Trial by Hot Iron

  • Usually taken by women.
  • Had to carry a piece of hot iron for 3 meters.
  • Their hand was then bandaged & unwrapped after 3 days.
  • If the wound was healing cleanly, then God was saying they were innocent.
  • If it wasn't healing cleanly, then God was saying they were guilty. 
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Trial by Hot Water

  • Usually taken by men.
  • Puts his hand in boiling water, pick up an object and lift it out.
  • The arm then bandaged for 3 days.
  • The person was innocent if the wound was healing cleanly.
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Trial by Cold Water

  • Usually taken by men.
  • Water believed to be pure so would reveal the truth.
  • The accused was lowered into the water on the end of a rope (rope knotted above the waist).
  • If they sank and the knot went below the water they were innocent as the water was allowing them beneath its surface.
  • If floated then they were guilty because the water was rejecting them.
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Trial by Bread

  • Taken by priests.
  • The priest would pray and ask that he choke on the bread if he was lying.
  • He would eat a piece of consecrated bread and if he chocked he was guilty.
  • It was believed that God wouldn't allow a sinner to eat it.
  • It was the most effective of ordeals because people believed God would punish a lying priest.
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Trial by Combat

  • The accused would fight with their accuser until one was killed or beaten.
  • God decided that loser was guilty and they would be hanged.
  • The rich had an advantage as they could pay someone to fight for them.
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Trial by Ordeal - Overview

  • These were used in times when the jury didn't agree, usually for crimes such as theft and murder.
  • Trial by ordeal was the solution.
  • A religious ritual was followed - the person would fast for 3 days before the trial and hear mass in the church.
  • Trials took place inside of the church, apart from trial by cold water.
  • God would decide innocence.
  • Abolished in 1215 because the church was against it.
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  • These were safe areas in churches and cathedrals, once a criminal reached sanctuary the sheriff could not take him out by force. 
  • A careful ritual was followed when someone claimed sanctuary.
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Benefit of the Clergy

  • The accused would try to avoid the death penalty by claiming the benefit of the clergy because the clergy couldn't be punished in the King's court.
  • To claim the benefit, the accused had to read a specific Bible passage - the neck verse.
  • Only those who could read could claim it, and it was usually priests.
  • Instead, they were handed to the local Bishop for punishment and the church didn't execute people for crimes.
  • It didn't avoid full punishment, however, as the church preferred mutilation to give the convict a chance to repent.
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