A Perilous Period for Personal Safety Part 1/3
by Leslie Zeder
Unlike the innumerable protocols, laws, rules and regulations and standard practices revolving around ‘safety’ of all kinds which we follow and practice across the globe today, by and large, keeping people safe was of little concern to the people of Medieval Europe and Britain.
On average, a person’s life was lived perpetually on a knife’s edge, regardless of their station and staying safe was not easy. Danger lurked around every corner, risk lay in wait during every waking and sleeping hour, for there was no rest and no reprieve from the many abundant threats and risks which plagued people of these perilous times.
Information on Medieval Period Threats to Survival, Personal Safety and Health
Famine was an ever-present risk for peasants. Anything from bad weather to poor harvests could spell disaster for ill-equipped families and even whole populations. Meagre rations could only stretch so far. Malnutrition rendered people more susceptible to disease, and those who did not starve to death often succumbed to the repercussions of famine – the aftermath of tuberculosis, typhoid, sweating sickness, smallpox, dysentery, influenza, mumps and gastrointestinal infection epidemics.
Famine statistics information on Medieval Period points to 15% of European deaths during the early 14th century’s Great Famine.
#2 Staying safe in bad weather
As most medieval people lived rurally, bad weather could kill and poor weather could result in famine. For example, a wet and cold summer could destroy grain crops entirely, and as grain was the period’s main food source, hunger, starvation and disease were all serious and probable eventualities of such a scenario.
By 1550, there was an expansion of glaciers worldwide as the ice pack grew between the 14th and 16th centuries, bringing with it devastating wetter and colder weather than had ever been experienced by the people of medieval times.
#3 Staying safe during ‘The Plague’ (aka Black Death)
The Plague was one of the biggest killers of the period, arriving in Europe in 1348 it decimated between a third, to half the European population of the 14th and 15th centuries. Caused by bacterium and carried by fleas most often found on rats, the Black Death wiped out thousands – from Italy, France and Germany to Scandinavia, Spain, Russia, England, and Wales, nowhere and no one was safe.
In England, out of every 100 people, about 35 to 40 died from The Plague!
#4 Staying safe while travelling
A warm bed to sleep was often hard to come by for the average person when traveling. In winter, freezing to death was not uncommon, as was the possibility of being robbed, and/or murdered by strangers, or if you were unlucky enough, by fellow travellers.
Food poisoning caught from unscrupulous inns, monastery or other lodgings was also a possibility, as was becoming unwittingly caught up in regional or local disputes, or even full-blown warfare which could result in injury or prison time (amongst other travel risks).
Interested to read more about Safety in Medieval Times? Stay Tuned for Part 2.
Thanks to ERMS Group for their support of the Abbey Medieval Festival 2017.