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Crime and PunishmentMedieval punishments Return to the main page
Case Study 1 - Were Medieval punishments cruel? Task Glossary

The punishments meted out by the various courts of medieval England were:

  • The death penalty for serious offences, (see Case Study 2).
  • Fines, for most petty offences.
  • Criminals who were felt to have offended the public were put in the stocks (see Source 2). This is called a "shaming punishment" as it humiliated the offender in front of his or her neighbours. But it was all over quickly. Another shaming punishment was the ducking stool, for women the village disapproved of.
  • Prisons (gaols), often in castles like the Tower of London, were used in a few cases, but they were usually used to hold on to a prisoner awaiting trial.

Church Courts and Sanctuary: Throughout the middle ages, the Church had its own courts. These tried crimes of a religious nature: blaspheming, failure to attend church etc. They claimed the right to try anyone who was a member of the church. Further, anyone on the run from the law could claim "sanctuary" by going into a church. The pursuers could not follow and the offender was allowed to leave the country.

Case Study 1 Sources Source 1 Source 2 Source 3