Boozed up hoodies with knives aren't new. They were the scourge of the Middle Ages.

Boozed up hoodies were scourge of Middle Ages too



By David Edwards
The Mirror

People may think that hooded youths, armed with knives and vicious dogs and who drink copious amounts of alcohol, are a new phenomenon to blight Britain's street, but in fact they have been around for centuries...

Loitering on a dark street corner, the gang of teenagers furtively pass a bottle around, tugging at their hoodies to hide their faces from passers-by.

With knives tucked into their belts, these rowdy yobs are the scourge of politicians and strike terror into the local community.

It may sound like a scene from any modern inner city estate or town centre but, in fact, the year is 1100 and the respectable citizens of the Middle Ages are being harassed by binge-drinking hoodies.

It will be cold comfort if you've been a victim of yob Britain, but it seems that hardly anything has changed in almost 1,000 years.

Young lads back then were just as partial to hanging out together to drink cheap, strong booze and annoy the locals as they are today.

Professor Robert Bartlett - who presents Inside The Medieval Mind, a new BBC TV show that reveals how hoodies first emerged in the 12th century-explains: "Britain has had teen tearaways at least since the Middle Ages."


"Just like their modern-day equivalents, they wore hoods, frequently got drunk and caused all manner of headaches for the average citizen and politician."

The four-part series reveals other startling similarities between the Britain of 1100 to 1500 and the country we live in today, including our national binge-drinking habit.

"People sometimes think that Britons hundreds of years ago were not quite real but when you look at the evidence, it's quite clear they were very similar to us," says Prof Bartlett, an expert on the Middle Ages who lectures at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Although the term hoodie only started being used in 2003, they were a very real problem for our ancestors.

As Prof Bartlett, 57, explains: "A lot of the towns would be full of teenage boys who'd been sent from the country to serve seven-year apprenticeships.

"As you can imagine, being boys away from home for the first time they'd prove a rather unruly element, apt to cause a bit of social unrest. They soon developed a reputation for drinking, chasing girls and being a nuisance.

"It's a period when teenagers became visible for the first time and you could expect to see them drinking mead on street corners. They would be wearing hoods, or cowls, which originated with monks but soon became a pretty standard form of headgear for Medieval youths.

"You could also expect them to be carrying knives because everyone did in those days to cut their bread."


Long before the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent banned the wearing of hooded tops in 2005, or Tory leader David Cameron gave his much-derided hug-a-hoodie speech a year later, the authorities were taking a tough stand against them.

Prof Bartlett says: "There was legislation attempting to stop them going to the pub too much and another law, passed in the 14th century, tried to stop them wearing clothes or haircuts that were too fashionable.

"They were a fashion-conscious lot and it was felt they needed to be kept in their place.

"Long-pointed shoes and dressing in funny materials were expressly forbidden because it was such a hierarchical system and they weren't meant to dress above their station. Fur or silk weren't allowed, and bright red or blue collars would have been frowned upon as these were colours of the ruling classes."

And it wasn't just hoodies who had a reputation for drinking to excess. One 12th century Latin manuscript refers to Potatrix Anglia, or "England the drunken", echoing Britain's latter-day reputation for being the binge-drinkers of Europe. In fact, Medieval Britain was a far more violent place than today.

A study by US academic Ted Robert Gurr reveals murderous brawls and violent deaths were everyday occurrences of the period, and most deaths that were not from natural causes resulted from fights with neighbours involving knives, cudgels and agricultural implements.

While our modern crime rate is around one murder per 100,000 people, in 1340 Oxford attained an all-time record of 110 in every 100,000, blamed on the stresses of over-population.

In historian Georges Duby's account of life in the Middle Ages, A History Of Private Life, he wrote of early hoodies: "These young gallants organised themselves in gangs, each with its own name and rituals.


"They created disturbances and fought with rival gangs. Some gangs endured for long periods, while others formed spontaneously. They gave vent to youthful emotions and encouraged seditious behaviour."

While the hoodie may have gone out of fashion by the 18th century, the behaviour associated with it had not. In 1749 Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford, was so concerned about rowdy groups of young men that, after being mugged in London's Hyde Park, he wrote that he was "forced to travel, even at noon, as if going to battle".

Gangs of teenagers have been patrolling the streets of Liverpool since at least the 1850s - back then they had names like the High Rips, the Cornermen and Logwood Gang.

Dr Michael Macilwee, author of The Gangs Of Liverpool, says: "You can learn lessons from the past and it's fascinating to compare the newspaper headlines of today with those from the late 1800s.

"The issues are the same - people were worried about rising youth crime and the influence of lurid comic books called penny dreadfuls on people's behaviour.

"Like today, some commentators demanded longer prison sentences and even flogging while others called for better education and more youth clubs."

If the binge-drinking hoodies weren't enough to convince us of our similarities, then Professor Bartlett's second episode of the series - which starts on Thursday at 9pm on BBC4 - reveals how the residents of Medieval Europe were just as interested in sex as we are now.


"Sexual activity in the Middle Ages was as vigorous and varied as it is today," he says. "Just how varied is made clear from the kinds of questions that Medieval priests were instructed to ask their parishioners." In a bid to root out the sins of the flesh, Britain's clergy were equipped with Confessors' Manuals designed to delve into the sex lives of their flocks.

Sample questions included: have you committed fornication with a nun? Have you committed fornication with your stepmother, your sister-in-law, your son's fiancee, your mother?

Prof Bartlett explains: "Such questions suggest sexual activity then was, shall we say, as diverse as it is today.

"It's easy to imagine Medieval life as just nasty, brutish and short, that it was a basic struggle for survival lacking in pleasure, passion or fun.

Far from it - Records suggest a world of intimacy and sensuality with a keen interest in love, sex and reproduction."

As long as you weren't a hoodie...

'Medieval youths in cowls got drunk on mead'


Wore: A cowl over a tunic.
Style accessory: Fur collar, pointed shoes.
Drank: Mead - a potent alcoholic brew made from yeast, honey and water.
Typical insult: "By Christ's toes, you're a churl and a dog."
Typical punishment: Severe - thieves could expect to have their hands cut off.
Weapon of choice: Breadknife.


Wear: Hooded sweatshirt top.
Style accessory: Burberry cap, gold rings
Drink: Alcopops and cut-price cider.
Typical insult: "Are you disrespecting me?"
Typical punishment: An Asbo banning offenders from certain areas.
Weapon of choice: Staffordshire bull terrier.
Same problem then but the cure is easier on them now, doesn't seem fair somehow. Bring back the hand chopping..........
and it's not just been young men...
Haha....good post Gerry.

I guess it's not so bad today then if there's only 1 murder per 100,000 people as compared to Oxford in 1340. Chopping off their little hands seems a bit severe for stealing though. Perhaps 200 lashes would be more humane.

Similar Threads

Is Mars Between Ice Ages?
by Scott Free | Aug 14th, 2008
Flat-cap Hoodies
by Blackleaf | Jul 20th, 2006
500,000 hoodies in gangs
by Blackleaf | May 26th, 2006
Archbishop springs to defence of hoodies.
by Blackleaf | May 4th, 2006