Medieval Monday: Bizarre Trends

12 Bizarre Medieval Trends

by: Frances White

From pigs on trial to hairless faces, discover what went viral in the Middle Ages.

Every age has a tendency to look back at older generations and judge the customs, beliefs and traditions of the time. However, it is fair to say that there are few periods in history that we regard as strangely as we do the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages have been stamped an unlucky time to be born and popular consensus is that people were poor, food was dull, everything was dirty, and for the vast majority of it the population was dropping like flies. What we don’t hear about is that people created some of the most peculiar, bizarre, hilarious and astounding trends in human history. Let’s take some time to embrace the medieval period and all of its lovable eccentricities.

1. Animal court

Life in medieval times could be tough, and this didn’t just apply to humans. Just like their two-legged owners, all manner of animals from livestock to insects were put on trial if suspected of breaking the law. There are records of at least 85 animal trials that took place during the Middle Ages and the tales vary from the tragic to the absurd, as described in the book “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals,” by E. P. Evans (E. P. Dutton and Company, 1906).

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By far the most serial offenders were pigs, accused and convicted of chewing off body parts and even eating children. Most were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging or being burned at the stake. In 1386, a convicted pig was dressed in a waistcoat, gloves, drawers and a human mask for its execution.

It wasn’t just pigs that felt the sting of the law, though, In 1474 a court found a rooster guilty of the “unnatural crime” of laying an egg; unwanted rats often found themselves on the receiving end of a strongly worded letter, asking them to leave the premises; and curiously enough, there was a trial of dolphins in Marseilles in 1596.

However, not all of the trials ended in brutality. One donkey, which found herself the victim of unwanted sexual advances, was proclaimed innocent after a strong recommendation from a convent’s prior, declaring her to be a virtuous and well-behaved animal.

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Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover other topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

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