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Homicide Notes

History Notes > Crime and Punishment in England c.1280-c.1450 Notes

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Society and Homicide in Thirteenth Century England - James Buchanan Given (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977) pp. 1-105 Introduction:
? Murder is patterned by prevailing social, economic and political relationships The Records and the Societies:
? Eyre was a visitation of a county made every few years by a panel of royal justices empowered to hear and determine every type of action
? The only penalty for criminally culpable homicide was death - made judgement of homicide an exclusively royal matter
~ Justices had to occur into all homicides since the last eyre
? Accomplices also suffered death by hanging
? Underestimation of chattels in sympathy for wife or son
? Looked at whether murderer was member of a frankpledge - could lead to amercement
? Murder meant some kind of profit for the king's treasury
? Little underreporting of deaths by juries due to existence of coroners' rolls
? Yet the rolls provide a much fuller list of the victims than the accused?13th century - England was far from a homogeneous society Geographical differences in freedom - freest in Kent Quite urbanised - many towns and a few large cities

The Frequency of Homicide:
? Homicide can be seen to be the special misdeed of the knightly class
? Bloch - violence was the distinguishing mark of the epoch and the social system
? Williams - 'violence was endemic'
? Short life expectations
? Yet chroniclers and other writers will focus on the unusual and dramatic
? High of 64 murders/100k per annum in 1232 eyre of Warwick
? Low of 4/100k in 1248 eyres of Bristol
? Warwick consistently had high rural rate in Midlands
? 'it is possible that every person in England in the 13th century, if he did not personally witness a murder, knew or knew of someone who had been killed' (p. 40)
~ Even greater chance that they would meet a murderer Homicide and the Medieval Household:
? Collective character of homicide
? Every individual is in networks - greater bonds than today -> greater conflict
? 20.2% acted in the company of a relative - and then revenge from the other family ->
? Sending of servants to kill people
? Accidents when people were assaulting others e.g. children involved
? Widespread belief that parents who killed their children were mentally deranged
? Use of hue and cry - villagers could be wounded

Social Status and Violent Conflict:
? Some groups within society have less means of resolving conflicts than others
? Violence could be shunned yet for others could show manliness
? Difficult to determine social status of murderers
? Violence was generally the tool of the relatively poor - members of the ruling elite did not participate in violence to any significant degree
? Contrast with blood feud of other European nobles
? Nobility could also vent anger at tournaments
? High incidence of homicide in the borough of Oxford - 35.4/100k per annum
? Violence was largely a peasant means of settling conflict
? 'That so many found it necessary to kill reveals that in England in the 13th century justice and order were all too often the monopolies of the privileged few' (p. 90) The Accused Slayer in Court:
? All homicide that wasn't self-defence or clearly accidental was theoretically punishable by death
? Around 27% were acquitted
? About 7% were executed
? About 41% were outlawed
? In addition, some murderers were never identified
? Executions usually occurred elsewhere - not at local court
? Could have trial by duel but almost exclusively trial by jury
? Juries were unwilling to send people to the gallows - looked at mitigating circumstances
? Could be a fear to prosecute due to threats from appellor's friends
? Could come to an agreement with family of deceased and keep out of court
? A person who had been indicted was almost 5 times as likely to die on the gallows as somebody who had been appealed
? Almost 30% of those indicted were executed
? Many appeals may have been lodged maliciously
~ Threat of king's trial as a kind of extortion
? Jurors could inform justices that the accuser had appealed people pro denariis habendis
~ Not infrequent
? Homicides that resulted in appeals may have been felt by the community to be justified or at least not extremely culpable
~ Better to have private agreement than execution
? Accomplices fared much better in court - 58.8% were acquitted - principals were 18 times more likely to be executed
? Those who killed relatives were treated harshly in the courts - around 45% executed
? Far more lenient on those who had killed in a company
? 'In a society where the formal institutionalised means of settling conflicts were not numerous, a man who made himself odious to his neighbours may not have aroused much concern when he was slain by a group of those same neighbours' (p. 104)
? Royal courts may not have dissuaded those who were intent on murder - justice dispensed in them was extremely lenient
~ Jurors were harsh to those who had killed relatives but in general were reluctant to send those accused of murder to the gallows
~ May be due to harshness of medieval law - did not distinguish between different degrees of murder and manslaughter
~ Lesser penalties may have been employed more frequently


To a large extent, the leniency shown to those accused of homicide reflects a general attitude towards violence as the normal means of settling certain conflicts - society was reluctant to interfere

The King's Pardon for Homicide before A.D. 1307 - Naomi D. Hurnard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) pp. 1-130 Introduction:
? Pardons could remit sentences and even avert prosecution
? Medieval English king's prerogative of mercy was certainly used to excess
~ Complete disregard for efficacy of deterrent
~ Main reason was military necessity
? Henry III was too responsive to pressure
? Yet were others who needed but did not receive a pardon
? Pardon was a matter of grace - uncertainty for need of it and it being conceded
? Harsh treatment of accidental slaying -> outlawry
? Could still entail forfeiture of chattels
? Pardons could still entail paying a sum to the victim's family The Origins of the Medieval System of Pardoning:
? Idea of making reparations
? Referral to the crown in 1212 - 'Roger of Stainton was arrested because in throwing a stone he by misadventure killed a girl. And it is testified that this was not by felony. And this was shown to the king and the king moved by pity pardoned him the death'
? Did not have to pay reparation for self-defence - victim had already forfeited right to it Procedure:
? May not be prudent to surrender to king's mercy - expensive and may not receive it
? Much killing 'by misadventure' - lack of notions of safety?
? Once a prisoner had been convicted of felonious killing here was no right of appeal against sentence and it was carried out almost straight away
? Ambiguity as to what was pardonable and justices were inconsistent in their interpretations of cases Excusable Homicide:
? Not a term used in medieval times although the concept existed
~ Whether the slaying was 'felonious' or not
~ Lunacy, infancy, self-defence, by mischance - yet not clear categories
? Was still homicide even if you did not directly kill someone - even neglecting to help
? Any delay in self-defence made it vengeance
~ Self-defence must be proportionate to the danger
? Great emphasis on intention
? Jury had to establish whether it was felonious - generally gave a fairly detailed account
? 1255 - further question for self-defence -> whether the slayer would not have escaped death unless he killed his assailant
~ Bracton - guilty if he could have escaped without inflicting death
? The king generally accepted judicial recommendations of mercy
? Issue of discrepancy of weapons
~ 1255 - Walter de Lacy had struck Adam Overstrod with a staff and beaten him and Adam fought back by drawing his knife and giving Walter a fatal stab in the stomach
~ The itinerant justices sentenced Adam to be hanged
? Self-defence and accidental killing were excusable but required a pardon

??Idea of making attackers run into weapons Issue of dangerous driving - pedestrians were more blamed for not getting out of the way Much easier to convince jury that it was accidental instead of self-defence Were pragmatic guiding rules - unpredictable outcomes

The Excusable Slayer in Court:
? Fines could be made when the participation in a killing had been very small
? Nearly all those remanded ad gratiam at the eyre got pardon

Societal Concepts of Criminal Liability for Homicide in Medieval England - Thomas A. Green (Speculum, 47 (1972)) pp. 669-694??????????There was a distinction between murder and simple homicide - later manslaughter
~ This distinction, however, was enforced by the juries and was entirely against the common law Crown had exclusive control and defined homicide as culpable and therefore capital, excusable and therefore pardonable or justifiable and therefore deserving of acquittal
~ Justified - thieves, outlaws and housebreakers (although not enacted until the 16th century) Pardonable were those done in self-defence - must have made every possible attempt to escape Some justices and coroners made a distinction from 1390 in reporting a crime as murder or simple homicide
~ Sometimes escaped punishment by giving a pardon for self-defence - was actually simple homicide
~ Way out when a jury did not think that someone deserved to be hanged Community resisted extension of capital punishment - had previously only been death for murder and wergeld for all other homicides Great majority of defendants were acquitted Murder seen to have been committed by stealth or ambush at night Strict rules for self-defence - in some instances should only have struck one blow
~ Should retreat until retreat is no longer possible
~ Yet community thought that a violent attack should be met by a violent response Norfolk coroner's roll 1367
~ 'William put his hand to his knife in order to draw it and strike Robert. Robert, fearing that William wanted to kill him, in self-defence struck William on the head with a hatchet' Not totally against retaliation By the mid 14th century killing a housebreaker might lead to an acquittal by the court Could kill an adulterer - made out to be self-defence Were also allowed to kill in defence of a kinsman - altered evidence to make it self-defence
~ Buckinghamshire coroner John atte Broke - John Colles junior stabbed William Shepherde in defence of his father
~ Jury claimed that Shepherde had already turned on John Colles Numerous examples of more details added by the jury Broader notion of self-defence or idea that only murderers should be hanged?
~ There is evidence for both Rules of self-defence and felonious intent were unrealistically strict Murder was seen to be 'secret' - hidden body or unknown perpetrator
~ Could also mean the secret identity of the murderer to the victim Housebreaking immediately makes those residing within acting in self-defence Jurors alleged that the person killed under self-defence had been attempting serious homicide 1390 Statute associated murder with ambush and malice aforethought
~ Mainly concerned with highwaymen and housebreakers Murder seems to centre on the deviousness of the act

?Murder could also be attached to any homicide which society found particularly repugnant e.g. petty treason of wife killing husband or servant killing master Coroners and juries were influenced by other knowledge e.g. homicide must have been an accident as they had been 'friends'

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