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Crime And Punishment: The Middle Ages

Crime and punishment, and how they have changed over the centuries, is one subject covered in GCSE History. One of the eras looked at is the Middle Ages.

In 1066 Anglo-Saxon England became Norman England and the High Middle Ages began. Forms of punishment used by the English for perpetrators of crime gradually faded. Trial by ordeal persisted until 1215, but features of the modern legal system, like juries and magistrates, began to appear. Yet still there was no police force.

See how much you know about crime and punishment in the Middle Ages by playing this quiz.

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  1. An early principle of Anglo-Saxon justice was that justice in the face of crime was the responsibility of the local community, and of which other group?
    The sense of responsibility was very strong: these were local matters, to be resolved locally
  2. The mythology of Robin Hood centres on his role as a man of the people securing justice for the poor. Which of the following was not a member of his circle in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire?
    Similar myths gathered around his followers
  3. Between 1195 and 1361 the magistrate system developed. By what name were they usually known?
    The 1327 statute, for example, was looking for "good and lawful men" in every county to fulfil this task
  4. Which one of the following was not a form of trial by ordeal up to 1215?
    With its origins in Anglo-Saxon times, trial by ordeal persisted well into the Middle Ages
  5. Under what form of law could ordinary citizens be dealt with for marriage, tithe, wills and magic offences?
    These matters would often today be regarded as private. But in the Middle Ages religious and family affairs could be issues for the law
  6. What was the most drastic medieval penalty for female adulterers?
    Women who had committed a moral offence were almost always treated more harshly than equivalent men
  7. Which were the lowest in the pecking order of medieval courts?
    These courts dealt with matters such as local contracts and land tenure
  8. In 855 Ethelwulf permitted English churches to levy the tithe (set at 10% of income or profit). The legal validity of tithes was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster in 1285. Which one of the following groups was obliged to pay the tithe?
    Tithe barns were erected to hold the produce collected
  9. Islamic (Sharia) Law generally considered apostasy to be deserving of the death penalty. What was apostasy?
    Some Islamic scholars disagreed with this interpretation of the Prophet's words - either in the Koran itself or the Hadith
  10. Medieval laws compelled all able-bodied men witnessing a crime to chase the offender until he was caught - even if the chase was long and ended up in a different town or county. What was this process called?
    As there was no police force, the job of catching criminals on the run fell to local able-bodied men

Author: Edward Towne

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