Sunderland’s history of cannibalism and murder

Author Dr Richard Sugg, a lecturer in the English Department at Durham University
Author Dr Richard Sugg, a lecturer in the English Department at Durham University
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CANNIBALISM and murder may have been carried out in Sunderland, the Echo has learned.

But before you become too concerned, the crimes took place almost 450 years ago, according to a Durham University lecturer.

In 1562, a physician, William Bullein was one of the first Englishmen to recommend both Egyptian mummy and human blood as medicines.

Bullein wrote his recommendations at Hylton Castle in Sunderland, where he was doctor to Sir Thomas Hylton.

When Hylton died in 1559, Bullein married his widow, Agnes. Sir Thomas’s brother, William Hylton then accused Bullein of murdering the nobleman.

Bullein was acquitted, but William managed to have Bullein and Agnes jailed for debt.

The news, not perhaps one of our quickest scoops, comes from Dr Richard Sugg, a lecturer in the English department at Durham University. He is the author of a new book which claims that Europeans were the first cannibals.

The book, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires, says that for more than 200 years, posh Europeans applied, drank, or wore, human fat, flesh, bone, blood, brains, skin and powdered Egyptian mummy.

Dr Sugg’s research will be featured in a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary with Tony Robinson, in which old cannibalistic medicines are reconstructed using dead pigs.

Dr Sugg, said: “One thing we are rarely taught at school is this. Yet it is evidenced in literary and historic texts of the time.

“James I refused corpse medicine, Charles II made his own corpse medicine and Charles I was made into corpse medicine.

“Along with Charles II, eminent users or prescribers included Francis I, Elizabeth I’s surgeon John Banister, Elizabeth Grey, countess of Kent, Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, William III, and Queen Mary.

“The human body has been widely used as a therapeutic agent with the most popular treatments involving flesh, bone or blood.

“Cannibalism was found not only in the New World, as often believed, but also in Europe.

“Medicinal cannibalism used the formidable weight of European science, publishing, trade networks and educated theory.

“Whilst corpse medicine has sometimes been presented as a medieval therapy, it was at its height during the social and scientific revolutions of early-modern Britain.”