Popular Responses to Crime and Deviant Behaviour in Early Modern England

Introduction: ritual and the ‘carnivalesque’

In the world those who obey the dictates of ritual will achieve order; those who turn against them will suffer disorder. Those who obey them will win safety; those who turn against them will court danger. Those who obey them will be preserved; those who turn against them will be lost. [1]

In September 1628, John Howcraft was committed to Bridewell by the Norwich Mayor’s Court for “rydinge and drawing a multitude of people together upon p[re]tence that a woman in St. Stephens had beaten hir husband”.[2] Howcraft was, of course, being punished for organising an event most commonly known as a ‘skimmington ride’, in which members of a neighbourhood sought to shame someone whose behaviour was seen to be an inversion of the ‘natural order’. This could often be a wife who had beaten or cuckolded her husband, or a couple whose cohabitation was seen as suspect.

In this essay I look in more detail at the form and outcome of this type of activity, but the point to make here is that action against deviant behaviour within a neighbourhood was not only taken in the courts. Residents of early modern towns and villages from all social levels had other methods of punishing miscreants or making their disapproval known. Often these methods involved activities which themselves appear to be disorderly, but which can also be seen as part of a complex system of customary justice. But where did such actions originate and what part did they play in the culture of the societies in which they occurred? To investigate these issues I have examined a wide range of records from throughout England, rather than one specific locality. This is for two reasons; firstly, written records of extra-legal responses to deviant behaviour are comparatively rare, and, secondly, I want to show that despite the lack of records these actions were, in fact, widespread.

Over the last thirty years, theories have developed, initially from the work of the Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhael Bakhtin and British functionalist anthropologists influenced by French-born Emile Durkheim, which see ritual carnivalesque activities as a means of strengthening the relationship between the individual and society.[3] Some followers of these theories have seen such activities as acting as a means of catharsis – a safety valve allowing people to occasionally let off steam, although ensuring that the natural order is maintained most of the time. Indeed, the safety valve theory argues that such events have the effect of actually strengthening the existing hierarchy.[4]

It seems plausible that, in southern Europe in particular, where rituals contained in carnival often involved a temporary inversion of the usual order of things, that such activities did indeed allow the masses to let off steam for a limited period, in the knowledge that when the carnival was over things would return to normal. In northern Europe, carnivalesque events such as May Day celebrations and church-ales often displayed the same ‘world upside-down’ features. Inversions of hierarchical norms were also known from such festive appointments as the mock rulers, the Lords or Abbots of Misrule, elected during the Christmas holidays, or the Boy Bishops who presided over some ecclesiastical activities during the same period. Edward Muir has described how, on the Day of the Boy Bishops, young clergy put on their vestments backwards and held the missal upside down, whilst the boy bishop marched backwards in procession and the choir sat in the canon’s seats.[5] Another custom, this time involving a symbolic inversion of the normal subservient role of women, was that practised at Hocktide, the second Monday and Tuesday following Easter Day. On the second day of the festival women would capture the men of the parish and hold them to ransom, the fee for their release being paid into parish funds.[6]

Some historians have extended this category of carnivalesque activities to include ritual punishments such as skimmington rides on the basis that they took place in a carnivalesque mood and contained similar theatrical elements. Natalie Davis has described the charivari carried out by French youths against newly-weds of disparate age as “a carnival treatment of reality, with an important function in the village”.[7] Muir has claimed that “the mood was usually carnivalesque, full of laughter and rough parody”.[8]

Victor Turner established a model of ‘social drama’ that explained the process by which such rituals of status reversal were acted out. It has been summarised by Gananath Obeyeseskere as follows. “It begins with a breach of a rule or norm; this is followed by a quickly ramifying cleavage or crisis; the third stage is redress, which can be manifested in different ways (for example, ‘in the rational idiom of the judicial process or in the metamorphic and symbolic idiom of a ritual process’); finally, the disturbed group is reintegrated or else irreparable schism is recognised”.[9] Deviant behaviour and early modern popular responses to it, such as skimmington rides, can often be seen to follow this pattern. Sometimes the result could be ‘irreparable schism’, when the targets of the action found it so distressing or humiliating that they were driven out of the neighbourhood. Joan Kent has written about the Star Chamber complaint of a Staffordshire couple who found themselves in just that situation. They were driven out of Burton-upon-Trent after being subjected to a ‘rough music’ procession before up to four hundred inhabitants of the town. They were said to have been led through the streets “with greate noyce and with ringing of cow bells, bason, candlesticks, fryingpannes and with the sounde of a drumme”.[10]

However, despite some carnivalesque attributes that appear in the acting out of some of these punishments, I would argue that, in early modern England at least, these were two very different things. Max Gluckman has called activities that allow such a release of social pressure ‘rituals of rebellion’.[11] He claimed that such events occur only within an established and unchallenged social order and are only “effective so long as there is no querying of the order within which the ritual protest is set”.[12] However, in early modern England these events took place precisely because there had been a challenge to the established order, even though the intention of the response may ultimately have been to preserve that order. Popular responses to crime and deviant behaviour were not mere carnivalesque activities, but part of a complex system that included both official and unofficial punishments, all of which were connected.

I would not argue that the arena in which power relations were acted out was not sometimes ritualised; indeed in early modern England this was often the case.[13] However, I would contend that even in pre-industrial English society, the idea that these ritual events were deliberately used as a strategy for oppressive manipulation is far too calculated. I would also argue that there are fundamental flaws in the arguments that place early modern English popular punishments in such a setting. Apart from the fact that we cannot, in any case, know what was in the participants’ minds when they took part in such actions, as Chris Humphrey has pointed out, their conduct is just as likely to concentrate their, their victim’s, and their audience’s minds upon inequality and subordination as much as on the strengthening of the existing hierarchy.[14] Possibly more importantly, a major difference between these events and the festive activities described by Bakhtin and others, is that in carnival the actors are willing participants. In contrast, the victims of skimmington rides and other popular actions were far from willing.

One of the main attractions of the ritual and carnivalesque theories is that many of these popular actions did take place within a ritualised arena, often including an element of symbolic inversion – usually based on the ‘world upside-down’ motif. This is seen, for example, in skimmington rides, where the person being humiliated would be made to ride backwards on a horse to illustrate that the wife had been guilty of beating her husband, a reversal of expected gender roles. Symbolic inversion has been defined as “any act of expressive behaviour which inverts, contradicts, abrogates, or in some fashion presents an alternative to commonly held cultural codes, values and norms be they linguistic, literary or artistic, religious, or social and political”.[15] However, these forms of symbolic inversion are worldwide phenomena. As anthropologist Rodney Needham has pointed out, “hostile or suspect neighbours of the Lugbara are inverted; witches among the Kaguru dance upside-down; in the Toraja land of the dead everything is the reverse of what it is in this world, to the extent that words even mean the opposite of their everyday connotations or are pronounced backwards”.[16]

Themes of inversion, such as the ‘world upside-down’ were familiar throughout the medieval and early modern period and over a wide geographic area. Throughout Europe, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chapbooks and broadsheets were illustrated with motifs of inversion, varying from those depicting human hierarchical relationships such as husband – wife and servant – master, to examples from the natural world, including cock – hen and rabbit – fox. The illustrations would portray the party who normally played the role of underdog as having the upper hand.[17]

The theme of ritual inversion was certainly well known and recognised in early modern England. As Stuart Clark has pointed out, it was a “characteristic element of village folk-rites, religious and educational ludi, urban carnivals and court entertainments”.[18] Such inversion presupposes a hierarchical structure that could be turned upside-down. A society based on a theory of patriarchism and a well-defined class system and a popular culture that included a wealth of calendar customs ensured that in early modern England such a structure existed.

According to Victor Turner, those taking such positions as the Boy Bishops exist in a state of liminality, performing rituals of status reversal which have the ultimate effect of reaffirming the order of structure and restoring the hierarchical relationship between the individuals involved. The supercession by women of masculine authority, sometimes by the adoption of the behavioural style or dress of men, is another example of this type of status reversal.[19] Turner compares the liminality of status reversal with comedy “for both involve mockery and inversion … of structural rules and over-zealous adherents of them”.[20]

Turner described an unstructured or rudimentarily structured condition in a society as communitas. Within a stable structural system he explained that this can manifest itself in many forms. One of these is the structurally small and normally relatively insignificant units that may emerge as upholders of moral values.[21] Max Gluckman saw the court jester in this role; someone, normally of lower class, who was allowed to operate as a privileged arbiter of morals.[22] The youth abbeys, consisting of normally junior members of society, which operated in south-eastern France in the sixteenth century, took it upon themselves to uphold moral values within the neighbourhood.[23] The organisers of charivari in early modern England against husband beaters, adulterers and fornicators doubtless saw themselves as upholding this same position.

‘Folk’ justice and ‘royal’ justice

The depiction of some popular responses to crime and deviant behaviour as carnivalesque has added to the impression of a whole group of punishments as ‘folklorique’. Sharpe has included in that description forms of official punishment such as the stocks, pillory, cucking-stool and carting, on the basis that he found only infrequent evidence of their use; indeed he found only one example of most of these methods in the Essex records.[24] Other historians who have written about examples of so-called ‘folk justice’, such as skimmington rides, have often emphasised their difference from the official legal punishments imposed by the courts and administered by local elites.[25] However, I would argue that to portray these two classes of punishment as completely different is misleading. As I stated in the introduction to this essay, I would argue that what has been called ‘folk’ punishment was a part of the complex system of justice administered in early modern England, and that in many ways it reflected the ‘royal’ justice of the courts. The connection between these customary punishments and similar officially sanctioned forms of justice has also been made by Martin Ingram, who saw the former as “merely unauthorized applications” of the latter.[26] However, I want to go further than Ingram with the connection and argue that they were both part of a system of justice that had much more popular involvement than is sometimes ascribed.

At Worcestershire quarter sessions in 1619, Eleanor Nicholls of Chaddesley Corbett was presented as “a common scold and a slanderer of her neighbours and not fit to dwell amongst any well disposed people”. It was said that she had previously lived in three other villages, “from all which places she was driven out through her wicked behaviour”.[27] The remark that Eleanor Nicholls ‘was driven out’ from her previous places of abode is interesting, particularly as the records do not indicate by whom she was expelled. Being driven out of a village could be an example of the neighbourhood itself taking action against someone who refused to live quietly and therefore threatened the stability of the community. On the other hand, local courts also officially expelled transgressors from their towns or villages. For example, Marjorie McIntosh found that between 1488 and 1497 a total of six women, two men and two married couples, were expelled from Havering for moral offences.[28] In a sixteenth-century mayoral proclamation in Exeter it was also decreed that women of evil life were to be ordered to immediately depart from the city.[29] These examples illustrate one local area of overlap between legal punishments imposed by the courts and the extra-legal justice sometimes inflicted by the offender’s own neighbours.

However, there is also a third category of justice to take account of which sits somewhere between central ‘royal’ and neighbourhood ‘folk’ justice, and which makes the connection even closer. This is the punishment imposed under the terms of local custumals and by-laws, often by manor or borough courts. These by-laws often laid down ‘customary’ punishments, sometimes very like those of so-called ‘folk’ justice and also similar forms imposed by some higher courts. Whilst the manor courts were essentially private courts, the Crown sometimes ceded public functions to them, enabling them to administer royal justice.[30] Customary punishments were still being ordered in courts of quarter sessions in the seventeenth century. In 1633 King’s Lynn quarter sessions recorded that “what p[er]son or p[er]sons soever shalbe found guilty in open sessions of petty larceny or bee taken in the Act of Adultery or fornicacon or shall bringe forth any Bastard childe or shalbee the reputed father of any Bastard childe shalbe openly whipt about the Towne in the Wherry Cart accordinge to the Anncient custome of this Burroughe”.[31]

After a skimmington ride in 1602 in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, John Knocke, described as “Lord and Captain of the disordered company” stated that “there is a custom in their town that if a woman beat her husband, the next neighbour towards the church must ride upon a cowlstaff”.[32] The involvement of the neighbour in the process is an illustration of the importance of the concept of neighbourliness in early modern England. As Keith Wrightson has explained, neighbourliness “involved a mutual recognition of reciprocal obligations of a practical kind and a degree of normative consensus as to the nature of proper behaviour between neighbours”.[33] The implication in the Waterbeach case is that there it was customary for the neighbourhood to take action themselves when a woman’s behaviour became unacceptable.

The custom of involving the next neighbour in the punishment process, possibly for failing to prevent the attack on his neighbour in the first place, is also seen in London, where Henry Machyn recorded how on Shrove Tuesday, 1563, “there was a man carried of four men, and afore him a bagpipe playing, a shawm and a drum playing … because his next neighbour’s wife did beat her husband; and therefore it is ordered that his next neighbour shall ride about the place”.[34] John Stowe also recorded, in 1565, that “one man rode on two staves borne on four men’s shoulders at St. Katherines for that his next neighbour suffered his wife to beat him. There went with him nigh 300 men with handguns and pikes, well armed in corslets”.[35] It is not clear from these London descriptions whether these were punishments imposed by the courts or the neighbourhood. However, it could have been either.

Rather than seeing skimmington rides as some sort of quaint English folk punishment, it is more useful to view them as part of a phenomenon that had a long and geographically widespread history, including official use by the courts. As early as the year 998, Antipope John XVI, who had already been punished by mutilation, having lost his eyes, ears, tongue and nose, was further humiliated when Pope Gregory V ordered that he should ride backwards on an ass wearing his vestments turned inside out.[36] An early example from London was recorded by Thomas Walsingham, who described the riding of a quack physician in 1382. He was paraded through the city on a horse, facing backwards, with two urinals hung around his neck.[37] An example from Italy in 1161 illustrates the use of backwards riding, public humiliation and expulsion. William Winstanley records the case of Beatrix, wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, who the citizens of Milan “placed … on a Mule, with her face towards the Tail, which she was compelled to use instead of a Bridle: and, when they had thus shewn her to all the Town, they brought her to a gate and kicked her out”.[38]

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the London courts, especially Star Chamber, were occasionally imposing punishments, particularly for crimes such as slander and sedition, which included riding on a horse facing its tail. In 1595, a man named Wood, for slandering the brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, was ordered to “ride from the Fleet to Westminster with his face towards the horse tail”.[39] In 1621, John Chamberlain wrote to Sir Dudley Carleton reporting that “one Floude an obscure lawyer should by sentence of the Lower House have ridden with his face to the horse tail and stood on the pillory for lewd and contemptuous words against the King and Queen of Bohemia”.[40]

Skimmington rides took a variety of forms in different parts of the country, but would often begin with a rough music procession to the offender’s house, sometimes led by a horse and rider, who might be masked.[41] The rough music was a cacophony of banging pots and pans, sometimes the discordant playing of musical instruments, and general shouting and screaming. On occasions some of the male participants might be dressed in female attire, symbolising the notion of inversion or misrule. Sometimes the victims might also be pelted with mud and dirt from the roadway, which could end up being washed off during a ducking in the local pond or river. However, the regulatory effect of these charivaris was not just intended for the targets of the action, but also for the participants and any audience, who were being clearly shown what the results would be of turning the world upside-down.

In 1604, Wetherden in Suffolk saw a riding against Nicholas Rosyer and his wife, after she beat him when he came home drunk one night. One of the participants explained that it was decided that the next-door neighbour “towards the church should according to an old country ceremony … ryde about the towne upon a cowlestaff wherby not onely the woman wh[i]ch had offended might be shamed for her misdemeanor towardes her husband but other women also by her shame might be admonished [not] to offend in like sort”.[42]

These gatherings were intended to humiliate their victims and part of the way that this was achieved was by either directly involving large numbers of neighbours or by drawing the attention of the neighbourhood to the event by the general noise and commotion caused. The events were probably extremely frightening for their targets, particularly when large crowds gathered. John Taber of Stoke Lane, Somerset, claimed that at a skimmington directed against him, “by the great noyse that was kept … there might be in number att least one hundred p[er]sons” and that he “was in such feare of the said p[er]sons that he was afraid to goe out of his house for feare they might take away his life or doe him some bodily harme”.[43] Also in Somerset, in 1682, Dianah Tilley claimed that a skimmington against her and her husband “for her weareinge the Breeches”, because she would not let him go hunting, “put her in afeare soe that she returned home & miscarried … & was in danger of looseinge her life by that fright”.[44]

The courts ordering such punishments clearly saw the benefits of attracting large crowds to the events, not particularly to make them more frightening but rather to add to the humiliation of the victim. In 1605, John Chamberlain wrote to Lord Dudley describing a riding ordered for a “purvayer censured for misdemeanure” and noted that the judges decided that he should ride on an ass rather than a horse, because “yt wold be more wonderment and gather more boyes about him”.[45] The more spectacular the event the bigger the crowd was likely to be.

The key point that I want to make about these descriptions is that sometimes they are of punishments imposed by the courts and sometimes direct actions by neighbours, often it is not clear which is responsible, as the descriptions are the same. When neighbours took it upon themselves to punish those whose behaviour they found unacceptable they used the customary form of punishment for their neighbourhood. The distinction between official and direct popular action was not so great as might be thought for two reasons. Firstly, people were more used to being involved in the local legal process. Leet or manor courts that had been punishing minor misdemeanours for centuries were under the control of local not central figures. Even when someone in an official position, such as the constable, took action it was a local person from amongst the neighbourhood. People were also much more used to having a direct part in the investigation and punishment process when they had to find out themselves who may have stolen their goods for example; they made their own enquiries amongst their neighbours, often approached the suspect and sometimes sorted out the matter without recourse to the law.

Secondly, even when punishments were officially imposed by the courts, they often deliberately involved the neighbourhood; whippings and duckings were public affairs and the shame involved in this being done in front of the neighbours was part of the punishment. When offenders were placed in the pillory this was just part of the penalty they could expect. The watching crowd could get involved by pelting the offender with dirt or stones or shouting at them. As Beattie has pointed out, when men displayed on the pillory had committed crimes that people found particularly repulsive, they could often be dealt with harshly, on occasion death even resulting for the offender.[46] With people having such a close relationship with the punishment process, often officially encouraged, it is not surprising that sometimes they didn’t bother with the court process, but went ahead with the punishment themselves, particularly when the punishment was a customary one that had been carried out for generations within the locality.

The carnivalesque attributes of some of these responses were also sometimes officially imposed. Lynda Boose has argued that the ducking of a scold was turned into a carnival experience that “placed the woman’s body at the center of a mocking parade”.[47] This carnivalesque effect was sometimes also achieved when offenders were paraded wearing symbols that represented their crime. Some imagination was often in evidence in the design of punishments that were intended to reflect the offence. When a London man was punished with a riding in 1559 for cheating on the number of billets of firewood that he had sold he was forced to ride draped in firewood.[48] Even more ingenious was the punishment designed for William Campion who, in 1478, had been found guilty of tapping into a conduit and diverting the water into his own well. It was ordered that he should be “set on a horse with a vessel like unto a conduit full of water upon his head, the same water running by small pipes out of the same vessel and that when the water is wasted new water to be put in the said vessel again”.[49] There were also occasions when men were forced to wear women’s clothing to humiliate them as part of their punishment.[50] For example, in 1599 a group of men sentenced at Star Chamber “for riots, routes & unlawefull assemblyes & other misdemeanours” were ordered to stand on the pillory “bareheaded & in woman’s apparrelle”.[51] Such spectacles would ensure a good turnout of mocking spectators. However, despite their carnivalesque attributes, these were still official punishments, imposed by the courts.

Whilst it is impossible to know with what frequency such actions took place, the familiarity with which witnesses talk about them in their depositions suggests that, although they were not everyday occurrences, neither were they uncommon. Such actions were not just reserved for marital disputes, there are examples of gatherings being organised to protest against all kinds of activities. For example, David Rollison has described a ‘groaning’, involving a mock birth and baptism, carried out by residents of a Gloucestershire village after an alleged act of sodomy between a local farmer and a farm labourer.[52]

This incident involving a local farmer is illustrative of the special pleasure gained by the actors in charivari in humiliating authority figures. As Bob Bushaway has explained, these events stress the ritual role of usually powerless groups in the community.[53] Another event involving an authority figure took place in Mitton, Worcestershire in 1614, when the local curate was the target of a group who, for unexplained reasons, “by violence put him upon a cowl staff and carried him up and down the town and caused fiddlers then being in company to play by them, and one rang upon a frying pan, another blew a horn and the rest followed making a great disorderly noise”.[54] Whilst there are few references to authority figures being directly involved in the carrying out of these popular actions it is likely that many would have gone ahead with some sort of approval. In Pockthorpe, Norwich, in 1616, a riding by about forty people involving horns took place, at which the organiser, one Richard Fowler, told other participants that he had the consent of Sir Edward Hassett.[55]

Sometimes only fragmentary evidence survives of some of these popular actions and it is difficult to interpret their meaning. An unusual event took place in Holt, Norfolk, in 1661, when a group of townsmen were reported to have “joined in confederacy” against a local servant girl, Amy Hind. It appears that she had recently given evidence about a riding that she had witnessed against a couple named Wildgosse, possibly for husband beating. She had deposed that the riding had included “one Rumbellor that carried a long pole with Oyster shels on it” and two others who were involved in a “sodomiticall kind of conjunction”, one wearing a bull’s hide.  The event was described in a letter from John Bond to Sir John Palgrave as “a most horrid and prodigious misdemeanour” with “such obscenity and filthinesse acted … that I am ashamed to mention it”.[56]

The meaning of the symbols involved in events such as this can only be the subject of speculation. The oyster motif is one that occasionally appears in descriptions of ridings or other popular actions. However, possibly apart from its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, it is difficult to see any potential connection with the events. Unfortunately the quarter sessions records of the case have not survived and without this detail it is impossible to unravel the symbolism.

A 1607 case from Wells, Somerset, involving the town constable, John Hole, who, with others, had tried to stop the town’s May games, illustrates how difficult it can be to make sense of the symbolism involved. Central to Hole’s complaint in Star Chamber were painted signs that were carried around the town during a procession to a church ale, the meaning of which would be impossible to determine without the detail from the resulting court action. One of the signs portrayed a painted calf, which was intended to symbolise the town maypole that a Mrs. Yard, who was rumoured to have had an adulterous affair with John Hole, refused to pass to go to church. Unless it was known that she had called the maypole a ‘painted calf’ a quite different interpretation might have been placed on the image. Another painting showing a woman and two men on a board one yard square with holes cut at its base, symbolising Yard and Hole, would have been even more impossible to understand.[57]

When a wife’s adultery was the behaviour being highlighted, horns, the traditional symbol of cuckoldry, were often used to cause further humiliation. This was clearly the intention of Thomas Franklyn of Devizes when “he hanged up a rams horne upon a pole in Froome in the way where John Tomson and his wife must of necessitie passe by coming from the church”, having just married.[58] An accusation of cuckoldry could be taken extremely seriously, both by the recipient and the courts, as Thomas Case was to find out in March 1639 when Somerset assizes fined him the enormous sum of £100 and sent him to gaol for six months for “contrivinge a libell against John Blundell” by sending him “a lambes skynne … with sheepes hornes and cuckholds in it”.[59]

As I have suggested, many of these examples show that just because punishments were sometimes described as ‘customary’ it does not follow that they were unofficial. And when they were official that does not mean that they could not be local. Despite the growing involvement of the state in local affairs it was still possible to have local solutions for local problems – solutions that, over time, became customary in that particular location. In the custumal for Hereford drawn up by the city mayor, John Chippenham, in 1486, it was recorded that “it was decided as concerning female scolds that much mischief arose in the city through such persons, to wit, quarrelling, blows, defamation, disturbance of the night’s rest, and strife between neighbours”, and that “whenever scolds shall be taken and convicted, they shall have the judgement of the cucking-stool without any ransom”.[60] Clearly, the authorities in Hereford felt that they had a particular problem with scolding so that came up with a local solution to deal with it, as they did in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, where a by-law was passed in 1510. This ordered that any woman who scolded with her neighbours should be put in the tumbrel outside their door, and that they should sit there wearing a crown as if they were in the pillory until pardoned.[61]

Despite their lack of use in Essex, contraptions such as the tumbrel, cucking-stool, pillory and stocks, all intended to cause public humiliation by displaying the offender to their neighbours as they were being punished, were certainly utilised in other locations, including Norfolk. Violent or scolding women were also displayed in cages, or publicly whipped as a cart carried them around the town. Sexual offenders of both sexes were also likely to be openly beaten in a similar way. In Suffolk, a code of punishments produced at Bury St. Edmunds in 1579, decreed that

if anie person shalbe a fornicator, an adulterer or an incestiouse person or shalbe founde wth chielde or to have gotten anie chielde before open solemnizacon of mariage or shalbe prooved to be a bawd, the person so offendinge he or she who soever shalbe tyed to the poaste for that purpoase appointed (havinge hir haire cutt of if it be a woman) and so remaine tyed to the poaste for the space of one whole daie and a night, and that daie to be the Lordes daie, and after on the markett daie to be whipped, receavinge thirtie strypes well layed on till the blood come, the Constable seeinge the execution thereof. [62]

Some communities had been even more cruel and imaginative. A Portsmouth custumal of 1272 decreed that, “if we take a thef he shall be scalde and his eyen put owte, and if ther be any woman her tetys shall be kyt of”.[63] Whilst it may be thought inconceivable that such brutal punishments could have survived into the early modern period, let alone be imposed by the courts, penalties involving mutilation were still ordered. Star Chamber was particularly noted for such punishments as cutting off ears, slitting the nose and boring through the tongue. Even borough courts would order that someone should have their ears nailed to the pillory, and branding on the cheeks or forehead with a hot iron was fairly commonplace. These methods ensured that any punishment remained public even when it was over; the offender was forced to carry their mark of shame around with them.

Often the humiliation of the victims of punishments was ensured when they were made to wear a piece of paper that described their crimes. Sometimes a single word such as ‘scold’ sufficed, sometimes the description was more detailed. In 1626, Margery Metcalfe was ordered to be set in the stocks at Bedale, North Yorkshire, “in full markett time, with a paper on her head written with great letters ‘I sitt here in the stocks for beatinge my owne mother'”.[64] On other occasions the guilty were forced to carry some sort of token that signified their crime; scolds might carry a distaff and bawds or harlots a white rod.

On occasions other official punishments such as carting, ducking and stocking were copied in unofficial actions. When a group comprising gentlemen, yeomen and others got together in North Walsham, Norfolk, in 1606 to take action against Andrew Wilkins of the same town, described as “a com[m]on vagrant p[er]son”, and his wife, Alice, “a com[m]on scould”, they forcibly took both of them, together with their son and daughter, “unto the stocks in Great Walsham where they … did putt and imprison [them] … to their greate shame”.[65] When another group from Shelton, Norfolk, took Robert Flatman and his wife by force one night in 1613, they dressed his wife in men’s clothing and carted her in front of one hundred local people, “haveing a purpose to make a publique mockery” of her. The men’s clothing indicates that whatever they thought her guilty of, it involved some inversion of the natural order.[66] Similarly, in 1608, in Congleton, Cheshire, Margarett Sutton claimed that she was forcibly taken from her house by a mob that included the mayor of the town, imprisoned and then “for her further disgrace a horse and cart was brought to the prison [and she] was most shamefullie carted through the towne of Congleton”.[67] Even though in this case an official was involved there had been no court hearing; this was a case of locals taking matters into their own hands and dealing with someone outside the law.

Sometimes when officials were involved in such actions conflicting stories have resulted that make it difficult to determine whether it was an official action or not. Lawrence Crumpe of Worcestershire claimed that when he was going about his own business in July 1616, he was set upon by six armed people who were “riotouslye routouslye and unlawfully assembled”, who beat him and put him in the stocks at Upper Mitton. However, the alternate story was that one of the assembled group, Simon Nutt, was the village constable and that Crumpe was drunk and made threatening speeches, calling him “thief rogue and other reprochfull words and did allso spit in [his] face”. According to Nutt, Crumpe became so violent that he had to get the help of onlookers to place him in the stocks to keep him under control.[68]

As I have already said, most popular actions against those accused of misbehaviour have gone unrecorded. Evidence is sketchy concerning such matters unless a court case ensued, initiated by the humiliated target. When such an action involved the composition and publication of a libel, evidence is a little more likely to have survived, either in the form of the libel itself or in the records of the court that heard the libel action. Whilst libel had previously been seen as a moral offence to be dealt with in the ecclesiastical courts, by the sixteenth century it began to be seen as more serious, mainly due to the sometimes violent responses that it could produce. Michael Dalton advised that libellers were “disturbers of the peace, whether they be the contrivers, the procurers, or the publishers of the Libell: for such libelling and defamation tendeth to the raising of quarrels, and effusion of blood”.[69]

Levels of illiteracy in early modern England meant that not everyone was able to commit their compositions to paper and in some towns certain individuals had a reputation for writing them out. In 1606, Joan Gomme of Thetford, Norfolk, was presented in the Ely consistory court “for that she hath made and doth exercise the makeinge of libellous and lascivious ballads by and of her neighbors”.[70] Although not everyone could write their own libels, on the other hand, not everyone could read them. This was the cause of added embarrassment to the target of one such libel in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, in 1620. When Thomas Postgate came across a libel written about him by William Wales, who claimed to have “occupied” Postgate’s wife, Postgate was unable to read it and had to ask his neighbours to tell him what it said. He then had to ask his local curate to copy it out for him so that he could bring a defamation action in the Durham consistory court.[71]

Although libels could be rhymes, letters or drawings that defamed their victim in any way, many of them concerned the sexual reputation of the target or their partner. Often they took the universally familiar verse form of the broadside ballads. In 1676, Margaret Rowland, a Great Yarmouth widow, was presented at the town quarter sessions charged with “quasdam falsas seditiosas scandalosas et famosas scripturas et libell”. She was responsible for the composition of a lengthy rhyme in ballad form concerning the alleged adultery of a town doctor, Samuel Spilman, and Dorothy Cooke, the wife of a local merchant. It was written from the point of view of Spilman’s wife, Phillis, who complains that her husband has taken as his lover an ugly whore with, seemingly, no virtues at all:

… sighing deep quoth Phillis I’me forsaken,

My dearest Samuel a new miss has taken,

Were she more handsome or more wholesome either,

Would never vex me, But the whore is neither,

Or had a better cunt then I,

But her’s is Bald besides it stands awry,

Her forehead’s ugly and her eyes are hollow,

Her teeth are rotten, her complexion sallow,

Her lipps are thinn her cheekes they looke like clay,

She’s nought but bones her flesh is whor’d away,

Nor hath she carriage that becomes a woman,

Nor is she true to one, the whore is com[m]on.

Could she but sing or dance or play o’th lute,

Or were the whore but of a good repute,

I should not grieve for’t, But the Devill take her,

Shee’le drop to peices if you doe but shake her.[72]

Although Margaret Rowland was found guilty of the offence and ordered to appear again at the next sessions, unfortunately there is no trace of her there and so her final punishment is unknown. It is possible that in the intervening period she had been forgiven by the complainants and that no further action was taken.

Margaret Rowland was an example of a woman finding a role for herself in the maintenance of neighbourhood standards. Women were particularly able to do this where sexual behaviour was concerned. Whilst reputation was important for both men and women in determining their standing in the neighbourhood, as Laura Gowing has pointed out, women’s reputation relied heavily on sexual honesty. Allegations of sexual misconduct would often be strenuously contested and slander litigation was common.[73] It was alleged in Star Chamber, in 1615, that two women from Cornwall, Honor Strangman and Junyfer Benny, got together with St. Columb men to “unlawfully plot practise combyne and consult together how they might blemish … the reputacon” of a neighbour, Mary Lawry. They were said to have composed a “most infamous obscene and slanderous libell” that exposed her adultery with a local carpenter. It begins with a request for a cure for her condition:

Yf there be any man that can tell me quickelye,

a medicyne for to curt a wench that is greened sore and sicklye,

let him come at St. Collomb Towne and there he shall have news.

Where lyes this wench oppressed sore as it will make you muse.[74]

In 1614, another group, this time from Somerset, were also accused in Star Chamber that they “did singe reade repeate and publishe” a libel “in divers Tavernes, Innes, Alehowses and other places of publique meetinges” that accused Marie Perman of Bath, wife of Peter Perman, gentleman, of being a bastard and a whore. It tells that

Of all the whoores that I have knowne,

From Courte that came unto our Towne,

Theres none compares with Muddy Mall,

That playes the whoore from springe to fall:

From spring to fall was never see,

A pockie jade worse then Marie.

The suit goes on to say that “the resydue and other p[ar]t of the sayd lybell Ryme & verses is soe obscenous and fowle as it is not fytt herein to be wrytten or remembred, neyther is the same fyttinge or decente for any modest eyes to reade or eares to heare”. It also accuses one of the group, Thomas Bromely, of pointing to animal hides with their horns in the marketplace, saying that they “were the night gownes of his uncle Peter Perman”, clearly implying that Perman was being cuckolded.[75

Rhymes such as these were intended to draw the attention of the neighbourhood to the sexual impropriety of those named, as well as shaming them into mending their ways. They were methods of control that weren’t intended to involve the courts, although, of course, sometimes the targets took their own court action. Another method of control that could be extremely efficient was gossip. It was also one that was in the control of the women who used it rather than officials. Gossip could be used effectively both as a means of protecting the good name of the neighbourhood or in the pursuit of personal grievances. Max Gluckman has argued that gossip has important positive virtues. As well as defining and maintaining the values and morals of the social group, it can also be used to control competing individuals and cliques within the group.[76]

One of the important features of gossip is that it allows differences to be fought out in such a way that an outward show of harmony can often be maintained. To ensure this, gossip has unwritten rules about how it is to be carried out and who can take part. It is only when these rules are breached and gossip develops into open scandalizing that group unity is threatened. In early modern England a limited amount of gossip appears to have been an accepted form of sanction and control. In 1600, Robert Cawdrey, in a household manual, warned women about pursuing gossip “further than the laws of good neighbourhood doth require”.[77]

Of course, when gossip moved into scandalizing so that it no longer took place within restricted circles and became more widely spread, there was the danger that the victim might retaliate with a defamation suit. The church courts in particular spent much of their time hearing cases where people claimed redress against slander and defamation. A good name was something to be protected in early modern England. It was common to see at the end of a deposition presented to a consistory court that a plaintiff was “by reason of these slanderous speeches worse thought of amongst her neighbours”.[78]

When gossip alone was not a sufficient sanction, insults could be used as a more potent weapon and there are many records of women being loudly abused in public as a means of shaming them. In 1685, John York of Ellerton, North Yorkshire was charged with defaming Anne Alcock in public by saying that “she is a whore and I will prove her a whore”.[79] Such an outburst might be designed to ruin the woman’s reputation in the neighbourhood. An obsession with honour and reputation appears to be one of the means by which behaviour between men and women was regulated. Insults to honour were designed to shame people into conforming to moral standards.[80] Particularly when a woman lost her reputation the fact would be likely follow her wherever she went. In 1618 Norwich consistory court heard Agnes Ayers claim that Anne Sleight, a neighbour in Shipdham, had been “rung out of both Hilborow and Swaffham w[i]th a bason”, both villages being ten miles away.[81]

In the language of insult in early modern England ‘whore’ was the central term of defamation against women and was used as a symbol for all kinds of sexual misconduct.[82] Insults such as ‘pocky whore’, ‘base whore’ or ‘whott tailed whore’ did not necessarily imply that the recipient was a prostitute, rather that she was guilty of sexual misconduct of any kind. A typical diatribe issued against such a woman was that heard against Dorothy Dunn in Sedgefield, County Durham in 1629, when Anne Scott called her “whore, arrant whore, common whore, carted whore, pock whore and burnt whore”.[83]

Laura Gowing has maintained that there was “no way of calling a man a whore, or condemning his sexual promiscuity” and that “women remained the focus of sexual guilt and promiscuity”.[84] However, as she herself points out, “the words of insult were understood to be related only opaquely to actual sex”.[85] She has also claimed that insults cast at men were really about the sexual behaviour of their partners, not their own.[86] Whilst it is true that when a man was called a ‘cuckold’ this was usually related to his wife’s alleged adulterous behaviour, terms such as ‘whoremonger’ and ‘whoremaster’ were used to insult men about their own sexual misconduct. For example, when Margaret Baite called Cuthbert Keadland a “whoremaster knave and bastard getter knave” in 1608, she was taking issue with his sexual promiscuity.[87]

As with other offences, whoredom did not always reach the courts and sometimes the women in a neighbourhood took matters into their own hands and administered their own justice. In addition to the campaigns of libel, gossip and insult already mentioned, other public rituals were utilised, such as the breaking of windows, used to mark a bawdy house. Sometimes punishment for whoredom could be physical, occasionally resulting in mutilation making the guilt as visible as possible. This could involve the inflicting of a ‘whore’s mark’ – a slit nose. Gowing has quoted the example of Joan Bird who, in 1619, was threatened by her neighbour that she would “slit her nose and mark her for a whore”.[88]

In some parts of Europe it was organised groups of youths who took it upon themselves to monitor moral behaviour within a neighbourhood and to take action when standards were breached.[89] Both Martin Ingram and Paul Griffiths have pointed out that there is little evidence of organised youth groups being involved in these activities in England.[90] However, whilst there may not have been such well-organised groups as the French youth abbeys, the anecdotal evidence suggests that youths may have sometimes played a central participatory role. It is extremely likely that groups of young men in particular would have gathered together to amuse themselves in much the same way as they do today. Sometimes this amusement may have been taken in ridiculing members of the neighbourhood, particularly those who may have fallen short of accepted standards.

It has been suggested that young men taken on as apprentices in London may have seen themselves as a loosely linked youth group who took on the role of moral agents. Apprentice riots targeting London prostitutes were frequent occurrences in the seventeenth-century capital.[91] Taking into account that by the end of the sixteenth century there were approximately fifteen thousand apprentices and twelve thousand journeymen in London, mostly young men living away from home, some trouble was inevitable.[92] Susan Brigden has claimed that a youthful desire to humiliate elders found its expression in the “rough music which punished marital quarrellers, adulterers and cuckolds by publicly shaming them”. She quotes the case of a group of apprentices to a goldsmith who abused their master “by making a horned head upon his dore sett betwene the lettres of his name and other lyke villanyes”.[93] The seventeenth-century English writer John Taylor also described how groups of apprentice youths “arm’d with cudgels, stones, hammers, rules, trowels and handsaws put playhouses to the sack and bawdy houses to the spoil”.[94]

It is, of course, impossible to be certain about the make-up of such groups, as very little evidence exists unless a court case resulted. Local actions probably ranged from large, well organised affairs, in which case much of the neighbourhood may have been involved and, as E.P. Thompson has pointed out, they were probably beyond the organisational capabilities of young people, to much smaller, more spontaneous events, possibly resulting from an evening in an alehouse, which may well have involved groups of youths looking for entertainment.[95]

When youths got out of hand and made trouble in the neighbourhood there were, of course, very direct ways in which to deal with them. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in 1606, a group of young men led by one Matthew Basnet were roaming the streets of the town, their faces covered with scarves. When they were spotted by Margaret Robinson she followed after them, as Basnet had called her husband a cuckold. When she found them gathered “at old Mrs Riddells door … hearing one in their company play upon a lute” she accused Basnet of being too ashamed to show his face, whereupon he removed his scarf and gave her more verbal abuse, calling her an “arrant common jade”, for which “the said Margaret did call the said Matthew rascally rogue and did take him a box upon his ear”.[96]

The principle of the so-called ‘dark figure of crime’ in early modern England is well established. We can only guess at the real level of criminality, as so many offences will have gone undiscovered or unreported. However, just because crime or deviant behaviour was not the subject of a court case, it does not necessarily mean that it was not dealt with. As I have illustrated, other options were available to deal with the local offender, from popular punishments such as skimmington rides, to actions such as libel, slander and gossip.

Different social groups often had their own methods of dealing with these matters. Whilst village elites may have been more likely to use the official route of the courts, they did not always do so and were occasionally implicated in more popular means of control. Men may have taken it upon themselves to use physical force to sort out a local dispute, women had their gossip circles, and even youths found their own means to have an influence on behaviour within a neighbourhood. Whether the response was a riding, libel or insult, it was intended to shame the offender into complying with acceptable community standards of behaviour. Residents of the early modern English town or village had a whole range of methods of punishment or dispute resolution that they could call upon, many, possibly even most, of these leaving little or no record. However, fortunately enough did for us to be able to build up a picture of how such matters might be dealt with.


[1] Hsun Tzu, Basic Writings of Mu Tzu, Hsun Tzu and Han Fei Tzu translated by Burton Watson (New York, 1967), pp. 94 – 6.

[2] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/16, fol. 214.

[3] Mikhail Bakhtain, Rabelais and His World translated Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge, MA, 1968).

[4] For an introduction to the ‘safety-valve’ thesis, see Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 90 – 2.

[5] Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, p. 96.

[6] Ronald Hutton, The Rise and fall of Merry England. The Ritual Year 1400 – 1700 (Oxford, 1994), pp. 9-12, 26; Chris Humphrey The Politics of Carnival. Festive misrule in medieval England (Manchester, 2001), chapter 2.

[7] Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Reasons of Misrule: Youth Groups and Charivaris in sixteenth-century France”, Past and Present 50 (1971), p. 53.

[8] Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, p. 98.

[9] Gananath Obeyesekere, “Stages of the Social Drama”, Times Literary Supplement (25 July 1986), p. 821. For a full treatment of ‘social drama’ as a descriptive and analytical tool, see Victor Turner, Schism and Continuity (Manchester, 1957).

[10] Kent ‘”Folk justice” and royal justice’, p. 73.

[11] Max Gluckman, Politics, law and ritual in tribal society (Oxford, 1965). See chapter 6 on rituals of rebellion.

[12] Max Gluckman, Custom and Conflict in Africa (Oxford, 1963), p. 130.

[13] Ritual was seen at assize sittings, for example, in the processions and the dressing-up of the judges. Official punishments such as hangings also took place within a ritualised arena. See J.A. Sharpe, “Last Dying Speeches: Religion, Ideology and Public Execution in Seventeenth-Century England”, Past and Present 107 (1985); also Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison (Harmondsworth, 1991), pp. 11, 28, 53.

[14] Chris Humphrey, “The Dynamics of Urban Festal Culture in Later Medieval England” (University of York, Unpublished PhD thesis, 1997), p. 25.

[15] Barbara A. Babcock, “Introduction”, in Barbara A. Babcock, ed., The Reversible World. Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society (New York, 1978), p. 14.

[16] Rodney Needham, “Introduction”, in Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, Primitive Classification (London, 1963), p. xxxix.

[17] For an essay with a European perspective on these printed images, see David Kunzle, “World Upside Down: The Iconography of a European Broadsheet Type”, in Babcock The Reversible World, pp. 39 – 94.

[18] Stuart Clark, “Inversion, Misrule and the meaning of Witchcraft”, Past and Present 87 (1980), p. 101.

[19] Victor M. Turner, The Ritual Process. Structure and Anti-Structure (London, 1969), pp. 177 – 84.

[20] Turner, Ritual Process, p. 201.

[21] Turner, Ritual Process, pp. 96, 109.

[22] Gluckman, Politics, law and ritual, pp. 102 – 3.

[23] Davis, “The Reasons of Misrule”.

[24] Sharpe, Crime in seventeenth-century England, p. 149.

[25] For example, Kent, ‘”Folk Justice” and Royal Justice’. Kent refers to royal justice and folk justice as “two apparently competing jurisdictions”, p. 70; David Rollison, “Property, Ideology and Popular Culture”.

[26] Martin Ingram, “Ridings, Rough Music and the ‘Reform of Popular Culture'”, p. 93.

[27] Worcestershire County Record Office. Worcestershire quarter sessions rolls, 110/26/42.

[28] Marjorie McIntosh, Autonomy and Community. The Royal Manor of Havering, 1200 – 1500 (Cambridge, 1986), p. 258.

[29] W.T. MacCaffrey, Exeter, 1540 – 1640. The Growth of an English County Town (Cambridge, MA, 1975), p. 97.

[30] Briggs, Harrison, McInnes and Vincent Crime and Punishment in England, p. 38.

[31] NRO, King’s Lynn quarter sessions, KL/C21/1, dated 25.9.1633.

[32] Cambridge University Library, Ely Diocesan Records, B2/18, fol.174v. It is not surprising that the language of custom is used here to justify a neighbourhood action. Waterbeach is in fenland East Anglia where there was a tradition of riot, often using events in the ritual year as an excuse to take action. See Clive Holmes, “Drainers and Fenmen: the Problem of Popular Political Consciousness in the Seventeenth Century”, in Fletcher and Stevenson, Order and Disorder. The connection between neighbourhood ridings and riot is also seen in the anti-enclosure risings of 1626 – 32 in the royal forests of western England. Here the leaders of a series of protests adopted the name ‘Lady Skimmington’ and in some of the riots wore women’s clothes. However, Buchanan Sharp has argued that “Skimmington was not the alias of any one individual; it was common property … it represented a genuine expression of the community’s outrage”. See Buchanan Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority. Rural Artisans and Riot in the west of England, 1586 – 1660 (London, 1980), pp. 104 – 5.

[33] Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580 – 1680 (London, 1982), p. 51.

[34] J.G. Nichols, ed., The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London, A.D. 1500 to 1563 Camden Society, volume 42 (London, 1848), p. 301.

[35] James Gairdner, ed., “Historical memoranda in the handwriting of John Stowe”, in Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles Camden Society, second series, 28, (London, 1880), p. 132.

[36] Ruth Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards: Theme of Humiliation and Symbol of Evil”, Viator volume 4 (1973), p. 154.

[37] Thomas Walsingham, Historia anglicana ed. Henry Thomas Riley, 2 volumes, Roll Series 28 (London, 1864), volume 2, p. 63.

[38] Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards”, p. 155.

[39] William Paley Baildon, ed., Les Reportes del Cases in Camera Stellata 1593 to 1609 from the Original MS of John Hawarde (London, 1894), p. 19.

[40] Norman Egbert McClure, ed., The Letters of John Chamberlain 2 volumes (Philadelphia, 1939), volume 2, p. 370.

[41] One of the best known of these alternative forms was ‘riding the stang’, known mainly from northern England. The stang was a wooden pole usually carried by two men on which was balanced the target of the riding or someone representing him, as at Staithes, North Yorkshire, in 1691, when one Richard Taylor was “riding about the town upon a stang … on account of Ann Trattles of the same her beating her husband”. (North Yorkshire County Record Office, North Yorkshire quarter sessions, QSB/1691/298, information of Elizabeth the wife of Thomas Trattles). In 1609 the Durham consistory court also heard that Jane Rom, “accounted amongst her neighbours to be an angrie woman, … did so abuse her husband as in reproch therof her next neighbour was carried upon a stang about the town”. (Durham University Library, Durham consistory court depositions, DDR Vol/9, fol. 174, deposition of Dorothy Bolton).

[42] PRO, STAC 8 249/19, m. 18, Rosyer v Quarrye, Hamont and Horne, Suffolk.

[43] Somerset Record Office, Somerset quarter sessions, Q/SR/257, fol. 13, information of John Taber, dated 30.7.1708.

[44] Somerset Record Office, Somerset quarter sessions, Q/SR/152, fol. 1a, examination of Diana the wife of Samuel Tilley, dated 21.1.1682.

[45] Letters of John Chamberlain, volume 1, p. 211.

[46] Beattie, Crime and the Courts, pp. 133 – 4.

[47] Lynda E. Boose, “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member”, Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991), p. 189.

[48] John Stow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (London, 1720), volume 1, p. 258.

[49] Ingram, “Juridical Folklore in England Illustrated by Rough Music”, p. 71.

[50] For a seventeenth-century fictional description of a charivari involving cross-dressing, see E.A. Horsman, ed., The Pinder of Wakefield: being the merry History of George a Greene, the lusty Pinder of the North London, 1632, S.T.C. 12213, English Reprint Series, volume 12 (Liverpool, 1956).

[51] Les Reportes del Cases in Camera Stellata,, pp. 103 – 4.

[52] Rollison, “Property, Ideology and Popular Culture”, pp. 70 – 97.

[53] Bob Bushaway, By Rite. Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700 – 1880 (London, 1982), p. 201.

[54] Worcestershire Record Office, Worcestershire quarter sessions, 110/21/68, 1614.

[55] NRO, Norwich Mayor’ Court, 16a/15, fol. 65v, dated 24.4.1616.

[56] NRO, Aylsham collection, AYL/1, letter from John Bond to Sir John Palgrave, dated 4.3.1661.

[57] PRO, STAC 8 161/1, Hole v White and others, Somerset.

[58] Somerset Record Office, Somerset quarter sessions, Q/SR/33, fol. 47, examination of Thomas Franklyn, dated 20.4.1619.

[59] Barnes, Somerset Assize Orders, order 142, p. 42.

[60] Mary Bateson, ed., Borough Customs volume 1 Selden Society, volume 18 (1904), pp. 79 – 80.

[61] North Yorkshire County Record Office, ZBD 1/53/13. I am grateful to M.Y. Ashcroft, County Archivist, for help in translating this document.

[62] British Library, Lansdowne MSS 27/70, fols. 154 – 5.

[63] Bateson, Borough Customs, p. 77.

[64] North Yorkshire Record Office, North Riding quarter sessions, QSM/1626/19, dated 19.4.1626.

[65] PRO, STAC 8 297/5, Wilkins v Scambler, Bingle, Roberts and others, Norfolk, dated 29.1.1606.

[66] PRO, STAC 8 146/15, Flatman v Cobbe, Gooch and others, Norfolk.

[67] PRO, STAC 8 258/13, Sutton v Drakeford and Poynton, Cheshire.

[68] PRO, STAC 8 95/11, Crumpe v Nutt, Pillett and others, Worcester, dated 5.11.1616.

[69] Dalton, Countrey Justice, p. 173.

[70] Adam Fox, “Ballads, Libels and Popular Ridicule in Jacobean England”, Past and Present 145 (1994), p. 52.

[71] Durham University Library, Durham consistory court depositions, DDR Vol/11, fols. 68 – 70, Postgate con Wales.

[72] NRO, Great Yarmouth quarter sessions, Y/S1/3, fols. 375v – 376.

[73] Gowing, Domestic Dangers, pp. 127 – 33. On defamation, see also Laura Gowing, “Language, power and the law: women’s slander litigation in early modern London”, in Kermode and Walker, Women, Crime and the Courts; Laura Gowing, “Gender and the Language of Insult in early modern London”, History Workshop Journal 35 (1993); Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage; Sharpe, “Defamation and Sexual Slander”. For defamation cases in the church courts concerning allegations of witchcraft, see Peter Rushton, “Women, Witchcraft, and Slander in Early Modern England: Cases from the Church Courts of Durham, 1560 – 1675”, Northern History 18 (1982).

[74] PRO, STAC 8 202/30, Lawry v Dier, Strangman and others, Cornwall, dated 22.6.1615.

[75] PRO, STAC 8 237/26, Perman v Bromeley, Winter, Gossett, Horton and other, Somerset, dated 8.11.1614.

[76] Max Gluckman, “Gossip and scandal”, Current Anthropology volume 4, no. 3 (1963) p. 308.

[77] R. Cawdrey, A godlie form of householde government: for the ordering of private families, according to the direction of God’s word (London, 1600).

[78] For examples see Durham University Library, Durham consistory court depositions, DDR Vol/7, fol. 79v, the deposition of Bartram Kent, dated 19.7.1605; fol. 191, the deposition of John Browne, dated 28.11.1606.

[79] North Yorkshire Record Office, North Riding quarter sessions, QSB/1685/180, dated 1.8.1685.

[80] Laura Gowing, “Women, Status and the Popular Culture of Dishonour”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society Sixth series, 6 (1996), p. 225.

[81] NRO, Norwich consistory court, Dep/37, fol. 363, Leight con Ayers, dated 9.6.1618.

[82] Gowing, “Language, power and the law”, p. 29.

[83] Durham University Library, Durham consistory court depositions, DDR Vol/12, fol. 141, deposition of John Read, dated 16.10.1629.

[84] Gowing, Domestic Dangers, p. 63.

[85] Gowing, Domestic Dangers, p. 59.

[86] Gowing, “Gender and the language of insult”, p. 4.

[87] Durham University Library, Durham consistory court depositions, DDR Vol/9, fol. 67v, dated 30.9.1608. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘whoremaster’ as “one who has dealings with whores; one who practices whoredom; a fornicator, lecher”.

[88] Gowing, “Language, power and the law”, p. 32.

[89] Davis, “Reasons of Misrule”.

[90] Martin Ingram, “Ridings, Rough Music and the ‘Reform of Popular Culture'”, p. 104, n.72; Paul Griffiths, Youth and Authority. Formative Experiences in England 1560 – 1640 (Oxford, 1996), pp. 169 – 70.

[91] Steven R. Smith, “The London Apprentices as Seventeenth-Century Adolescents”, Past and Present 61 (1973)

[92] Steve Rappaport, Worlds within Worlds: structures of life in sixteenth-century London (Cambridge, 1989), p. 11.

[93] Susan Brigden, “Youth and the English Reformation”, Past and Present 95 (1982), p. 50.

[94] John Taylor, “Jack a Lent”, in John Taylor, Works (London, 1630), p. 115.

[95] E.P. Thompson, “Rough Music: le charivari anglais”, Annales 27 (1992), pp. 295 – 6, 298.

[96] Durham University Library, Durham consistory court deposition books, DDR Vol/8, fols. 192, 192v, 203.


© Keith Parry 2011



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