Copeland, Sarah Shippy
Master of Arts, Ohio State University, History, (2008)
Infanticide was rare in early modern England, yet it occupied a prominent position in English culture. Ambiguities surrounding the birth and death of an infant permitted multiple interpretations of suspicious evidence. At times communities, the justice system, and the law formed competing narratives of birth and death. Narratives circulating in popular print promoted yet another interpretation of suspicious events. This essay explores narratives of infanticide, real and imagined, official and unofficial, in order to understand why the English were so preoccupied by infanticide. What was at stake? As communities dealt sympathetically with many suspected murderers, popular print demonized them. We can better understand the competing constructions of infanticide by placing them in the context of the demographic crisis of the seventeenth century. Communities and the justice system had to cope with real people with real problems. Popular print provided an outlet for administering justice that appeased divine wrath.