By Malcolm Gaskill

Crime and the legislation have now been studied by means of historians of early smooth England for greater than a iteration. This booklet makes an attempt to arrive extra than most traditional remedies of the topic, to discover the cultural contexts of law-breaking and legal prosecution, and to recuperate their hidden social meanings. It additionally examines intimately the crimes of witchcraft, coining--counterfeiting and coin-clipping--and homicide, on the way to show new and demanding insights into how the taking into account traditional humans was once reworked among 1550 and 1750.

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Thompson, J. S. Cockburn and others, a generation of historians has investigated the legal archives so that we now have a more detailed account of criminal prosecution than once seemed possible. 73 One striking feature of the historiography has been the degree of consensus which has emerged, and on the face of it there may seem little left to say. Yet there is a major gap in our knowledge. We have widespread agreement on how the criminal law operated; the larger problem of why it operated as it did remains open to debate.

Gatrell, The hanging tree: executions and the English people 1770±1868 (Oxford, 1994), p. ix. 24 Introduction crime studies which have focused on trials and punishment, have come up against the problem that the behaviour and speech of ordinary people was liable to be distorted by the formal and ritualized arenas of courtroom and gallows. More fruitful for mentalities, therefore, are the pre-trial procedures which took place between crime and magisterial investigation, their exact shape and form determined by a complex and contingent web of choices, priorities and responses long before anyone entered a courtroom ± `a lived environment comprised of practices, inherited expectations, rules .

See also Muir and Ruggiero, `Introduction: the crime of history', pp. viii±ix. Quoting J. S. Cockburn, `Early modern assize records as historical evidence', Journal of the Society of Archivists, 5 (1975), p. 216. On indictments as historical evidence, see also J. M. ), The triumph of culture: eighteenthcentury perspectives (Toronto, 1972), pp. 299±314. 28 Introduction Historians of mentalities must be aware that the full panorama of a mental world can never be captured within a single grand interpretative structure.

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