University of Leicester
2017MORTIMERBGPhD.pdf (3.03 MB)

Rethinking Penal Reform and the Royal Prerogative of mercy during Robert Peel’s stewardship of the Home Office 1822-7, 1828-30

Download (3.03 MB)
posted on 2017-06-26, 13:34 authored by Brenda Gean Mortimer
This thesis is the first to undertake an extensive study of the petitions for the Royal Prerogative of mercy submitted to Robert Peel during his stewardship of the Home Office between 1822-7 and 1828-30. It analyses the separate functions Peel was obliged to discharge as legislator, member of the Executive and servant of the Crown. Against the background of the criminal justice system in place in 1822, it explores the underlying legal, jurisprudential and constitutional issues which constrained Peel’s decision- making and identifies the nature and extent of the conventions which evolved to curtail the personal discretion of the Monarch. It focuses on the challenges faced by Peel in reforming the maze of statutes, common law and custom, the main sources of English Law, and demonstrates that criminal law reform, in this period, was conducted incrementally in a continuum with consensus of both Tories and Whigs. It also stresses the importance of using accurate legal language in order to distinguish the common place meaning of mercy from the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy with its constitutional constraints, and suggests that this is a pre-requisite for an accurate appraisal of Peel’s stewardship. Based on research of more than 5,000 cases, it reconstructs the process of begging for mercy and shows that, whilst there were no formalities for the petitions, the Home Office’s responses were increasing standardised and bureaucratic. The conclusions reached will demonstrate that Peel’s penal reforms and his recommendations for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy were key landmarks in the transition from a parochial system with capital punishment at its heart to a more centralised system based on secondary punishments.



Sweet, Rosemary; Anderson, Clare

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Historical Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



Usage metrics

    University of Leicester Theses


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager