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1988 Reprint of the 1979 Cassell edition
Foul Bills and Dagger Money is an unusual title for an unusual history. English law begins with Alfred the Great, and it is with Alfred that Dick Hamilton starts this study of the Northern Circuit through eight centuries of turbulence and change.
But this is no dry-as-dust legal textbook. Beginning with King Alfred's hanging of forty-four judges, we learn of the rigours of trial by ordeal, of the rights of sanctuary, and of when, eight hundred years ago, the Assize Judges were first sent on circuit round the country. It is a dramatic history where horror and humour abound, often side by side.
Foul Bills were findings of guilt against Border Raiders in Tudor times; Dagger Money was supposed to be paid to protect the judges from wandering desperadoes. Within the context of the development of the English legal system the book tells us of the massacre of the Jews at York and the notorious trial of the Lancashire witches.
The reader travels the circuit with the barristers in the stage-coach era, encountering highwaymen, and sees the traitors of the Forty-Five through the eyes of one judge who tried them. The infamous Judge Jeffreys tours the North in triumph, for secret political ends.
In the midst of the violence, tragedy and humour, the book is full of good stories. Johnson's companion, Boswell, is the victim of a wicked practical joke; the poet Coleridge disgraces himself at Carlisle Assizes; the great advocate, F. E. Smith, is seen riding a penny-farthing bicycle; a comic QC puts his foot in it; and the forthright Mr. Justice Rigby Swift deals with fools and knaves.
Dick Hamilton, a Liverpool barrister, has packed his book with fascinating legal and national history; but it is history that is, above all, tremendous fun.