That nasty brutish medieval life - so what has changed?
I've been reading about crime and punishment in 13th-century England, and wondering what has changed. In cases of rape, juries were reluctant to convict, often cases were withdrawn, and if the woman got pregnant medical belief of the time (and for some time afterwards) held this to be conclusive evidence that it could not have been rape.
Before 1275 it wasn't even the Crown's duty to prosecute, and the victim had to seek her own recompense in the courts, if she could.
So one can't but cheer Sybel Climne, who was walking home late one night by the light of the moon in 1312 through the alleys of Great Yarmouth. When a man jumped out and tightened her hood around her neck, trying to strangle her into submission, she pulled out a small knife and stabbed him in the stomach, killing him instantly. She even had a witness to testify to what had happened. (Although, I read, witnesses to the defence were not sworn and may not have been legally taken into account.)
The jurors couldn't at this stage, however, give a verdict of "not guilty"; all they could do is recommend the king pardon her for killing in self-defence (se defendendo). The source doesn't say if she got her pardon, but you'd hope so.
But you do have to wonder about the coroner's verdict in the case of Agnes Tuppel of Wiltshire, who struck a six-month-old-boy, "William, son of Michael the vintner", with an axe. The verdict? Misadventure.
From R.J. Sims, "Secondary offenders? English woman and crime 1220-1348" in Studies on Medieval and Early Modern Women 4: Victims or Viragos, pp. 69-88.