Crime, Gender, and Social Order in Early Modern England

Crime, Gender, and Social Order in Early Modern England

Crime, Gender, and Social Order in Early Modern England

Crime, Gender, and Social Order in Early Modern England

Synopsis

This is the first extended study of gender and crime in early modern England. It considers the ways in which criminal behaviour and perceptions of criminality were informed by ideas about gender and order, and explores their practical consequences for the men and women who were brought before the criminal courts. Dr Walker's innovative approach demonstrates that, contrary to received opinion, the law was often structured so as to make the treatment of women and men before the courts incommensurable. For the first time, early modern criminality is explored in terms of masculinity as well as femininity. Illuminating the interactions between gender and other categories such as class and civil war have implications not merely for the historiography of crime but for the social history of early modern England as a whole. This study therefore goes beyond conventional studies, and challenges hitherto accepted views of social interaction in the period.

Excerpt

This book concerns the interactions of criminal behaviour, gender and social order in early modern England — both the conceptual interactions of these categories and their practical implications for early modern women and men. The scope of such a project is potentially immense. One might incorporate a history of the incidence and character of criminal acts, a history of criminal justice, a history of jurisprudence. Traditionally defined social and cultural history rubs shoulders with well-established legal history and political histories of local and central governance and polity, as well as with newer historiographies of gender. It is impossible to write a 'total' history, although my approach does not exclude new questions being asked by others. Even with all the materials we have to work with, so much will necessarily remain unsaid in any one account. I have tried, however, to weave disparate strands of various bodies of work into tableaux that reveal some of the textures of early modern life. This study is in part a history of social meanings. It is also a study of the dynamics of social interaction and the role of gender as a dynamic force. It therefore offers more, I hope, than a conventional study of crime per se. It is nonetheless primarily written in dialogue with the historiography of the social history of early modern crime.

This project has had a lengthy gestation. Like many first monographs, its origins lie in a Ph.D. thesis. But what you will read here is substantially different from my doctoral work on crime, gender and social order in early modern Cheshire. After being awarded my doctorate in 1994, I undertook a considerable amount of additional research, and almost the entire book has been written anew. Unhappily, my progress was hampered by the affliction of an illness that lasted for a period of years. There were moments when I despaired of ever being well enough to finish the book. However, in the autumn of 2000, I was able to recommence work in earnest on the project.

During the chequered course of the book's production, I have, inevitably, accrued many debts. First of all, thanks are due to my Ph.D. supervisors, Jenny Kermode and Brian Quintrell, from whose enthusiasm for my project and generosity with their time and expertise I benefited enormously. It was . . .

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