In 1785, Robert Burns wrote one of his most famous poems, “To A Mouse”. It contains the lines:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Which, for those of us who do not speak the language can be translated as:
The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
Go oft awry,
And leave us only grief and pain,
For Promised joy!
And so it proved with the publication of Crime and Punishment in Tudor England: From Alchemists to Zealots, which should have been published on 30th August. A glitch at the printers, which nobody knew about – or if they did, kept it to themselves – meant that all the preparations to promote the book suddenly screeched to a halt. I managed to stop all the blogs etc. save one from going out. And that, naturally, was my blog!
A friend, a more sanguine writer than I, said these things happen. Let’s just say it wasn’t one of my better days, since I spent most of it fulminating against everything, although readers will be happy to learn I didn’t kick the dog, only the filing cabinet.
However, as the late, much-missed Claire Rayner said This, too, will pass. And so, 21 days later than scheduled, the book is out in the world and available for purchase. Hurrah!
To precis the blog that went out by accident, and so you don’t have to look it up, this is what it said:
Crime and Punishment in Tudor England: from Alchemists to Zealots
is is not an academic book, but for the Everyman reader or those who will find it a source for more in-depth research should they so wish.
The book reviews the law as it developed from Roman law through the Vikings and King Alfred. The latter spent time in Rome soaking up the legal system and was familiar with it. He brought some of its tenets into English law when he became king.
Then follows a look at policing—dire, unpaid, and dangerous, prisons, equally appalling, and the effect of population movement on law & order in Tudor England. How agricultural and other rural practices affected the movement of people from the country to the towns in an effort to find work. This, of course, had an ongoing effect on vagrancy and begging. And, of course, beggars, as they are sometimes perceived in our 21st-century, were viewed with hostility, suspicion, and violence.
I must warn readers of a delicate constitution, there is a gory section, which details the punishments and exactly what happens to the body when those punishments are inflicted upon it. If you want to know what happens when you are decapitated, burned, boiled or hanged, this section is for you. However, I do give you a warning that some might find it too upsetting to read. I will leave you to imagine what it was like to research and write, but I felt it would be cowardly to leave that section out.
The first part of the book sets the scene for specific Case Studies, where you will find the weird, the wonderful, and the far from wonderful. You will meet arch con-man Gregory Wisdom and find out that stupidity is not a 21st century attribute, nor limited to the poor; John Daniell, who tried to blackmail the puissant Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I; why so many women accused of witchcraft confessed to things nobody today would believe; where Charles Dickens found his ideas for Oliver Twist; the different levels of treason, and many more.
Crime and Punishment in Tudor England: from Alchemists to Zealots is out now.
You can read more about April Taylor here: