on 31 December 2010
Picked this up casually, thinking it might have handy references. It does, and it's also a great read.
The author surveys the history of landless robbers in England and the popular reaction to their deeds. Mostly from literary sources, but with plenty of formal records and juicy footnotes. The chapters are fairly short and nicely divided.
The cover has the image of an 18th century highwayman, but the book goes way beyond the formula of Dick Turpin. Starts with the resistance to the new Norman overlords, followed by the growth of the Robin Hood legend, along with the practice of impoverished noblemen and gentry using robbery to assert their rightful place. The superiors withdraw, to be replaced by desperados, and finally all resistance is crushed by the state.
I got to the chapter on the Beggar's Opera and expected to lose interest, but found good insight on the theme of the mighty escaping justice while the lowly suffer their punishment. Same as it ever was. After that you still have the Dick Turpin story to enjoy.
The writing is excellent: clear analysis, good stories - some jolly, some gruesome - and a strong dose of the sceptics. Nice to see the author firing a couple of shots over the head of Eric Hobsbawm to frighten off his theories.
I got a sense that journalism has thrived on this criminal behaviour for hundreds of years. I suppose that's how American newspapers made their money in the wild west. Would be interesting to read the same treatment for English and Irish outlaws in Ireland and the New World.
p.s. the reference I was looking for is to Thomas Lee.