What makes a person commit crime? How does a person become a hardened criminal? These are questions which we ask today and which the Victorians also asked of their society? This post examines G W M Reynolds’ answer to these questions.
In the late-Victorian period The Edinburgh Review wrote that ‘There is now before us such a veritable mountain of pernicious trash, mostly in paper covers, and “Price One Penny”; so-called novelettes, tales, stories of adventure, mystery and crime; pictures of school life hideously unlike reality; exploits of robbers, cut-throats, prostitutes, and rogues, that, but for its actual presence, it would seem incredible’.
In 1724 a book appeared entitled A General and True History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724) which was written by a “Captain” Charles Johnson. The name […]
Last Dying Speeches, Trials, and Executions: The Changing Format and Function of Crime Broadsides, c.1800 – c.1840
A paper delivered at Pernicious Trash? Victorian Popular Fiction, c.1830-c.1880, Leeds Trinity University 12 September 2016.
Capt. Alexander Smith’s “A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats” (1714)
Alexander Smith’s A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats (1714), with its combination of excessive moralism and sensational reporting, set the tone for all successive ‘true’ crime writing.
In 1867 William Knipe authored “The Criminal Chronology of York Castle” – the most comprehensive survey of crime in Yorkshire from the medieval period to the Victorian era.
Crime historians often pay little regard to medieval outlaw literature, but my paper aims to use the history of crime in the early modern period to add a new context to their study. The ballad A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode was first printed in the early sixteenth century. Around the same time also we see other outlaw ballads printed such as Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly (c.1530). My paper explores one reason why the figure of the outlaw hero became popular in print during the sixteenth century. Could it be that the idealisation of the outlaw occurred during the sixteenth century because another, more sinister criminal figure was also emerging in print: the ‘rogue’? Whilst outlaws such as Robin Hood were ‘curteyse’ and ‘dyde pore men moch god’, the figure of the rogue was more menacing. The word ‘rogue’ was first coined in 1561. Unlike the relatively good greenwood outlaw who lived apart from mainstream society, however, rogues were part of it, describing somebody who would rob, cheat, and swindle people indiscriminately, all the while effecting the disguise of a law-abiding citizen. Thus there was a need for people to believe in a good outlaw, because real-life offenders were ultimately more menacing. Hence the proposed paper explores the dichotomy between outlaws and rogues in print, in the process highlighting how changes in the nature of crime in the early modern period might have affected medieval outlaw myths.
A forthcoming public talk to be delivered at Pontefract Castle on 8 May 2016.
The lives of murderers, ravishers, thieves, highwaymen, burglars, forgers, Pirates, and Street Robbers adorned the pages of “The Newgate Calendar”.
Jack Sheppard’s lover and 18th-century sex worker.