The eighteenth-century crime of mayhem does not refer to simply "misbehaving" as it does in 21st century common speech. Under traditional English law, mayhem is "an assault whereby the injured person is deprived of a member proper for his defense in fight," e.g. an arm, leg, or front tooth; for instance, if Mike Tyson lost his front tooth, the man who knocked it out is guilty of mayhem. But the loss of a molar, ear, etc., was not considered mayhem under traditional English law because those appendages were not used in fighting; so, when Mike Tyson bit Alexander Holifield's ear, he would not guilty of mayhem under traditional English law [1].

The concept of English mayhem law is not to compensate the victim, but to compensate the King. At this time, the Crown ruled over and owned everything in England-- including the people. To commit mayhem against a subject of the king was to deprive the king of a potential soldier of war, and thus destruction of his personal property.

In the history of the law of England, mayhem drifts in and out of the capital punishment category; sometimes it is a felony, sometimes a civil offense. The most ancient punishment for mayhem in English Common Law was retaliatory- membrum por membro, or member for member, and is reminiscent of the old Levitican law, "eye for an eye" [2]. The English law was eventually changed, however, because the law as retaliation was recognized as an inadequate rule of punishment, and "partly because upon repetition of the offense the punishment could not be repeated" [3]. In the eighteenth century, the punishment for mayhem was the most severe penalty of death, but since 1828 the penalty has lessened. Still, the Coventry Act still affects modern-day English and American law in that the removing of any body part, not just one used in battle, qualifies as mayhem.