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Gender and Petty Crime in Late Medieval England

Gender and Petty Crime in Late Medieval England: The Local Courts in Kent, 1460-1560

Karen Jones
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Gender and Petty Crime in Late Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Winner of the Women's History Network Book Prize, 2007 A large proportion of late medieval people were accused of some kind of misdemeanour in borough, manorial or ecclesiastical courts at some stage in their lives. The records of these courts bring us as close to ordinary townspeople and villagers as it is possible to get, and show what behaviour was considered reprehensible in men and women. This book is the first full-length study of gender and crime in late medieval England. Based on a meticulous analysis of the records of local jurisdictions in Kent, and bringing in a wealth of evidence from numerous individual cases, it shows how charges against women typically differed from those against men, and how contemporary assumptions and fears about masculinity and femininity were both reflected and reinforced by the local courts. KAREN JONES is an Associate Research Fellow of the University of Greenwich.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-469-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. Map of Kent, c.1500
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-31)

    In 1517, in the small borough of Fordwich in Kent, the jury at the mayor’s court presented an exceptionally quarrelsome man, William Clark, as a scold. But the clerk whose job was to keep a record of the proceedings in Latin made a mistake: instead ofgarrulator,one of the Latin words for a male scold, he wrotegarrulatrix,the feminine form, and a word which would have been more familiar to him.¹ For this man, the English word ‘scold’ was connected with femininity. The discovery of this clerical error aroused my interest in prosecutions for misdemeanour and the light...

    (pp. 32-60)

    The word ‘thief’ was frequently used as an all-purpose insult for men, without necessarily implying that its target was suspected of theft. The comparable insult for women was ‘whore’. This bears out the contention that ‘honesty’ for women meant principally chastity, while for men it meant chiefly probity in business dealings. An important component of male honour was also the ability to provide for one’s dependants, so the temptation to steal would be great for men who could not fulfil this duty by lawful means. Thus we might expect that men would commit offences against property more often than women,...

    (pp. 61-93)

    In January 1531, Richard Crosley of Smeeth went to the shop of Thomas Smith at Stone Hill to fetch a ladle of his, which he had left for repair. Smith told him he had already returned the ladle, and claimed that he had not been paid for his work,

    and Richard demaundyd when that was, and . . . Smythe seid at that tyme when thou hadyst adrabbe in thy Company here, and Richard made answhere & say no drabbe for shee was myWeddydWiff & thow artt nott honest to saye that I hade my good & have hytt nott...

  10. Chapter 4 VERBAL VIOLENCE
    (pp. 94-128)

    In the late medieval church, the ‘sins of the tongue’ were taken seriously.Dives and Pauper,a fifteenth century treatise on the Ten Commandments, includes the prohibition of verbal abuse twice, under the headings of both ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’. It is especially vehement against ‘bacbytynge’, the sin of destroying a person’s reputation by slander.² There is no indication in the treatise that this, or any other form of verbal offence, was particularly associated with women. Yet ‘scolding’ had come to be regarded as a largely female offence. Indeed, the punishment of women for scolding...

    (pp. 129-171)

    According toDives and Pauper,no less than nine ‘specys of lecherie’ could iconstitute an infraction of the Seventh Commandment. A single one of these, ‘synful medlyng togedere atwoxsyn housebounde & wif ’, could be committed in eight distinct ways.¹ In spite of this abundance of opportunities for prosecution, the disciplinary activities of the church courts were principally confined to the types of sexual misconduct that could have deleterious social consequences, and that were sometimes also prosecuted in secular courts: adultery, fornication, bigamy and prostitution. This chapter deals with the prosecution of men and women for these and related offences....

  12. Chapter 6 GENDERED CRIMES
    (pp. 172-195)

    The topics covered in previous chapters – property offences, physical and verbal violence and sexual offences – all involved both men and women, though to varying degrees, and featured often enough in the court records to justify analysis at some length. Some other categories of offence have been treated as outside the scope of this book. These include failures to carry out obligations which were imposed only or mainly on men: failing to possess or practise with bows and arrows, failure to keep watch, or to perform the duties of local office-holding, secular or ecclesiastical. Since most householders were men, it was...

  13. Chapter 7 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 196-208)

    Now that the prosecutions of men and women in the local courts have been analysed according to types of offences, an overview can be taken of the patterns that emerge and what can be deduced from them. This concluding chapter will first consider the changes that took place in the offences presented in local courts over the period c. 1460 to 1560 and briefly discuss how the regulation of misconduct changed up to about 1600 and to what extent these changes may have altered gender relations in the later sixteenth century. It will then consider the similarities and differences in...

    (pp. 209-226)
  15. Index
    (pp. 227-242)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)