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Edexcel GCSE History: Crime and Punishment in Britain, c1000–present Glossary

The key vocabulary you need to learn for your Edexcel GCSE History: Crime and Punishment in Britain, c1000–present History paper. Find all the terms and definitions you need to understand, from ‘abolish’ to ‘young offender’.

A – B (Abolish to Bow St Runners)
The term abolish is an official action to end something, such as the death penalty.

Absolutists were conscientious objectors who refused to support the war in any way, even refusing to work in munitions factories in Britain.

An anarchist is a person with revolutionary beliefs who wants to abolish any authority, such as government and laws.

The term authority refers to a person or organisation with political or administrative power and control.

A coroner performs autopsies on people’s bodies after they have died to find out the cause of death.

beat constable
Police constables usually had an area to patrol called a ‘beat’, so were known as beat constables.

benefit of clergy
The benefit of the clergy was the right for members of the clergy to be tried in a Church court, where sentences were more lenient and the death penalty was never used.

Bloody Code
The term Bloody Code refers to the set of laws imposed in 1688 that steadily increased the number of crimes punishable by death; the period of the Bloody Code lasted until the early nineteenth century.

Borstals were prisons for young male offenders that were introduced in 1902 and replaced with youth custody centres in 1982; borstals often had a harsh regime but their purpose was to reform as well as deter offenders.

Bow St Runners
The Bow St Runners was a paid, professional police force operating in London and set up by the Fielding brothers in 1749; the Runners’ duties were to deter criminals by patrolling streets and major roads, to arrest suspects, and to collect and share evidence about crimes.

C (Capital punishment to cybercrime)
capital punishment
Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the state-sanctioned execution of an offender.

casual employment
The term casual employment refers to the practice of people working on a very temporary basis, for example daily or hourly, and who are often poorly paid.

Casual ward
Casual wards were parts of workhouses where people could get a bed for one or two nights in exchange for carrying out hard physical work, such as breaking rocks.

Church court
Introduced by the Normans, Church courts operated separately to ordinary courts. Church courts were for members of the clergy, such as monks, nuns, priests, and bishops, who were accused of a crime. There were also Church courts for non-clergy who had committed moral or religious offences, such as gambling or blasphemy.

CID is the acronym, or short name form, of the Criminal Investigation Department, which is the plainclothes detective branch of the police force.

Conquest refers to a military invasion of a territory and the assumption of control, including the Norman Conquest of England by William of Normandy in 1066. After the conquest, he became William I of England.

conscientious objector
A conscientious objector is someone who refuses to join the army or perform military service.

A person has been conscripted when a government forces him or her to join the army. Men of a certain age were conscripted in Britain during the First and Second World Wars.

A coroner is a medical professional who performs autopsies on people’s bodies after they have died to find out the cause of death.

corporal punishment
Corporal punishment involves physically hurting someone who has committed a crime or misbehaved. Whipping someone is an example of corporal punishment.

Counterfeiting is the activity of making fake or illegal copies of something, such as coins of money or bank notes.

Cybercrime is a criminal offence that involves using computers or the Internet, such as hacking a database or someone’s personal online accounts.

D – F (Debtors’ prison to Forest Law)
debtors’ prison
People were imprisoned in debtors’ prisons if they owed debts to others and did not pay the money back.

An activity has been decriminalised if it is no longer a crime.

deterrence / deterrent
A deterrence or deterrent is something that puts people off, or deters them from, committing a crime; for example, the death penalty was considered to be a deterrent for committing murder.

diminished responsibility
Diminished responsibility was a principle introduced into law in 1957 that someone who has, for example, learning difficulties or who was under extreme mental stress cannot be held fully responsible for her or his actions.

Discrimination refers to treating someone differently and negatively based on, for example, their race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

The term enclosures refers to the period of creation of individually owned farms by merging small landholdings and much commonly owned land; from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, wealthy landlords enclosed a great deal of public land in Britain.

The Enlightenment was the European period starting in the seventeenth century that saw an increase in scientific interest and understanding.

Thought to be owned by witches, familiars were animals believed to be low-ranking devils or demons in disguise; familiars were believed to help witches cast evil spells.

Fenians were Irish nationalists who wanted independence from Britain; in the nineteenth century, some Fenians set off bombs in Britain.

forensic science
The term forensic science refers to scientific methods used to investigate a crime, for example fingerprinting or DNA sampling.

Forest Law
Introduced by the Normans and enforced by sheriffs, Forest Laws made it a crime for people to hunt or to chop down trees on the king’s land.

H – J (Hate crime to Justices of the Peace)
hate crime
Hate crimes are criminal offences believed to have been motivated by hatred towards someone’s background or characteristics, especially their race, religion, or sexual orientation; hate crimes usually receive harsher punishments than similar offences not motivated by prejudice.

Heresy is the crime of challenging or questioning the teachings of the Church; calling for the Bible to be translated into English was once considered heresy.

highway robbery
Since medieval times, highway robbery was a crime that involved thieves on horseback attacking and robbing travellers (often at gunpoint).

hoax letter
Hoax letters are written by people pretending to be someone else, such as Jack the Ripper.

Home Secretary
As the head of the Home Office, the Home Secretary is the government minister responsible for law and order.

house of correction
A house of correction was an early type of prison where inmates (mostly vagrants and prostitutes) were forced to work physically demanding jobs as punishment given to reform their behaviour.

hue and cry
The hue and cry was a way of raising the alarm if a crime was committed; the whole village was expected to stop what they were doing and join the search for the criminal.

joint enterprise
Joint enterprise is the principle in law that if more than one person is involved in a crime, they are all equally responsible and can be punished for the outcome whether or not they were the main offenders.

Justices of the Peace (JPs)
Justices of the Peace judged less serious cases in each county.

L – O (Law enforcement to open prison)
law enforcement
The term law enforcement refers to policies, practices, and officials who stop crime or catch criminals, including the courts and the police.

Martyrs are people who suffer or who are killed because of their beliefs or religion.

Metropolitan Police
The Metropolitan Police was the first government-backed, paid, professional police force in England, introduced in London by Robert Peel in 1829.

miscarriages of justice
Miscarriages of justice occur when court trials are flawed or a person is wrongly convicted.

moral crime
A moral crime is something considered wrong by the Church, including blasphemy, adultery, and gambling; people accused of moral crimes were tried in Church courts.

murdrum fine
The murdrum fine made killing a Norman a much more serious crime than killing an Anglo-Saxon. If a Norman was found dead, the village in which he or she was found would be heavily fined, and the actual murderer executed.

Neighbourhood Watch
The Neighbourhood Watch was a community-policing scheme set up by the government in 1982. Neighbourhood Watch groups are run by the general public and aim to reduce crime by monitoring the streets and working with police.

non-custodial alternatives
Non-custodial alternatives to punishments do not involve a prison sentence (custody); for example, anti-social behaviour orders are non-custodial alternatives.

open prison
An open prison is a low-security prison where inmates are allowed out (under supervision) to work.

P (Pacifist to Puritan)
Pacifists are people who refuse to use violence, even in wartime.

To be pardoned is to be forgiven for something said or done. Monarchs and governments can pardon people found guilty of a crime, allowing them to be forgiven and not punished.

parish constable
Parish constables were usually respected individuals who oversaw law enforcement in their villages and led any hue and cry. The role was unpaid and temporary.

Peabody Estate
The name Peabody Estate refers to communities of better-quality housing built for working-class people and paid for by the charitable Peabody Trust.

penal reform
The term penal reform refers to changes and improvements to punishment, prisons, law, and social society.

The term people trafficking refers to the illegal smuggling of people from country to country using force or trickery on the victims.

Poaching is the hunting and killing of animals on someone else’s land without the permission of the landowner.

Probation refers to a period of monitoring and supporting of offenders, often by a probation officer; while on probation, offenders are allowed to stay out of prison if their behaviour remains good.

protection racket
Protection rackets are schemes run by gangs of criminals that threaten people, especially small business owners, with violence if they do not pay the gangs any money for their so-called protection.

Puritans were extreme Protestants (non-Catholic Christians) who were deeply suspicious of Catholics and strongly believed people should behave in a ‘Godly’ way.

R – S (Recusancy / recusant to sheriff)
recusancy / recusant
Recusants were Catholics in Elizabeth I’s reign and later who refused to attend Protestant (non-Catholic) church services and were fined for this refusal, or recusancy.

To reform something is to change it for the better. To reform criminals by making them realise the harm they have caused so that they do not reoffend is often an important aim of punishment.

The term Reformation refers to the period of the sixteenth century when the Christian Church in Europe split between the traditional Roman Catholic Church under the pope, and the new Protestant (non-Catholic Christian) faith. Protestants first emerged in Germany in 1517 and spread to England, turning England from a Catholic to a Protestant country.

The term rehabilitation refers to the action of restoring someone to ‘normal’ life through training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction or illness.

Retribution is punishment inflicted on someone in revenge for an action; retribution was applied to criminals in the belief that they should pay for their crimes by suffering the consequences of their actions.

Sanctuary is the provision of safety or protection for someone being chased, hunted, or persecuted. The Church offered sanctuary for people accused of crimes. Suspects could stay inside a church for up to 40 days before the authorities could remove them; after 40 days, there were two options: either face trial or go into exile.

The term sanitation refers to the provision of facilities to keep clean, such as running water and toilets.

The term secular describes the state of not being connected to religious or spiritual matters.

separate system
Introduced in 1839, the separate system was a type of imprisonment that aimed to reform prisoners by keeping them separate from each other and improving their moral character.

A sheriff was an official who oversaw law enforcement in each shire and acted on writs (written instructions) from the monarch; sheriffs were responsible for upholding the Forest Laws and organising groups to hunt down criminals if a hue and cry failed.

S (Silent system to sweatshop)
silent system
Introduced in the 1860s, the silent system is a harsh type of imprisonment, involving ‘hard labour, hard fare [the same, boring food] and hard board [wooden board beds]’.

Slums are very poor-quality housing that is often overcrowded and with poor sanitation.

Smuggling is the crime of bringing goods into the country without paying an import tax, or bringing illegal goods into the country, such as drugs or certain animals.

social crime
A social crime is one that many people in society did not believe should be a crime (such as smuggling or poaching).

Socialists are people who want to abolish capitalism (private business) and run the economy for the rights of the workers; they believe in public not private ownership of property and natural resources.

solitary confinement
Solitary confinement refers to a type of imprisonment in which the prisoner is kept completely alone for long periods of time.

suspended sentence
Suspended sentences are given by court judges and allow criminals to avoid prison if they do not reoffend.

Sweatshops are businesses that exploit workers by making them work very long hours for very low pay.

T (Terrorism to tribunal)
The term terrorism refers to the use or the threat of violence to intimidate others to achieve political or religious aims, or to force the government to act.

Thief-takers were private individuals hired by people to recover property that had been stolen from them; thief-takers were supposed to recover this property for a fee.

A tithing was a group of around ten households, consisting of all men aged 12 or older who were responsible for each other’s good behaviour; if one committed a crime, others in the tithing should report him to the authorities.

trade union
Trade unions are workers’ organisations that aim to protect and improve workers’ rights by acting together.

From the early seventeenth century, criminals who committed serious crimes could be punished by transportation, which involved being shipped to England’s new colonies in North America. Sentences lasted at least seven years, the physical labour involved was very hard, and convicts rarely returned to England. In the 1780s, the American colonies won independence from Britain, so convicts were transported to Australia instead. Transportation to Australia lasted until the 1860s.

The term treason refers to the act of harming or plotting against the monarch (high treason) or another very important person (petty treason). Until 1998, people convicted of high treason could still be put to death.

The term trial refers to a formal examination of evidence by a judge, typically before a jury, to determine someone’s innocence or guilt of a crime.

trial by combat
During the medieval period (c1500s), a trial by combat involved a fight between the accuser and the accused (or someone nominated on each person’s behalf). The pair often fought to the death.

trial by ordeal
A trial by ordeal involved physical suffering to determine someone’s guilt or innocence. If a jury could not reach a verdict, the accused would undergo a painful ordeal in a church, with the belief that God would show who was innocent by allowing their wounds to heal; examples include trial by hot iron, during which the accused had to carry a scorching hot iron several paces.

A tribunal is a special meeting held to settle certain types of dispute. Military tribunals held in wartime decided whether someone could be granted conscientious objector status and not forced to fight.

V – Y (Vagabond to young offender)
Vagabonds are unemployed and homeless people travelling the country, often looking for work and begging to survive. In 1547, the Vagrancy Act was passed, which made such behaviour (or vagrancy) illegal.

Watchmen were untrained and unpaid men employed to keep watch in a town at night; their main duty was to patrol their town in the hours of darkness, ringing a bell to warn people to return home to avoid being suspected of a crime.

Used by the Anglo-Saxons, wergild was a form of compensation paid to a victim of an attack, or paid to the victim’s family if the person was killed.

Whitechapel Vigilance Committee
The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was an organisation set up by George Lusk in the late nineteenth century after it became clear the police were struggling to catch ‘Jack the Ripper’; the committee deliberately disrupted the police’s work and offered rewards for information, leading to the sending of many hoax letters.

The term witchcraft refers to the practice of magic, especially for evil purposes such as harming others, and the crafting of spells (magic tricks). In the past, older women and widows were often accused of witchcraft. Accusations of witchcraft decreased during the Enlightenment.

Witchfinders were usually self-appointed (rather than hired by the government) people who offered to find ‘witches’ and bring them to justice; Matthew Hopkins, who operated from 1645–47 in East Anglia, was known as the ‘Witchfinder General’.

Workhouses were places built by local authorities that provided food and shelter for the poorest in return for labour, such as scrubbing the dormitories. Conditions were harsh to deter people from entering unless desperate.

young offender
Young offenders are convicted criminals between the ages of 14 and 17 years old.