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Old September 10th, 2012, 05:27 PM   #1

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Crime and punishment in England during the Middle Ages


So, a man killing another man resulted in hanging, but a woman killing her husband resulted in her being burned at the stake... Chances are the woman who killed her husband might have had a better reason for doing so. Anyways, what are some other punishments for crime in medieval England?
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Old September 10th, 2012, 05:37 PM   #2
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"Going Medieval" isn't an expression for nothing. I can't imagine the horrors one would face when dealing with the King's torturers. One that comes to mind is the rack, which stretched the body until agonizing pain was felt.
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Old September 10th, 2012, 05:43 PM   #3
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Murdering her husband was considered pretty treason. It could also be petty treason to kill the local lord or for a servant to kill his/her master. Men were hanged, drawn, or quartered for treason. This was considered inappropriate for women, who were burnt. Nobleman convicted of treason were beheaded.

Any felony, could result in hanging and most hangings were for property crimes. However, most conviction for property crimes did not result in executions. Attempted murder, sex offenses, arson, and political and religious offenses also carried the death penalty.

Heretics and witches were burned. Henry VIII had 3 protestants burned for heresy and the same day and area 3 Catholics hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason.

Think they also had boiling in oil. Whipping and the stocks were lesser punishments.

Condemned criminals often had their property confiscated. To avoid this, the accused would sometimes refuse to plea. Then they would put heavy weights on him until he plead guilty or not or died.

Murders committed during robberies and so on resulted in breaking on the wheel in Germany and some other places but that wasn't used in England.
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Old September 10th, 2012, 05:49 PM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by betgo View Post
Condemned criminals often had their property confiscated. To avoid this, the accused would sometimes refuse to plea. Then they would put heavy weights on him until he plead guilty or not or died.

.
Do you mean they would pile the weights on top of him as he lay down?
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Old September 10th, 2012, 06:32 PM   #5

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While the statutes in post Conquest England allowed for quite horrific punishments, they were implemented quite rarely. While the law allowed for women convicted of petty treason or witchcraft to be burned, they tended to be hanged or strangled first and their dead bodies burnt, but to even get to that point there would have had to have been considerable compounding factors.
Justice was not arbitrary, the judicial officer or the Jury in important matters would know the defendant and could fairly judge his/her guilt. They would deliberate most carefully as the killing of a citizen would demand that they were then responsible for that person's family.
There was no nonsense of prison as an alternative to exemplary punishment, the parish or the state was not prepared to support someone in a prison cell; only the wealthy and notables were put in prison and this was just to take them out of circulation. Offenders rather had ears or nose lopped off, were branded or spent some time in the stocks or pillory. As a result, crime in medieval England was extremely low. The severity of punishment was sufficient.
Only eight people were judicially hanged in Kent for instance between 1200 and 1350, the big bloodlettings tended to be in periods of rebellion, as after the Peasants' Revolt or during the Anarchy.
The horror of the possible punishment kept crime quite low--something that modern society might learn from.
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Old September 10th, 2012, 06:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jake10 View Post
Do you mean they would pile the weights on top of him as he lay down?
Yes.

The "bloody code" continued until around 1820, when prison was used. Pennsilvania and then New York used prisons, and this was copied by other states and countries.

Sometimes part of the punishment was branding, with a letter like "M" for manslaughter. Then 2nd offenses might be dealt with more seriously. Often sentences were commuted to transportation to America and later Australia.

Juries would often find the defendent guilty of stealing a smaller amount, so it would not be a capital offense.

In addition to murder, highway robbery and counterfeiting usually resulted in the death penalty. Coining, knocking pieces of gold or silver off of coins defaced the portrait of the monarch, and so resulted in burning.
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Old September 10th, 2012, 06:56 PM   #7

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Crime and Punishment in England during the Medieval Times was considered as entertainment. It was like reality TV to their time. Boys would get excited about being able to witness a hanging. They found killing and bloody murder to be amusing back then.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 04:53 AM   #8

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Use of torture was increasingly used as the Middle Ages waned, centralisation of a states power and imposition of conformity. While torture was used in the middle ages, it was a bit more sparing and used less frequently, because people knew it didnt work and its limitations.



I recall going to the Museum of Medieval Torture in Prague, and noticing that everything in there was post 1500 and they lacked anything really medieval.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 07:07 AM   #9

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The early modern period, rather than the medieval period, is when the use of torture increased, and burning at the stake etc became more common. And the number of crimes that were punishable by death increased enormously in England in the 18th century, I remember reading there were over 100 different offences, or something like that, that were punishable by death.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 04:33 PM   #10

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What about prostitution? What were the laws and punishments regarding that?
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