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Top 10 Totally Ridiculous Facts About Medieval England

VO: Richard Bush WRITTEN BY: Kimberley Payne
The Middle Ages were a rough time. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 totally ridiculous facts about Medieval England. For this list we’ve looked for the strangest, weirdest and most downright disturbing trivia tidbits about Medieval England – many of which were missed off of your standard school curriculum. Special thanks to our user RichardFB for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Totally Ridiculous Facts About Medieval England

The Middle Ages were a rough time. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 totally ridiculous facts about Medieval England.

For this list we’ve looked for the strangest, weirdest and most downright disturbing trivia tidbits about Medieval England – many of which were missed off of your standard school curriculum.

#10: The Battle of “Near” Hastings

Hark back to your history lessons in high school, and chances are you’ll at least know something about the famous Battle of Hastings. And if there’s one thing we all know for sure, even if you’ve forgotten all of the rest, it’s that it definitely took place in Hastings. Right? Sadly, that’s where you’d be wrong. There are accounts that the Normans came to the battlefield from Hastings, but the fight itself took place around 7 miles northwest of there – at a spot where you’d now find a town called Battle, which was built in memory of the moment.

#9: Health, Hygiene and X-Rated Hangouts

Despite the era’s reputation for being quite a grimy time, the medieval English really did believe that cleanliness was next to godliness – with the Church actively encouraging people to go to public baths, and building a fair few venues to house them. But the practice didn’t quite achieve the soap-sudded, super-hygienic Utopia that it might’ve done. In fact, far from it. Because the public bathhouses quickly emerged as a great place for prostitution… which turned the idea of bathing into a pretty sordid affair – prompting many to lay down their sponges, and boycott the bathhouses altogether.

#8: The Invention of Surnames

There was a time in history when simply having a Christian name was adequate enough, but those times were over by the end of the Middle Ages. By then, not only did your contemporary peers know Bob's your uncle, but they could now surmise that Bob's your father's brother, too – because family names were finally a thing. However, up until that time surnames didn’t exist to officially differentiate one Bob from another. They first crept in as a symbol of marriage between the richer folk, until eventually your average Joe became your average Joe someone – to quell the confusion.

#7: The St Scholastica Day Riot

Students love themselves a drink, even back in the 1300s – but the boozing got way out of hand here! This infamous 1355 riot, dusted up because two students from Oxford University didn’t like the drinks they’d been served. But, when they issued their complaint with the barman, it did not go down well. Ale was thrown, fists were flung, and a fully-fledged, two-day riot broke out between the locals and the Oxford uni attendees. It may sound like something of nothing, but almost 100 people were actually killed in the incident – and it’s still spoken about today!

#6: Criminal Animals

Believe it or not, there was a point in time where animals could be put on actual trial for crimes that they’d supposedly committed, and no one would bat an eyelid. Whether it be for criminal damage or even murder, these cases would have witnesses (human witnesses, that is) and sometimes even trained lawyers, all determining if Daisy the cow was guilty. And if the animal accused was deemed at fault, they could even find themselves executed as punishment. So, remember that next time you’ve done something wrong, and you try to blame the dog.

#5: Trippy Bread

Want to suddenly feel thankful for modern day food hygiene standards? Because even the bread could kill you back in Middle Ages England. The problem was, when rye crops ran out – which they often did – people turned to old and mouldy rations of the stuff… Which was a big mistake, as it was often contaminated with fungus which caused the potentially deadly disease, Ergotism. While the Black Death takes the headlines as the deadliest of Medieval plagues, the bloody, blistery effects of Ergotism were not for the faint of heart either. From hellish hallucinations to painful and drawn-out sickness, if your bread was bad then your life was in danger.

#4: Just a Trim

In Medieval times, your barber wasn’t always just your barber. Because he could also be your surgeon. Yes, those are two things that require vastly different skill sets, and probably shouldn't be conducted under the same roof, but that’s what makes it all the more disturbing. Barbers were often asked to amputate the limbs of anyone who found themselves injured – especially soldiers – simply because they had easy access to razors. Apparently, if you could style a beard you could cut off an arm, too. The whole process was as you’d probably expect; unsanitary, unpredictable and unbearably painful.

#3: Mini Cows and Micro Pigs

Medieval farming was drastically different to what we now know, in terms of the crops harvested, techniques used and even the animals kept. Since scientific, specified breeding hadn’t started yet, the livestock tended to be quite undernourished, resulting in farm animals far smaller than what we’d expect today. For example, an adult bull would often only grow to be slightly larger than a modern-world calf. But, while the thought of a farm full of miniature animals may sound adorable, the fact that none of them were especially healthy kind of undercuts the cuteness.

#2: Roger Bacon

Plenty of people have tried to predict the future, usually unsuccessfully. So, when someone manages to correctly guess it several times over, it gets pretty unsettling. According to some reports, the philosopher and friar, Roger Bacon, was especially gifted when it came to ‘getting the future right’. A leading figure in science and linguistics during his lifetime, he has since become shrouded in myth and mystery – mostly because his work seems to pre-empt the existence of cars, planes, submarines and telescopes, long before they were invented. Various modern scholars have cast some doubt over Bacon’s significance, but his apparently futuristic foresight feels fairly freaky all the same!

#1: Law and Disorder

Upholding the law in Medieval England was a pretty brutal business. Under the understanding that God would intervene if the accused were innocent, offenders were subjected to a ‘trial by ordeal’ – which was essentially the complete opposite of today’s ‘fair trial’ approach. The process boiled down to a basic life or death situation… if you survived, you were innocent; if you died you were guilty. But, these scenarios weren’t the easiest things to get out of alive. The trials were typically by combat, fire, water, or poison. So, you either fought to the death, were burnt to death, drowned, or forced to consume something that would almost certainly kill you. Ultimately, you were guilty until proven immortal – which rarely ever happened.

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