Crime, Gender, and Sexuality in Criminal Prosecutions

By Louis A. Knafla | Go to book overview

Foucault Redux?: The Roles of Humanism, Protestantism, and an Urban Elite in Creating the London Bridewell, 1500–1560

Lee Beier

George Taylor, a vagabond brought into this house the 22 of April 1560, for that as a varlot he feigned himself mad and had pulled down the (Lord) Mayor’s proclamations, and did here break a door and lock, and being well whipped became very quiet and tame, and so was committed to the labour of the mill. 1

Ellen Pope, a straggler and common harlot, brought into this house the 21 of May 1560, for that she was found in (sic) streets as a filthy harlot, and therefore committed to the labour of this house. 2

The house in which Taylor and Pope were imprisoned and put to hard labor was Bridewell, a prison workhouse founded in London in 1553. Taylor and Pope typify the kind of people incarcerated in Bridewell in the Elizabethan period—the vagrant and the prostitute. Although often described as a “hospital,” a title the institution bears to this day, Bridewell was nothing of the kind. It was not a medieval hospital, which provided refuge for the poor and sick who entered voluntarily; nor, obviously, was it a modern medical facility. Bridewell was a new kind of prison, whose regime of incarceration and hard labor constituted a revolution in penal practice. It attempted to reform criminals and to change their character as well as their behavior, whereas medieval prisons were for pretrial detention or short-term coercive purposes such as payment of debts. 3

Bridewell was the prototype for bridewells established in English towns from the 1560s and for the “houses of correction” required by statutes in 1576, 1598, and 1610. The institutions proliferated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and formed part of the English penal system up to the mid–nineteenth century. 4 The concept of correction and its institutional embodiments spread to Scotland, Ireland, and the New World. In 1632,

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