Thieves, Kidnapping and Punishments (Oh my!)


During the Middle Ages, crimes were very common. Impunity - how unlikely it was that a criminal would be caught - among other reasons greatly increased the number of burglars and thieves, who exerted more frequently their activities. The class system encouraged criminal activity as well; undereducated civilians, peasants unsatisfied with their birth-born lot and any number of others who wished to live without the benefit of noble birth, rightful position or a trade resorted to theft, particularly robbery, to finance survival. Most criminals who resorted to theft did so within certain boundaries; stealing from a noble woman meant certain death, regardless of how gently said robbery was carried out. Robbing a traveler or a peasant family returning from the market is a wiser prospect; they have wealth on their persons, and they are unlikely to matter to the authorities, if they are given credence at all. Your crime, thus, is left at simple theft, not added to the graver offense of molesting the nobility.

Punishment for thieves, assuming one was caught, widely varied. Torture by authorities was used almost universally, even if the thief had stolen something as necessary as a loaf of bread to feed himself. Death for the crime of theft was rare unless a person of higher standing was injured or killed when the crime was executed; on the contrary, thieves were made an example of through public torture. Killing the thief bred fear, but an ultimately swift end; torturing the thief before the eyes others who may be considering a life of crime served as lesson, as did releasing the broken and maimed body of the criminal back into the population once he had been suitably punished. Nevertheless, different kingdoms had different means of punishment. For example, Vlad the Impaler was famous for impaling (hence the name) even the pettiest of petty criminals alongside his nation's enemies, regardless of the severity of the crime. For most of Western Europe, stealing was punished by torture, as mentioned above. However, there were different punishments for different crimes. Unfaithful wives were considered criminals and were treated accordingly. Witches - a very generic term applying to any number and types of undesirable females - were criminals of the highest order, and heresy was one of the greatest crimes an individual could commit. Imprisonment in dungeons filled with a clutter of supposed offenders - rather than the individual cells of today - was common; inside prisons were torture chambers with a wide array of intriguing tools. Rehabilitation in a medieval prison meant torture - learning that crime was bad not because it was immoral, but because officials would peel the offense from your hide if you offended.

In England of 1216, the setting of The Shadow Crusades, Mithras is a Ventrue King obsessed with his kingdom's honesty. His officials aim to capture every criminal and maintain order regardless of the means. If a crime is committed and there is no discernible culprit, agents may very well be sent to the nearest village to kill people out of spite and warning. The aim of officials in the Dark Medieval is to teach a lesson and leave an air of warning; it isn't necessary to catch the actual culprit, so long as his crime can be made an example of to discourage others from doing as he did.

Kidnapping was very frequent during the Dark Medieval, not only as a viable means of marriage (kidnapping any girl, forcedly marrying and raping her meant the marriage was legally valid; a consummated marriage could not be revoked), but as a means of populating one's land and village with workers. Landlords frequently resorted to kidnapping children to populate their own villages, and foreign invaders made a common practice of snatching children to work in their own lands or - particularly if the color of their skins differed - to sell as slaves in their home nations. Kidnapping was a crime of high magnitude, though like all other crimes in the Medieval age tracing a culprit - let alone the missing child or children - was neigh impossible. Only if the child was noble or royal blooded was any real force applied to recover the missing. If caught, however, the kidnappers would be heavily tortured, then executed in a public plaza.

Most crimes were committed against merchants. Merchants traveled alone, often at night when no inn was available, and were very prone to attacks. Even when they traveled together they were in danger of bands of attackers. What better way to acquire vast quantities of wealth and goods quickly than to take an entire convoy of merchants, after all? Kingdoms, particularly the Kingdom of England, rightly acknowledged the threat to healthy commerce and the flow of wealth posed by these bandits, and imposed heavy penalties for any caught selling stolen goods, let alone in the act of stealing. This led to many a Medieval Folklore story which circulated among the peasantry. Robin Hood is one such example. Anti-heroes who stole from the rich, evaded capture or punishment, and circulated wealth among the poor had an obvious appeal to the disadvantaged, particularly because they were too frightened under threat of torture to help themselves. Crimes were, for the most part, committed by the poor. Nevertheless there are records of nobles and knights hanged for robbery, though it may be noted that there are no records of nobles or knights being tortured for robbery. For kings and high nobles punishment was almost non-existent, and when situations arose where one was made accountable it stemmed more so from political convenience than as valid punishment for a real crime. Punishment for crimes was reserved for the poor.


The Inquisition led the Western World toward new and innovative means of torture for those perceived as offenders, but the old fashioned techniques never lost their flair. Techniques which combined torture with death became prevalent, such as burning a victim at the stake or using the wheel to slowly but surely rip his limbs from his body. The head vice gradually crushed the victim's skull into his brain. Because it was so difficult to capture or identify criminals to begin with, crime would remain rampant unless fear was so deeply embedded into the population that none dared act outside order. The Inquisition with its vast numbers, fervor for punishment and willingness to arrest anyone who even appeared to partake in criminal activity, decreased the number of crimes considerably.

Sex Crimes

As a whole the concept of "rape" was irrelevant to Medieval life save in select circumstances. Women had no rights, and what rights they did have extended solely from their fathers and husbands. Exceptions to these concepts existed only when the woman was of noble blood; in such a circumstance the noble girl was considered expensive property that had been damaged or ruined by the offender, who would (if he was noble) have to pay in wealth the worth of the ruined property to her father or husband. In the event that a common man forced sex onto a noble woman he would be tortured to death, for he had greatly offended a noble man - either the woman's father or husband. In general rape of noble women by noble men were a matter of simple politics; an offense against one house solved easily through money or goods of equal value.

Among the peasantry rape also differed based upon which class the offender belonged to. A noble man could rape any woman he so desired as long as she was not, as mentioned above, also nobility. Peasant women, merchant's daughters or wives, were all the purview of any man of standing - incapable of avoiding sexual activity with her betters if he so determined he meant to have sex with her. It is worth noting that the nobility, just like the royalty, were believed born into their stations because God chose them to be. Peasants were peasants because God wanted them to be peasants, and nobles were nobles for the same reason. God backed the nobility, and God did not back the peasantry. A peasant was intended by the very will of God to be and remain in their lowly state. Combine the fact that God determined the peasantry should be peasantry because they are lower than the blessed nobility and the fact that women had no rights whatsoever, and consider: why would any noble consider the rape of a peasant woman reprehensible? It would not even occur to him.

Kings were appointed by God to be at the height of human existence; a King ruled over man - peasantry and nobility alike - because God wanted it to be that way. A King could get away with raping, abusing, stealing, or anything else he so desired because he was the hand of God Himself. Kings had the right to stay in whichever house they pleased and to sleep with any woman they wanted because they were appointed by God to rule over all. Though it may seem insensitive to say so, consider yourself a peasant woman who has captured the King's eye - you genuinely believe that the King is God's appointed ruler, blessed and exalted through God's plan, and he advances upon you. Would you dare to refuse? Of course not. Not only ought you be honored by the rape, but siring the King's bastard may greatly improve your quality of life.

There is no feminism of any kind in the Dark Medieval, and women who dare to speak on behalf of their own gender find themselves promptly accused, tried and executed for witchcraft.