Forfeiture in England and Wales

R. A. Houston

in Punishing the Dead?

Published in print August 2010 | ISBN: 9780199586424
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191595356 | DOI:
Forfeiture in England and Wales

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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In England the crown gave the proceeds of forfeiture to its almoner for charitable distribution. Almoners dealt constructively with survivors, recreating community from the disorder left by a sudden death and imposing settlements on survivors, sometimes using powerful central courts like Star Chamber; they also negotiated, adjudicated, and mediated in pursuit of agreed local resolutions. However, the fragmented jurisdictional structure of England meant that subordinate lay lords could also have an interest in suicides, and the problems of competing lordship are assessed. Local social relations are explored, showing how lords and people interacted at a local level. The law and practice of ‘deodand’, the forfeiture of objects that caused death, and the changing nature of coroners' verdicts are examined; a new interpretation proposed of why they changed from felo de se to non compos mentis. The conclusion explains why intervention in suicide was especially necessary between 1500 and 1700.

Keywords: England; suicide; finance; lordship; gift; church; government; law; regions; charity

Chapter.  50669 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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