Another dip into my book ‘The Faithful Executioner’ by Joel F. Harrington, and this is one of the most intriguing. In fact it’s as if a whole book could be written on this one.
It involves sme lines scrawled on a church wall by the distraught husband of a woman executed for lewdness and harlotry… with twenty one married men and youths, which included a father and son.
“Father and son should have been treated as she was, and the panderers also. In the other world I shall summon and appea.l to emperor and King because justice has not been done. I, poor man suffer though innnocent. Farewell and goodnight.”
In an earlier post I mentioned how women were executed in early modern Germany, and I wondered how many women were drawn into the criminal justice system at the time, given the vast preponderance of men today. Well, according to Harrington, the majority of executions of women involved either infanticide or witchcraft, which makes sense, as such acts are the ones we generally read about from this time, but these only made up 10% of the total. By comparison, women made up some 80% of those put into the stocks and whipped out of town. But women made up the vast majority of sexual crimes, and men were consistently given leaner sentences, as suggested in the above grafitti, and a practice that continues today – prostitutes are often prosecuted for their work, whereas their customers seldom so.
But ther is another level to this grafitti. We assume that people in the mid 1500s were largely illiterate, and this husband clearly was not.
The only grafitti I have ever heard of before the modern period was in Roman times, so I wonder how often this happened, and this is a strange one because it must have been clear to all who had written it. If so, was he punished or did they accept this was him being upset?
There is a general assumption that povery and crime go together, but this shows the cuckold was poor but respectable. Though his wife seems to have betrayed him with other men, he remains loyal, and is utterly bereft at her death. So, what happened here?
It reminds me of a few stories I put up for posts on Bartered Brides, a practice on record in England in the 16th century through to the late 18th, which is generally seen as an act of rejection by the husband, which is demeaning to the wife, but in several cases, the couples parted with great sadness, so it intriguing as to why they separated. One possibility is that they were close, ie friends, but the magic had gone from the relationship, if it had ever been there. Can you imagine being forced to live with someone you did not love, or that the intimate side of their relationship just didn’t work. Or, in the case of Lord and Lady Worsley – see another post of mine, the lady’sintimate demands were simply too much for her husband, who encouraged her to find satisfaction elsewhere.
So this seems to be not just a story about injustice, but of personal sadness, or tragedy which preceeded it. Life back then could be incredibly hard and often dull, and we all need a break from it; the options for men could be found in drinking and gambling and even loose women in the various inns, but for women, the opportunities to kick up their heels was incredibly limited, as it seems to have been here.
Or it could have been something like an early version of the Kenny Rogers song: