Though Christian Europeans shunned the cannibalism of the New World, they themselves in fact practised cannibalism more systematically than any tribes in Canada or Brazil. Until around 1750, human fat, flesh, bone and blood (preferably drunk warm) were widely used and esteemed forms of medicine. Advocates and consumers included Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle and Charles II. Meanwhile, from the early sixteenth century, Protestants and Catholics in northern Europe denounced and slaughtered one another with tribal ferocity, even as each side attacked the ‘cannibal barbarity’ or inhumanity of the other. Frank Lestringant (1997) tells how, around 1580, a French Protestant was killed and eviscerated by Catholics. His heart was next ‘chopped in pieces, auctioned off, cooked on a grill and finally eaten with much enjoyment’.
Elsewhere such savagery might be inspired by social antagonisms. Historian Piero Camporesi (1988) tells of violent aristocratic feuds in early-modern Italy. In one case, a victim’s disembowelled heart was bitten. In a second, the narrator tells us, ‘lucky was the man who might grind the entrails between his teeth’. In a third instance, a man was tortured and killed before being disembowelled. After gnawing his intestines, his attackers proceeded to ‘cut him up into small pieces to remove his fat because he was young, being probably twenty-eight years of age, tall and slim in build’. In Camporesi’s view, the emphasis on the victim’s youth and stature betrays an intention to sell this fat to ‘pharmacologist-doctors’ who would find it ‘beneficial to all nervous ailments’. Given the trade in cannibalistic medicine, the inference looks all too plausible.