Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Crime and gender: a comparative perspective. England and the Netherlands, 1600-1800

The central aim is to systematically study differences in gendered crime patterns in the records of different types of courts in various English and Dutch cities in the early modern period.

2012 - 2015

Historians have shown that the gender gap in crime rates the early modern period was much smaller than in modern times. During the 17 th and 18 th century, women played a much more prominent role in criminality than in the 20 th century. Particularly in Dutch cities female criminality appeared to be exceptionally high, a phenomenon that is often linked both to the greater opportunities and dangers for women in the city. But how representative is this image of female criminality for the Netherlands? This project aims to compare the gendered crime patterns in the records of different types of courts in the Dutch Republic between 1600 and 1810 to those in England.

Research has demonstrated that the gender gap in early-modern crime was smaller than it is today. It also showed that women were most likely to appear in the less-formalized lower law courts; in the records of these courts women figure quite frequently, often almost as much as men.

To improve our understanding of the relatively high criminality of early-modern women, this project compares England and the Dutch Republic. The project will first of all compare the participation of women in crime – both as victims and as perpetrators. To this end, it will be necessary to descend as much as possible to the most basic level of conflict resolution. In this respect, for the Dutch Republic ongoing research by Ariadne Schmidt will provide an overview. Her findings will be contrasted with several studies into female criminality in early-modern England.

This approach will allow us to answer the following questions:

  • Was female criminality in the cities of the Dutch Republic high compared to cities in England, and in particular the metropolis of London?
  • Comparing England and the Dutch Republic, do we see a similar preference among women to use lower law courts and more informal types of conflict resolution, and men to use higher law courts and more formal types of conflict resolution?
  • Can we explain differences in terms of the specific legal, economic, social or cultural position of women and men in England and the Dutch Republic?

In answering such questions, the project will not only chart similarities and differences in gendered crime pattern in early-modern cities, but also offer explanations for these outcomes.

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