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Early Modern Web - British crime glossary
Category: History and Culture > Crime in early modern Britain
Date & country: 27/04/2012, UK
Words: 160


OLD BAILEY
equivalent in London and Middlesex of the provincial *Assize courts, trying felonies, held 8 times a year

OUTLAWRY
the process of being placed outside the protection of the law **

PAPIST
pejorative term for a Roman Catholic

PARDON
being forgiven for an offence (NB that pardoning did not, usually, indicate that the convict was considered to be innocent or that any miscarriage of justice had taken place). A free pardon meant the convict would receive no punishment. A conditional pardon meant the convict would receive a lesser punishment, usually transportation

PARISH
the smallest unit of English local government, usually governed by the vestry, and appoints officers such as churchwardens, scavengers and overseers of the poor. (This fairly standard definition, however, is somewhat oriented to lowland southern England where parishes were compact and frequently consisted of a single village; it should be noted that in many parts of England and Wales, parishes could cover much larger areas and include several small settlements or 'townships', and here some elements of administration might be conducted at the township level, including the appointment of *petty constables.)

PARTIAL VERDICTS (modern)
a term used by historians to describe the ways in which juries passed reduced verdicts to save convicts from execution; see *pious perjury

PEINE FORTE ET DURE
see *pressing to death

PERJURY
lying under oath, especially in court

PERQUISITES
benefits additional to wages, such as servants' tips or gifts

PETITION
an appeal to a judge or *Justice of the Peace for some kind of assistance or relief. They could cover many circumstances, including the lifting or reduction of a punishment, the disciplining of an abusive official, claims for poor relief

PETTY JURY (or PETIT JURY)
a jury of twelve men who heard the evidence in a trial and decided whether the accused was innocent or guilty. See also *grand jury

PETTY LARCENY
theft of goods worth 1 shilling (12 old pence) or less, a non-capital felony for which the usual punishment was *whipping (with *transportation being introduced during the eighteenth century). See also *larceny, *grand larceny

PETTY SESSIONS
a court held by two or more *Justices of the Peace exercising summary jurisdiction over minor offences within their locality

PETTY TREASON
the murder of a husband by a wife, a parent by a child, or a master by a servant. Women convicted of this were sentenced to death by burning; men were sentenced to be drawn (on a hurdle to the place of execution), hanged and quartered after death.

PILGRIMAGE OF GRACE
a rebellion in northern England in 1536, against the religious policies (particularly the dissolution of the monasteries) of the government

PILLORY
a method of punishment for certain offences, including *seditious libels, it consisted of a wooden structure on a platform in a public square or marketplace, with holes for the convict's head and arms. The convict would be left, usually with a notice describing the crime, to stand in the pillory for a specified length of time, for the public to inflict what they thought appropriate. Their responses varied from lethal violence to overt sympathy; more usually they pelted the offender with abuse and rotten food

PIOUS PERJURY
a term used to describe the varied stratagems employed by *juries to avoid sending *felony convicts to the gallows, including undervaluing goods stolen (usually a blatant fiction), or convicting of a reduced charge, such as simple *larceny instead of *burglary, or *manslaughter rather than *murder. See also *partial verdicts.

PLEADING ONE'S BELLY
see *benefit of belly

POPISH PLOT
an alleged plot in 1678 to murder Charles II and replace him with his Catholic brother; in fact, the plot was an anti-Catholic fabrication by Titus Oates (later pilloried for perjury) and others

PRESENTMENT
a form of prosecuting a variety of offences (and the term for the document containing the accusations), somewhat less formulaic than the indictment, usually listing a range of people accused of committing misdemeanours such as habitual drunkenness, *scolding or *nightwalking, breaches of statutory regulations or communal obligations, and *recusancy. Presentments could be made by *juries, *constables and other officials and occasionally by private individuals.

PRESSING TO DEATH
for most of the period, it was not permitted for a defendant to 'stand mute', ie, refuse to plead (either guilty or not guilty) in court. Those who did faced a hideous ordeal, a form of torture and a punitive deterrent to others

PROTHONOTARY
a senior *clerk at Assize courts

QUARTER SESSIONS
or GENERAL SESSIONS OF THE PEACE

RAPE
sexual intercourse with a woman against her will (or with a girl under the age of 10 years regardless of consent); a *felony

RECIDIVIST
a repeat (or habitual) offender

RECOGNIZANCE
a legal document which required an individual to perform an obligation, or pay a large penalty if they failed to do so. Usually the obligation was to appear in court to answer or prosecute a case; sometimes it was to be 'of good behaviour' or 'keep the peace'. Recognizances were also commonly used to force fathers (and sometimes mothers) of bastards to support the child so that the burden did not fall on parish poor rates; and to bind proprietors of alehouses or inns to keep good order in their establishment. See also

RECORDER
a senior judge in London before whom many trials at the Old Bailey were held

RECUSANT
technically, anyone who frequently absented themselves from Sunday service in church; in practice, generally used to refer specifically to 'papists', Roman Catholics. This might be prosecuted by indictment, but more often by presentment to either secular or ecclesiastical courts; such prosecutions are increasingly rare after the 1688 Revolution which brought limited toleration for religious nonconformists

REMAND
to return a prisoner into custody

REPRIEVE
to postpone a sentence so that a *petition for *pardon could be considered (most of those who were granted temporary reprieves seem to have subsequently been pardoned), or following a successful appeal for *benefit of belly

RIOT
in law, a disorderly *breach of the peace carried out by three or more people; a *misdemeanour, except in exceptional circumstances such as rioting covered by the *Riot Act

RIOT ACT
a statute passed in 1715. This applied to *riots involving twelve or more people and lasting for more than an hour; a *Justice of the Peace was empowered to read a declaration ('reading the Riot Act') commanding the rioters to disperse, and if they refused to do so, they were committing a *felony

ROBBERY
theft from the person (usually involving violence or the threat of it); a felony

ROUGH MUSIC
an informal shaming punishment directed against those who had outraged a local community - eg, adulterers, bastard-bearers, wife- or husband-beaters, blacklegs - known by various regional terms (including skimmington [south western England], ceffyl pren and cwlstrin [Wales], riding the stang [northern England], charivari [France])

RYE HOUSE PLOT
a conspiracy (or set of conspiracies) in 1683 with the intent (allegedly) of either forcing Charles II to exclude his Roman Catholic brother and heir (James, Duke of York) from the succession or assassinating them both

SCOLDING
a *breach of the peace, abusing neighbours verbally, quarrelling and stirring up quarrels amongst others. Strongly associated with women, but men could also be prosecuted as scolds. The offence could be prosecuted in a variety of courts, and punished in a variety of ways, including the *cucking stool, a *recognizance to keep the peace, a fine, a spell in the *pillory. See also *barratry

SEDITIOUS WORDS or SEDITIOUS LIBEL
speaking or publishing treasonable words, a misdemeanour (but one that might be heavily punished, including spells in the pillory). Printed libels were coming to be regarded as the more serious offence by the eighteenth century

SLANDER
impugning a person's character or morality by spoken words or writing (the strict modern distinction between verbal slander and written libel was only beginning to emerge during the early modern period). To be actionable in law the slander had to allege activities that could, if true, lead to prosecution by a secular or *ecclesiastical court. The victims of slander often had a number of options

SOCIAL CRIME (modern term)
used by historians to describe activities that were illegal but tolerated or approved by substantial groups in society (eg smuggling)

SODOMY
anal or oral intercourse between a man and another man, woman, or beast; a *felony

STAR CHAMBER
a central court in London from the late fifteenth century to 1641; it investigated and pronounced judgment on a wide range of complaints mostly brought by private individuals concerning, eg, breaches of order, riots, assaults, abuses of office; also acted as a disciplinary court hearing offences against the government (such as publishing seditious pamphlets), a part of its jurisdiction for which it became notorious for extremely severe punishments

SUMMARY JURISDICTION
the power possessed by *Justices of the Peace to try some types of crime acting alone, or in pairs, outside court, and to sentence those convicted to punishment.

SURETY
people who were *bailed to appear to answer charges in court were usually required to provide two people as sureties, who would also face forfeiting substantial sums of money if the conditions of the *recognizance were not met

THIEF-TAKER
a person who profited from arresting thieves or arranging the return of stolen goods. A number of scandals involving criminal thief-takers caused considerable concern during the eighteenth century

TITHINGMAN
*parish officer with the same functions as a *petty constable

TRADING JUSTICES
in eighteenth-century London, as it became increasingly difficult to persuade substantial gentlemen to act as *Justices of the Peace, a type of JP who was (allegedly) of low status, and corruptly took bribes to make a profit from the office

TRANSPORTATION
sending convicts to overseas colonies, usually for set periods of seven or fourteen years or for life. Introduced during the seventeenth century, came into widespread use following the Transportation Act of 1717. Convicts might be sentenced to transportation automatically for certain offences, or they might be transported as the condition of a pardon. Returning from transportation before the appointed time was a *felony

TRAVERSE
the procedure in misdemeanour cases (not felonies) by which the accused pleaded not guilty and took the case to trial

TREASON (high treason)
from the state's point of view, the most serious of all crimes, an offence against the state or the monarch. Men convicted of treason (unless they were peers of the realm, who were beheaded) were sentenced to be

TRIAL JURY
see *petty jury

TRUE BILL
a bill of *indictment that a *grand jury found to be supported by sufficient evidence to justify proceeding to a trial

TURNKEY
common expression for a jailer.

TYBURN TICKET
a certificate exempting a person who had prosecuted a felon (and secured a conviction) from parish offices (including *constable)

UTTERING
knowingly using counterfeit money to purchase goods or services (a *misdemeanour, unlike *coining and *clipping)

VAGRANCY
wandering around with no settled abode or livelihood, dependent on begging; also known as vagabondage

VEXATIOUS PROSECUTION
a prosecution pursued out of malice towards the accused

WALTHAM BLACK ACT
see *Black Act

WAPENTAKE
equivalent in Yorkshire of the *hundred

WARD
an administrative unit in London

WHIPPING
punishment for petty theft and many other offences, including *vagrancy