Medicine, Necromancy and the Law: Aspects of Medieveal Poisoning

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Abstract

Difficulties in establishing guilt being those of the determination of mens rea and of the evidence of the cause of death is a task for the sophistication of forensic science and the disputation of the expert witness. Yet these same issues created far more difficulty for the medieval mind, and analysis of the crime within the middle ages calls for consideration of both the law of proof and the state of medical knowledge. Moreover, this article makes it clear that the early poisoner is regarded not merely as one who has committed, by a more subtle and covert method, the same offence as his neighbour who uses a knife or a club. To reach the position of incorporation of poisoning as a simple subspecies of homicide we are obliged to consider the change not only from the points of view of an increasingly developed substantive and procedural criminal law and a more informed and educated medical science, but also with regard to the variation in a whole bundle of community attitudes which surround the offence. The legal historian flatters the significance of the law if he assumes that the major developments in the definition of an offence are always the result of the sophistication of substantive legal doctrine. This article demonstrates that much wider and more pervasive systems of belief must change before such developments can come about.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-61
Number of pages10
JournalCambrian Law Review
Volume18
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 1987

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