Art of English Murder


Lucy has the best job in England. She is curator for the Historic Royal Palaces, which means she has access to some of the coolest artifacts in the UK. She began her career by studying history, then becoming an inspector of historic homes for English Heritage.

In addition to her impressive academic resume, she is also a television host for a number of noted historical programmes, including A Very British Murder on BBC. It is this research that turned into this book. Worsley uses the distinctly English tradition of telling stories evolved, and the gruesome attention they gained from an insatiable public.

Author Lucy Worsley
Author Lucy Worsley

Broadsheets, penny dreadfuls, Newgate confessions, sensation novels, Old Bailey transcripts — all of these played into an Englishman’s morbid curiosity, a desire to understand an inhuman human.

Ballads like ‘The Murder of Maria Marten’ tumbled off the busy printing presses in the Seven Dials area of London, the centre of the cheaper end of the publishing business. … Enormous relish is taken in the ghastliness of the crime. Yet alongside the fun to be found in the horror is the clear social purpose served by this song on everyone’s lips in 1828.  ~ Pg. 97

Worsley traces historical moments through then pairs them with socioeconomic truths such as literacy rates, railways service, newspaper circulation, prison reform, women’s rights and more — even knickknacks.

But Georgian working people still lacked the spare cash to trick out their parlors with anything but the most functional items. One of the greatest visual changes to the homes of working people in the nineteenth century lay in their being able for the first time to afford items whose function was purely decorative, expressions of taste, and preferences and personality.
So now mantlepieces began to be crowded with cheap, perhaps gaudy, but very personal items such as ceramic figurines. … they showed characters that nearly everybody could recognize — yes, even notorious murderers — and represented a world of entertainment and intrigue beyond the daily grind.

She explores the hallmarks of each era — from Vidocq and DeQuincey to Dickens and Collins, to Doyle and through to the Golden Age with Agatha Christie, and even into modern times with classic Hitchcock.

Worsley not only makes the history incredibly accessible, one can sense her genuine excitement in sharing it. It is authoritative enough to be an literature or history textbook but so approachable it doesn’t read like one. Worsley continues to make the English murder enjoyable.

Many thanks to Pegasus Books for the review copy.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (October 15, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1605986348
ISBN-13: 978-1605986340
Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 0.6 x 0.1 inches

Lucy Worsley, PhD is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Kew Palace in England. Please visit