'Suicide' and 'the Middle Ages' sounds like a contradiction. Was life not too short anyway, and the Church too disapproving, to admit suicide? And how is the historian supposed to find out? Alexander Murray takes the last question first, as a key to the testing of all other assumptions. Examining a wide range of documents he shows that there were indeed suicides, of types and configurations astonishingly modern, if not in numbers per capita. As for reactions, they were of two kinds. One was to heap suicide with every imaginable curse, natural and supernatural, and the author's search for their religious, anthropological, and legal background leads far outside medieval christendom. However, he also uncovers a less negative reaction as, from the eleventh century onwards, medicine, psychology, poetry, and the pastoral priesthood charted ever more assiduously the terra incognita of suicidal emotion.
Table of Contents
Preface; 1. Introduction; 2. The Secrecy of the Act; How to Find Out. I: Chronicles; 3. The Reticence of Chronicles; 4. The Probing of Disgrace; 5. The Reticence Broken. The Preoccupations of Local and House Chronicles; How to Find Out. II: Legal Sources; 6. Suicide and Judicial Records; 7. Portraits from English Courts: Criminals, Debtors, and the Sick; 8. Portraits from English Courts: 'Insanity' and Some Optical Illusions; 9. Portraits from French Courts; 10. Portraits from Lettres de Remission; 11. Portraits from Courts in the Empire; How to Find Out. III: Religious Sources; 12. Man, Woman, and Child; 13. The Enemy of Society; 14. The Sick and Melancholy; Towards Statistics; 15. Towards Statistics: Absolute Numbers; 16. Towards Statistics: The Person and the Act; Appendix: A Register of Recorded Suicidal Incidents - I. Chronicles; II. Legal Sources; III. Religious Sources; A Bibliography of Legal Sources Used in the Register; Select Bibliography to Part I
Alexander Murray is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford and Fellow and Praelector in Modern History at University College, Oxford.