“Let her be taken”: Sexual Violence in Medieval England
MA Thesis, University of Central Florida, (2008)
Rape and its impact on medieval women, as conceived by society and the law, have yet to receive extensive treatment. By analyzing not only rape cases, but evolving laws and the impact of the Church on views of sexuality and marriage and thus its influence on attitudes towards rape, this study shows that women were much more than victims and society, or the courts, reacted accordingly. Covering the years 1200 to 1250, this thesis examines secular court cases taken from the general eyre records of Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire. Cases taken from the King‟s Bench and canon courts, including Canterbury, also provide an illustration of the process of rape litigation. Legal treatises, both canon and secular, serve as the foundation for the procedures required in either court system and show that rape was a punishable offense.
However, society had difficulty viewing rape as a personal crime against a woman as opposed to a crime against her family and that is when it actually thought that sexual violence occurred. While still available to them, women used the rape laws to push their agendas and concerns onto the court – revenge, choice of marriage, justice. In court records, the heavy burden of proof and the high rate of dismissals support this conclusion. Women persevered through the inherent disadvantages presented by a patriarchal system and achieved a measure of control over their lives. This is evidenced by the nearly equal success and failure rates in the records examined; 33 percent ended in acquittal or dismissal, while 31 percent provided women with some closure. The passage of the Statutes of Westminster, by removing a woman‟s right to prosecute rape and marry the accused, also convincingly illustrated that women held a degree of power that was unacceptable to society.