The Medieval era was a rough time in English history marked by a plague, famine and war. Under the king’s rulership and the Roman Catholic Church’s influence, the people had a number of strict laws imposed on them, some fairly reasonable, others downright ridiculous. Tennis was reserved only for noblemen, you couldn’t wear pointy shoes if you weren’t rich and certainly no sneezing was allowed in the streets. Good thing we don’t have to deal with them today!
1. Blowing One’s Nose Was Illegal
During the 17th century, horse racing became a big deal in England, particularly in the town of Newmarket in the county Suffolk. The sport actually originated sometime in the 12th century but didn’t gain traction until 1606. Due to the increasing popularity of horse racing, Newmarket sought out to enforce a variety of laws in protection of the horses, their most valuable commodity. One such law made it illegal for anyone to blow their noses in the street in order to reduce the risk of getting the horses sick. In fact, walking around with a head cold or fever would cost you a small fine.
2. Wearing Long, Pointy Footwear Was Forbidden – If You Were Poor
Male nobles during 15th-century Britain expressed their masculinity in a very flamboyant manner – pointy-toed shoes with at least 5-inch tips were all the rage. Even the peasants decided to join in on the extravagant clothing trend. This angered the upper class, as they felt that such high-class fashion belonged to only them. So they passed a law that forbade anyone that wasn’t one of them from wearing shoes with points beyond two inches. Failure to do so resulted in a small fine of three shillings and four pence or $136 in modern currency.
3. People Could No Longer Eat More Than Two Courses
Today, we enjoy many freedoms that people from the Middle Ages could only dream of. Such as eating whatever or however much we want to. A law in 1336 banned people, no matter their rank, from eating a meal with more than two courses; even soup itself counted as a full course meal. This was done to both reduce excessive eating and to prevent people of lower class from matching the lifestyle of the rich. Three course meals were only allowed on certain festivals such as Christmas.
4. You Had to Have Your Master’s Permission to Get Married
Getting married in medieval times was no easy feat, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid with little to no freedom. A man wanting to get married not only had to go through his father for approval, but the landowner as well. The women had it even worse. In the event that her husband died, the landowner could force her to marry another man. Those who refused were severely punished. And to think many people get worked up today just for asking their future father-in-law for his blessing.
5. No Tennis for the Poor
The feudal hierarchy during the Middle Ages was extremely important to the higher-ups who made sure that the lower classes knew their “place.” That’s why they made it illegal for anyone who wasn’t noble to play tennis, except on Christmas day. Their logic was that tennis led to disruptive behavior and even encouraged gambling in workers who were often left unsupervised. So for the longest while it was seen as a solely upper-class sport due to the expensive equipment, social etiquette and complex rules.
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