Medieval credit: for which they could be put in a debt hole

Medieval credit: what could put you in debt

Historians and archaeologists confirm: interest-bearing loans appeared as soon as society switched to a settled way of life, and in the Middle Ages usury was already in full bloom with all its charms: loans, interest, microloans – and the consequences when it was not wanted or could not return the borrowed. Such questions were then solved in their own way, in a medieval way. For example, they put debtors in a debt hole – a special kind of prison. This practice continued until the 19th century.

Why a pit?

In the literal sense, debtors were not put into the pit, but there are two versions about the origin of the expression. First, the debtor was in a hopeless situation, as if in a deep hole from which it is difficult to get out. And the prison itself, almost invariably located in a damp basement, evoked such associations. At the same time, while the prisoner languished in the dungeons, the debt continued to grow. Only compassionate relatives or friends could save, paying the debt for the poor fellow.

Not only commoners, but also noble people fell into debt.

European Default

In 1340, the English King Edward III announced to the Florentine bankers from the Bardi and Peruzzi house that he was unable to pay his loans. The debt was an astronomical sum – 1 million 700 thousand florins. Having borrowed money from the Italians, the monarch recklessly unleashed a war with France, which later became known as the Centenary, and lost in the conflict with Scotland, having paid a considerable indemnity.

The King of France, whose treasury was also empty, followed the example of his English colleague Edward III and also declared himself bankrupt.

The famine of 1315–1317. and the plague of 1346–1353. the economic condition of Europe was finally crippled: the time came when everyone was borrowed – from a furrier to a feudal lord. Moreover, they borrowed not only money, but also tools. If the borrower turned out to be unscrupulous or insolvent, he was punished.

How debtors were punished

In medieval Europe, the debtor was tied to a pillory and flogged. The offender was recommended to shout as loudly as possible so that his relatives would take pity and pay the debt. If the cries did not help, the poor fellow fell into a debt hole. At the same time, the creditor himself paid for the maintenance of the prisoner, which did not please him at all, because it was possible to spend more than one decade on the bunk in this way. Therefore, over time, prisoners began to be sent to hard labor.

Sometimes not only the debtor, but also his entire family was imprisoned: it is not surprising that the medieval casemates were overcrowded.

However, certain rules were in effect even then: the malicious defaulters of England of the 16th century fell into the dungeons only if they were grabbed on the street: it was impossible to break into the house of the debtor. Medieval justice: how the poor were punished and how the rich were punished.

Loan loan strife

Except ordinary loans were also loans marine. In the first case, the borrower was liable with all his property, but the interest was limited by law. In the second, the loan was used to organize a maritime trade voyage. If the expedition turned out to be profitable, the creditor received his money after the sale of goods. If the ship sank or was robbed by pirates, the usurer was left with nothing. Since such ventures were extremely risky, the interest on sea loans was not limited.

What else to read on the topic

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  • 8 amazing facts about how they lived in Rus' before Christianity
  • The disgusting Middle Ages: what did they eat at rich feasts and in poor shacks then

And what about Rus'?

The debt of a negligent borrower his relative or serf could work out if representatives of the upper class found themselves in a financial stalemate.

Typical debtors of the Middle Ages

There is nothing new here: most often, lovers of gambling and a beautiful life, inept (or simply unlucky) entrepreneurs, and simply poor people who fell into a difficult situation fell into a debt hole . And there were cases when the prison became an instrument of an insidious plan: the usurer cleared the way to the heart of a married lady he liked, sending her faithful to the dungeons for debts.

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