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27 Jul

Subordinate Groups in the Middle Ages

The medieval society also consisted of groups which were in certain way excluded from the feudal society and discriminated.

Heretics whose opinions or personal convictions opposed the official churchly doctrine were considered a threat to the Church as well as to the feudal order. For that reason heretics were persecuted and oppressed throughout the Middle Ages. Heretics, like Jews and lepers were obliged to wear cloth patches (usually strips) in public after the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 although the society became more tolerant against the people who did not exactly fit in with the medieval society one way or the other. However, the way the Christian society showed its tolerance greatly resembled the cat-and-mouse game. The subordinated groups were held on a distance but close enough to keep an eye on them.

The Christian idealization of work resulted in the persecution of unemployed and disabled persons, while mental illness was regarded as spiritual possession which could have been cured only by exorcism performed by a priest. Many of the “spiritually possessed” were easily mistakenly declared witches. Witch hunt started in the 13th century but it reached its height in the Early Modern Period.

The homosexuals were discriminated during the Medieval Times although the poets of the 11th and 12th century expressed their affection of love to young men, while some documents of medieval monasteries also indicate that the male religious orders were not unfamiliar with homosexuality. Homosexuality became regarded as one the worst of all sins and was declared “sin against nature” in the 13th century. However, like bastards were born to low classes and illegitimate children to the social elites, nobody was disturbed by homosexuality of the highest social classes (for example Edward II of England). Despite that homosexuality was one of the crimes which was held against the Knight Templars when they were put on trial by Philip IV of France in 1314.

Miniature depicting William of Tyre discovering symptoms of leprosy in Baldwin IV of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV

Like noble homosexuals and illegitimate children, noble lepers (for example Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Raoul II, Count of Vermandois) lived normally like all other healthy people. In contrary to the noble lepers, lepers of the lowest classes were physically separated from the society and were continuously persecuted. They were believed to be punished by the God, while leprosy was considered shameful. Like the Jews, the lepers were often sacrificial labs, especially during the period of the plague when they were accused (like the Jews) that they intentionally poisoned the wells and fountains. Son of Philip IV of France, Philip V put the lepers on trial and had many burned at the stake.

Severe illness was considered a sign of a sin, while those who suffered from it were cursed by God and consequently also by the society. Occasionally (until being placed in hospitals) severely ill people were taken in by the Church and occasionally – mostly on feast days given food. Thus the only source of survival for the majority was begging and wandering.

Foreigners and strangers were an alien element in the medieval society. The medieval Christian society was very closed and rejected anyone who was not a member of a particular community. All who were not Christians or someone’s subjects created unrest and unease.

Besides groups which depended on mercy like the lepers and severely ill individuals some of the healthy ones retreated in the forests and turned to organized crime.

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