The Bloody Code

There were a series of laws in the Victorian English legal system known as the "Bloody Code". This name was derived from the fact that there were a huge number of crimes for which the death penalty could be imposed. 

In 1815 the number of crimes that carried the death penatly was 215! Some of the most interesting of those were: 

  • murder
  • arson
  • forgery
  • cutting down trees
  • stealing horses or sheep
  • destroying turnpike roads
  • stealing from a rabbit warren
  • pickpocketing goods worth a shilling (roughly $39 today)
  • being out at night with a blackened face
  • being an unmarried mother concealing a stillborn child
  • stealing from a shipwreck
  • wrecking a fishpond

The lawmakers of the time though that these laws would act as a deterrent. It was thought that people might not commit crimes if they knew that they could be sentenced to death. This was also the reason why executions were public spectacles until the 1860s. The authorities believed that hanging criminals in public would frighten people into obeying the law and refrain from commiting crime. 

"Whereas under the Stuarts in the seventeenth century approximately fifty crimes merited capital punishment, under the Waltham Black Act of 1722, designed to curtail wide-spread poaching, the number of such crimes had proliferated four-fold. Although the "bloody code" of British justice had over two hundred capital crimes, many English justices regarded transportation as a humane option through which the criminal could serve the Empire with his labour."


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