Crime and Punishment


Roman Britain 1

Began in 43 AD 

Allowed some kings + chiefs to retain control over their land but provincial governer controlled some area

Roman legions policed areas but victims of crimes responsible for collecting evidence + presenting it to the provincial governer in big cases but magistrates in lesser cases

5 principles:

  • everyone came under the law
  • laws made public so people knew them
  • laws rational + not based on religeon
  • court trials open to public
  • everyone recieves fair treatment

Twelve tablets basis for all roman law

1 of 26

Roman Britain 2

Roman society:

  • hierarchical - from slaves to wealthy landowners
  • patriarchal - family controlled by father
  • not fair as punishment varied on social status + gender


  • most serious crime was to plot against emperor e.g. 60 AD under Boudicca
  • petty theft most common
  • had to worship emperor


  • purpose of puishment to deter others so harsh + public
  • serious punishments - ampuation + execution
  • less serious - whipping, beaten + fines with prisons only for holding not punishing

Withdrew from Britain 410 AD

2 of 26

Anglo Saxons 1

North German tribes such as angles, saxons + jutes split England into different areas

Britain went from one central legal system to a collection of small seperate kingdoms

King became more influencial in making laws

Some basic codes drawn up e.g. by Alfred the Great

Law based on community with every man entitled to peace + kings peace applied to all roads with offenders severely punished

Legal system:

  • Witan - kings own royal court
  • England divided into Shires controled be shire-reevs with shire courts meeting twice a year
  • shires dividded into hundreds with monthly court meetings
  • in towns there were special borough courts
  • private courts held by landowners
3 of 26

Anglo Saxons 2

Local community and family:

  • blood feud - the right to take out revenge on the wrondoer or his family
  • wergeld - replacdd blood fued and system replaced violence with compensation but unequal as differing values for different people
  • tithings - system of collective responsibility instead of police so + sum of money knonw as bohr paid to the head of the tithing (early form of bail)
  • hue + cry - everyone in hundred who hears shout of crime has to join search effort

Christian church - originally driven out by anglo-saxon kings but became influencial in education + rules were put in place such as fining people who weren't abiding by laws

Trial by community:

  • jury formed in community
  • plaintiff (victim) had to summon the defendant
  • if defendant didn't appear in court they automatically lost + had to pay a fine
  • if fine not paid person became outlaw
4 of 26

Anglo Saxons - Trial by Ordeal

Seen as religious judgement + church took other the case

Method used:

  • if accused was a suspicious character
  • if they had often been accused
  • if they were guilty of perjury (lying under oath)
  • if the jury couldn't agree

Ordeal by cold water - normally for slaves where lowered into water and if sank, innocent but if float guilty as not been accepted by water

Ordeal by hot water - accused (noramally men) plunged hand into boiling water before being bandaged for three days + if healed innocent but if festering guilty

Ordeal by hot iron - normally women had to carry a hot piece of metal + same effect as hot water

Ordeal by sacrament - priest had to pray he would choke on sacrement (holy bread) if lying + would be guilty if did choke

5 of 26

Anglo Saxons 4

Most common offence petty theft

Compensation + fines most common punishment but people executed for serious crimes through hanging

Church didn't use death penalty oftern but instead used harsh physical punishment e.g. mutilation

Re-offenders punished heavily


  • Anglo-Saxon law was more localised than roman
  • increased role of community in law making + enforcement
  • Church determined what was classified as a crime + how people punished
  • death penalty less common
6 of 26

Norman Conquest

Feudal system put in place with land given to barons

Mund - area of land around mans house in which peace should occur and kings mund covered everything

Majority of laws remained the same e.g. shire courts, hundred, tithings, trial by ordeal + hue + cry 

No police force

Changes under normans:

  • castles built 
  • all rebels executed
  • harrowing of the north - William brought army to destroy villages + ruin crops
  • if norman murdered all people in region had to pay collective fine

Forest laws - 30% of Enlgand became protected royal forest to protect deer + trees with harsh punisment if not obeyed

7 of 26

Norman Conquest 2

Trial by combat - accused and accuser battled to death

Latin made oficial language

Influence of the church grew + church courts set up for moral crimes e.g. adultery

Harsh punishments in place as a deterent so increased use of death penalty + fines or stocks used for minor crimes

Church believed in reformation + importance increased

Avoiding death penalty:

  • join army
  • buy pardon
  • get pregnant
  • priests had benefit of clergy
  • right of sanctury as couldn't be arrested in court
8 of 26

Later Middle Ages

Anglo-saxon and Norman law continued to operate side by side but broke down after civil war between 1135-54

Henry 2nd became king and tried to restore peace by updating laws + increasing importance of royal justice

When Henry 2nd came into power there were several systems of law:

  • Anglo-Saxon law - local level
  • Norman law - used by barons in manorial courts
  • Royal law - tried to bring greater fairness
  • Church law - dealt with specific crimes + believed in reformation
9 of 26

Later Middle Ages 2

Henry's new system:

  • issued Constitution of Claredon in 1164 which formed basis of modern laws
  • sherrifs issued instructions known as writs
  • Court of King's Bench - in Westminster to deal with serious cases
  • approvers who had commited an offence could offer evidence in return for lighter sentance
  • Jury's used more
  • county gaols set up where accused people were kept before trial
  • England divided into six "eyres" (circuits) where judges travelled round to hear cases

Developments after death of Henry II in 1189:

  • constables - local people who kept law + order in spare time, employed for a year at a time
  • watch - citizens who kept watch during night
  • coroners - enquire about suspicious deaths
  • posse comitatus - men had a duty to form a posse to catch criminals
  • petty juries - trial by jury was increased
  • justice of the peace - some knights appointed + managed law in counties
10 of 26

Later Middle Ages 3

Religion + crime - heresy was harshly punished by pulic burning

Types of crimes - most common petty theft due to poverty

Outlaws - breakdown of law + order caused more outlaws who in reality stole from the poor

Punishment - influence of church  meant less execution

Women + the law - women treated unequally and had to obey either father of husband with them having no possesions + specific puishments for women e.g. a ducking stool for a woman being a nag


  • power of king was important as law + order broke down if king was absent or weak
  • punishment more lenient
  • society remained hierarchical + patriarchal
11 of 26

Early Modern Britain


Key features:

  • Henry VII won the trone at battle of Bosworth in 1485 + established Tudor dynasty
  • Tudors wer insecure after War of the Roses
  • Henry VIII broke with Rome + made himself head of the church of England, linking heresy + treason
  • Under Edward VI England then became protestant but Mary I re-instated Roman Catholicism + burned 300 protestants for heresy before Elizabeth I reversed this
  • King James I disn't tolerate Catholics + sparked the gunpowder plot 1605
  • Political divisions started over role of king + parliament, causing civil war of 1649 resulting in a rublic run by Oliver Cromwell before Monarchy reinstated in 1660 under Charles II
  • Glorious revolution of 1688 brought protestant rulers William + Mary to the throne which stopped religious uncertainty
  • Period of social change with population growth (1530-1630 = population rose from 2.5 million to 5 million) and rising inflation created a wealth gap
12 of 26

Early Modern Britain 2

Treason - became linked with heresy after Henry VIII became head of church + most serious crime so punished by hanging, drawing + quartering as a deterrent but upper class traitors were usually beheaded

Gunpowder plot - 5th November 1605 where catholic opponents attempted to murder King James I by blowing up Parliament but were betrayed so hung, drawn + quatered

Vagrancy + the poor:

  • increased in sixteenth century as population increase put pressure on jobs + food 
  • people lost jobs as Henry VII banned private armies
  • wealthy people lost money from War of the Roses
  • dissolution of monastries meant monks couldn't offer handouts
  • sturdy beggars - beggars that people presumed could work but chose not to + used tricks to gain money
  • poor were seen as lazy + poor
  • poverty seen as cause of unrest and disorder by rulers
  • Henry VIII first to allow begging licences but Edward ruled beggars branded with V
  • In 1576 houses of correction introduced + Elizabeth introduced poor law
13 of 26

Early Modern Britain 3

Puritanism - extreme protestants who followed bible very closely + in government under Cromwell with rules such as no Christmas, no theatres + no activity on sunday

Highway robbery:

  • image of gentlemanly but in reality very cruel + cut out tongues
  • **** Turpin (1705-1739) wa most famous but was arrested for horse stealing + hanged
  • increased as - no organsied police force, people carried belongings with them, civil war made guns easier to obtain + soldiers returned without work
  • disapeared as - toll roads increased, John fielding introduced patrols, stagecoaches used, Highwayman act of 1693 introduced severe punishment + banknotes were used more


  • during 17th + 18th century government collected import duties with taxes of around 30%
  • instead people smugggled these goods as could earn 6/7 times a farm labourers wage
  • seen as victimless crime
  • Slippery Sam (Sam Jackson) was hanged in 1760 for smuggling + body displayed
  • in 1780 PM William Pitt lowered taxes on imported goods and stopped smuggling
14 of 26

Early Modern Britain 4

Poaching - Game Act of 1671 made it illegal to hunt certain animals but didn't apply to landowners then became a capital offence after Black Act of 1723 + seen as victimless crime

Bloody Code:

  • trend towards violent punishment accelerated in late 1600's when bloody code began to develop
  • 1723 black act added 50 new capital crimes with hangings occuring at Tyburn
  • developed due to the fact that death removed individual from society + acted as deterent
  • policing was still inneficient

Law enforcement:

  • JPs were responsible for public order inheir areas with most landowners + unpaid
  • each village had a constable who would do job a year at a time
  • Watchmen/Bellmen were based in towns
  • Thieftakers were hired by victims of crmes to find those responsible but often worked with thiefs + Jonathan Wild was most notorious thieftaker who had 7,000 thieves working for him + became thieftaker general but hanged in 1725
15 of 26

Industrial Britain

Key features:

  • a time of huge social + economic change
  • growth in population from 7 to 40 million
  • people moved from rural areas to cities so went from 80% on land to 80% in factories
  • improved transport
  • authorities feared social change after French revolution
  • soldiers retuned home after Napoleonic wars ended in1815
  • crime rates increased after 1750 but started to fall after 1850

End of bloody code:

  • witnesses + judges would take pity on criminals, especially young children
  • number of executions fell as many weren't carried out + transported
  • increased murder of witnesses
  • public hangings became rowdy + opportunities for pickpockets
  • new ideas about punishment came into play e.g. Utilitarism by Jeremy Bentham
16 of 26

Industrial Britain 2

Reform - home secretary Robert Peel reduced number of capital punishment from over 200 to 5 between 1822 + 1840 then hanging only in prisons

Crime rates fell after 1850 as prisons were reformed so werent't 'schools for crime' with a fairer punishment system and police force from 1829 in London


  • no prison system large enough to house large numbers of criminals and capital punisment too harsh so instead transported to colonies
  • initially voyage took 8 months + then only 4 months by 1830's
  • most convicts were thieves + good behaviour earned ticket of leave

Transportation ended in 1868 as:

  • convicts decided to stay at the end of sentance due to high wages so transportation seen as opportunity + when gold discovered in 1851 it was no longer seen as a detterent
  • prisons were cheaper as by 1830 transportation cost £500,000 per year
  • crime levels increased + aussies objected to method
17 of 26

Industrial Britain 3

Tolpuddle Martyrs:

  • factory + mine conditions very poor + in 1800 trade unions banned in fear of revolution
  • this law lifted in 1824 but could not intervene too much so strikes not viable
  • Grand National Consolidated Trade Union grew in strength after 1833 with government becoming concerned over its strength
  • swing riots of 1830-32 where agricultural workers attacked threshing machines showed dangers of workers
  • George Loveless formed 'Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers' in 1834 with 6 farm workers discussing working conditions in Tolpuddle, Dorset, in secret whilst swearing an oath on the bible
  • local landowners found out about these meetings and mutiny act meant swearing oath of secrecy on bible is illegal therefore sentanced to 7 years transportation
  • protests of 25 thousand people resulted in there return
18 of 26

Industrial Britain 4

Why did prisons change - until 1750 prisons only used for holding prisoners + people in debt with towns + counties running some but some private + everyone still kept together


  • John Howard - wrote a report in 1777 concluding; disease was common, few staff, gaolers were unpaid so corrupt + prisons 'schools of crime'
  • Elizabeth Fry - a quaker who visited Newgate Prison in 1813 + shocked so worked to improve by; cleaning cells, set up Society for Improvement of Female Prsioners + began schooling in prisons
  • Jonas Hanway - first to suggest reforms + had ideas such as good hygiene + christianity
  • George O.Paul - High Sheriff of Gloucestershire who built model prison in 1785 by making sure prisoners healthy + had fresh air
  • Jeremy Bentham - ideas of Utilitarianism + believed prisons should be efficient by being designed + managed well as prisoners should have no contact + learn new skills

Silent vs seperate - whether harsh solitary confinement or silent, repetative tasks were best

Debate over useful work vs pointless work

19 of 26

Industrial Britain 5


  • Goal Act of 1823 - by Robert Peel began a series of reforms + covered 130 prisons meant that; priosn were secured, Jailers paid by government, prison inspections, seperation of genders, teachers employed for reformation but wasn't fully followed
  • 1864 penal servitude act - conditions got tougher and more punishment introduced
  • By 1870's imprisonment became accepted method of punishment + rehabilitation

Juvenile crime:

  • debate over wether youths should have severe punishment
  • in 1838 Parkhurst Prison opened for young people with harsh conditions
  • 1847 juvenile offences act said those under 16 tried in special court
  • reformatory schools set up
  • compulsory education act of 1870 meant all children fro 5-10 had to be at school
  • borstals set up in 1899 so cildren no longer sent to adult prisons
20 of 26

Industrial Britain 6


  • before 1829 law enforcement was the responsibilty of Justices of Peace or thieftakers
  • Bow street Runners - Henry Fielding gatherd 6 men together + armed them with hand cuffs, a pistol + a stick with it becoming police station in 1754 which continued to grow with uniforms etc.
  • in 1798 Thames River Police set up
  • Metropolitan Police set up in 1829 by Robert Peel to eventually replace Bow Street Runners made up of mainly ex-soldiers who had to walk around London
  • set up as - fear of revolution, growth of towns, increasing crime + clear inneficiencies with current system
  • opposed at first due to - invasion of privacy, fear of brutality, concerns over cost + feeling biased towards upper class
  • new police succesful with crimes decreasing between 1829 + 1835
  • Peel was more succesful than Fielding brothers as had backing of Parliament + financial backing form taxing so could push forward the ideas of the Fielding brothers
21 of 26

Industrial Britain 7

Jack the Ripper - at least 5 women murdered in 1880's with at least 5 women murdered

Why never caught:

  • the press sensationalised murders so the murderer could engineer the public
  • panic caused pressure so case was rushed
  • poor living conditions allowed good opportunities for crime
  • poor technology + no witnesses
  • 2 seperate police forces of Metropolitan + City of London caused disputes in case
  • lack of reward for information
22 of 26

Modern Britain

Crime Rates:

  • began to fall from around 1870 onwards + continued till 1950 due to improved living standards 
  • rose again after 1950 due to; new technology, more people caught, attitudes change + population increase although has started to fall since 1992
  • many crimes go unreported

New crimes:

  • theft has become cyber aswell
  • smuggling has become different
  • human trafficking
  • motoring crimes
  • terrorism - July 7th caused 52 deaths + damaged UK economy

Racism - race relations act of 1968 made racism illegal, murder of Stephen Lawrence suugested institutionalised racism + race riots in north highlighted tensions

23 of 26

Modern Britain 2

Changes in twentieth century:

  • 1902 - treadmill + crank abolished
  • 1907 - probation officers introduced
  • 1921 - arrow uniforms + shaven heads abolished
  • 1922 - solitary confinement removed
  • 1936 - first open prison set up
  • 1948 - flogging + hard labour ended
  • 1948 - detention centres set up
  • 1965 - capital punishment abolished
  • 1972 - community service introduced
  • 1980's - more prisons built due to overcrowding
  • 1990 - riots in manchester prison
  • 1999 - ASBO's introduced

Alexander Patterson - emphasis on rehabilitation

Young people - certain crimes associated with young people + dealt with by Juvenile courts set up from 1960's + age of responsibility is 10

24 of 26

Modern Britain 3

Women + crime - more women prisoners than ever

Modern policing:

  • moved away from streets after 1980's Brixton riots so working to improve police image in community
  • specialisation - 19th century CID set up in 1878 but police now form diverse roles
  • communications - improved due to technology
  • weapons - still unarmed except for specialists
  • training - recruits learnt on the job in 19th century but now 14 weeks training
25 of 26

Modern Britain 4 - Capital Punishment


  • trial of Derek Bentley who told friend Christopher Craig to shoot a police officer + was later hanged
  • caused protests + last hanging was in 1964 but last of women was 1955

Arguments for:

  • serves as a deterrent
  • saves money
  • eye for eye attitude
  • very few executions (around 4 per year)

Arguments against:

  • mistakes happen + death penalty can't be reversed
  • not a deterrent as murders spur of moment
  • life imprisonment enough of a punishment
  • people executed become nationally famous
26 of 26




Amazing info thank you so much!

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Crime and punishment through time (OCR History A) resources »