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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Reading Megan Comfort’s Doing Time Together as an Early Modernist.

Sometimes I try to lift my head out of the archives and read around in the growing and really awesome new literature on prisons in more recent times. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about books that deal with the more recently historical experiences of incarceration and … Continue reading Reading Megan Comfort’s Doing Time Together as an Early Modernist.

Conference report: “Prisons and Prison Writing in Early Modern Britain”

Last week, on Monday 10 April, I was fortunate enough to attend a day conference hosted by the International John Bunyan Society on “Prisons and Prison Writing in Early Modern Britain” held at Northumbria University. Given how relevant the conference was to this blog, and how enjoyable it was, I thought I’d provide a brief … Continue reading Conference report: “Prisons and Prison Writing in Early Modern Britain”

Profitable penitence: selling books for prisoners in seventeenth-century London

In 1675, Christopher Flower published The Penitent Prisoner, a short tract intended to offer divine comfort to condemned inmates and encourage penitence, a spiritual guide on turning the ‘Gaole into a Shop to traffick for Heaven’. This was very much of a piece with the literature of criminal penitence and scaffold speeches explored by historians … Continue reading Profitable penitence: selling books for prisoners in seventeenth-century London

Rape and Infanticide at the Halstead House of Correction

George Dewing, the keeper of the Halstead House of Correction, was a monster who raped an inmate and murdered her child. Or he was framed.            The version of the story in which he was a monster is found in A Short and Impartial Account of the Proceedings against George Dewing (1728),  probably written by … Continue reading Rape and Infanticide at the Halstead House of Correction