The most common crimes in the Middle Ages were theft and murder. These accounted for nearly 90 percent of all crimes. Other common crimes included buying stolen goods, rape, treason and arson.
Theft was punished very severely in the Middle Ages, although the exact punishment changed throughout the time period and depended on the country. A common punishment for theft was to chop the thief’s hands off to prevent him or her from repeating the crime.
Murder was the next most common crime in the Middle Ages, although it was far less common than theft. It was nearly always punishable by death. Women who were convicted of committing a murder, for example, were strangled to death and then burned.
All crime was very harshly punished in the Middle Ages. Prisons were uncommon, and criminals were usually kept temporarily in gaols until their punishment. Examples of punishments included fines, mutilation and being placed in stocks.
It was often difficult to discover who committed a crime, so ordeals were used. Ordeal by combat, for example, was used when a nobleman was accused of a crime. The nobleman was required to fight whoever had accused him, and whoever won was considered right. The loser often died in combat.