Rape in Medieval England: A Legal History, 1272-1307

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Rape in Medieval England: A Legal History, 1272-1307

Brown, Stephanie

M.A. Thesis, History, Emory University (2009)

Abstract

This thesis explores the legal history of rape prosecutions in thirteenth and fourteenth century England. Section I explicates the apparent paradox between chapter 34 of the Statute of Westminster II’s classification of rape as the most serious type of crime known to English law and the numerous difficulties that women faced when prosecuting men for rape under its stipulations. Section II shows that Edward was partially responsible for chapter 34 of Westminster II’s failure to facilitate royal court prosecutions because Edward never intended to protect his female citizens through rape legislation. Thus, royal judges were able to disregard Edward’s rape laws and acquit rapists with impunity. Section III establishes that Edward was also partially responsible for Westminster II’s inability to prevent local court jurors from ignoring the stipulations of chapter 34 because Edward did not enact safeguards to thwart jurors’ attempts to discriminate against rape victims. Section IV demonstrates that because of misogynistic cultural influences, thirteenth and fourteenth century local court jurors discriminated against rape victims. Section V explains how male jurors assembled procedural barriers such as virginity tests and rigorous pre-trial processes as a way of deterring rape victims from appealing the men who raped them and destroying the cases of women who tried to prosecute men for rape. Hence, local court jurors were also responsible for the difficulties that women faced when attempting to prosecute men for rape. Section VI shows that male jurors deterred women from appealing men of rape and dismissed rape cases by citing plaintiffs’ occupations or reputations to convict plaintiffs of false appeal. Finally, this thesis concludes that jurors’ treatment of female plaintiffs provides a lens through which the position of women in medieval English society can be understood. Moreover, this thesis argues that men discriminated against rape victims because many men were resistant to the anomalous idea that women could prosecute men for rape. Thus, when Edward I granted women the right to do so, men systematically eliminated women’s abilities to appeal men of rape by actively subjugating women in rape prosecutions.

Click here to read this article from Emory University


Sharan Newman