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Making Murder Public

Homicide in Early Modern England, 1480-1680

K. J. Kesselring

Publication Date - May 2022

ISBN: 9780192863744

208 pages
9.2 x 6.1 inches

In Stock


Homicide has a history. In early modern England, that history saw two especially notable developments: one, the emergence in the sixteenth century of a formal distinction between murder and manslaughter, made meaningful through a lighter punishment than death for the latter, and two, a significant reduction in the rates of homicides individuals perpetrated on each other.

Making Murder Public explores connections between these two changes. It demonstrates the value in distinguishing between murder and manslaughter, or at least in seeing how that distinction came to matter in a period which also witnessed dramatic drops in the occurrence of homicidal violence. Focused on the 'politics of murder', Making Murder Public examines how homicide became more effectively criminalized between 1480 and 1680, with chapters devoted to coroners' inquests, appeals and private compensation, duels and private vengeance, and print and public punishment. The English had begun moving away from treating homicide as an offence subject to private settlements or vengeance long before other Europeans, at least from the twelfth century. What happened in the early modern period was, in some ways, a continuation of processes long underway, but intensified and refocused by developments from 1480 to 1680.

Making Murder Public argues that homicide became fully 'public' in these years, with killings seen to violate a 'king's peace' that people increasingly conflated with or subordinated to the 'public peace' or 'public justice.'


  • Revises standard interpretations of the history of homicide and its criminalization
  • Explores the connections between interpersonal homicide and judicial violence
  • Examines, using a political lens, both legal and sociological approaches to the study of homocide
  • Uses a wealth of material drawn from a number of archives

About the Author(s)

K. J. Kesselring, Professor of History, Dalhousie University

K.J. Kesselring is Professor of History at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the author of a series of articles and essays on homicide and criminal forfeiture, and books on Mercy and Authority in the Tudor State and The Northern Rebellion of 1569. She has also edited or co-edited collections on The Trial of Charles I, Married Women and the Law: Coverture in England and the Common Law World (with Tim Stretton), and Crossing Borders: Boundaries and Margins in Medieval and Early Modern Britain (with Sara M. Butler).

Table of Contents

    Abbreviations and Conventions
    1. Introduction
    2. 'In Corona Populi': Early Modern Coroners and their Inquests
    3. 'An Image of Deadly Feud': Recompense, Revenge, and the Appeal of Homicide
    4. 'That Saucy Paradox': The Politics of Duelling in Early Modern England
    5. 'For Publick Satisfaction': Punishment, Print, Plays, and Public Vengenance
    Appendix I: The Records and the Database

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