"What cruelty reigns in this town": The Boundaries of the English Adultery Act of 1650 Reconsidered 公开

Wahl, Julia Lynn (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/05741r81j?locale=zh
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Abstract

The "Adultery Act" of 1650, perhaps more than any other measure, epitomized the presence and influence of Puritanism in Interregnum England (1649-1660). Intended to police sexual behavior such as incest, adultery, fornication and prostitution, the Act transferred jurisdiction of these moral crimes from the ecclesiastical sphere to the secular realm. The Act, however, proved to be mostly a dead letter. This study focuses on adultery in Middlesex County, a semi-rural county outside London. Adultery was considered by Puritanical proselytizers to be one of the more reprehensible offenses. With such extreme moral condemnation, the crime warranted, at least in the eyes of these fanatics, capital punishment. In practice however, the Act resulted in few to no convictions in Interregnum Middlesex. This thesis investigates why an Act that was so vehemently pursued by powers in the central government failed so spectacularly on the parochial level. Combining a study of indictments from the London Metropolitan Archives for Middlesex County with an analysis of popular rhetoric during the period, this thesis intends to argue that the Act itself was too cruel to enforce. Accusations of cruelty often were utilized by seventeenth-century Englishmen to comment on, and identify the parameters between what was regarded as the permissible or impermissible use of force. This dramatic period of political and cultural change initiated intense responses with new-found moral and ethical concerns, illustrated by the lack of convictions under the Act and reflected in contemporary rhetoric.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION 1

PART I. ADULTERY IN CONTEXT 18

Middlesex County Jurisdiction 19

Adultery Indictments in Middlesex, 1650-1660 21

PART II. CRUELTY RHETORIC AND THE INTERREGNUM 29

Modern Definitions of Cruelty 30

Early Modern Dictionary Considerations of Cruelty 33

Early Modern Cruelty Rhetoric 38

Cruelty and the Act of 1650 44

Considerations on Cruelty Rhetoric 55

CONCLUSION 56

BIBLIOGRAPHY 60

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