This article argues that Renaissance legal culture provided a robust means of evaluating the epistemological status of rumour, informed by the Roman law of proof. In order to do so, the article explores the meaning of hearsay evidence in criminal proceedings from late Renaissance France, focusing on a major series of interrogations for homicide in the Parlement of Paris. It contributes to legal history by demonstrating how the inquisitorial procedures employed by the Parlement’s magistrates exemplified the sophisticated Roman law of witness evidence concerning hearsay. And it contributes to social and cultural history by revealing how effectively people throughout the social hierarchy understood the significance of hearsay in all its forms, so that witnesses, the accused, and the magistrates leading their interrogations knew well how to manipulate hearsay evidence to achieve their ends in the courtroom. Ultimately, this approach reinforces the growing consensus among recent histories of communication concerning the continued primacy of oral culture in the new age of print, but it does so from a new perspective that emphasises the fundamental role that oral evidence played in creating legal knowledge.
Hamilton, T. (2022). The Evidence of Hearsay in Criminal Proceedings from Late Renaissance France. Renaissance Studies, 36(3), 377-394. https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12761