The political and religious context of judicial punishment in Early Medieval England, AD 800-1200
Methods of judicial punishment indicate far more than merely a criminal’s manner of death; styles of execution relay information about governmental power and control as well as demonstrating the influence of religion and contemporary perspectives on death. This thesis aims to examine the transition in execution practice and ideology in early medieval England from c. 800-1200. The project is based on the work of Andrew Reynolds on late Anglo-Saxon execution cemeteries and the basic questions about the post-Conquest burial of executed criminals posed by Christopher Daniell in his article ‘Conquest, Crime and Theology in the Burials Record: 1066-1200’, which examines the absence of Anglo-Norman burials from the archaeological record. The Anglo-Saxon execution cemetery and many of the beliefs behind it are not continued after the Norman Conquest. There is post-Conquest evidence for occasional deviants being buried in church cemeteries and written record of executions occurring just without towns or castles, which is markedly different to the Anglo-Saxon isolation and liminality associated with both the execution and the burial of criminals. The Anglo-Norman laws also indicate the possibility of mutilation replacing execution for many crimes.
The study aims to determine how these changes relate to reformations in government, religion, and the relationship between the two. The various types of deviant burial and their associated execution methods (decapitation, hanging, and fatal mutilation among others) will be considered individually to discover the intended meaning behind the different methods of execution and display. This approach should lend itself to better understanding the motivation behind shifts and manipulation of execution practice in early medieval England. It is hoped the study will enhance not only understanding of the Norman impact on judicial punishment in early medieval England, but will be representative of greater transitional themes occurring around the Norman Conquest on the whole.