Identity and the Prosecution of Interpersonal Violence in Late Medieval Yorkshire, 1340-85

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There has been a strong historiographical focus on quantifying medieval crime and profiling criminals. This methodology has often resulted in a failure to consider the intersection between the law and social attitudes. This current investigation is interested in the extent to which legal privileges or social norms shaped criminal statistics. The project has captured evidence on all suspects and victims of homicide, ravishment, and bloodshed, in extant coroner and gaol records for York, the three Ridings of Yorkshire, and in four manorial courts. Unlike previous scholarship, this project does not attempt to calculate crime rates or to create a profile of the ‘typical criminal’. Medieval legal sources cannot answer these questions due to missing records, unreliable population data, multiple jurisdictions, the politics of law, and discretionary power. Instead, this doctoral work uses the tools of legal and social identity, defined respectively as how people were treated by the law, and their position in society, to better understand the male prevalence.

The first section of this thesis is a study of those prosecuted for interpersonal violence; the main point is that despite the overrepresentation of lay men, the legal identity of married women and clergy did not shield them from criminal prosecution. The second section is a study of victims and argues that although women were excluded from the formal structures of law, they actively engaged in community ‘policing’. The third section focuses on the context of violence, showing that the presentation of murder was highly gendered, with jurors justifying or excusing male defendants, while remaining comparatively silent on female violence. Finally, the impact of identity on judicial outcomes is analysed. It is shown that as self-defence was linked to masculinity and honour, male defendants could be pardoned, whereas women fell into the binary categories of innocent or guilty. However, amercements for bloodshed in the manor court were likely determined based on economic status rather than legal or social identity.

Briggs, Christopher
Medieval history, Law, English history, Economic history, Social history, Legal history, socio-legal, history of crime, historical criminology, coroner, gaol delivery, manor court, amercements, crime and punishment, Prosecution, Criminal statistics, hue and cry, bloodshed, Yorkshire, Northern England, Edward III, Execution, Benefit of clergy, Coverture, Pardons, Fourteenth century, Homicide, Ravishment, Petty treason, Suspects, Victims, Accomplices, Criminality, Masculinity, Gender, Judicial system
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
ESRC (2123610)
This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council