Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Naughty boy

Extract from
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court, 1674 to 1913
(You can search these HERE)

20th May 1681
Offence: pocketpicking
Francis Russel, a Boy of about 8 years of Age, was Indicted for picking eleven Guineas, and seven shillings in silver out of a Gentlewoman's Pocket near St. Dunstans Church, and Convicted of the same by his own Confession.
Punishment: Death

Many death sentences were not carried out and it is not possible to find out whether this one was. However, mitigation was usually through benefit of clergy or use of pardons, and respited sentences due to pregnancy, or in order to perform military or naval duty. To claim benefit of clergy it was originally necessary to appear tonsured and produce letters of ordination but by 1681 one could prove clergyhood by demonstrating an ability to read; pardons could only be given by the king.

Pregnancy and imminent call-up were obviously not relevant here, so it looks as if this offender was unlucky and never reached the age of nine. However, young offenders were sometimes fined and then sentenced to a period of imprisonment in the London Refuge for the Destitute which was, in effect, a juvenile reformatory. Perhaps this happened to young Francis.

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