At first glance it may well seem that the penal regime that obtained during the pre-industrial period was monochrome in character, that it was a regime based almost exclusively on a single form of punishment — the death penalty. Indeed, it has long been the custom for general historians to describe the penal system of the eighteenth century in particular as “the bloody code”. Such a belief, however, is a gross oversimplification. Although, as we shall see, the death penalty was a leading feature of penal thinking and practice throughout the early modern period, the most striking feature about the pre-modern system of punishment was its complexity. Variety not monotony was its keynote. Some of the punishments that were characteristic of the period are still very much part of modern penal practice. Imprisonment and the levying of fines are examples. Other punishments — whipping and the use of the stocks, for instance — have long since vanished. It is the purpose of this chapter to describe the various punishments that were in operation before 1800 and to suggest how and why the balance between them was changing.
KeywordsDeath Penalty Eighteenth Century Corporal Punishment Property Crime Sexual Offence
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.