Although they may not have had much money, peasants in the Middle Ages were just as susceptible to risk-taking as workers are today.
As well as spending their meager wages on alcohol, peasant men often gambled, with dice games being particularly popular during this period. This is despite the fact that gambling is de jure prohibited, but de facto rural gamblers play at will.
Yes, it was not as easy for them as today’s generations, who in a few seconds can enter a site and play, but more information about the sport herebut where there’s a will, there’s a way.
King Richard I was the first monarch to explicitly ban gambling for the lower classes of society in the late 12th century. With it, betting on anything from a race or an archery competition to a roll of the dice becomes the preserve of the elite.
In fact, only a knight or noble can bet. Of course, such a law is almost impossible to fully enforce, especially in rural areas far from the royal court. So gambling is actually rife, especially where beer is involved.
Those villagers who can afford to go to a pub can bet as much as their pocket allows. The most popular game among medieval peasants was the dice game called gambling (hazzard). It is played with dice made of wood, stone, deer antler or bone. It is essentially an early version of the popular American craps game (craps) and the player can bet against one or more opponents and sometimes against the house.
In 1461, King Edward IV’s Parliament also issued a ban on dice and card activities. Two years later, the legislature took another step against gambling by banning the importation of playing cards. It has been suggested that this was to encourage the production of English playing cards to be used by the wealthiest.
Ironically, despite his enthusiasm to ban gambling for the poor, King Edward IV would go on to inspire the blood sport of foxhunting when he introduced it as a variant of the Fox and Geese hunting game, where the fox would hunt the geese and the spectators would bet of the result.
King Henry VII continued with the same positions regarding gambling for the common people.
In 1495 his parliament passed a law forbidding “apprentice, farm laborer, laborer, or artisan servant” to gamble. The same restrictions are not imposed on the privileged few.
Ironically, despite his opposition to the legalization of gambling for the people, King Henry VII would accumulate gambling debts, leading to his need to borrow money from those around him. He regularly bets on tennis, chess and craps.
Since gambling was widely banned for the poor in the Middle Ages, the prizes were correspondingly quite high stakes. Transactions were often between wealthy people. Extracts from the accounts of King Henry VII show how large the sum was. What is clear, however, is that regardless of the bans, people will end up doing what they want.