By Emma Hawkes
Limina, Vol. 1 (1995)
Introduction: In July 1452 John Paston I wrote to Richard Southwell informing him of he Jane Boys ravishment case. He urged Southwell to support the prosecution’s claims that she had been abducted. Paston did this despite Boys’ own denial that she had been taken against her will – Paston dismissed her point of view by saying she had ‘saide untrewly of her-selff’. Boys’ own motivations and actions were constructed by Paston as peripheral to the truly important question of whether Southwell would support the case or not. Paston’s attitudes and assumptions should be fitted into the framework of knowledge about female consent in both rape and ravishment in late-medieval statute and case law.
Very little distinction was made between rape and ravishment in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although rape (forcible coition) and ravishment (abduction without necessarily implying forcible coition) are seen as two very different offences in the twentieth century, medieval legal records generally blurred the two crimes together. This process can be seen in the the language which was used to describe the two. Although the 1285 statute of Westminster II attempted to fix the term to be used for a ravishment (rapuit et abduxit), a variety of terms continued to be used (abstulit, cepit et abduxit). Confusingly, rape was also known by the term rapuit throughout this period. As rape and ravishment were associated in the late-medieval period and since both were predominantly offences against women, the two will be studied together in this article.