CRIME AND PUNISHMENT 1450-1750
Why did crime increase between 1450-1750?
- England's population - especially in towns - increased greatly. From the sixteenth century, the larger landowners and wealthy merchants became extremely rich. As the wealth of landowners and merchants increased, the began to want a bigger say in the running of the country.
- They were concerned to control crime and protect their property from the poor. The upper and middle classes were also worried by the fact that restrictions on travel for ordinary people had been lifted. Improvements in travel, particularly the use of coaches and wider possession of horses also helped ideas to spread more widely and more quickly.
- There were many reports about the growth of crime. The invention of printing, and an increase in the numbers of people who could read, meant new ideas reached down to the lower classes as well as those who traditionally exercised power.
What crimes were common at this time?
- Crimes were divided according to how serious they were thought to be. Stealing was put in the same group as serious crimes like murder and ****. Other crimes that were common were petty theft, pickpocketing and burglaries.
- Organised crime received much more attention. This was particularly true of London, which grew from about 50,000 offences in 1500 to about 750,000 in 1750.
- Three types of crime mainly committed by ordinary people caused particular concern: these were growth in robbery on the streets and on the roads, smuggling and poaching. Large numbers of people were often involved, so it was difficult for the authorities to stamp them out. This is also an example of how governments can 'create' crime by introducing new, or altering existing laws.
What reasons were there for crimes increasing?
- Rising unemployment
- Rising prices
- Weak government and corrupt judges
- War (taxes increased during the War of the Roses to pay for the armies and people ended up in poverty)
How were criminals punished?
- Dealt with priests, monks and nuns and those who refused to pay a tenth of their income to church (tith)
- Dealt with ordinary villagers in the countryside and made them keep to the rules set by the ordinary landowners. The most likely to be fined and punished were unfree farmers called villeins. Through the court did protect them from being made to do too much work or being fined to much.
- The Royal courts dealt with all serious crimes and all types of people. Divided according to their seriousness: Murder, Arson, Rape, Treason and Robbery; punished by hanging. Assault, Selling goods at wrong prices etc; usually punished by fines of money.
However there were limits to justice:
- Only free men (not under any legal restraint) could appear in Royal courts.
- Women could only go to court to accuse someone who had: (a) Murdered her husband (but only if he died in her arms), (b) attacked her and this led to the loss of an unborn child or (c) Raped her.