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God's Tribunal: Guilt, Innocence, and Execution in England, 1675–1775

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Abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which the early modern English execution functioned as a forum in which various, and often competing, notions of guilt and innocence were expressed. In the context of a culture which placed an inordinate emphasis on the significance of the behaviour and last dying words of men and women teetering on the brink of 'Judgement and Eternity', the gallows became, in essence, 'God's tribunal – the site where solemn oaths and supernatural signs could trump the rulings of secular courts. And it was here that the condemned could proclaim not merely his or her individual innocence of a specific crime, but raise larger questions of relative societal guilt and sinfulness and social justice by invoking the disparity between man's justice and God's.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/1478003806cs028oa

Affiliations: Department of History, University of Victoria, PO Box 3045, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8W 3P4

Publication date: April 1, 2006

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