Who was responsible for crime prevention in Medieval
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
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
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
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
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
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:
1.Crime Prevention by the Community
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.