10 Curious Facts About Life in Medieval Times

Tristan Hughes

3 mins

31 Jul 2018

Life in the Middle Ages had its excitement, hardships and quirks, just like any other era. Here are 10 interesting and sometimes curious facts about medieval life.

1. Eels were sometimes used as currency

A record survives showing someone once rented land in the fenlands for 26,275 eels.

2. Shoes were ridiculous

Long-toed shoes were a sign of high fashion. Credit: Ziko / Commons.

From about the 1330s onwards people began wearing shoes with ridiculously long toes. The longer they could be, the better. They were called Cracow shoes, named after where they originated from: Krakow in Poland.

3. Animals could be tried and convicted for crimes, and if found guilty sentenced to death

In Savigny, France, 1457, a sow was charged with murder, found guilty and hanged.

4. Archery practise was for a time compulsory for every able Englishman

A 15th-century miniature of the Battle of Agincourt. Credit: Antoine Leduc, Sylvie Leluc and Olivier Renaudeau / Commons.

England became a breeding ground for the best archers in the world. Edward III introduced a law which made archery practice compulsory every Sunday to ensure the king always had a steady supply of archers available. The subsequent English victories at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt proved the law provided dividends.

5. Football was banned in England on multiple occasions

Edward II. Credit: British Library.

On 13 April 1314 for instance, King Edward II issued a proclamation that banned football in London. The reason?

“…there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls from which many evils may arise which God forbid; we command and forbid, on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future.”

6. The population of London went up 500% between the 12th and 14th centuries

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By the start of the 14th century, London had grown from 17,000 people to a bustling city of c.100,000. This caused great squalor for the inhabitants, hemmed in between the Roman walls and the River Thames.

7. Trades were usually passed on from generation to generation

Peasants in the Middle Age worked where they lived. Their trade was passed down from father to son and thus it remained in the family business. If your dad was a cobbler, you would most likely be a cobbler.

8. Outside of London, the largest towns in England were cathedral cities

Chichester Cathedral. Credit: Evgeniy Podkopaev / Commons.

These included Lincoln, Canterbury, York and Chichester.

9. Merchants were a class of their own

One of the Medieval Era’s most famous merchants was Marco Polo.

Not only did many travel far and wide to obtain exotic goods, but merchants also had the opportunity to get very rich from imports and exports.

10. If you were Cornish, you weren’t regarded as English

A panorama image from Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. Michal Stehlík / Commons.

When Truro received its crown charter in 1173,  it was addressed ‘to the barons of Cornwall, and all men both Cornish and English’.