How To Avoid Hanging

Last night I finished the Work-in-Progress, Book 2 in the Scandalous Summerfields series, sent it off and now will await my editor’s feedback on it. Color me relieved!

When writing my books, I always need to stop and research period detail. Sometimes the research plays a big part in the books. Other times it is just a small piece that I want to get right.

Like, what happens when a minor character is unjustly sent to prison? How might his friends get him out?

Paul-Charles_Chocarne-Moreau_Opportunity_makes_the_thief_1896This character was unjustly convicted of theft and the punishment, I’d learned, was hanging. During the Regency, there were as many as 200 offenses punishable by hanging, even what we would consider minor ones, like shoplifting.

That did not mean every criminal offender was hanged. In reality only about 40% were.

One of the ways the offenders avoided hanging was to plead “benefit of clergy,” a once in a lifetime plea, which basically could be done by anyone who could read. They would, then, be incarcerated for a year. Other means to avoid hanging were convictions to lesser crimes, nullification of the offense, or “pious perjury,” meaning devaluing goods stolen to a value covered by a non-capital punishment.

Black-eyed_Sue_and_Sweet_Poll_of_Plymouth_taking_leave_of_their_lovers_who_are_going_to_Botany_BayAnother much used way of avoiding hanging was transportation. During the Regency, this meant transportation to Australia and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). I wrote about the First Fleet a little while ago.

Several avoided hanging by the use of pardons, which were accomplished by letters petitioning the court. In pardons, the guilt or innocence of the convicted person was rarely the issue. The pardon was based on character evidence provided by the petitioner about the offender. Ironically, it mattered less how closely the petitioner knew the offender or even if he knew the offender at all. What mattered more was how influential the petitioner was. Officials liked knowing that men of influence and prestige were beholding to them. This option fit right in with my story.

What interesting research tidbit have you come across lately?

Book 1 of the Scandalous Summerfields series, Bound By Duty, will appear in bookstores March 17!

Read an excerpt. Enter my contest!

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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