The Middle Ages C400 - C1500


Crime and Punishment notes for the Middle Ages C400 - C1500
Note by Tom.Snow, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by Tom.Snow over 8 years ago

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The Middle Ages Major Developments C400 - C1500 Hue and Cry - The victims of crime were expected to find the culprits themselves, calling out fellow villagers to help. Tithings - A group of 10 men were responsible for bringing each other to court.Wergild - The blood price, compensation paid to the families of murder victims. Trial by Ordeal - God decided whether the person was guilty or not. This was used if juries could not reach a verdict. Justices of the Peace - These were leading landowners who judged minor crimes. These courts were called the county courts. Crime was the only section that had continuity, petty theft continued to be the most common crime. Trials changed the most, in the Saxon period trial by ordeal was commonplace compared with the middle ages where it had been banned by the church. Also the court system had been modernised. The Saxons The King The role of the king in law making was very important. The king's job was to ensure peace in the region and that travellers and traders could move without fear. By the 1600 the kings of Wessex ruled the whole of England; this meant that the legal system was united compared to the regional system that existed before. When William invaded in 1066, he took over a united country. The Blood Feud Early Saxon kings allowed the victims of crime to track down and punish the criminals themselves even by killing them.This was because: It saved kings having to bother spending time and money to it themselves. They didn't have a police force or even an army (like the Roman's had) to do it for them. Kinship ties were so important in the anglo saxon communities and loyalty was highly prized. Revenge was encouraged. The Blood FeudEarly Saxon kings allowed the victims of crime to track down and punish the criminals themselves. It could go on for along time, the continue for generations. In the heat of the moment the wrong person could be killed easily. There is no trial, so the wrong person could be killed easily. This led to the escalating cycle of violence. This caused; more crime, miscarriage of justice and emotional damage.Compensation Wergild - The blood price was paid if someone was killed or murdered. Botgeld - The Botgild was paid as compensation for injury. The rate of compensation varies according to the social rank of the person killed. For example: the price for a noble was 300 shillings but for a free man it was only a 100. Role of the community The C. 9th century kings replaced the Blood Feud with the Wer Guild because it made further violence less lightly compared to the Blood Feud. Additionally, It made the legal system more adapted to the increased power of the king. Capital punishments were still used for very serious crimes. However, corporal punishment was still used for serious repeat offenders. An outlaw was someone who did not come to court. If you were declared an outlaw they would no longer have the protection of the law. Saxons used prisons for people awaiting trial. Tithings were a group of ten males all over the age of 12. They were responsible for each others behaviour. If a member of the tithing broke the law the others had to bring them to court or pay a fine. Trials Trial by jury of peers - A Saxon trial was very different to a Roman one because the trial in Saxon England had a Jury and the Roman one did not. Additionally, in the roman justice system you had the right to a lawyer and Habeus Corpus. In a Saxon trial you could resort to trial by ordeal. If there was no clear evidence the jury would have to decide the verdict based on the trustworthiness of the accused. They would swear the trustworthiness of a person in a process called Compurgation. There was also no right to appeal. The structure was also hierarchical with more serious crimes heading further up the system. Trial by ordeal - Trial by ordeal which was also known as Judiceum Dei became more prevalent after the Saxon kings converted to Christianity after the Synod of Whitby in 663 AD. Subsequently the death penalty became less prevalent and mutilation became more common. Trial by ordeal was only used when a Jury could not make a decision using evidence or by swearing oaths. It was usually supervised by a priest. There were four major types of trial by ordeal: Trial by hot iron, Trial by hot water, Trial by cold water, Trial by consecrated The Normans After the Normans invaded England in 1066 there was both change and continuity in the way that law and order were enforced. However, William was reluctant to change many of the laws because he wanted to appear as the true heir of Edward the Confessor. There were a few changes: He introduced the concept of the king's Mund because he owned the whole country he was responsible for keeping the peace. Therefore, this was also known as the king's peace. Trial by ordeal was amended by adding trial by combat. County Courts were added for more serious crimes but manorial courts still dealt with the majority of cases. PunishmentsHarsh punishments were used as a way to stop people from challenging authority. After 1066 there was an increase in the number of people being executed and mutilated rose as the idea of paying compensation to victims declined. Some of the harshest punishments were used against people who broke the forest laws which prevented poaching. These were carried out in public in order to scare people. Punishment for minor crimes stayed the same. Influence of the Church The Church attempted to interfere with law enforcement. William I increased the church's power by setting up Church Courts which judged on moral matters. The importance of taking oaths and trial by ordeal in the justice system further increased the church's power. There were two ways in which the church courts interfered with royal justice: Benefit of the Clergy: It was assumed that only priests could read to a section of the bible was used to test if a criminal could be tried in the church court. Criminals quickly learnt this verse. Church courts were much more lenient and could not give the death penalty. Right of sanctuary: A criminal who could get to the sanctuary of a church could not be arrested. If he confessed to the crime he could leave the country. Henry II Henry II became king in 1154 after a civil war (1135-1154). During this period law and order broke down. Therefore, he was determined to assert his authority over England. He needed to deal with the "over-mighty" who had used the civil war to increase their power locally and ignore the decisions of the courts. He made a number of changes to the legal system. The Constitutions of Clarendon - Drew together all the codes of law into one single common law. Grand Juries - Grand Juries are similar to tithings which had to report crimes. Petty Juries - Trial by Jury Royal Writs - Writs were sent to Sheriffs. Writs were the king's instructions. The King's Bench - The judges in London heard the most serious crimes Travelling Justices in eyre - Eyres are sections of the country which royal judges travelled around to hear legal cases using english common law/ Church Justice - Henry failed at changing the power of the church. County Gaols - County Gaols were used to hold prisoners between trials. Later Changes Henry died in 1189 but many kings after him tried to increase royal authority over the justice system. These changes included: Coroners - Richard I introduces coroners which dealt with all suspicious deaths. These were appointed by the King. Petty Juries - These were extended to decide guilt or innocence in all cases. Therefore, the church court heard less cases. 1361 Justice of the Peace Act - Edward III introduces the Justice of the Peace Act which allowed local landowners to hear less serious cases. They held their own quarter sessions and replaced 100 courts and sheriffs courts. JoP's were appointed by the King. 1285 Posse Comitatus - The Sheriff could call upon the Posse Comitatus to catch criminals. Any male over 15 was eligible. Constables - Constables were introduces in 1250 and were unpaid volunteers. Towns would have a watch to help the constable and they worked at night. Trial by ordeal was abolished in 1215.

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