The Church had their own set of laws and subsequent punishments. Absolution granted by the church does not mean that the penitent will not have to serve some further punishment in purgatory for his sins, but he can accept the purgatorial pains since he knows that salvation awaits him finally. Far different is the lot of the unrepentant sinner who must suffer for eternity the agonies of hell without any hope of the relief of salvation; part of the horror of hell is the utter frustration involved. (Lamonte, 1949, p. 397) For general society however, it was the Feudal system that took precedence.
The feudal system was largely monarch-centered. Everyone from the highest dignitary, to the lowest of peasants owed allegiance to the King. Punishment was meted out to anyone who displeased or "disturbed" the King's peace. Minor crimes were punished by the lords, while trials for major crimes were presided over by special justices and sheriffs appointed by the King. (Diaz, 2000, p. 33) There was generally a preference for just penance and fines as punishments (Rusche, 1939,p. 9) The reason for this leniency was that landlords needed laborers to work on their fields.
However, under the feudal system, the Lords were also tasked to discipline and if necessary punish the peasants under their care. Lords who have slaves that die while being punished are not held responsible. For any wrongdoing done by lords, there usually are just fines imposed. For the poor and the slaves however, things were very different. Prisoners from the lower classes were often subjected to "vertical" punishment. 'Vertical' violence was considered a legitimate means of disciplining the unfree, but the letters suggest that there were social norms limiting its use.
150 In a series of enactments from Worms and Lorsch at the beginning of the eleventh century, lordly rights of vengeance were expressed as legal norms, to be exercised according to certain rules in specific circumstances – above all as a means of disciplining and controlling his following (Innes, 2000, p. 132) They were also taken to the gaol or prisons at that time where more often that not, they perished due starvation or disease that run rampant in the gaol's usually unsanitary conditions. Other punishments done in the early Middle Ages include detention at stocks and
pillories, vertical flogging, and in some cases, blinding. The Middle Ages Things changed however in the Middle Ages. England had just recovered from the Black plague and the resulting surplus in the number of laborers as well a the growing numbers of unemployed vagrants made it easy for landlords to tighten the rein and impose heavy punishment including death (Rusche & Kirchheimer, 1939). Punishment in the Middle Ages were the harshest and most brutal. Punishment then included a wide variety of methods ranging from banishment to beheading.
Errant nobles were usually punished by banishment and exile. These usually meant that they were expected to leave the kingdom and never come back. Some who have been judged to undergo other types of punishment may easily pay a fine or hire a "champion" to endure their punishment for them. Others opt to apply to the clergy for absolution and penance in addition to paying a hefty fine. (Lamonte, 1949, p. 659) Peasants on the other hand, were not so lucky. While the option of paying fines was also open to them, peasants are just to poor to do so and thus have to endure the punishment in its entirety.
Floggings were not necessarily punishment by themselves but more of an "inducement" to confessions. Those who have been sentenced for public humiliation at the stocks and pillories can count themselves lucky. Mutilation in lieu of death was also common (Lamonte, 1949, p. 123). Peeping toms can have their eyes gouged, thieves' hands or fingers are chopped off and whatever limbs the judge so decides were pertinent to the crime committed would be hacked off. In some cases, offenders are also boiled in a cauldron of water or burnt alive at the stake.
Punishment also became more sophisticated in the sense that mechanical methods of torture such as the rack and iron maiden were used in some parts of Europe. Executions were usually a public spectacle. One form of execution reserved for treason and major crimes like heresy and murder was "hanging, drawing and quartering. " This meant that the prisoner was hanged until nearly dead before being cut down for dismemberment. After this is done, the body is cut up into four pieces and then buried in different parts of the kingdom. (Morgan & Rushton, 1998, p. 148)
After death, the lesson could continue with the display of the body, either in chains or dissected on the surgeon's table. This was to increase the ghastliness of the death at the expense of the reintegration of the condemned: with gibbeting or dissection, the body was destroyed as well as banished from ordinary society (Morgan & Rushton, 1998, p. 148) At times, hanged criminals are left on display on the gibbet (Morgan & Rushton, 1998, p. 149) to serve as a warning and deterrence to crime. This was usually done in the case of footpads (on-foot thieves) and highwaymen.