Radicalism, Respectability, and the Case of the Imprisoned Politician

We are delighted to publish this guest post by John Owen Havard, Assistant Professor of English at Binghamton University, whose forthcoming work includes a book on the origins of disaffected attitudes towards politics and a new project on thinking about politics, freedom, and the end of the world in writings by Byron, Hobhouse, and their … Continue reading Radicalism, Respectability, and the Case of the Imprisoned Politician

Contested records: writing, custom and conflict in early modern prisons

The following post is based on a paper presented at "Writing Prisons: Literature and Constraint in Early Modern England," a mini-symposium held at Birkbeck in July (and kindly written up at the time by Brodie Waddell). In this post, I’d like to explore the role of writings and texts within early modern prisons. That is … Continue reading Contested records: writing, custom and conflict in early modern prisons

England’s Island Prisons

 We are delighted to publish this guest post by David Cressy,  who is Research Professor in Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University, and George III Professor of British History Emeritus at The Ohio State University. He is finishing a history of Gypsies, and beginning a study of England's islands The orders, pamphlets, and petitions … Continue reading England’s Island Prisons

Rethinking the meaning of imprisonment in the 1690s

  What does it mean to be a prisoner? Most of us today would cite confinement within bars or walls as a defining characteristic. But this was not necessarily the case in the early modern period, when some prisoners enjoyed freedom of movement. Debtors in London’s Fleet and King’s Bench prisons, for example, might lodge … Continue reading Rethinking the meaning of imprisonment in the 1690s

The persistent presence of the eighteenth century female debtor

We're pleased to present the following guest post by Alex Wakelam, a doctoral student in the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure studying eighteenth-century female insolvency and the functioning of debt imprisonment. On the 11th December 1742, the young Samuel Foote arrived at London’s imposing Fleet debtors’ prison.[1] At the age of … Continue reading The persistent presence of the eighteenth century female debtor

Further Thoughts on Coroner’s Inquests into Deaths in Custody

Last week we cross-posted Krista Kesselring’s essay on early modern coroner’s inquests into prisoner deaths, which originally appeared on the blog Legal History Miscellany. I have never looked systematically into the records of coroner’s juries, as Professor Kesselring did, but I’ve found two intriguing cases in the course of my research that seem to confirm … Continue reading Further Thoughts on Coroner’s Inquests into Deaths in Custody

Early Modern Coroners’ Inquests into Deaths in Custody

We are delighted to share this post by Krista Kesselring, Professor of History at Dalhousie University. It originally appeared on the Legal History Miscellany blog on July 9, 2017.

Legal History Miscellany

Posted by Krista Kesselring, 9 July 2017.

Hollar Tower

Deaths in gaol have long required investigation by coroners. In Canada, one provincial jurisdiction recently sought to end this practice to save time and money, but abandoned the proposal upon protests that the public had a duty and right to oversee custodial conditions.[1] The mandatory inquest into deaths of prisoners has a long history, dating back to the medieval origins of the coroner, when his duties centered on preserving the king’s rights and revenues. Looking at early modern inquests makes one wonder about their purpose and utility, in an era when gaol deaths were rife and the inquests typically perfunctory.

As one might expect, gaol deaths kept early modern coroners and their inquest jurors busy: J.S. Cockburn’s study of the assize court records extant for the five Home Counties between 1559-1625 noted inquests into no fewer than 1,291 deaths in custody, observing…

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