The Devil's Daughter of Hell Fire: Anger's Role in Medieval English Felony Cases
Published by Cambridge University Press in Law and History Review, Vol. 35, Issue 1 (February 2017), pp. 155-200, The American Society for Legal History, Inc.
59 Pages Posted: 13 May 2018 Last revised: 7 Nov 2018
Date Written: July 27, 2016
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.
Keywords: Medieval England, felony, anger, law and emotion, criminal law
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