Quentin Verreycken Saint-Louis University, Brussels
*Warning:* This video contains some graphic and disturbing descriptions which may not be suitable for all viewers.
This video describes how pardon letters serve as rich sources for the study of criminal activity, violence, and social interactions.
Primary Source Document
A translation of the remission letter granted to Antonie van Claerhout in 1455 can be found in Peter Arnade and Walter Prevenier, Honor, Vengeance, and Social Trouble. Pardon Letters in the Burgundian Low Countries, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2015, p. 116–18.
1. Read a pardon letter or a petition for pardon. What do you notice about the rhetorical techniques and legal arguments used by the petitioner to support their demand for pardon?
2. How is violence described in pardon letters? What does that tell us about the medieval attitudes to violence?
3. Why could it be in the interest of a king or a prince to grant pardons? Does the late medieval use of pardoning threaten to deteriorate public order?
4. To what extent was royal pardon connected to the Christian notions of justice and mercy? Check the related vocabulary used in a pardon letter to elaborate on this question.
The Himanis Project website, transcribing and indexing some of the French Trésor des chartes that recorded remission letters.
The Calendars of the patent rolls preserved in the Public record office, available on the HathiTrust website, describe royal pardons granted by the English Crown.
Petitions for pardon submitted to the king of England are accessible on The National Archives website, Special Collection: Ancient Petitions.
Modern editions of French remission letters can be found in the online collections of the Actes royaux du Poitou (1302-1464) and the Lettres de pardon de la chancellerie de Bretagne.
Davis, Natalie Zemon, Fiction in the Archives. Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1987.
Gauvard, Claude, « De grace especial ». Crime, État et société en France à la fin du Moyen Âge, 2 vols., Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1991.
Lacey, Helen, The Royal Pardon: Access to Mercy in Fourteenth-Century England, York, York Medieval Press, 2009.
Skoda, Hannah, Medieval Violence: Physical Brutality in Northern France, 1270–1330, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Verreycken, Quentin, “‘En nous humblement requerant’: Crime Narrations and Rhetorical Strategies in Late Medieval Pardon Letters,” Open Library of Humanities, 5 (1): 62, 2019, p. 1–31.
Verreycken, Quentin, “The Power to Pardon in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: New Perspectives in the History of Crime and Criminal Justice,” History Compass, 2019, e12575.
Verreycken, Quentin. “Late Medieval Pardon Letters,” Middle Ages for Educators, April 19, 2020. Accessed[date]. https://middleagesforeducators.princeton.edu/late-medieval-pardon-letters