During medieval times, improving your status in the court and even gaining the throne was quite difficult to accomplish. Although disease and poor health often claimed the lives of monarchs, those who were ambitious could not wait for such fortuitous events to occur. They had to move things along and one means of doing so was through assassination thanks to the invention of the poison ring.
What seems to be out of a Hollywood movie is based in real life as a ring with a secret compartment carried enough poison to kill.
What is a Poison Ring?
It is a ring that looks like most other rings, save for one thing. It has a secret compartment which is usually under the jewel or crown. The compartment itself is quite small, but it is large enough to hold enough poison to kill a person when properly applied. The assassin was usually someone known to the court and perhaps even the king or queen. This is because they were often pining for the throne or perhaps power-seekers who wanted to move ahead by eliminating the competition.
Although no one knows the exact date that the poison ring was created, it is known that they came from the region that includes India. Their original use was to carry small amounts of spice that could be used to improve the taste of food. The rings were useful in this regard and someone could carry their favorite spice conveniently even when visiting others.
It was only when they made their way to Europe in the 12th or 13th centuries was another use found for them.
Recently, a poison ring was unearthed in the northeast part of Bulgaria at Cape Kaliakra, the site of a fortress that existed several hundred years ago. Although heavily corroded, the ring has a hollow cartridge and a tiny hole that allowed the contents to be poured discreetly into a cup. Dating back to the 14th century, it is not known how often it was used, but the fact that it was there demonstrates that assassination by poisoning was not all that uncommon.
At that time, Kaliakra was the capitol of the Dobruja region which was ruled by Dobrotitsa along with his son Ivanko Terter. Although it cannot be confirmed, there were a series of murders of many nobles and aristocrats at that time, some of whom died quick, violent deaths that went unexplained. This is because sudden death due to disease was not all that uncommon, so many of the poisonings could’ve been mistaken for other causes.
Eliminating rivals to the throne or even rising in power were commonplace during this relatively brief time in history. To do so through poisoning meant that the job could be done discretely and avert suspicion. The use of a secret compartment with a small hole that could be covered by the finger meant that the poison could be discharged at any time.
The poison ring is a fascinating part of European history during Medieval times. While its use was relatively brief, its impact was considerable on the nobility of Eastern Europe and may provide insight into many unexplained deaths who either sought greater power or were allies to the king.