Bow Street, Bounties, and Bribes:
Policing during the Regency
By Theresa Romain, Author of
Law enforcement in England during the Regency—the 1810s—was unlike the system we’re familiar with today. There was no metropolitan police force at the time, and no Scotland Yard. Yet alongside the glittering ballrooms so popular in fiction was a system of great inequality, with crime-filled, crowded rookeries full of desperate people who would ignore the law to survive. In addition to violent offenders, there were property criminals, embezzlers, con artists, and fences.
Who intervened when the law was broken?
Beginning in the mid-1700s, this purpose was filled in London by the Bow Street Runners. This nickname for the busy officers of the Bow Street Magistrate’s Court was granted them by the public, though the Runners themselves preferred to be called Officers of the Police. Whatever their name, they patrolled the streets of London and also took cases outside of the city when investigative help was needed. Thus, they became England’s first detective force.
Runners earned much of their income from rewards for capturing criminals and solving property crimes. It was common at the time for the victim of a crime to report it to Bow Street and offer a reward for the return of their property and the capture of the culprit. The consequences for those caught could be dire, as the theft of an amount as small as a shilling could result in execution or a life sentence in a penal colony.
Some Runners also took cases privately—as does the heroine of my historical romance Lady Notorious, who works unofficially alongside her Runner brother. When he is injured and temporarily can’t work, Cassandra is forced to earn her own income since she holds no position on the force. Thus, she accepts a case from the hero, George, Lord Northbrook, who fears for the life of his father.
As one wishes for in fiction, Cass and George solve a mystery while falling in love, and Cass finds a path to employment that uses her considerable abilities. She leaves the Bow Street Runners behind—as did England by the end of the 1820s, with the establishment of an organized police force. For the window of history in which they were needed, Bow Street Runners served the people of England well, and it can be fascinating to revisit their accomplishments through fiction.
Who knew love would be her secret weapon?
Cassandra Benton has always survived by her wits and wiles, even working for Bow Street alongside her twin brother. When injury takes him out of commission, Cass must support the family by taking on an intriguing new case: George, Lord Northbrook, believes someone is plotting to kill his father, the Duke of Ardmore. Decades before, the duke was one of ten who formed a wager that would grant a fortune to the last survivor. But someone can’t wait for nature to take its course—and George hopes a seasoned investigator like Cass can find out who.
Cass relishes the chance to spy on the ton, shrewdly disguised as handsome Lord Northbrook’s notorious “cousin.” What she doesn’t expect is her irresistible attraction to her dashing employer and days of investigation soon turn to passionate nights. But with a killer closing in and her charade as a lady of the ton in danger of collapsing at any moment, Cass has no choice but to put her life—and her heart—in the hands of the last man she ought to trust.
About the Author
Theresa Romain is the best-selling author of historical romances, including the Matchmaker trilogy, the Holiday Pleasures series, the Royal Rewards series, and the Romance of the Turf trilogy. Praised as “one of the rising stars of Regency historical romance,” she has received starred reviews from Booklist and was a 2016 RITA finalist. A member of Romance Writers of America and its Regency specialty chapter, The Beau Monde, Theresa is hard at work on her next novel from her home in the Midwest. To keep up with all of her book-release news, please visit her online at theresaromain.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter, or at the social media platforms below.