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The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 Paperback – 1 Nov 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (1 Nov. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853325
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 3.4 x 15.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 501,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

[a] classic study (The Sunday Times Culture Magazine)

There is plenty to incite horror, but the cleverness of the book is the way it puts the English way of execution into a political context (Jeremy Paxman, Independent)

monumental in the subtlety and richness of the argument ... a rare combination of pellucid clarity and passion that carries the reader on to the final chapter without a single longeur. (John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph)

A quite outstanding book, moving, perceptive ... richly imaginative. (Linda Colley, Observer)

From the Publisher

Winner of the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society

Inside This Book

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THE WAYS IN WHICH PEOPLE WERE KILLED ON PUBLIC SCAFfolds have always been shrouded in euphemism. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By rory.stephens@ntlworld.com on 1 May 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is as compelling as it is horrific as it draws the reader into the blood soaked wretchedness of 18th and 19th Century London. Using eyewitness accounts, pamphlets and broadsheets of the time Gattrell vividly depicts what life was like for those witnessing or awaiting execution.
With morbid fascination you learn of the appalling torture of condemned souls by bungling executioners, the blood-lust of the baying mob, and the sad lack of regard placed on human life.
This book enables you to almost feel what it must have been like to be at Tyburn or Newgate on hanging day, and how executions rose to almost epidemic proportions in the 1770's for a vast range of crimes that today would warrant no more than a period of community service.
Saddened and sickened, but always morbidly inrigued, this book once started is hard to put down. If you want to know what London was really like 200 years ago this goes some way to opening your eyes. Brillian read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Romilly on 12 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback
The refinement of punishment has been a phenomenon common to most western countries, allowing the survival of practices whose intrinsic barbarity could easily have led to their earlier demise. Torture has long gone, but capital punishment survived in Europe until recent years, and in the United States it not only survived but prospers still. Technological advance aided the sanitization of executions. In America the noose yielded to the electric chair, the gas chamber to the lethal injection. In France the Guillotine brought humanity and equality to death sentences. Kings and commoners would be alike swiftly despatched, and their severed heads lie cheek by cheek in the same basket. In England the removal of hanging from the public gaze and the increasing expertise with which it was carried out defeated abolitionist pressure for a century.

Dr Gatrell has written a magisterial volume, the most important study in 20 years on the last century of public executions in England. At the beginning of his period the Bloody Code, whereby the most minor offender could be hanged, was literally in full swing. The condemned man, taken to a prominent public place, was slowly strangled in full view of the populace, the corpse sometimes being gibbeted for greater effect. Crowds, often drunken, filled the streets when an execution was imminent. Clergy condemned their conduct but not the institution. Dickens deprecated the spectacle but defended the penalty. In the first half of the nineteenth century reformers persuaded parliament to restrict the scope and use of the noose. The numbers hanged fell to a mere handful a year. Finally, in 1868 public executions were ended, and the sentence of death was performed in the privacy of a prison.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Simon on 21 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
"The Hanging Tree -- Execution and the English people, 1770-1868" isn't really for the sensation-seeker or the ghoulish -- despite its rather lurid title (although, that said, its detailed descriptions of many of the condemned's last days could best be described as "unflinching"!).

Rather, it's a long and fairly academic review of capital law under the penal codes pertaining from the late 18th century until the abolition of public executions in the 19th.

My only criticisms of the book are that it is, at times, a little repetitive (although it would be hard to be otherwise, given that the book is 619 pages long); that it deals with rather few cases -- although these are gone into in great detail -- and that there are, at least to my way of thinking, a superfluity of bibliographical and academic references. Not a page can be turned without several! No matter, this is, at heart, more of an academic study than a populist one, so perhaps that is to be expected.

For me, its real interest lies in the commentary it presents upon the social mores and changing attitudes of the period and, for anyone interested in the history -- either social or political -- of the century covered, it goes a long way to explaining many underlying attitudes which might otherwise be almost incomprehensible to people today.

I think it's well worth reading.
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