HIST 251 - Lecture 15 - Crime and the Law

Lecture 15 - Crime and the Law


In this lecture Professor Wrightson examines the problem of order in early modern society, focusing on crimes of violence and upon property crime. In examining violence, he notes the existence of special cases geographically (the borderlands) and socially (aristocratic violence) before looking at the lower (and gradually declining) levels of homicide in general. He then considers property crime, distinguishing the various categories of theft and the manner in which cases were brought to, and handled in, the courts. The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries witnessed a peak in prosecution, but while the law could be harsh and bloody in meting out punishment, it was also characterized by discretionary extension of mercy. Interpretations of the use of such discretion are compared and assessed -- as are the limits that existed on its use in a society that believed in the deterrent effect of "exemplary punishment."


Wrightson, English Society, pp. 149-73

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