Crime and Punishment in Elizabethan England

This is some more from a German physician’s journal, Thomas Platter’s Travels in England 1599

Especially every quarter when the law courts sit in London and they throng from all parts of England for the terms … to litigate in numerous maters which have occurred in the interim, for everything is saved up till that time; then there is a slaughtering and a hanging, and from all the prisons (of which there are several scattered about the town where they ask alms of he passers by, and sometimes they collect so much by their begging that they can purchase their freedom) people are taken and tried; when the trial is over, those condemned to the rope are placed on a cart, each one with a rope about his neck, and the hangman drives with them out of the town to the gallows, called Tyburn, almost an hour from the city, there he fastens them up one after another by the rope and drives the cart off under the gallows which is not very high off the ground; then the criminals’ friends come and draw them down by their feet, that they may die the sooner. They are then taken down from the gallows and buried in the neighbouring cemetery, where stands a house haunted by such monsters that no one can live in it, and I myself saw it.Rarely does a law day in London in all the 4 sessions pass without some 20 to 30 persons – both men and women – being gibbetted.

And since the city is very large, open and populous, watch is kept every night in all the streets, so that misdemeanour shall be punished. Good order is also kept in the city in the matter of prostitution, for which special commissions are set up, and when they meet with a case, they punish the man with imprisonment and fine. The woman is taken to Bridewell, the king’s palace, situated near the river, where the executioner scourges her naked before the populace. And through a close watch is kept on them, great swarms of these women haunt the town in the taverns and playhouses.

I am intrigued by this apparent surplus of women in the capital. Were men already in short supply from the wars and maritime disasters, or was this a particular problem with the capital?

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