Doubled Jeopardy: The Condemned Woman as Historical Relic

24 Law and Literature 211 (2014 Forthcoming)

21 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2014

See all articles by Erin L. Sheley

Erin L. Sheley

University of Oklahoma - College of Law

Date Written: October 13, 2014


This article explores how Sir Walter Scott's fictional condemned women serve as relics through which a history of evolving British legal authority becomes present and legible. It argues that Scott's treatment of gender aestheticizes a particular concept of and reaction to the condemned woman in the context of the common law tradition generally. Using the backdrop of eighteenth century penal practice, it also shows how Scott establishes the female condemned body as an object necessarily fixed in time in order to contemplate legal change through a historically controlled process. The first part of the article considers the late eighteenth century movement to abolish the punishment of burning at the stake for women convicted of treason, and the extent to which competing understandings of chivalry reified an entire history of penal practice into the body of the burned woman. The second part argues that the interrelations between archaic practice and evolved norm which characterize the precedent-based common law system are dramatized in the fixed, idealized bodies of Constance de Beverly and Rebecca of York through which Scott acknowledges the implicit need for legal change over time, while simultaneously legitimizing adherence to a chivalric tradition.

Keywords: criminal law, punishment, gender, law and narrative

Suggested Citation

Sheley, Erin L., Doubled Jeopardy: The Condemned Woman as Historical Relic (October 13, 2014). 24 Law and Literature 211 (2014 Forthcoming). Available at SSRN:

Erin L. Sheley (Contact Author)

University of Oklahoma - College of Law ( email )

300 Timberdell Road
Norman, OK 73019
United States

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