Tudor Crime and Punishment: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about crime and punishment in Tudor times.

  • In Tudor times, there were no police, and crime was widespread. However, punishments were harsh, in the belief that it would stop others from committing the same crime.

  • Public executions were extremely popular and people would wait for hours to watch them, often taking their children with them. Some historians have estimated that about 70,000 people were executed during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • Having the head cut off (beheading) was the most common form of execution for serious Tudor crime. Often, the severed heads were displayed along London Bridge or other crowded places, as a warning to others.
  • The Star Chamber (a type of court) was set up to hear cases of political treason, and heresy. It became feared, as being tried here meant no jury, witnesses or possibility of appealing.
  • Vagrancy was a common crime and was punished by being whipped, or even hanged. Many people were afraid that all vagrants, or homeless people, were criminals and murderers.
  • Stealing was considered a serious Tudor crime, and people could be punished just for stealing a bird’s egg. Stealing even a small amount of money could mean the death penalty.
  • Because most people did not travel far in Tudor England, anyone who did was often treated with suspicion. Traveling actors had to have a license, otherwise they would be breaking the law.
  • The brank or scold’s bridle was used to punish women who gossiped or told tales. It was a metal cage that fitted over the head and was extremely uncomfortable to wear, and would let everyone know that the wearer was a gossip.
  • Tudor London experienced some of the worst crime, as it attracted many vagrants and people looking for work. The Tudor rich and Tudor poor lived apart, and a poor person in a wealthy area was often thought to be a criminal.

What next? Learn more facts about the Tudors by visiting our Tudor resources page.

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