A Fiery & Furious People

A History of Violence in England

James Sharpe

A TIMES AND SUNDAY TELEGRAPH BOOK OF THE YEAR

‘Wonderfully entertaining, comprehensive and astute.’ The Times

‘Sweeping and ambitious … Sharpe is a humane and clear-eyed guide to a series of intractable and timely questions.’ Observer

‘A magisterial book … The outlaw's song has surely never been better rendered.’ Times Literary Supplement

From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to an account of the violent activities of Victorian Manchester's scuttling gangs, via a character portrait of the duel-obsessed Cavalier Sir John Reresby, A Fiery & Furious People explores the brutal underside of our national life in all its variety. And as it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the subtle shifts that have taken place both in the nature of violence and in people's attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up being ducked in the village pond? When did the serial killer first make an appearance in the annals of English crime? How could football be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and the next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? What gave rise to particular types of violent criminal – medieval outlaws, Georgian highwaymen, Victorian garroters – and what made them dwindle and then vanish?

Throughout, Professor James Sharpe draws on an astonishingly wide range of material – court records and murder pamphlets, popular ballads and novels, sermons and films – to paint vivid pictures of the nation's criminals and criminal system from medieval times to the present day. He gives a strong sense of what it was like to be caught up in, say, a street brawl in medieval Oxford or a battle during the English Civil War. And he also seeks to answer perhaps the most fascinating and fundamental question of all: is a country that has experienced not only constant aggression on an individual scale but also the Peasants' Revolt, the Gordon Riots, the Poll Tax protests and the urban unrest of summer 2011 naturally prone to violence or are we, in fact, gradually becoming a gentler nation?


Deeply researched, thoughtfully considered and vividly written … Read it.History Today

Sharpe's eye for detail ensures that the shock value never dwindles. Mail on Sunday ****

‘Deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking … genuinely hard to put down.’ BBC History Magazine

  • Random House Books
  • Published 8th September 2016
  • 768 Pages
  • 162mm x 240mm x 65mm
  • 1299g
  • £30.00