Book Review – ‘The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes’ by Terry Deary


Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law. Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods. Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. [Description from Waterstones]

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the chance to read and review this book.

I think this was one of the most enjoyable history books I’ve read in a while. I thoroughly enjoyed the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary when I was younger, and I think it was those books that made me want to study history. This book on the crimes of peasants throughout history doesn’t disappoint when compared – the only thing I miss in comparison to the Horrible Histories are the cartoons, which I suppose have been removed to make this book better for adults.

Deary brings in primary sources throughout, and quotes from various famous people from history, both fictional and real. The book is split down into easily digestible chunks chronologically from the Normans, through the Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and on to the Georgians and Victorians, discussing all kinds of crimes from football hooliganism, rioting, grave robbing, poisoning and murder. The whole spectrum is covered, along with different punishments.

I’m not normally a big fan of footnotes – I actually prefer endnotes as it means that you can read without getting distracted by them, and just look at the endnotes that are interesting to you. Some books have really long footnotes, which also really annoys me, but this book doesn’t have that problem. The footnotes in this book are actually really enjoyable, as they seem to add some comic relief and jokes, which are very much like what I remember of Terry Deary.

The chapters are all broken down into sub-sections, making this easy to dip in and out of, or if you are interested in a particular type of crime or a particular period. He goes deeply into some cases where there is a lot of evidence or a moral tale. Deary has a great writing style which makes his work easy to read and engage with, and makes you want to keep reading, which is great in a non-fiction history book, as some of them can be a bit dry. This definitely isn’t a problem with Terry Deary’s books and writing!

This book is definitely worth a read and apparently there will be more in the series with the next one entitled ‘The Peasants’ Revolting Lives’. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to the next one, it’s already on my wish list!

Chapters:

  1. Norman Nastiness
  2. Mediaeval Misery
  3. Wild Women
  4. Tudor Twisters
  5. Sinful Stuarts
  6. Quaint Crimes
  7. Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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