London in the Time of the Stuarts

By Walter Besant | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII PUNISHMENT AND CRIME

IN the following chapter will be found certain notes on crime and criminals. There is little difference between the crimes of the Elizabethan and those of the Stuart period. I have added two or three stories of the period which seem to affect the manners of London. Hundreds of such stories might be found scattered up and down the annals of the seventeenth century. I have made these meagre selections with sparing hand. The crime of Lord Sanquhar; the cruelty of the Puritan in his punishments; an example of the honest citizen; the treachery of a noble lord; the origin of General Monk's wife, and one or two more persons and episodes may be taken as illustrations of the times.

The punishment of criminals under the English law remained all through the century cruel and vindictive. High treason continued to be punished with the old barbarities; we have seen what these were. The coiner, if a man, was drawn on a hurdle and hanged; if a woman, she was burned alive. For petty treason, which is the murder of a master, a husband, or a superior officer, the offender was hanged if a man; burned if a woman. For felony of all kinds, hanging. If a man refused to plead he was pressed to death. After death, the body was sometimes hung in chains. In felonies where Benefit of Clergy was still allowed, the offender was branded on the left hand. For petty larceny, the punishments were the loss of an ear, or a whipping. Perjury was punished with pillory, with branding on the forehead, while the offender's trees were pulled up in his garden and his goods confiscated. Forgery, cheating, libelling, using false weights and measures, forestalling the market, offending against the statutes in bakery and brewery, were punished with pillory, and sometimes by nailing one or both ears to the pillory, or cutting them off, or boring through the tongue with a hot iron. For striking in the King's Court the right hand was struck off. For striking in Westminster Hall while the judges were sitting, the punishment was imprisonment for life and confiscation of the offender's goods.

If a jury bought in a verdict contrary to evidence they were liable to lose the

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