Petty Traitors and Domestic Tyrants: Spouse Murder in England, 1660–1800


Course description

In 17th and 18th century England, the murder of a husband by a wife was classified as a species of “petty treason,” punishable by the horrific aggravated sentence of being burnt alive at the stake. Lurid contemporary pamphlets represented murderous wives as monsters of depravity whose crimes struck at the heart of the social and gender hierarchy. This talk will explore the real incidence of, and trials for, petty treason in Britain’s largest criminal jurisdiction, the Old Bailey courthouse. This talk aims to shed light on the experience of women accused of spouse murder by placing them in a larger context, comparing their trials to those of men accused of murdering wives or common-law partners, and explores the relationship between gender, class and credibility, verdicts and ultimate punishments.

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