Peer Reviewed/Refereed Publication
Journal of Social History
College of Humanities and Fine Arts
In late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London, the number of women prosecuted for murder was quite small with only forty women reaching the felony court at the Old Bailey for trial between 1783 and 1815. Despite the small number of prosecutions, the cases do reveal important information about gender and criminal justice. Accusations demonstrate difficulties women had with a wide range of interpersonal relationships, their lives in the city, in addition to domestic and substance abuse. Sentencing patterns, too, are illuminating. For those women found guilty, the courts often hesitated to convict to the fullest extent of the law. Juries and judges presiding in homicide cases in London regularly employed discretion when making their decisions, demonstrating that they apparently heavily weighed numerous personal factors presented in trial. While the law gave judges substantial leeway in capital case sentencing, juries and judges focused their full convictions and harshest penalties, capital punishment, on women who violated important gender-based behavioral expectations.
This is a peer-reviewed article published by Journal of Social History (ISSN: 1051-144X) on June 1, 2013, available online: https://doi.org/10.1093/jsh/sht004