Early modern rape cases

In case you’re wondering why I’m blogging so much, I am actually working alone at my desk and this serves as my concentration break. I wouldn’t want to come across as lazy.

On a less paranoid and defensive note, I decided to type ‘bed’ into the Old Bailey proceedings catalogue. The word appears in quite a few entries because crimes were often carried out at night when the good citizens were asleep in their beds. The word sadly also appears in entries about violent crime.

In this rape case of 6th September 1677 a man was found innocent of rape because no one heard the woman cry out and she didn’t complain about it immediately. (She was probably too traumatised and afraid that no one would believe her.) Again in this case of 1678 the man was found innocent because no one heard the woman cry out and she again didn’t make an immediate complaint. I am guessing from the situation today that rape cases often had this result. I wonder if Sharon knows. If you consider that women had less legal rights (what were a woman’s rights exactly?) and the difficulty in proving rape, it’s not surprising if women thought long and hard before making allegations. (I’m probably not being a very good historian here because I’m assuming that these men were guilty.) In this 1674 case a man was found innocent because the woman waited several days before complaining. (I mean really if she was making it up why wouldn’t she move the date forward?) This case seems less clear cut. Note the description of the woman as a ‘silly country animal.’ I don’t know if it’s misogynistic or towny prejudice.

This case of 1685 sounds like something out of a novel. A woman stood accused of leading another woman from her parents into the hands of the alleged rapist. The rape was committed in a bawdy house (brothel). A witness was brought in to say that the alleged victim slept around anyway. The accused woman and the alleged rapist were found innocent.

What exactly did the woman have to do to prove her case? It sounds like she virtually needed the jury to be present at the rape before anyone would believe her.

In this case of 1686 the man was found guilty because it was decided that the woman wanted money.

Ah, at last, a guilty verdict. Here too.

I know nothing about the history of rape cases in the early modern period. To be fair to the jury if they only had his word and her word, and the sentence for guilt was death, it’s not surprising if they tended to come down on the man’s side. They might have thought it was better to let a guilty man walk than an innocent man die. I’ve no doubt misogyny played its part too.

Well, I’ve finished being a bad historian and I now feel thoroughly depressed so I’d better get back to work.

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3 Responses to “Early modern rape cases”

  1. Brandon Watson Says:

    “In case you’re wondering why I’m blogging so much, I am actually working alone at my desk and this serves as my concentration break. I wouldn’t want to come across as lazy.”

    I do that, too. While there areexceptions, it’s often the case with me that the more I blog, the more work I’m getting done, because I blog in the breaks. (It certainly beats a break like watching TV for keeping the mind going.)

  2. jake Says:

    why do you write about cases that happen over 300 years ago?? i htink that you should be a little more up to day..

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