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Vol 21 No 9 Sept/Oct 2016

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Wicked Ladies: Provincial Women, Crime and the Eighteenth-century English Justice System

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ISBN13: 9781443842693
Published: February 2013
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £49.99

In recent years, much has been published on women, crime and justice in English history. However, for a variety of reasons, particularly the ready availability of source material for the capital, such research has tended to have an overwhelmingly Metropolitan focus. This book aims to redress the balance for the ‘long’ eighteenth century by concentrating on women from outside the London area. Although vitally important to the wider country, the Metropolis always contained a small minority of the country’s female offenders and defendants, albeit a significantly higher percentage of the latter than its share of the national population. The capital also had a rather different criminal justice and policing system to that found in the rest of the country at this time.

The book focuses on women’s experiences in provincial England as both the perpetrators of various crimes and as suspects or defendants in the country’s criminal justice system. The areas considered range from the West Country to the Scottish Border, and the offences examined include all of the major crimes, such as murder and theft, as well as some more arcane forms of deviance, including arson and coining. The factors that prompted women to offend, their likelihood of exposure when they did so, and their treatment before the courts and in the penal system are all considered in detail.

In particular, the book examines the gendered differences found in female crime when compared to that of their male counterparts, and how women’s experiences of the era’s justice system differed from those of men. It also compares provincial women to those found in the Metropolis in these respects. Extensive use is made of primary sources in portraying the lives of female criminals from Kent to Cumberland, while comparison is also made with women from other parts of the British Isles and beyond, so that the respective roles of structural determinants and national ‘culture’ in crime and justice can be considered.

Gregory Durston studied history for his first degree before turning to the law and qualifying as a barrister. He has taught law for many years, both in England and abroad, and is currently Reader in Law at Kingston University.

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