Crime, Community and the Negotiated Truth : Court Narratives of Capital Crime in the District Courts of Jämtland-Härjedalen 1649—1700

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Historiska institutionen

Abstract: The purpose of this thesis is to study the court narratives of serious crimes in the district courts of Jämtland-Härjedalen in the latter half of 17th century. This is done by studying the negotiated aspects of criminal court proceedings; how did stories of crime, guilt and character come together in the records to form narratives that became accepted truths by the local community and the authorities? Investigations of serious crime have been sampled from the collected records of five district courts in the period 1649–1700. These records have been analysed by identifying the different actors and voices of the narratives, the social stratification of the participants, their speech acts and how they were depicted by the court and by other participants. The analysis of the social stratification of accusers, defendants and witnesses shows evidence of a deeply hierarchical and patriarchal society: men and women of lower social status were not only grossly overrepresented as defendants in criminal investigations, they were also mostly excluded from participating as a witness. The inverse could be said about local elites and landed peasantry. Women were more often accused of crime, and while they were allowed to testify as witnesses, they were less so than men. The negotiation of the truth took place in three parallel and intersecting spheres of discourse, differing in what kind of questions were asked and what problems were being discussed between different categories of participants. The nature of crime was negotiated when accusers, defendants and witnesses debated the presented narratives; the accepted narrative of the crime was found by the assessment of the honesty of the individual participants, by considering their reputation and standing in the local community. While the word of the law was unrelenting and impossible to legally negotiate at the district court level, a kind of negotiation was done by the local community and sometimes also the district court taking the side of the defendant, pleading and petitioning the Royal High Court to find mercy for the convicted criminal.

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