U.S. CitiesCity-Data Forum Index
Go Back   City-Data Forum > General Forums > History
Please register to participate in our discussions with 2 million other members - it's free and quick! Some forums can only be seen by registered members. After you create your account, you'll be able to customize options and access all our 15,000 new posts/day with fewer ads.
View detailed profile (Advanced) or search
site with Google Custom Search

Search Forums  (Advanced)
Old 11-23-2009, 09:00 PM
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
48,565 posts, read 22,668,702 times
Reputation: 21167


For me, and I suspect this true for most Americans, British history tends to sort of fade into the background after the colonies became independent. What most know of 19th Century British history could be summed as:
Defeat Napoleon
Charles Dickens
Crimean War
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Jack the Ripper

We learn a lot more in school about Henry VIII then we do about Gladstone and Disraeli.

I've been trying to fill in my own gaps in this field and I've become drawn to the subject of the nation's approach to criminality.

The Bloody Codes referenced in the thread title were not called that during their time, but that phrase serves to collectively identify the British list of capital crimes which by 1800 reached an awe inspiring 222 different offences which could get you hung.

Murder of course was on the list, but so was arson, rape, treason, theft of anything valued at five shillings or more, pickpocketing regardless of the value of the theft...it was fairly easy to get yourself condemned to death.

These codes had been on the books since the 15th Century, gradually adding offenses to the list (There were 50 death penalty crimes in 1600, 160 by 1750), reaching the full 222 crime flower in the early part of the 19th Century. Reform set in after that and the codes were mostly overthrown by 1850.

Death was by hanging and at the dawn of the 19th Century, it was decided that the best public deterent value would rise from making these executions as public as possible. The reverse happened and the hangings became massively popular spectator sports, with crowds overwhelming the space available to watch. Buildings which had windows which overlooked the gallows in London's Newgate prison, rented out the windows to interested patrons at lofty rates, much like the apartments behind Wrigley Field. The hangman supplemented his income by cutting up the ropes used for the hangings into one inch lengths and selling them as ghoulish souveneers. The taverns and inns near gallows always made booming profits on hanging days.

It wasn't until 1820 or so that the "long drop" was introduced, a raising of the height of the gallows so that the victims would fall further and have their necks snap instantly. Before that, it was a six foot drop which left the victim alive and kicking until he or she strangled to death. This could take anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour for some. The pre-1820 crowds were treated to the condemned twisting, kicking, voiding their bladders....all in the name of horrifying the populace into good behavior. And the crowds loved every minute of it. They cheered the ones who went to their deaths with a jaunty or stoic attitude, and booed and jeered the ones who whimpered or cried.

The Golden Age of the Bloody Codes was 1816-1820 when they averaged over 100 hangings a year, up from the previous high of 75.

As brutal as this sounds, executions represented the final disposition of only 10 percent of all death sentences. That same 1816-1820 period which featured 518 hanged, there were 5,583 sentences of death handed down by the British courts. Many of these cases ended with pardons which were primarily matters of influence. If you could get someone of good reputation, preferably an aristocrat or senior clergyman, to petition the court for a pardon, it was typically granted. The larger percentage were sentences comuted when the condemned prisoner agreed to accept transport to the Australian penal colony. And another percentage, probably the largest, had their sentences set aside in exchange for their joining the army or Royal Navy.

The death of the Bloody Codes came about for two main reasons. One was the introduction of professional police forces in the cities so that the crime control emphasis shifted from punitive to preventitive. The other was a small revolt on the part of English judges who were so unhappy with the idea of having to sentence pickpockets and bread thieves to death, that they began a clandestine practice of finding all such accused persons innocent. That effectively sabotaged the entire deterent reasoning behind the codes. In 1823, The Judgement of Death Act was passed which was in response to the judges actions. This law granted sentencing discretion powers to judges in all capital cases except treason and murder. No longer having to sentence small time crooks to the gallows, they stopped doing it.

By 1861, the number of capital offenses had shrunk from 222 to five.
Rate this post positively Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message

Old 11-25-2009, 04:35 PM
Location: Victoria TX
42,661 posts, read 83,346,727 times
Reputation: 36548
Excellent account. I was not aware of that.
Rate this post positively Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 12-01-2009, 08:56 AM
31,381 posts, read 35,679,671 times
Reputation: 15006
I would suggest that you wander over to the UK's Guardian Unlimited The Talk forum. You will find some extremely knowledgeable posters from across Europe and the United States and they love discussing history. Just mind your grammar!
Rate this post positively Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Please register to post and access all features of our very popular forum. It is free and quick. Over $68,000 in prizes has already been given out to active posters on our forum. Additional giveaways are planned.

Detailed information about all U.S. cities, counties, and zip codes on our site: City-data.com.

Please update this thread with any new information or opinions. This open thread is still read by thousands of people, so we encourage all additional points of view.

Quick Reply

Over $104,000 in prizes was already given out to active posters on our forum and additional giveaways are planned!

Go Back   City-Data Forum > General Forums > History
Similar Threads

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 10:28 AM.

© 2005-2023, Advameg, Inc. · Please obey Forum Rules · Terms of Use and Privacy Policy · Bug Bounty

City-Data.com - Contact Us - Archive 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 - Top