Strategies of Women’s Behaviour in Eighteenth-Century Courts (as Reflected in the Materials of the Investigative Chancellery)




Russia, 18th century, Investigative Chancellery, female criminality, gender history, protection strategies, court records


This article analyses the main ways of acquittal and defence of women in Russian courts in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Women’s experiences of the investigative and judicial process in eighteenth-century Russia have not been the subject of specific research in historiography, nor have the discursive practices of male and female investigators. The paper focuses on two main questions: Were the accused able to construct their own narratives and thus influence the course of the trial? Were the female perpetrators able to exploit the existing gender order and turn it to their advantage? The aim of this article is to examine what opportunities for self-defence the modern Russian legal system offered, what limitations it imposed, how sensitive it was to the gender of the accused, and how women on trial were able to influence the course of the trial. The study is based on a series of investigative materials produced by the Investigative Chancellery between 1730 and 1750. By analysing the speeches of the accused, their typology and comparing the information they contain with other testimonies, laws and judgements, it is possible to identify the main ways in which women were acquitted. The most common of these were “word and deed”, in the hope of being transferred to another institution or of delaying the sentence for the main offence; the inclusion of third parties in their testimony, referring to subornation or rape; false statements, including those concerning their social status; and the declaration of insanity. However, the only way of obtaining an acquittal that had any chance of success was for the accused to declare that she was pregnant. In general, the criminal process in modern Russia was structured in such a way that no strategies or tricks were taken into account. In the end, the only thing that mattered was the testimony of witnesses and the testimony of the accused under torture.

Author Biography

Anastasiya Vidnichuk

Junior Researcher, HSE University.

20, Myasnitskaya Str., 101000, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-5413-5133


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How to Cite

Vidnichuk, A. (2024). Strategies of Women’s Behaviour in Eighteenth-Century Courts (as Reflected in the Materials of the Investigative Chancellery). Quaestio Rossica, 12(2), 587–600.



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