1st Edition

Class, Servitude, and the Criminal Justice System in Early Victorian London The Russell Murder

By Allyson N. May Copyright 2025
    268 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume draws on the recently discovered and extraordinarily rich scrapbook compiled by prosecuting solicitor Francis Hobler about the 1840 murder of Lord William Russell to consider public engagement with the issues raised from discovery of the murder itself through the ensuing legal processes.

    The murder of Russell by his valet François Benjamin Courvoisier was a cause célèbre in its own day by virtue of fact that the victim was a member of one of England’s most prominent political families. For criminal justice historians, the significance of this case lies instead in its timing. In 1840, England had neither an official detective force to investigate the murder nor a public prosecutor to undertake the prosecution. Those accused of felony had only recently (1836) won the right to full legal representation, and the conduct of Courvoisier’s defense was controversial. Reaction to Courvoisier’s execution was also noteworthy, testifying to a new public unease with capital punishment. The subject of master and servant relations in early Victorian England is another key component of the book: previous studies have not considered the murderer’s motivation.

    This book will be of interest to students and scholars of criminal justice and law, Victorian England, and microhistory.

    1. Introduction

    2. 14 Norfolk Street, Park Lane: Upstairs and Down

    3. Inspectors Call: The Investigation

    4. The Case for the Prosecution Rests … with Francis Hobler

    5. ‘Going to See a Man Hanged’

    6. Who Speaks?: Voice, Image, Agency – and Truth

    7. Explanations and Consequences


    Allyson N. May is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She is the author of The Bar and the Old Bailey, 17501850 (2003) and The Fox-Hunting Controversy, 1781–2004: Class and Cruelty (2013) and co-editor, with David Lemmings, of Criminal Justice during the Long Eighteenth Century: Theatre, Representation and Emotion (2019).

    "Allyson May builds on her study of the Old Bailey bar with a marvellous account of the trial of the Swiss valet hanged in 1840 for murdering his employer. The case fascinated early Victorian England. Drawing on an unusually rich prosecution source May shows why, citing class tension and political upheaval."

    Douglas C. Hay, York University, Canada

    "This first-rate study of the Russell murder illuminates the workings of English criminal justice, increasing unease with the death penalty, and the breakdown in the master-servant relationship in which the crime was rooted. It has import, too, for the history of class, gender, and masculinity."

    Victor Bailey, University of Kansas, USA