For my MRes Dissertation I am doing a landscape analysis of the Deserted Medieval Villages of the East Riding of Yorkshire. While doing some research I learned that Beverley is named such due to the native beaver population at the time. Shortly after I stumbled across this extract which left me confused.
“In the later middle ages the beaver was a semi-fabulous beast; everybody knew that his fur was imported to make the best hats, and that when pursued he abandoned his testicles […] and so escaped” – Rackham. O, (1986), The History of the Countryside, London, p.34.
Yes, you read that correctly.
So after reading this through four or so times to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood I decided to delve deeper. My morbid curiosity had gotten the better of me. Which led me to an article by WIRED, written by Matt Simon (Which you can find a link to at the bottom of this post along with other articles on the topic). So upon further investigation, it seems that in the Middle Ages, or at least the Late Middle Ages, there was a myth that when threatened the beaver would gnaw off its own testicles and then proceed to throw them at it’s attacker. Now if that’s not an effective way to shake the opponents morale, I don’t know what is.
Now it would appear that there was a reason for such myths to exist, besides the enjoyment of tall tales. It is possible that tales like this one carried a religious and moral message with them: that one must throw their vices away to be free. The belief that beavers would turn their manhood into makeshift projectiles lasted around up until the 17th century.
Though I previously stated that the myth could have been created by the Church to convey a religious message, that’s not necessarily true. Some evidence suggests that the myth also existed in ancient Egypt as depictions of the act have been found and are now often viewed as visual metaphors for the punishment for adultery. Now while the analysis of the depictions may be stretch, the fact is, the Egyptians where painting pictures of beaver turning parts of their bodies into missile weapons, and that’s enough proof for me at least that this myth wasn’t just limited to Medieval England.
Well, now I’m going to end this entry with proof that beavers don’t do this (if you actually needed any convincing). Beavers have their testicles on the inside of their body, not on the outside. Now that’s a bombshell that I’ll end on. I didn’t think i’d be writing about this today but I just had to share the bizarre tale I uncovered.