Felo de se, Latin for "felon of himself", is an archaic legal term meaning suicide. In early English common law, an adult who committed suicide was literally a felon, and the crime was punishable by forfeiture of property to the king and what was considered a shameful burial – typically with a stake through his heart and with a burial at a crossroad. Burials for felo de se typically took place at night, with no mourners or clergy present, and the location was often kept a secret by the authorities. A child or mentally incompetent person, however, who killed himself was not considered a felo de se and was not punished post-mortem for his actions. The term is not commonly used in modern legal practice.
The laws relating to felo de se also applied to someone who was killed, or who died by other causes whilst they were committing a crime or other malicious act - e.g. a burglar who got killed by a householder defending his own property.
- Macdonald, M. "The Secularization of Suicide in England, 1660-1800", Past and Present #111, (May, 1986), pp. 50-100.