Skuld och oskuld: barnamord och barnkvävning i rättslig diskurs och praxis omkring 1680–1800

Translated title of the contribution: Guilt and Innocence: Infanticide and Smothering in Judicial Discourse and Practice, c. 1680–1800

Eva Bergenlöv

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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Abstract

The objective of this thesis is to analyse how judicial texts concerning guilty and innocent mothers were constructed during the period of c. 1680-1800. The two crimes of infanticide and overlaying have been examined. Source materials have primarily consisted of proceedings from the appeals court, courts of first instance, and parish meetings. The aim has been to survey the judicial discourse, that is to say the background ways of reasoning,values and moral outlook, which, alongside the law, governed the construction of portrayals regarding guilt and innocence. Sweden in the early-modern period can be characterised as a religious culture. Religion was interwoven with, and had fundamental significance for societal morality, norms, values and legislation. The institution of marriage had been bestowed with increased status following the Reformation and represented the foundation of societal order. Morality was rigorously controlled during the era of Lutheran orthodoxy and sexual offences severely punished. In my analysis of constructions of guilt and innocence, two contradictory images emerge - one an ideal, corresponding to the female optimum, or norm of the good, Christian motherhood, and the other its antithesis. The ideal character corresponded to the innocent infant overlayer; her antithesis to the beyond-all-doubt guilty child murderess. It should be added that in practice these images often were more composite and complex. During the 1700s the spheres of maternity care (obstetrics), child care (paediatrics) and, not least, post-mortem examinations were professionalized. The science of forensic medicine developed and gained influence in the judicial discourse, primarily in connection with infanticide. Alongside this transformation a masculinisation took place. Science was a male field, and those women who had earlier been responsible for child-birth assistance and examining the dead became marginalized. The gender aspect is very clear in this study. Society was patriarchal and women held a subordinate, inequitable position. Laws concerning infanticide and overlaying affected female criminals exclusively. Legislation, investigation and the administration of justice surrounding these crimes were a male sphere, while the accused were, in principle, women alone. I have ascertained that the value of a child, and that of life itself, which was based upon Christian ethics and morality, was fairly constant during a very long period of time. During the latter part of the 1700s, however, a change took place in the judicial discourse, whereby the child's value was expressed with more clarity. I interpret this as a consequence of utilitarian thinking and mercantilistic population politics, in co-operation with medico-scientific developments. The judicial rhetoric relating to infanticide was directed by a discourse characterised by the demand for publicization of pregnancy, as well as birth and death, good Christian motherhood, and the principle that children should be conceived within the marriage structure.
Translated title of the contributionGuilt and Innocence: Infanticide and Smothering in Judicial Discourse and Practice, c. 1680–1800
Original languageSwedish
QualificationDoctor
Awarding Institution
  • History
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Österberg, Eva, Supervisor
Award date2004 May 8
Place of PublicationLund
Publisher
ISBN (Print)91-628-5975-7
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2004-05-08
Time: 10:15
Place: Sal 3, Historiska institutionen, Magle Stora Kyrkogata 12A, 220 02 Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Sandvik, Hilde
Title: Phil. Dr
Affiliation: Oslo universitet

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Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History

Keywords

  • History
  • honour
  • virtue
  • motherhood
  • marriage
  • Religious culture
  • gender
  • Historia

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