chapter  2
31 Pages

Gender, crime and justice in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England

WithPeter King

Current work on gender, crime and justice in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century England includes remarkably little research on the impact of gender at two of the fulcrum points of the criminal justice system – the verdicts and sentences passed by the major courts. The general texts on crime and punishment in this period give no clear indication about whether these decisions were affected by the sex of the accused, and even the recent books written by Conley and Zedner, which foreground gender issues, offer only occasional insights into the core question this paper is concerned with – to what extent did gender affect trial outcomes?2 Although his much quoted article on “The criminality of women in eighteenth-century England” did not cover these issues, John Beattie’s pathbreaking monograph Crime and the courts in England 1660-1800 does, however, provide a number of significant, if scattered, insights based on the Surrey evidence.3 The first section of this study follows Beattie’s work in concentrating primarily on property crime and on the major courts, but it uses a much larger sample of over 11,000 cases and focuses on a different and shorter period by using selected years between the 1780s and the 1820s. The core data was collected directly from the records of the Old Bailey, which covered London and Middlesex, and from those of the Home Circuit, which covered Essex, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Hertfordshire.4 This was then supplemented by evidence from Lancashire and the Northern Assizes Circuit, the only jurisdictions which supplied the early nineteenth-century Parliamentary committees with separate data on male and female offenders.5 The second section of this chapter then briefly uses work on other crimes and other courts to assess the typicality of these results, before moving on to use early modern and twentieth-century research as a means of exploring elements of continuity and change in the relationship between judicial outcomes and gender. Finally,

the paper discusses the potential relevance of the explanatory frameworks developed by modern criminologists and then briefly explores a number of factors that need to be more deeply researched before any attempt can be made to explain the highly gendered nature of trial outcomes visible in the period 1780-1830.