Scolding and Barratry

If we are to believe the popular literature of the early modern period then scolding was the quintessential female offence. It tells of the perils of choosing the wrong marriage partner who may “begin for to scould and to brawl” and that “no venemous snake stings like a woman’s tongue”.[1] Scolding was of such concern to local elites and to the courts in early modern England because it was an outward sign of female power, which was a violation of the patriarchal norm. Sharpe has explained that “the whole notion of scolding was tied up with contemporary views of how women should behave and what constituted a proper female role”.[2]

According to David Underdown, an epidemic of prosecutions for scolding between 1560 and 1640 was one of the indicators of a crisis of order during that period.[3] However, the Norfolk evidence offers little support for this view. In this essay I examine the court evidence to investigate just who was being charged with scolding and the related offence of barratry and what behaviour they exhibited that was seen to be such a threat to community harmony. I also look at some descriptions of scolding from popular literature to see just how contemporary popular perceptions of scolds and their treatment compared with the reality in seventeenth-century Norfolk.

A scold was much more than someone who merely complained or found fault. Scolding involved behaviour that consistently stirred up trouble and usually disrupted the whole neighbourhood. It often also involved brawling, lewd behaviour or repeated indiscriminate slander. Catherine Parson of Sheringham was a typical example. In 1611 the inhabitants of Sheringham, Beeston and Runton complained that she “dothe dayely stur up sedicon and stryfe betwixt man and wief & betwixt neighbor and neighbor so that the neighbours cannot live peaceably by her”. She also “sett upon a poore ould man above threescore yeares of Age … and did whip him very greveouslye”, as well as beating “two boyes meting wth them in the strete … so that they dirse not at any tyme since mete wth her”.[4]

A legal summary of 1675 described such women thus:

A scold in a legal sense is a troublesome and angry woman, who by her brawling and            wrangling amongst her Neighbours, doth break the public peace, and beget, cherish              and increase public discord.

The prescribed punishment was:

being put in the Cucking or Ducking stole, or Tumbrel, an Engine appointed for that               purpose, which is in the fashion of a Chair; and herein she is to sit, and to be let down           in the water over head and ears three or four times, so that no part of her be above               water, diving or ducking down, though against her will, as Ducks do under water.[5]

Whilst originally the term ‘scold’ could apply to both sexes, by the sixteenth century it was almost exclusively applied to women.[6] Of course, men were also capable of exhibiting the same kind of behaviour that saw women charged as scolds, but in these circumstances they were more likely to have been charged with barratry or abusive behaviour.[7] In seventeenth-century Norfolk only three out of ninety-six charged with scolding were men, and two of them were charged with the offence together with their wives and the other together with his mother.[8] According to Underdown, “women who were poor, social outcasts, widows or otherwise lacking in the protection of a family, or newcomers to their communities, were the most common offenders”.[9] However, the majority of cases I have found involved married women rather than widows; of those whose marital status was recorded only 10.7 per cent were widows, with 89.3 per cent being described as married. Interestingly, none were spinsters.[10] The Norfolk records also suggest that women were more likely to be taken to court for scolding when they had offended over an extended period and their neighbours had finally had enough, this means that they were less likely to be newcomers. Women such as Francis Greneleafe of St. Mary’s parish, Norwich, were complained of “for skouldinge contynually wth her neighbors”.[11]

It is difficult to establish the social status of many of those charged with scolding in seventeenth-century Norfolk. However, where occupations are given they are of tradesmen, or wives of tradesmen, such as blacksmith, currier or shipwright, suggesting that they were not the very poorest members of the neighbourhood. Depositions often suggest that offender and complainant were close neighbours, and therefore probably likely to be from the same social group. However, occasionally their vehemence was directed against more fortunate neighbours, and this has been interpreted as a sign of a rebellion against the offender’s position in the social structure of the community.[12]

Underdown has claimed that court records suggest a peak period for the prosecution of scolds between 1560 and 1640. However, in Norfolk, in the first forty years of the seventeenth century there were just fifty-seven prosecutions for the offence, an average of less than two per annum; whether this represented a peak or not, it hardly seems evidence for the epidemic Underdown claimed.[13] Prosecutions in seventeenth-century Norfolk remained at a fairly static level until, as can be seen from figure 1, they fall off after about 1660.[14]


Figure 1. Prosecutions for scolding and barratry, Great Yarmouth quarter sessions and Norwich Mayor’s Court [15]

Whilst the main offence of a scold was misuse of the tongue, in many cases offenders simultaneously faced other charges, which, although indicating how generally disruptive they were, makes it difficult to define the behaviour that led to the scolding charge. For example, when Agnes Barker appeared before Norwich Mayor’s Court for scolding in 1600 she was also charged with brawling and beating the constable.[16] Rose Lownde was also accused of misusing the constable and “scowlding with hir neighbours” before the same court in 1609.[17] Cases such as these suggest that some offenders may have been lashing out against authority figures within the community. There are also examples of aldermen and ministers being the targets of their vehemence.

There was certainly popular involvement in the identification of scolds, as most were reported by their neighbours, and the evidence suggests that many of these complaints arose as part of inter-household disputes. One of the problems with defining behaviour that constituted scolding or barratry is that there are examples of complaints made against individuals that seem to match the definitions of the offences, but nevertheless led to another charge altogether, or sometimes to no charge at all. For example, in 1606, ten neighbours of Barnard Shippaborowe signed an article of complaint against him with a list of his faults. These included the claim that “he is a comon defam[er] and detractor of the neighbours wher he dwelleth” and “he is an ordinary rayler and a verie foule mouthed p[er]son”; yet they do not mention the terms ‘scold’ or ‘barrator’ and he is charged with neither.[18] In 1663 Ann Giddings was charged with railing after it was said that she was a “comon Rayler & abuser of sev[er]all of hir neybors & is a disordered p[er]son”, behaviour that could just as well have seen her charged as a scold.[19]

Some individuals were often only reported as scolds when the neighbourhood had tired of their behaviour or attempts to reform them had failed, so without a one-off incident to report there is rarely a record of the actual words that saw them labelled as scolds. However, the few instances that do report the words give us an idea of what might have constituted scolding in early modern Norfolk. In 1611 it was reported that Margaret Wade of Barton Bendish had called Mr. Lynghoke “Rascall, Jack, knave, wth other very bad speches, and prayed god the devile myght fetch him awaye”.[20] Edmund Dawson of Swaffham was said to have “raged & rayled against …  Robert Pecke callinge him knave, raskall, roge, thefe & thevese knave w[i]th manye other dispitefull termes not fitt to be named”.[21] Edmund Pattrick similarly used the terms “roge and raskall” to Randall Cooke.[22]

Whilst the words these examples throw up, ‘rogue’, ‘rascal’ and ‘knave’, may not seem to be particularly inflammatory today, these were words that had particular meaning in a seventeenth-century society where reputation was all-important. Alexandra Shepard has pointed out that these terms were often the subject of actions for defamation “because they served to debase their victim and rob him of authority and worth”. She goes on to explain that the term ‘knave’ was originally a mock title to describe menial servants, ‘rascal’ insinuated low birth, and ‘rogue’ implied vagrancy.[23] Dave Peacock has also found numerous examples of the term ‘rogue’ being used as the male equivalent of whore in the Norwich consistory court.[24]

Of the ninety-six people charged with scolding during this period, forty-five were charged as common scolds, twenty-three were charged with scolding and fighting or brawling, eighteen with scolding and using lewd or abusive speech, seven with scolding together with ill rule, and a further three with scolding and begging. Sometimes long lists of complaints were made against someone who disrupted the neighbourhood, scolding being just one of them. When neighbours of Mathye Cambridge complained about her at King’s Lynn quarter sessions in March 1626 a long history of complaints emerged. They claimed that her behaviour was “now so unsufferable … that we are in great danger of our lives”. Amongst other misdeeds she was said to have been stealing milk during the night, selling beer without a licence, “giveing entertaynment unto many rogues & lewd persons whos misdemeanors were such as it is reported she had a queane burnt in the house”. She also “beat the widdow Woods & dragged hir most cruelly about by the hayre of hir head”. After scolding with Ellen Thetlow she “threw a stone at hir & layd hir for dead”; after scolding with Henry Harwick she “did run a pitchfork into his body”.  They also claimed that “she is so given to brawling & quarrelling with hir neighbours & is withall of such a mankind & furious disposition that she will chalenge men to fight with them & by name with John Buck swearing that yf she might have his bloud she cared not”.[25] Clearly Mathye Cambridge and women like her did not match the contemporary patriarchal ideal of how a woman should conduct herself.

Articles of complaint about people such as Mathye Cambridge were often submitted to the justices by a list of neighbours who could bear their behaviour no longer. Sometimes these lists were submitted by ‘the chief inhabitants’ or local officeholders. A complaint against Thomas Foreman of Walsingham was signed by twelve townspeople including two constables and two churchwardens.[26] On other occasions complaints were signed by the poor people who had been the target of the scold’s wrath, possibly with the help and encouragement of the leading members of the community. Sometimes it is clear from the records that the submission had been made only after local attempts to persuade the offender to correct the error of their ways had failed, as was the case with Edmond Dawson of Swaffham.[27]

When the complaint against Dawson was made to Norfolk quarter sessions in 1611, it was said that he had “caried himselfe verye dissordelye towarde his neghboures, rayling uppon them in the open stretes as also in the night tyme raging att ther howses in most outragious mannor”, mostly after getting himself drunk. The complaint goes on to describe how “Mr Nicholas Bate minister & p[re]cher of Swaffham hathe laboured manye tymes, bothe by private exhortations, as by other meanes to recleyme him”, but to no avail; Dawson only turned on the minister “raylynge uppon him in most outragious & shamefull manner”, calling him “jacke … knave, thevesse knave, roginge knave, [and] shifting knave”. Nicholas Bate was one of the group of neighbours who, in desperation, signed the articles of complaint.[28]

A connection has sometimes been made between the offences of witchcraft and scolding.[29] According to Reginald Scot, the “chief fault” of witches “is that they are scolds”.[30] He also described the kind of women likely to be charged with witchcraft as “so odious unto all their neighbours, and so feared, as few dare offend theme”, a description that might well be applied to some of those charged with scolding.[31] Yet despite this connection, there is only one seventeenth-century example of a Norfolk scolding case that makes any mention of witchcraft. William Colles of Clenchwarton, who was said to “brabble and brawle wth his neighbors”, was also said to have claimed that “his weiffe weare a wytche [and] that hee is a wisard” and his neighbours complained that there was “found about him a charme beinge a blasphemous one”.[32]

However, if we examine the actions of women charged with witchcraft it becomes apparent that it is often characteristic of behaviour that might have seen them charged with scolding instead. As an example, when widow Betteris was charged with witchcraft in 1607, a child was said to have died after Betteris “did brawle wth the wif of W[illia]m Tasborowe … At another tyme after that the sd Betteris did fall out wth the wif of John Dennys wherupon his child did sicken & dyed”. A poor woman’s house was said to have burned down after “the sd Betteris did fall a baninge”.[33] As we have seen, this behaviour – brawling, falling out, and cursing – is typical of the scold. However, here it involves the much more serious charge of witchcraft when the alleged acts of maleficium follow.

Underdown claimed that scolding was mainly an urban problem and the Norfolk records provide some support for that view.[34] Of 118 Norfolk cases of scolding and barratry, eighty-eight were tried before Norwich Mayor’s Court, which dealt with minor offences within the city. Although King’s Lynn sessions heard only four cases, there were twenty-five in Great Yarmouth, where all of those whose place of abode was given came from the town itself. However, whilst the records of Norfolk quarter sessions, which heard cases from the more rural parts of the county, contain no indictments for scolding or barratry, there are records of several complaints in the sessions rolls during periods for which indictments have not survived.

Early records indicating the existence of cucking-stools are all from towns or cities, although it is difficult to know whether this means that other punishments were used in rural areas or whether scolding had not been such a problem in villages. It is quite likely that it was partly a reflection of the cost of building and maintaining the contraption. Norwich is known to have had a cucking-stool by 1562 when, at Fyebridge, a woman was ordered “to ryde on a cart, with a paper in her hand, and tynkled with a bason, and so at one o’clock to be led to the cokyng stool and ducked in the water”.[35] When the Norwich stool was repaired in 1680, the Chamberlain’s accounts record a payment of 2s 6d for watermen to deliver it from Conesford, 3s 6d for six men to erect it, as well as the purchase of new timber.[36] King’s Lynn quarter sessions does not mention such a contraption until 1639, when it was ordered “that a cuckinstoole shall be forthwith made for the punishing of scowlds and Brawlers, And shalbe placed upon the com[m]on Dike”.[37] ‘Le Cokstole’ is mentioned as early as 1390 in a deed relating to Thetford. The town also erected a new one in 1578.[38]

When a ducking was ordered in Norfolk it appears to have consisted of being fixed into the cucking-stool and then ducked under the water three times.  Mary Wyer was ordered by Norwich Mayor’s Court in 1615 to be sent to the Bridewell and “from thence to the Duckstoole & there to be ducked three sev[er]all tymes for skouldynge”.[39] In 1670 the same court ordered that Marie Clay should be committed to the Cage for skowldinge with her neighbours … & is to be carried from thence at 2 of the clock this afternoone to the Ducking stoole, and be dipped ther thrice over her heade”.[40]

Whilst a ducking would have been an extremely unpleasant experience for the recipient, at least the courts showed some humanity in the timing of carrying it out. As figure 2 shows, this was clearly a summer punishment. The only time in the seventeenth century that a ducking was ordered in the winter was in January 1600, when Agnes Barker was ordered to be ducked for “beating of the constables and brawlinge and skouldinge”. However, whilst the court ordered an immediate appearance in the stocks it allowed that her ducking should wait until the summer.[41]

Sometimes the threat of a ducking was thought by the court to be sufficient to make a scold mend her ways and punishment was postponed until the next time they offended. When Hester More and Anne Tice appeared before Norwich Mayor’s Court in 1659 they were said to have “skowled & brawled & fighted wth [one] another & otherwise misbehaved themselves by revileinge speeches”, but it was ordered that they would only be punished “if by or before Satterdaye next they do not agree & reconsile themselves each to other”.[42]


Figure 2. Duckings ordered by all Norfolk courts, by month, 1600 – 99 [43]

Not all towns and villages constructed cucking-stools and other punishments were also used for scolds. Sometimes they were locked in the town cage, or put in the stocks or Bridewell. Some towns, particularly in the north, are said to have utilized a scold’s bridle or ‘branks’, a strange contraption, usually made with steel or wood and leather, and sometimes fitted with a bit to prevent the victim from talking.[44] There are few court references to the scold’s bridle, as it was never a legal punishment, which makes it difficult to establish just how widespread its use was. However, it has been claimed that it was used in Stockport, Manchester, Chester, Newcastle and Worcester.[45] Whilst the Norwich museum now contains examples of the device there is no record of it being used in the county during the seventeenth century. Both the cucking-stool and the scold’s bridle were shaming devices. The shame was sometimes also made as public as possible by the inclusion in the process of the victim being paraded around the town. The element of deliberate humiliation in these punishments is an area where court and popular actions against offenders had the same intention.[46]

In Norfolk, a ducking was ordered as a punishment in only about one-third of scolding cases.[47] In winter there was always an alternative, but even in summer months other punishments were used. Thirty women were put into the town cage, thirteen were placed in the stocks, two were sent to Bridewell, two were whipped, and in fourteen cases a threat of punishment if they re-offended was considered to be enough. Occasionally the court also ordered that some sort of compensation should be paid to the person wronged by the scold. When Mary Dancke was sentenced to be put in the cage for scolding in 1657, her husband was ordered to “paye unto Sibbell Chapman 5s wthin tenne dayes … in satisfaction of the battery comitted by his wife upon the said Sibbell”.[48]

The term ‘barratry’ was used to describe two particular types of deviant behaviour. They are explained by Dalton in The Countrey Justice as “either a common mover or stirrer up … of suits in Law, in any Court, or else of quarrels in the countrie”. Amongst those included “in the countrie” are “such as are either common quarrellers or fighters in their own cause, or common movers, or maintainers of quarrels, and affrayers betwene others” and “inventors or sowers of false reports, whereby discord ariseth betweene neighbours”.[49] Whilst this definition concentrates on the causing of affray or discord amongst others rather than the verbal aspects of scolding, the two terms often do seem to have been used almost interchangeably.

In seventeenth-century Norfolk women were just as likely as men to be charged with barratry, in fact women were involved in twelve of the twenty-two cases to come before the courts. Seven of these women were married, four were spinsters and one was a widow. The men were mainly sailors and keelmen from Great Yarmouth, although one was described as a yeoman. Whilst the majority of those charged with scolding appeared before the Norwich courts, none of those charged with barratry did so, most were from King’s Lynn or Great Yarmouth. This may be explained by the similarity of many of the complaints; it may be that Norwich Mayor’s Court used the term ‘scold’ for the same conduct that may have been described as ‘barratry’ in Lynn or Yarmouth. Certainly many of the records describe similar types of behaviour. In 1611 William Wright of Saham Toney was said to have “abused the most p[ar]te of his neighbours & gyveth it out that he will still lyve disquyetly wth them”. He also “lyved very disquyetly wt his wyffe & very many tymes in most vigorous mann[er] beaten hir”. When his neighbours reproached him about his treatment of his wife he abused them, “calling them … knaves”.[50] John Kinge was said to be “a contynewall barrater & malebate betwine neighbors especially betwine many men and theire wyves Rayling of them callinge the men coockhols and their wives hores”.[51] Whilst both men were complained of for barratry the behaviour could equally have brought a charge of scolding.

Many of the barratry cases that involved vexatious litigation also contain complaints of other forms of misbehaviour. Edward Webster, who was said to “troble his ma[jes]t[ies] subjectes by multiplicity of sutes & accions declaringe nothing agenst them”, was also said to be a “troblesome man of loose behavior one wch liveth verie suspicius”, as well as being a nightwalker and a quarreller with his neighbours.[52] The inhabitants of Hockwold cum Wilton complained that William Taylor was a “common barrettour, pickinge quarrells wth manye men to wronge and vex them and greve them by contentious suites”, but he was also a “common Rayler and a very foule mouthed and reprochefull speaker generallye”. They also complained of his drinking and rioting with “ill disposed persons” who “disquiet all the neyghbours rounde about them soe as they cannot sleepe quietlye in there bedds in the night”.[53]

The main difference between the outcome of barratry and scolding cases lay in the punishment. Whilst scolding attracted the humiliation punishments detailed above, in the barratry cases where the punishment is known it was a fine. The level of the fines ranged from the 26s 8d imposed upon Margaret Tills at Great Yarmouth in 1669 to the huge sum of £20 that Robert Page was fined at King’s Lynn in 1621. It was recorded that Page’s fine was “assessed the higher in respect that it appeareth by the Records of the Sessions of this Burgh that the said Page hath heretofore bene convicted of a common Barrettor”. Page was also ordered to be committed to prison until he paid the fine. [54]

As we have seen, there were both male and female scolds and barrators, and men in particular were also charged with other offences such as abuse or assault for behaviour similar to that which saw women labelled as scolds. However, in the popular literature of the period the scold or ‘shrew’, as she was sometimes termed, was always a woman. The most common form of literature that dealt with the issue was the broadside ballad and these took several forms, but most told a simple story with a message, often a woeful tale of a man who marries for love but then finds out that he has taken a dominant wife. Typically the ballad will describe her behaviour, the man will complain about female power and, finally, there will be a warning. This will either be to men to be careful about their choice of a wife, or to women to warn them of the consequences of their scolding.[55]

The ballads nearly always have a humorous tone, the humour coming from the upside-down nature of the relationship. However, it is likely that in reality such tales may have been a little uncomfortable for some of the readers or listeners, who could possibly identify with the sentiments expressed. Robert Cambridge of King’s Lynn, who failed to control his wife, Mathye, in 1626, would certainly have identified with these lines from the ballad The Cruell Shrow:

When I, for quietnesses-sake, desire

My wife for to be still,

She will not grant what I require,

But sweares she’le have her will.[56]

Humour is not only derived from the female scold character, but also from the oppressed husband, who is usually helpless to do anything to control his wife. Often a first-person narrative is used to emphasis the plaintive tone of the husband’s tale, as in Martin Parker’s Keep a good tongue in your head, where we are told that the narrator “marry’d a wife of late” and that he “tooke her for love”. He goes on to tell that:

For qualities rare

Few with her compare;

Let me doe her no wrong:

I must confesse,

Her cheefe amisse

Is onely this,

As some wives is,

She cannot rule her tongue.[57]

And neither presumably can her husband. In A Pleasant new Ballad even the devil cannot control the scold. After she mistreats him the devil insists on her husband taking her back:

Here, take her! quoth the Devill,

To keep her here be bold;

For hell will not be troubled

With such an earthly scold.[58]

Whilst these are humorous interpretations and we cannot be certain that they would have influenced anyone’s thinking, they must, to an extent, have reflected popular perceptions, otherwise the audience would not have identified with the message and the ballad would not have sold. Scolds may have caused disruption within the neighbourhood and trouble between man and wife, but when they were brought to justice they could be laughed at, particularly when they could be seen to suffer themselves in the cucking-stool. The ballad The cucking of a scold describes the punishment of a scold who, “With her unquiet tongue, continually both far and neere, Molested old and yong”.[59]

Thus night and day she sent

Such brawling from her brest,

That ner a neighbour in the towne

Could take one houres rest.

Which when the Justice knew,

This Judgement than gave he,

That she upon a cucking stoole

Should justly punisht be.

On the day of her ducking she is preceded by a ‘rough music’ procession with one hundred men with “trumpets … “Phifes and Drums”.

Then was the Scould her selfe,

In a wheele-barrow brought,

Stripped naked to the smocke,

As in that case she ought:

Neat tongues about her necke

Were hung in open show;

And thus unto the cucking stoole

This famous scold did goe.

After she is ducked six times she is brought up, but continues to scold the constable, so they carry on with her punishment until she signals that she has had enough – she has clearly learned her lesson.

Then was she brought away,

And after for her life,

She never durst begin to scould

With either man or wife.

And if every Scould

Might have so good a diet,

Then should their neighbours every day

Be sure to live in quiet.

In the ballad, at least, the ducking has been effective, not only does she scold no more, but other women have been given a warning of what to expect if they should adopt that kind of behaviour. In reality too the punishment seems to have been effective. There is no record of anyone who was ducked in seventeenth-century Norfolk receiving a second such punishment. On the other hand women who received other punishments did re-offend. Priscilla Moore of Norwich, for example, who spent a period in the cage in 1629 for the offence continued to scold until she finally received the threat of a ducking, from then on we hear no more of her.[60]

The use of shaming punishments such as ducking declined considerably in the second half of the seventeenth century and, as figure 1 illustrates, prosecutions for scolding also declined after about 1660. This leaves the question of whether the prosecutions that did take place can be seen as evidence of a crisis in gender relations. Clearly, the Norfolk evidence supports the view that scolding was a ‘female’ crime by virtue of the fact that ninety-seven per cent of those charged were women. Even barratry, thought to be more of a male offence, saw more women prosecuted in seventeenth-century Norfolk. But, as I pointed out earlier, that is not to say that there were not men behaving in the same way and being charged with a different offence. However, it is too simplistic to think that levels of prosecutions for offences such as scolding would be the best indicator of whether there was such a crisis. If we are to use criminal offences to come to any conclusion about this issue then surely it is necessary to look at all offences that involved a breach of community peace, including assaults, drinking, theft, disorderly behaviour and the rest. These are offences that could be just as disruptive to the neighbourhood as scolding, but saw a majority of men prosecuted. Even though most scolds were female and behaving in a way that contravened the ideal, there was never really an epidemic of cases – on average only one or two prosecutions each year – hardly evidence of a crisis in gender relations.

[1] The Scoulding Wife (London, 1689), reprinted in Day, The Pepys Ballads volume 4, p. 136; Martin Parker Keep a good tongue in your head (London, 1634), reprinted in Collier, A Book of Roxburghe Ballads (London, 1847), p. 242.

[2] Sharpe, Crime in Early Modern England, p. 157.

[3] Underdown, “The Taming of the Scold”, pp. 116 – 136. For an article investigating this issue in an earlier period, see Karen Jones and Michael Zill, “Bad conversation? Gender and social control in a Kentish borough, c. 1450 – c. 1570”, Continuity and Change volume 13, no. 1 (1998).

[4] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions rolls, C/S3/17 pt. 1, articles against Catherine Parson.

[5] William Sheppard, A Grand Abridgement of the Common and Statute Law of England 4 volumes (London, 1675), volume 3, p. 267.

[6] Martin Ingram, “Scolding women cucked or washed”, p. 51.

[7] Whilst the original definition of a barrator was ‘a vexatious litigant’, it appears to have often been used as a substitute for ‘scold’ in the sense of a malicious person causing discord, particularly in the case of men. A barrator is defined by Sheppard as a “common wrangler, that setteth men at odds, and is himself never quiet but at brawl with one or other”. Grand Abridgement, p. 300.

[8] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court 16a/13, fol. 610 and 16a/14, fol. 155; Great Yarmouth quarter sessions, Y/S1/4/157.

[9] Underdown, “The Taming of the Scold”, p. 120.

[10] Although four spinsters were charged with barratry at Great Yarmouth quarter sessions.

[11] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/15, fol. 234, dated 28.4.1619.

[12] For example, David Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion. Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603 – 1660 (Oxford, 1985), p. 40.

[13] Underdown, “Taming of the Scold”, p. 119 – 20.

[14] This agrees with Underdown’s assessment that “the preoccupation with scolding” lasted until 1660. Underdown, “Taming of the Scold”, p. 126.

[15] Prosecutions before these two courts account for 96% of all such prosecutions before all Norfolk courts. (No data available for Norwich Mayor’s Court for 1647 – 1654.)

[16] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/13, fol. 399.

[17] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/14, fol. 257.

[18] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/15 part 1, articles against Barnard Shippaborowe.

[19] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/23, fol. 189v.

[20] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/17 part 1, articles against Margaret Wade.

[21] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/17 part 2, articles against Edmund Dawson.

[22] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/17 part 2, complaint of Randall Cooke.

[23] Alexandra Shepard, “Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England” (Cambridge University, unpublished PhD thesis, 1998), pp. 86 – 7.

[24] Peacock, “Morals, Rituals, and Gender”, pp. 158 – 62.

[25] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/26, dated 20.3.1626.

[26] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/24, part 2, undated, complaint against Thomas Foreman.

[27] J.A. Sharpe, ‘”Such Disagreement Betwyx Neighbours”: Litigation and Human Relations in Early Modern England’, in John Bossy, ed., Disputes and Settlements: Law and Human Relations in the West (Cambridge, 1983).

[28] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/17, part 2, articles against Edmund Dawson.

[29] Sharpe, Crime in seventeenth-century England, p. 156; Ingram, “Scolding women cucked or washed”, p. 67.

[30] Reginald Scot, The discoverie of witchcraft (London, 1584), p. 34.

[31] Scot, Discoverie of witchcraft, p. 4.

[32] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions rolls, C/S3/22, articles of misbehaviour against William Colles, undated.

[33] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/15 part 1, articles against [blank] Betteris. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘banning’ as “cursing”.

[34] Underdown, “The Taming of the Scold”, p. 123.

[35] Blomefield, History of Norfolk, volume 4, p. 355.

[36] NRO, Chamberlain’s accounts, NCR/18b/4, fols. 156 – 7.

[37] NRO, King’s Lynn quarter sessions, KL/C21/2, fol. 8.

[38] Crosby, History of Thetford, p. 71.

[39] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/15, fol. 8, dated 13.5.1615.

[40] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/24, fol. 144v, dated 13.7.1670.

[41] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/13, fol. 399, dated 12.1.1600.

[42] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/23, fol. 101v, dated 29.6.1659.

[43] This graph accounts for thirty-seven occasions on which a ducking was ordered as a punishment. Twenty-nine of these were for scolding, the other eight being for related offences such as abuse and uncivil behaviour.

[44] See T.N. Brushfield, “On Obsolete Punishments, with particular reference to those of Cheshire”, Chester Archaeological and Historic Society Journal volume 2 (1855 – 1862), pp. 30 – 48.

[45] Robert Plot, Natural History of Staffordshire (1686), p. 389; Ingram, “Scolding women cucked or washed”, p. 58.

[46] See chapter 6 for further discussion of this point.

[47] The punishment thought appropriate for scolding appears to have differed throughout the country. Garthine Walker has claimed that “scolds were neither ducked nor cucked”, and from the Cheshire records she found that “the routine public penalty for scolding … was a monetary fine of 3s 4d”. However, in Norfolk no convicted scolds were fined. Walker, Crime, Gender and Social Order, pp. 110 – 11.

[48] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/23, fol. 60v, dated 25.7.1657.

[49] Dalton, Countrey Justice, pp. 31 – 2.

[50] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/17, part 2, articles against William Wright.

[51] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/21, articles against John Kinge.

[52] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/17, part 2, articles against Edward Webster.

[53] NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/21, articles against William Taylor.

[54] NRO, Great Yarmouth quarter sessions, Y/S1/3, fol. 275; King’s Lynn quarter sessions, KL/C21/1, dated 9.8.1621.

[55] For street literature on scolds, see Joy Wiltenburg, Disorderly Women and Female Power in the Street Literature of Early Modern England and Germany (Charlottesville, VA, 1992); Elizabeth Foyster, “A Laughing Matter? Marital Discord and Gender Control in Seventeenth-Century England”, Rural History volume 4, no. 1 (1993).

[56] The Cruel Shrow: Or, The Patient Man’s Woe (undated), reprinted in Wiltenburg Disorderly Women and Female Power, pp. 109 – 10.

[57] Parker, Keep a good tongue in your head, pp. 237 – 8.

[58] A Pleasant new Ballad you here may behold, How the Devill, though subtle, was gul’d by a Scold, reprinted in William Chappell, ed., The Roxburghe Ballads, volume 2, pp. 366 – 71.

[59] The cucking of a scold (London, c.1615), reprinted in Rollins, Pepysian Garland, pp. 72 – 7.

[60] NRO, Norwich Mayor’s Court, 16a/16, fol. 245v; 16a/16, fol. 256v.


© Keith Parry 2011



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