Tuesday 15th March: An intimate crime? Re-examining manslaughter in early modern England and Wales, 1660-1760

Hello everyone!

We are delighted to announce that our next speaker is Anna Field who is making a special trip from Cardiff to give us a talk on her PhD Research on Tuesday 15th March G09, at the Graduate School. Anna is undertaking her research in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion. We hope to see many of you there.

Anna’s abstract:

An intimate crime? Re-examining manslaughter in early modern England and Wales, 1660-1760

In the early modern period, the majority of prescriptive and popular printed texts about homicide focused on the breakdown of domestic relationships, where murderous violence took place in an environment tainted by the misuse of patriarchal authority or an inferior’s unnatural insubordination to domestic order. Yet it has been noted for many years by early modern historians of crime and the legal system that the most common type of homicide was that committed by men, against other men, who engaged in tragic disagreements over credit or reputation in a non-domestic scene. This disparity between popular literature and practice was partly because homicide law itself was premised on normative expectations of male violence. The language of homicide law identified felonious violence in the language of excessive chastisement of insubordinates, or the defence of male honour in the face of actions or remarks that were damaging to one’s reputation. Thus, a conceptual split between the private, ‘intimate’ murders committed in a domestic context by women and men, and those ‘public’, strictly masculine disagreements which led to murder can be identified.

File:Title page of first edition of Second Thoughts Are Best.pdf
by Daniel Defoe (1729)

This paper argues that such a conceptual split can obscure the importance of male intimacy and friendship to contemporary understandings of homicide. Taking specifically manslaughter, a verdict which in both popular and legal contexts was gendered male, this paper examines how and why the boundaries of men’s intimate relationships with one and other could be exceeded or managed inappropriately, which in turn led to the commission of a violent crime. The prescriptive, practical and emotional limits of relationships implied in statute, court records and printed crime literature reveal that ‘intimate’ violence was not always exceptional or domestic, but was rooted in those rather more mundane hopes and fears for one’s personal relationships.





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