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Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England

Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England

Jay Paul Gates
Nicole Marafioti
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England
    Book Description:

    Anglo-Saxon authorities often punished lawbreakers with harsh corporal penalties, such as execution, mutilation and imprisonment. Despite their severity, however, these penalties were not arbitrary exercises of power. Rather, they were informed by nuanced philosophies of punishment which sought to resolve conflict, keep the peace and enforce Christian morality. The ten essays in this volume engage legal, literary, historical, and archaeological evidence to investigate the role of punishment in Anglo-Saxon society. Three dominant themes emerge in the collection. First is the shift from a culture of retributive feud to a system of top-down punishment, in which penalties were imposed by an authority figure responsible for keeping the peace. Second is the use of spectacular punishment to enhance royal standing, as Anglo-Saxon kings sought to centralize and legitimize their power. Third is the intersection of secular punishment and penitential practice, as Christian authorities tempered penalties for material crime with concern for the souls of the condemned. Together, these studies demonstrate that in Anglo-Saxon England, capital and corporal punishments were considered necessary, legitimate, and righteous methods of social control. Jay Paul Gates is Assistant Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in The City University of New York; Nicole Marafioti is Assistant Professor of History and co-director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Contributors: Valerie Allen, Jo Buckberry, Daniela Fruscione, Jay Paul Gates, Stefan Jurasinski, Nicole Marafioti, Daniel O'Gorman, Lisi Oliver, Andrew Rabin, Daniel Thomas.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-298-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Contributors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Introduction: Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 1-16)
    Nicole Marafioti and Jay Paul Gates

    In the early eleventh century, Archbishop Wulfstan of York was confronted with the problem of reconciling principles of Christian mercy with the earthly obligation to punish criminals. The alignment of secular and spiritual priorities had long been an element of English law, as Christian clergy had been drafting English royal legislation since the turn of the seventh century. Yet it was only with Wulfstan’s codes for Kings Æthelred and Cnut that the rhetoric of salvation was fully and explicitly integrated into Old English law. In contrast to the laws of previous Anglo-Saxon kings, which required capital punishment for a range...

  8. 1 When Compensation Costs an Arm and a Leg
    (pp. 17-33)
    Valerie Allen

    It is a commonplace of nineteenth-century legal history that monetary compensation overtook feuding, and that such a development – fostered by the Church – set justice on its way towards its fulfillment in centralized regnal authority, public peace, and state-mandated punishment. Recent legal history has revised this model of linear evolution from feud to monetary compensation to punishment, and emphasized instead both the simultaneity of revenge and compensation systems, and the coexistence of opposing pro-and anti-revenge arguments. Attention has turned to the gradual change from a logic of feud (the early seventh century being the earliest date for recorded Anglo-Saxon law) to...

  9. 2 Beginnings and Legitimation of Punishment in Early Anglo-Saxon Legislation From the Seventh to the Ninth Century
    (pp. 34-47)
    Daniela Fruscione

    One should not take punishment in the Early Middle Ages for granted. As the various German publications onDie Geburt der Strafe[the beginning of penalty] show,¹ most scholars who have researched this field place the beginning of criminal law in the late Middle Ages.² However, the question remains of how these results correlate with Karl Siegfrid Bader’s well-known quotation: ‘punishment as a reaction has always been present, because without it no law would be possible.’³

    Here I intend to use Anglo-Saxon law to show that both positions are problematic. Although Anglo-Saxon legislation has so far played only a minor...

  10. 3 Genital Mutilation in Medieval Germanic Law
    (pp. 48-73)
    Lisi Oliver

    This paper provides a somewhat oblique approach to this volume’s titular focus on the difference between corporal and capital punishment in Anglo-Saxon England. The analysis focuses on how laws regulating injury to male genitalia assess the damage either as an immediate wound to the victim, or as an injury preventing him from producing offspring. In a broader sense, tying in to the theme of this collection, these fines can be seen as regarding the injury either as ‘corporal’ (the victim is maimed) or ‘capital’ (potential offspring cannot be engendered and thus are denied life). Both competing views appear in Anglo-Saxon...

  11. 4 ‘Sick-Maintenance’ and Earlier English Law
    (pp. 74-91)
    Stefan Jurasinski

    This chapter is concerned with a form of reconciliation attested in Irish and other Indo-European traditions and arguably present in some Anglo-Saxon legislative evidence as well. Its most familiar occurrence, however, is in a text far removed from early medieval Europe:

    When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.¹...

  12. 5 Incarceration as Judicial Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 92-112)
    Daniel Thomas

    The Old English translation of theSoliloquiesof St Augustine contains the following passage on the different experiences of those who set out to seek wisdom:

    swa hit bið æac be þam wisdome: ælc þara þe hys wilnað and þe hys geornful byt, he hym mæg cuman to and on hys hyrede wunian and be lybbam, þeah hi hym sume nær sian, sume fyer. swa swa ælces cynges hama beoð sume on bure, sume on healle, sume on odene, sume on carcerne, and lybbað þeah æalle be anes hlafordes are.¹

    so it is too concerning wisdom: each of those who...

  13. 6 Earthly Justice and Spiritual Consequences: Judging and Punishing in the Old English Consolation of Philosophy
    (pp. 113-130)
    Nicole Marafioti

    For all the mutilation and execution in this volume, there has been little discussion of the people who issued and implemented judicial sentences in Anglo-Saxon England. While responsibility for the capture, imprisonment, and upkeep of offenders was occasionally assigned to specific individuals in pre-Conquest legislation, corporal penalties rarely designated an agent for the exercise of justice.¹ Instead, the harshest punishments were often articulated with an impersonal construction: let the thieving hand be cut off (slea mon þa hond); let the adulteress lose her nose and ears (heo þolige nasa Jearena); let the traitor’s life be forfeit (si he his feores...

  14. 7 Osteological Evidence of Corporal and Capital Punishment in Later Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 131-148)
    Jo Buckberry

    Recent research by Andrew Reynolds has interrogated the archaeological record for evidence of Anglo-Saxon execution cemeteries.¹ This chapter will discuss how osteological evidence can aid our interpretation of Anglo-Saxon capital punishment and give insight into the types of evidence that might aid in the identification of corporal punishment from skeletal populations. The importance of correctly interpreting skeletal trauma is paramount, but this can be supported by scrutinising the palaeodemographic profile of execution populations, studying burial position, and understanding the decomposition process and the significance of post-depositional disturbance of burials. The essay will lay down a framework for the successful identification...

  15. 8 Mutilation and Spectacle in Anglo-Saxon Legislation
    (pp. 149-164)
    Daniel O’Gorman

    This chapter explores a particular type of corporal punishment, one that has elements unique to later Anglo-Saxon England. It makes its first appearance in the Grately code of King Æthelstan, likely promulgated in the late 920s.¹ This punishment, which targeted minters who struck coins in an unauthorized fashion, is found in a section that appears to have been part of an earlier code that had been incorporated into the Grately edict.² Denoted as clause 14.1 in its modern edition, the law states:

    If a moneyer is found guilty, let the hand with which he performed the crime be cut off,...

  16. 9 The ‘Worcester’ Historians and Eadric Streona’s Execution
    (pp. 165-180)
    Jay Paul Gates

    For the post-Conquest historians EadricStreonawas ‘the destroyer of many monasteries and the savage oppressor of all.’¹ He was inherited as a narrative figure from Anglo-Saxon sources as the great English traitor during Cnut’s conquest, a synecdoche for the English nation during the Danish conquest, and a figure emblematic not just of a failure by the nobility to fulfill their social responsibilities, but also of a predatory aristocracy and the consequences of their actions for the nation.² As such, he proves a useful model for the critique of bad practices in the Anglo-Norman period without necessarily having to call...

  17. 10 Capital Punishment and the Anglo-Saxon Judicial Apparatus: A Maximum View?
    (pp. 181-200)
    Andrew Rabin

    In the final volume of hisCommentaries on the Laws of England, Sir William Blackstone praised what he saw as the ‘most remarkable’ achievements of pre-Conquest English law: ‘the constitution of parliaments,’ ‘the election of their magistrates by the people,’ and the development of the ‘most important guardian both of public and private liberty,’ the jury.¹ Equal to these accomplishments, in Blackstone’s view, was Anglo-Saxon law’s ‘great paucity of capital punishments,’ particularly for first offenses.² Although Blackstone’s version of pre-Conquest legal history has been largely discredited, his assertion that legislators often restricted, if not abandoned entirely, the use of the...

  18. Index
    (pp. 201-206)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-208)