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Crime and Punishment in Medieval Times

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Sienna Woodward

on 11 September 2013

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Transcript of Crime and Punishment in Medieval Times

Canon Law
Crime Control
- Someone broke law, Lord expected villagers to raise ‘hue and cry’, Chase after wrong doer
- Prisoner escaped, lord would punish villagers
- Some towns imposed a curfew to keep people off streets at night
- People had to be in homes at 8pm or 9pm or risk being arrested
- Another way included organising people into groups called tithings
- Each tithing consisted of 10 males over 12 responsible for making one another keep law
- Any member broke law, others took him to court and paid his fine
Guilty/Not Guilty?
- Until Henry 11 introduced jury trials (12th century), the courts decided the innocence of a person by using trials by compurgation (oath-swearing) , combat or ordeal
- Compurgation - 12 people had to recite a special oath to claim a person’s innocence
- Any mistakes would cause the oath to ‘burst’ and prove that the accused was guilty
- Nobles used trial by combat to attempt to prove their innocence: The defendant and his accuser battled, soon everyone began to use an expert (known as a champion) to fight in their place
- Ordeal by water: thrown into the ‘holy’ waters of a river/lake w. hands and feet tied together. If sank = innocent & if they floated they were guilty.
- Ordeals by fire: hand in boiling water, hold their arm over a fire, pick up a piece of red hot iron. after 3 days, if burns healed = innocent.

Types of Punishments
- Nagging wives ducking stool and ducked them three times into river
- Women who gossiped had to wear scold’s bridle (Primary Source)
- A baker cheated customers dragged through street with sledge loaf bread tied round neck
- Peasant stole firewood from lord’s forest or whose animals had damaged someone else’s crops pay fine perform extra work
- Putting someone in pillory or the stocks where onlookers throw rotten food rubbish at offender
- Stealing result whipping, mutilation cutting off hand, ear, tongue or eyes burnt out
- Punishment witchcraft being burnt alive
- Last minute confession entitled witch strangled before being burnt
- Penalty murder or treason public execution, usually hanging beheading
- Build a brick wall and keep them in until starved to death
Minor crimes included:
- stealing firewood from the lord’s forest
- nagging one’s husband

More Serious crimes included:
- murder
- treason
- witchcraft
- Very serious charge
- some people were labelled as witches for revenge or out of jealousy.
- it was quite simple to find ‘evidence’ strong enough to convict someone.

- they were supposedly the devil’s followers
- they used their special powers to bring suffering to others
- they brought natural disasters ie. famine, plague, drought, bad crops, stillbirth
Crime and Punishment in Medieval Times
- The church had its own law and courts called ‘canon law’
- It was able to fine and whip people if they worked on Sundays and other holy days.
- Heresy was the most serious crime against the church (criticising the church and its teachings)
- They also dealt with fights between husbands and wives
Full transcript