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This article about women, violence and urban justice in Holland argues that the nature of justice available strongly affects the evidence available about patterns of early modern violence. In Holland neighbours were eager to make use of accessible correction procedures, and that resulted in high s of men and women being tried for violence. The accessible Dutch judicial system also gave women a variety of options to defend themselves against domestic violence.

Above all, violence was a communal matter, and neighbours played a vital role in the prosecution of both public and domestic violence. Despite the recent interest in neurobiological explanations, most social and historical sciences continue to focus on the social learning of gender roles and the impact of such processes on gendered crime patterns. Historians and criminologists generally link gendered patterns in crime to differences in the public lives led by men and women.

According to this line of reasoning, women are less likely than men to commit crimes, particularly violent crimes, because they are more confined to the domestic sphere while men have more freedom to engage in public activity. In addition, scholars generally assume that women tend to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime.

Most of the studies that do pay attention to female violence in the past focus either on typical female offences, such as infanticide, or on cases related to the sexual honour of women. He found that between andthe Amsterdam court only prosecuted a few women for violence and a fair of them were charged with trivial acts. The low figures for female violence in Amsterdam are in line with the findings of other historians. Instead of emphasising a differentiation based on the specific roles of women and men, he suggests that historians should look at the variety of similar motives that exist for both sexes.

They found that women ed for just over 31 per cent of all recorded assaults, and there were very few differences between the fighting styles of men and women. For Scotland between andAnne-Marie Kilday also concluded that female violence that came before the Scottish Justiciary court was more bloody and brutal than historians commonly assume.

She found that women could become very assertive and aggressive in particular instances, though the violence of women was generally a result of more immediate neighbourhood tensions. The London s made it clear that both sexes were inclined to deploy violence. Following Robert Shoemaker in his work on prosecution and punishment, Dinges proposes that historians should focus on the ways in which and the extent to which people had recourse to justice in order to explain patterns of prosecution.

The uses of justice therefore refer to the many ways in which individuals dealt with the courts, the recourse to justice, and the forms that this took. Dinges mentions the Dutch tradition of extrajudicial settlements within local mostly urban civic and religious institutions, such as the neighbourhoods, church communities, and guilds. These forms of conflict regulation existed alongside various judicial procedures which people could use to settle a dispute or to find justice.

They also understood how to make use of the institutions as a means of resolving their private and public problems. Different types of courts and judicial procedures may produce different figures and proportions of male and female violence, because such figures were determined by how frequently and in what ways these courts were used by people. I am not disputing the data shown by Spierenburg ; the Amsterdam criminal court without a doubt did prosecute few women.

My argument is that there is also information about violence to be found in other judicial procedures that have rarely been looked at. Firstly, in early modern societies, there was a strong link between urbanisation and high levels of female crime rates. As the most urbanised region in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Low Countries provide ample urban sources for examining the patterns of male and female violent behaviour.

Secondly, in most Dutch towns neighbours and neighbourhood organisations played a vital role in the social control of violence and aggressive behaviour, and through a study of their actions we can gain a deeper understanding both of violence and attitudes towards it.

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Most current dictionaries distinguish between two forms of violence : physical violence and verbal violence. Gerd Schwerhoff on the other hand, argues that historians should include all forms of violence in order to understand how and why people had violent disputes.

Violence may be seen as an act of aggression that was prosecuted by the courts, but it can also be seen as a means of communication among people. Violence is not only the object of social control, but just as much a medium for social control. I then consider the ways in which neighbours and spouses could use the judicial system in order to control violence. Finally, I link the social control of violence to the degree of urbanisation and the uses of justice. Moreover, the and types of cases handled by different types of courts were determined by the ways in which city dwellers made use of procedures of conflict regulation.

Early modern prosecutors largely depended on the willingness of victims to report misdemeanours and aggressive behaviour. Muchembled argues that in France the classic judicial sources suggest a much lower rate of homicidal violence than the letters de remissions. And for early modern London, Hurl-Eamon showed that prosecution and perpetration of petty violence was found particularly in certain legal procedures, such as the recognizances. Joachim Eibach and Schwerhoff have argued that early modern justice was an instrument of conflict regulation as well as an agent of moral discipline.

Over the course of the periodthe marriage court of Basel shifted from a forum directed at conflict regulation between husbands and wives to an institution that was aimed at the disciplining of all irregular sexual behaviour. At the end of the eighteenth century inhabitants of a district or a neighbourhood were still vital in the prosecution of crime. City dwellers were very aware that they could use legal and semi-legal procedures as a means of taking measures against deviant or undesirable behaviour. The uses of justice and semi-legal procedures of correction thus had an influence on the and proportion of cases of male and female violent behaviour.

The criminal courts of most towns in Holland also dealt with less serious cases of violence, although complaints and accusations regarding fighting and lesser forms of violence were sometimes handled in the books of correction in which petty crime was recorded.

However, these formal procedures were usually the last step that people took to control the violence of spouses or neighbours.

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They preferred first to try to use less formal and easier procedures, such as conflict regulation through a neighbourhood master, church discipline by the Protestant consistories, or a request to the magistrates to confine an abusive relative. Although women were also accused of violent offences, they were less likely to be arrested and were treated more leniently by the judges. The criminal courts handled crimes that were prosecuted by the bailiff as public prosecutor, involving a judicial procedure with examinations of the defendants, complainants, and witnesses, a sentence demanded by the prosecutor, and a final sentence by the members of the court aldermen.

The violence treated by the criminal courts of Holland — primarily homicide, rape, assault, fighting with knives, and violations of property — predominantly involved men. In the period between andapproximately 6 to 16 percent of the assault cases handled by the criminal courts of Amsterdam, Leiden and Rotterdam — the three most important towns in Holland — involved women. Spierenburg suggests that the chief explanation for the low level of female violence is to be found in the unequal balance of power between men and women, defining violence as a function of this balance of power.

Table 1. The proportion of female defendants in assault cases before the criminal courts in the towns of Holland, ca. Amsterdam Sources: Kloekp. In Rotterdam and Delft, in the period between andwomen stood accused in only 4 percent of the criminal court cases involving domestic violence ; in contrast, 96 percent of domestic violence was committed by husbands. The domestic violence of husbands against their wives could be quite severe.

Those men who were indicted by the criminal courts of Rotterdam and Delft between and were often drunk when maltreating their wives, sometimes using a knife or sword and causing serious injuries. Roughly 50 percent of the criminal court cases involving domestic violence were accompanied by excessive drinking usually brandy. Their husbands might be banished or sentenced to prison for a long period of time, which would have serious consequences for the family income. In fact, men tried before the criminal and correctional courts for domestic violence were frequently supported by their wives who attempted to have their husbands released from prison.

Women were even willing to support a husband after a cruel assault and serious injuries resulting from knife stabbing. However, it would be wrong to assume that women in this period were not violent. As the following paragraphs will show, women were also often prosecuted for aggressive behaviour, although their cases were more likely to be handled by the lower criminal courts, which usually dealt with less serious offences.

Furthermore, the data of the criminal court cases appears to reflect the unequal balance of power between men and women, although it would be wrong to assume that Dutch women had no power and no means to defend themselves against male violence. As in Italy, southern Germany and France, neighbourhood organisations emerged in the Netherlands in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, often organised as administrative units or corporations, with neighbourhood masters or deans functioning as he.

In the course of the early modern period, the growth of cities in Holland resulted in the growth of the and ificance of neighbourhood organisations.

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Inthere were 73 neighbourhood masters in the town of Leiden, while intheir was as high as Between andthe father of famous Dutch painter Rembrandt was one of them. The functions and purposes of the neighbourhood masters were twofold : they were ificant keepers of the peace in their own locality, but they also had an important task as intermediaries between the urban government and the citizens of their locality. No records have been found in Amsterdam proving that the neighbourhood corporations really did exist there, but there is evidence that the urban government planned to divide the city into neighbourhood entities.

On some occasions neighbourhood corporations might have served as night guards. Measures were taken to deal with all kinds of irregular behaviour. In Leiden, citizens might be fined for beating a spouse or for continuous quarrelling or fighting with neighbours. In some towns, as in Leiden, neighbourhood rules were established, which included instructions for neighbourhood masters in cases of violence, fights or disorder. There were standard fines for beating your spouse ; wife-beaters had to pay a ham piece of pork of 15 pounds or a fine of 2.

The double standards may suggest that in cases of domestic violence women were less well off than men, although in practice such regulations primarily protected women. The records of the neighbourhoods of Leiden show that fines for spouse-beating were imposed on wife-beaters, while such fines were seldom imposed on wives. In such judicial procedures the neighbourhood master played an intermediary role between the institutions and the people from his neighbourhood. In many cases he also acted as a witness for the prosecution.

Studies on the Leiden neighbourhoods suggest that the courts often supported a neighbourhood claim against a wife-beater. Where women were plaintiffs in cases of physical abuse by a husband, they were supported by neighbours who were very much involved in matrimonial disputes and maltreatment within the marriage.

Violent or drunk husbands were accused by family members or neighbours, or evicted from the house after a confinement on request. Neighbours provided substantial evidence in many criminal cases of maltreatment : their statements and witness statements were essential in the examinations. However, when both his wife and the neighbours agreed to let him go if he promised to improve his behaviour, the court decided to release him.

Disturbing the peace appeared to be a vital argument in the accusation and conviction of wife-beaters. The data related to the criminal court records may suggest that women were very reluctant in bringing their husbands to court, but other sources point to a different conclusion.

In addition to more serious legal procedures — such as the criminal or correctional court procedures — there were other options for women to seek justice. They could choose to bring their cases to a public notary who recorded their statements about the insulting maltreatment they suffered from their husbands, and such statements could be used to support a lawsuit for divorce or separation.

Here, women were supported by the statements of neighbours as well.

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In many towns, although not everywhere, the petitioners had to pay the town government a fee for the costs of confinement. In towns where there were no costs for the applicants, people made extensive use of confinement on request. Dinges has argued that applicants may have requested the confinement of a relative merely as a way to coerce that abusive person to reform his or her behaviour.

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A confinement on request commonly resulted in a confinement of one or two years. Female applicants apparently were able to financially support themselves for several years, although they would not take the risk that their husbands could be sentenced by the criminal courts to a much longer period of banishment or severe corporal punishments. According to the minutes of the consistories of Delft and Rotterdam in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both men and women regularly complained about the fights and maltreatment they suffered at the hands of their spouses, and the spouses in question were ordered in almost equal measure by the ministers to for their aggressive behaviour.

Table 2: Domestic violence before the criminal courts and Protestant consistories in Rotterdam and Delft, s and proportion of those men and women accused. The cases of violence that came before the consistories in Holland show that women became more assertive in relation to their husbands in the course of the seventeenth century, or at least they were more often willing to leave the house.

In the eighteenth century women increasingly made use of confinement on request in order to have their husbands incarcerated. In the Calvinist Dutch Republic, women and men were able to file for divorce in case of adultery or prolonged desertion. The legalisation of divorce also influenced the existing practice of separation. Until approximatelythe of separations in the towns of Holland rose, both in an absolute and in a relative sense. In Amsterdam in the second half of the eighteenth century, almost 70 percent of the plaintiffs were women. The most famous among them — Hugo Grotius — argued that men who abused their custody rights over their wives ought to be prosecuted in a civil or criminal court.

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In the first instance, maltreatment of wives was to be fined, but in case of recidivism, a heavier punishment was required. Divorce was the ultimate solution in a series of options women could choose from when dealing with an abusive husband and, as we saw, they did not have to stand alone in this. Women made up 44 percent of the cases involving violence that were brought before the consistories. This high figure may be explained by the character of church discipline. Without the risk of a conviction or a confinement, both men and women were much more willing to complain about the aggressive behaviour of their spouses.

The high s of disciplinary cases brought before the consistories involving violent wives can also be explained by considering the definition of violence. The criminal courts dealt primarily with physical violence, while verbal violence and cases of defamation were generally treated by civil courts and rarely by correctional courts. In the minutes of the consistories, such differences were much less clear because spouses were often accused of various forms of violence.

Swearing, foul language and drunkenness were often accompanied by beating, kicking, throwing things or other physical violence. Different types of correctional procedures show different proportions of male and female criminality. For the London area between c.

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Those people who were fined were given the option either to pay a fine or to be committed for a short period of imprisonment. Table 4: and proportion of men and women corrected for violence by the court of correction fightbooks Rotterdam, 5-year sample from to A completely different picture emerges from the cases of violence brought before the court of correction during the same period of time.

The proportion of violent women brought before the courts of correction between and was ificantly higher : almost a quarter of the violence involved women including fighting with another person and the destruction of property and belongings. Furthermore, women were responsible for 42 percent of the correction cases involving fighting. It may not come as a surprise that women were particularly prosecuted for fighting with and assaulting other women ; about 30 percent of the fights involved another woman and usually the fight took place in the neighbourhood.

Although the of men and women who were prosecuted by the court of correction between and considerably fluctuated in this period, the proportion of women was quite stable over the years. Between andon average 35 percent of the cases brought before the correctional court concerned women. During this period, the judges of the Rotterdam court of correction dealt with 5, prosecutions, of which 2, involved female crimes.

In some years, the female share in violence was much higher still, for instance, during the periods andwomen ed for 44 percent of misdemeanour prosecutions. InLena Flaes was arrested and convicted by the court of Rotterdam after a complaint of the neighbours that she had beaten the daughter of one of her neighbours.

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