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“Such a Poor Finish”

Illegitimacy, Murder, and War Veterans in England, 1918–1923

Ginger S. Frost

Keywords: criminal justice; divorce; gender roles; illegitimacy; murder; war

Abstract

Historians usually analyze changing gender constructions in the criminal courts after World War I through cases involving men and women. Using a different analytical lens this article explores two well-publicized murder trials involving war veterans and illegitimate children, one of a soldier who murdered his wife’s daughter from an adulterous affair and one who killed his own son. Although notions of masculinity had changed, the police, courts, and Home Office used traditional factors to assess punishments, including the degree of provocation, the behavior of the women involved, and the issue of deterrence. The press, however, was more sympathetic to the veterans, regarding them as victims of circumstances, much like women who committed infanticide. This new presentation did not succeed with the Home Office, especially as the war moved further into the past. By 1925, men’s war service had less influence on punishment than Victorian ideas of gender and criminal responsibility.

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