Great and Horrible News: Murder and Mayhem in Early Modern Britain

By Blessin Adams

‘Grimly fascinating … engrossing’ Daily Mail


In early modern England, murder truly was most foul. Trials were gossipy events packed to the rafters with noisome spectators. Executions were public proceedings which promised not only gore, but desperate confessions and the grandest, most righteous human drama. Bookshops saw grisly stories of crime and death sell like hot cakes.

This history unfolds the true stories of murder, criminal investigation, early forensic techniques, high court trials and so much more.

In thrilling narrative, we follow a fugitive killer through the streets of London, citizen detectives clamouring to help officials close the net. We untangle the mystery of a suspected staged suicide through the newly emerging science of forensic pathology. We see a mother trying to clear her dead daughter’s name while other women faced the accusations – sometimes true and sometimes not – of murdering their own children.

These stories are pieced together from original research using coroner’s inquests, court records, parish archives, letters, diaries and the cheap street pamphlets that proliferated to satisfy a voracious public.

These intensely personal stories portray the lives of real people as they confronted the extraordinary crises of murder, infanticide, miscarriage and suicide. Many historical laws and attitudes concerning death and murder may strike us as exceptionally cruel, and yet many still remind us that some things never change: we are still fascinated by narratives of murder and true crime, murder trials today continue to be grand public spectacles, female killers are frequently cast as aberrant objects of public hatred and sexual desire, and suicide remains a sin within many religious organisations and was a crime in England until the 1960s.

Great and Horrible News! explores the strange history of death and murder in early modern England, yet the stories within may appear shockingly familiar.

Format: Hardback
Release Date: 30 Mar 2023
Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-0-00-850022-1
Blessin Adams traded police work investigating today’s crime in the Norfolk Constabulary for academia, tracing the lives and deaths of people in early modern England. Blessin received her doctorate following research in early modern English law and literature at the University of East Anglia. As a fan of true crime she is fascinated by historical stories of murder and justice. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two dogs, and is a beekeeper in her spare time.

Praise for Great and Horrible News: -

‘Grimly fascinating…vivid detail… The early moderns were obsessed by stories of death, crime and justice,’ Adams states in her introduction. Her book, which covers the two centuries between 1500 and 1700, proves her point with a succession of grisly but engrossing cases’ Daily Mail -

”'A true crime treat from former police officer Blessin Adams. Great and Horrible News looks at what we can learn from early modern Britain when it comes to justice and criminality” - Janice Hallett

”'Bleakly fascinating . . . police investigator turned academic Blessin Adams explores nine historic crimes . . . stimulating non-fiction” - Independent, BEST BOOKS OF MARCH

‘This gory history of crime shows that our obsession with lurid podcasts is nothing new . . . Adams, a police officer turned historian, has poured over coroners’ inquest records, court documents, pamphlets, newspaper articles, parish archives, ballads, wills, letters and diaries to restage nine grim stories of crime in England between 1500 and 1700. As an ex-copper, Adams is greatly interested in developments in forensic pathology in this period, which are superbly reconstructed from the sources’ The Times -

”'Perfect for fans of true-crime, this is a bone-chilling and brilliantly researched account of murder, cruelty, and scandal in Tudor and Stuart Britain. I couldn’t put it down, but I sincerely regret reading it alone in the countryside. A fantastic debut” - Gareth Russell, author of Young and Damned and Fair

”'At once an intriguing true crime examination of historical crime and a sociological dive into Britain’s history, Adams does a stellar job of introducing a nonet of little-known crimes, running the gamut from suicide to child abuse to murder, that while not for the faint of heart, quickly become engrossing to read” - Set the Tape