Crime and Punishment
Big Question Crime Prevention before 1450 Main page
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Who was responsible for crime prevention in Medieval England?

The BIG QUESTION in this Strand is about key turning-points in the history of crime prevention systems. One of those turning-points took place gradually in the Middle Ages.

The Anglo-Saxons placed crime prevention squarely on the local community through the tithing, the Hue and Cry, and the posse comitatus.
The tithing was a group of ten people. Everyone had to be a member of a tithing and each had to take responsibility for the others. Thus if any one member of the tithing broke the law the others had to take responsibility for getting the accused to court. If they failed, they would face punishment themselves.
The hue and cry. This meant that anyone wronged could call upon everyone else in a community to chase a criminal simply by calling on them to do so. Again, if they did not respond all the community was in the wrong.
The posse comitatus could be raised by the king's county official, the sheriff, to chase a criminal. Anyone called upon to join it had to do so.
This system obviously has its roots in a time when the king -the government - has almost no paid officials. It also suited the Ango-Saxons who seem to have had a strong sense of community responsibility. It worked when everybody lived in small, stable communities where everyone knew each other.
This community-based system continued for some time after the Norman Conquest, but by the later medieval period new systems were needed.
1. Towns were growing and these larger communities had to appoint their own officials called, in different places, constables, watchmen or beadles, to keep the peace.
2. A major late medieval threat to law and order was the "over-mighty subject" - lords who used their private armies to terrorise local villages. The community-based crime prevention system was too weak to deal with them.
3. The more powerful and better off people in a local area felt they should control local crimes and their prevention. Gradually a new position was set up: the Justice of the Peace -JP. They were not elected by the local community, but appointed by the King. They were thus part of a move towards central control over law and order. A system in which everyone was involved was giving way to one in which law enforcement was the job of certain people.

In the Case-Studies in this Gallery of the Crime Prevention Strand you will see how the different systems worked. You will also find out how people, looking back from much later, viewed these changing systems.

There are two Case-Studies:
Crime Prevention by the Community
2.Justices of the Peace

How To Work
1. Work through each of these Case-Studies. Read and analyse the Sources in each. There are HINTS in each Case-Study to help you get the most out of the Sources.
2. At the end of your Case-Study, fill in some of the Gallery Worksheet.
3. Move on to the next Case-Study. You will only be able to answer the Key Question when you have done most or all of the Case-Studies.

Source 1 Source 2 Source 4 Source 3 Case Study 4  The Growth of the police Case Study 5 Complaints and Criticisms Case Study 2  Justice of the Peace Case Study 3 Provincial police forces Case Study 1  Crime prevention in the community to Crime Prevention 1450-1700 End Case Studies to Crime before 1450 to Punishment before 1450