Early Modern Prisons is a collective effort to find out what it was like to be locked up in the early modern period. We are interested in the economics and government of the prison, the fees, the food, how alcohol was sold, how news circulated, diseases, smells, sex, lice, irons, close confinement, charity, garnish, ancient privileges, violence, how prisoners organized and protested.  We want to know what practices of detention tell us about contemporary notions of freedom and unfreedom, and how places of detention figure in the great early modern political debates about rights, tyranny, abuse, freedom and legality.

We are interested in all kinds of prisoners, from debtors to convicts, from prisoners of war to inmates of bridewells and plague houses.

This site is primarily about English prisons, because that is what we work on. But we would love to get a comparative discussion going. So, if you have something to share about prisons elsewhere in the early modern world, please comment or write or offer us a guest post.

Our Banner Image is a detail of The City Chanters (1771), engraved by Samuel Okey. A female Wilkes supporter is hawking ballads at the grate of the Fleet Prison. You can find a zoomable image of the whole at Yale Center for British Art

About Us

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Rachel Weil

Rachel Weil is Professor of History at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. She is the author of two books, A Plague of Informers: Conspiracy and Political Trust in William III’s England (2013) and Political Passions: Gender, the Family and Political Argument in England 1680-1714 (1999). She is currently working on a study of custodial detention in early modern England. Contact her at rjw5@cornell.edu and follow her on Twitter @racheljweil.

Richard Bell

Richard Bell is a Career Development Fellow at Keble College, Oxford. He recently completed a PhD on imprisonment for debt in seventeenth-century London at Stanford University. He can be contacted at richard.bell@keble.ox.ac.uk.


Comments Policy

We welcome comments and questions, and will post them as long as they are broadly speaking about the topic at hand and within the bounds of civility.