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Mapping the Gruesome Murders of Medieval London

Using coroners’ records from the 1300s, Cambridge researchers reveal what violence looked like in a dangerous city with little law enforcement.
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Cambridge University’s Violence Research Centre

If you think London’s crime rate is cause for concern today, imagine what it was like in the 14th century. Back in the late Middle Ages, the city’s murder rate was 15 to 20 times what it is today, and you could be murdered for something as trivial as stealing a handful of wool, or for littering the street with eel skins.

These and other gruesome details emerge from a new map created by Cambridge University’s Violence Research Centre, which details 142 murders committed between 1300 and 1340 that are documented in nine coroners’ rolls that have survived to this day. The crimes are pinned to their exact positions on medieval London’s street plan, searchable by neighborhood, weapon type, and whether the venue was a private or public space. Together, it presents a fascinating glimpse into the violence and instability of life in a city with dangerous living conditions and precious little law enforcement.