Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages

The Middle ages was a time of severe punishment and harsh torture for crimes that today would seem trivial.  People were beheaded and limbs cut off, vagabonds were often whipped and chained in stocks.

People lived in a state of fear thinking they would be the next victim.

Even the Catholic Church used torture and imprisonment to obtain confessions from people regardless of whether they were guilty.

Torture and punishment has existed for thousands of years. Roman and Greek law stated that only slaves were allowed to be tortured, eventually the laws changed and free men were tortured and imprisoned for committing crimes.

People often had their right hand cut of for stealing, people were beaten, burned alive, stretched on a rack and women committing adultery were drowned.

Suffocating people in water was a common practice. People were boiled in oil, eyes were burned out with pinchers and fingers torn off. Mutilation and branding’s were commonplace.

During Tudor times English laws was practically geared toward torture. Vagrancy was considered a crime and people were put in stocks so towns people could beat them.

It was the poorer classes that were discriminated against. Lords and high officials were exempt. Courts and judges did exist, but were bias and often judgements were known before the case was even heard, if a person did not turn up to court they were considered an outlaw and their property was seized and became the kings.

Outlaws banded together roaming the countryside and committing crime the most famous of these is of cause Robin Hood.

The harsher the crime the more horrendous the punishment, If a man committed Rape, Manslaughter or Robbery they would be hung up in a cage so people could see their slow death.

On some occasions they were taken down just before their death and quartered (cut into four pieces) so that the pain would kill them, a most cruel way to die. Public displays of torture were common.

Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages - Quartering

Hangings and Public torture would be announced by the kings men, people would come from far and wide often bring children with them, this was encouraged by rulers thinking it was a deterrent from committing crime, bringing fear to the townspeople.

Medieval townspeople had a very close understanding of how punishment happened, as they were often present during punishment.

Although murderers were often executed, the majority of lesser medieval offences were punished by shaming the criminal publicly.

By today’s standards people may think this was harsh however crime was not as widespread as in today’s society.

People also took pity on those in jail and prisoners were often let out to beg for food. Medieval officials lacked the resources or money to build suitable jails and people often died from illness before there trial.

In today’s society we do not use torture as a means of punishment, as history progressed torture became less prolific, it was only 100 years or so ago that this was considered a barbaric practice.

In many modern countries the killing of murders and rapists is not permitted.

In some cultures the practice of cutting off limbs for stealing is still condoned although not widely practised, people are still executed in some societies.

Take me back to the Middle Ages home page

79 thoughts on “Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages”

  1. They don’t really know when it started but the middle ages is considered to have started around the 5th Century, so you could assume this is when torture started in the middle ages as such.

  2. Wow, This is some really truly ad seriously sick wording mates! Helped me out so much, I just want a chance to thankyou so much for going to the time of putting this together. Its really appreciated and is helping so many our educations. You’re so sweet, 🙂 xx

  3. looks good, this really helped me with my sose assingment:) its kinda disturbing but yeah:) gald i wasnt born back then! thanks heaps!:)

  4. I really liked the article and the Youtube video which had a criminal being executed in multiple ways! However, you should have written more information about beheading individuals in the medieval period. I would really like it if you wrote an article on this website that is all about decapitating individuals during the Middle Ages, Tim Nash.

  5. Cutting off limbs for stealings a bit harsh but i wish they still hung rapists and murderers in cages til death today. The world would be a much nicer place.

  6. y did tey trture peeeps like that its horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!1 they should atleast give em one more chance nd wat if it was u!!!!!!1 people these dayz

  7. Heyy,
    I have a sose Assignment could someone please tell me When Torture in medieval Europe started and finished. I have been looking at like a million websites but i have never seen a rough time period of when it started to when it finished!!!! Please help 😥 it’s driving me NUTS 😮

  8. Could someone tell meh when medieval Europe Torture started and finished rough dates are fine please let me know by Monday 14/5/12 Please!!!


  10. [quote name=”gellybabe”]what’s SOSE??? I have to complete a history essay but not called an SOSE… plz what is it?[/quote]
    It is a subject known as society and environment.

  11. [quote name=”Angus”][quote name=”gellybabe”]what’s SOSE??? I have to complete a history essay but not called an SOSE… plz what is it?[/quote]
    It is a subject known as society and environment.[/quote]
    Studies of Societies and environment

    just a minor correction 🙄

  12. The power of the church and those who favoured/criticised the levels of punishment?? where is it i looked this up and i go this thnxx for the help! 😐

  13. The info was great 😀 But….. The video was gross but this has helped me finish my crime and punishment assignment

  14. [quote name=”da_cookiemonsta14″]The power of the church and those who favoured/criticised the levels of punishment?? where is it i looked this up and i go this thnxx for the help! :-|[/quote]

  15. it is really great info but it just needs what crimes got which punishment (I know you have a few but a few more would be greatly appreciated) but ageing thanks for the load of info! 😆 🙂 🙂


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