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The criminal mind

The Legal Genealogist is at sea. Literally, not figuratively. It’s the FGS Cruise to Alaska, and internet connectivity is … well … spotty at best.

pedestrian-criminalSo we’re filling in with some of the language of the law — part Latin, part Greek, part Anglo-Saxon, and all confusing.

Now seriously… who would have thought there would be special terms for crimes or criminals like these?

ABEREMURDER. (From Sax. abere, apparent, notorious; and mord, murder.) Plain or downright murder, as distinguished from the less heinous crime of manslaughter, or chance medley. It was declared a capital offense, without fine or commutation, by the laws of Canute…. Spelman.1

ABIGEUS. Lat. (From abigere, to drive away.) In the civil law. A stealer of cattle; one who drove or drew away (subtraxit) cattle from their pastures, as horses or oxen from the herds, and made booty of them, and who followed this as a business or trade. … The term was applied also to those who drove away the smaller animals, as swine, sheep, and goats. … In the latter case, it depended on the number taken, whether the offender was fur (a common thief) or abigeus. … But the taking of a single horse or ox seems to have constituted the crime of abigeatus. … And those who frequently did this were clearly abigei, though they took but an animal or two at a time.2

AFFRAY. In criminal law. The fighting of two or more persons in some public place to the terror of the people. It differs from a riot in not being premeditated; for if any persons meet together upon any lawful or innocent occasion, and happen on a sudden to engage in fighting, they are not guilty of a riot, but an affray only; and in that case none are guilty except those actually engaged in it.3

BALNEARII. In the Roman law. Those who stole the clothes of bathers in the public baths.4

BARRATRY. In maritime law. An act committed by the master or mariners of a vessel, for some unlawful or fraudulent purpose, contrary to their duty to the owners, wheieby the latter sustain injury. … In criminal law. Common barratry is the practice of exciting groundless judicial proceedings. … In Scotch law. The crime committed by a judge who receives a bribe for his judgment.5

BERNET. In Saxon law. Burning; the crime of house burning, now called “arson.”6

CHAUD-MEDLET. A homicide committed in the heat of an affray and while under the influence of passion; it is thus distinguished from chance-medley, which is the killing of a man in a casual affray in self-defense.7

DEFRAUDACION. In Spanish law. The crime committed by a person who fraudulently avoids the payment of some public tax.8

DEPOPULATIO AGRORUM. In old English law. The crime of destroying, ravaging, or laying waste a country.9

HAIMSUCKEN. In Scotch law. The crime of assaulting a person in his own house.10

HAMESECKEN. In Scotch law. The violent entering into a man’s house without license or against the peace, and the seeking and assaulting him there. … The crime of housebreaking or burglary.11

HAMFARE. (Sax. From ham, a house.) In Saxon law. An assault made in a house; a breach of the peace in a private house.12

HLAFORDSWICE. Sax. In Saxon law. The crime of betraying one’s lord, (proditio domini) treason.13

HUSBREC. In Saxon law. The crime of housebreaking or burglary.14

LASCIVIOUS CARRIAGE. In Connecticut. A term including those wanton acts between persons of different sexes that flow from the exercise of lustful passions, and which are not otherwise punished as crimes against chastity and public decency. …. It includes, also, indecent acts by one against the will of another.15

PIACLE. An obsolete term for an enormous crime.16

PICAROON. A robber; a plunderer.17

REPETUNDARUM CRIMEN. In Roman law. The crime of bribery or extortion, in a magistrate, or person in any public office.18

SACRILEGE. In English criminal law. Larceny from a church. … The crime of breaking a chuich or chapel, and stealing theiein. … In old English law. The desecration of anything considered holy; the alienation to laymen or to profane or common purposes of what was given to religious persons and to pious uses.19

STELLIONATE. In Scotch law. The crime of aliening the same subject to different persons.20

So… got any picaroons in your family tree?



  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 6, “aberemurder.”
  2. Ibid., 7, “abigeus.”
  3. Ibid., 51, “affray.”
  4. Ibid., 116, “balnearii.”
  5. Ibid., 122, “barratry.”
  6. Ibid., 130. “bernet.”
  7. Ibid., 198, “chaud-medlet.”
  8. Ibid., 347, “defraudacion.”
  9. Ibid., 346, “depopulatio agrorum.”
  10. Ibid., 559, “haimsucken.”
  11. Ibid., 560, “hamesecken.”
  12. Ibid., “hamfare.”
  13. Ibid., 574, “hlafordswice.”
  14. Ibid., 584, “husbrec.”
  15. Ibid., 688, “lascivious carriage.”
  16. Ibid., 897, “piacle.”
  17. Ibid., “picaroon.”
  18. Ibid., 1023, “repetundarum crimen.”
  19. Ibid., 1057, “sacrilege.”
  20. Ibid., 1124, “stellionate.”
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