A study of aspects of crime and distress in seventeenth-century Lancashire

Johnson, Patricia Ann (1994) A study of aspects of crime and distress in seventeenth-century Lancashire. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This dissertation examines crime and its relation to economic distress in seventeenth-century Lancashire. It uses evidence drawn from both Lancashire quarter sessions and assize courts. Mainly, however, it concentrates on the quarter sessions evidence. It studies crime at the county, as opposed to the local community, level; and makes use of a variety of types of court records.
It does not rely on indictment evidence alone, but uses recognizances as the basis of time series, as well as other classifications of records. Using grain prices as a measure of changes in economic hardship, it examines short term change in patterns of recognizances in the county from 1627 to 1637, and also variations between the different areas in the county.
Those different areas are the south-east of the county, which contained the emerging textile districts; the south-west of the county, which until the early seventeenth century had been the wealthiest part of Lancashire; and Lancashire north of the Ribble.
It examines the relationship between crime and distress in the second half of the century using different types of evidence. Requests for assistance from the bench at quarter sessions are reconstructed as time series data, as are 'informations,' (documents describing of fences). Patterns of these records are compared with grain prices, and with the cost of living index.
As well as examining for the influence of changes in economic conditions upon the court records, the dissertation also examines for the influence of variations in the way in which the quarter sessions system of justice was used.
It examines the use of their discretion on the part of Justices of the Peace. It also examines other aspects of the nature of crime in Lancashire. Looking at property offences, interpersonal violence, and victimless of fences such as coining and the uttering of seditious words, it examines attitudes towards crime and also how and why people committed property of fences, and how offenders were caught; and why certain types of interpersonal violence were regarded more seriously than others.
The investigation has found that crime and economic hardship in Lancashire were intimately related throughout the seventeenth century. Lancashire people were sensitive to the impact of changes in living conditions, and to the changing price of various grains. However, the indications are that the patterns of records reflect, for the most part, prosecutorial initiatives rather than changes in behaviour - although behavioural change can be identified as a discrete phenomenon. It has also been found that the establishment of a permanent system or poor relief impacted upon recorded crime. In regard to other aspects of the nature of crime, it has found that the records of the prosecution of certain types of offences are useful in revealing to us the social values which underpinned the use of the criminal justice system; values related to ideas about property, status hierarchy and legally constituted authority.

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