anipulating people with misinformation in the form of lies is more predominant than ever, especially with different conspiracies based on things that the government might hide from us. However, medieval times were even worst than you would think. It is always evil minds that tend to take advantage of gullible people.
Simple citizens during the medieval era were very credulous which is what made them support evil minds that wanted to control the population with fear of creatures from fantasy such as dragons, griffins, or other medieval depictions of monsters. Isn’t it interesting how only a hand full of people saw such creatures, yet their tales say they have killed millions?
Descendants of Saints
In the slow emerging Middle Ages, many royals would try to illustrate how they were the descendants of God and the Saints to show their purity, therefore reinforcing the belief of the public within their words. Such a case was that of the kings of the Hugo Capet dynasty who ruled France from the 10th to the 14th century. They tried to create fictitious lines of ancestry from Saints to show the world that they were not the “evil” force.
Another similar story took place with Ludovic XIV who tried to raise his status as a ruler to the public by reinforcing he was a descendant of Carolingian and Merovingian figures that had absolutely nothing to do with his family tree. The same happened with the Bavarians of Wittelsbach who claimed to be descendants of the legendary Bavarus family, many were fooled by the close similarity of the names, but they aren’t the same. The Bavarians were of Germanic origin whilst the Bavarus family was traced back to be from England and Ireland.
The “Public Mail”
Some historians have shown in their analyses of historical texts the methods used for mass manipulation. One very effective way was the king’s messengers as they are described in historical texts. These messengers, who were as a public mail service, would go around from village to village, town to town, to share the latest lies the king had come up with in his latest dream.
As the medieval era was a time when religion was used in politics, it so happened that a lot of the power won by either party (religions) was in the information they created and how they would use this information to manipulate the public, thus converting more people onto their side.
One ruler known very well for using such a practice was Ludovic XIV who would send his messengers far and wide in the continent of Europe to share some new myths with the public. You would see them running around from churches to synagogues and mosques. These weren’t just messengers, they were true storytellers with the finest skills of persuasion.
Sometimes these so-called “messages” would be slightly twisted from one town to another to create a sort of Chinese whispers effect that would bring some of the most credulous citizens to reinforce the belief of a certain king. This “game” of Chinese whispers would create a tremendous amount of confusion at which point the citizens would seek their religion to clarify things (at least those that weren’t able to be their own judges).
Part of the problem was also the public’s ideology was to believe in those who were highly educated or at least more educated than them. As most of the world’s population during medieval times was illiterate, they could only listen and believe in their kings for wisdom. If you were to travel from Rome to Germany which would take around 23 days by carriage, you would see how the story keeps on changing, either adapting new factors or fantasy characters.
The bird in flames was not a Griffin, but a Phoenix which would be struck down with only one hit of a sword. Misinformation in medieval times also led to the creation of magical powers. When things just seemed like they were too much of a fairytale, even for the most naive of peasants, the governors would use magic as an excuse to prove the reliability of a piece of information. Not only creating thousands of stories but also creating fear by including the word “dark” in combination with magic.
Is misinformation part of human nature?
Jean Vedron, a historian who is an expert in the field of manipulation during the medieval era tells us in his writings that we need to contemplate the fact that misinformation is part of human nature and manipulation is a form of governing. Whilst this is very true and it is enforced by how today’s society and governments use misinformation for their own benefit, we can also have positive outcomes from misinformation.
If we were to take a more consequentialist approach to this dilemma, it can be argued that misinformation has also done some good for someone in the medieval era. Now, besides governing, the consequentialist view does not take into consideration that these people who profited from misinformation were good or bad, it only takes into account that someone was positively influenced by misinformation.
If we look at this dilemma from a utilitarian view, misinformation will never be seen as something ethical, as it only does positively impact a small number of evil people and not the majority. As we advance throughout history we can see that manipulation through misinformation was used only to cause harm by evil people. Adolf Hitler himself said in his book that a colossal lie has the power to remove any doubt. This was the same person who changed the history of Germany to represent his descendants as “Saints” and to manipulate the German population.
In one of Jean Verdon’s books entitled Information and Disinformation in the Middle Ages (translated from French), he mentioned that manipulation through misinformation is a work of art that shows higher intelligence, once again implying on the mass population of uneducated people during the medieval ages. Although it is not at the extreme level it used to be, we can see that those who argue the most happen to be the ones who have a poor education.
This argument should not only be based on education but also on the mentality people have as some people are very closed-minded. In some cases, you would imagine that a closed-minded person would be very hard to mislead, but before having an opinion, someone or something must have attracted their attention to an opinion. Once attracted to this opinion, due to their mentality, they will never let go no matter how surreal it may be to others.
The public in medieval times simply didn’t have the resources to achieve a better education or the liberty to open their minds to different ideas or beliefs. Certainly, those who may have seemed too clever for their social status would have been dealt with by the king as they imposed a threat to his manipulative scheme. Nevertheless, let us learn from this as today, most of us have the resources, competencies, and most important the freedom opens our minds and educate ourselves on what is true and what isn’t.