‘A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present’ by Pieter Spierenburg (Part 2)

Chapter 4 – Patriarchy and Its Discontents: Women and the Domestic Sphere – Due to its rarity in records, there is no standard when it comes to women and intimates as victims and perpetrators of homicide and assault. However, when women did resort to violence outside of the domestic sphere, it was usually against other women. Just like in violent relations between men, honor played a large role in the altercations between females. One popular form of female violence was nose-slitting. Though there were a variety reasons explaining why women engaged in violence, fighting between females was often viewed as unimportant and comically illustrated.

Any statistics of violence against women only reflect cases of serious violence (though casual violence may have been as prevalent as violence among men, it was less persecuted).  Attacks by males against women were mainly one-sided. Some trends to female victimization are that attacks against female strangers by men were less fatal than attacks against wives or lovers. Also, more casual violence against women occurred in larger towns, partly due to the heightened anonymity of large populations. Women were in danger for a number of reasons, and circumstances such as their occupations or lack of honor made them easy targets for violence and sexual assault.

Chapter 5 – Marks of Innocence: Babies and the Insane – There was a strong link between infanticide and illegitimate birth. Bastardy was often the result of courtships gone wrong, and a woman risked losing her honor if she ended up pregnant by a former suitor. Poverty also played a huge role in infanticide. For example, domestic servants who found themselves pregnant were quickly dismissed, and so many women killed their babes in order to keep their jobs.

In cases involving the insane, normal standards of punishment did not apply.

The death sentence made indirect suicides possible – thanks to strict moral codes, those seeking death but unwilling to risk the stigma associated with suicide would often commit crimes that warranted the death penalty.


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