1st Edition

Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England

By Sara M. Butler Copyright 2015
    by Routledge

    328 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    England has traditionally been understood as a latecomer to the use of forensic medicine in death investigation, lagging nearly two-hundred years behind other European authorities. Using the coroner's inquest as a lens, this book hopes to offer a fresh perspective on the process of death investigation in medieval England. The central premise of this book is that medical practitioners did participate in death investigation – although not in every inquest, or even most, and not necessarily in those investigations where we today would deem their advice most pertinent. The medieval relationship with death and disease, in particular, shaped coroners' and their jurors' understanding of the inquest's medical needs and led them to conclusions that can only be understood in context of the medieval world's holistic approach to health and medicine. Moreover, while the English resisted Southern Europe's penchant for autopsies, at times their findings reveal a solid understanding of internal medicine. By studying cause of death in the coroners' reports, this study sheds new light on subjects such as abortion by assault, bubonic plague, cruentation, epilepsy, insanity, senescence, and unnatural death.

    Introduction.  1. The Coroners  2. The Jurors  3. The Process of Investigation  4. The Medical Dimension of a Coroner’s Inquest  5. Health and Healthcare in the Coroners’ Rolls.  Conclusion.


    Sara M. Butler is Professor of History at Loyola University New Orleans. She has written on the subjects of marital violence, suicide, abortion, and divorce in medieval England. In 2007, she was awarded the Sutherland Prize by the American Society for Legal History.

    "...by effectively framing the inquest socially and legally, her book makes a convincing case for a fundamental shift in the history of coronership and, opening up a wonderful set of sources, it tables fresh questions about medieval life, justice and knowledge." - Silvia De Renzi, Open University

    'Butler’s understanding of the Coroners’ Rolls (their final reports to the Crown) is pro-found, detailed, imaginative, and sympathetic. What emerges is a portrait of the coroner as, in the main, con-scientious and honest...In sum, Butler’s latest book, based on a deep knowl-edge of the primary sources, is an excellent study of a ne-glected institution of English medieval law and govern-ment.' - Faith Wallis, McGill University, American Historical Review