Rogues, Thieves, and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718-1800

By Gwenda Morgan; Peter Rushton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE

The patterns of crimes and punishments

At first glance, the records of the criminal courts in the eighteenth century look perfect material for quantification. There are many cases of all types brought before the courts, and the issues, evidence and resulting sentences are sufficiently well recorded to provide a numerical picture of the extent of crime and the punishments inflicted on the guilty. Yet the attractively neat character of the data which has encouraged statistical analysis has also aroused suspicions that, compared with the rich qualitative sources available in many continental countries, we are deceived by the simplicity of the results into believing that we have a true picture of crimes, the criminals and the processes of law enforcement. “Take heed of computation! How woefully and wretchedly we have been misled by it!” warned John Owen, a late-seventeenth-century Chancellor of the University of Oxford. 1 Certainly some historians have attempted bold generalizations of the trends in crime across the centuries, arguing that any variations in detecting or recording would have little effect on the long-term direction of change. One striking interpretation, for example, is the analysis of homicide rates in England since the middle ages, which seem to show an uneven but persistent decline down to the early twentieth century. This pattern seems to confirm the impression from other sources of a society that became increasingly pacified with capitalist industrialization, as personal habits of self control became more prevalent. There are great difficulties with this kind of broad-brush approach, as detailed analysis of one county over several centuries has shown, but the general direction towards less violence seems clear. The assumption of a wholesale “civilising process” underlying changes in crime, however, is

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Rogues, Thieves, and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718-1800
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Glossary ix
  • List of Tables xi
  • List of Illustrations xii
  • North-East England xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - The Character of North-East England 9
  • Chapter Two - Enforcing the Law 27
  • Chapter Three - The Patterns of Crimes and Punishments 47
  • Chapter Four - The Social Organization of Crime 77
  • Chapter Five - Common and Unnatural Crimes: Women and North-East Crime 97
  • Chapter Six - Learning Their Lesson: the Use of Public Punishments 125
  • Chapter Seven - Transportation 153
  • Chapter Eight - Correction and Imprisonment 171
  • Chapter Nine - Law and Disorder 191
  • Conclusion 215
  • Notes 219
  • Bibliography 261
  • Index 277
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