Great and Horrible News: Murder and Mayhem in Early Modern Britain

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Great and Horrible News: Murder and Mayhem in Early Modern Britain

Great and Horrible News: Murder and Mayhem in Early Modern Britain

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Many historical laws and attitudes concerning death and murder may strike us as exceptionally cruel, and yet many still remind us that some things never change: we are still fascinated by narratives of murder and true crime, murder trials today continue to be grand public spectacles, female killers are frequently cast as aberrant objects of public hatred and sexual desire, and suicide remains a sin within many religious organisations and was a crime in England until the 1960s. And because each story is in its own self-contained chapter I was able to read one a day, and then move on to something lighter for the rest of my daily reading! This sounds really fascinating – though I think I would have to read it in small doses, for the reasons other commenters have said. I liked how they were more of a personal nature as some of the information came from peoples diaries. From early 'baby farms' to political deaths to the consequences of suicide, the cases all vary and take the reader back to this time when social mores and laws were quite different to today and where we see the beginnings of forensic science.

I thought she did a really excellent job of using the crimes as a way to discuss various aspects of the society at that time.It sometimes annoys me in non-fiction when an author makes a lot of assumptions or embellishes too much, but it sounds as if she gets the balance right between sticking to the facts and telling a good story. Above all, these stories provide insight into the social mores of the time, but also things like the first use of forensic evidence, the societal role of midwives, and church-sanctioned torture. An absolutely macabre fascinating account of deaths of real people in London during the middle part of the last 1000 years. She takes us beyond Nathaniel's conviction to his time in Newgate, describing the appalling conditions in which prisoners were kept.

In terms of our thirst for knowledge for all things grisly, it seems like we haven't changed much in 500 years. It seems that there is a tendency to view the obsession with true crime as some kind of modern depravity, a symptom of societal breakdown. This was a passable read - short tellings of various different murders in the 16th and 17th centuries in England. A couple of them did get under my skin, but a few of them are really more interesting than upsetting.I found it interesting about how suspicious deaths were investigated and what type of 'forensics' were available to them at the time.

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