Within the first few pages of SHADOWBOX, Louis Beauregard flees London and a murder he did not want to commit.
In England, men had been convicted as well as acquitted for deaths committed as the result of a duel. But in Louis’s case, the crime which sets off his escape from London was more serious. He could have faced anything from a stiff fine to death by hanging.
English law goes back to the Anglo-Saxon laws of King Alfred the Great. Retribution was one of the great penalties doled out. But Louis’s crime has to be viewed in the conceits of his time, when much of society was very different from today.
The death penalty was abolished for theft, counterfeiting and almost all forms of forgery in 1832.
For a start, Louis is not a common man. In 1832 he belonged to the cream of society, not quite above the law but with less onerous penalties than an ordinary subject of King William IV.
An ordinary man, such as James Cook, received a sentence of death by hanging and subsequent gibbeting of his remains.
When the body of the convict had hung the usual time after his execution, it was cut down and conveyed back to the jail, in order that the necessary preparations might be made to carry out that portion of the sentence which directed his remains to be gibbeted in chains. The head was shaved and tarred, to preserve it from the action of the weather; and the cap in which he had suffered, was drawn over his face.
With his powerful friends in high places, it’s unlikely Louis would have been hanged. But to a young man, never in trouble with the law before, how could he know? The Metropolitan Police were on his heels.
Even as a member of the ruling classes he’d face censure.
Not so for lesser men. Minor transgressions, such as theft of food or counterfeiting, ended in transportation. Debtors’ prisons, such as The Marshalsea, so dear to Charles Dickens, were jammed with people waiting to be transported.
The journey was hazardous. Many died en route to the colonies of Australia. The infamous convict ships can’t have been a bundle of fun for anyone.
Of course, what Louis really fears, in Paris as in England, is a death sentence.
And the gentlemen of the Cuckoo Club on both sides of the Channel know exactly how that ends.
Next in the SHADOWBOX series: Magic Lantern Shows.
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