The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868

Paperback | April 30, 1999

byV. A. C. Gatrell

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Hanging 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 inpublic 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 sociallevels: 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 humanesensibility 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, whilereflecting 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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From Our Editors

Hanging people for small crimes as well as grave, the Bloody Penal Code was at its most active between 1770 and 1830. Some 7,000 men and women were executed on public scaffolds then, watched by crowds of thousands. Hanging was confined to murderers thereafter, but these were still killed in public until 1868. Clearly the gallows loomed...

From the Publisher

Hanging 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 inpublic until 1868. Clearly the gallows loome...

From the Jacket

Hanging people for small crimes as well as grave, the Bloody Penal Code was at its most active between 1770 and 1830. Some 7,000 men and women were executed on public scaffolds then, watched by crowds of thousands. Hanging was confined to murderers thereafter, but these were still killed in public until 1868. Clearly the gallows loomed...

V. A. C. Gatrell is University Lecturer and Fellow of Gonville and 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 liv...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:654 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 1.34 inPublished:April 30, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0192853325

ISBN - 13:9780192853325

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From Our Editors

Hanging people for small crimes as well as grave, the Bloody Penal Code was at its most active between 1770 and 1830. Some 7,000 men and women were executed on public scaffolds then, watched by crowds of 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

Editorial Reviews

`this massive study of public executions in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century ... Gatrell's sensitive and elaborate reconstructions of criminal cases, appeals to mercy, and executions are the strength of this important and provocative study.'Times Literary Supplement