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Victorian Crime and Punishment
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Glossary

  • Bastardy:
    A former offence. If you had a child, without the means to support it, outside marriage, and it became chargeable to the state, you could be sent to goal. The idea was that people should be responsible enough to ensure they had the means to support any children born. This sentence could be applied to either a man or a woman if they could be proved to be the parents.
  • Benefit of clergy:
    A legal device whereby a person could escape the death penalty by claiming clerical status which, in practice, meant simply the ability to read and write a few words. Originally only available to clerics, by the eighteenth century it was open to all, including women; however, certain serious crimes were excluded from 'benefit of clergy'. The practice was abolished in 1827.
  • Bigamy:
    The crime of marrying a person while still legally married to someone else.
  • Bill of Indictment:
    Written accusation before it has been either found a true bill or ignored by a grand jury. See also No Bill or No True Bill.
  • Blasphemy:
    Showing contempt or disrespect for God or sacred things especially in speech.
  • Bridewells:
    Also known as Houses of Correction, named after the Palace of Bridewell given by Edward VI to the City of London for a place of correction for 'idle' people like beggars and vagrants. Bridewells were local prisons for minor offences and were merged with County Gaols by the Prisons Acts, 1865
  • Burglary:
    The crime of breaking by night into a house with intent to commit a felony.
  • Bushel:
    A unit of dry measure by volume, equal to about 8 gallons or 36 litres.