Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

p-police-msg - 2/4/94


Period law enforcement.


NOTE: See also the files: punishments-msg, med-law-art, p-lawyers-msg.





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


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: waltern at thoreau.rand.org (Walter Nelson)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org