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Some would trace this to Darwinian-based evolutionary psychology: males in all species are programmed to compete through violence, above all for reproductive rights over females, and the males who came out on top in such competitions were likely to ensure that the next generation would be strong and capable of survival. A key element here is the concept of male honour.

From medieval knights through to 18th-century duellists to late 20th-century football hooligans, we encounter males who felt that violence was an appropriate way of dealing with perceived slights to their honour. Yet willingness to fight, not least in defence of a perception of masculine honour, has to be adjusted historically to growing cultural differentiation between different social classes.

Put briefly, around , men from all classes might be accused of assault or homicide at local courts, including gentry and those prosperous farmers known as yeomen. But by , the men thus accused would come overwhelmingly from the lower orders, labourers or workers in the various industries that were developing at that time. Violence as a part of everyday life was by then deemed inappropriate and unnecessary among their social superiors. The form of violence most overtly linked to notions of masculine honour was the duel.

Both modern popular historians and a number of writers from around linked the duel to earlier forms of medieval single combat. In fact, the duel in the sense in which it is generally understood emerged in Italy in the late 16th century, and was inextricably linked with the honour code of the Renaissance gentleman.

Between that date and the early 19th century, upper-class Englishmen fought duels, frequently involving death or maiming, on the basis of perceived insults that frequently seem massively trivial to the modern observer and which, indeed, seemed equally trivial to many contemporary observers: throughout, legal officials and members of the clergy were opposed to the practice. But returning to the decline of violence, we find ourselves confronting the problem of why the practice of duelling in England went into terminal decline, which it did at about the middle of the 19th century the last known duel in England was fought in , whereas the practice was to continue well into the 20th century elsewhere, notably in Germany.

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The general background should, perhaps, be ascribed to the new ethos of modernity, capitalism and middle-class values, which was characterising English public life by that date. Connected with this was a growing sense among the public that the practice was ridiculous, not least when it involved senior politicians who, it was thought, should have been devoting their attention and energies to more serious matters notably when the Duke of Wellington, then prime minister, engaged in a duel in Unfortunately, before we have little evidence of how violence might fit into the everyday experiences of groups below the gentry.

One source that does help here is The Chronicles of John Cannon. Born of farming stock in Somerset in , Cannon was an autodidact and bibliophile, a man of wide reading and deep Christian faith. Like most people, Cannon took a keen interest in law and order in his area, particularly murders, as well as crimes from further afield, news of which came to him via newspapers and similar publications. What is perhaps surprising, given his educational and social status, was that Cannon, although not a violent man, was perfectly capable of dishing it out when trouble came his way.

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Sad to relate, Cannon also noted two occasions when he struck his wife, claiming extreme provocation on each occasion yet obviously experiencing shame for his actions. Many of these were based around the family and the household.

The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever

Up to the 19th century, many households, and not just those of the rich, would include live-in servants, most of whom would be young, and apprentices. None of this would, of course, be acceptable under present circumstances. But there is occasional evidence that these practices were not always acceptable in the past either. Attitudes to wife-beating illustrate this point. Yet explicit disapproval of wife-beating can be traced back to at least the early 17th century, when Puritan writers deplored the practice, and it was clearly attracting considerable adverse comment at the turn of the 18th century.

At about the same time there is evidence of increasing neighbourhood sensitivity to wife-beating. Violence against wives is, alas, still with us, but it was clearly becoming unacceptable in official circles and among at least some sections of the general public as the 19th century progressed.

Causes of death

A lthough it is not always possible to delineate statistical changes in levels of violence, it is, as changing reactions to wife-beating suggest, possible to trace shifting attitudes. Indeed, the development of deeper sensibilities about violence can lead to increases in quantitative evidence of violence — modern statistics on domestic violence, and the long-term rise of prosecutions for sexual assault over the 20th century are probably evidence of this.

Nevertheless, many forms of violence that were commonplace in the past are no longer tolerated. In the case of English plague history, this feature has been underlined by Oxford historian Paul Slack. When around 90 per cent of the population lived in the countryside, only a disease with this property combined with extreme lethal powers could cause the exceptional mortality of the Black Death and of many later plague epidemics.

All diseases spread by cross-infection between humans, on the contrary, gain increasing powers of spread with increasing density of population and cause highest mortality rates in urban centres. Lastly it could be mentioned that scholars have succeeded in extracting genetic evidence of the causal agent of bubonic plague, the DNA-code of Yersinia pestis, from several plague burials in French cemeteries from the period It used to be thought that the Black Death originated in China, but new research shows that it began in the spring of in the steppe region, where a plague reservoir stretches from the north-western shores of the Caspian Sea into southern Russia.

People occasionally contract plague there even today. Two contemporary chroniclers identify the estuary of the river Don where it flows into the Sea of Azov as the area of the original outbreak, but this could be mere hearsay, and it is possible that it started elsewhere, perhaps in the area of the estuary of the river Volga on the Caspian Sea. At the time, this area was under the rule of the Mongol khanate of the Golden Horde. Some decades earlier the Mongol khanate had converted to Islam and the presence of Christians, or trade with them, was no longer tolerated.

As a result the Silk Road caravan routes between China and Europe were cut off. For the same reason the Black Death did not spread from the east through Russia towards western Europe, but stopped abruptly on the Mongol border with the Russian principalities. In the autumn of , plague broke out among the besiegers and from them penetrated into the town. When spring arrived, the Italians fled on their ships. And the Black Death slipped unnoticed on board and sailed with them. The extent of the contagious power of the Black Death has been almost mystifying.

The central explanation lies within characteristic features of medieval society in a dynamic phase of modernisation heralding the transformation from a medieval to early modern European society. Early industrial market-economic and capitalistic developments had advanced more than is often assumed, especially in northern Italy and Flanders.

New, larger types of ship carried great quantities of goods over extensive trade networks that linked Venice and Genoa with Constantinople and the Crimea, Alexandria and Tunis, London and Bruges. In London and Bruges the Italian trading system was linked to the busy shipping lines of the German Hanseatic League in the Nordic countries and the Baltic area, with large broad-bellied ships called cogs. The strong increase in population in Europe in the High Middle Ages meant that the prevailing agricultural technology was inadequate for further expansion.

To accommodate the growth, forests were cleared and mountain villages settled wherever it was possible for people to eke out a living. People had to opt for a more one-sided husbandry, particularly in animals, to create a surplus that could be traded for staples such as salt and iron, grain or flour. These settlements operated within a busy trading network running from coasts to mountain villages.

And with tradesmen and goods, contagious diseases reached even the most remote and isolated hamlets.

Most people believed plague and mass illness to be a punishment from God for their sins. Of particular importance was the sudden appearance of the plague over vast distances, due to its rapid transportation by ship. Ships travelled at an average speed of around 40km a day which today seems quite slow. However, this speed meant that the Black Death easily moved km in a fortnight by ship: spreading, in contemporary terms, with astonishing speed and unpredictability.

By land, the average spread was much slower: up to 2km per day along the busiest highways or roads and about 0. As already noted, the pace of spread slowed strongly during the winter and stopped completely in mountain areas such as the Alps and the northerly parts of Europe.


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Yet, the Black Death often rapidly established two or more fronts and conquered countries by advancing from various quarters. The epidemic broke loose in early July. In North Africa and the Middle East, it started around September 1st, having arrived in Alexandria with ship transport from Constantinople.

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Its spread from Constantinople to European Mediterranean commercial hubs also started in the autumn of It reached Marseilles by about the second week of September, probably with a ship from the city. Then the Italian merchants appear to have left Constantinople several months later and arrived in their home towns of Genoa and Venice with plague on board, some time in November. The spread out of Pisa is characterized by a number of metastatic leaps.

These great commercial cities also functioned as bridgeheads from where the disease conquered Europe. In Mediterranean Europe, Marseilles functioned as the first great centre of spread.

Wallingford, Oxfordshire

En route to Spain, the Black Death also struck out from the city of Narbonne north-westwards along the main road to the commercial centre of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast, which by the end of March had become a critical new centre of spread. Thus, two northern plague fronts were opened less than two months after the disease had invaded southern Spain.

Another plague ship sailed from Bordeaux, northwards to Rouen in Normandy where it arrived at the end of April. There, in June, a further plague front moved westwards towards Brittany, south-eastwards towards Paris and northwards in the direction of the Low Countries. The significance of ships in the rapid transmission of contagion is underscored by the fact that at the time the Black Death landed in Weymouth it was still in an early phase in Italy. From Weymouth, the Black Death spread not only inland, but also in new metastatic leaps by ships, which in some cases must have travelled earlier than the recognized outbreaks of the epidemic: Bristol was contaminated in June, as were the coastal towns of the Pale in Ireland; London was contaminated in early August since the epidemic outbreak drew comment at the end of September.

It was found that Bartlett's stomach contained a fatal quantity of chloroform, although this had not caused any damage to his throat or windpipe. Adelaide Bartlett was later acquitted, possibly because the prosecution were unable to explain the death, or how she could have committed the crime. A well-known actor, Terriss was stabbed to death by a deranged fellow actor, Richard Archer Prince , outside the Adelphi Theatre , where Terriss was appearing. Southampton , England. During a murder investigation regarding the discovery of the body of Vivian Messiter, an insurance agent for the Wolf's Head Oil Company, pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury used early forensic techniques to conclusively prove guilt and convict William Henry Podmore.

The Vera Page Case. In yet another case investigated by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the body of Vera Page was found after she had been raped and strangled. Although Percy Orlando Rush was named as a prime suspect, no one was ever charged with Page's murder.

The Brighton trunk murders. Brighton , England. Two unrelated, although similar murders took place in Brighton. A dismembered woman was found in an unclaimed trunk at a local railway station in June A second body was discovered later that year, following the disappearance of local prostitute Violet Kaye.

When police conducted a house-to-house search near the railway station, her body was found in a trunk in the possession of her boyfriend Tony Mancini. He had since fled the area, before being eventually apprehended. He was later found not guilty. The Francis Rattenbury murder. London , England.

Rattenbury was murdered in his sitting room by blows to the head with a carpenter's mallet. His wife confessed, but chauffeur George Percy Stoner admitted to the housekeeper that it was actually he who had carried out the murder. While residing in London, former Australian politician Thomas John Ley abducted the supposed lover of his mistress, barman John McMain Mudie, with the help of two other men. They tortured him before dumping his body in a Surrey chalkpit. Ley and accomplice Lawrence John Smith were arrested soon after, and sentenced to death.

Both men's sentences were commuted with Smith sentenced to life imprisonment, while Ley was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor Hospital , where he died within months. Investigators were able to amass substantial evidence among his belongings as well as forensic evidence to convict him.