Law in the Middle Ages

Ever wonder how life in the Middle Ages was? Whether its modes of punishment, the court system, Churches, or even medieval justice that played an important role for peasants, nobles, knights, and many more of the important people of the Middle Ages? During the middle ages there were laws people lived by and if broken they would either go to court or battle to survive. There is a variety of courts for different classes and also trials. First of all, there were two types of trials that a person faced for crimes that they committed.

Trial by ordeal was when a person’s innocence was tested by putting them in a dangerous position having them do a difficult test such as swallowing poison, pulling an object from boiling oil, walking over nine red-hot ploughs, carrying red-hot piece of iron over a certain distance. If a burn got infected or blistered the judges would rule that the person is guilty thus leading to the person’s death. 2 The second type of trial that a person had to face was Trial by battle. Trial by battle was when two nobles fought, usually until one of them died. The winner was assumed innocent because God would only protect an innocent person.

Only noblemen had the right to trial by battle everyone else would have just been ignored. Furthermore, noblewomen could choose any champion to fight on her behalf. Trial by ordeal and trial by battle were common ways of deciding if a person was innocent or guilty, but were outlawed later in the Middle Ages. Secondly, there were three types of courts Church, Manor, and Royal courts. Only church courts could judge bishops, deacons, priests, clerks, monks and nuns. The church gave out lighter sentences than royal courts and they also couldn’t sentence death.

All members of the clergy could read and write, therefore a literacy test sometimes were used to prove that a person worked for the church, and should be tried in the more lenient church court. Manor courts dealt with charges of assault, petty theft, public drunkenness and other small crimes. Many of the disputes in the manor courts had to do with farming and property which meant using too much manure or simply ploughing another person’s land. Manor courts were like a village meeting where most villagers would attend and decided who would win the case. 3

Heavy fines were enforced if the person lied in court. Moreover, representatives of the lord, called stewards, acted as judges deciding the sentence of the court. Royal courts took care of serious crimes such as murder, treason, rape, burglary, cutting trees or even taking deadwood for fuel from royal forests. Royal courts used the “common law” which was named because it was the same as the whole kingdom. Royal courts could order the execution of murderers and thieves. After the execution of a criminal the court would take away all of his or her property.

Lastly, the church was very important to life in the middle ages as well as the laws that people lived by. The church determined much of the culture of Europe, but it was a complex blend of Germanian, Christian, and Roman cultures. The church tried to bring help to the common people, making laws fairer and providing help for the poor in monasteries. In a violent society, dominated by men and warriors, the laws were rough with justice favoring the strong. Much of the barbarian law revolved around superstition and fines of either blood or money would be paid by the guilty.

Although the amount would vary depending on the rank of the person killed. In conclusion, life in the Middle Ages was very dramatic. The court systems determined life or death in many ways I felt were unfair. I feel people of all ranks of class went through a lot and faced many hardships that most people go through today. 3 Works cited Cranny, Michael William. Pathways, Civilizations Through Time. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice Hall. 1998 Inge, Jon. Inside the Middle Ages. Melbourne, Australia: Longman Chesire Ply Limited. 1986ю