Thursday, September 11, 2008

Question from Jason - Yet more crime and punishment

hi, im researching law and order, crime and punishment in tudor stuart england for history.
just wondering if anybody has any information on

1 what crimes were considered particularly serious, and what laws and actions were passed to control this.

2 'what legal processes were availible in tudor stuart england'

3 what crimes were considerd worthy of long term imprisonment or the death penalty.

any help regarding these questions would be greatly appreciated. thanks

[ed. note - this is obviously a popular research subject in schools, since it comes up every year. Some of these questions area little more specific than we've gotten in the past, which is why I went ahead and posed them.]

Previous related threads:


Anonymous said...

The links to previous posts that Lara has provided offer some good suggestions for how to go about researching your topic. And one of them has an excellent list of books on the subject. But one book is missing: "Controlling Misbehavior in England 1370-1600" by Marjorie Keniston McIntosh. The writing is a bit dry and sometimes difficult for the non-specialist to follow, but the book offers a very interesting look at how law and order were maintained within small local communities without resorting to persons from outside the community (county sheriffs and the courts).

Foose said...

Jasper Ridley's book "Henry VIII" has some interesting information.

"Hanging had for long been the punishment for all felonies - that is to say, murder, rape, sodomy, arson, forgery and coining, and the most common of all crimes - robbery and theft. Henry vigorously enforced the law against thieves, which pleased the gentry, the merchant class, and much of the law-abiding population ... According to Holinshed, who wrote 25 years after Henry's death, 72,000 thieves and vagabonds were hanged during his reign ... It is probably an exaggeration, but perhaps not by so very much." It often appears that a person's actual punishment depended on their rank and connections; for example, the courtier Thomas Culpepper, later executed for treasonous adultery with Catherine Howard, apparently committed both rape and murder earlier in his career, but was pardoned by Henry.

However, Lacey Baldwin Smith's "Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty" reports that:

"All classes were exposed to humiliation and for each estate the punishment suited the social standing of the culprit as well as the nature of the crime. Whipping was the preferred correction for whores, urchins, servants, vagrants and schoolchildren, but those who wore satin did not always escape ear clipping, branding, jeering and the stocks."

The proliferation of "vagrants" was a preoccupation of Henry and his Parliament. According to Ridley, "In 1530, Parliament passed an Act against vagabonds ... If any able-bodied man or woman, who did not own land or carry on a recognised profession or was a trader in merchandise, was found outside his native parish and could not account for his presence there, the local JP was to send him to the nearest market town, where he was to be tied to a cart and 'beaten with whips ... till his body be bloody by reason of such whipping.'" The vagabond problem, aggravated by the Dissolution of the monasteries, persisted into Elizabeth's reign and later centuries.

Treason, naturally, always merited death. "Misprision" (concealment) of treason also carried the death penalty, but it was harder to prove.