Seven Shillings and a Penny: Female Suicide in Late Medieval England
Callaghan, Caitlin G.
Medieval Feminist Forum, 43, no. 1 (2007)
In 1961, the United Kingdom eradicated all penalties for attempted suicide with Parliament’s passage of the Suicide Act.1 Although previous legal provisos had already restricted certain penalties, such as the loss of property, the Suicide Act marked comprehensive change towards the treatment of English suicides. For the past 800 years, those who had engaged in self-killings lost the right to Christian burials and proper graves. Their corpses were hung, burned, dragged through the streets, dumped into rivers, or buried at crossroads with stakes driven through their hearts. Related survivors who begged for royal or political intercession did so at the expense of the suicide’s reputation–labeling him or her as insane or ill–so that they might escape the legal and social marks of shame. The property and chattels of a suicide were denied to his or her descendants and instead seized by the court or the church.