Monday, 17 November 2014

Review: Anne Leah Greenfield (ed.) (2013) Interpreting Sexual Violence, 1660–1800, Pickering & Chatto

Over the centuries society has placed a great deal of importance on a woman’s chastity, therefore, rape has been seen in terms of an assault upon a man’s property, patriarchy and masculinity. It will come as no surprise to learn that the victims of rape have not always attracted the support of their family or neighbours and while sexual violence inflicted on a very young victim might be denounced, the same support was not necessarily forthcoming to an older woman who might be expected to defend her honour more vigorously.

Anne Greenfield has brought together an eclectic collection of essays from fourteen historians and literary scholars who examine the range of behaviours that might be viewed as sexually violent, or excused, in Restoration and eighteenth-century England. This book explores the relationship between representations of and responses to sexual violence in courtroom reports, plays, literature and art: it demonstrates the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of sexual violence, drawing on a wide range of genres and primary sources. However, that interdisciplinary approach means that some essays will fall outside the area of interest for some readers.

The collection begins with a contemporary historiography by Julie Gammon on the subject of sexually motivated violence during the early modern period (1660-1800), followed by an analysis of the history of laws on rape and medical jurisprudence in England by Mary R. Block. Block reminds us that during this period medical jurisprudence was still unclear as to what was necessary to cause conception so that pregnancy continued to provide evidence of acquiescence by the woman and, of course, a woman who consented had not been raped.

Katie Barclay's contribution examines notions of female consent and acceptance of male force in courtship rituals during the eighteenth century. Because of the legal onus on a woman to resist unwanted sexual advances, Barclay concludes that even violent sexual assaults might be excused as a seduction technique, at least between social equals, and result in a forced marriage for the victim. Such scenarios are described in eighteenth-century works as the ‘rape of seduction’ and consideration of the blurred boundaries between rape and seduction is taken up later in this book by Lena Olsson. 

It was the lack of consent by the woman that turned lawful sexual intercourse into rape: in contrast, the act of sodomy between adult males was an offence in its own right. Therefore, essays by Gammon and Aparna Gollapudi consider evidential issues in prosecutions for the rape or sodomy of a child, when consent could not be given or assumed in a girl aged under ten years or a boy under the age of fourteen.

Gollapudi examines eight cases of sodomy alleged against child victims (1730-1780) in which she highlights the court’s focus on the body of the adolescent boy and the level of violence or pain inflicted upon him. As with rape, successful claims of sodomy required proof of penetration and ejaculation, therefore, supporting evidence from a surgeon was crucial in securing a conviction. However, Gollapudi concludes that the evidence set out in the court papers, testing the boys on the levels of violence inflicted, indicate greater concern with a boy’s reliability as a witness than with the perpetrator’s crime. In that respect, she argues, these cases provide contrary evidence of to the general notion of the eighteenth-century ‘cult of childhood’, where children are fabricators of the truth rather than pure innocents.

The essays that follow on generally concern interpretations of sexual violence in fictional settings.

Four essays in this collection examine dramatized portrayals of rape, beginning with Anne Greenfield’s study of fifty or so plays produced on the London stage which featured depictions of rape or attempted rape. As she observes, the admission of female actors onto the stage after 1660 allowed for the more realistic portrayal of dramatized rape scenes. Greenfield questions the attitudes and responses of audiences to rape scenes and her essay demonstrates contradictory responses to dramatized displays of rape, compared to the culture of ‘victim blaming’ identified by Block and Gammon in the real world. In the fictional world, tragic rape scenes were figured as violations enacted against the woman’ s will at a time when, Greenfield asserts, the desire to rape a woman was considered ‘natural’ and something that women might ‘enjoy’. She resolves these contradictions by suggesting that, even though sexual violence was portrayed favourably as evidence of masculinity and power, the same audiences might find a form of ‘beauty’ in the tragedy of the story.

That theme continues in Ann Marie Byrd’s essay, in which she draws on texts produced by male and female playwrights (1660-1700) that include scenes of erotic assault across the themes of comedies of manners, comedies of intrigue and tragedies. She notes that each play focuses on the body of the actress and that comic plays generally resulted in the marriage of victim and seducer, while serious works concerning a woman’s dishonour close with her tragic ending. Like Barclay and Greenwood, Byrd concludes that audiences ‘understood’ the motivation of a rapist, while the theatrical experience of watching the suffering and destruction of a woman offered a moral lesson for the audience. 

Elizabeth Haywood.
Loring Pfeiffer examines rape and comedy as portrayed in Eliza Haywood’ s 'A Wife to Be Lett’. The play produced in 1723 centres on the story of married woman whose husband attempts to pander (pimp) her to an admirer in return for a large sum of money. Although the play concerns marital conflict, Pfeiffer draws an analogy between the storyline and contemporaneous political issues of Tory resistance to the demands of the Whig majority. While the essay offers an interesting literary analysis, its author looks at marital violence in the context of a metaphor for political events rather than as a commentary on attitudes to sexual violence in the real world.

Jennifer L. Airey similarly argues that the dramatized violation of a woman could be used to symbolize the unacceptable activities of government. Airey considers the the tendency of society to view rape in terms of an offence against a man’s property being applied in order to portray economic and political corruption during the Civil Wars and Jacobite uprisings in works of fiction. In that respect, Airey and Pfeiffer generally focus on rape as a theatrical device for political ends rather than shedding new light on public attitudes to sexual violence. 

Charlotte Lennox.
Moving to the literary genre, Robin Runia examines Charlotte Lennox’s novel 'The Female Quixote' (1752). While Runia acknowledges that the book ridicules female concerns with male seducers, she also draws out contemporaneous concerns with the more serious issues of how and whether a woman could protect herself against rape. Runia observes that the author’s notion of female virtue perpetuates the belief that a female victim must bear some of the blame for the unwanted attentions of a sexual predator, when moral failings are linked to intellectual deficiencies.

The themes raised by Runia are developed by Dawn A. Nawrot as she considers issues of the culpable woman who is both the victim of and accessory to rape, demonstrated in four well-known texts: Roxana (1724), Clarissa (1748), Tom Jones (1749) and The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751).  Nawrot raises questions as to whether, following an assisted rape, the victim  continued to fear the power of the perpetrator and a female assistant, and how that was reflected in future relationships. However, the characters examined are fictional and their responses are contrived for its audience, so that a ‘ruined’ woman was assumed to lack the subjectivity to refuse to marry her attacker but would break away from a woman who betrayed her.

Nichol Weizenbeck takes a different look at sexual feelings in Laurence Sterne’s 'A Sentimental Journey’ (1768). Sterne offers a theory of manners, morals and sentiment, as the narrator recounts his various amorous adventures and expresses his feelings on those encounters. While the story includes bawdy sexual allusions, Weizenbeck asserts that it also carries as implied criticism of the exploitation of young women by powerful men. The narrator’s passive rejection of aggression and resistance to temptation represents, she suggests, the sympathy and piety behind the ideology of sensibility and represents Sterne's affirmation that Christian piety can impact society.

The sources for Lena Olsson’s essay include legal and medical texts, works of fiction and poetry. Olsson examines the ‘myth’ that women were capable of resisting rape which stood in direct contradiction to the legal definition of rape, being the forcible penile penetration of the vagina, which was an impossibility according to the myth. Olsson finds evidence to support the view that rape was commonly interpreted in terms of courtship practices when court records show that little regard was paid by juries to injuries sustained by alleged rape victims and references in works of literature suggest marriage as a ‘solution’ to accusations of rape. 

Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Misty Krueger analyses a William Blake poem 'Visions of the Daughters of Albion' (1723) alongside testimonies from real trials for rape. Krueger argues that the poem reflects contemporaneous trial proceedings in rape cases and the injustices that entailed. Krueger points to the origins of a forced marriage following rape, being an ancient Jewish law, which stated that a rapist should marry his victim (now damaged goods) to excuse the crime against a family. Krueger also makes the point that the capital nature of the offence of rape frequently led to indictments for a lesser offence. While Blake’s depiction of the sexual encounter is ambiguous as to consensual sex or rape, Krueger concludes that he does, nevertheless, confront the ‘oppression’ that results from rape and the ‘blame-the-victim’ attitudes common in other texts of this era. 

"Pan and Syrinx" by Jean-Fran├žois de Troy.
Melanie Cooper-Dobbin's essay completes this collection with an examination of representations of sexual assault and rape in the visual arts, in particular, images of 'Pan’s Attempted Rape of Syrinx' during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Cooper-Dobbin notes how a shift occurred in images of the story, whereby leading characterizations moved from the male aggressor to the promiscuous female. Pan is, of course, depicted with horns, but the monstrous horns of Pan came to be replaced with the horns of domestic animals. Later satirical images depict Pan as a man emasculated and ‘abused’ by a tyrannical woman, together with her seducer who gave him the horns of the cuckold.

The treatment by some essayists of rape as an accepted aspect of male virility during the period surveyed is questionable and the absence or failure of indictments for rape in the assize records does not necessarily provide evidence to support that view. It is possible that when victim and assailant were known to each other they, or their families, might have been reluctant to pursue an indictment for rape or sodomy, being capital offences without benefit of clergy. The relatively low incidence of complaints for either rape or sodomy in the criminal archives may also have resulted from the use of forced marriages or private financial settlements, in order to avoid the public humiliation of the victim, defendant and/or their families. It is Krueger who makes the point on forced marriage following rape most forcibly, describing it in terms of ‘repairing’ damaged goods rather than in terms of courtship rituals.

Possibly because of the capital nature of these offences, trial juries often gave partial verdicts of ‘not guilty of rape/sodomy’ but ‘guilty of assault’; otherwise, acts of sexual violence were indicted in terms of an attempt to commit the offence, which fell within the jurisdiction of the lower court as a simple assault: something to be examined on another day, perhaps.

One last thought, this collection of essays has an all-female cast, are any men out there writing on the subject of sexual violence, rape or sodomy?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

High-End Fashion and Lifestyle from the Criminal Archives.

In March 1735 Mary Ormand appeared before Sir William Thompson kt., and Henry Wood esq., at the assizes for the City of York, where Ormand was charged with burglary and Elizabeth Torton and Jane Hickeringill were charged with receiving stolen goods. Ormand was found guilty of burglary and sentenced to death, though later reprieved and her sentence commuted to transportation for seven years. While the case raises a number of questions on the issues of gender, co-accused evidence, sentencing and reprieves, it is also provides an extraordinary body of evidence of the tastes and fashions of the eighteenth-century elite.
Ormand was first examined on 22 January 1735 before Richard Osbaldeston J.P. when she confessed that on 4 January, between 6 and 7p.m., she broke the cellar window of the house of Sir William Lowther, in Little Alice Lane, York. 
Sir William Lowther, 2nd Baronet (c. 1694 – 6 March 1763), merchant, was educated at schools in Wakefield and Leeds before being admitted to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on 28 February 1713. He succeeded his father as baronet and as M.P. for Pontefract in 1729. However, in 1740 he fell into financial difficulties and was forced to sell his Pontefract burages (rental properties) from which he derived most of his influence in the constituency, and left Parliament the following year. 
At the time of the burglary, Sir William’s house stood in Little Alice Lane which ran from Goodramgate to Minster Lane. The name ‘Little Alice Lane’ apparently came from a diminutive woman who once lived there, though it was formerly known as Vicar’s Lane and currently as College Street. The names ‘Vicar’s Lane’ and ‘College Street’ refer to St William’s College built between 1465 and 1467 being the home of the cathedral chantry priests (who were paid to chant masses for the souls of the dead) and which stands about halfway up the street.

 College Street, York:

Ormand confessed to breaking into Sir William’s house and said that she remained there on the first occasion for several nights, during which time she drank a bottle of ‘surfitt’ water and took away a bottle of cowslip wine and another of surfitt water. It is likely that the surfitt water had been produced by a member of the Lowther household as a recipe for ‘Surfitt Water’ (a remedy for the plague or small pox) can be found in the Lowther family archive at the Welcome Library (MS3341_thumb_0071).
John Gerarde, in his Herball, noted that cowslip plants “grow very plentifully in moist and squally grounds in the North parts of England”, and it is likely that cowslip wine made from the flowers of the plant had also been brewed in the Lowther family kitchen: having a narcotic quality, it was often taken as a sedative.
Ormand further confessed that she returned to the house for a second time and took a bottle of claret. Then again on a third occasion, about 7 January, she returned with a female accomplice and took two gowns, a quilted petticoat and a shift: at the time of her examination Ormand was wearing one of the dresses and the petticoat. She also confessed to taking a pair of stockings and a mantle lined with silk and decorated in gold and silver thread, a pair of breeches and a pair of gloves.
In total, fifteen witnesses provided information and gave recognizances for their appearance the assizes in this matter and their statements provide evidence of the true extent of Ormand’s activities. Mary Boynton bought a dress belonging to Sir William’s servant; Martha Scott bought a nightgown and waistcoat; Mary Whitehead purchased two shifts and two pillows; a pair of breaches were delivered to John Campbell, a foot soldier in Col. Harrison’s Regiment. Constable Henry Lightfoot gave evidence that he searched the house of Michael Colburne, a bricklayer, on 24 January and gave a statement listing about twenty items discovered in the house. Mary Colburne, his wife, explained that they had been brought to her by Ormand on 8 January so that she could sell them. 
A schedule of the Goods Taken by Henry Lightfoot Constable of the Minster Yard of the House of Michael Colburn Bricklayer in Goodramgate York this Twenty fourth day of January in the year Of our Lord 1734
One pair of Black Cloth Breeches Lined with Shammy Leather
One Yellow Silk paddesway Gown and a tail to the said Gown
One Ash Colour’d Shagereen Cloak lined with a Persian …
One Ash Colour’d Shagereen Silk Night Gown
           Two pair of White Thred Stockings
One pair of purple Colour’d Worsted Stockings
One pair of Scarlet Cloth Shoes wth Gold lace
One piece of new Lining Cloth
One Diaper Napkin mark’d wth a letter  (L)
           Two Holland Shifts & one Shirt
One Holland Apron
One Lace Handkerchief flower’d wth Gold & Silver
One Short Apron flower’d wthSilk
One White Dimothy petticoat
Two Girdles one Green & the other Yellow
One piece of Yellow Silk Persian
Several piece of White Sattin flower’d wthSilk
A Tail belonging to a Strip’d Turky Silk Gown
One piece of Green Tabby Silk
 The information of Mary Colburn of Goodramgate
Less familiar terms found in that list are:

Shammy or Chamois leather - a type of porous leather that was used in the manufacture of gloves, breaches, jackets, and pouches.

Paddesway or paduasoy - a grosgrain weaved silk. The weave was more delicate than the grosgrain used today yet it was a heavy material which was often used in day wear clothing.

Shagereen or Shagreen  was introduced to Europe from Japan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is an untanned leather with a granular surface, prepared from the hide of certain animals, particularly horses, or from rays, sharks and dogfish whose skins have a smoothly pebbled texture.

Worsted is a woollen yarn which was widely manufactured in the West Riding during the eighteenth century and it was the textile manufacturers of Yorkshire who were instrumental in the persuading Parliament to pass the Worsted Acts of 1777, which established an inspectorate to police workplace theft (17 Geo. III, c.35).

Holland was the name given to the fine, plain-woven linens imported from Europe, particularly the Netherlands.

Dimothy or Dimity is a lightweight, cotton fabric, suitable for the manufacture of undergarments.
American, first half of 19th century. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession nr. 99.664.33 - 

Turkey or Ottoman silk is characterized by large-scale stylized motifs often highlighted with metallic threads. The silk was produced for use both within the Ottoman Empire and for export to Europe and the Middle East.
1750: Lime green silk ottoman with wide blue, black and white stripes.
Tabby is a fabric with a watered pattern, such as silk or taffeta.
Ladies hooded long silk cloak 1790’s Brown tabby silk.

Sir William Lowther’s and his wife (there were no children) must have expended a significant amount of money in maintaining their liking for high fashion. What is most surprising is the fact that, following Ormand’s conviction for such audacious acts of burglary and theft on an significant scale, her sentence was commuted to transportation to America for seven years. This case, if nothing else, provides significant evidence of the reluctance of eighteenth-century-assize judges to execute female convicts.
Other sources:
Lowther MSS, Denbighshire Record Office.
John Gerarde (1597) The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes /gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirurgerie.
ASSI 41/2 Gaol Delivery, City of York, 11 March 1734/35.
ASSI 45/20 Depositions, North Riding, 1734/35.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Review: Kane, Bronach; Williamson, Fiona (2013) Women, Agency and the Law, 1300–1700, Pickering & Chatto.

This collection of ten essays concerns the interaction of ordinary women with the legal system of England and Wales. A common theme running through them is the extent to which the individual narrative of female petitioners, defendants and witnesses can be extracted from deposition statements, despite the mediation of court clerks in the creation of those documents.
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1.          Your Oratrice: Women’s Petitions to the Late Medieval Court of Chancery:

 Cordelia Beattie.

The Court of Chancery during the late medieval period is particularly interesting because married women could bring cases in their own right, rather than having to be represented by their husbands. Beattie’s sources are extant bills from mid-fifteenth century which, on first appearance, show them to be formulaic and written in the third person. However, what makes them more interesting is that Chancery was an early court of ‘equity’ where the Chancellor was empowered to judge cases according to ‘conscience’, rather than applying strict rules of evidence. Taking one case as a micro-study, Beattie claims to have picked up on the use of third-person reported speech and ‘slips’ between the lawyer and contributor which reveal something of one petitioner’s voice about her own predicament.

2.          Echoes, Whispers, Ventriloquisms: On Recovering Women’s Voices from the

            Court  of York in the Later Middle Ages: Jeremy Goldberg.

Goldber’s essay centres on the case of Marrays v Rouclif and the petitioner’s suit that his wife be restored to him: the case was singled out because of the large number of female deponents. Goldberg contends that, unlike Inquisition records for heresy, depositions given for private litigations before the Court of York were “not the product of fear” but given willingly. He argues that, while some servants and employees may have been pressured to give their evidence this was a very different dynamic of power to that experienced during the Inquisitions. 

Goldberg contends that despite the use of standardized text by court clerks, the system allowed for individual experiences to show through and that the depositions examined provide evidence of the credibility and background of the deponents. From an examination of the case papers he concludes that, although the wife’s testimony was “crafted” it was not “invented” and something of her life experiences are still available to us and that the same is true for other men and women who testified before the canon law courts. 

3.           Women, Memory and Agency in the Medieval English Church Courts:

             Bronach Kane.

Kane examines the gendered relationship between the written, bureaucratic record and oral memory. In doing so she distinguishes between the role of elite women in preserving historical and literary texts and perceptions of female memory in a legal context. Her primary sources include a pool of more than 600 private cases from the church courts of York from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and a small collection from the Court of Canterbury from the thirteenth century. Acknowledging aspects of coverture that restricted female voices, Kane nevertheless raises the possibility that experiences of manorial and customary courts influenced the way some women interacted with the ecclesiastical courts. 

Kane notes that ordinary men and women were likely to have acquired some knowledge of canon law through church sermons and responses to confessions, allowing both of them to exercise greater agency in the ecclesiastical courts than one might expect. The case studies selected demonstrate the presence of women in ecclesiastical courts, their understanding of judicial processes, and the importance of memory in acquiring that understanding and in order to establish their credibility as witnesses. As in the preceding essays, Kane observes opportunities for the individual female narrative to emerge. 

4.         ‘Utterly and Uuntruly He Hath Deceived Me’: Women’s Inheritance in Late

            Medieval England: Rosemary Horrox.

This essay concerns the will of Jane Stapleton, made in 1518, in which she asks that her executors put right the fraud committed against her by her natural son, and it demonstrates the power of the written word in legal disputes. The history of Jane’s complaint lay in an attempt to settle land acquired by a first marriage on children born of a second marriage, diverting it away from any surviving children of the first marriage. The family connections which form the basis of this dispute are complex and difficult to follow but six pages in the crux of the case becomes clear when we get to an extract from Jane’s will. Having said that, this is a rich data source with great potential for use by social historians and genealogists. 

In highlighting discrepancies between the accounts given by the son and that set out in Jane’s will, Horrax points to evidence of Jane’s “bitterness” towards her son. What becomes evident is the importance of written documentation which provides insights into Jane’s relationships with her husband and son, and as an individual through the bequests set out in her will. Horrax asserts that the will “emphatically” represents Jane’s voice in a way not possible had her case has survived in the form of court depositions. Further evidence of the authenticity of that voice is provided by additional material demonstrating the lengths Jane went to in order to ensure that her executors carried out her wishes after her death. 

5.        ‘She Hym Fresshely Folowed and Pursued’: Women and Star Chamber in Early

          Tudor Wales: Deborah Youngs.

Youngs’ study provides evidence of some of the earliest female plaintiffs to travel form Wales to initiate proceedings in the court of Star Chamber (1536-1542). Her essay centres on a micro-study concerning two cases submitted in 1530-1532 when the court was under the chancellorship of Thomas Moore and includes an overview of the origins, proceedings and jurisdiction of Star Chamber which ranged from breaches of the peace to debt, slander and perversions of justice. 

Youngs explains the fragmented process of government in Wales prior to the Act of Union, 1542, and the scope for mismanagement and corruption. The volume of cases initiated by Welsh complainants during the period surveyed was very small and none of verdicts have not survived. Nevertheless, Youngs argues for the place of these bills in telling particular stories about sixteenth-century society. The contents of the two bills examined concern the murder of the husband of Denise Williams and the rape of Kathryn Robert the daughter of a minor gentleman. Both Denise and Kathryn were the petitioners in their own complaint and, Youngs argues, provide evidence that these women were informed and proficient in legal procedures within their local jurisdiction and in Star Chamber.

6.           Women and the Hue and Cry in Late Fourteenth-Century Great Yarmouth:

            Janka Rodziewicz.

The primary source for this essay was 35 entries in the leet court roll for Great Yarmouth between 1366 and 1381. It considers the nature of the hue and cry as a mechanism which enabled non-elite women to be involved in the maintenance of law and order within of their communities. Rodziewicz observes that although women did not often play an active role in the formal practices of law enforcement, they could raise and negotiate disputes at court and were regular users of the practice of hue and cry. She argues that these records demonstrate not only the active participation of women in the use of hue and cry but that they understood how to use it to their advantage. Through an analysis of the records, Rodziewicz concludes that, while on some occasions the use of hue and cry conformed to the notion of the weaker woman in need of protection at other times (such as when a wife raised a hue and cry following an assault upon her husband) it inverted the assumption of proscribed gender roles. 

7.         Gender and the Control of Sacred Space in Early Modern England: Amanda



Flather sets out to interpret female involvement in popular iconoclastic attacks in Essex at a time when sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English Protestants were calling for greater reformation of church services and ceremonies. An examination of gendered participation in attacks on church property leads her to observe the dominance of men in damage caused to fonts and the common prayer book, while women might express their discontent through the rejection of the traditional ‘churching’ of a woman after childbirth, the wearing of a veil in church, or through the care (or neglect) of clerical vestments when undertaking cleaning duties.

Flather relies on the testimonies of men and women to the Committee of Scandalous Ministers, set up in 1644, to provide insights into the forms of conduct a woman was prepared to condemn. While she acknowledges the possibility of “personal animosity” in some of the allegations against ministers, she argues that female testimonies provide evidence of the capacity of married women to control male ministerial power in certain church activities in order to defend the protestant doctrine. 

8.            The Travails of Agnes Beaumont: Bernard Capp.

The story of Agnes Beaumont concerns a family argument over non-conformism which took place in 1674 and the fallout from that dispute was subsequently published in ten separate editions between 1760 and 1842. At the time of the disagreement, Agnes’ father died and she was accused of causing his death by poisoning, although a coroner’s jury found no evidence of foul play. Further complications arose in Agnes’ life when she challenged her father’s will.

While it is unlikely that Agnes put her side of the story down on paper until some years after the main events of her story took place, Capp maintains that the “narrative has the flavour of an oral account” because of its conversational style. He further maintains that the authentic voice survives because her papers were not published until many tears after her death and were not subject to any mediation by a husband or close male relative. Capp picks up not only on the dimension of faith in her story and also on evidence of the lack of autonomy and privacy in Agnes’ life. He favourably contrasts her account with other women’s spiritual autobiographies which he finds to be more passive and conforming to gendered conventions, not least in part because they were written with the intention of publication for a specific audience. 

9.        Parish Politics, Urban Spaces and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century

          Norwich: Fiona Williamson.

Williamson explores women’s words, defamation and urban spaces against the concept of a “unified ‘neighbourhood’ identity” in the multiple parishes comprised within Norwich. Her main primary sources are defamation suits from the Norwich diocesan court, where depositions provide evidence of residence, the parties, their relationships and social networking. In particular it focuses on a long-running dispute between the Frogg and Austin families during the 1660’s, which was acted out on the local streets, in church and in the courtroom. The dispute which formed the subject of court proceedings was led by one key female aggressor, rather than her husband, concerned a dispute over church pews and highlights the relevance of the different social status of the two families. The dispute led to instances of verbal abuse used in the street and parish church, thus making their neighbours witnesses to the alleged defamatory statements.
This case, Williamson argues, demonstrates the importance of the individual parish within its wider urban setting, how social relationships were negotiated, and the ways in which a parish might respond to issues of reputation, status and honour.

10.        ‘With a Sword Drawne in her Hande’: Defending the Boundaries of Household

            Space in Seventeenth-Century Wales: Nicola Whyte.

Whyte’s paper concerns the spatial boundaries of the household, both physical and moral, in relation to household identities and gendered behaviour. Her primary sources are cases which concern forcible entry (a crime) and dissiesin (lawful seizure of property) presented in the court of Star Chamber during the reign of James I. 

Whyte observes the active role of some women in defending their interests in property, while other women acted in contravention of the various rights attached to property. This study, she argues, reveals contemporary anxieties about self-sufficiency and agency within the household unit. Whyte reminds us that houses cannot be viewed in isolation as a particular entity when they might form only one constituent part of a larger estate, which elements might be physically unconnected in space and spanning a long period in time. Using a range of cases studies, she demonstrates the autonomy of women in responding to the threat of dispossession by their responses to actions taken by constables and bailiffs in distraining goods and in protests involving enclosure breaking.
This collection of  essays provide new insights for those less familiar with the early courts and offers new interpretations of depositions, often dismissed as a legal construct, and in doing so their respective authors uncover female voices from the archives.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The History of Crime from a Legal Perspective: Gender and the Yorkshire Food Riots, 1740.

British Crime Historians Symposium 4, 26 September 2014.
Paper presented by Dr Rhiannon Markless, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Roehampton.

This paper focuses on judicial responses to the men and women who participated in food riots that erupted during the spring of 1740 in the West and North Ridings of Yorkshire. The background to the rioting was that two consecutive harsh winters resulted in the failure of the harvests and the loss of livestock. Prices of grain increased by almost 100 per cent during the first six months of 1740 and there was real fear that basic food stuffs would become unaffordable or even unavailable. 

Magistrates were empowered to manage those concerns by controlling grain prices through the Assize of Bread and Ale, while other statutes allowed them to regulate the trade and movement of grain. However, there is no evidence that an Assize of Bread was held in either the West or North Ridings in the spring of 1740. In contrast, the East Riding remained peaceful where quarter session records show that an assize of bread was held each year as a matter of course. Merchants in the East Riding were also brought before the quarter sessions when they failed to comply with the terms of their trading licences. It seems that justices for the East of the county were far more sensitive to local concerns than their colleagues in the rest of the county.
Prisoners brought from the gaol, York, July 1740.[1]
       George Parker, cloth maker
       Samuel Parker, cloth maker
       Robert Conyer, cloth maker
       John Webster, cloth maker
       Martha Awtey, spinster
       Thomas Secker, clothier
       Ann Earnshaw, spinster
       Grace Askwith, wife of Benjamin Askwith, labourer
       William Nussey, blacksmith
       Joseph Mitchell, cloth maker
       Peter Whitworth, husbandman
       William Fisher, cloth maker
       Matthew Fenton, carpenter
       Joshua Awtey, cloth maker
       Joseph Thomas, cloth maker
       Richard Swallow, cloth maker
       John Jackson, cloth maker

If we look at list of prisoners above, we can see that the majority of men indicted for their part in these food riots were described as cloth workers. The reason for this is that regions of England which had a thriving cloth industry, such as Yorkshire, tended not to be self-sufficient in food production and working people were, therefore, more responsive to changes in food pricing. Nevertheless, despite the large numbers of men and women reported to have participated in the food riots, quarter session and assize records indicate a failure to charge all but a few men and even fewer women with any offence, of which even fewer were actually convicted.
The types of offence that might be committed during the course of a riot included the act of riot, theft, trespass to property and trespass to the person. Each category of offence could be broken down to more specific offences: so, for example, an act of riot encompassed a rout, common law riot and statutory riot; while the definition of theft similarly had statutory and common law definitions. Statutory and common law offences co-existed, unless specified otherwise by Parliament.
To clarify, the common law offence of ‘participation in a riot’ was a misdemeanour involving three or more people who gathered together with the intent of committing an unlawful act and then set out to commit it. A ‘rout’ was a misdemeanour which arose in similar circumstances, without evidence of any other offence. The Riot Act of 1715 created the capital offence of riotous assembly, involving twelve or more people.[2] In those circumstances a magistrate was required to read out a proclamation for the crowd to disperse, failing which, those who remained were committing a capital offence. Magistrates tended to interpret the Act as restricting their authority to proceed against any rioters until the hour had passed.[3] Although indictments arising out of the Yorkshire food riots are couched in terms of ‘riotous assembly’, the statutory description, it appears from the sentences imposed that men and women were convicted for one of the common law misdemeanours. It is possible that grand jurors were reluctant to find that participation in the capital offence had been established or petty jurors to convict for the more serious offence.

The riotous events that occurred in the area around Dewsbury in the West Riding occurred over a three day period. They demonstrate an intense weekend of unrest in the area where an estimated numbers of between 100 and 1,000 men and women were observed participating in the riots. What is clear from the court records is that both male and female representation in the court records was greatly understated.
Events began one Saturday morning when about 400 men and women assembled at Dewsbury in order to prevent the export of corn to Lancaster. Rioters went on to attack carts carrying grain, pulled down or damaged mills and destroyed much of the grain they could not carry. The rioters were intercepted by the High Sheriff and local M.P. The statutory Proclamation to disperse was eventually read out and, although there were some reports of stone throwing, the mob dispersed within the prescribed hour.
Six men were charged with riotous assembly when they appeared at the next quarter sessions. The bills against each of them were dismissed by the grand jury. Another four other men appeared at quarter sessions one year later charged with riotous assembly. One defendant was acquitted and three ‘submitted’ to the court, of which at least one of them was ordered to pay a fine, indicating that he was convicted for a misdemeanour.
Why were no women charged? – As observed by E.P. Thompson and others, it is possible that woman and children were present at the beginning of the food riots but dispersed once their point had been made, and before the hour following the proclamation to disperse had expired.[4] The legal situation in England and Wales was further confused on the point as to whether the law offered any special protection to women involved in riot, expressed in Dalton’s practice directions for JP’s:
If a number of women (or children under the age of discretion) do flock together for their own cause, this is no assembly punishable by these statutes, unless a man of discretion moved them to assemble for the doing of some unlawful act.[5]
The legal confusion continued and was perpetuated by Robert Southey in the early nineteenth century:
[W]omen are far more likely to be mutinous; they stand less in fear of the law, partly from ignorance, partly because they presume upon the privilege of their sex, and therefore in all public tumults they are foremost in violence and ferocity.[6]
Therefore, there may well have been a generally held, if erroneous belief, that a woman could participate in a riot without being legally pursued at law. Alternatively, the situation was deliberately misinterpreted by some, to the advantage of women.
Two women were identified as verbally abusing one mill worker, so that he feared for his safety and fled from the area, though no prosecution for that offence appears in the quarter session records. The male victim may have been too embarrassed to publicly admit that he had been intimidated by two women. He may also have been satisfied that they had been punished by a remand in gaol for two months on other charges pending their trial.
On the subject of theft, the 1737 Corn Act created a felony of theft from a granary, or the destruction of a granary or its contents, punishable by transportation for seven years.[7] However, there was a problem in establishing theft where multiple parties owed the grain held in a mill house. The question was: whose grain had been stolen and by which rioter? Yorkshire assizes and quarter sessions records suggest that charges of theft from ‘unknown’ persons generally failed. In the aftermath of a riot it would have been difficult to establish who took the grain if the goods were not found in the possession of the accused or there was no evidence to establish that the accused had passed the stolen goods to a third person.
In the Yorkshire riots, female rioters appear to have been more closely concerned in verbal threats and criminal damage, such as removing slates of roofs to allow access by male rioters, who proceeded to ransack the granaries and steal sacks of grain. That created a problem in providing evidence of any form of burglary – where one person both broke and entered a building. There was no specific offence of criminal damage at this time and removal of the slates was a civil trespass, which might be pursued in the civil courts for damages. These events suggest the operation of coverture, so that female participants were protected from the full force of the law.
As listed above, fourteen men and three women were brought from the gaol to answer two charges of theft at the Yorkshire assizes in July 1740. William Nussey and Matthew Fenton were singled out as having been “very active” in the riots and, as neither man was employed in the cloth trade as were the majority of rioters, it is possible that they were singled out as ringleaders. The grand jury dismissed the bills against two male and each of the three female defendants: the five of them would have spent at least two months in gaol on remand pending that decision. Charges against the remaining twelve men for theft were found, following which, eight men were found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years.
Reports of the riots and thefts mention some names more often than others, possibly because they were better known (or more notorious) in the community. Therefore, certain individuals account for more than one entry on the database of offenders. The ninety-four entries in the court records arising out of the riots consist of only thirty-five men and twelve women accused of one or more offences. William Nussey was cited as being concerned in seven different incidents arising out of the riots but convicted for just one act of theft, for which he was ordered to transportation for seven years. The failure to prosecute all the claims against Nussey and others is likely to have occurred because the courts tended to take the view that a successful conviction for one offence negated the need for a conviction on lesser or similar charges.
There are a number of reasons that might explain the relatively low number of men and women charged with offences arising out of the riots. It seems that the overriding aims of those holding office was to appease the masses by invoking trading regulations, while demonstrating judicial action taken to protect the propertied class. Prosecutions for ‘pure’ riots lay with local government officers but when riots were associated with larceny, as with the food riots, they might delegate those responsibilities and require mill owners and the like to enter into recognizances to prosecute. Otherwise, minor assaults, trespasses to property and criminal damage were matters that might be settled privately outside the court structure or under civil actions for trespass.

The overall outcome from the assizes was that five men received some form of punishment by way of fine or gaol and another ten men were ordered to be transported for seven years. Four men convicted at the assizes appealed against their sentence to transportation, although Judge Reynolds (the assize judge) advised the Secretary of State that, in his opinion, the sentences should stand as an example to others. However, no one was capitally convicted for statutory riot and all claims against female rioters failed.

So why did all the indictments of female rioters fail at the assizes? It would be unfair to describe female roles as merely subservient given the descriptions of their activities. The actions of both male and female rioters were audacious: thefts did not take place in secret, substantial damage was caused to property and some victims were threatened with violence. Women were present in significant numbers and were as active as men; they were no less of a threat and no less deserving of punishment than men.

The pre-trial processes do not provide evidence of gender divergent attitudes when more than 20 per cent of people referred to the assize and quarter sessions for their participation in the riots of Dewsbury were female (a slightly higher percentage of women than generally seen in either court at the time). The failure to bring those women to trial either points towards a gendered dimension in the decision-making process of the grand jury who may have dismissed the charges against them or that private settlements were agreed on the misdemeanours. As a result, attitudes of the petty jury and assize judge to female rioters are untested for the Yorkshire riots.
Failure to prosecute any man or woman on a capital charge under the Riot Act may be explained in terms of evidential difficulties once the hour had passed and crowds dispersed, or, more probably, because of the preference of local magistrates to restore and maintain peace in the community. Nevertheless, despite the risk of further inflaming the rioters, a number of protestors were seized at the scene of the riots and held in gaol pending trial. If men had been convicted in great numbers, imprisoned or transported, there would have been a knock-on effect to their employers in the local textile industry.
In conclusion, once indictments against the male rioters came to trial on capital charges for breaking and entering, they may have failed if a woman carried out the ‘breaking’ and a man gained ‘entry’ into a building. Charges for theft may have failed if there were problems identifying what goods had been stolen and by whom. There were further evidential problems in identifying the owner of stolen grain when a miller held corn belonging to multiple farmers. Evidential technicalities may have played at least as great a part as gender in determining which individuals to name in the bills of preferment. The same evidential issues also allowed a sympathetic grand jury to dismiss an indictment or a petty jury to find a defendant not guilty, or guilty of a lesser offence.
My point is not that gender was not relevant but that consideration of gender etcetera was not necessary until all other evidential and procedural stages were completed.

[1] TNA ASSI 44/55, Gaol Delivery York July 1740.
[2]  1 Geo. I, c.5 (1715) Act for Preventing Tumults and Riotous Assemblies.
[3] Hayter, Tony (1978) The Army and the Crowd in Mid-Georgian England, London: Macmillan.
[4] Thompson, E.P. (1971) ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, No. 50, pp. 76-136.
[5] Dalton, Michael (1705) The Country Justice, London: William Rawlins and Samuel Roycroft.
[6] Southey, R (1814 edition) Letters from England, London.
[7] 11 Geo., II, c. 22 (1737) ‘An Act for punishing such persons as shall do injuries and violence to the persons or properties of His Majestey’s subjects with intent to hinder the Exportation of corn’.