Abstract: In 1853, an editorial in the Glasgow Herald asked: ‘Is it to go forth that the measure of guilt is to be sought, not in the wickedness of the intent, not in the cruelty and deliberation of the act, but in the sex of the perpetrator?’ The writer was responding to the news that the Home Secretary had commuted the capital sentence of a ‘murderess’, convicted alongside a female and a male accomplice of the murder of a man who had been robbed, stripped naked, and finally thrown from a third-floor window in the New Vennel in Glasgow. Were women implicated in criminal acts of violence afforded a different treatment than their male counterparts before law, as this commentator suggests? How was the notion of the violent female reconciled with late nineteenth-century constructions of gender and femininity, and an increasingly masculinised conception of violent criminality? This paper will explore judicial and cultural responses to women accused of a range of violent offences in Scotland, 1850-1914, from scandalising murders to acts that just strayed into the realms of criminality.
Dr Hannah Telling is the current Economic History Society Power Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in London. She completed her AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Glasgow in 2019, and was appointed as a Charlotte Nicholson Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Glasgow shortly thereafter. She is an historian of gender, crime and law in nineteenth century Scotland, and is currently researching the legal regulation of violence in Scottish criminal courts.
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