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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Jesu!" said the Squire, "would you commit two persons to bridewell for a twig?", 11 Nov. 2009
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The Lawyer replies to the Squires question - "Yes and with great lenity too; for if we had called it a young tree they would have been both hanged." The quotation (which sits at the beginning of this book) is from Henry Fieldings excellent Joseph Andrews. The law under which the two persons might have been strung up for stealing a "young tree" was the infamous Black Act of 1723 which at a single go increased the number of capital crimes by about fifty. This Act and the circumstances in which it arose are the focus of E.P.Thompsons "Whigs and Hunters".

Thompson volunteered an essay for inclusion in the seminal collection on Crime in the Eighteenth century- Albion's Fatal Tree on the Black Act of 1723. After 5 years of research he produced not an essay but instead this extremely fascinating book which covers a number of issues relating to early 18th Century England. Rather than accept the apparently "obvious" reason for the Act which was ostensibly to deal with organised gangs who were committing depredations in the Kings Forests, stealing Deer, timber, turfs and peat Thompson digs deeper. He reconstructs from the available documents of Forest Courts, Assize Courts, private correspondence of those involved a picture of the area in which the disturbances that led to the Acts were greatest. The area in question is situated - roughly - between Windsor and Southampton including the Forest of Windsor and the Forest of Bere. Thompsons conjecture, after spending much time in the primary records, is that rather than being gangs of organised criminals those who were committing the crimes were those who had lived in the forest since time immemorial and whose customary way of life was being undermined by the Park authorities acting on behalf of the dominant Whig establishment and the King himself. The picture he paints of their way of life and their actions in defence of it are completely absorbing, and only those with a hard heart wont feel any sympathy for them in their struggle. Rather than making an honest and impartial attempt to adjudicate between overlapping property rights, the powers that be including such figures as Britains first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole come down firmly on the side of the Forest authorities, which given that they often had places or placemen in those authorities is hardly surprising. One might be surprised at modern politicians and their expenses paid Duck ponds, but a Duck pond is small beer indeed in comparison to a Deer park.

It's not the easiest piece of reading and when I read it 8 or so years ago I considered it as the lesser of Thompsons three major works (the others being The Making of the English Working Class and Customs in Common). Having read it a second time I wouldn't have any problem with considering it almost the equal of the other two. Its now sadly out of print, and hideously expensive 2nd hand so perhaps this is one to look for in the Library. I suspect that it will not be everyones cup of tea, but for some this will turn out to be a fascinating and memorable book.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 13 Nov. 2014
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Fine addition of the works of E.P. Thompson in the home library collection!
Thank you seller!
Harry Donaghy
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Whigs and Hunters
Whigs and Hunters by E. P. Thompson (Paperback - 1 Mar. 2013)
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