The Impact of the Early Modern Period on Crime and Punishment

What was the early modern period?
This period saw many changes to society that are sometimes referred to as 'the Renaissance'. It affected crime and punishment in a number of ways.
When was the early modern period?
The early modern period is considered to be circa 1500-1700.
What was the population in the early modern period?
During the 16th and 17th centuries the population of England increased from about 3 million people in 1500 to some 5.1 million people in 1700.
What was the impact of the population rise in the early modern period?
The rise of the population in England in the early modern period had 3 important impacts.
  • More people meant it was more difficult for some of them to find work.
  • A bigger population meant prices rose.
  • This led to greater poverty, which in turn had an impact on crime as some people struggled to survive.
How were the rich affected in the early modern period?
There were 3 ways the rich were affected in the early modern period.
  • There were greater opportunities for trade and so there were more wealthy people.
  • Many rich landowners wanted a bigger say in the way the country was run.
  • They had a growing influence on the making of laws.
How were the poor affected in the early modern period?
There were 6 ways the poor were affected in the early modern period.
  • Bad harvests and famine meant food prices rose throughout the 1500s.
  • The growing population also led to a rise in food prices.
  • The growth of the wool trade and the replacement of crops with animal farming meant there were fewer jobs available for farm labourers.
  • The collapse of the wool trade in Europe in the later 1500s led to further job losses.
  • Real wages fell by 60% during this period.
  • The rise in poverty alongside a growth in wealth led to greater inequality. This presented more opportunities for crime.
How did towns change in the early modern period?
During the early modern period towns changed in 3 important ways.
  • Overall, the urban population of Britain grew from about 10% in 1500 to around 20% in 1750.
  • The population of London grew from around 50,000 people in 1500 to around 600,000 in 1700.
  • Growing urban populations led to more crime, because towns offered more anonymity and there was a greater inequality of wealth between citizens.
What was the impact of newspapers in the early modern period?
The use of the printing press in the late 15th century impacted crime and punishment in 6 ways.
  • London had its first printing press in the year 1476.
  • More books, broadsheets and pamphlets started to appear and were more affordable.
  • Pamphlets were often illustrated and might be read out to the illiterate.
  • A favourite topic for pamphlets was crime, particularly witchcraft and vagabondage.
  • This made it easier for people to share and access ideas about crime, and they became more aware of it.
  • There was a market for broadsheets which attracted readers with tales of violent crimes. This made people believe there was more crime then there really was.
What war happened in the early modern period?
There was great instability at times during the early modern period.
  • The greatest rebellion of all was the English Civil War (1642-49), in which Parliament fought and beat the king's forces.
  • This resulted in the execution of King Charles I in 1649.
  • At this time, many people felt the world had turned upside down, and they experienced insecurity and fear.
  • Uprisings and rebellion were treated as crimes, but periods of instability also impacted the ability of society to effectively police behaviour.
Why were there higher taxes in the early modern period?
Taxes rose in England during the early modern period for 3 important reasons.
  • Governments were in greater need of money for wars and other expenses.
  • As there was no income tax many other taxes were increased, including customs duties on imports.
  • Rising taxes affected crime because they led to more poverty, but also because non-payment of tax was a further opportunity for crime.
What was early modern travel like?
There were 3 main reasons for the increased travel during the early modern period.
  • In the Middle Ages, people had little freedom to move from place to place. By the 1500s these restrictions had been removed and there was increased travel between towns.
  • Better roads helped the development of coaches, and horses became cheaper to buy.
  • Travellers were more vulnerable to crime, however. They often travelled through isolated places and did not have the protection of a building.
What were trials and courts like in the early modern period?
Although trials showed great continuity during this period, there were some key changes.
  • There was greater reliance on Justices of the Peace.
  • By the end of the period there was recognition of habeas corpus.
  • There was greater use of juries.
  • Witches underwent a trial by water in the early modern period, which was similar to the medieval trial by cold water.
What kind of courts were there in the early modern period?
There were a variety of courts at this time.
  • All courts relied on a local jury.
  • Royal judges visited each county twice a year to deal with the most serious cases. These were known as county assizes.
  • Manor courts dealt with local, minor crimes such as selling underweight bread and drunkenness.
  • Justices of the Peace dealt with minor crimes alone, but met up four times a year for the Quarter Sessions.
How did crime develop in in the early modern period?
Most crimes of the Middle Ages continued to be classed as such in the early modern period, but there were also new ones and some grew in importance to society.
What new crimes were there in the early modern period?
Changes to society in the early modern period meant vagabondage became an important new crime.
Which crimes became more important in the early modern period?
Because of changes to early modern society, some crimes became more important than ever. These included:
How did the public view crime in the early modern period?
Despite the fall in crime in the late 1600s, most people believed crime was increasing. This was due to broadsheet publications which attracted readers with tales of violent crimes, and religious protests and rebellions which made people feel insecure.
What was policing like in the early modern period?
Policing in the early modern period was much the same as during the Middle Ages, with few developments.
Which policing methods were similar in medieval times and the early modern period?
There were 5 aspects of policing in the early modern period that remained the same as in the Middle Ages.
  • Tithings and the hue and cry still existed in smaller communities.
  • They were less effective in towns where there were more people.
  • The constable was expected to lead the hue and cry.
  • Parish constables remained the main defence against crime, dealing with everyday matters such as begging without a licence.
  • They were expected to take charge of suspects and make sure they were held in prison until their trial.
How did policing change in the early modern period?
There were 6 important changes in policing in early modern period.
  • Constables were employed in larger towns to patrol the streets day and night. They were poorly paid and often of little use. Their duties included arresting drunks and vagabonds.
  • Sergeants were employed in towns to enforce market regulations. They weighed goods and collected fines if traders behaved badly.
  • People were expected to deal with crime themselves. If someone was robbed it was their responsibility to get an arrest warrant from a magistrate, track down the criminals and deliver them to the constable.
  • Rewards were offered for the arrest of particular criminals, usually for more serious crimes. The rewards involved could be very high - even equivalent to a year's income for a middle-class family.
  • Thief-takers made their living from tracking down criminals and collecting rewards. They were often former criminals themselves and would set up innocent victims, tricking them into crime.
  • The army was used to put down protests or other riots. This was unpopular with the public as it seemed the government was simply overpowering the people and ignoring their concerns.
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