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

Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory


  1. Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were childhood playmates and also have in common the experience of being accused of treason and locked in the tower. How does Dudley use this shared history to influence Elizabeth? Is he successful?

'The Virgin's Lover' by Philippa Gregory (2004).
‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory (2004).

I think Dudley was quite manipulative in a way. He used what he knew was Elizabeth’s weakness to get close to her, and make her almost dependent on him. He tried to ingratiate with her when she was vulnerable and alone. I think there were so few people who had things in common with Elizabeth that she was automatically drawn to someone who shared one of the most important experiences of her life and that shaped her into the monarch she was. I think there was also an element that no one really treated Elizabeth as a normal person apart from Dudley – everyone else saw her either as a bastard or a queen. I think he is successful at first, but that, as Elizabeth settles more into her role, she realizes how dangerous it could be and changes her approach to him, at least in public.

  1. What is your opinion of Amy? She says about Dudley, “In his heart I know that he is still the young man that I fell in love with who wanted nothing more than some good pasture land to breed beautiful horses” (105). Has Amy completely misjudged her husband, particularly how ambitious a man he is?

I think that Dudley knew that he could never have that life, even if he wanted it, and I think that when he and Amy married he wasn’t so attached to Elizabeth. His father was on his way up, but not yet at the height of his power. He must have known that his future was at court. I think that Amy was blinded by her love for him, and assumed that he and she wanted the same kind of life. It was inevitable with who his father was that Dudley was destined for a life at court rather than in the country, and I don’t think that he really wanted any other kind of life. I don’t think Amy really understood Dudley, or his love for the court, because she had never been there, and I think it was difficult to understand the allure without having experienced it yourself. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory”

Discussion Questions – ‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy


  1. Discuss the marriage of Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart. They married very young; both were only seventeen. Was their marriage doomed from the start? What, if anything, coujld they have done to save their marriage? Though our modern-day concept of domestic abuse did not exist in Tudor times, do you think Robert Dudley, as depicted in this novel, was an abusive husband? If you were a marriage counsellor and this couple were seated on your couch, what would you tell them?

'A Court Affair' by Emily Purdy (2012)
‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy (2012)

I think that Robert and Amy’s marriage was doomed from the start because Robert’s love wasn’t love at all, but lust, whereas Amy’s was real. They were too young to really understand what they wanted and what it would mean in the long term. Amy was bound to get hurt as Robert’s ambition took control over his feelings. I think what would have been needed to save the marriage was a lack of ambition or an acceptance that marriages were generally not love matches, though the second was less likely. I think Robert Dudley was abusive towards Amy Robsart in an emotional way, not really physically. He pushed her aside and made it quite clear that he preferred someone else. I’d say that they needed to communicate more and come clear about their feelings and wants and needs, Amy in particular. I would also tell them that marriage should be for life and that even if you discover that you aren’t as well connected as you should be that there is always a way around it and that they shouldn’t give up too easily, as Robert does in this novel.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy”

The Death of Amy Robsart: the Arguments


A romanticised image of the death of Amy Robsart as imagined by Victorian artist William Frederick Yeames.
A romanticised image of the death of Amy Robsart as imagined by Victorian artist William Frederick Yeames.

Amy Robsart was the first wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was found with a broken neck in 1560. Controversy has raged ever since over the cause of her death.

Background to the Death
* Found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs at Cumnor Place, where she’d been staying.
* Dudley immediately ordered an inquest.
* Amy’s maid, Mrs Picto, said that it would be “chance” rather than “villainy”.
* The jury concluded that it was an accident.
* The coroner’s verdict claimed she had two head injuries, and was pronounced publicly on 1 August 1561.
* Amy was buried at St Mary’s, Oxford, supposedly costing Dudley £2,000.
* Dudley wore mourning for six months and retired to Kew for the first month. The court also wore mourning.
* Dudley knew there would be gossip, particularly about his relationship with Elizabeth.
* There were rumours of poison. Continue reading “The Death of Amy Robsart: the Arguments”