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Medieval Facts & Myths: Was death the punishment for adultery?

Was adultery punishable by death in Medieval England?

Surprisingly, the answer is no.

The only instance when an philanderer could be killed was to be caught in the act (in flagrante delicto) by the husband. Under these circumstances, jurors often refused to convict the husband. The punishment for a male having sex with another man's wife was typically a fine, although these financial penalties could be quite severe.

Sadly, the punishment meted out for women was significantly harsher. The laws of the era sometimes prescribed cutting off the nose and ears of a female adulterer as well as the forfeiture of all a woman's property to her husband.

Is adultery still a crime in the United States? The answer may raise some eyebrows.

Today, adultery is against the law in 21 states. Punishments vary widely by locale -- from a $10 fine in Maryland, to as much as three years of jail time in Massachusetts. Most of these laws are rarely enforced, however. Perhaps that’s for the best. Given the popularity of cheating websites like Ashley Madison, our population behind bars might soon eclipse those walking free.


Medieval Facts & Myths is a blog series featuring KING ROBIN, a novel by R. A. Moss releasing February 2021 from Beck and Branch Publishers.

Cinematic rights available.

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