Female Prosecutors in Thirteenth-Century England

Female Prosecutors in Thirteenth-Century England

By Daniel Klerman

Published Online (2010)

Abstract: Women played a surprisingly large role in the private prosecution of crime in thirteenth-century England. Although law, custom, and even Magna Carta tried to restrict women’s ability to prosecute, more than a third of all private prosecutors were female. Women brought nearly two-thirds of the homicide private prosecutions and all of the rape prosecutions. This article tries to explain why women were so prominent in the private prosecution of crime, compares men’s and women’s prosecutorial success, and investigates the social significance of prosecution by women. One reason that women brought so many prosecutions is that, unlike male prosecutors, they were immune from trial by battle. Female prosecutors were reasonably successful, securing settlements more often than men and favorable jury verdicts about as often. Women’s ability to prosecute afforded them a modicum of power and a public role, albeit a limited one.

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