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Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree
By Alan Brooke & David Brandon

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London's Fatal Tree

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London's Fatal Tree

By Alan Brooke & David Brandon
Magna Large Print Books, 2006
ISBN : 0-7505-2468-5
Genre: History: British

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - January 22, 2007

Death comes in many guises, and for more than 50,000 people, it came at the end of the rope at a place called Tyburn. Located near Marble Arch, Tyburn was 'the' place where most public executions were held, for capital crimes committed in London and throughout Middlesex. These public executions were carried out by hanging, and Tyburn was used for nearly 600 years, from the 12th century until 1783, when the gallows were moved near Newgate Prison. While many of those killed at Tyburn committed heinous crimes, a greater number faced the hangman for seemingly petty crimes such as pickpocketing or for simply being a member of the wrong religion. During the reign of Henry III, hundreds of Jews were hung for the crime of being Jewish, and later it was the Catholics and the Protestants that took turns, as the political winds shifted, at the gallows for their faith. Others died, charged with treason (such as William Wallace) or counterfeiting, and others, such as Elizabeth Barton (The Maid of Kent), died simply for displeasing the king. She vocally protested Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, and for this she was forced to make a fatal visit to Tyburn. Strangely enough, even the dead died at Tyburn, such as the case of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and John Bradshaw. Charged with regicides for the execution of King Charles I, their bodies were exhumed, found guilty of the crime, brought to Tyburn and their corpses hung until sundown, then cut down and beheaded for added measure!

In Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree Alan Brooke and David Brandon paint a descriptive picture of how a tree in Tyburn came to become the poster child for England's penal system. When Tyburn first began to be used as a place for public hanging, the condemned were hung primarily from trees in the area. However, in 1222, it is recorded that Henry III ordered that permanent gallows be built there, to facilitate the hangings. In this riveting book, Brooke and Brandon chronicle the varied people who died at Tyburn, and their crimes. In the process, they present an eye opening overview of the changes made to the English penal system over this period and of an important, yet often overlooked aspect of English history. This book also highlights changes in English social history, as the crimes that warranted the death penalty changed to some degree, as public mores changed. For example, at one time adultery and disorderly conduct could lead to the gallows.

The history of Tyburn is also telling in that not only was it a place of execution, but it was also a place of entertainment. Hundreds, if not thousands of people (depending upon the celebrity of the condemned) came to witness the hangings carried out there and to listen to the speeches of the condemned. Children were brought to witness these spectacles, songs were written about them, and ofttimes a holiday atmosphere prevailed.

Many of those hung at Tyburn were well-known figures of their times, others' relative nobodies whose names have long since been forgotten. Throughout, the authors have included brief, mesmerizing biogeographical sketches of a sampling of the men who served as hangmen, and the condemned. These sketches examine their crime, their motivations, how they were caught, why they were sentenced to hang, and the public's reaction to their death. The stories of the hangmen are also covered. Combined with the historical and social overview of the Tyburn, these sketches serve to bind together the stories of all who died at Tyburn and to present an unforgettable glimpse at this unique aspect of English history.

Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of Magna Large Print Books.

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