- Crime and the Law in England, 1750–1840: Remaking Justice from the Margins
This collection draws together both new and previously published research on the history of crime and criminal justice in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. From the outset this is both a worthy and admirable piece of work. Not only does it collect together some of King’s wide scholarship in a cogent framework, but it also presents much needed quantitative investigation into questions about criminal justice. King’s blend of quantitative data with empirical and theoretical discussion works particularly well here. Whilst he is not a storyteller, his fluid use of examples to support his more quantitative findings result in a richly textured set of chapters.
The book is divided into four parts. The first deals with juvenile crime from the 1780s until the 1830s. The second focuses on gender from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The third explores assault and interpersonal violence. The fourth returns to his classic work on customary practice and specifically gleaning, in the English countryside. As King acknowledges in the preface, a number of the chapters are republished here having originally appeared in Past and Present (2, 10), The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (7), and Law and History Review (9). All these articles presented important research and it is good to see them reprinted again for a new audience, although those already familiar with King’s work might balk at the cover price of the book. Nevertheless, this established work is easily matched by newly minted research in the first three parts, as well as the very useful introduction. Here King foregrounds the argument that, in various forms underlies much of the research in this book. Thus King seeks to understand and explore what we might see as the boundaries of criminal justice. Terms like discretion, custom, informal, and negotiation are crucially important to King’s understanding of the shifting landscape of criminal justice in the long eighteenth century. He rightly emphasizes the boundaries between public and private and the interactions between the voluntary sector and the state. Neither was mutually exclusive. Perhaps the most important boundary for King is that between the central and the marginal, “the local, decentralized nature of many of the means by which justice was shaped and remade in the period between 1750 and 1840” (p. 2). The localities are amply represented in this work, most notably in the chapter on the Cornish courts. The useful introduction persuasively states the case for turning our attention from central authority towards the margins, at the very least to engage more directly with the relationship between the two.
For the rest of the book, King replays this thesis through chapters on juveniles, gender, and inter-personal violence. Chapters three and four move from [End Page 496] the general to the specific subject of punishment of juveniles. Most important in this regard is King’s rigorous research on the London voluntary institution, The Refuge for the Destitute. King’s research has been important in contributing to the debate about the ‘invention’ of the juvenile delinquent, highlighting the importance of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in this regard. The significance of his work here is to establish the relationship between central justice (at the Old Bailey) and the voluntary, experimental practices at the Refuge, establishing it as “the first partially state-funded juvenile reformatory” (p. 161). Thus King shows how the London courts developed a system of informal reformatory sentences, filtering young offenders to the Refuge for the Destitute (and to a lesser extent the Philanthropic Society which had been founded in 1788), many years previously to the watershed acts passed at mid-century. Chapters 5 and 6 rehearse some of King’s findings on gender (an earlier version of chapter 5 was published in M. Arnot and C. Usborne (eds), Gender and Crime in Modern Europe [London, 1999]). In particular careful analysis reveals the extent to which forms of punishment were distinctly gendered. Chapter 6...