The private wars and tournaments were the backdrop to a life that was violent in other ways. As we saw, religious values were imparted with bloody crucifixes, threats of eternal torture, and prurient depictions of mutilated saints. Craftsmen applied their ingenuity to sadistic machines of punishment and execution. Brigands made travel a threat to life and limb, and ransoming captives was big business. As Elias noted, “the little people, too—the hatters, the tailors, the shepherds—were all quick to draw their knives.” Even clergymen got into the act.

The historian Barbara Hanawalt quotes an account from 14th-century England: It happened at Ylvertoft on Saturday next before Martinmass in the fifth year of King Edward that a certain William of Wellington, parish chaplain of Ylvertoft, sent John, his clerk, to John Cobbler’s house to buy a candle for him for a penny. But John would not send it to him without the money wherefore William became enraged, and, knocking in the door upon him, he struck John in the front part of the head so that his brains flowed forth and he died forthwith.

Violence pervaded their entertainment as well. Tuchman describes two of the popular sports of the time: “Players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal’s claws…. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs to the laughter of spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless.” During my decades in academia I have read thousands of scholarly papers on a vast range of topics, from the grammar of irregular verbs to the physics of multiple universes.