Any Medieval Historians About?

I\’m reading some light hearted frippery at the moment, a variation on the historical detective idea: this is a Friar in 1390s (roughly) London. John of Gaunt as Regent times.

There\’s something that doesn\’t quite ring true to me. It\’s the rate of executions.

London at the time was some 100,000 people or so. While there\’s no actual tabulation the impression you get is that executions were common: you\’re certainly left with the idea that there were more than one or two a day in the place.

Which really doesn\’t sound quite right to me. Yes, I know it was a more bloodthirsty time but hundreds of executions a year amongst 100,000 people? The only time I\’ve ever looked up the execution figures was for 1811 (I think it was that year) when I was trying to check a comment that there were more executed for sodomy in that year than murder (true, as it happens, seems that Lincoln Assizes had a very homophobic indeed year). But around then, with the much larger population, there were 30 or 40 hangings a year nationwide.

I can\’t actually find anything on the likely numbers of executions at that earlier time. Does anyone, in fact, know? What would have been a likely annual number (leaving widescale rebellions etc aside) for London in 1380 – 1400? Roughly?

3 thoughts on “Any Medieval Historians About?”

  1. The only robust academic citation I know of on the scale of executions in England relates to a much later period: 1770-1830:

    “Some thirty-five thousand people were condemned to death in England and Wales between 1770 and 1830, and seven thousand were ultimately executed, the majority convicted of crimes such as burglary, horse theft, or forgery. Mostly poor trades people, these terrified men and women would suffer excruciating death before large and excited crowds.”

    By some accounts, this period was a time when there was a relatively high rate of executions for homicide through rape to minor offences to quell signs of unrest or anti-social behaviour when revolutionary sentiments were abroad in mainland Europe.

    However, the notorious hanging Judge Jeffreys (1645-1689).was active in the Bloody Assizes (1685) in an earlier period.

  2. 1390s – could be the immediate aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt, when I believe a lot of rebels/rioters/agitators were executed, and the government of the time was particularly sensitive to the lower classes getting unruly.

    Tim adds: Think in this particular one we’re just before that. Edward has just died, Richard is 6 I think and Gaunt is Regent. Peasant’s Revolt is a few years in the future (like four or five. Can’t remember how old Richard is when he rides out to meet them coming in from Kent).

  3. No idea, but quite astounded to think that there was a 100,000 polpulation in London back then, I would have assumed it would be a lot less…

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