Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages

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Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, civilization was only beginning to form itself and there were many aspects of social life that went through stages of development until it became what it is today. If you compare the middle ages to our time, there are differences is almost every one of these aspects, such as type of government, traditions and lifestyle. As an introduction to better understand the literary works of this time period and to better understand where the authors are coming from and why things are described the way they are, it is suggested that we, as readers, investigate what it was like to live in that period in history to better understand the different aspects that are stated above. There are multiple choices of topics that are of importance with one of them being crime and punishment. We know that the Middle Ages were dark times for those that stood under the command of the laws. This paper describes the situation that people found themselves in and the general environment of the era in regards to crime and punishment, as well as the different types of punishment that served as consequences for one or the other crime. The Middle Ages is the period of history encompassing one of the most exciting and turbulent times in English history. Society was really taking its turn but some things needed to be fixed before law and order could be restored.The Middle Ages was an era when times were particularly hard, especially for lower class citizens. The living conditions in general were very poor, there was little to no systematic organization of how things worked in society and a lot of the times it was hard to control the masses since there were no set rules, no equality and no one to turn to. The nobles however, being the most influential and powerful people of that time, needed to control the people so that things would not completely fall out of order. Therefore, the way to control the people was to gain their respect by scaring them and punishing them for even the slightest misbehavior. The people were either punished for going against the commands of the lords and knights or for thieving, to provide amidst scarcity. Rebellion against the unjust system and subsequently, treachery, was a common crime way back then. When King Henry VIII took over as “head of the church”, hearsay was an offense. It was considered a sin as well to be going against God. The other crimes in the Middle Ages, which were strongly reprimanded, included witchcraft and vagrancy. While the former was largely a part of hearsay, the latter involved wandering aimlessly. Then, there was smuggling of prized goods like silk and tobacco and highway robberies and those by outlaws. There were quite a few instances of people getting hung for counterfeiting coins and rape. These are just some of the few examples of the behavior of the people to demonstrate how desperate they were (McCall, 1979). Law and order was very harsh during the medieval times. It was believed that people would only learn how to behave properly if they feared what would happen to them if they broke the law. Even the “smallest” offences had serious punishment. For this reason all crimes from stealing all the way to murder had harsh punishments. All these areas of medieval punishment had their own means of justice, however the most interesting and most controversial would have to be the use of torture. Although there were gaols, which are a type of prison, they were generally used to hold a prisoner awaiting trial rather than as a means of punishment. Fines, shaming, mutilation or death were the most common forms of punishment depending on the crime with the most interesting part of it being that there was no police in the medieval period so law-enforcement was in the hands of the community (Rousseaux, 2009). The Middle Ages was a time of severe punishment and harsh torture for crimes that today would seem trivial. People were beheaded and limbs...
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