Cranstoun fled from justice

As time wore on the punishment reverted to its earlier and milder form.
Thus, in 1630, Dr. Leighton, for his _Zion’s Plea against Prelacy_,
was pilloried, branded, cropped, and whipped; but the authors of the
eighteenth century were punished by exposure alone, and were often
solaced by popular sympathy. In 1765 Williams, the bookseller, stood
in the Pillory for re-publishing _The North Briton_: he held a sprig
of laurel in his hand, and a large collection was made for him then
and there. In derision of authority the mob displayed (_inter alia_)
the famous Bootjack–the popular reference to Lord Bute, the late
Prime Minister. Still more farcical was the exposure (1759) of Dr.
Shebbeare for publishing political libels. He was attended on the
platform by a servant in livery holding an umbrella over his head,
and his neck and arms were not confined. The court thought the
under-sheriff of Middlesex something more than remiss: wherefore he
was fined and imprisoned, it being judicially decided that the culprit
must stand not merely _on_ but _in_ the Pillory. In this connexion I
will only further mention the case of Eton the publisher, “a very old
man,” who in 1812 was pilloried for printing Paine’s _Age of Reason_.
Here, again, the crowd, by the respect it heaped upon the prisoner,
altogether eliminated the sting from the punishment. The minor scribe
of to-day is supposed to court an action, nay, a criminal prosecution,
as a stimulus to circulation; a former age saw in the Pillory the best
possible advertisement for the Grub Street hack. In Foote’s _Patron_,
Puff, the publisher, urges Dactyl to produce a satire; and, when the
proposed risk is hinted at, retorts: “Why, I would not give twopence
for an author who was afraid of his ears…. Why, zooks, sir! I never
got salt for my porridge till I mounted at the Royal Exchange, that was
the making of me…. The true Castalian stream is a shower of eggs and
a Pillory the poet’s Parnassus.”

Among cases other than literary, a notable one is that of Titus Oates
(1685), who, being convicted of perjury, was sentenced to stand in
the Pillory and be whipped at the Cart’s-tail. The lashing was so
cruelly done that you feel some pity even for that arch rascal. The
curious computed that he received 2256 strokes with a whip of six
thongs–13,536 strokes in all. Yet the wretch lived to enjoy a pension
after the Revolution! There was another remarkable instance that same
year. Thomas Dangerfield, convicted of libelling the King when Duke of
York, was sentenced to a fine, to the Pillory, and to be whipped from
Aldgate to Newgate, and from Newgate to Tyburn. The dreadful work was
over, and he was returning prisonwards in a coach, when there steps
forward Robert Francis, a barrister of Gray’s Inn, with the cruel jibe,
“How now, friend? Have you had your heat this morning?” Dangerfield
turned on him with bitter curses (“Son of a wh—-” is the elegant
sample preserved by the records). Francis, much enraged, thrust at the
aching, smarting, bleeding wretch with a small cane, and by mischance
put out an eye, so that in two hours Dangerfield was dead; and no great
while thereafter he himself was tried, condemned, and hanged. According
to the testimony of the Rev. Mr. Samuel Smith, Ordinary at Newgate, he
made a very edifying end.

Quite interesting is the case of Japhet Crook, _alias_ Sir Peter
Stringer, whose unhappy memory is preserved in some of Pope’s most
biting lines. In 1731, poor Japhet stood in the Pillory at Charing
Cross for forging a deed; when the hangman, dressed like a butcher,
“with a knife like a gardener’s pruning knife cut off his ears, and
with a pair of scissors slit both his nostrils.” The wretch endured all
this with great patience; but at the searing “the pain was so great
that he got up from his chair.” No wonder! Two years after Eleanor
Beare, keeper of “The White Horse,” Nuns Green, Derby, was pilloried
(August 1732) after just escaping the gallows for murder. She mounted
the platform “with an easy air”; thus exasperating a mob already
ill-disposed, which bombarded her with apples, eggs, turnips, and so
forth; so that “the stagnate kennels were robbed of their contents, and
became the cleanest part of the street.” Managing to escape, she dashed
off, “a moving heap of filth,” but was presently seized and lugged
back; and at the end of the hour she was carried to prison, “an object
which none cared to touch.” A week after she was again forced to take
her stand. The officer noted that her head was wondrous swelled, and
he presently stripped it of “ten or twelve coverings,” whereof one was
a pewter plate. Her aspect was most forlorn, but the crowd, no whit
moved, pelted its hardest, and she was borne away more dead than alive.
Yet she too not only lived, but “recovered her health, her spirits,
and her beauty.” Two lighter instances, and I have done. In the early
stages of Monmouth’s rebellion, an astrologer, consulting the stars,
saw that the duke would be presently King of England. After Sedgemoor
he was cast into Dorchester Gaol for this unlucky prediction. Again
falling to his observations, he clearly read “that he would be whipped
at the Cart’s —-”; and this time the planets spoke true. In 1783, the
poet Cowper reports one humorous case from his own experience. At Olney
a man was publicly whipped for theft; he whealed with every stroke; but
that was only because the beadle drew the scourge against a piece of
red ochre hidden in his hand. Noting the fraud, the parish constable
laid his cane smartly about the shoulders of the all too-lenient
official, whereat a country wench, in high dudgeon, set to pomelling
the constable. And of the three the thief alone escaped punishment.

State Trials for Witchcraft

Early Laws against Witchcraft–The Essex Witches–The Devon
Witches–The Bury St. Edmunds Case–Bewitched Children–The
Scepticism of Serjeant Keeling–Evidence of Sir Thomas Browne–The
Judge’s Charge–The End of it All–The Trial of Richard
Hathaway–The Comic Side of Superstition–A Rogue’s Punishment–A
Word in Conclusion.

I propose to examine the Witchcraft cases in Howell’s twenty-one bulky
volumes of State Trials. The general subject, even in England, is too
vast for detailed treatment here; also it is choked with all manner of
absurdities. In a trial some of these are pared away: you know what
the people saw, or believed they saw, and you have the declarations of
the witches themselves. Only five cases, all between 1616 (13 Jac. I.)
and 1702 (1 Anne) are reported. The selection is capricious, for some
famous prosecutions as that of the Lancashire witches are omitted, but
it is fairly representative.

In the early times Witchcraft and sorcery were left to the Church. In
1541, 33 Hen. VIII. c. 8, made both felony without “benefit of clergy;”
and by the 1 Jac. I. c. 12, all persons invoking any evil spirit, or
taking up dead bodies from their graves to be used in any Witchcraft,
sorcery, charm, or enchantment, or killing or otherwise hurting any
person by such infernal arts, shall be guilty of felony without
“benefit of clergy,” and suffer death. King James’s views on Witchcraft
and his skill (whereon he greatly plumed himself) as witch-finder are
famed. Royal influence went hand-in-hand with popular superstition. In
less than a century and a half, legislative if not vulgar ideas were
altered, and in 1736, by 9 Geo. II. c. 5, the laws against Witchcraft
were swept away, though charlatans professing the occult sciences were
still punished as cheats.

I pass as of little interest Howell’s first case, that of Mary Smith,
in 1616. More worthy of note are the proceedings against the Essex
witches, some twenty in number, condemned at the Chelmsford Sessions on
July 29, 1645, before the Earl of Warwick and other Justices. One noted
witch was Elizabeth Clarke to whom the devil had appeared “in the shape
of a proper gentleman with a laced band, having the whole proportion of
a man.” She had certain imps, whom she called Jamara (“a white dogge
with red spots”), Vinegar Tom, Hoult, and Sack and Sugar. So far the
information of Matthew Hopkins, of Manningtree, gent., who further said
that the same evening whereon the accused confessed those marvels to
him, “he espied a white thing about the bignesse of a kitlyn,” which
bit a piece out of his greyhound, and in his own yard that very night
“he espied a black thing proportioned like a cat, only it was thrice
as big, sitting on a strawberry-bed, and fixing the eyes on this

John Sterne, gent., had equal wonders of imps the size of small dogs,
and how Sack and Sugar were like to do him hurt. ’Twere well, said the
malevolent Elizabeth, “that this informant were so quick, otherwise
the said impe had soone skipped upon his face, and perchance had got
into his throate, and then there would have been a feast of toades in
this informant’s belly.” The witch Clarke ascribed her undoing to Anne
Weste, widow, here usually called Old Beldam Weste, who, coming upon
her as she was picking up a few sticks, and seeming to pity her for
“her lamenesse (having but one leg) and her poverty,” promised to send
her a little kitten to assist her. Sure enough, a few nights after
two imps appeared, who vowed to “help her to an husband who should
maintain her ever after.” A country justice’s notions of evidence are
not supposed to be exact even to-day; what they were then let the
information of Robert Tayler, also of Manningtree, show. It seems
Clarke had accused one Elizabeth Gooding as a confederate. Gooding was
refused credit at Tayler’s for half a pound of cheese, whereupon “she
went away muttering and mumbling to herself, and within a few hours
came again with money and bought a pound of cheese of this informant.”
That very night Tayler’s horse fell grievously ill and four farriers
were gravelled to tell what ailed it, but this portentous fact was
noted: “the belly of the said horse would rumble and make a noyse as
a foule chimney set on fire.” In four days it was dead. Tayler had
also heard that certain confessed witches had “impeached the said
Elizabeth Gooding for killing of this said horse,” moreover Elizabeth
kept company with notorious witches–after which scepticism was scarce
permissible. Rebecca Weste, a prisoner awaiting trial in Colchester,
confessed how at a witches’ meeting the devil appeared to her in the
shape of a dog and kissed her. In less than six months he came again
and promised to marry her. “Shee said he kissed her, but was as cold as
clay, and married her that night in this manner: he tooke her by the
hand and led her about the chamber and promised to be a loving husband
to death, and to avenge her of her enemies.”

One Rawbood had taken a house over the head of Margaret Moon, another
of the accused, with highly unpleasant consequences. Thus, Mrs.
Rawbood, though a “very tydy and cleanly woman, sitting upon a block,
after dinner with another neighbour, a little before it was time to go
to church upon an Easter Day, the said Rawbood’s wife was on a sudden
so filled with lice that they might have been swept off her clothes
with a stick; and this informant saith he did see them, and that they
were long and lean, and not like other lice.” More gruesome were the
confessions of Rebecca Jones, of Osyth. One fine day some twenty-five
years past she, a servant lass at Much-Clacton, was summoned by a knock
at the door, where she saw “a very handsome young man, as shee then
thought, but now shee thinks it was the devil.” Politely inquiring how
she did, he desired to see her left wrist, which being shown him, he
pulled out a pin “from this examinant’s owne sleeve, and pricked her
wrist twice, and there came out a drop of bloud, which he took off
with the top of his finger, and so departed”–leaving poor Rebecca’s
heart all in a flutter. About four months afterwards as she was going
to market to sell butter, a “man met with her, being in a ragged state,
and having such great eyes that this examinant was very much afraid of
him.” He presented her with three things like to “moules,” which she
afterwards used to destroy her neighbours’ cattle, and now and again
her neighbours themselves. In evidence against other suspects there was
mention of a familiar called Elimanzer, who was fed with milk pottage,
and of imps called Wynowe, Jeso, Panu, with many other remarkable

The foregoing was collected before trial as information upon oath; but
this testimony of Sir Thomas Bowes, knight, was given from the bench
during the trial of Anne Weste, whom it concerned. He reported that
an honest man of Manningtree passing Anne Weste’s door at the very
witching hour of night, in bright moonlight saw four things like black
rabbits emerge. He caught one of them, and beat the head of it against
his stick, “intending to beat out the braines of it,” failing in which
benevolent design, he next tried to tear off its head, “and as he wrung
and stretched the neck of it, it came out between his hands like a lock
of wooll;” then he went to a spring to drown it, but at every step he
fell down, yet he managed to creep to the water, under which he held
the thing “a good space.” Thinking it was drowned he let go, whereupon
“it sprang out of the water into the aire, and so vanished away.” There
was but one end possible for people who froze the rustic soul with such
pranks. Each and all were soon dangling from the gallows.

The case of the Devon witches tried at Exeter in August 1682 is much
like the Essex business. The informations are stuffed with grotesque
horrors, yet it is hard to believe that the accused–three poor women
from Bideford, two of them widows–had been convicted but for their
own confessions, which are full of copious and minute details of their
dealings with Satan. Going to their death, they were worried by Mr.
H—-, a nonconformist preacher and (as is evident) a very pestilent
fellow. “Did you pass through the keyhole of the door, or was the door
open?” was one query. The witch asserted that like other people she
entered by the door, though “the devil did lead me upstairs.” Mr. H—-
went on, “How do you know it was the devil?” “I knew it by his eyes,”
she returned. Again, “Did you never ride over an arm of the sea on a
cow?”–an exploit which the poor woman sturdily disclaimed. Mr. H—-,
a little dissatisfied, one fancies, prayed at them a while, after which
two of the women were turned off the ladder. Mr. Sheriff tried his
hand at the survivor: he was curious as to the shape or colour of the
devil, and was answered that he appeared “in black like a bullock.”
He again pressed her as to whether she went in “through the keyhole
or the door,” but she alleged the more commonplace and (for a witch)
unorthodox mode of entry, “and so was executed.”

Between these two cases one occurred wherein the best legal intellect
of the day was engaged–and with no better result. In March 1665, Rose
Cullender and Amy Duny, widows, were indicted at the Assizes at Bury
St. Edmunds for bewitching certain people. Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief
Baron of the Exchequer, presided. “Still his name is of account.” To
an earlier time he seemed a judge “whom for his integrity, learning,
and law, hardly any age, either before or since, could parallel.”
William Durant, an infant, was one victim; his mother had promised
Amy Duny a penny to watch him, but she was strictly charged not to
give him suck. To what end? queried the court reflecting on Amy’s age.
The mother replied: firstly, Amy had the reputation of a witch, and
secondly, it was a custom of old women thus to please the child, “and
it did please the child, but it sucked nothing but wind, which did
the child hurt.” The two women had a quarrel on the subject: Amy was
enraged, and departed after some dark sayings, and the boy forthwith
fell into “strange fits of swounding.” Dr. Jacob, of Yarmouth, an
eminent witch-doctor, advised “to hang up the child’s blanket in the
chimney-corner all day, and at night when she put the child to bed
to put it into the said blanket, and if she found anything in it she
should not be afraid, but throw it into the fire.” The blanket was duly
hung up, and taken down, when a great toad fell out, which being thrown
into the fire made (not unnaturally) “a great and horrible noise;”
followed a crack and a flash, and–exit the toad! The court with solemn
foolishness inquired if the substance of the toad was not seen to
consume? and was stoutly answered “No.” Next day Amy was discovered
sitting alone in her house in her smock without any fire. She was in
“a most lamentable condition,” having her face all scorched with fire.
This deponent had no doubt as to the witch’s guilt, “for that the said
Amy hath been long reputed to be a witch and a person of very evil
behaviour, whose kindred and relations have been many of them accused
for witchcraft, and some of them have been condemned.”

Elizabeth Pacy was another bewitched child. By direction of the judge,
Amy Duny was made to touch her, whereupon the child clawed the Old
Beldam till the blood came–a portentous fact, for everybody knew that
the bewitched would naturally scratch the tormentor’s face and thus
obtain relief. The father of the child, Samuel Pacy (whose soberness
and moderation are specially commended by the reporter), now told how
Amy Duny thrice came to buy herrings, and, being as often refused,
“went away grumbling, but what she said was not perfectly understood.”
Immediately his child Deborah fell sick, whereupon Amy was set in the
stocks. Here she confessed that, when any of her offspring were so
afflicted, “she had been fain to open her child’s mouth with a tap to
give it vitals,” which simple device the sapient Pacy practised upon
his brats with some effect, but still continuing ill they vomited
“crooked pins and one time a twopenny nail with a very broad head,
which pins, amounting to forty or more, together with the twopenny
nail, were produced in court,” so what room was there for doubt? The
children, continually accusing Amy Duny and Rose Cullender as cause
of their sickness, were packed off by their distracted father to his
sister at Yarmouth, who now took up the wondrous tale. When the younger
child was taking the air out of doors, “presently a little thing like a
bee flew upon her face, and would have gone into her mouth.” She rushed
indoors, and incontinent vomited up a twopenny nail with a broad head,
whose presence she accounted for thus: “the bee brought this nail and
forced it into her mouth”; from all which the guilt of the witches was
ever more evident.

Even that age had its sceptics. Some people in court, chief among them
Mr. Serjeant Keeling, whose position and learning made it impossible
to disregard their opinion, “seemed much unsatisfied.” The learned
serjeant pointed out that even if the children were bewitched, there
was no real evidence to connect the prisoners with the fact. Then Dr.
Browne, of Norwich, “a person of great knowledge” (no other, alas! than
the Sir Thomas Browne of the _Religio Medici_), made a very learned if
confusing dissertation on Witchcraft in general, with some curious
details as to a late “great discovery of witches” in Denmark; which
no whit advanced the matter. Then there was another experiment. Amy
Duny was brought to one of the children whose eyes were blinded. The
child was presently touched by another person, “which produced the
same effect as the touch of the witch did in the court.” The sceptical
Keeling and his set now roundly declared the whole business a sham,
which “put the court and all persons into a stand. But at length
Mr. Pacy did declare that possibly the maid might be deceived by a
suspicion that the witch touched her when she did not.” This was the
very point the sceptics were making, and was anything but an argument
in reply, though it seems to have been accepted as such. And how to
suppose, it was urged, that innocent children would tell such terrible
lies? It was the golden age of the rod; never was there fitter occasion
for its use. Once fancies a few strokes had produced remarkable
confessions from the innocents! However, the court went on hearing
evidence. The judge summed up with much seeming impartiality, much
wooden wisdom, and the usual judicial platitudes, all which after more
than two centuries you read with considerable irritation. The jury upon
half an hour’s deliberation returned a verdict of guilty. Next morning
the children were brought to the judge, “and Mr. Pacy did affirm that
within less than half an hour after the witches were convicted they
were all of them restored.” After this, what place was left for doubt?
“In conclusion the judge and all the court were fully satisfied with
the verdict, and thereupon gave judgment against the witches that they
should be hanged.” Three days afterwards the poor unfortunates went to
their death. “They were much urged to confess, but would not.”

Finally, you have this much less tragic business. In the first year
of Queen Anne’s reign (1702), Richard Hathaway was tried at the
Surrey Assizes before Lord Chief Justice Holt for falsely accusing
Sarah Morduck of bewitching him. The offence being a misdemeanour,
the prisoner had counsel, an advantage not then fully given to those
charged with felony. The trial reads like one in our own day. The case
for the Crown had been carefully put together. Possibly the authorities
were striking at accusations of and prosecutions for Witchcraft.
Sarah Morduck had been tried and acquitted at Guildford Assizes for
bewitching Hathaway, whereupon this prosecution had been ordered. Dr.
Martin, parish minister in Southwark, an able and enlightened divine,
had saved Sarah from the mob, and so was led on to probe the matter.
He found Hathaway apparently blind and dumb, but giving his assent
by a sign to the suggestion that he should scratch Morduck, and so
(according to the superstition already noted) obtain relief. Dr. Martin
brought Sarah and a woman of the same height called Johnson to the room
where the impostor lay, seemingly, at death’s door. Morduck announced
her willingness to be scratched, and then Johnson’s hand was put into
his. Hathaway was suspicious, and felt the arm very carefully, whereat
the parson “spoke to him somewhat eagerly: If you will not scratch I
will begone.” Whereupon he clawed so lustily that Johnson near fainted.
She was forthwith hustled out of the room and Morduck pushed forward;
but the rogue, fearing a trap, lay quiet till Dr. Martin encouraged him
by simulated admiration. Then he opened wide his eyes, “caught hold of
the apron of Sarah Morduck, and looked her in the face,” thus implying
that his supposed scratching of her had restored his eyesight. Being
informed of his blunder he “seemed much cast down,” but his native
impudence soon asserting itself, he gave himself out for worse than
ever, whilst Sarah Morduck, anxious to be clear at any cost, declared
that not she but Johnson was the witch. The popular voice roundly
abused Dr. Martin for a stubborn sceptic. Charges of bribery against
him, as well as against the judge and jury who had acquitted Morduck,
were freely bandied about. Dr. Martin had got Bateman a friend of his
to see Hathaway, one of whose symptoms was the vomiting of pins. His
evidence was that the rogue scattered the pins about the room by
sleight of hand; Bateman had taken several parcels of them, almost by
force, out of his pocket. Kensy, a surgeon, further told how Hathaway,
being committed to his care, at first would neither eat nor drink.
Kensy being afraid that he would starve himself to death sooner than
have his cheat discovered, arranged a pretended quarrel with his maid
Baker, who supplied the patient with food as if against his orders.
Indeed, she plied him so well with meat and drink that, so she told
the court, “he was very merry and danced about, and took the tongs
and played upon them, but after that he was mightily sick and vomited
sadly”–but there were no pins and needles! She further told how four
gentlemen, privily stored away in the buttery and coal-hole, witnessed
Hathaway’s gastronomic feats. Serjeant Jenner for the defence called
several witnesses, who testified to the prisoner’s abstinence from
food for quite miraculous periods. The force of this evidence was much
shaken by the pertinent cross-examination of the judge, who asked the
jury in his summing up, “Whether you have any evidence to induce you
to believe it to be in the power of all the witches in the world, or
all the Devils in Hell, to fast beyond the usual time that nature will
allow: they cannot invert the order of nature.” The jury, “without
going from the bar, brought him in Guilty.” He was sentenced to a fine,
a sound flogging, the pillory, and imprisonment with hard labour. The
last conviction for Witchcraft in England was that of Jane Wenham,
at Hertford, in 1712. She was respited by the judge and afterwards
pardoned. The case is not here reported.

These trials throw a curious light on the ideas of the time;
unfortunately they exhibit human nature in some of its worst aspects.
The victims were women, old, poor, helpless, and the persecution to
which they were subjected was due partly to superstition, partly to
that delight in cruelty so strong in the natural man. The “confessions”
of the accused are easily accounted for. The popular beliefs so
impressed their imaginations that they believed in their own malevolent
power, also the terror they inspired lacked not charm, it procured
them consideration, some money, even some protection. Not seldom
their “confessions” were merely terrified assents to statements made
about them by witch-finders, clergymen, and justices. And the judges?
Sometimes, alas! they callously administered a law in which they had no
belief. Is there not still something inexplicable? Well, such things as
mesmerism, thought-reading, and so forth exhibit remarkable phenomena.
A former age ascribed all to Satan: we believe them natural though we
cannot as yet solve all their riddles. I must add that the ancient
popular horror of witches is partly explained by the hideous and
grotesque details given at the trials, but those obscenities I dare not

A Pair of Parricides

The State Trials–The Dry Bones of Romance–Pictures of
the Past–Their Value for the Present–The Case of Philip
Standsfield–The Place of the Tragedy–The Night of the
Murder–The Scene in Morham Kirk–The Trial–“The Bluidy
Advocate–Mackenzie”–The Fate of Standsfield–The Case
of Mary Blandy, Spinster–The Villain of the Piece–The
Maid’s Gossip–Death of Mr. Blandy–The “Angel” Inn at
Henley-on-Thames–The Defence–Miss Blandy’s Exit.

There is a new series of _State Trials_ continuing the old, and edited
with a skill and completeness altogether lacking in its predecessor;
yet its formal correctness gives an impression of dulness. You
think with regret of Howell’s thirty-three huge volumes, that vast
magazine of curiosities and horrors, of all that is best and worst
in English history. How exciting life was long ago, to be sure, and
how persistently it grows duller! What a price we pay for the smug
comfort of our time! People shuddered of yore; did they yawn quite so
often? Howell and the folk he edits knew how to tell a story. Judges,
too, were not wont to exclude interesting detail for that it wasn’t
evidence, and the compilers did not end with a man’s condemnation.
They had too keen a sense of what was relished of the general: the
last confession and dying speech, the exit on the scaffold or from the
cart, are told with infinite gusto. What a terrible test earth’s great
unfortunates underwent! Sir Thomas More’s delicate fencing with his
judges, the exquisite courtesy wherewith he bade them farewell, make
but half the record; you must hear the strange gaiety which flashed
in the condemned cell and by the block ere you learn the man’s true
nature. And to know Raleigh you must see him at Winchester under the
brutal insults of Coke; “Thou art a monster, thou hast an English face
but a Spanish heart;” again, “I thou thee, thou traitor!” and at Palace
Yard, Westminster, on that dreary October morning urging the sheriff to
hurry, since he would not be thought fear-shaken when it was but the
ague; for these are all-important episodes in the life of that richly
dressed, stately, and gallant figure your fancy is wont to picture in
his Elizabethan warship sweeping the Spanish Main. Time would fail
to tell of Strafford and Charles and Laud and a hundred others, for
the collection begins with Thomas à Becket in 1163 and comes down to
Thistlewood in 1820. Once familiar with those close packed, badly
printed pages, you find therein a deeper, a more subtle charm than
cunningest romance can furnish forth. The account of Mary Stuart’s
ending has a finer hold than Froude’s magnificent and highly decorated
picture–Study at first hand “Bloody Jeffreys,” his slogging of Titus
Oates, with that unabashed rascal’s replies during his trial for
perjury; or again, my Lord’s brilliant though brutal cross-examination
of Dunn in the “Lady” Alice Lisle case, during the famous or infamous
Western Circuit, and you will find Macaulay’s wealth of vituperative
rhetoric, in comparison, tiresome and pointless verbiage. Also you
will prefer to construct your own Braxfield from trials like those of
Thomas Muir in 1793, and of Alexander Scott and Maurice Margarot in
1794, rather than accept the counterfeit presentment which Stevenson’s
master-hand has limned in _Weir of Hermiston_.

But the interests are varied. How full of grotesque and curious horrors
are the prosecutions for witchcraft! There is that one, for instance,
in March 1665 at Bury St. Edmunds before Sir Matthew Hale, with
stories of bewitched children, and plague-stricken women, and satanic
necromancy. Again, there is the diverting exposure of Richard Hathaway
in 1702, and how the rogue pretended to vomit pins and abstain from
meat or drink for quite miraculous periods. But most of those things I
deal with elsewhere in this volume. The trials of obscurer criminals
have their own charm. Where else do you find such Dutch pictures of
long-vanished interiors or exteriors? You touch the _vie intime_ of a
past age; you see how kitchen and hall lived and talked; what master
and man, mistress and maid thought and felt; how they were dressed,
what they ate, of what they gossiped. Again, how oft your page recalls
the strange, mad, picturesque ways of old English law! _Benefit of
clergy_ meets you at every turn, the _Peine Fort et Dure_ is explained
with horrible minuteness, the lore of _Ship Money_ as well as of
_Impressment of Seamen_ is all there. Also is an occasional touch of
farce. But what phase of man’s life goes unrecorded in those musty old

Howell’s collection only comes down to 1820. Reform has since then
purged our law, and the whole set is packed off to the Lumber Room. In
a year’s current reports you may find the volumes quoted once or twice,
but that is “but a bravery,” as Lord Bacon would say, for their law is
“a creed outworn.” Yet the human interest of a story remains, however
antiquated the setting, incapable of hurt from Act of Parliament. So,
partly for themselves, partly as samples of the bulk, I here present in
altered form two of these tragedies, a Pair of Parricides: one Scots
of the seventeenth, the other English of the eighteenth century.

The first is the case of Philip Standsfield, tried at Edinburgh, in
1688, for the murder of his father, Sir James Standsfield, of New
Mills, in East Lothian. To-day New Mills is called Amisfield; it
lies on the south bank of the Tyne, a mile east of Haddington. There
is a fine mansion-house about a century old in the midst of a well
wooded park, and all round are the superbly tilled Lothian fields, as
_dulcia arva_ as ever the Mantuan sang. Amisfield got its present name
thus: Colonel Charteris, infamed (in the phrase of Arbuthnot’s famous
epitaph) for the “undeviating pravity of his manners” (hence lashed by
Pope in many a stinging line), purchased it early in the last century
and re-named it from the seat of his family in Nithsdale. Through him
it passed by descent to the house of Wemyss, still its owners. Amongst
its trees and its waters the place lies away from the beaten track and
is now as charmingly peaceful a spot as you shall anywhere discover.
Name gone and aspect changed, local tradition has but a vague memory
of the two-centuries-old tragedy whereof it was the centre.

Sir James Standsfield, an Englishman by birth, had married a Scots lady
and spent most of his life in Scotland. After the Restoration he had
established a successful cloth factory at the place called New Mills,
and there lived, a prosperous gentleman. But he had much domestic
trouble chiefly from the conduct of his eldest son Philip, who, though
well brought up, led a wild life. Whilst “this profligate youth” (so
Wodrow, who tells the story, dubs him) was a student at the University
of St. Andrews, curiosity or mischief led him to attend a conventicle
where godly Mr. John Welch was holding forth. Using a chance loaf as
a missile, he smote the astonished divine, who, failing to discover
the culprit, was moved to prophecy. “There would be,” he thundered,
“more present at the death of him who did it, than were hearing him
that day; and the multitude was not small.” Graver matters than this
freak stained the lad’s later career. Serving abroad in the Scots
regiment, he had been condemned to death at Treves, but had escaped by
flight. Certain notorious villainies had also made him familiar with
the interior of the Marshalsea and the prisons of Brussels, Antwerp,
and Orleans. Sir James at last was moved to disinherit him in favour
of his second son John. Partly cause and partly effect of this,
Philip was given to cursing his father in most extravagant terms (of
itself a capital offence according to old Scots law); he affirmed his
parent “girned upon him like a sheep’s head in a tongs;” on several
occasions he had even attempted that parent’s life: all which is set
forth at great length in the “ditty” or indictment upon which he was
tried. No doubt Sir James went in considerable fear of his unnatural
son. A certain Mr. Roderick Mackenzie, advocate, testifies that eight
days before the end he met the old gentleman in the Parliament Close,
Edinburgh, whereupon “the defunct invited him to take his morning
draught.” As they partook Sir James bemoaned his domestic troubles.
“Yes,” said Mackenzie, but why had he disherished his son? And the
defunct answered: “Ye do not know my son, for he is the greatest
debauch in the earth. And that which troubles me most is that he twice
attempted my own person.”

Upon the last Saturday of November 1687, the elder Standsfield
travelled from Edinburgh to New Mills in company with Mr. John
Bell, minister of the Gospel, who was to officiate the next day in
Morham Church (Morham is a secluded parish on the lower slope of the
Lammermoors, some three miles south-west of New Mills; the church
plays an important part in what follows). Arrived at New Mills the
pair supped together, thereafter the host accompanied his guest to
his chamber, where he sat talking “pertinently and to good purpose”
till about ten o’clock. Left alone, our divine gat him to bed, but had
scarce fallen asleep when he awoke in terror, for a terrible cry rang
through the silence of the winter night. A confused murmur of voices
and a noise of folk moving about succeeded. Mr. Bell incontinently
set all down to “evil wicked spirits,” so having seen to the bolts of
his chamber door, and having fortified his timid soul with prayers, he
huddled in bed again; but the voices and noises continuing outside the
house he crept to the window, where peering out he perceived nought
in the darkness. The noises died away across the garden towards the
river, and Bell lay quaking till the morning. An hour after day Philip
came to his chamber to ask if his father had been there, for he had
been seeking him upon the banks of the water. “Why on the banks of
that water?” queried Bell in natural amazement. Without answer Philip
hurriedly left the room. Later that same Sunday morning a certain
John Topping coming from Monkrig to New Mills, along the bank of the
Tyne, saw a man’s body floating on the water. Philip, drawn to the
spot by some terrible fascination, was looking on (you picture his
face). “Whose body was it?” asked the horror-struck Topping, but
Philip replied not. Well _he_ knew it was his father’s corpse. It was
noted that, though a hard frosty morning, the bank was “all beaten
to mash with feet and the ground very open and mellow.” The dead man
being presently dragged forth and carried home was refused entry by
Philip into the house so late his own, “for he had not died like a man
but like a beast,”–the suggestion being that his father had drowned
himself,–and so the poor remains must rest in the woollen mill, and
then in a cellar “where there was very little light.” The gossips
retailed unseemly fragments of scandal, as “within an hour after his
father’s body was brought from the water, he got the buckles from
his father’s shoes and put them in his;” and again, there is note
of a hideous and sordid quarrel between Lady Standsfield and Janet
Johnstoun, “who was his own concubine,” so the prosecution averred,
“about some remains of the Holland of the woonding-sheet,” with some
incriminating words of Philip that accompanied.

I now take up the story as given by Umphrey Spurway, described as an
Englishman and clothier at New Mills. His suspicions caused him to
write to Edinburgh that the Lord Advocate might be warned. Philip
lost no time in trying to prevent an inquiry. At three or four of the
clock on Monday morning Spurway, coming out of his house, saw “great
lights at Sir James’ Gate;” grouped round were men and horses. He was
told they were taking away the body to be buried at Morham, whereat
honest Umphrey, much disturbed at this suspicious haste, sighed for the
“crowner’s quest law” of his fatherland. But on the next Tuesday night
after he had gone to bed a party of five men, two of them surgeons,
came post haste to his house from Edinburgh, and showing him an order
“from my Lord Advocat for the taking up again the body of Sir James
Standsfield,” bid him rise and come. Philip also must go with the party
to Morham. Here the grave was opened, the body taken out and carried
into the church, where the surgeons made their examination, which
clearly pointed to death by strangulation not by drowning (possibly
it struck Spurway as an odd use for a church; it had not seemed so
to a presbyterian Scot of the period). The dead being re-dressed in
his grave clothes must now be set back in his coffin. A terrible thing
happened. According to Scots custom the nearest relative must lift the
body, and so Philip took the head, when lo! the corpse gushed forth
blood on his hands! He dropped the head–the “considerable noise” it
made in falling is noted by one of the surgeons–frantically essayed
to wipe off the blood on his clothes, and with frenzied cries of “Lord
have mercy upon me, Lord have mercy upon us!” fell half swooning across
a seat. Strong cordials were administered, and in time he regained his
sullen composure.

A strange scene to ponder over, but how terrible to witness! Think of
it! The lonely church on the Lammermoors, the dead vast and middle
of the dreary night (November 30, 1687), the murdered man, and the
Parricide’s confession (it is so set forth in the “ditty”) wrung from
him (as all believed) by the direct interposition of Providence. What
fiction ever equalled this gruesome horror? Even his mother, who had
sided with him against the father, scarce professed to believe his
innocence. “What if they should put her bairn in prison?” she wailed.
“Her bairn” was soon hard and fast in the gloomy old Tolbooth of
Edinburgh, to which, as the _Heart of Midlothian_, Scott’s novel was in
future days to give a world-wide fame.

The trial came on February 6 ensuing. In Scotland there is no inquest
or public magisterial examination to discount the interest of the
story, and the crowd that listened in the Parliament House to the
evidence already detailed had their bellyful of surprises and horrors.
The Crown had still in reserve this testimony, sensational and deadly.
The prosecution proposed to call James Thomson, a boy of thirteen, and
Anna Mark, a girl of ten. Their tender years were objected. My Lords,
declining to receive them as witnesses, oddly enough consented at the
request of the jury to take their declaration. The boy told how Philip
came to his father’s house on the night of the murder. The lad was
hurried off to bed, but listened whilst the panel, Janet Johnstoun,
already mentioned, and his father and mother softly whispered together
for a long time, until Philip’s rage got the better of his discretion,
and he loudly cursed his father and threatened his life. Next Philip
and Janet left the house, and in the dead of night his father and
mother followed. After two hours they crept back again; and the boy,
supposed to be sleeping, heard them whisper to each other the story of
the murder, how Philip guarded the chamber door “with a drawn sword
and a bendit pistol,” how it was strange a man should die so soon, how
they earned the body to the water and threw it in, and how his mother
ever since was afraid to stay alone in the house after nightfall. The
evidence of Anna Mark was as to certain criminating words used by her
mother Janet Johnstoun.

Up to this time the panel had been defended by four eminent advocates
mercifully appointed thereto by the Privy Council; there had been the
usual Allegations, Replyes, and Duplies, with frequent citations from
Mattheus, Carpzovius, Muscard, and the other fossils, as to the matters
contained in the “ditty” (indictment), and they had strenuously fought
for him till now, but after the statement of the children they retired.
Then Sir George Mackenzie rose to reply for the Crown. Famous in his
own day, his name is not yet forgotten. He was “the bluidy advocate
Mackenzie” of Covenanting legend and tradition, one of the figures in
Wandering Willie’s tale in _Redgauntlet_ (“who for his worldly wit
and wisdom had been to the rest as a god”). He had been Lord Advocate
already, and was presently to be Lord Advocate again. Nominally but
second counsel he seems to have conducted the whole prosecution. He had
a strong case, and he made the most of it. Passionate invective and
prejudicial matter were mixed with legal argument. Cultured politician
and jurist as he was, he dwelt with terrible emphasis on the scene in
Morham kirk. “God Almighty Himself was pleased to bear a share in
the testimonies which we produce.” Nor was the children’s testimony
forgotten. “I need not fortifie so pregnant a probation.” No! yet he
omitted not to protest for “an Assize of Error against the inquest
in the case they should assoilzie the pannal”–a plain intimation to
jury that if they found Philip Standsfield “not guilty” they were
liable to be prosecuted for an unjust verdict. But how to doubt after
such evidence? The jury straightway declared the panel guilty, and my
lords pronounced a sentence of picturesque barbarity. Standsfield was
to be hanged at the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh, his tongue cut out and
burned upon the scaffold, his right hand fixed above the east port
of Haddington, and his dead body hung in chains upon the Gallow Lee
betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, his name disgraced for ever, and all his
property forfeited to the Crown. According to the old Scots custom the
sentence was given “by the mouth of John Leslie, dempster of court”–an
office held along with that of hangman. “Which is pronounced for doom”
was the formula wherewith he concluded.

On February 15 Standsfield though led to the scaffold was reprieved
for eight days “at the priest’s desire, who had been tampering to
turn Papist” (one remembers these were the last days of James II.,
or as they called him in Scotland, James VII.’s reign). Nothing came
of the delay, and when finally brought out on the 24th “he called
for Presbyterian ministers.” Through some slipping of the rope, the
execution was bungled; finally the hangman strangled his patient. The
“near resemblance of his father’s death” is noted by an eye-witness.
“Yet Edmund was beloved.” Leave was asked to bury the remains. One
fancies this was on the part of Lady Standsfield, regarding whose
complicity and doting fondness, strange stories were current. The
prayer was refused, but the body was found lying in a ditch a few days
after, and again the gossips (with a truly impious desire to “force the
hand” of Providence) saw a likeness to the father’s end. Once more the
body was taken down and presently vanished.

Lord Fountainhall, a contempory of Standsfield, and Sir Walter Scott,
both Scots lawyers of high official position, thought the evidence of
Standsfield’s guilt not altogether conclusive, and believed something
might be urged for the alternative theory of suicide. Whilst venturing
to differ, I note the opinion of such eminent authorities with all

Standsfield maintained his innocence to the last. Three servants of
his father’s–two men and a woman–were seized and tortured with the
thumbikins. They confessed nothing. Now, torture was frequently used
in old Scots criminal procedure, but if you did not confess you were
almost held to have proved your innocence.

I cannot discover the after fate of these servants, and probably
they were banished–a favourite method with the Scots authorities
for getting rid of objectionable characters whose guilt was not
sufficiently proved.

The second case, not so romantic albeit a love-story is woven through
its tangled threads, is that of Mary Blandy, spinster, tried at
Oxford in 1752, before two of the Barons of the Exchequer, for the
murder of her father, Francis Blandy, attorney, and town clerk of
Henley-on-Thames. Prosecuting counsel described her as “genteel,
agreeable, sprightly, sensible.” She was an only child. Her sire
being well off she seemed an eligible match, and yet wooers tarried.
Some years before the murder, the villain of the piece, William Henry
Cranstoun, a younger son of the Scots Lord Cranstoun and an officer
recruiting at Henley for the army, comes on the scene. Contemporary
gossip paints him the blackest colour. “His shape no ways genteel, his
legs clumsy, he has nothing in the least elegant in his manner.” He was
remarkable for his dulness; he was dissipated and poverty-stricken.
More fatal than all he had a wife and child in Scotland, though he
brazenly declared the marriage invalid spite the judgment of the Scots
courts in its favour. Our respectable attorney, upon discovering these
facts, gave the Captain, as he was called, the cold shoulder. The
prospect of a match with a Lord’s son was too much for Miss Blandy, now
over thirty, and she was ready to believe any ridiculous yarn he spun
about his northern entanglements. Fired by an exaggerated idea of old
Blandy’s riches, he planned his death, and found in the daughter an
agent and, as the prosecution averred, an accomplice.

The way was prepared by a cunning use of popular superstitions.
Mysterious sounds of music were heard about; at least Cranstoun said
so; indeed, it was afterwards alleged he “hired a band to play under
the windows.” If any one asked “What then?” he whispered “that a
wise woman, one Mrs. Morgan, in Scotland,” had assured him that such
was a sign of death to the head of the house within twelve months.
The Captain further alleged that he held the gift of second sight
and had seen the worthy attorney’s ghost; all which, being carefully
reported to the servants by Miss Blandy raised a pleasing horror in the
kitchen. Cranstoun, from necessity or prudence, left Henley before the
diabolical work began in earnest, but he supplied Mary with arsenic
in powder, which she administered to her father for many months. The
doses were so immoderate that the unfortunate man’s teeth dropped whole
from their sockets, whereat the undutiful daughter “damn’d him for a
toothless old rogue and wished him to hell.” Cranstoun, under the guise
of a present of Scotch pebbles, sent her some more arsenic, nominally
to rub them with. In the accompanying letter, July 18, 1751, he
glowingly touched on the beauties of Scotland as an inducement to her,
it was supposed, to make haste. Rather zealous than discreet, she near
poisoned Anne Emmett, the charwoman, by misadventure, but brought her
round again with great quantities of sack whey and thin mutton broth,
sovereign remedies against arsenic.

Her father gradually became desperately ill. Susannah Gunnell,
maidservant perceiving a white powder at the bottom of a dish she was
cleaning had it preserved. It proved to be arsenic, and was produced
at the trial. Susannah actually told Mr. Blandy he was being poisoned;
but he only remarked, “Poor lovesick girl! what will not a woman do for
the man she loves?” Both master and maid fixed the chief, perhaps the
whole, guilt on Cranstoun, the father confining himself to dropping
some strong hints to his daughter, which made her throw Cranstoun’s
letters and the remainder of the poison on the fire, wherefrom the drug
was in secret rescued and preserved by the servants.

Mr. Blandy was now hopelessly ill, and though experienced doctors
were at length called in, he expired on Wednesday, August 14, 1751.
The sordid tragedy gets its most pathetic and highest touch from the
attempts made by the dying man to shield his daughter and to hinder
her from incriminating admissions which under excitement and (one
hopes) remorse she began to make. And in his last hours he spoke to her
words of pardon and solace. That night and again on Thursday morning
the daughter made some distracted efforts to escape. “I ran out of
the house and over the bridge, and had nothing on but a half-sack and
petticoat without a hoop–my petticoats hanging about me.” But now
all Henley was crowded round the dwelling to watch the development of
events. The mob pressed after the distracted girl, who took refuge
at the sign of the Angel, a small inn just across the bridge. “They
were going to open her father,” she said, and “she could not bear the
house.” She was taken home and presently committed to Oxford Gaol to
await her trial. Here she was visited by the high sheriff, who “told me
by order of the higher powers he must put an iron on me. I submitted as
I always do to the higher powers” (she had little choice). Spite her
terrible position and these indignities she behaved with calmness and

The trial, which lasted twelve hours, took place on February 29, 1752,
in the Divinity School of the University. The prisoner was “sedate
and composed without levity or dejection.” Accused of felony, she had
properly counsel only for points of law, but at her request they were
allowed to examine and cross-examine the witnesses. Herself spoke
a defence possibly prepared by her advisers, for though the style
be artless, the reasoning is exceeding ingenious. She admitted she
was passionate and thus accounted for some hasty expressions; the
malevolence of servants had exaggerated these. Betty Binfield, one of
the maids, was credibly reported to have said of her, “she should be
glad to see the black bitch go up the ladder to be hanged.” But the
powder? Impossible to deny she had administered that. “I gave it to
procure his love.” Cranstoun, she affirmed, had sent it from Scotland,
assuring her that it would so work, and Scotland, one notes, seemed to
everybody “the shores of old romance,” the home of magic incantations
and mysterious charms. It was powerfully objected that Francis Blandy
had never failed in love to his daughter, but she replied that the drug
was given to reconcile her father to Cranstoun. She granted he meant to
kill the old man in hopes to get his money, and she was the agent, but
(she asserted) the innocent agent, of his wicked purpose. This theory
though the best available was beset with difficulties. She had made
many incriminating statements, there was the long time over which the
doses had been spread, there was her knowledge of its effects on Anne
Emmett the charwoman, there was the destruction of Cranstoun’s letters,
the production of which would have conclusively shown the exact measure
in which guilty knowledge was shared. Finally, there was the attempt to
destroy the powder. Bathurst, leading counsel for the Crown, delivered
two highly rhetorical speeches, “drawing floods of tears from the most
learned audience that perhaps ever attended an English Provincial
Tribunal.” The jury after some five minutes’ consultation in the box
returned a verdict of “guilty,” which the prisoner received with
perfect composure. All she asked was a little time “till I can settle
my affairs and make my peace with God,” and this was readily granted.
She was left in prison five weeks.

The case continued to excite enormous interest, increased by an
account which she issued from prison of her father’s death and her
relations with Cranstoun. She was constant in her professions of
innocence, “nor did anything during the whole course of her confinement
so extremely shock her as the charge of infidelity which some
uncharitable persons a little before her death brought against her.”
Some were convinced and denied her guilt, “as if,” said Horace Walpole,
“a woman who would not stick at parricide would scruple a lie.” Others
said she had hopes of pardon “from the Honour she had formerly had of
dancing for several nights with the late P—-e of W—-s, and being
personally known to the most sweet-tempered P–ess in the world.” The
press swarmed with pamphlets. The Cranstoun correspondence, alleged not
destroyed, was published–a very palpable Grub Street forgery! and a
tragedy, _The Fair Parricide_, dismal in every sense, was inflicted on
the world. The last scene of all was on April 6, 1752. “Miss Blandy
suffered in a black bombazine short sack and petticoat, with a clean
white handkerchief drawn over her face. Her hands were tied together
with a strong black riband, and her feet at her own request almost
touched the ground” (“Gentlemen, don’t hang me high for the sake of
decency,” an illustration of British prudery which has escaped the
notice of French critics). She mounted the ladder with some hesitation.
“I am afraid I shall fall.” For the last time she declared her
innocence, and soon all was over. “The number of people attending her
execution was computed at about 5000, many of whom, and particularly
several gentlemen of the university, were observed to shed tears”
(tender-hearted “gentlemen of the university”!) “In about half an hour
the body was cut down and carried through the crowd upon the shoulders
of a man with her legs exposed very indecently.” Late the same night
she was laid beside her father and mother in Henley Church.

Cranstoun fled from justice and was outlawed. In December that same
year he died in Flanders.