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Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England Paperback – 26 Sep 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 2 edition (26 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844677168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844677160
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 232,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Provocative, full of insights into neglected phases of eighteenth-century social history, and at times profound. --J.H. Plumb, Observer

Close, meticulous scholarship, imagination, a joyous use of literary and 'qualitative' evidence ... and the driving force of commitment make it memorable. --Guardian

Immensely advances our understanding both of Hanoverian England and of the relationship between law and society in general. --Keith Thomas

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S Wood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Feb 2013
Format: Paperback
Since its 1975 publication "Albion's Fatal Tree" has been widely (though not universally) regarded as a classic of historical writing, in particular that branch of history that is known as "history from below". This 2011 edition from Verso corrects the lamentable situation where it has been out of print for a number of years. In addition to the unchanged text from its initial release, the three surviving members of the five original contributors (E.P. Thompson and John Rule having died in 1993 and 2011 respectively) Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh and Cal Winslow write individual introductions reflecting on their time working with E.P. Thompson at Warwick University in the early 1970's, as well as the reception the work had at the time from established historians of Eighteenth century England.

Of the six essays two are the work of Douglas Hay: "Property, Authority and the Criminal Law" looks at the primary role of Law has in protecting both property and buttressing the authority of England's rulers. In particular it examines the role of the death sentence and, over the course of the century, the increasing chance of clemency being granted (followed by transportation), and how this affected popular attitudes with regard to the legitimacy of the ruling classes. His "Poaching and the Game Laws on Cannock Chase" is a detailed study of poaching and the response of "qualified" owners in a particular locale during the eighteenth century. This is a classic of its kind, and one that E.P. Thompson would emulate and take further with regard to Windsor and its environs in his Whigs and Hunters published in the same year.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Herr Holz Paul on 3 Dec 2012
Format: Paperback
I chose this book in a rather arbitrary fashion while looking for another window in to our past. So, it is a collection of essays by different authors, (six in total). The first one is largely focused on the structure and workings of 18th Century law and would, I imagine, be of interest to law students. But it is also interesting and entertaining to lesser mortals! `In the court room the judges` every action was governed by the importance of spectacle - scarlet robes lined with ermine and full-bottomed wigs in the seventeenth-century style, which evoked scorn from Hogarth but awe from ordinary men.` There is an essay devoted to the lore surrounding the Tyburn Tree where public hangings were staged and where there were conflicts about who should get the corpse - a fresh, often youthful cadaver was in great demand by the surgeons performing dissection for medical purposes, but on the oppositions` side this would prevent a Christian burial which was much desired. The content is to a degree a little gruesome in places but appears as little other than faithfully researched and presented material and to the modern reader imparts historical perspective with a touch of the bizarre.

There follow essays on Smugglers, wrecking and poaching and on `Crimes of Anonymity`, ie the writing of seditious letters often in complaint about unjust circumstances suffered invariably by the poorer classes, and these letters or proclamations might be sent for publication or simply fixed in a public location for local scrutiny and left anonymous. These essays or chapters are also highly readable and are entertaining too; `If you dornt Lower the greain whe will destroy all your Farm with Fire...whe will destroy all your sheep and...whe will pull all your turnips up`.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Law and the Lower Orders 3 July 2013
By S Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Since its 1975 publication "Albion's Fatal Tree" has been widely (though not universally) regarded as a classic of historical writing, in particular that branch of history that is known as "history from below". This 2011 edition from Verso corrects the lamentable situation where it has been out of print for a number of years. In addition to the unchanged text from its initial release, the three surviving members of the five original contributors (E.P. Thompson and John Rule having died in 1993 and 2011 respectively) Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh and Cal Winslow write individual introductions reflecting on their time working with E.P. Thompson at Warwick University in the early 1970's, as well as the reception the work had at the time from established historians of Eighteenth century England.

Of the six essays two are the work of Douglas Hay: "Property, Authority and the Criminal Law" looks at the primary role of Law has in protecting both property and buttressing the authority of England's rulers. In particular it examines the role of the death sentence and, over the course of the century, the increasing chance of clemency being granted (followed by transportation), and how this affected popular attitudes with regard to the legitimacy of the ruling classes. His "Poaching and the Game Laws on Cannock Chase" is a detailed study of poaching and the response of "qualified" owners in a particular locale during the eighteenth century. This is a classic of its kind, and one that E.P. Thompson would emulate and take further with regard to Windsor and its environs in his Whigs and Hunters published in the same year.

A trenchant as ever Peter Linebaugh contributes "The Tyborn Riot Against the Surgeons" which details the struggle over the friends and family of those who ended up swinging from the gallows at Tyborn, and the Surgeons who wanted their corpses for the advancement of the science of anatomy. Other related issues touched upon include the attitudes of the lower orders to hanging, the rituals they adopted on their appointed day, and the responses of those who turned out to watch.

"Sussex Smugglers" is Cal Winslow's excellent account of the conflict between the state and smugglers in eighteenth century Sussex. A conflict that at times approached the level of a guerilla war. This is followed by John Rules "Wrecking and Coastal Plunder" which looks at the customs of coastal communities with regard to their perceived rights to plunder wrecked ships, their conflicts with the authorities. He also examines some of the myths around the practice, such as the largely fictitious belief, which functioned to stigmatise a practice that many Britons regarded as acceptable, that ships were onto rocks for the purposes of plunder.

The collection closes with E.P. Thompson's "The Crime of Anonymity" which analyses the phenomenon of anonymous letter writing by eighteenth century plebs for purposes ranging from blackmail to enforcing norms of behaviour on those who had authority over them. The increasing incidence after Paine and the French Revolution of anonymous handbills and the chalking of walls with messages of a more general political nature is also touched on. Thompson cites from many of those letters which are one of the few examples from the eighteenth century of the lower-orders speaking for themselves that have survived for posterity.

"Albion's Fatal Tree" is quite simply a brilliant and exemplary work of Social History. The many quotes cited, from above as well as below, bring the period to life for the reader. This was a period of great change, as England was becoming an increasingly commercial society, poised to enter the Industrial Revolution. The lower orders, as in all periods of change, generally suffer the most and the underlying reality that flows through this work, is that much that was customary to them, and provided them with a part of their livelihoods (from access to commons, to poaching and smuggling) was either being lost to the inexorable process of enclosure, or being treated before the authorities in increasingly brutal ways as the massive rise in "crimes" regarded by a property owning parliament as Capital makes clear. The fact that they fought back, had some successes though in the longer term the odds were stacked against them, forms the core of this book. The examples they provide of solidarity, guile and no-nonsense activism is often inspirational and undoubtedly part of its appeal. Thoroughly recommended.

Other books by the authors of "Albion's Fatal Tree" worth reading would include E.P. Thompson's three major works: The Making of the English Working Class, Whigs and Hunters and Customs in Common. Peter Linebaughs The London Hanged is a dense, detailed but fascinating account of the life's, livings and "crimes" of those who were hanged from the late seventeenth century onwards. The late John Rule is always worth reading, his two books on the eighteenth century Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815 and The Vital Century: England's Economy, 1714-1815 are fine general studies of the period and none the worse for being unashamedly academic in the best sense of that word. His The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England, 1750-1850 is a brilliant and comprehensive account of the Labouring classes in the period that leads up to and establishes an Industrial England.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant! 29 Oct 2012
By Ms. Helpful - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must in the study of crime during this period. It should be the first text read -- and should be a litmus test in judging other social histories, regardless of period or topic. And it is beautifully written -- one of those rare histories that provides both depth of study and turn-the-pages-quickly readability. A treasure on my bookshelf!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Marxist Frame 21 Oct 2013
By K. G. Whitehurst - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The main value of ALBION'S FATAL TREE now is historiographical. These essays were written in the 1970s within a clear, Marxist framework. 18th century law gave no quarter to criminals in particular and the poor in general; hence, it was called the Bloody Code--then and now. The framework may be Marxist, but it is nuanced. Some essays still have value as local history, such as Cal Winslow's essay on Sussex smuggling and Douglas Hay's two essays on Staffordshire. (Hay has returned to his concept of high and low law in more recent publications.) Hay's essay on the game laws might be the one most up for reinterpretation, tho' his is so grounded in Staffordshire that one would have to see how the game laws were enforced in other counties to make any proper comparison. E. P. Thompson's essay on anonymous letters is curiously unenlightening. As with all books of essays, ALBION'S FATAL TREE is uneven.
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