p-police-msg - 2/4/94
Period law enforcement.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: waltern at thoreau.rand.org (Walter Nelson)
Subject: Re: Elizabethan Law-Enforcement
Date: 7 Jan 1994 19:26:13 GMT
Organization: RAND Corporation
David Schroeder (ds4p+ at andrew.cmu.edu) wrote:
: If someone was murdered in 16th century London, who would have
: to be involved, in an official capacity? The Warden of the
: specific ward where the murder occurred? The watchmen of
: that ward? Some court officials? Please help me out and
: point me at some sources for more information... The
: library at Carnegie Mellon was strong on printing
: information, but I didn't have much luck finding
: stuff about Elizabethan law-enforcement.
I'm working from memory here, and I invite anyone who is better informed to
add or correct, but I think it goes like this.
When a murder (or any other unexplained death) is discovered, the coroner
(a local notable, not an MD) is called. He convenes a Coroner's Inquest and
summons witnesses. Once testimony is given the inquest rules on the cause of
death (Murder, death by misadventure, suicide etc).
If it is ruled to be Murder, then it falls into the hands of the local law
enforcement officials: the Justices of the Peace, the Bailiffs and the
Constables. The procedure, at this point, is fairly informal, though I
imagine the J.P. would have overall direction of the "investigation".
Hopefully, the Coroner's inquest will have pointed to possible suspects.
If that was the case, a "hue and cry" would be raised. The town crier
would go about ringing his bell and announcing that so-and-so was wanted
for unlawful murder, and anyone who happen to see him would be charged to
raise a cry, and he would be apprehended by a large, ugly mob.
If the malefactor was not immediately obvious, then the system would not
function so well. There were no full time detectives (except those charged
with tracking down Jesuits and other Catholic troublemakers), and no
accepted police procedural. The J.P. and his functionaries, the Bailiffs
could gather such clues as they could, but unless someone came forward and
said "I sar who done it", the murderer was pretty well off.
The Constables primary duty was security and supervising the Watch. The
Watch was a group of citizens who would stop those going about after
curfew and interrogate them. If the malefactor was stupid enough to be
caught by the Watch, and stupid enough to give a suspicious answer, he
might be aprehended that way.
Also, each Parish had a Beadle, who not only handled orphans and such, but
also kept an eye on the neighborhood to make sure everyone was being a good
little subject of the Queen. He might also turn up a murderer by asking
Generally though, it seems like each law enforcement official was pretty
much free to conduct his own investigation, in concert or in competition
with all of the others. However, when it came time for a Warrant of
Arrest, it had to all come back to the J.P.
By Wardens, I think you mean the Parish Wardens. These folks generally
only concerned themselves with whether people were attending church
regularly, but I'm sure if one of them had an opinion, he would feel free
to voice it.
The position of Sheriff was, by the 16th Century, becoming largely a
ceremonial position with concern primarily over tax collection. Of course,
if the Sheriff had an idea who done it, nothing would stop him from
following up on those suspicions.
From: vader at meryl.csd.uu.se (]ke Eldberg)
Subject: Re: Elizabethan Law-Enforcement
Date: 7 Jan 94 22:10:59
Organization: Indiana Jones University
Apropos law enforcement:
One of the medieval Swedish laws stipulates that if someone is
found murdered on (or near) a road, and the killer cannot be
identified, the shire shall pay the fine.
Since the fine was rather heavy, this gave everyone a good
reason to go look for the killer.
William de Corbie
From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV
Subject: Various and Sundry
Date: 10 Jan 1994 18:28:56 -0500
Greetings to all, from Yaakov.
Sorry I have not been able to start the in-persona debate I
had in mind. Life has gotten a bit hectic lately. I will
try to post when I have time to look up my sources.
A few comments on recent threads:
4) Coroner's Inquests- My understanding from the English
LEgal history course I took last year is that any
unexplained death required a suspect and a trial. This was
one explanation my Prof offered for the 80% acquital rate in
such cases (he counted, going through the cases in the
Latin. Apparently, they take up a couple of miles of
parchement if laid out end-to-end). Studies of legal
history in Criminal law prior to the 18th century tend to be
less developed than those in other areas of law because
lawyers were not involved in criminal law until then (and,
since lawyers do most of the research on the history of the
common law, it hasn't been studied). I believe this is true
of the period treatises as well. Brachton barely touches
the subject. Littleton, of course, is entirely land
tenures. The various compilation of student notes (the year
books) have few criminal cases (but more than current theory
would account for, as our prof pointed out. He is preparing
an article on the subject so we got to hear quite a bit
about his researches).
If I remember procedure correctly, a suspect would be placed
in jail until the justices arrived on circuit. The accused
would come forth to plea, a jury would be assembled and a
verdict would be passed. J.H. Baker, working from the
surviving records, estimates that criminal trials took 20
minutes on average. (Possibly 10, he is uncertain from the
records how many judges would hear such cases on circuit.)
Thats all for now.