In what might be the first medieval traffic speeding law, the city of London includes this rule in its 15th century law book, the Liber Albus:
that no carter within the liberties shall drive his cart more quickly when it is unloaded, than when it is loaded; for the avoiding of diverse perils and grievances, under pain of paying forty pence to the Chamber, and of having his body committed to prison at the will of the Mayor
Fast-moving horses were certainly a danger. The coroners’ rolls from medieval London describes several tragic cases where a child was dragged underneath a “strong” horse and trampled to death.
In 1336, “two carters taking two empty carts out of the City were urging their horses apace, when the wheels of one of the carts collapsed.” The cart fell over and landed on Agnes de Cicestre, killing her.
Ralph de Mymmes, a 12 year old boy, was driving a water-cart with a cask full of water when a wheel crushed a seven-year old boy named John Stolere, who was sitting in the street relieving himself.
John was immediately killed, while Ralph fled, leaving his horses and cart behind.
Medieval Traffic Road Rage
In an early case of road rage, a man named Thomas atte Chirche was riding so recklessly that he struck a woman carrying an infant and knocked her to the ground.
A bystander asked Thomas to be more careful–upon which Thomas drew his sword and killed him!
The rest of the jury’s report says that Thomas and his companion escaped on their horses, “toward the Tower,” and no one knew where they had gone or who helped them.
Before Venice was completely paved over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, horses would have been a common enough sight.
When the bells of St. Mark’s summoned the city’s aristocracy to the great council, the locals called the procession of men on horseback the “Trotéra” or “The Trot.”
As the city slowly became more crowded, the first “traffic laws” appeared.
In 1287, it was illegal to ride a horse between the Bridge of Rialto and St. Mark’s square – with a considerate exception for foreigners who had recently arrived.
By 1291, the city began setting aside spaces in public squares where horses could be “parked.”
What finally put an end to riding horses through Venice was the paving of the bridges.
New higher-arched stone bridges, steeper gradients and stone steps made it impossible to ride horses from one end of the city to the other.
Medieval Traffic Fatalities
Another more unusual problem for city authorities was pigs – and I don’t just mean rude drivers.
People let pigs out to scavenge for food, which would lead to a huge mess, and even knocking down people!
London and other cities issued orders that if a pig was found wandering the streets, it could be killed automatically. If the owner wanted to have the carcass afterwards, they could have it for four pence.
By 1720, traffic fatalities from “furiously driven” carts were the leading cause of death in London, overtaking fire and even “immoderate quaffing”.
Contemporary observers condemned the “Controversies, Quarreling, and Disturbances” caused by drivers “contesting for the way”.
So, not that much has changed.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.