The Tudor Society

Poisons in the medieval and Tudor periods

This week’s Claire Chats has been inspired by the recent video I did on Richard Hesketh and the Hesketh plot, in which I mentioned Ferdinando Stanley and his belief that he’d been poisoned, so he took bezoar stone and unicorn’s horn to try and counteract the poison. It made me want to dig a bit deeper into poisoning in the medieval and Tudor period, and find out what poisons were used to do away with people.

Further reading

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  1. L

    I knew it! The unicorn horn was from a narwhal! The unicorn of the sea…They have a very long tooth to fight duels with.
    A poison that I believe is unique to the midwest United States is produced by the white snakewood plant. It causes ‘milk sickness”, which killed thousands of settlers in the 19th century, especially in the Ohio River valley. President Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was about 10 years old. He watched her die in agony.
    The white snakewood plant produces the poison tremetol, which is ingested by cows and excreted in their milk. It can cause illness and death in cattle, sheep, and horses, but sometimes the cows have no apparent symptoms. It is very toxic to humans, causing a death akin to (it sounds like, anyway) arsenic toxicity, although it’s not arsenic. Humans ingest tremetol by drinking milk from those cows, or eating their meat. There is no antidote for it, except cases are few nowadays and it is treated supportively, until the toxin is metabolized and excreted by the body.

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Poisons in the medieval and Tudor periods