shows, vividly and persuasively, these people were biologically like us, just culturally different. The answers in this book are surprising and salutary, as well as consistently fascinating.'

    Malcolm Gaskill, University of East Anglia, UK

    'One of the greatest challenges in teaching medieval and early modern worlds is convincing students to set aside self-assured assumptions about rationality and morality. To this end, Darren Oldridge’s Strange Histories is indispensable. In this fascinating tour of witches, demons, werewolves, and more, Oldridge provides a critical yet empathetic window into the mental worlds of medieval and early modern men and women. Chapter by chapter, he peels away the layers of strangeness from the pre-modern past and shows us how to understand systems of belief profoundly different—but no less rational—than our own.'

    Michelle D. Brock, Washington and Lee University, USA

    'My undergraduates adore Strange Histories, which is the only book of its kind: a sophisticated and accessible treatment of pre-modern beliefs from the perspective of historical anthropology, written with great humor, economy, and sophistication. There are many reasons to recommend this new edition, not the least of which are updated analyses of several modern parallels to pre-modern ‘moral panics,’ an updated bibliography, and, as always, the author’s exceptional clarity of expression and of concept. Very highly recommended.'

    Katrina B. Olds, University of San Francisco, USA