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In the past decades, there has been a growing scholarly awareness of both women’s roles as protagonists in violent crimes, and their critical roles in litigation communities. This chapter aims to combine these two research strands and examine women’s recourse to the criminal court for everyday violent conflicts in early modern Bologna. Although the denunciations on which this chapter is based were plentiful, they hardly ever led to an inquisitorial process. In the eyes of the authorities, these ‘minor crimes’ were often deemed too unimportant for prosecution, but litigants commonly also had different aims. This chapter scrutinizes the ways in which women were able to strategically and instrumentally make use of the patriarchal criminal justice system in the resolution of their violent conflicts. It will argue that, specifically, the appeal to the precetto de non offendendo – a peace injunction issued through summary justice – granted them not only judicial leverage, but also real agency in the process.
This introduction deals with the historiography on women’s participation in crime in various regions in Europe in the early modern and modern period. It introduces the chapters in this volume and places them in the framework of three topics around which the debates about crime and gender have centered over the past decades: violence, prosecution and punishment, and representation. It furthermore pays specific attention to the importance of socio-economic and cultural contexts, arguing that contextualisation of women’s crime is an essential instrument for explaining why women committed crime, why their registered criminal patterns changed and how their crimes were represented by contemporaries
Bringing together the most current research on the relationship between crime and gender in the West between 1600 and 1914, this authoritative volume places female criminality within its everyday context. It reveals how their socio-economic and cultural contexts provided women with 'agency' against a range of European backdrops, despite a fundamentally patriarchal criminal justice system, and includes in-depth analysis of original sources to show how changing living standards, employment, schooling and welfare arrangements had a direct impact on the quality of life of working class women, their risk of becoming involved in crime, and the likelihood of being prosecuted for it. Rather than treating women's criminality as always exceptional, this study draws out the similarities between female and male criminality, demonstrating how an understanding of specific cultural and socio-economic contexts is essential to explain female criminality, both why their criminal patterns changed, and how their crimes were represented by contemporaries.
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