History GCSE: The Bloody Code

The Waltham Black Act in 1723 established the system known as the Bloody Code which imposed the death penalty for over two hundred, often petty, offences.

Its aim was deterrence.

Those in court faced with this system were expected to defend themselves with only the assistance of the judge.

Many juries practised ‘pious perjury’, often finding people not guilty or reducing the amount stolen to avoid the crime being a capital offence.

An example of this is given with the case of Mary Behn at the Old Bailey.

This short film is from the BBC series, The Strange Case of the Law.

Teacher Notes

Students could identify key words while watching this short film.

They could debate why and when ‘pious perjury’ might be justified.

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching GCSE history and social studies. This topic appears in OCR, AQA, Edexcel, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from The Strange Case of the Law:

Habeas Corpus and Slavery
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Henry II, Thomas Becket and the Church Courts
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John Lilburne and Habeas Corpus
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Saxon Law - Compensation
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Saxon Law - Courts
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Saxon Law - Punishments
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Star Chamber and the Rack
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The Conventicle Act of 1664 and the Independence of the Jury
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The Founding of the Police Force
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The Jury
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The Petition of Right and Habeas Corpus
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Saxon Law - Trial by Ordeal
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