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Durham e-Theses
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Rape in England 1600-1800: trials, narratives and the question of consent

King. Rebecca Frances, (1998) Rape in England 1600-1800: trials, narratives and the question of consent. Masters thesis, Durham University.



This thesis examines the meanings of sexual violence within early modem English society. It focuses particularly on attitudes towards rape as expressed in statute and the operation of the legal system, the attitudes of individuals in court records, and representations of rape in literature. The history of rape is located within contemporary historical debate about early modern sexuality, gender and women. The first chapter charts the evolution of the law of rape, the prosecution of rape in the assize court, and the degree of suspicion about accusations expressed by jurists. The high standards of evidence demanded in rape cases and contemporary confusion about rape law are examined. This work draws on statute, law-books and law reports, and trial pamphlets. The second chapter is a close reading of Ely and Northern Assize Circuit deposition material dating between 1640 and 1750, and 1780 and 1800. The content and conventions of these documents are explored, exposing the highly selective reporting of rape. The extent to which we may treat depositions as 'narratives' is critically assessed. The third chapter is a reading of the public representations of sexual violence in seventeenth and eighteenth century literature. This work examines beliefs about motivation to rape, and the extreme contemporary sensitivity to false accusations of rape, which became increasingly visible from the later seventeenth century. The conclusion draws on all the material presented in the thesis to illustrate the highly selective nature of reporting, demonstrating that in a climate of scepticism, a woman only reported rape if she could fit her story to a believable stereotype.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1998
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Sep 2012 15:56

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