10 Facts About Life in Medieval Times

Though mostly dominated by the feudal system, religion and a poor understanding of science, life in the Middle Ages had its excitement, hardships and quirks, just like any other era.

What follows are 10 interesting and sometimes curious facts about medieval life.

1. Shoes were ridiculous

Long toed shoes were a sign of high fashion.

Long toed shoes were a sign of high fashion.

From about the 1330s onwards people began wearing shoes with ridiculously long toes. The longer they could be, the better.

2. Eyebrow shaving was cool

In Florence fashionable women went through a phase of shaving off their eyebrows. This is why the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows.

3. Animals could be tried for crimes

Kittens were potential criminals.

Kittens were potential criminals.

Here’s one of the RSPCA. Animals could be tried and convicted for crimes, and if found guilty sentenced to death.

4. Archery practice was compulsory

Modern Day archers keep the art of the long bow alive.

Modern Day archers keep the art of the long bow alive.

England became a breeding ground for the best archers in the world. Edward III introduced a law which required all men to practice archery on a Sunday. It paid off as English archers gave the French a real bashing whenever they met.

5. Football was so violent it was illegal

Early football was so violent it was outlawed.

Early football was so violent it was outlawed.

We’ve been obsessed with football for centuries, but back then it was a very different beast. Games involved unlimited numbers of players fighting over a pigs bladder. Things could get violent pretty quickly and people were often killed. Edward II outlawed the game.

6. There was plenty of space

There are over 50 million people in Britain today with most of them spending their time queueing on the M25. However, the Doomsday Book records only 1 million people living in England. A few hundred years later that had climbed to 4 million, but 1.5 million were wiped out by the Black Death, meaning much of England resembled a scene from 28 Days Later.

7. Becoming a town was quite an achievement

The big deal for a medieval town was to get hold of a charter. This would allow it to become a borough and hold a market, which would in turn help it become a major local economic centre.

8. We loved foreign foods

Crusaders and pilgrims brought back spices from their travels.

Crusaders and pilgrims brought back spices from their travels.

English food was surprisingly sophisticated. Traders and crusaders brought back spices found on their travels and tried to replicate the dishes they’d seen out there.

9. Hospital operations were painful

Anaesthetics were only available to those who could pay. Everyone else had to grin and bear it.

10. Animals were tiny

Animals were kept on small holdings. Food was sparse which meant they tended to be much smaller than they are today.

Tom is a freelance journalist who studied history at Essex University. His work can be found in many different publications focusing on business and politics.