People have always loved a good lurid story, the more complicated by family twists and accented by violence the better. Back in the 19th century, thousands of chapbooks were printed in Spain and England that chronicled grisly crimes and romantic intrigue for the public, and since a large part of the population was illiterate, there were always great images to catch the curious eye.
Read all about it! Wrongdoing in Spain and England in the Long Nineteenth Century at Cambridge University Library is currently showing some selections from their large collection of the chapbooks, and you can see a small library of the Spanish ones digitized online. The chapbooks from 19th century Spain are especially great for a glimpse into the perception at the time of wrongdoing and morality, from the glamorous bandits to family drama. The digitizing is also part of the ongoing Wrongdoing in Spain, 1800-1936 project, because apparently what people do wrong is a limitless source of examination.
For example, there are sequences on the virtues and vice of criminals, that almost always end with consequences of destitution and early death, sometimes in a “danse macabre” with the skeletal grim reaper himself. There are also notorious ladies-turned-bad like a chapbook of stanzas on Margarita Cisneros who killed her husband after being forced into an arranged marriage, Sebastiana del Castillo who killed her father, mother, and two brothers after they locked her away from her lover, and Angela de Valladares y Carrascosa who murdered her sister after she’d fallen in love with her brother-in-law, all after she’d killed the wife of a man she’d had an affair with. There are also characters like “Francisquillo the Tailor” who is shown holding a giant pair of scissors as his devious weapon, and Lorenzo de Texado who was driven by the devil to cut off his wife and four children’s heads.
Naturally, this is all illustrated with high drama, and lots of knives flying into flesh and bullets cut across the page. Here are just a few selections of the sinister 19th century wrongdoing from the pre-tabloid days:
Read all about it! Wrongdoing in Spain and England in the Long Nineteenth Century is at Cambridge University Library (Milstein Exhibition Centre, Cambridge, England) through December 23.