An age of consent statute first appeared in secular law in 1275 in England as part of the rape law.The statute, Westminster 1, made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent.The 1860 Indian Penal Code set the age at 10 years; in 1891 the age of consent but not the age of marriage was raised to 12 years.As a result, the age of consent regulated the consummation of marriage, ensuring that it was delayed until an age when Indian girls were considered likely to have begun menstruating.The French Napoleonic code provided the legal context in 1791 when it established an age of consent of 11 years.
However, since the age of consent applied in all circumstances, not just in physical assaults, the law also made it impossible for an underage female to consent to sexual activity.
There was one exception: a man's acts with his wife, to which rape law, and hence the age of consent, did not apply.
In trials, juries were often unwilling to simply enforce the law.
Jurist Sir Matthew Hale argued that the age of consent applied to 10- and 11-year-old girls, but most of England's North American colonies adopted the younger age.
A small group of Italian and German states that introduced an age of consent in the 16th century also employed 12 years.