Crime and Society in England, 1500-1800 (HIH2107)

StaffProfessor Henry French - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will illustrate the relationship between the criminal law in early modern England and society at this time. It will also ask students to think about the nature of historical evidence, its interpretation and its limits. The module will consider the process of criminal prosecution and administration, the social profile of offenders, and a range of social influences on crime (notably gender, status, and locality), and attitudes to crime in society. It will also explore the effects of change over time, both in processes of punishment and administration, and in the nature of society also. Throughout the module students will examine a range of printed primary sources relating to crime, offenders, prosecution and punishment.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Ability to evaluate the main themes in the history of crime and criminality between 1500 and 1800, and to collate information upon and evaluate in greater detail those aspects of the module discussed in seminars, and especially those topics selected by the students for their essays.
  • 2. Ability to identify, compare and evaluate changes in crime, punishment and attitudes to offending over the period.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Ability to analyse the key developments within a specific historical period and theme.
  • 4. Ability to collate data from a range of sources.
  • 5. Ability to trace long-term as well as short-term historical developments.
  • 6. Ability to understand and deploy historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 7. Ability to handle different approaches to history in areas of controversy.
  • 8. Ability to work with primary sources under direction from the module tutor.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. Independent study and group work, including participating in oral discussions.
  • 10. Ability to digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.

Syllabus plan

Term 1: Historiographies of crime and the law ' 'social' and other crimes The mechanics of prosecution ' from crime to punishment in village, town and city Who controlled the machinery of prosecution, and why? Counting crimes ' the dynamics of crime and the problem of the 'dark figure' Reading crimes ' how should we interpret evidence in court cases? Printing crimes ' the social reaction to crime in contemporary publications Term 2: Crime and the social order ' a disease of the poor? Crime and women ' the influence of gender on female prosecutions Crime and men ' the influence of gender on male prosecutions Crime and society ' the construction of the 'criminal' Crime and punishment ' attitudes to criminality, and change over time Crime and sensation ' 'horror' crimes and reactions to them

The lectures will be invaluable as a spine through which all can be brought to a similar level of knowledge, and through which ideas and controversies can be transmitted. The seminars will focus on particular aspects of the module, with a view to offering a fuller understanding than can be delivered through lectures, allowing the students to develop their skills and knowledge more fully. Students will be expected to prepare for these seminars in advance.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Lectures (22x1hr)
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11Seminars (11x1hr)
Guided independent study267Independent Study

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Better of two essay marks333000 wordmark and written comments
Exam672 hourprovided on request by module tutor

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

J.A. Sharpe, Crime in Early Modern England (London, 1984) J. Kermode & G. Walker (eds), Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England (Chapel Hill & London, 1994). P. King, Crime, Justice and Discretion in England 1740-1820 (Oxford, 2000). D. Hay et al. (eds), Albion's Fatal Tree. Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (London, 1975). J. Innes & J. Styles, 'The Crime Wave: Recent Writing on Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth-Century England' in A. Wilson (ed.), Rethinking Social History. English Society 1570-1920 and its Interpretation ( (Manchester, 1993), pp. 201-65.

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?