Medieval Monday—Sanctuary

Let’s say you did something bad—very bad. You’re going to be arrested, no doubt about it, and you’re facing a hefty punishment—a fine you can’t afford, a jail stay (which is terrible), or maybe you did something truly unforgivable, such as hunting in the King’s forest, God forbid, and you’re facing execution. What do you do?

Well, you have a few options. You could stay and face what’s coming to you. Um, no. Next? You could become an outlaw. Not the greatest option because your community will turn its back on you and you essentially can be killed on the spot by anyone of your old neighbors (who would be in serious trouble if they were caught helping you). So let’s move on to option 3: you hightail it to the nearest church.
Yep, that’s right. If you can make it to a church without being caught, you’re scot-free and granted what’s called sanctuary. Well, in theory. If you committed a truly heinous crime, the church could stick its fingers in its ears, shut its eyes and pretend it doesn’t hear you knocking on the front door and begging for sanctuary. And even if the church does let you in, you’re probably only scot-free for 40 days, after which you’re booted out the front doors and into the hands of the lawmen waiting outside to arrest you (no word on whether Steven Seagal will be there), where you will most likely be executed on the spot. Your only other option at that point is to “abjure the realm,” by which you’re pitched onto the first ship out of England, wearing only a sackcloth.
So that’s sanctuary. A neat little concept in theory, but your best bet probably is to stay out of trouble in the first place.
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2 Responses

  1. Marieke says:

    Or, if you're a serf and the crime isn't too heinous, flee to the nearest (chartered) town and stay there for a year and a day. If your lord doesn't find you before then, you're free and a citizen. ^.^

  2. Meredith says:

    I did not know that. Thanks for teaching me a thing or two! :)

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