General excommunications of unknown malefactors: conscience, community and investigations in England, c. 1150-1350

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Abstract

In high and late medieval England, general sentences of excommunication pronounced against unnamed wrongdoers were common. Responding to crimes whose perpetrators were unknown, general excommunications were a valuable tool that sought to discover and punish offenders in a number of ways. Solemn denunciations might convince the guilty to confess in order to avoid damnation, or persuade informants to volunteer information. General sentences were also, however, merely a precursor to investigations launched into those responsible. Public denunciations aided investigations conducted by clergy in the local community by publicizing and forcibly condemning the crime committed. Once discovered, suspects were summoned to the bishop's court and were either forced to make amends and do penance or excommunicated by name. This article therefore argues that general sentences were far more complex, effective and legally significant than they are often perceived to be.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Church and the Law
EditorsRosamond McKitterick, Charlotte Methuen, Andrew Spicer
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages93-113
ISBN (Print)9781108839631
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Church History
PublisherCambridge University Press
Volume56
ISSN (Print)0424-2084
ISSN (Electronic)2059-0644

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