Mediaeval England Facts
"In the olden days in England, you could be hung for stealing a sheep or a
loaf of bread. However, if a sheep stole a loaf of bread and gave it to
you, you would only be tried for receiving, a crime punishable by forty
lashes with the cat or the dog, whichever was handy. If you stole a dog
and were caught, you were punished with twelve rabbit punches, although it
was hard to find rabbits big enough or strong enough to punch you."
—Mike Harding, The Armchair Anarchist's Almanac
Before the invention of the mechanical clock in the 14th century, the most complex machine in existence was a pipe organ in the cathedral in Winchester, England. It was installed by Bishop Aelfeg around 950 A.D. It had 400 pipes, and 70 men were needed to operate the 26 bellows. (source)
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In a single raid on Britain around the year 1000, the Vikings used a fleet of eighty "dragon ships", each carrying 100 soldiers. (source)
The original London Bridge, which was a wooden structure, "fell" in 1014, when the Danes controlled most of England. The enemy Saxons rowed their warships up the Thames to the bridge, hitched cables around its pilings, and then rowed away, pulling the bridge down. (source)
William the Conqueror always insisted that he had not come to England as a foreign invader. He argued that, as a close relative of the English royal family, cousin to Edward the Confessor (King of England 1042-1066), he had been promised the crown. The Norman Conquest thus became, in his eyes, simply a case of the rightful King of England making good his claim to the throne. (source)
Canute (also spelled Knut), King of England (1016–1035) and of Denmark and Norway for most of that time, is well-known for having ordered the tide to retreat. However, he did not do so because he believed that he could actually stop it. He did it to demonstrate to sycophants that he was not omnipotent.
It was said that William the Conqueror was able to vault onto the saddle of a horse in full armour.
The Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066), did not take place at Hastings but rather at Senlac Hill, about six miles away.
On Christmas Day, 1066, William the Conquerer was crowned at Westminster Abbey. After the Archbishop of York placed the crown on William's head, he asked the assembled Saxon nobles if they would recognize the King as their true liege lord. The shout of acclamation that went up so alarmed the Norman soldiers on guard outside, and they took it as a cry of rejection and dashed into the congregation with drawn swords and attacked them. Soon the fighting spread to the crowd outside and by the end of the day the streets of London were strewn with the bodies of the dead and dying, illuminated by the glare of burning buildings.
William the Conqueror died in 1087 after sustaining an abdominal injury from his saddle pommel after falling off his horse at the siege of Mantes. Following his death, the king's noblemen went back to their own estates, and their retainers looted the house where William was lying. Eventually, his body was brought to St. Stephen's church in Caen. During the funeral procession, a fire broke out in the town, and most of the mourners left to try to put it out. When the service began, it was interrupted by a man called Ascelin who announced that he owned the land that was to be William's burial ground but had not been paid. After he was paid, the monks attempted to squeeze William's putrefying body into a stone sarcophagus, but as they were doing that, William's abdomen burst, and an intolerable stench filled the church. (source)
The Plantagenet dynasty of English kings got its name from a sprig of broom—planta genista—that Geoffery the Handsome of Anjou is said to have worn on his helmet. (source)
Queen Berengaria of England, the wife of Richard the Lion-Hearted, was the only English queen never to set foot on English soil. Berengaria, who was the daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre, married Richard in Cyprus in 1191 while Richard was on a Crusade. She spent most of her eight-year reign in Italy and France. (source)
King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England spent only six months of his ten-year reign in England, being there only briefly in 1189 and 1194. Much of his reign was spent either on the Third Crusade or in France. (source)
In the winter of 1063, the Thames river froze for a record 14 weeks.
King Richard I the Lion-Hearted passed the first law requiring standards for length and volume. These standards were made from iron and were kept by sheriffs and magistrates.
In the year 1086, around 10% of the population of England listed in the Domesday Book were slaves; the percentage was as high as 20% in some areas. (source)
Brown bears used to be native to England, but became extinct there in the 11th century. Later on in the Middle Ages, bears had to be imported into England for the mediaeval sport of bear-baiting. (source)
Until the twelfth century, when returning Crusaders brought knowledge of them, windmills were likely unknown in Europe. They thereafter became familiar landmarks in Holland, England, France, and Germany. The first windmill in England was built in 1191, when Dean Herbert decided to apply wind power to his landlocked farm. He used it successfully to grind corn until the local abbot had it destroyed.
When King John ascended the English throne in 1199, he gave one of the most fantastic Christmas parties recorded. 200 gallons of various wines, 400 oxen, 1,000 capons, 1,000 eels and 200 lampreys were devoured by his hungry guests.
The Magna Carta was not signed by King John in 1215. The monarch could not write his name and granted the Magna Carta by placing his seal on it. (source)
King John of England died in 1216 of over-eating. (source)
A law was passed in England during the reign of Edward I that made burning coal an offence punishable by death.
About 1250, the English scholar Roger Bacon (circa 1214–1292) noted that the year in the Julian calendar, then in use, was somewhat too long, as the vernal equinox came increasingly earlier each year. However, it took over 300 years, until 1582, until the corrective Gregorian calendar, the calendar now in use, was introduced. (source)
Oxford University once had rules forbidding students from bringing bows and arrows to class.
Edward III of England, angry at the eleven months of resistance by inhabitants of the French town of Calais, had undiscriminating slaughter in mind when the town surrendered in August 1347. He promised to spare the town if six prominent citizens offered their lives. When his queen, Philippa, interceded, Edward III spared both the six men and the town. Calais remained in English hands until 1558.
In mediaeval England (and other areas of Europe), beer was commonly served for breakfast.
It was common in Europe and the British Isles during the Middle Ages and later in the New World to try and condemn animals for injuring or killing a human. For example, the French parliament, the highest court in the land, once ordered the execution of a cow. It was hanged, then burned at the stake.
During the high Middle Ages, there was, on the average, a church for every 200 people. The areas covered by religious buildings took up a large part of every city. In the English cities of Norwich, Lincoln, and York, which had populations of between 5,000 and 10,000, there were fifty, forty-nine, and forty-one churches, respectively. (source)
In mediaeval England, pots and dishes were made from a clay called "pygg", and spare change was often saved in such a pot. Around 1600, an English potter unfamiliar with this custom was asked to make a "pygg bank". Misunderstanding the instructions, he created a clay vessel in the shape of a pig. This is how the piggy bank came to be. (source)
In June, 1776, some workmen who were repairing Winchester Cathedral discovered a monument which contained the body of King Canute (also spelled Knut). It was remarkably fresh, had a wreath round the head and several ornaments of gold and silver bands. On his finger was a ring, in which was set a large and remarkably fine stone, and in one of his hands a silver coin. The coin found in the hand is a singular instance of a continuance of the pagan custom of always providing the dead with money to pay Charon. (source)
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Leland mentions a feast given by the Archbishop of York, at his installation, in the reign of Edward IV. There were disposed of—300 quarters of wheat, 300 tuns of ale, 100 tuns of wine, 1000 sheep, 104 oxen, 304 calves, 304 swine, 2000 geese, 1000 capons, 400 swans, 104 peacocks, 1500 hot venison pasties, 4000 cold ones, 5000 custards, hot and cold. (source)