The relative rarity of illustrations in sixteenth-century law books renders the vivid depictions of torture in this French handbook on criminal procedure particularly remarkable. Using the scenario of a fictitious crime committed in Paris, the author outlines various stages of penal procedure – a street crime, the investigation (depicted here), the apprehension of a suspect, his ‘interrogation’ (i.e. torture) and final condemnation – all accompanied by woodcuts. Smith is likely to have acquired the text when he was studying civil law in France (1540-2) following his appointment as Regius Professor of Civil Law in Cambridge in 1540.
It seems that Smith’s knowledge of torture may have extended beyond the mere theory of its use. In 1571 Smith himself was ordered to use torture by Elizabeth I as a means to interrogate suspects relating to a murder plot against her in which her cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, was involved. It is thought, however, that on this occasion such methods ultimately proved unnecessary.
Author: Jean Milles de Souvigny
Title: Praxis criminis persequendi (Paris, 1541)
Shelfmark: H.1.17(2) (catalogue record)