The Punishment of Murderers in the Noble Courts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Second Half of the 18th Century

In: Lithuanian Historical Studies
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  • 1 (Lithuanian Institute of History)
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This article gives an analysis of the punishment the noble courts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania applied to murderers in the second half of the 18th century, where the noble courts acted as courts of first instance in hearing murder cases. The author aims to determine the catalogue of punishments applied in such cases and the trends in the application of punishments in terms of how they conformed with the valid legal norms of the day, and search for manifestations of the humanisation of the law. After an examination of 184 verdicts, the author found that in cases of wilful murder, the noble courts usually applied the death penalty as per the set laws. Exceptions applied only to individuals from the estate of nobles, who instead of receiving a death sentence were sometimes sentenced to lower or upper tower punishment, which was by law ordinarily applied to other crimes. At the same time, the executors avoided qualified ways of applying the death sentence (capital punishment). Of the qualified forms of punishment, only quartering was applied, usually to those convicted of the aforementioned crime, ritual murder, and, in some instances, in cases of robbery. Alternative forms of punishment were episodic, and were only applied to a small number of convicted persons: imprisonment as a form of punishment recommended by philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment was applied in only 5.3 per cent of murder cases. In most instances, imprisonment was related to the introduction of the 1782 Cardinal Laws of the Permanent Council. In this way, the research reveals the conservative nature of the estate of nobles in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and their efforts to continue to adhere to the strict law outlined in the Third Statute of Lithuania. It is likely that this practice could have been a result of the poor state of the penitentiary system, as there was not a single public prison in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the time where long-term imprisonment could have been possible.

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