Monday, May 27, 2019

Remembered Conversations in LotR

AlasNotMe has made some interesting observations about Frodo's memory of his conversation with Gandalf, noting (esp. at fn 5) that the words remembered are not identical to those originally spoken.

There is actually a similar phenomenon with Merry at the Pelennor Fields, remembering Théoden's words to him.

Théoden had been as gentle as possible in turning down Merry's request to accompany him to battle, saying to him: "This is no journey for such steeds as Stybba, as I have told you.  And in such a battle as we think to make on the fields of Gondor what would you do, Master Meriadoc, swordthain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?" (803).

When Merry remembers this conversation, he leaves out the gentleness and courtesy and instead focuses on the part that he took most to heart, feeling "bitterly the truth of the old king's words: in such a battle what would you do, Meriadoc?" (837).

As edited, these words are shorn of (1) the respectful titles of "Master" and "swordthain"; (2) the seeming specificity about the kind of battle in which he might not be much use (due to his small stature), kindly leaving open the possibility that in other battles elsewhere he could hold his own; and (3) the acknowledgment that Merry's valiant, odds-defying courage (greatness of heart) is belied only by accident of physical limitations:
in such a battle as we think to make on the fields of Gondor what would you do, Master Meriadoc, swordthain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?

Riding In to Court

In my post about the Green Knight and the Mouth of Sauron, I hadn't been sure what to make of the fact that the Green Knight rides in to Arthur's feast; it seemed discourteous, even deliberately provocative.

Now I'm reading The Forest of Medieval Romance, by Corinne J. Saunders, who says that the Green Knight "rides into the court, thus imitating the role of king's champion at coronation feasts" (148).

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sifting the Evidence

Very interesting discussion, and a reminder of the need to double-check seemingly common-sense interpretations when considering legal records:
  • As to whether those convicted were executed, the answer hinges on the meaning of "Death Recorded" in the Old Bailey records - apparently a term of art. 
  • As to whether the underlying charges involved consenting adults, the interviewer appears to have identified some counterexamples among the book's featured examples. 
For my own part, I wonder -- if the prosecutors targeted consenting adults, might we expect to see pairs of prosecutions?  (Not necessarily, I suppose, if one or more previously-consenting partners decided to cooperate with the prosecution; then again, presumably the cooperator[s] would not portray the relationship as purely consensual.  And I suppose if men did not dare and/or desire to enter into long-term exclusive and stable relationships in that era, they would not necessarily be prosecuted in pairs.)

Edited 5/25/2019 to add some further reflections:

I don't know what site(s) the author was using to search the Old Bailey records, but I could not find a definition or explanation of "Death Recorded" anywhere at the Old Bailey Proceedings Online site (  I explored menus and links within the site itself, and also tried site-specific google searches, to no avail.

After running an unrestricted google search for some phrases the interviewer read on-air, however, I eventually found the explanation of the term at the Digital Panopticon site:
The emotional impact of the death sentence and the authority of the law was moreover undermined in the early nineteenth century by the fact that the overwhelming majority of capital convicts were being pardoned, and the death sentence thus turned into a mere formality.  In recognition of this problem, in 1823 a new practice of “death recorded” was introduced, whereby judges could abstain from pronouncing a sentence of death on any capital convict whom they considered to be a fit subject for a pardon. 
The carefully-choreographed theatre of sentencing and its emotional impact might also be undermined by open acts of defiance by the convict or the attending crowd.  It was complained in the eighteenth century that some capital convicts made light of their sentence by comments and gestures. 
The court sometimes decided to postpone or respite a sentence until a later sessions, such as in the case of pregnant female convicts, or for reasons that were unrecorded.  In 1848, judges were empowered to invite the jury to respite sentences in cases where the law was doubtful.  In these instances, the case was passed on to the twelve judges at the newly established Court for Crown Cases Reserved (superceded in 1907 by the Court of Criminal Appeal).
Searching the Digital Panopticon

The Digital Panopticon site offers a different search mechanism from the Old Bailey Proceedings Online site.

For example, it seemingly allows you to search for all males actually executed from, say, 1835-1899; that particular search came up with 5 hits, with executions in 1835 and 1837 only.

(And indeed, for what it's worth, searching for males executed between 1838-1925 on the Digital Panopticon site results in zero hits.  After playing around with searches a bit, it would seem the last recorded execution of a male in their dataset occurred in 1837, and the last recorded execution of a female in their dataset occurred in 1832.)

Relationship Between the Two Sites?

As described on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online home page (
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913
A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. 
As described on the Digital Panopticon home page (
Tracing London Convicts in Britain & Australia, 1780-1925This website allows you to search millions of records from around fifty datasets, relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey.
The Digital Panopticon site credits the Old Bailey Proceedings Online site as  "foundational":
The Old Bailey Proceedings are the foundational source for Digital Panopticon. They contain published accounts of the criminal trials which led to the convictions and sentences for the 90,000 convicts whose lives are traceable on this website. Each trial account provides basic details about the offender, offence, verdict and punishment sentence, as well as some verbatim testimonies from those who testified at the trial.
A full digitised edition of the Proceedings is available from the Old Bailey Proceedings Online. 
But the Digital Panopticon draws from a broader base of records, presumably (or at least potentially) providing a more complete picture of the fate of each defendant:

Trial Records

  • Old Bailey Proceedings 1740-1913
  • Old Bailey Associated Records 1740-1834
  • Newgate Calendars of Prisoners for Trial 1782-1853
  • England and Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892

Post-Trial and Sentencing Records

  • Capital Convictions at the Old Bailey 1760-1837
  • Home Office Criminal Entry Books 1782-1876
  • Judges Reports on Criminals 1784-1827
  • Petitions for Pardon 1797-1858

Transportation Records

  • Middlesex Convicts Delivered For Transportation 1785-1792
  • British Transportation Registers 1787-1867
  • Convict Indents (Ship and Arrival Registers) 1788-1868
  • Surgeons Notes from Transport Vessels 1817-1857

Colony Records

  • New South Wales Convict Indexes 1788-1873
  • New South Wales Convict Savings Bank Books 1824-1868
  • Van Diemen's Land Founders and Survivors Convicts 1802-1853
  • Van Diemen's Land Founders and Survivors Convict Biographies 1812-1853
  • Van Diemen's Land Convict Labour Contracts 1848-1857
  • Western Australia Character Books and General Registers 1850-1868
  • Western Australia Convict Probation Records 1850-1868

Imprisonment Records

  • Bridewell House of Correction Prisoners 1740-1795
  • Deaths in London Prisons 1760-1869
  • Hulks Registers 1801-1879
  • Prison Registers 1770-1951
  • Middlesex House of Detention Calendars 1836-1889
  • Newgate Calendars of Prisoners 1855-1931
  • UK Convict Prison Captions and Transfer Papers 1843-1871
  • UK Licences for the Parole of Convicts 1853-1925
  • Metropolitan Police Register of Habitual Criminals 1881-1925
  • Prisoner Photograph Albums 1871-1873

Civil Records

  • Records Associated with London Lives 1740-1800
  • Census Returns for England and Wales 1841-1911
  • FreeBMD Deaths, 1837-1925