©Wellcome Library, London

In countries influenced by the Reformation, the laws against suicide were often more rigorously enforced than they had been during the Middle Ages. This was particularly the case in England where coroners were encouraged to convict suicides of culpable self-murder. In France and Switzerland, the laws were strictly enforced but the religious penalties were weakened and lawyers often did their best to have their dead clients acquitted of guilt for their own deaths. This portrayal of suicide as a tragic and even heroic act was unusual for the period since the religious emphasis was on the supernatural and temptation by the Devil.

Line engraving by Claude Mellan (1598-1688) after Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Rome.