Saturday, April 25, 2009

Question from Matthew - Law enforcement

What legal / law enforcement systems existed in tudor-stuart England?

[Ed. note - I thought this question had come up before, but I couldn't find any specifically about how law enforcement was done in the archives]

1 comment:

PhD Historian said...

Not my area of expertise (again), but I do know that many types of criminal cases were handled in the Assize Courts, and action was often initiated on the basis of someone swearing a complaint. There was no regular police force prior to the early nineteenth century, so most "policing" was done by the populace itself. Person A showed up at court on the day when it met, swore out a complaint against Person B, and the sheriff or justice of the peace or other authorities summoned the person to court to face the charges (a vastly over-simplified explanation, but it's a starting point).

I can think of two good books related to the topic, right off the top of my head:

Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London, which deals with women assaulting each other (or assaulting men) and ending up in court. It contains a good explanation of how people enforced domestic violence laws in the absence of a formal police force.

Marjorie Keniston McIntosh, Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1300-1600, also deals with the subject, but does so across a much broader spectrum of legal offenses. Caution: the book is a bit dense and dry ... it is intended for academics, but you might still find it useful if your library can get it for you.