Crimes & Criminals of 17th Century Britain

Written by Daniel J Codd
Review by Edward James

17th-century Britain was an extremely lawless place.  All Europe was lawless.  Some historians attribute this to climate change (‘The Little Ice Age’), others to over-population.  Warfare was rife, both organised and informal; political and religious killings, witch-hunts, piracy and banditry abounded; duelling was an accepted form of legalised murder and almost all males carried weapons.

This book is therefore more than a record of individual crimes and lawful punishment.  There are chapters on duelling, bandits and highwaymen, piracy and coastal raids, riots and disorders, clan warfare in Scotland, war crimes and judicial crimes (legalised murder of political enemies).  It is surprising that ‘ordinary’ crimes received any attention or that normal judicial processes were observed.  But they were and gradually the country developed into a tolerant, law abiding society.  It was a long road.