In medieval English texts, a common refrain, drawn from scripture, urged that only God could search the mind and heart of a sinner, and that those who judge others might face their own grave judgment on the last day. This sits uneasily with the task of issuing a felony verdict, a burden placed squarely upon the shoulders of lay jurors after the Fourth Lateran Council's effective abolition of trial by ordeal in 1215. Nevertheless, jurors did sit in judgment upon their neighbors, and evidence suggests that they were not merely assessing outward conduct but also the state of a defendant's heart and mind which, like the hand of a proband in the era of trial by ordeal, might be declared fair or foul. This essay explores how techniques for unearthing intentionality through circumstantial inquiry—techniques developed in the context of classical rhetoric and adapted for priests hearing confessions—were put to use by coroners and others tasked with investigating crimes. This, in turn, aided jurors in the perilous, even audacious, task of judging alleged felons, ultimately determining who should be acquitted and who should face the gallows.
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Research Article| September 01 2023
The Audacity of Judging Mind in Medieval England
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (2023) 53 (3): 493–518.
Elizabeth Papp Kamali; The Audacity of Judging Mind in Medieval England. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2023; 53 (3): 493–518. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-10689631
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