Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Law

18th Century Law

Laws in the 18th Century were harsh by modern standards, albeit unevenly applied. Stealing a shilling could get a man hanged. Embezzling £100,000 on the other hand was likely to result in a fine. The fine was likely to be much smaller than the amount embezzled.

As is not uncommon throughout history, the rich stood on the shoulders of the poor and (if I may mix a metaphor) had their trotters firmly in the trough. Corruption and patronage were particularly bad after Robert Walpole was made first Lord of the Treasury in 1721 but it was a feature of the century and indeed unless it became too bad or was applied to the wrong people, was even encouraged.

Consider the following act of parliament in 1723:

After the first day of June, 1723 any person:

Appearing in any forest, chase, park, etc., or in any highroad, open heath, common or down, with offensive weapons, and having his face blacked, or otherwise disguised,

OR unlawfully and wilfully hunting, wounding, killing or stealing any red or fallow deer,

OR unlawfully robbing any warren, etc.,

OR stealing any fish out of any river or pond,

OR (whether armed or disguised or not) breaking down the head or mound of any fishpond, whereby the fish may be lost or destroyed;

OR unlawfully and maliciously killing, maiming or wounding any cattle,

OR cutting down or otherwise destroying any trees planted in any avenue, or growing in any garden, orchard or plantation, for ornament, shelter or profit;

OR setting fire to any house, barn or outhouse, hovel, cock-mow or stack of corn, straw, hay or wood;

OR maliciously shooting at any person in any dwelling-house or other place;

OR knowingly sending any letter without any name, or signed with a fictitious name, demanding money, venison or other valuable thing,

OR forcibly rescuing any person being in custody for any of the offences before mentioned,

OR procuring any person by gift, or promise of money, or other reward, to join in any such unlawful act,

OR concealing or succouring such offenders

when, by Order of Council, etc., required to surrender shall suffer death.

A man could find himself hanged for fishing or cutting down a tree.