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Tabloid Tales

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Tabloid Tales

Journalists were not entirely preoccupied by the concerns of the political elite, and a high proportion of news coverage involved what later became known as “tabloid” journalism. Both press and public were fascinated by crime and disorder, and the stories they read and reported revealed fears about the dangers of moral decay. By examining these extraordinary tales from the lives of ordinary people, it is possible to observe just how willing contemporaries were to invest such events with political and religious meaning and significance.

A true relation of a barbarous and most cruell murther, committed by one Enoch ap Evan. London, 1633

Although crime was common in the seventeenth century, murder was rare. This helps to explain the popularity of pamphlets describing unusually violent incidents, often with dramatic and grisly woodcut illustrations of the crimes they described.


The murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, the magistrate who nervously investigated claims of a “popish plot” in1678, scandalized the nation. The discovery of his strangled and stabbed body was quickly exploited by Whigs who were critical of the Crown and claimed that he had been killed by Catholic conspirators. They sought to turn Godfrey into a Protestant martyr, especially through broadsides such as England’s Grand Memorial.


On some occasions the significance of murder went much further than sensational reporting, as with the story of Enoch ap Evans’ savage beheading of both his mother and brother (pictured above). The crime apparently occurred following a family argument over religious beliefs and practices, and Enoch’s case was quickly exploited in a range of tracts and treatises by those who drew a connection between his Puritanism and his criminal behavior.


Many radical Puritans were demonized for challenging authority through outrageous behavior, as with another gruesome tale of a woman who murdered her baby rather than let it be baptized by her Presbyterian husband. She was reported to have said “now go and baptise it, if you will, you must christen the head without a body.” The culprit apparently repented in prison, after being tormented by visions of headless infants.




England's grand memorial: the unparallel'd plot to destroy His Majesty. London, 1679

A true relation of a most desperate murder, committed upon the body of Sir John Tindall Knight. London, 1617

Cranford. The teares of Ireland. London, 1642

Exhibition Highlights

A World of Wonder

Censorship and the Free Press


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