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Gentlemen and Blackguards: Gambling Mania and the Plot to Steal the Derby of 1844 [Paperback]

Nicholas Foulkes
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 May 2011

This is a tale of money, gambling and sporting obsession; of rogues and rascals, outrageous criminality, aristocratic complacency, and a gripping investigation to expose the most audacious sporting plot of the age. In the early 1840s, Britain was the gambling capital of Europe and the Epsom Derby was attracting countless spectators and many millions of pounds in wagers. It was a time of frenzied speculation, high stakes and low morals.

But as the unprincipled Regency era gave way to the high-mindedness of the Victorian period, reformers decided it was time to challenge the murky world of illegal gambling and in 1844, launched the far-reaching Parliamentary Enquiry. When the Derby of the same year ended in chaos, with the two favourite horses doped, the Turf's most dedicated follower and greatest tyrant Lord George Bentinck, took it upon himself to uncover the truth of what happened that day, which led to one of the most sensational court cases of the 19th century. A compelling detective story peopled with low-life aristocrats and high-minded reformers, GENTLEMEN AND BLACKGUARDS paints a rich picture of early Victorian society, bringing to light an overlooked turning point in British history.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; Reprint edition (26 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753824752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753824757
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 648,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Foulkes tells the murky story with characteristic panache. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Fascinating (CATHOLIC HERALD)

The book not only concerns itself with the Derby ... along the way, there are murky tales of illegal gaming houses, prize fighting, murder, suicide and duelling. (SOUTH WALES ARGUS)

Book Description

Men, money, duelling and murder: welcome to the infamous Derby race of 1844 and the gambling mania that gripped early 19th century Britain.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scandal upon scandal 25 Jan 2011
By Peter Durward Harris #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I first read about the 1844 Epsom Derby back in the seventies in History of the Derby Stakes and have since read pieces about it in Great Sporting Scandals, Horse-Racing's Strangest Races, Eclipse and other books, some running to a few pages but each of them outlining the basic details without giving exactly the same account; the peripheral information differed in each case. I knew there was a big story in that race that deserved greater attention, which eventually came in the form of this book, written by a historian rather than a racing journalist. Apparently, the author learned about the 1844 Derby while researching another book that he was writing and realized that it had potential as the basis for a book about nineteenth century gambling.

Among all sporting scandals, the 1844 Derby stands out because it involved several apparently unrelated scandals. There was cheating to try and ensure victory; the race was for three-year-old horses, but two older horses ran in the race, these being Running Rein and Leander. There was also cheating to stop at least one horse winning; Ratan, who was very likely the best horse in the race, was drugged up to his eyeballs and ridden by a jockey who had bet against him, yet still finished seventh of 29 as they crossed the line. Ratan`s main rival, had the race been cleanly run, was expected to be that year`s 2,000 Guineas winner, The Ugly Buck, who crossed the line in fifth place.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Turf Wars 6 Oct 2012
By Mr. D. K. Smith TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
By the mid 19th Century, the Epsom Derby was regarded as the major sporting event of the British calendar. But it was also the focus for criminals and swindlers, as gambling fever gripped the nation.

When the 1844 Derby ended in chaos, with the two favourite horses doped and the result challenged, the subsequent court case threw a light into this murky world. And this forced changes throughout society as the hedonistic free-wheeling spirit of the time gave way to Victorian values and codes of respectable behaviour.

But the book not only concerns itself with the Derby, as historian Nicholas Foulkes also examines the way that gambling had affected all sections of society. Along the way there are murky tales of illegal gaming houses, prize fighting, murder, suicide and dueling.

Gentleman and Blackguards, with its cast of colourful characters, is a very readable account of a fascinating point in British history - the dawning of the Victorian age.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gambling addiction on a colossal scale 26 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whilst the centre focus of this story is a plot to win a fortune by 'fixing' the Derby of 1844, Foulkes' makes sure that the reader is well aware of the context in terms of society at that time. The early 19th Century was a time when gambling addiction amongst the upper classes was rife. The sums gambled were phenomenal by todays standards and gambling was not regulated like today.

The cast of characters in the book is wide and varied - from the gentlemen to the blackguards. There is nothing more zealous than a convert and George Bentinck was determined to stamp out corruption in horse-racing. The plot in the 1844 Derby has been repeated often over the years - substituting horses - and on this occasion was not successful.

A fascinating insight into changing society and how fortunes were won and lost.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Where do I start? 7 Mar 2012
Format:Paperback
This is the only book by Mr. Foulkes I have read. And it will be the last. His style is just awful. The narrative doubles back on itself many times and the same points repeated many times. Overall its a great tale that is ruined by terrible writing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scandal upon scandal 25 Jan 2011
By Peter Durward Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I first read about the 1844 Epsom Derby back in the seventies in History of the Derby Stakes and have since read pieces about it in Great Sporting Scandals, Horse-Racing's Strangest Races, Eclipse and other books, some running to a few pages but each of them outlining the basic details without giving exactly the same account; the peripheral information differed in each case. I knew there was a big story in that race that deserved greater attention, which eventually came in the form of this book, written by a historian rather than a racing journalist. Apparently, the author learned about the 1844 Derby while researching another book that he was writing and realized that it had potential as the basis for a book about nineteenth century gambling.

Among all sporting scandals, the 1844 Derby stands out because it involved several apparently unrelated scandals. There was cheating to try and ensure victory; the race was for three-year-old horses, but two older horses ran in the race, these being Running Rein and Leander. There was also cheating to stop at least one horse winning; Ratan, who was very likely the best horse in the race, was drugged up to his eyeballs and ridden by a jockey who had bet against him, yet still finished seventh of 29 as they crossed the line. Ratan`s main rival, had the race been cleanly run, was expected to be that year`s 2,000 Guineas winner, The Ugly Buck, who crossed the line in fifth place. It may just be that, like so many 2,000 Guineas winners, he lacked the stamina needed for the extra half mile of the Derby.

Although the 1844 Derby was the inspiration for this book and is ultimately its focal point, much of the book discusses gambling and the English aristocracy as they were in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, the author only gets round to covering Derby Day in chapter 13 (of 20) so this book may appeal to those interested in nineteenth century history as much as it does to horseracing fans. That said, there is much here to interest those horseracing fans who are interested in how the sport developed.

Prior to the nineteenth century, aristocrats had gambled among themselves, whether they were betting on horses, cards or anything else. The early nineteenth century brought about changes that were eventually to transform gambling. Outsiders came into the gambling world with people like John Gully, one of the pioneering racecourse bookmakers (but they weren't called bookmakers then) and William Crockford, one of the men who managed gambling of other types in the West End. Both of these men are discussed extensively.

The central character in this book is Lord George Bentinck, the aristocrat who exposed the 1844 Derby fraud. In his younger days, he had been party to a lot of the cheating that went on in the world of horseracing. He was a racehorse owner too, and sometimes stooped to dirty tricks to achieve success, but it seems that at some point he decided that things were getting out of hand and it was time to clean up the sport. Often accused of hypocrisy because of his earlier cheating, perhaps it is a case of there being much joy in one sinner who repents. He came to be regarded as a hero and his murky past was forgotten - except that enough information was on record somewhere for the author-historian to be able to write about.

Throughout the book, one is reminded that truth is invariably stranger than fiction, which merely reinforces my long-held belief that the 1844 Epsom Derby was the most notorious sporting contest in history.
4.0 out of 5 stars Attention to detail...whatever the cost? 10 Aug 2013
By Alan R Aitken - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If anything, this book is a touch drier than it needed to be by virtue of attention to minute details behind and under what took place around the 1844 Epsom Derby and the personalities. Having said that, it would be a cruel offence for which to be hung these days when attempts at historical accuracy are given third billing. It's still a good read and gives not only a good picture of the skulduggery afoot on 'the turf' then and the enormous, almost incomprehensible amounts of money involved, but a snapshot of some parts of London life at the time.
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