Little is known about suicide in England in the medieval period. Legal records provide the best source of post-mortem data about suicides.
Selected Eyre records from the reigns of Henry III (1216–1272), Edward I (1272–1307), Edward II (1307–1327) and Edward III (1327–1377) were translated and examined for details of self-killing.
One hundred and ninety-eight cases of self-killing were found, eight of which were found to be accidental, non-felonious deaths. Self-killing was more common in men. Hanging was the most common and drowning the second most common method of self-killing in both males and females. Self-killing with sharp objects was predominantly a male method. Other methods of self-killing were rare. There were no reports of deliberate self-poisoning. There is some evidence of underreporting of, and attempts to conceal, self-killing from royal officers.
Eyre records suggest that although some of the facts surrounding self-killing have changed, others have remained constant, particularly the higher proportion of men who kill themselves and the greater use by men than women of sharp instruments to kill themselves. We discuss the description and understanding of psychiatric states by medieval English Eyres, particularly in terms of the perception of the mental states that accompanied suicidal actions.
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