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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. Read all about it here! This entertaining book is packed full of revolting acts and acts of revolt, revealing how ordinary folk – from nasty Normans to present-day lawbreakers – have left an extraordinary trail of criminality behind them. The often gruesome penalties exacted in retribution reveal a great deal about some of the most fascinating eras of British history.

When this book arrived from the lovely guys at Pen & Sword, I knew I had to dive on in right away. Growing up I was a massive fan of Deary’s Horrible Histories series so really wanted to see what this would be like – and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the recent controversy over Deary’s comments on public libraries having ‘had their day’, it can’t be denied that he is a wonderful author who injects humour into his writing. It’s certainly authors like Deary who pull a reader in and kick start their interest in the subject.

This book then is a quick read and it’s chapters are full of short sharp snippets of particularly gruesome stories around the peasant class and the ‘crimes’ that they committed. We read about crimes from the Norman times right through to the Victorians, and there are certainly some very very interesting stories in there. One such example that springs to mind is the idea of ‘mob’ football…which had no rules really. No death allowed was one of the little rules of the game but that often seems to have fallen on deaf ears. We also have stories of witch hunts (Donald Trump could learn a thing or two here), poisonings and the ever so stylish Gentleman Robbers ala Dick Turpin. Except Dick Turpin wasn’t exactly the lovable rogue that legend has made him out to be.

One particular favourite of mine was the story of Murder in the Red Barn – in 1878 a grieving stepmother told the story that she saw the ghost of her daughter pointing to the barn. In the barn, when it was investigated, the body of the daughter was found. She had been murdered by her lover, it seems. But the step mother was also involved, having been involved with the daughters lover herself – she came up with the fantastic ghost tale to get herself off the hook and it worked. The lover was found guilty at trial and died by the hangman’s noose.

The only issue I really had with this book was that it seemed to jump about chronologically in a way that had me wondering what the link was between this story of the Normans and this one of the Georgians. As a reader I am used to big tomes set out chronologically so it took me a little bit of time to get used to the way this book jumped about a bit. This happens more during the early chapters of the book which are set out in more vague themes such as ‘wild women’ so it makes sense to tell stories from multiple eras in one chapter.

Despite that I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It was a quick read and gave a fascinating insight into crimes and punishments throughout history. The snippets of stories were easy to read and chock full of humour that had me, quite often, chuckling out loud. If you want an introduction to crime and punishment throughout history that isn’t a huge, dull tome, then this is certainly the book for you.

A huge thank you to Pen & Sword for sending me a copy of this book to review.

4/5 stars

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My flight back to England loomed as my parents and I headed to Lisbon on the train. We left the house early as I really wanted to visit the tomb of Catherine of Braganza (wife of Charles II of England) before I went home, and caught the train to Lisbon. Once off the train we headed towards the Monastery, through the winding streets of the city. And let me tell you…I fell in love with the place.

When we found the Monastery we went inside the Church for a quick look, thinking that the entrance to the museum would be in there. Whilst there was no entrance, the church was gorgeous.

Unsure of where the entrance was, we went for a little wander around the streets of Lisbon. Normally in big cities, it’s so easy to feel unsafe. But Lisbon just felt different. The winding back streets made me feel as if I’d stepped back in time – they were quiet and peaceful and honestly? I could have stayed there forever. The best part though had to be seeing a tram with the face of Spongebob.

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It turned out that the entrance to the museum was at the side of the church. Heading inside, we immediately found ourselves in a wonderful monastic house that just seemed to seep history. Just like everywhere I’d been whilst in Portugal, it was so easy to just stop and feel the history, to imagine what it would have been like.

The original Monastery of São Vicente de Fora was founded in 1147 by King Alfonso Henriques and quickly became one of the most important religious houses in Portugal. Dedicated to the patron Saint of Lisbon, Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the monastery houses relics of the Saint. The buildings that you see today though are from a rebuilding project ordered by King Phillip II of Spain in 1580 – the Church was built between 1582 and 1629.

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The main reason for my wanting to visit was to the see the tomb of Catherine of Braganza. The Stuart dynasty has long been an interest of mine – even before I fell in love with the Borgias – and I’ve always had a soft spot for poor Queen Catherine. She certainly didn’t have an easy time of it as Queen Consort of England, putting up with her husband begetting a number of illegitimate children whilst she herself remained unable to have children. Her tomb is housed within the Royal Pantheon of the Braganza Dynasty in the old rectory – it is chock full of tombs, many of which are incredibly plain, just boxes of marble with the names of the deceased on the side. I must admit, I had expected Queen Catherine to have something a little more ornate, and the moment I stepped into the room I thought she would be in one of the tombs in the middle of the room. However, she has a simple grey tomb with her name etched on the side. I was slightly disappointed to see this and really do feel like she deserves more – I felt exactly the same when I saw Charles II’s burial place in Westminster Abbey. He doesn’t even have a proper tomb, simply a worn stone plaque on the floor of the abbey.

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The rest of the monastery was simply stunning. It houses the largest collection of tile work in Portugal (perhaps even the world) and the roof also offers some of the most stunning views of Lisbon. Dad and I climbed up to the roof whilst mum stayed below, not wanting to climb all the way up there. The steps are a little steep but it’s certainly worth doing!

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I would highly recommend a visit to this monastery, a gem tucked away in the back streets of Lisbon. Not only is it exceptionally peaceful and beautiful, but the staff are really really nice as well. 10/10 will visit again.

Once we had finished looking around, there was just enough time for a quick beer and cake stop before catching the train back to the airport. And that was that, my visit to Portugal was done with. I really did have an amazing few days there and cannot wait to get back – next time I’ll certainly be visiting more Templar places, particularly relating to one Templar in particular.