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

Thank you to Anna for her wonderful paper on 15th March! We really enjoyed having Anna in Reading and hearing about her research.

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Anna’s paper looked at manslaughter and murder in early modern England and Wales. She showed the audience examples of original source material including pamphlets and depositions and explained their significance. She provided us with intriguing examples of manslaughter and murder cases, including bar brawls and the fatal stabbing of a landowner by two of his workers. Anna questioned the intimate nature of these crimes and explained that ‘intimate’ is a term most commonly used by historians when referring to crimes that occurred among family groups rather than between friends or even landowners and their staff. Moreover, she indicated that one of the original aspects of her research is to question this term and widen its definition. Throughout her paper, Anna examined the discourse used in depositions to describe manslaughter and murder cases. For example, she informed us that the ‘death bed scene’, involving final rights and the chance for forgiveness, was embedded in English and Welsh culture at the time – this trope was often used to convince the judge that the perpetrator committed manslaughter rather than murder.

The Q and A focused primarily on the gendered aspects of Anna’s work. Questions were asked on how female crime was categorized and punished. Anna explained that women very rarely were granted the verdict of manslaughter because early modern society perceived female violence as unnatural. She added that during this period people’s ideas about the human condition were still very much based on their understanding of the Galenic humours (women were perceived as cold and therefore any violence was considered to have been calculated i.e cold-blooded). In addition, Anna answered questions on the different meanings of the term ‘intimacy’ and also on the abolition of public executions.

Thanks again to everyone who attended, and particularly to Anna, of course! We wish her the very best of luck in her PhD.

Next month is our very last session of the year so we hope to see as many of you as possible! Milena Popova will be visiting us on 21st April from UWE and telling us about her work on Power Differentials and Consent in Fan Fiction.

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