What’s Your Poison?

That is, assuming that poison is your weapon of choice.  This week, I asked the Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks crew what their favorite historical weapon might be, and received a fascinating assortment of responses.

From Jenn McGowan:

Crossbow! Despite its downsides of not being silent (although more quiet than a gun, certainly) and the lack of a quick-loading mechanism, it’s a great weapon for distance shooting, and is suitable for women and children to wield effectively without heavy training.

Of course, in the halls of Windsor Castle, discretion is king (or queen). To kill most effectively there, you’d more likely choose a sturdy, silent knife–or a well-placed cup of poison.

From Sharon Biggs Waller:

A hatpin! Because of the huge Edwardian hats, hatpins became quite long, over a foot! They were basically skewers with a very sharp end. These were decorative items and meant to secure the hat to the hair (through the chignon or bun) and so they weren’t exactly meant to be used as a weapon. But I can’t imagine any woman worth her salt not reaching for the thing if she were approached by a thief or someone who meant to do her bodily harm. I’ve heard tales of suffragettes using the pins to defend themselves, for instance. They certainly needed it as many men and some police officers became quite violent against them.

Laws requiring a set length and protective corks on the ends were discussed in some cities like New York and Berlin, but mainly to protect passersby and innocent bystanders in crowds who might be scratched or lose an eye because a lady turned her head.


Here is a fabulous illustration teaching a woman how to use a hat pin from a website called The Bartiitsu Society. (www.bartitsu.org). It’s from a 1904 self defense article in the San Francisco Sunday Call newspaper. I love this!

From Jessica Spotswood:

I vote for poison! This article over at Slate suggests that “the weapon was a great equalizer. Murder required administering a poison in repeated or large doses, tasks that women could conveniently perform since they were trusted with the preparation of food and the administration of medicines. As a group, women had plenty of reasons to commit murder, too—lack of economic opportunity, limited property rights, and difficulty in escaping the marriage bond. In his recent book Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, John Emsley describes multiple cases of women who killed to gain courtly power, get rid of husbands, collect insurance, cover up swindling and theft during domestic employment, and receive inheritances.” Fascinating, no?

From Cat Winters:

I second the vote for poison! A character needs to be sneaky and smart to do the job just right. For fun, check out musician Jill Tracy’s diabolically delicious, Victorian-inspired video for her song “The Fine Art of Poisoning.”

From J. Anderson Coats:

My favorite historical weapon is the printing press. Fewer things have brought down kings and lords and governments and the encrusted weight of accepted truth quite like regular people reading and writing and thinking for themselves and sharing ideas with other regular people across time and

And I (Katherine Longshore), unsurprisingly, am fond of character assassination.  In a time and situation where appearance is everything, where others must be made to believe you think like them (or even that you simply like them), a good, believable rumor can work wonders.

What about you?  What’s your poison?

About Katherine Longshore

Katherine Longshore is the author of GILT (Viking/Penguin May 2012), a story of friendship and betrayal set in the court of Henry VIII, and TARNISH (June 2013), the story of a young Anne Boleyn. You can learn more about her www.katherinelongshore.com

One thought on “What’s Your Poison?

  1. What’s amazing is that each of your individual personalities and writing styles was so apparent in your choices here. Printing press?! Leave it to Ms. Coats.

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