It is not unusual to read in the newspapers that, in regions where peace is threatened, a certain movement restriction is imposed. This means that during certain hours of the night, all those who do not have an official authorization must stay indoors, kind of like during the pandemic, if you remember that time.
A curfew makes the task of enforcing law and order easier and minimizes disruption.
During the Second World War, for example, traffic restrictions were frequently imposed: especially by the Germans in the territories they occupied, but also in Germany itself shortly after the end of the war. More recently, traffic restrictions have been imposed in Aden and Cyprus during periods of tension.
See also: Some strange practices of the Middle Ages, as true as can be, though they seem to be contrived
William the Conqueror, Inventor of “Bedtime”
It is often believed that William the Conqueror imposed the curfew in England as early as 1066. However, William merely adapted a practice dating back to the reign of King Alfred, in fact.
William developed a strict set of rules. The curfew was to be given at sunset in the summer and at about eight o’clock in the winter. The signal was given by the ringing of the church bell. Anyone who wasn’t home with the lights off at that time could be in trouble with the law.
If William was not the first ruler to impose curfew in England, he was certainly the first to use it in the modern sense. The curfew was a practical way of sending the Saxons off the streets, into their homes and early to bed, away from any danger.
See also: How people slept in the Middle Ages, no relation to our rest. A thousand years ago, you went to sleep in “shifts”
Where, in fact, it all began
But this was not the purpose for which the traffic restriction had been introduced in the first place. The ringing of the bell was, at least at first, a warning to citizens and villagers alike to put out their fires or at least make sure they were properly covered.
Fire was a serious danger to the community in the days when houses were built of wood and straw, and the household stove was usually placed in a hole in the floor, while the smoke escaped through an opening in the roof.
The Great Fire of London in 1666 showed how difficult it was to stop fire from consuming a city that was built of wood and other flammable materials, and London wasn’t the only city to suffer. There were few medieval towns or villages that did not experience a major fire at some point in local history.
So it can be said without a doubt that the curfew, which was a common practice throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, was the closest equivalent to the modern fire drill.
See also: The job of an executioner in the Middle Ages: who would do such a thing?