13 Unusual Medieval Era Practices That Sound Made Up - But Aren't

Voting Rules
Vote up the ditched medieval practices that need to stay in the past.

Going back to the Middle Ages would be an adventure. Not everything would be completely alien, however. You'd see plenty of families, houses, and rural landscapes alongside the hustle and bustle of urban life.

There would be stark differences as well, especially when it comes to some social, legal, and medical practices. Should you end up in a medieval legal court, you might find a pig as one of the fellow defendants. And if you're off for a meet-up with friends, don't forget your sword!

Some forsaken practices might be worth revisiting, while others simply could never work today. Which practices are fine to stay in the Middle Ages and which could very well show up again someday?


  • 1
    2,678 VOTES

    The Position Of The Groom Of The Stool

    From Redditor /u/Farnsworthson:

    The Groom of the Stool. And it wasn't just a respected position, it was a very powerful one.

    Context: As a position that emerged during the late Middle Ages, the Groom of the Stool became more of a prominent royal official during the Early Modern period. Said to have been a role created by King Henry VII during the 1490s, the Groom of the Stool was a male attendant tasked with caring for the king's needs in the privy.

    He would bring chamberpots and water, dispose of waste, provide towels, and keep track of the king's urine and bowel outputs - often reporting back to the royal physician about the king's health. Through the 16th and 17th centuries, the Groom of the Stool received additional responsibilities, eventually overseeing the royal bedchamber. 

    2,678 votes
  • 2
    2,791 VOTES

    Saving Your Urine

    From Redditor /u/Vexonte:

    Donating your urine to a Dyer.

    Context: Donating saved urine was one option, but so was selling it. Ancient and medieval chamberpots collected urine for an entire household, a monastic institution, or from a public meeting place and sold it to the local tanner or fuller

    Urine was used to clean clothing, during the textile dying process, and to tan leather hides. Urine was also a diagnostic tool, assessed by medieval physicians to evaluate health based on color, smell, and taste. 

    2,791 votes
  • Going To A Barber For An Operation
    Photo: Aldobrandino of Siena / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    3
    2,232 VOTES

    Going To A Barber For An Operation

    From Redditor /u/jeff_the_nurse:

    A barber doing surgery.

    Context: During the Middle Ages, barbers had numerous duties. In terms of shaving, they were essential to monks who needed to maintain their tonsures (haircuts), but barbers were also the men who tended to wounded after battle, cared for the sick, and provided general medical services.

    Often referred to as barber-surgeons, they performed bloodlettings and teeth extractions, removed kidney and bladder stones, and performed other minor procedures medieval physicians deemed unworthy of their status. During the 13th century, as the medical profession became more formal, barber-surgeons began to form guilds - only later split up into to groups during the 18th century. 

    2,232 votes
  • 4
    1,761 VOTES

    Dressing In Certain Colors Based On Job Or Social Status

    From Redditor /u/Exciting_Orange_9057:

    Having rules about what colors and what type of clothing and hats you could wear, based on your occupation or social level.

    Context: As one aspect of the larger sumptuary legislation in effect at various times and in different locations during the Middle Ages, regulating the use of colors was meant to distinguish members of society. Prostitutes and courtesans were not allowed to wear clothing made of certain fabrics or specific styles of accessories, while 15th century English law restricted wearing velvet to the nobility:

    No knight bachelor or his wife...[shall wear any cloth of velvet on velvet...no esquire or gentlemen, or anyone else below the degree of knight, or their wives...shall use or wear...any velvet...or any cloth of silk simulating them.

    Dyed garments were expensive, making scarlet clothing a luxury, and purple was associated with royalty dating to the ancient world. Sumptuary laws also applied to furniture, metals, and even food stuffs, all intended to quell spending on imported goods and emphasize modesty and morality. 

    1,761 votes
  • Sleeping Arrangements Devoid Of Privacy
    Photo: Gerard David / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    5
    1,784 VOTES

    Sleeping Arrangements Devoid Of Privacy

    From Redditor /u/Witty-Message-2852:

    Sleeping with your entire family in one bed.

    Or if you are a king, sleeping in the same bed with a rival king to cement your friendship and respect for each other, as brothers.

    Privacy was just not really a thing in the middle ages!

    Context: In some cultures, sleeping in one bed as a family remains quite common, especially with young children. In the Western world, communal snoozing is rarely practiced.

    During the Middle Ages, sharing a bed resulted from several factors. Limited space, protection, warmth, and sheer practicality all resulted in communal slumber. Beds were quite large, however, made out of wood and straw to accommodate large numbers of people. 

    When royals shared a bed, it was a symbolic exercise. Nobles who were in good favor with a king were rewarded by being allowed in his bed, while King Richard I of England and King Phillip II of France slept in the same bed as an act of diplomacy

    1,784 votes
  • 6
    1,840 VOTES

    Watching An Animal Be Put On Trial For A Crime

    From Redditor /u/Icy_Noob:

    Animal Courts. By far the most serial offenders were pigs, accused and convicted of chewing off body parts and even eating children. Most were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging or being burned at the stake. In 1386, a convicted pig was dressed in a waistcoat, gloves, drawers and a human mask for its execution. 

    Context: Not necessarily a norm, animal trials during the Middle Ages did occur. Animal courts were held by secular and church authorities, with the first documented trial taking place in 1266 CE. Pigs were the common defendants, although insects, rats, and other mammals could be charged with damaging property, thievery, or even murder.

    Convicted animals were executed - either hanged or burned - or excommunicated. The latter was afforded to creatures that, "were not the subject of human control, and could not be seized and imprisoned by the civil authorities."

    Scholars view animal trials as a means for humans to hold some tangible being accountable for an unexplained, evil, or heinous act. A pig tried and convicted of murder, for example, took place after the death of an infant left unattended, while a rat might be accused of bringing on a perceived threat. When an animal was presented with human clothing and features, it was during its very public execution - an indicator that law and order had been maintained. 

    1,840 votes