Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Suicide or accident – self-killing in medieval England: Series of 198 cases from the Eyre records

  • Alice Seabourne (a1) and Gwen Seabourne (a2)
Abstract
Background

Little is known about suicide in England in the medieval period. Legal records provide the best source of post-mortem data about suicides.

Method

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Suicide or accident – self-killing in medieval England
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Suicide or accident – self-killing in medieval England
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Suicide or accident – self-killing in medieval England
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Alice Seabourne, Royal Bolton Hospital, Minerva Road, Farnworth, Bolton BL4 0JR, UK; e-mail: seabourne@boltonh-kr.nwest.nhs.uk
Footnotes
Hide All

Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Anderson, O. (1987) Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Appleby, L., Shaw, J., Amos, T., et al (1999) Suicide within 12 months of contact with mental health services: national clinical survey. British Medical Journal, 318, 12351239.
Barraclough, B., Bunch, J., Nelson, B., et al (1974) A hundred cases of suicide: clinical aspects. British Journal of Psychiatry, 125, 355373.
Barker, J. H. (1990) Introduction to English Legal History (3rd edn), p. 19. London: Butterworth.
Clarke, B. (1975) Mental Disorder in Earlier Britain. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Dyer, C. (1989) Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England c1200–1520, p. xv. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hanawalt, B. (1979) Crime and Conflict in English Communities 1300–1348, pp. 101104. Harvard, CT: Harvard University Press.
Hanawalt, B. (1998) Of Good and III Repute. Gender and Social Control in Medieval England, pp. 7087. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Helmholz, R. H. (1986) Usury and the medieval English church courts. Speculum, 61, 364.
Hunard, N. (1969) The King's Pardon for Homicide before ad 1307. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hunnisett, R. F. (1959) The medieval coroners' rolls. American Journal of Legal History, 3, 324.
Hunnisett, R. F. (1961) The Medieval Coroner, p. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kreitman, N. (1988) Suicide, age and marital status. Psychological Medicine, 18, 121128.
Leigh v. Gladstone (1909) 26, Times Law Reports, 139.
MacDonald, M. & Murphy, T. R. (1990) Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Murray, A. (1998) Suicide in the Middle Ages Volume I. The Violent against Themselves. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Paris (1880) Matthaei Parisiensis Monachi Sancti Albani Chronica, vol. 5, p. 707. London: Majora.
Rawcliffe, C. (1997) Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.
Secretary of State for Home Department ex parte Robb (1995) All England Law Reports, p. 677.
Symonds, R. L. (1985) Psychiatric aspects of railway fatalities. Psychological Medicine, 15, 609621.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 13 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 265 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 3rd January 2018 - 25th April 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Suicide or accident – self-killing in medieval England: Series of 198 cases from the Eyre records

  • Alice Seabourne (a1) and Gwen Seabourne (a2)
Submit a response

eLetters

No eLetters have been published for this article.

×

Reply to: Submit a response


Your details


Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *