Humanity has made a lot of progress since the medieval times. We’ve become less barbaric and more civilized, no doubt. It’s interesting, however, to learn about life in the past, especially in medieval Europe. The cultural and social norms back then might seem strange to you now, but if you look at them in proper context, they actually make sense.
That doesn’t mean medieval European laws aren’t amusing, though. They’re certainly worth knowing and sharing. Just take a look at the 10 totally strange illegal things in medieval Europe we’ve listed below:
1. Marrying without the master’s permission
According to medieval European law, peasants could not get married without their masters’ blessings. Worse, a female peasant who lost her husband could be forced by her master to marry another man of the master’s choosing. Harsh punishment awaited those who went against this rule.
2. Not showing up at court after discovering a dead body
A person who discovered a corpse was called the “first finder.” Back then, there were no law enforcement officers or people tasked to gather evidence, so people were expected to show up at court with details about corpses they found. Persons found to have neglected this duty, along with the entire village where the body was found, got into a lot of trouble.
3. Playing soccer
Soccer back in medieval Europe was a whole lot different and dangerous. When it was played in populated areas, soccer caused a lot of chaos, including property damage and even deaths. The game was entirely banned in England in 1314.
4. Stealing a dead whale
Who would steal a dead whale, right? Well, the medieval Europeans didn’t take any chances. Back then, people had a more adventurous palate and ate everything from porpoise to beaver. Whale meat was also on the menu – but only for the king and queen. Whales that washed ashore immediately became property of royalty (the head of the whale belonged to the king and the tail to the queen), and those who tried to steal it were punished.
5. Having mince pies during Christmas
The law was put in place to help abolish so-called “pagan customs” in England. The ancient tradition was reinstated when Charles II became king, and British people were once again able to enjoy their little pies during Christmas Day.
6. Keeping filthy sheep
In The Book Of Strange And Curious Legal Oddities, a case documented in the 1200s tells the story of an entire village that was punished for “failing to clean the lord’s sheep.” More details couldn’t be found, but it was surely frowned upon back then to not clean your sheep.
7. Wearing sables with heads made of jewels
This was one of the sumptuary laws of Italy in the 1500s. It was established to reduce extravagance by limiting who could wear what. The rich were allowed to wear whatever they wanted, but everyone else had to abide by the rules. Those in other classes weren’t allowed to dress in a Zibellino, a dead sable with its head and feet covered in jewels.
8. Being an innocent bystander in a riot
In the event that a murderer disappeared in a rioting crowd, the authorities were allowed to pick seven random men from the surrounding area and put them through several “tests” to determine their guilt. It was up to the men to prove their innocence. The problem was that the “tests” had absolutely nothing to do with matters that could tell the court what the men were doing during the time of the crime.
9. Dying in the Houses of Parliament
This one is still actually a law in the United Kingdom. People who die in the Houses of Parliament are officially entitled to a televised state funeral. The law is, in effect, to prevent people from bringing in their dying relatives so that they might be eligible for a state funeral.
10. The poor playing tennis
It was forbidden for young men who weren’t aristocrats to play tennis back in medieval Europe. The law was enforced year-round, except during Christmas. But ordinary citizens, workers, and apprentices who played tennis during Christmas were only allowed to do so indoors or in their masters’ houses.
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