The cultural significance of interpersonal violence, with special reference to seventeenth-century Worcestershire
The historiography of early modern violence has generally focused upon the quantification of homicide over the longue durée. However, such approaches, predicated on the assumption that violence is a transhistorical phenomenon, conceal the differences between past and present discourses. This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by showing the significance violence held for contemporaries. This is achieved by locating violence within a wide cultural framework. Employing a largely qualitative methodology, the thesis elucidates the relationship seventeenth-century religious, political and physiological thought had with conceptions of violence. Drawing together existing work and utilizing a variety of primary sources, the thesis demonstrates the diverse meanings invested in violence, including the significance attributed to weapons and the parts of the body targeted. Historical research into violence has sometimes been theoretically uninformed. The thesis redresses this by engaging closely with definitions of the concept 'violence', including those developed in other disciplines. It examines and rejects the (often implicit) claim that violence is intrinsically irrational. It asserts that, as a type of emotional performance, violence served an important communicative ftmction. Force was also used to meet specific material objectives. The thesis argues that seventeenth-century violence was part of a process and, accordingly, situates it in relation to preceding and succeeding events. It assesses the use of force in defining economic and social status within interpersonal relationships. The thesis explains the role played by those who intervened to stop fights. It shows how violence advertised problems in relationships and prompted peace-making efforts. The thesis contends that views of its harmfulness relative to other sanctions have changed substantially, making it anachronistic for historians to regard violence as necessarily deplorable and to interpret declining levels as an index of civilisation.