Hue and Cry in Medieval England: Definition & Meaning

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Hue and Cry is an old criminal catching process back in medieval England and Europe as a whole. his lesson explains the process of the hue and cry, and why it was used.

Take Up the Cry

Visualize this: you are walking downtown, window shopping. It is busy because it is the holiday season, so the streets are filled with shoppers. That is when you hear a scream and cry. When you look, you see a man has just run out of a bank with a gun and is shoving people as he runs away. As a citizen, you do your civic duty by alerting others to what you saw. You might yell stop that man! or that's him in the blue sweatshirt! alerting others that there is a dangerous man on the loose. You probably are not thinking about what you are doing; you are yelling based on your instinct. But your modern day Hue and Cry was not just a civic duty in medieval England, it was common practice for alerting the police, and the law. Let's take a look at how Hue and Cry worked in a few hundred years ago.

Hue and Cry

Back in the 1200s and 1300s, the world was much smaller, even in more populated areas such as medieval England. People lived in close-knit communities that lived life with the responsibility for each other. Mothers in communities would help parent other children, farmers would work together on the land, and they even went to church and other events together. A community was more a family back in medieval times, with every member having a specific role and duty. But it was everyone's responsibility to help police their own community.

In 1285, King Edward I signed The Statute of Winchester into a law, stating that if citizens saw a crime they had to not only report it, but take up a cry to alert the police. This Hue and Cry meant if a criminal was running down the street, then each person they passed by would be required to yell out, usually some word like ''thief'' or ''wolf'' to make help the police identify and catch the criminal. The cries would literally follow the criminal as they ran. Additionally, if citizens were physically able they also were supposed to run after the criminal, do what we call now a citizen's arrest and then wait for the police to arrive.

This type of policing was rather successful, especially since many towns were small with only a few roads leading out, some being completely walled in. This allowed the community to block the exits and essentially keep the criminal trapped until they were caught.


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