The Hanging Tree
Execution and the English People, 1770-1868
By (author) V. A. C. Gatrell
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Hanging Tree by V. A. C. Gatrell
Book DescriptionHanging people for small crimes as well as grave, the Bloody Penal Code was at its most active between 1770 and 1830. In those years some 7,000 men and women were executed on public scaffolds, watched by thousands. Hanging was confined to murderers thereafter, but these were still killed in public until 1868. Clearly the gallows loomed over much of social life in this period. But how did those who watched, read about, or ordered these strangulations feel about the terror and suffering inflicted in the law's name? What kind of justice was delivered, and how did it change? This book is the first to explore what a wide range of people felt about these ceremonies (rather than what a few famous men thought and wrote about them). A history of mentalities, emotions, and attitudes rather than of policies and ideas, it analyses responses to the scaffold at all social levels: among the crowds which gathered to watch executions; among 'polite' commentators from Boswell and Byron on to Fry, Thackeray, and Dickens; and among the judges, home secretary, and monarch who decided who should hang and who should be reprieved. Drawing on letters, diaries, ballads, broadsides, and images, as well as on poignant appeals for mercy which historians until now have barely explored, the book surveys changing attitudes to death and suffering, 'sensibility' and 'sympathy', and demonstrates that the long retreat from public hanging owed less to the growth of a humane sensibility than it did to the development of new methods of punishment and law enforcement, and to polite classes' deepening squeamishness and fear of the scaffold crowd. This gripping study is essential reading for anyone interested in the processes which have 'civilized' our social life. Challenging many conventional understandings of the period, V. A. C. Gatrell sets new agendas for all students of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century culture and society, while reflecting uncompromisingly on the origins and limits of our modern attitudes to other people's misfortunes. Panoramic in range, scholarly in method, and compelling in argument, this is one of those rare histories which both shift our sense of the past and speak powerfully to the present.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780192853325
(234mm x 155mm x 34mm)
Imprint: Oxford Paperbacks
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publish Date: 17-Oct-1996
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
UK Kirkus Review » Bernard Cornwell recommends this account of capital punishment in England between 1771 and 1868. It is one of those books which illuminate forgotten corners of our history, its research is deeply impressive and Gatrell's refusal to be objective is refreshing. The cover, a detail from a drawing by Gericault of an English hanging, is as shocking as some of the contents. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - V. A. C. Gatrell
V. A. C. Gatrell is University Lecturer and Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. He is editor of Robert Owen: A New View of Society (Pelican, 1971) and Crime and Law: The Social History of Crime in Western Europe since 1500 (Europa, 1980), and a well-known author of numerous articles in social and economic history. He lives in Cambridge.
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