London, Hambledon Continuum, 2007, ISBN: 9781847251718; 336pp.; Price: £30.00
University of York
Date accessed: 27 February, 2024
Andrea McKenzie begins her preface to Tyburn's Martyrs by attempting to locate the 18th-century Tyburn execution in the broader modern cultural context. It is, she contends, the most familiar and evocative image from that century, synonymous with the brutality of a past age and viewed as a grotesque spectator sport to which horror and disgust seem to be the sole appropriate responses for modern sensibilities. In one sense, that of the general reading public, she is correct. Yet, as she is fully aware, a number of historians have turned their attention to the phenomenon of the early modern English public execution and have developed a number of interpretations of its significance. Setting aside a piece of juvenilia by the present reviewer, we have Peter Linebaugh's massive book, which covers roughly the same period as does McKenzie's, but tells a very different story; an essay by T. W. Laqueur, which again adopts a different emphasis, stressing the 'carnivalesque' elements in the public execution; a number of incisive articles by Randall McGowen, which offer a set of emphases more in line with McKenzie's; and another massive and thoughtful book by V. A. C. Gatrell which in effect picks up the story where Tyburn's Martyrs ends. (1) What is obvious, not least on account of the very diversity of approaches and emphases offered by these and other historians, is that we are still a fair distance from really getting a grip on the cultural significance (or more accurately, significances) of the early modern English public execution. McKenzie's book, happily, is an important new work which develops a fresh approach to the topic, and moves us forward significantly towards a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.
Perhaps the first step towards understanding her approach is to ponder on her title. 'Tyburn's Martyrs', one suspects, appealed to the publisher, but it does place a certain onus on the author to explain in what ways the ordinary criminals - the murderers, rapists, thieves, burglars, robbers and forgers - executed at Tyburn can be classed as martyrs, especially as (unlike Linebaugh) she does not privilege the notion that these people were victims of the advance of capitalism, or conversely, of an unjust legal code. Rather she hopes to justify her book's title by demonstrating that:
the degree to which the language of martyrology, legitimation and resistance were intertwined in this period, and that traitors, martyrs, murderers and robbers alike drew from a common eschatology in which the 'good death' was not only an ultimate goal, but a powerful political and metaphysical statement (p. xvi).
McKenzie thus takes as her focus the religious rhetoric which has previously been noted by a number of historians as a defining feature of both the 'last dying speeches' made, or allegedly made, by condemned offenders on the scaffold and of the more general accounts of the fate of offenders. At the centre of her analysis is the concept of the offender as 'everyman' (or, when appropriate, 'everywoman'). Her argument (and it is difficult to explore it fully even in the context of a fairly lengthy review) is that, given the universalist concept of guilt present in contemporary thought which implied that everyone could be a sinner, everyone in turn could, potentially at least, be a criminal. This did not obscure the basic idea that persons of ill life had only themselves to blame if misfortune befell them, especially if they persisted in their wrong-doing in the face of human and divine warnings. Yet even the most reprobate of offenders, on the logic of contemporary popular theology, could save themselves from eternal torment if they made a 'full, free and ingenuous' confession in their final moments. Hence the 'last dying speech' acquired a profound importance: the statements made in these speeches, it was generally agreed, were unlikely to be feigned or dishonest. Men and women about to meet their maker were not going to dissemble. And, according to McKenzie, the assurance of salvation customarily expressed in these speeches 'could all too easily shade into the forms and conventions of martyrological literature, with ordinary criminals borrowing the words and gestures of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century martyrs and political prisoners' (p. 163). It was through this process that the ordinary criminals could be equated, on McKenzie's reading, with martyrs.
Although there may be doubts with McKenzie's extension of the status of martyrdom to the execution of run-of-the-mill murderers and thieves (in the period this book covers well over 80 per cent of those executed were property offenders) her thorough and imaginative exploration of the religious dimensions of public execution is welcome. Moreover, on her reading, it helps justify the period covered in her book. Like any historian, McKenzie is source-bound. Although she makes skilful use of a dazzling array of contemporary printed materials, the sources she uses most consistently, and certainly the one she discusses most, are the Accounts of the ordinary of Newgate - the clergyman whose responsibility it was to minister to those held in the prison. The ordinary also augmented his modest stipend with the profits from publishing in the Accounts stories of how convicted criminals went to their deaths. These Accounts began to appear regularly in something like a standard form around 1675 - a point at which, according to McKenzie, there was an explosion in literature dealing with the lives of criminals - until the 1770s when they apparently ceased to be regarded as a popular medium for describing the lives and execution of criminals. By this date, again on McKenzie's reading, some important changes were taking place in at least elite views on how the condemned criminal fitted into the broader Christian scheme of things. From the early 18th century onwards, Church of England clergymen were becoming increasingly unconvinced that a 'good death' compensated for a reprobate life, while for many the gallows confession smacked of the auricular confession which was one of the characteristics of Roman Catholicism. The first of these doubts challenged the view of the offender as 'everyman', a view which was eroded as the traditional Calvinist concept of free grace lost its hold, and with it the concept of universal human depravity, processes possibly accelerated among the elite by the spread of enlightenment notions of individuality and subjectivity. Among the population at large, the traditional views continued to prevail and were given a massive reinforcement by the spread of Methodism with its emphasis on the ready availability of grace: from the mid-18th century Newgate ordinaries found ministering to Methodist prisoners considerably more irksome than meeting the spiritual needs of Roman Catholic inmates.
Despite her assertion, at least for the years up to 1750, of the pervasiveness of the theological paradigm around the condemned which she has reconstructed, McKenzie is acutely aware of the ways in which that paradigm was contested by the conduct of at least some of those standing on the gallows. If the public execution was a theatre of punishment, certainly some of the dramatis personae were unwilling to play the roles allotted to them. Sometimes, of course, they played them too well. There were the five Jesuit priests executed in the time of the Popish Plot, whose conduct on the scaffold attracted approbation both from many members of the crowd assembled to see them die and from among contemporary commentators. In some cases attempts to deviate from the script were thwarted. Sir Henry Vane, executed for treason in 1662, attempted to read a speech on the gallows which inter alia questioned the legality of his sentence, only to have the sheriff order trumpets to be blown to mask his words, and have the same official tear the paper on which his speech was written out of his hands. This might be expected given the political nature of Vane's offence, but McKenzie traces a number of instances in which 'gallows censorship' was exercised against ordinary criminals. To complicate matters further, McKenzie, like a number of earlier historians, notes how the audiences at public executions might sometimes behave unpredictably, appropriating what was essentially an exercise in state authority for their own purposes.
Perhaps the greatest problem for McKenzie's conceptual framework, as it is for any historian stressing the normative objectives and impact of public executions, were those criminals who rejected the religious paradigm, showed little signs of contrition and died 'game' rather than repentant. It is perhaps instructive that the term 'dying game', on McKenzie's analysis, does not appear widely in print until the late 18th century. The first use of the term has been attributed to John Gay's The Beggar's Opera of 1727, although McKenzie was unable to trace it there, and her own researches reveal the first and isolated use of the term in an ordinary's Account of 1752. Much more commonly used was the expression 'die like a man', which was current throughout the 18th century and which, of course, carried heavily gendered overtones. 'Dying like a man' could embody a number of different slants on masculinity, but most frequently, in the context of the public execution, it involved dying with courage and without too overt a show of penitence (it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of the female condemned were depicted as dying penitently). Such conduct drew the opprobrium of contemporary observers: Henry Fielding declared that the 'day appointed by law for the thief's shame' became his or her 'day of glory'. Perhaps the most consistent strand of this opprobrium was held for those who died bravely and who consistently showed a total lack of religious feeling. Some men did show a surprising lack of concern on the gallows: Paul Lewis, a highwayman who died very game indeed in 1763, appalled the ordinary by going to his death singing 'if gold from the law can take out the sting', one of the most socially subversive airs from the Beggar's Opera.
But we owe most of our images of the unrepentant criminal dying vainglorious, drunken and impious to hostile social critics like Mandeville or Fielding, rather than to sources like the ordinary's Account. As McKenzie shows, most of those dying game were still observing many of the conventions expected of them, even if they were doing so on their own terms; they were coping with the pain and shame of public execution, but doing so in ways which suited them. Some went to their deaths drunk, although many did not. Some, if they were able to evade the 'gallows censorship' of the sheriff or other officials, delivered a critique of the legal system which had brought them to their unhappy end. Many proved 'obstinate' in that, while observing the convention of accepting that their death was a just reward for their sinful life, they proved unwilling to confess the crime for which they had been convicted and professed their innocence. Most of them made it clear that they were neither unwilling nor afraid to die. And it is here, as on other occasions, that McKenzie leads us into the world of scaffold rituals, with the condemned dressing like bridegrooms, or wearing white cockades as a symbol of their innocence. Yet here as elsewhere, McKenzie is surely correct in arguing that, frequently, the condemned man who died game was not hurling defiance at officials and the crowd, but rather entering into a recognisable cultural discourse. Where I feel that McKenzie is mistaken (and this returns us to problems with the book's title), is her equation between dying game and martyrdom. Thus when she suggests that 'both in his cheerful demeanour and his refusal to succumb to tears - the traditional signs not just of penitence, but of an acknowledgement of guilt - the game criminal resembled not so much the penitent as the martyr' (p. 194), we are forced again to ask as the martyr to what, and to wonder if McKenzie is not stretching her conceptual framework just a little too far here.
To maintain a critical mode for a little longer, I hope I will be excused for making some observations on related issues (and I accept you can only get so much into one book) which perhaps might have been explored more fully in Tyburn's Martyrs.
The first of these, which McKenzie acknowledges briefly, is that, as with any work focusing on the late 17th- and 18th-century public execution, there needs to be due attention to the fact that levels of execution, above all for property offences, were running at a much higher level in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods than they were for the century after 1675. The explanation for the massive drop in executions after the middle decades of the 17th century remains elusive, but perhaps the phenomenon needed more emphasis than it is given here, not least because it very much sets the scene for the early years of the period covered by McKenzie's study. A deeper exploration of the decades around 1600 might also have been useful on the grounds that the moral and theological universe in which the late Stuart and 18th-century condemned found themselves and which is so effectively evoked in this book was essentially constructed in that earlier period.
Second, a discussion in changes in non-capital punishments, and attitudes towards them, would have been welcome. This is a less well-explored theme than the public execution, but historians of crime and punishment are beginning to interest themselves in shifts in secondary punishments. Many of these (notably the pillory, whipping, and church-court penance) were public, and it would be interesting to see if the type of attitudes to punishment encapsulated in McKenzie's interpretation of public execution might also be operating in the field of public secondary punishments. Clearly, public execution was exceptional in its symbolic and practical importance: for the state to kill one of its citizens has greater impact on a variety of levels than putting them in a pillory or making them confess their faults in their parish church on a Sunday morning. Yet surely our future researches into the history of capital punishment must be informed by a consideration of these lesser punishments.
Lastly, there is the worrying concentration on punishment in the capital, which will become more marked as the fruits of research facilitated by having the Old Bailey Sessions Papers online are published. Again, McKenzie is aware of the problem, and does include some materials from outside London - it is especially gratifying to see Dick Turpin's execution at York being referred to occasionally. Of course one has to accept that there simply may not be the depth or density of sources available to make a full-scale regional study of capital punishment in 18th-century England possible. Yet as we consider future researches into the subject, it is obvious that such provincial materials as there are must be brought in to correct or confirm models which are founded primarily on metropolitan sources.
But this is for the future. For the present, McKenzie has provided us with an extremely original, very well-documented, and consistently incisive book which adds deeply to our understanding of the early modern public execution and which will be essential reading for to any historian wishing to pursue the subject further. As such, it is an extremely welcome addition to publications on the history of punishment and will surely also be required reading for historians of religion in 18th-century England.
- J. A. Sharpe, 'Last dying speeches: religion, ideology and public execution in 17th-century England', Past and Present, 107 (1984), 144-67; P. Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the 18th Century (London, 2003); T. W. Laqueur, 'Crowds, carnival and the state in English executions, 1604-1868', in The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of Lawrence Stone, ed. A. L. Beier, D. Cannadine and J. M. Rosenheim (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 305-56; e.g. R. McGowen, 'He beareth not the sword in vain: religion and the criminal law in 18th-century England', 18th-Century Studies, 21 (1987-8), 192 - 211; V. A. C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770-1868 (Oxford, 1994). Back to (1)
I am grateful both to James Sharpe for his comments on my recent monograph, and for the opportunity to respond to them. I will attempt to answer all or most of my reviewer's queries and comments by explaining how and why this project took shape; in so doing I hope both to clarify my arguments and address some of the concerns raised by Professor Sharpe in regard to my sources - in particular, the Ordinary of Newgate's Account of the Behaviour, Confessions and Dying Words of the Malefactors Executed at Tyburn (henceforth, the Ordinary's Account).
Tyburn's Martyrs seeks to provide a cultural history of execution in England in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The early modern public execution is a large and complex subject, not to mention one that elicits strong emotions and views, and which often speak more to the preconceptions and the needs of the present rather than those of the past. This study aims both to situate the gallows within a larger context of contemporary legal, social and religious practices and beliefs, and to open up a window onto the lives and words of ordinary men and women whose voices would otherwise be lost to the historical record.
The book began as a doctoral thesis at the University of Toronto on the printed literature of crime in late 17th- and 18th-century England. My interest in 18th-century criminals dates back a little further still, to a master's paper on Jack Sheppard and Dick Turpin (the latter the subject of a recent book by my reviewer). I first encountered Sheppard and Turpin while reading Frederick Engels's The Condition of the Working Class in England, where I discovered that an early 19th-century Royal Commission had complained that most working-class children 'had never heard even of St. Paul, Moses, or Solomon, [but] were very well instructed as to the life, deeds and character of Dick Turpin, the street-robber [sic], and especially of Jack Sheppard, the thief and gaol-breaker'. (1) As my reading material may suggest, I was originally attracted to this area of research because I was looking for working-class, or popular, resistance. However, I gradually came to realise that such resistance was unlikely to be articulated in secular language, and certainly not in 19th-century Marxian terms. But I was long in overcoming my, largely unexamined, conviction that religious discourse was not only dull but inherently superstructural, a manifestation of 'false consciousness'. Thus I at first simply assumed that condemned men and women who were reported as singing psalms and reciting scripture at their executions died penitent, reinforcing the norms of their society as they were ritually reintegrated into the body public. I skimmed impatiently through the prayers and psalms sung and recited at the gallows and printed in 'last dying speeches', and flipped quickly through the Ordinary (or chaplain) of Newgate's sermons and the improving literature and correspondence attached to his Account.
I eventually realised, however, that just as I could not read about crime without understanding how the criminal law functioned, I was also unable to write about execution without attempting to penetrate the moral and religious discourse within which criminal accounts were inevitably framed. This was a task at once as simple as familiarising myself with the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and as difficult as locating language and practice within a contemporary matrix of assumptions and beliefs. So I went back and read the scaffold prayers and looked up the scriptural references, and soldiered through the Ordinary's sermons. To my surprise, I found that a significant proportion of the prayers of malefactors served either to assert their innocence or to minimise their crimes. Many of the psalms, far from being conventionally penitential, inveighed against false witnesses and called down the wrath of God on the heads of persecutors. Even the Ordinary's sermons were not always the textual white noise I had expected: on occasion they provided the impetus for heated debates between the condemned and the prison chaplain, both in Newgate and at the gallows itself.
The plot thickened in the spring of 2000, when I was doing research at the Huntington Library, benefiting from many stimulating conversations with other scholars and drawing inspiration from recent (and older) work on religion, mentalities and print culture in the early modern period. I didn't just read about providence, but experienced it firsthand when, two weeks into my two-month stay, I exhausted all the printed criminal material relating to ordinary felons. I turned my attention perforce to the trial and execution accounts of state criminals, or traitors - a group I had previously excluded in the interests of keeping my topic manageable. Although I was not surprised to see that many political prisoners self-consciously modelled their words and behaviour on that of earlier Protestant martyrs, who themselves emulated scriptural exemplars, I was struck both by the parallels between the behaviour of the traitors (or martyrs) and ordinary criminals (especially 'game' ones), and the degree to which their speeches and gestures seemed to derive from the same template. Such men and women may have been adhering to a script, but it was by no means exclusively penitent or normative. This led me to apply some of the criteria and conventions of the good (or bad) death to the question of how execution actually functioned, or perhaps failed to function, as a 'theatre of punishment' - to borrow a term from my reviewer's seminal Past & Present article.
For much of the time that I researched this book, I enjoyed a luxury accorded to very few successful British academics - that of time. I began to read deeply, in ever-widening circles, from the criminal accounts outwards - attempting to put the words and actions of the condemned in not only a larger legal, but religious, literary and political context. The notion that we should approach the past on its own terms, as a 'different country' with its own language and frame of reference, is of course no new or unique insight; nonetheless, my attempt to locate the 17th- and 18th-century execution within its larger mental universe was the work of many years, spanning a period in which relatively little of my material was microfilmed to one in which much, or even most, of it was available digitally within seconds.
But I now come to the inevitable question of my sources: my extensive - if far from exclusive - use of the Ordinary of Newgate's Account. Traditionally dismissed by antiquarians and early 20th-century scholars as a vulgar catchpenny sheet, this source remained largely untapped until the appearance of several pioneering articles by Peter Linebaugh, work which was followed up by an excellent article on trials and criminal accounts by Michael Harris and an important book by Lincoln Faller. (2) In the early and mid-1990s, when I began my research, only a small proportion of Ordinary's Accounts were microfilmed, and the original copies were scattered over the English-speaking world. It was only after the late 1990s that more of the Ordinary's Account began to be filmed and later digitised; more recently still, the Old Bailey Online has begun to digitise the Ordinary's Account from 1690. This is an extremely valuable resource, but as yet (29 July 2008), the collection is incomplete. I have located and taken notes on 60 Ordinary's Accounts published between 1690 and 1772 not yet included on the site, and it is likely that there are still more extant Accounts that have escaped my notice
Yet if the Account has finally arrived as a source, this is a relatively recent development. My initial attempts to publish work drawing on the Ordinary's Account tended to meet with resistance - expressed politely at conferences and seminars (e.g., 'interesting ... but isn't that a religious source?'), and more forcefully by anonymous readers (e.g., 'too scripted/normative'). Yet at the same time, the Old Bailey Proceedings, which had originated as a sister publication of the Account, was widely accepted as a reliable record, as were modern editions of the various late 18th-century 'Newgate Calendars' that had relied extensively - and often exclusively - on the Account as a source. Ironically, in one respect at least, my crime bibliography shortened as I turned my attention ad fontes: the more Ordinary's Accounts I read, copied, transcribed and filmed, the more I realised that not only many later collections of trials and criminal lives, but also many contemporary pamphlet and newspaper accounts of executions had in fact been plagiarised wholesale from the lowly Newgate prison chaplain.
If nothing else, the Ordinary's Account is a very rich source: it was published about six times a years for almost a century, from the mid 1670s to the early 1770s and, in the 1730s and 1740s, often with appendices and in several parts. The Account was of course mediated (but so are indictments), and formulaic (but so are newspapers), and partisan (but so are pamphlets). And even its formulae and conventions (the 'script', as it were) are themselves instructive, speaking to the preoccupations and assumptions of contemporaries and revealing cultural fault-lines and flashpoints. The most divisive issues were soteriological - how could you know when you were saved, if you had repented enough, if God had forgiven you? How could you prove your cause was just, your prosecutors perjured, and your own sins negligible in comparison to those of your enemies? How could your salvation be demonstrated (or debunked), in words, gestures and deeds?
Interestingly, the Ordinary's Account's own internal conventions meant that the Ordinary was if anything liable to play up the opposition and bad behaviour of prisoners, both in order to underscore his own diligence and exertions, and the eventual (and hard-won) improvement of his charges. Even here, however, it was in the Ordinary's best interests to be cautious: the various men who officiated as Newgate chaplain were frequently criticised, not so much for harassing the condemned, but for being peremptory and slack. As a result, Newgate Ordinaries frequently used the Account to advertise both their exacting standards and their doubts as to whether the condemned were mistaking insufficient deathbed repentance for genuine saving penitence. And not only did interviews between the Ordinary and the condemned generally constitute 'a dialogue rather than a normative and univocal or baldly catechetical text' (p. 124), but market pressures tended to favour the inclusion rather than the suppression of the letters, papers and words of the condemned - particularly for much of the 1730s and 40s, when the Ordinary had ceded editorial control of his paper to the printer John Applebee.
Even accounts of those who withheld confessions from the Ordinary can be instructive. A good example is that of the particularly badly-behaved highwayman Paul Lewis (mentioned in Sharpe's review), who scandalised the Ordinary by rattling his irons, singing verses from the Beggar's Opera, and insisting that he was the 'real McHeath' [sic] (p. 93). Yet, interestingly, Lewis loudly denied the imputation that he was an atheist, regaling prison visitors with the claim that 'I am a Christian every inch of me'(3), arguing vociferously with the Ordinary over his choice of and interpretation of texts in sermon, and accusing him of being a 'papist' and a Jacobite. In the end, Lewis played off the Ordinary against several visiting clergymen, successfully parlaying a promise of a full confession (never delivered) into the privilege of being admitted into the sacrament.
Indeed, the Ordinary's Account, and similar publications, offered not only a fuller and more particularised account of malefactors' behaviour than that provided by satirical or hostile pamphleteers, but arguably a less distorted one as well. The caricature of the 'game' criminal as presented by such commentators as Mandeville, Swift and Fielding originated in large part as an attempt to dismiss the courage of such men as empty bravado, the product of pride and impudence, brutishness and ignorance ('natural courage'), atheism ('Roman courage'), and especially alcohol ('cordial courage'). Indeed, as I have argued, game criminals were troublesome not so much because they rejected the conventions of dying well, but because they attempted to appropriate this penitential script, broadcasting their cheerfulness and assurance of salvation: many of those who proclaimed their innocence nonetheless declared (however disingenuously) to be willing and eager to die for the sins of their lives (which were, they typically added, common to all men). Whether the courage and composure of common criminals and traitors alike was 'Christian' and 'decent' or 'false' was the subject of much debate, often breaking down along sectarian or political lines and, over the course of the 18th century, increasingly along class lines as well, as a growing chorus of respectable commentators characterised ordinary malefactors (and here I have benefited from the important work of Randal McGowen and V. A. C. Gatrell on sympathy, or 'squeamishness', respectively) as lacking the requisite sensibility for true, 'rational' 'Christian courage'.
None of this is say that the average 17th- or 18th-century highwayman or street robber was particularly pious; rather, the courage, the cheerfulness and the theatrical gestures of the 'game' criminal tapped into a rich if often largely symbolic language of righteousness, which resonated with both martyrological conventions and the rituals of marriage and carnival. I hoped, by exploring this religious symbolism and its larger applications more fully, to build on the important insights in regard to the carnivalesque and the counter-theatre of the gallows by Linebaugh, Gatrell and Thomas Laqueur. For, as the work of early modern cultural scholars such Natalie Zemon Davis, Robert Scribner and Martin Ingram has demonstrated, not only could carnival restore as well as invert an imagined social order, but its profane manifestations cannot be understood without reference to the sacred. Indeed, the line between the two was not clearly drawn in the early modern period, especially in a space so liminal as the gallows - hence, my emphasis in the book to the prevalence, and popular persistence of the belief in execution as a literal preview of 'God's tribunal'.
In short, then, my book is particularly concerned with situating the execution of ordinary criminals within a larger cultural framework of a 17th- and 18th-century ars moriendi. The good death was both a common goal and a politically charged and potentially subversive act. Most of the conventions of dying well seem normative enough in theory: confessing one's sins, forgiving one's enemies, assuming responsibility for one's own misfortunes, expressing one's willingness to die. In practice, however, expressions of charity frequently doubled as assertions of innocence, with the condemned ostentatiously forgiving perjured prosecution witnesses and unjust prosecutors. Similarly, many of those who at the gallows enumerated their past sins to illustrate the dangers of the 'slippery slope' also seized the opportunity to introduce various extenuating circumstances and personal misfortunes, and to remind spectators that all men and women were sinners. And, in the context of world in which death was a debt all men owed to nature as a result of original sin, professions of willingness to die could not only shade into martyrology but social commentary - especially if, like Paul Lewis, you sang 'if gold from the law can take out the sting...'(p. 93).
I will conclude by responding briefly to my reviewer's last queries about the scope and focus of the book. I focussed on print sources not only because they were accessible, but because they were rich in volume and detail. I was primarily interested in the representation of crime: crime interested (or exercised) people; and I was interested in what about it was interesting (or frightening) and why. In this context, print sources were often more forthcoming than official ones: typically, for instance, the rulings of the Court of Alderman in regard to Newgate and Tyburn would be reported in more detail in the periodical press than in the Corporation of London records. For similar reasons - the richness of the sources in the metropolis - my study focuses primarily on London, the publishing as well as the crime capital. Sharpe has also raised the issue of secondary punishments as a topic that warrants much more attention. The paper trail is of course much harder to tease out in non-capital sanctions: this is where hard archival research is obviously indispensable. While the subject is obviously an important, and still a relatively understudied one, I have in this study (for similar reasons to those outlined above) confined myself only to those accounts of whippings or the pillory which attracted the attention of contemporary commentators, newspapers and diarists. I do however attempt to locate attitudes towards lesser crimes within a larger constellation of attitudes towards sin and criminality, particularly in Chapter 3.
Much interesting and important work has been done by my reviewer, and others, on crime in the early 17th century, and there is still much work to be done - perhaps the forthcoming study of London underworlds and mentalities in the 16th and 17th centuries by Paul Griffiths will go a long way towards filling this gap. I look forward to reading this - not to mention a substantial study on execution in provincial England (perhaps by my reviewer?). I am certainly much indebted both to the devotional and martyrological literature of this earlier period, as well as to the important work of such scholars as Peter Lake, Malcolm Gaskill and Alexandra Walsham on crime, print culture and their relationship to providential beliefs. The period covered by this book - the late 17th and 18th century - is, however, unique in that it witnessed the rise and fall of a vast body of criminal literature aimed at a broad audience, and concerned largely with lives, behaviour and words of relatively ordinary malefactors. While of course there had long been murder sheets and execution accounts (richly explored by Peter Lake, Malcolm Gaskill and Frances Dolan), the sheer volume of such publications increased dramatically after the Restoration; in part, this was related to the rise of the newspaper and the burgeoning public sphere, but it also grew out of the much publicised and partisan treason trials and executions of the 1660s, 1670s, and 1680s, in which the old wounds of the Civil War were reopened and old competing truth claims retried in the press and the very public forum of the gallows.
- F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, ed. E. Hobsbawm (London, 1969), 142. Back to (1)
- P. Linebaugh, 'The Tyburn Riot Against the Surgeons', in D. Hay et al., Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in 18th-Century England (London, 1975); 'The Ordinary of Newgate and His Account', in Crime in England, 1550-1800, ed. J. S. Cockburn (Princeton, 1977); M. Harris, 'Trials and Criminal Biographies: A Case Study in Distribution', in Sale and Distribution of Books from 1700, ed. M. Harris and R. Myers (Oxford, 1982); L. B. Faller, Turned to Account: the Forms and Functions of Criminal Biography in Late 17th- and Early 18th-Century England (Cambridge, 1987) Back to (2)
- Ordinary's Account 4 May 1763, p. 32 Back to (3)