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Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in…
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Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England

by Douglas Hay

Other authors: John G. Rule (Contributor)

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1513124,390 (4)6
In the popular imagination, informed as it is by Hogarth, Swift, Defoe and Fielding, the eighteenth-century underworld is a place of bawdy knockabout, rife with colourful eccentrics. But the artistic portrayals we have only hint at the dark reality. In this new edition of a classic collection of essays, renowned social historians from Britain and America examine the gangs of criminals who tore apart English society, while a criminal law of unexampled savagery struggled to maintain stability. Douglas Hay deals with the legal system that maintained the propertied classes, and in another essay shows it in brutal action against poachers; John G. Rule and Cal Winslow tell of smugglers and wreckers, showing how these activities formed a natural part of the life of traditional communities. Together with Peter Linebaugh's piece on the riots against the surgeons at Tyburn, and E. P. Thompson's illuminating work on anonymous threatening letters, these essays form a powerful contribution to the study of social tensions at a transformative and vibrant stage in English history. This new edition includes a new introduction by Winslow, Hay and Linebaugh, reflecting on the turning point in the social history of crime that the book represents.… (more)

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» See also 6 mentions

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The Albion’s Fatal Tree – Always a Classic

Since its publication in 1975 The Albion’s Fatal Tree has been praised and condemned in equal measure, who cannot seem to get beyond that it was written and edited by Marxist Historians of the time. This is history from below, or could be described as social history or crime history, to try and pigeonhole this book does not do it justice.

Consisting of six essays by colleagues of the great historian EP Thompson, one of the essays that seems to have got people hot under the collar is that by Douglas Hay. Hay’s essay on ‘Property, Authority and the Criminal Law’ I found interesting and exciting read on events from the eighteenth century. This essay seems to have been attacked by various academics, many of them American, do not seem to understand the context in which it was written. The eighteenth century may have been a wonderful time if you were upper class, but if you were poor and working-class then things were hard. Hay’s essay reflects that, and that he has researched and written the subject and engages well with the reader.

All the essays in the book are engaging and look at criminal history from below. So, it is interesting to understand about The Tyburn Riot Against the Surgeons, rather than read the usual it was just the revolting peasants standing up against their betters. Peter Linebaugh really digs down and examines how surgeons acted especially in buying dead bodies for furthering their education.

But we also get essays on smuggling which for those on the coast was always an opportunity to make more money, or costal plunder. Again, it is interesting to read how the law affected those at the bottom and why they may have to commit these offences. I found the chapter on poaching revealing, as I often like to point out the landed gentry land was stolen from the people to start with, and don’t get me started on the enclosure of common land by the landed.

This is an excellent book and introduces and examines a range of subjects that affected the working-classes or not to put it to bluntly, the peasants, which most of us were. For all those interested in social history and history from below then Albion’s Fatal Tree is a must read. ( )
  atticusfinch1048 | May 8, 2017 |
The most influential legal history work of the second half of the twentieth century. Changed the discipline and helped to draw historians and legal academics closer to one another. The key essay is by Douglas Hay, "Property, Authority and the Criminal Law". Every lawyer should read it. ( )
  elimatta | Jun 22, 2009 |
Crucial work to the understanding and appreciation of the treatment of crime in 18th Century England. Douglas Hay, E.P. Thomson and Peter Linebaugh are essential to the subject. ( )
  AlexTheHunn | Nov 22, 2005 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Douglas Hayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Rule, John G.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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