Law & Disorder


Iron spikes scattered on the ground to lame horses and people. There were many different designs, but the basic model consisted of four spikes which, however they landed, meant that three spikes would sit firmly on the ground while the fourth pointed directly upwards and would sink deep into a foot or hoof if trodden on. If the spikes were poisoned the injury could be fatal. But even if they were not, a caltrop that had been lying around on a dirty track or in a forest would cause a deep puncture wound that would readily become infected. Caltrops were used before the time of the Ancient Greeks and they are still recommended today on the CIA website as a cheap and effective weapon in warfare, as they can penetrate boots and will also burst tires and slow the advance of a line of vehicles.


From deo dandum ‘given to God’. Any object or animal which caused the death of a person was declared deodand and it or its value was forfeit to the Crown. This might include a horse that trampled someone, a tree that the deceased had fallen from, a wall that had collapsed on them, or hoe that had accidently hit them.

Hue and Cry

The first person to discover a robbery or a body was legally obliged to raise the hue and cry, in other words sound the alarm and rouse his neighbours. On hearing this, all able-bodied men had to start hunting down the perpetrator. Failure to comply with this law meant heavy fines for the individual and often the whole community.

Ordeal by Water

Under King Athelstan (925-939) and later, Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), trial by water (iudicium aqua) was enshrined in law as one of the tests of guilt or innocence for all crimes.

The suspect was bound hand and foot, then thrown into water. If they sank, they were innocent. If they floated, they were guilty. This was based on the belief that water was used for baptism, therefore water would not receive anyone who was guilty and refused to confess it? Ordeal by water was officially abolished in 1219, under Henry III, but its use continued unofficially for many centuries, increasing being reserved for those suspected of witchcraft.

Sumptuary Law

If the present Government are worried about levels of obesity in Britain, they might want to re-enact a Sumptuary Law passed by Edward III in 1336.  This made it illegal for anyone to eat more than two courses at any meal, except on feast days when they could have three. This led, of course, to many arguments about what constituted one course. Some people tried to claim that soup was in fact a sauce so didn’t count as separate course.


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