5 Notorious Criminals of the Medieval Period

The medieval period, which spanned roughly from the 5th to the 15th century, had its fair share of notorious criminals.

“The medieval period was rife with individuals who defied societal norms and pursued a life of crime. These notorious criminals, often surrounded by legends and myths, challenge our understanding of law and order in the Middle Ages.”

Eric Jager, author of “Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris.”

While our knowledge of specific individuals may be limited due to the historical context, here are a few famous criminals from medieval times:

1. Eustace the Monk

Eustace was a notorious pirate and mercenary who operated during the 13th century. He terrorized the English Channel, attacking ships and coastal towns. Eustace was known for his brutality and cunning, and he was eventually captured and executed in 1217.

2. Robin Hood

While the existence of Robin Hood as a historical figure is debated, he is a legendary outlaw who has become an iconic character in medieval folklore. Robin Hood was said to have lived in Sherwood Forest, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. His exploits and adventures have been immortalized in numerous ballads and tales.

3. Gilles de Rais

Gilles de Rais was a French nobleman and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years’ War. However, he is also infamous for his dark side. Gilles de Rais was accused of engaging in a series of horrific crimes, including child murder, rape, and occult practices. He was arrested in 1440 and executed the following year.

4. Vlad the Impaler

Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, ruled Wallachia (now part of modern-day Romania) in the 15th century. He gained a reputation for his extreme cruelty, particularly his preferred method of execution—impaling his enemies on long stakes. While Vlad the Impaler was a ruler rather than a common criminal, his actions have earned him notoriety throughout history.

5. Thomas de Torquemada

Thomas de Torquemada was a Dominican friar who played a prominent role in the Spanish Inquisition during the late 15th century. As the Grand Inquisitor, he was responsible for the persecution and torture of thousands of people accused of heresy. Torquemada’s methods were ruthless, and he used his position to consolidate power and enforce religious orthodoxy.

“The stories of infamous criminals in the medieval period not only captivate our imagination but also provide us that even in an era defined by feudalism and hierarchy, there were those who dared to defy the established order and carve their own path through illicit means.”

Karen Lamb, author of “Rogues and Villains: A Journey Through the Dark Side of Medieval Europe.”

These are just a few examples of individuals who gained infamy during the medieval period.

It’s worth noting that historical accounts can be subjective or exaggerated, and our understanding of these figures may be influenced by legends and folklore that have developed over time.

Notorious Criminals of the Medieval Period | Great Books

“The Medieval Underworld” by Andrew McCall
This book explores the criminal underworld of the medieval period, providing insights into various criminal activities, including theft, smuggling, and organized crime. McCall delves into the social, economic, and cultural factors that influenced criminal behavior during the Middle Ages.

“Crime and Mentalities in Early Medieval Europe” by Guy Geltner
Focusing on the early medieval period, this book examines the relationship between crime and mentalities, exploring how societal attitudes, beliefs, and norms influenced criminal behavior and the administration of justice.

“Medieval Crime and Social Control” by Barbara A. Hanawalt
Hanawalt’s book offers a comprehensive examination of crime and social control in medieval Europe. It explores various aspects of criminality, including law enforcement, punishment, and the role of community in maintaining order.

“Murder in the Cathedral: The Life and Death of Thomas Becket” by Michael Staunton
This book focuses on the infamous murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. It delves into the political intrigue, religious conflicts, and power struggles that surrounded this high-profile crime in medieval England.

“The Black Death and the Transformation of the West” by David Herlihy
While not solely focused on crime, this book explores the profound impact of the Black Death on medieval society, including its effects on social order, lawlessness, and changes in criminal behavior in the aftermath of the pandemic.

These five books provide in-depth analyses and perspectives on crime and criminality during the medieval period. They examine the social, cultural, and political contexts in which criminal activities occurred, shedding light on the dynamics of law, order, and deviance in medieval Europe.