Violence against women in medieval Aberdeen

by Edda Frankot

ACR, 5, p. 296, 25 February 1457


Item Thomas Raa in amerciamento pro iniusta perturbacione vxoris Johannis Dis’ et emendabit parti lese.

Item dicta vxor in amerciamento pro iniusta perturbacione ipsius Johannis [sic; recte: Thome?] et cetera.

Item Thomas Raa in amerciament1 for unjust disturbance of the wife of John Dis’ and will pay amends to the injured party.

Item the said wife in amerciament for unjust disturbance of the same John et cetera.

ACR, 5, p. 304, 15 Jul 1457


Eodem die Johannes Glenny adiudicatur in amerciamento pro iniusta perturbacione vxoris Johannis Spront et emendabit parti lese ad visum proborum.

Item Johannes Spront adiudicabatur in amerciamento pro iniusta perturbacione dicti Johannis Glenny et emendabit et cetera.

The same day John Glenny is judged in amerciament for unjust disturbance of the wife of John Spront and will pay amends to the injured party in accordance with the vision of honest [men].

Item John Spront is judged in amerciament for unjust disturbance of the said John Glenny and will pay amends et cetera.

The Council Registers include many reference to perturbatio/perturbio and, in its Scots form, strub(u)lance. This appears to have been used for a broad range of disturbances which only occasionally are narrowed down further to ‘perturbatio burgi’ (disturbance of the burgh), or ‘strublance by word’, but which stops short of including violence which resulted in the drawing of blood. Regularly, two people are convicted, one after the other, for perturbatio against the other. Generally the entries are very short, like the examples above, and include no further details on the context of the disturbance: the time, the place and the reason for the dispute. Nor do we get any sense of the seriousness of the conflict. A nice exception to this is the case of ‘strubulance and skathtinge [harming]’ from 1491 which consisted of ‘castyne of wattir and filtht in his house’.2

Usually the convicted and the victims are men, but not always. In the first example above the wife of John Dis’ is both victim and disturber. I think we can assume that the second entry is supposed to say that she was convicted of perturbatio against Thomas, not against her own husband. There is no indication from the sources which of the two may have initiated the dispute. In the second example, the wife of John Spront is the victim of John Glenny, but John Glenny himself was also convicted for perturbatio against Spront, suggesting he defended his wife against unwanted attention. A point to note is the fact that neither of the women is named. Though some women do appear under their own name in the Aberdeen records, they very regularly just appear as the wife of their husbands. In this case it is unclear whether John Dis or his wife was considered responsible for paying the amends to Thomas Raa, as the entry does not extend that far.

It is likely that many of the cases of perturbatio and strublance took place within the context of public houses, which would mainly have been frequented by men, though as said there is very little specific evidence with regards to this in the Aberdeen sources. My main point of reference are the sources from the Dutch town of Kampen from around the same period, which include a lot more detail in cases of violence. In Kampen, too, the groups of perpetrator and victims were mainly made up of men, and the majority of the violence took place in public houses. A drinking jug was a popular choice for a weapon. Unfortunately, similar details are usually lacking in Aberdeen, but these four short entries perhaps leave more to the imagination…

  1. Amerciament: The condition of being subject to a pecuniary penalty at the discretion of the court or judge. 
  2. ACR, 7, p. 273 (14 Oct 1491).