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Jacks, Knaves and Vagabonds book cover

NEW Jacks, Knaves and Vagabonds: Crime, Law, and Order in Tudor England Paperback - 2 September 2020

by Gregory J Durston

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(Click for a free online preview of this book)

Paperback |  ISBN 9781909976764 |  Published 2 September 2020736 pages | Publisher Waterside Press

Book description

In this welcome addition to his Crime History Series, Gregory Durston points to the lack of design and short-term expediency that typified Tudor law and order. But he also detects an emergent criminal justice system amidst royal patronage, protection, and the influence of wealthy magnates. Students of English history will have heard how benefit of clergy and the ‘neck verse’ might avoid a hanging, but what of other stratagems such as down-valuing stolen goods, cruentation, chance medley, pious perjury or John at Death (a non-existent culprit blamed by the accused and treated by juries as real); all devices used to mitigate the all-pervading death-for-felony rule.

Together with other artifices deployed by courts to circumvent black-letter law the author also describes how poor, marginalised and illiterate citizens were those most likely to suffer unfairness, injustice and draconian punishment. He also describes the political intrigue and widescale corruption that were symptomatic of the era, alongside such diverse aspects as forfeiture of property, evidential ploys, the rise of the highwayman, religious persecution, witchcraft and infanticide crazes. At a time of shifting allegiances — and as Crown, church, judges, magistrates and officials wrestled over jurisdiction, central or local control, ‘ungodly customs’, laws of convenience or malleable definitions — never perhaps were facts or law so expertly engineered to justify or defend often curious outcomes.

Part of Durston’s Crime History Series. Covers the entire Tudor era. Based on first-hand historical research. Fully referenced to hundreds of sources


'Many books about history simply present the bare facts. What is notable about this work is that though we are given an account of the legal and social processes, they are usually followed by examples, often entertaining, of their application. It makes the work highly readable. It is a weighty tome, but both enlightening and enjoyable.'-- Gordon Cropper, Independent Monitor.

YouTube review by Philip Taylor MBE:


‘Whether carefully planned and radical reform to the English criminal justice system would have produced a better result … very occasionally things went further, and drastic proposals for reform, whether in the form of public prosecutors or abolition of the death-for-felony rule, were briefly considered by the Crown and Parliament, before petering-out in the face of vested interests’.


Gregory J Durston is a barrister-at-law who has taught in Law Schools in England and Japan. He was for many years Reader in Law at Kingston University, Surrey and is currently an adjunct professor at Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice, New South Wales. His Crime History Series includes Whores and Highwaymen: Crime and Justice in the Eighteenth century Metropolis (2012); Fields, Fens and Felonies: Crime and Justice in Eighteenth century East Anglia (2016); and Crimen Exceptum: The English Witch Prosecution in Context (2019)(all Waterside Press).

Alternative format ISBNs: PDF ebook ISBN 9781910979945. EPUB / Kindle ebook ISBN 9781910979938.

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