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E. P. Thompson – Whigs and Hunters

The Origin of the Black Act

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With Whigs and Hunters, the author of The Making of the English Working Class, E. P. Thompson plunged into the murky waters of the early eighteenth century to chart the violently conflicting currents that boiled beneath the apparent calm of the time. The subject is the Black Act, a law of unprecedented savagery passed by Parliament in 1723 to deal with ‘wicked and evil-disposed men going armed in disguise’. These men were pillaging the royal forest of deer, conducting a running battle against the forest officers with blackmail, threats and violence.

These ‘Blacks’, however, were men of some substance; their protest (for such it was) took issue with the equally wholsesale plunder of the forest by Whig nominees to the forest offices. And Robert Walpole, still consolidating his power, took an active part in the prosecution of the ‘Blacks’. The episode is laden with political and social implications, affording us glimpses of considerable popular discontent, political chicanery, judicial inequity, corrupt ambition and crime.


Part 1 • Windsor
Windsor Forest
The Windsor Blacks
Offenders and Antagonists
Part 2 • Hampshire
The Hampshire Forests
King John
Awful Examples
The Hunters

Part 3 • Whigs
Enfield and Richmond
The Politics of the Black Act
Consequences and Conclusions
i. People
ii. Forests
iii. The Exercise of Law
iv. The Rule of Law

Appendix 1: The Black Act
Appendix 2: Alexander Pope and the Blacks
Note on Sources
'Unrivalled among historians for his distinctive blend of biting irony, probing analytical intelligence, passionate moral commitment and sheer rhetorical skill.' Keith Thomas

''Powerful, fascinating and endlessly suggestive', E. J. Hobsbawm
Edward Palmer Thompson (3 February 1924 – 28 August 1993) was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class (1963)