Medio Homicidio in Early Modern Spain

Today, my group (consisting of Professor Lu Ann Homza and four other history or Hispanic studies majors) and I had our orientations at the two archives we will be using to conduct our research for the next two weeks. The first archive, the only one I will be working in, is the Archivo General de Navarra (AGN) under the direction of Peio Monteano. This is the secular archive in which many church and royal governmental documents from the 10th Century are stored and preserved. The second archive, the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona (ADP) under the direction of Don Jose Luis, is the diocesan archive that is connected to the Archbishopric and a beautiful cathedral. As this is my second trip to Pamplona to do archival research, it was a pleasure to see both archivists again.

My research in Pamplona will be on medio homicidio, literally “half homicide” in English during the 16th-18th Centuries. This type of crime, which fell under the jurisdiction of the secular courts, is a more vague interpretation of what we today call “attempted murder” that had not been seriously studied by many researchers until I delved into it back in March 2010. To be convicted of medio homicidio, plaintiffs had to prove both that the defendant had intended on killing them and that serious physical harm had been done. The plaintiff generally proved intent by describing the scene and the build up to the physical abuse. Dishonor was the most common cause of medio homicidio as honor was one of the most important virtues in early modern Spanish society. However, dishonor could be easily triggered by mere verbal insults alone, such as calling a fellow worker “lazy,” causing a need to defend one’s honor through physical actions. In addition, bleeding was considered a more serious ailment than in today’s society, so any action where blood was drawn, even a bloody nose or shallow wound, was enough to convict a person of medio homicidio.

My research this year is to discover the limits of medio homicidio as this type of crime has such broad definitions. I want to find out when and why they drew the line about what was medio homicidio and what was not and whether the genders or socio-economic classes of the plaintiffs and defendants had any effect on the results of trials (for instance, if a man sues a woman and she is convicted, would a woman suing a man also end in conviction?). I will attempt to do this by looking for cases that did not end in convictions. Given two weeks instead of five days, I plan to tediously look through trials and hopefully find what it is I’m looking for.

**Stay tuned for Part II, coming Thursday, 12/6/12

Hanna Langstein ’12 graduated with a BA in history. During her time at William & Mary, Hanna has completed two independent studies where she was able to do research abroad in Pamplona Spain, first in March 2010 and again in January 2012. Both of these research projects focused on medio homicidio (“half homicide”), a type of crime common in early modern Spain. Hanna is currently in her graduate year in the Secondary Social Studies Education program at the W&M School of Education and will receive her masters in education in May 2013.

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