What was the purpose of punishments in the period 1450-1750?
The early part of this period was marked by the
religious and political upheavals of the Reformation and the Civil War.
There were rebellions and plots and the savage punishment for treason
of hanging, drawing and quartering was used quite frequently.
From the late 17th century, however, the country was
generally at peace. Royal power had been brought under control and the
government was now in the hands of the property-owning rich. They ran
the country as M.P.s in Parliament and as JPs in local areas.
The BIG QUESTION in this strand is about the purposes of punishments.
So this Gallery looks at what punishments this ruling elite devised and
what purposes these punishments had. There are interesting examples of
punishments used as deterrent, and as reform - to make the offender change
his or her ways.
Case-Study 1 looks at the so-called Bloody Code. This was a huge increase
in the number of offences carrying the death penalty. It was used in two
ways: people were hanged, in public, with great ceremony. Yet the number
of people hanged, in total, declined. Those in power were holding the
death penalty as a threat, and using it often enough for it not to be
an empty one. Its purpose was therefore as a deterrent. But they were
also demonstrating their power by choosing, sometimes apparently at whim,
who should be reprieved.
Case-Study 2 looks, among other punishments, at Houses of Correction.
The offender was locked away, as in prison, but not left to rot in a cell,
or to learn from other inmates new ways of committing crimes. 17th century
writers were quite clear about the pointlessness of prison. Those who
believed in the purposes of the Houses of Correction, often Puritans,
believed in the value of hard work. The purpose of a House Of Correction,
therefore, was to change people's approaches to life by teaching them
1. The Bloody Code
2. Houses of Correction and other punishments
How To Work
1. Work through each of these Case-Studies. Read and analyse the sources
in each. There are HINTS in each to help you get the most out of the Sources.
2. At the end of the Case-Study, fill in some of the Gallery Worksheet.
3. Move on to the next Case-Study. You will only really be able to answer
the Key Question when you have done both the Case-Studies. However, you
could divide the job between two halves of the class, sharing their results.