James E. Moran
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Indefinite mental states
Negotiating the legal definition of madness
in Madness on trial
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Through an exploration of the contents of specific cases, this chapter assesses how claimants, defendants and lawyers in lunacy trials, and Lord Chancellors, occasionally challenged the definitions of insanity embodied in lunacy investigation law. The highlighted cases deal with individuals who, during the course of the trial, were considered to be on the borderlands of madness – that is, they were considered mentally ‘weak’ and/or ‘incapable’, but not necessarily non compos mentis enough to fit neatly into the laws related to commissions of lunacy. The chapter shows how legal struggles around these more ambiguous cases further shaped the definition of madness both inside and outside the courts. The decisions of judicial authority, along with other peculiarities of the chancery court, allowed Lord Chancellors greater latitude for settling cases in lunacy that were at the boundaries of madness. The chapter also emphasises that the commission of lunacy could be a very imprecise instrument that did not always accord with the expectations of judicial authority.

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Madness on trial

A transatlantic history of English civil law and lunacy


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