Ravishment, Legal Narratives, and Chivalric Culture in Fifteenth-Century England
McSheffrey, Shannon and Pope, Julia (Concordia University)
Journal of British Studies, 48 (October, 2009)
Late medieval English legal definitions of ravishment are puzzling to us, both because they conflated categories we would think of as separate— forced coition, abduction, and elopement—and because both the law on abduction and rape and its application in practice were confusing and inconsistent. Even the word “ravishment” and its verbal forms, along with the Latin raptus, were used to mean what seem to us quite different things: ravishment could mean abduction or taking away with no sexual violation implied—children could be ravished by parents in custody disputes, for instance, and thieves could ravish goods. It could also, however, denote or imply the carrying away of a woman in order to violate her sexually, what we would call rape, often (but not always) in the context of a coerced marriage.
As literary scholars have noted, literary depictions of rape and ravishment, especially in the romance genre, worked in com- plicated relationship with the sometimes confused and confusing legal definitions.