Crime And Punishment: Early Modern Britain

In GCSE History, students will look at how crime and punishment have changed over the centuries, focussing on different periods. One of these is the early modern era, specifically in Britain.

Crime was a serious problem in Britain during the early part of the Modern Era. The growth of towns and cities encouraged crime, and there was no official police force. Some forms of punishment were harsh: capital punishment was rife, as were torture and transportation. The authorities were frightened of the "many-headed monster" of popular unrest.

Discover more about law enforcement in early Modern Era Britain in this enlightening quiz.

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  1. Which crime was regulated as a capital offence under the 1723 Black Act (amongst others)?
    The fact that this was a capital offence did not necessarily mean that all of those found guilty of it would be sentenced to death
  2. Some towns and villages did employ constables, but they suffered from a crucial weakness. What was it?
    Under these circumstances constables could not achieve much
  3. Women accused of witchcraft often had to undertake a "swimming test". How did this establish guilt or innocence?
    This procedure was a reminder of medieval and Anglo-Saxon practices
  4. Transportation overseas was an available punishment. To where were convicts transported until the late 1700s?
    Transportation was not abolished as a punishment at this point: the prisoners were now re-directed to a new destination
  5. What term was used to describe a robber on foot encountered on the highway?
    Such robbers were much feared, and they could usually run fast
  6. What was meant by a "bridewell" during this period?
    Most towns had one of these at this time
  7. As there was no police force, many victims of crime hired someone to find the culprit - for a fee. What name was given to these bounty hunters?
    Poorer victims of crime could be precluded by poverty from seeking redress in this way
  8. Witchcraft was taken seriously as an offence in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. What did the witch-finders look for on an alleged witch's body to prove guilt?
    They were looking for any kind of unusual spot on the skin of the accused
  9. In 1688 the death penalty could be imposed for no less than 50 different crimes. Why did courts in fact impose so few death sentences?
    In fact the number of capital offences actually increased during the following century
  10. In Mary Tudor's reign heretics (i.e. those who followed the Protestant faith) could suffer the death penalty, and 300 were killed during her reign (1553-1558). What form of execution did they suffer?
    Mary and her advisors regarded the death sentence as an effective deterrent. Capital punishment was - in any event - a frequent occurrence in this period

Author: Edward Towne

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