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The Devil's Daughter of Hell Fire: Anger's Role in Medieval English Felony Cases


During the period at issue in this paper–the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when trial juries were first employed in English felony cases–felonious homicide was a catch-all category, with no formal distinction drawn between murder and manslaughter. Nevertheless, juries did distinguish among different types of homicide as they sorted the guilty from the innocent, and the irremediably guilty from those worthy of pardon. Anger was one of the factors that informed this sorting process. This paper builds upon an earlier analysis of the meaning of felony, which posited that the medieval paradigm of felony was an act that involved deliberation and forethought, an exercise of a person's reasoning capacity and volition in the absence of necessity, and moral blameworthiness. Anger complicates this scenario. On the one hand, anger was seen to be a product of an ill-formed conscience. This potentially placed anger within the felonious area of moral blameworthiness. On the other hand, anger in its more extreme manifestations was seen to inhibit a person's ability to reason and to inspire behavior resembling insanity, thereby possibly pointing toward a partial excuse. This paper takes a fresh methodological approach for the study of emotion in the common law, placing legal texts within a broader cultural context in order to illuminate the concerns and priorities of jurors.

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She thanks the anonymous reviewers at Law and History Review and the participants in the Stanford Law and Humanities Colloquium in 2016, the conference on Law and Governance in Pre-Modern Britain held at the University of Western Ontario, the Premodern Colloquium at the University of Michigan, the panel on Criminal Intent in English Literature and Law at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, the symposium on Emotions in the Courtroom at the University of St Andrews, and the Yale Legal History Forum, all in 2015; as well as the Preconference Workshop on Medieval Legal History at the 2014 American Society for Legal History meeting in Denver, and the Medieval and Early Modern Studies dissertation workshop at the University of Michigan. She particularly thanks Thomas Green, Charles Donahue, Kit French, Catherine Sanok, Diane Owen Hughes, Bill Miller, Krista Kesselring, Alison Cornish, Lena Salaymeh, David Seipp, Rowan Dorin, Thomas McSweeney, Jonathan Rose, Kimberley Knight, John Hudson, Stephen White, Sara Butler, Steven Bednarski, Jim Whitman, John Langbein, Sara McDougall, Adriaan Lanni, Charles Bartlett, Amalia Kessler, Bernie Meyler, Rabia Belt, Morgan Weiland, Andrew Crespo, and Daphna Renan for feedback on earlier drafts. She also thanks her wonderful research assistants, Cassandra Rasmussen, Michael Reiterman, and Theresa Smith. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations and modernizations are the author's own. Citations to National Archives documents (e.g., JUST 1, KB 27) refer to the digital archive assembled by Robert C. Palmer, Elspeth Palmer Rosbrook, and Susanne Brand, The Anglo-American Legal Tradition, available at (hereafter AALT). In quoting secondary sources, she has altered the spelling of words to reflect standard United States writing conventions.
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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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