The popular culture image of the undead is well defined, with shuffling and monstrous zombies featuring in the likes of The Walking Dead and the Resident Evil franchise. At the same time, vampires charm their way through classics such as Dracula. These images mainly derive from the iconic work of film director George R. Romeo and the age of Hammer Horror. In folklore, meanwhile, many would assume that the walking dead are limited to tales from voodoo, Europe having its own undead in the form of vampires that are separate from zombies. However, this is not the case, with stories of animated cadavers plaguing medieval Britain. They are neither zombies nor vampires, they are the revenants.
William of Newburgh, also known as William Parvus, was a church canon and historian in 12th century Yorkshire. William’s Magnum Opus was the Historia de rebus anglicis, the History of English Affairs. The book was a telling of Britain’s history between the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and 1198, the year of Williams death. The book is a primary source of information on the period known as The Anarchy, a time between 1135 and 1153 when civil war led to the widespread breakdown of law, order and society across the country.
The book is also noted for telling detailed accounts of the undead.
These so-called revenants were animated corpses that have been revived from death to haunt the living. The name is derived from the Old French for “returning”. The term is frequently used by many folklorists to refer to all matters of the undead, including vampires and ghosts. Others, meanwhile, make a distinction between the vampire tales of Eastern Europe and the revenants of the West. Frequently, these revenants had been disliked in life and often murdered. Once returned to life, they seek out those who murdered them or generally cause havoc for the living.