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Dangerous Talk

Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-Modern England

David Cressy (Humanities Distinguished Professor of History, The Ohio State University)

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12 January 2012
History; British & Irish history; Social & cultural history; Freedom of information & freedom of speech; Political subversion
Dangerous Talk examines the 'lewd, ungracious, detestable, opprobrious, and rebellious-sounding' speech of ordinary men and women who spoke scornfully of kings and queens. Eavesdropping on lost conversations, it reveals the expressions that got people into trouble, and follows the fate of some of the offenders. Introducing stories and characters previously unknown to history, David Cressy explores the contested zones where private words had public consequence. Though 'words were but wind', as the proverb had it, malicious tongues caused social damage, seditious words challenged political authority, and treasonous speech imperilled the crown. Royal regimes from the house of Plantagenet to the house of Hanover coped variously with 'crimes of the tongue' and found ways to monitor talk they deemed dangerous. Their response involved policing and surveillance, judicial intervention, political propaganda, and the crafting of new law. In early Tudor times to speak ill of the monarch could risk execution. By the end of the Stuart era similar words could be dismissed with a shrug. This book traces the development of free speech across five centuries of popular political culture, and shows how scandalous, seditious and treasonable talk finally gained protection as 'the birthright of an Englishman'. The lively and accessible work of a prize-winning social historian, it offers fresh insight into pre-modern society, the politics of language, and the social impact of the law.
By:   David Cressy (Humanities Distinguished Professor of History The Ohio State University)
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 158mm,  Spine: 21mm
Weight:   624g
ISBN:   9780199606092
ISBN 10:   0199606099
Publication Date:   12 January 2012
Audience:   College/higher education ,  Further / Higher Education
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Reviews for Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-Modern England

`Review from previous edition ... Readers will come away well informed about just how colourful the language of the English people, at their boldest and most deliberately subversive, has been over the centuries.' Anthony Fletcher, Times Literary Supplement `Cressy writes in an engaging and accessible style ... If this pioneering survey of an important and neglected subject raises as many questions as it answers, it brings a mass of new information to our attention, and raises issues which future studies of early modern politics and religion will be unable to ignore.' Bernard Capp, English Historical Review `A splendid catalogue of outspokenness ... this engaging book opens a window into the social history of pre-modern politics.' John Spurr, BBC History `[Cressy's] meticulous research into unruly tongues touches upon village scandal, bawdy gossip and rumours, with colourful cases ranging from cursing in a Cheshire village to a row between Cambridge academics.' Jenny Uglow, Financial Times `Scholarly in nature and light in tone, Dangerous Talk is an intriguing glimpse into the private thoughts and public punishment of neighbors in pre-modern England.' Lauren Puzier, Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century `An important and convincing story, and David Cressy makes many useful reflections along the way upon the nature of early modern popular culture. In all respects this is another solid achievement from a reliably good historian.' Ronald Hutton, History


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