Most Unusual Traditions of Medieval Britain

#1 Mob Football

Not quite the sport that stands today as a cornerstone of British culture, but rather a contact-heavy, particularly violent version of it. Mob Football - as the name quite literally implies - was a form of football in which crowds formed the two teams of players. No positioning or tactics were involved: it was simply a contest of strength to control the ball. 

The goals were often on a stretch of land reaching for up to a few miles, and serious injuries - on occasion even death - were all commonplace and accepted as part and parcel of the game. Participants would beat each other for the ball, kicking, shoving, tripping and punching. Unsurprisingly, the high court and Kings of England made to ban the “sport” on several occasions - however, due to the fact that it was often played in rural areas by the peasant population, it was a hard regulation to enforce. Furthermore, the sport was not just played in England - it became popular throughout Europe, and is widely considered to be the origin of modern western football.

#2 Animal Court

Perhaps the most hilarious addition to the list as the name denotes exactly what it entails. Like humans, animals in medieval times could be accused and sentenced for criminal offences enshrined in civil law. Animals eligible for trials included dogs, cockroaches, mice, snails and most importantly cats, who were associated with bad luck and the Devil. Punishments ranged from imprisonment, to execution and even to excommunication: that’s right, you heard it here, cockroaches and other such insects were eligible for excommunication from the Catholic Church. Why these trials occurred and for what purpose is up to debate, as it is a question most historians believe will never truly be answered.

#3 Cat Burning

This was by far the most morbid and sadistic tradition that could be considered as a form of “entertainment” for Medieval brits. You might already be familiar with the association of cats with witches, but are you aware of how far back this association actually goes? Naturally, the concept of witches in ye olde times was no trifling matter: to be accused of witchcraft was a potentially and most often life-ruining occurrence that would often result in imprisonment or execution. Unfortunately, cats were often associated with witches and the devil. As such, felines were often the subject of poor treatment from humans, which gave birth to the tradition of ‘Cat Burning’. The custom typically involved placing cats into a barrel, which would then be strung up from a tree and set alight as a crowd of peasants gathered around and cheered.

#4 Courtship

A popular tradition throughout the Medieval world and beyond, courtship was the process of instigating a romance between two people of upper class status, who may or may not already be betrothed in which the man would attempt to win over the woman through deeds of chivalry. Often, however, this could involve bizarre rituals. Men would often sneak into their lady’s bedchambers to leave letters of poetry, and would embark on dangerous journeys in order to prove themselves a worthy groom.

#5 Jesters

One of the more well known trends of the era, jesters were commonplace in every court across Medieval Britain. Often seen adorning hats modelled after the ears of an ass, being a jester was not the most flattering position nor a particularly noble career that one might aspire to. After all, they were constantly required to degrade and debase themselves with bizarre, disgusting and potentially dangerous acts. If a court was not pleased by a jester, then it was common that they might be punished too - with the worst cases resulting in the removal of the jester’s tongue! While it may seem like a humiliating and dark fate, the reality of the matter is that jesters were afforded quite a few privileges that many ordinary workers and attendants were not. For example, as by royal decree, everything they said was to be taken as a joke, jesters often made away with making light of, or indeed insulting royals and nobles to their own faces - which would be completely illegal for anyone else in any other position. They would often reside in the castle quarters, too, and have food and drink provided for them.

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