Medieval Crime and the Modern Database

Steven BednarskiI attended a great talk by Steven Bednarski of St. Jerome’s University today. His CV lists UQAM, York, Toronto as places of experience. His framing question today: How does a social historian make use of a research database?
Bednarski explains that he was trained in the French school and considers himself a storyteller by practise. The leads to a valuable reminder for me: the quantitative historian makes good use of his tools and may carry out exquisite analysis of datasets through many means (statistical, spatial, SNA, etc) but what this allows him to do is construct the model and then use narrative to illustrate it through anecdotal evidence.
His research has focussed on the south of France during the period 1300-1500.
His current work is looking towards the identification of masculinity in the 16th C.
As a good social historian he asks the question: How did ordinary people navigate society? and is thus less interested in elite cultures, politics or theology.
He cites the work of Pierre Bourgault? looking at the development of masculinities in Medieval times. Little has been done on fatherhood, more on motherhood…the Cult of Joseph is a start of this.
His MA thesis at U of T looked at hat is termed ‘low Magic’ aka: superstition, popular religion, low magic.
In his MA study he focussed on 4 women accused of sorcery…
The wonderful Provencal town of his study: Manosque.
In his on screen aerial of the town, one is struck that is fortified, but in a valley surrounded by hill. I queried Jacqueline Murray and she indicated that the walls were as much for demarking a boundary as for defense.

First Trial
A rumour that mother and daughter, seduced by diabolical instigation, poisoned the mind of a victim such that he couldn’t keep his hands off the daughter. The poor victim was son of a notary, thus a father trained in scientific law. The women actually reside at the household, but not as servants. The older brother of the ‘victim’ instigates the legal charges. The women are eventually found innocent a no laws have been broken. Interestingly, Stephen notes that there are no witch trials in the early 1300s. Five years later the same woman is before the court with a husband alleging that she is a bigamist. Apparently she did marry the notary’s son. The upchuck of this from a methodological standpoint: One is able to make these connections through a database of appearances before the court.

Second Trial
Manosque is located on a road coming from Avignon. In this case, a woman (married) traveling in the company of an uncle is arrested and accused of unseemly acts as she is not in the company of her husband. She is found innocent.

Third Trial
Two accused women, again inspired by diabolical instigation, enchanted a man and his wife and sowed discord between them. This was done by washing cat and dog in same water and then throwing the water between the husband and wife…causing them to be incompatible…like cats and dogs. One of the accused woman is probably a prostitute, and thus the possible cause for this case: the man laying the charge was trying to kick women out of his neighborhood and into red light district. The clever women each accuse each other, but a clear guilt can not be thus drawn. Thus Blacking real evidence the charges are unproven and the women acquitted.

Fourth Case
The defendant Mathilda is denounced by employer and lover. She was serving girl who had given him three children. He has since decided to marry in his own status and this is most easily accomplished through criminal court. He accussed her of putting a wax figurine of him into the mattress of his marital bed with adornments ;-)…thus frustrating his sexual life with his new wife. Doctor examined him and couldn’t find anything wrong with him…yet he claims he’s ill. Court takes a two weeks break, during which he dies …what has happened? Case is left unproven.

These were the bulk of his MA paper. But these could be handled without a database or sophisticated technology

For his PhD…decided to read all trials in the series.
Manosque is interesting as it was given more and more independence from its seigneur. Town gains control over its own municipal functions…during this period it shifts in ‘ownership from the Seigneur to the Knights Hospitaller…they inherited control of the town. The criminal court was a hangover from when the count/seigneur had owned the town, and thus the court is secular and is not controlled by the knights. The town of Monosque possesses a long proud history of independence. When the French Revolution seeks to eliminate the vestiges of the Ancien Regime, they command the destruction of records from this period. Although this throwing off of noble oppression is a triumph in the north, in the south in places such as Manosque…people carefully packed and kept all records. Proud of their past. So all records have been kept where in most other places was burned during this period. A find for a historian.

Stephen’s idea was to look at all the records as a whole. 1500 trials. Started to make notes and transcriptions in a word processor.

Stephen ran through the questions asks and the information he tracked.
How do I reference? Create unique call number,
Who is accused? Name, religion, status in the city (native, new arrival(up to 3 or 4 generations), foreigner), date, how did trial start (accused, or by court itself investigating on its own), what was the charge (these are great), Sometimes extra charge, a witness?, Jews place hand on Torah, deposition, Response of accused, accused statement and interrogation, interaction between judge and accused.
How long does it take a family to integrate into society?
What moved the court (personal enmity/vendetta played out in court or a case that there was a proactive judge (or behind the scenes player)?
Took extra steps to ascertain that the witness was not bribed, or forced to make testimony…unique..ensure that this is not antisemitism.
In the north women are generally not included in court proceedings…in the south, its much more common.
He throws himself on courts mercy…he is found guilty and forced to pay fine…almost never corporal punishment.

Why the database?
How many trials against pimps? 1/1643
Hoe many trials of child abuse 4/1643
How many against Jews? 81/1643 (5%

How are these found?
Innocent 10
Confessed Freely 42
Condemned on evidence 17
Unproven 4
Unknown 8 (105)

Can then do a stats analysis on Jews before state justice?
How does this compare to how Christians were treated?

Numbers…are the same, Jew or Christian…they are about the same…no harsher towards the Jews. Big proof.
Could only do with raw data.
If you want to get drawn into the anecdotal, frame it with the numbers
Wife Assault…10 or 12 of them…civil war in Provence in late 14th. Tries to incite rebels to rise against Queen in Manosque. Roman law.
21 trials during the civil war…tax evasion (36)

Uses FM 5.5 – and as all good FM users apologizes for using it as a tool.
1643 records…

Is the hope for outcome always successful prosecution…no…sometimes go to court just to air grievances.

Is there higher conviction rates for different crimes? Yes, some much more hard to find evidence of and this has impact on the outcome…obviously.

Judges came from all over South of France and had to possess a university education. They didn’t and although they were supposed only take one year term this too was often not the case – shortage of labour one explanation.

People were shopping around for justice and generally took it where they might get best treatment. Battle between Ecclesiastical and Civil courts. Often accused will tonsure themselves in their cell and demand ecclesiastical privileges…ie. can’t be charged.

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