Bloody Code

The bloody code, refers to a series of severe laws and punishments, that were introduced in the early 1700’s; this was a time when capital punishment was extended to cover many more offences. Originally, punishment by death, would only have applied to a few crimes, including, murder and treason. This was further increased in The Black Act, of 1723, by another 50. Many rich landowners believed that crime was on the increase, due to the expansion of small village communities, into larger developed towns, giving people more opportunities to commit criminal offences.

As there was now a great availability of pamphlets and broadsheets, many people were given the impression that crime was everywhere, as they were often told stories of violent crime and murder. There was also the appearance of four new types of criminal; vagabonds, highwaymen, smugglers and witches,; this was also widely publicised, and many of the wealthy landowners were MPs, and would have wanted to protect their property from thieves. There were various reasons why the bloody code was introduced, fear was definitely one, especially amongst the ruling classes.

There was an awareness that anarchy could still take place among the population, following the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Although, the was coming to an end, there were still many insecurities amongst the people, and they were scared of rebellion. Religious changes brought about, under the rule of Henry V111, led to many protests and unrest, and the landowning classes, wanted to keep control of the people, as they had power due to their wealth and status, and wanted to protect their rights and property from the poorer members of the community.

The wealthy did not want poachers on their land or opportunist thieves, and stealing and poaching became punishable by death. Another reason for the introduction of the Bloody code, was the inefficient policing. Some methods of policing still existed from before, including, hue and cry, and also the system of un-paid constables. However, there was now a new method, the introduction of thief-takers, to track down criminals, however the system was medieval, and did not deter crime, and it was believed that something else was needed in it’s place.

The Bloody Code, was a way of removing criminals completely from society, by death. Also, It was thought that a harsher punishment would put people off committing crimes, therefore, capital punishment was always carried out in public, as an attempt to deter the public. It can be established, therefore, that the landowners and lawmakers, introducing these new laws, wished to protect their land and possessions, and convince the public that crime was under control. Bringing about harsher punishments witnessed by them, helped to reinforce their power in government.

During the 1800’s, during a time of rising crime, the bloody code was abolished. There are several factors that contributed to this; One of these, was that although the bloody code was meant to act as a serious deterrent from committing a crime, for members of he public, even making it an open-air event to serve that purpose, it appeared in many ways to have the opposite effect, turning the gruesome spectacle, into a place of entertainment, where crowds of people would gather, socialising and drinking, causing more problems for the lawmakers, than less.

It became a place for brawling, and attracted thieves and pickpockets. Members of the crowd also joined in, by aiding and abetting certain criminals, they thought were innocent, the huge crowds, giving them a safe place to hide, helping them to avoid capture. Another reason why the bloody code was abolished, was because of a loss of effectiveness. Criminals were supposed to receive the death penalty for a variety of offences, however fewer and fewer sentences were actually carried out, and instead of receiving a capital punishment, they were reprieved, or given a light sentence instead.

Several judges and juries, did not want to convict people of such minor offences, and believed the harsh sentences were un-justified. As this began happening more and more, the system became un-workable, and as there was no longer a punishment, there was no deterrent. Another reason why the bloody code was abolished, was because of the changing views about sentences for different offences.

This meant that new ways of punishing criminals were being explored, and it was thought that the punishment should fit the crime, and be in proportion to it. The government had bought in alternatives to hanging, which also helped to sway the judges away from the old methods, and also get a guilty verdict, gaols and fines were used and also transportation, which was the largest. This all had the effect of moving away from the bloody code, which was no longer serving it’s purpose, or providing the answers It was supposed to.

It can be concluded, based on the evidence, that it was right to abolish the bloody code, as it was not providing a solution to increasing crime levels, It had even hindered it, by producing more opportunities for criminals, and did not act as a deterrent against crime, which was it’s main objective. As new and different methods of punishment were introduced, it became apparent that there was no longer a need for the bloody code, and abolishing it was the only sensible outcome.