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"the reverend gentleman who had attended her," Parson Swinton. The
Court, however, held that there was no need to do so, as the jury
would entirely disregard anything not deposed to in Court. Mr.
Bathurst replying for the Crown, maintained that it was proved to
demonstration that Francis Blandy died of poison, put in his gruel
upon the 5th of August by the prisoner's hand, as appeared not only
from her own confession, but from all the evidence adduced. "Examine
then, gentlemen," said the learned counsel, "whether it is possible
she could do it ignorantly." In view of the great affection with
which it was proved the dying man behaved to her, the prisoner's
assertion that she gave him the powder "to make him love her" was
incredible. She knew what effects the poisoned gruel produced upon
him on the Monday and Tuesday, yet she would have given him more of
it on the Wednesday. Having pointed out that, when she must have
known the nature of the powder, she endeavoured to destroy it,
instead of telling the physicians what she had given her father,
which might have been the means of saving his life, counsel
commented on the terms of the intercepted letter to Cranstoun as
wholly inconsistent with her innocence. Further, he remarked on the
contradiction as to dates in the evidence of the witnesses who
reported Betty Binfield's forcible phrase, which, he contended, was
in fact never uttered by her. Finally, he endorsed the censure of
the prisoner's counsel upon the spreaders of the scandalous reports,
which he asked the jury totally to disregard. On the conclusion of
Bathurst's reply, the prisoner made the following statement: - "It is
said I gave it [the powder] my father to make him fond of me: there
was no occasion for that - but to make him fond of Cranstoun."

Mr. Baron Legge then proceeded to charge the jury. The manner in
which his lordship reviewed the evidence and his exposition of its
import and effect, indeed his whole conduct of the trial, have been
well described as affording a favourable impression of his ability,
impartiality, and humanity. He proceeded in the good old fashion,
going carefully over the whole ground of the evidence, of which his
notes appear to have been excellent; and after some general remarks
upon the atrocity of the crime charged, and the nature and weight of
circumstantial evidence - "more convincing and satisfactory than any
other kind of evidence, because facts cannot lie" - observed that it
was undeniable that Mr. Blandy died by poison administered to him by
the prisoner at the bar: "What you are to try is reduced to this
single question, whether the prisoner, at the time she gave it to
her father, knew that it was poison, and what effect it would have?"
If they believed that she did know, they must find her guilty; if,
in view of her general character, the evidence led for the defence,
and what she herself had said, they were not satisfied that she
knew, then they would acquit her. The jury, without retiring,
consulted for five minutes and returned a verdict of guilty. Mr.
Baron Legge, having in dignified and moving terms exhorted the
unhappy woman to repentance, then pronounced the inevitable sentence
of the law - "That you are to be carried to the place of execution
and there hanged by the neck until you are dead; and may God, of His
infinite mercy, receive your soul."

It was nine o'clock at night; for thirteen mortal hours Mary Blandy
had watched unflinchingly the "interesting game played by counsel
with her life for stakes"; the "game" was over, and hers was the
losing side; yet no sign of fear or agitation was manifested by that
strange woman as she rose for the last time to address her judge.
"My lord," said she, "as your lordship has been so good to show so
much candour and impartiality in the course of my trial, I have one
favour more to beg; which is, that your lordship would please to
allow me a little time till I can settle my affairs and make my
peace with God"; to which Mr. Baron Legge feelingly replied, "To be
sure, you shall have a proper time allowed you." So, amid the tense
stillness of the crowded "house," the curtain fell upon the great
fourth act of the tragedy of "The Fair Parricide."

On leaving the hall to be taken back to prison, Mary Blandy, we
read, "stepped into the Coach with as little Concern as if she had
been going to a Ball" - the eighteenth century reporter anticipating
by a hundred years his journalistic successor's phrase as to the
demeanour of Madeleine Smith in similar trying circumstances. The
result of the trial had preceded her to Oxford Castle, where she
found the keeper's family "in some Disorder, the Children being all
in Tears" at the fatal news. "Don't mind it," said their indomitable
guest, "What does it signify? I am very hungry; pray, let me have
something for supper as speedily as possible"; and our reporter
proceeds to spoil his admirable picture by condescending upon
"Mutton Chops and an Apple Pye."

The six weeks allowed her to prepare for death were all too short for
the correspondence and literary labours in which she presently became
involved. On 7th March "a Reverend Divine of Henley-upon-Thames,"
probably, from other evidence, the Rev. William Stockwood, rector of
the parish, addressed to her a letter, exhorting her to confession and
repentance. To this Miss Blandy replied on the 9th, maintaining that
she had acted innocently. "There is an Account," she tells him, "as
well as I was able to write, which I sent to my Uncle in London, that
I here send you." Copies of these letters, and of the narrative
referred to, are printed in the Appendix. She sends her "tenderest
wishes" to her god-mother, Mrs. Mounteney, and trusts that she will be
able to "serve" her with the Bishop of Winchester, apparently in the
matter of a reprieve, of which Mary is said to have had good hope, by
reason that she had once the honour of dancing with the late Prince of
Wales - "Fred, who was alive and is dead." "Pray comfort poor Ned
Herne," she writes, "and tell him I have the same friendship for him
as ever." She asks that her letter and its enclosure be returned, as,
being in her own handwriting, they may be of service to her character
after her death. The object of this request was speedily apparent; on
20th March the whole documents were published under the title of _A
Letter from a Clergyman, to Miss Mary Blandy, &c._, with a note by the
publisher intimating that, for the satisfaction of the public, the
original MS. was left with him. The fair authoress having thus fired
the first shot, a fusilade of pamphlets began - the spent bullets are
collected in the Bibliography - which, for volume and verbosity, is
entitled to honourable mention in the annals of tractarian strife. _An
Answer to Miss Blandy's Narrative_ quickly followed upon the other
side, in which, it is claimed, "all the Arguments she has advanc'd in
Justification of her Innocence are fully refuted, and her Guilt
clearly and undeniably prov'd." This was promptly met by _The Case of
Miss Blandy considered, as a Daughter, as a Gentlewoman, and as a
Christian_, with particular reference to her own _Narrative_, the
author of which is better versed in classical analogies than in the
facts of the case. Mary herself mentions a pamphlet, which she cites
as _The Life of Miss Mary Blandy_, and attributes to "a French usher."
This may have been one of the 1751 tracts containing accounts "of that
most horrid Parricide," the title of which she deemed too indelicate
for exact citation, or, perhaps, an earlier edition of _A Genuine and
Impartial Account of the Life of Miss Mary Blandy_, &c., the copy of
which in the Editor's possession, including an account of the
execution, was published on 9th April, three days after the completion
of that ceremony.

The last literary effort of Mary Blandy was an expansion of her
_Narrative_, re-written in more detail and at much greater length,
the revised version appearing on 18th April under the title of _Miss
Mary Blandy's Own Account of the Affair between her and Mr.
Cranstoun_, "from the commencement of their Acquaintance in the year
1746 to the Death of her Father in August, 1751, with all the
Circumstances leading to that unhappy Event." This ingenious, rather
than ingenuous, compilation was, it is said, prepared with the
assistance of Parson Swinton, who had some previous experience of
pamphleteering on his own account in 1739. Mr. Horace Bleackley has
happily described it as "The most famous apologia in criminal
literature," and as such it is reprinted in the present volume. Even
this _tour de force_ failed to convince a sceptical world, and on
15th April was published _A Candid Appeal to the Publick_ concerning
her case, by "a Gentleman of Oxford," wherein "All the ridiculous
and false Assertions" contained in Miss Blandy's _Own Account_ "are
exploded, and the Whole of that Mysterious Affair set in a True
Light." But by this time the fair disputant was beyond the reach of
controversy, and the Oxford gentleman had it all his own way; though
the pamphleteers kept the discussion alive a year longer than its
subject.

An instructive feature of Mary's literary activities during her last
days is her correspondence with Elizabeth Jeffries. "That unsavoury
person" was, with her paramour, John Swan, convicted at Chelmsford
Assizes on 12th March, 1752, of the murder at Walthamstow, on 3rd
July, of one Joseph Jeffries, respectively uncle and master to his
slayers. Elizabeth induced John to kill the old gentleman, who,
aware of their intrigue, had threatened, as the Crown counsel neatly
phrased it, "to alter his will, if she did not alter her conduct."
This unpleasant case, as was, perhaps, in the circumstances,
natural, attracted the attention of Miss Blandy. She read with much
interest the report of the trial. "It is barbarous," was her
comment - for, in truth, the murder was a sordid business, and sadly
lacking in "style" - "but I am sorry for her, and hope she will have
a good divine to attend her in her last moments, if possible a
second Swinton, for, poor unhappy girl, I pity her." These
sentiments shocked a lady visitor then present, who, expressing the
opinion that all such inhuman wretches should suffer as they
deserved, withdrew in dudgeon. Mary smilingly remarked, "I can't
bear with these over-virtuous women. I believe if ever the devil
picks a bone, it is one of theirs!" But the murderess of Walthamstow
had somehow struck her fancy, and she wrote to her fellow-convict to
express her sympathy. That young lady suitably replied, and the
ensuing correspondence (7th January-19th March, 1752), published
under the title of _Genuine Letters between Miss Blandy and Miss
Jeffries_, if we may believe the description, is highly remarkable.
At first Elizabeth asserted her innocence as stoutly as did Mary
herself, but afterwards she acknowledged her guilt. Whereupon Mary,
more in sorrow than in anger, wrote to her on 16th March for the
last time. "Your deceiving of me was a small crime; it was deceiving
yourself: for no retreat, tho' ever so pleasant, no diversions, no
company, no, not Heaven itself, could have made you happy with those
crimes unrepented of in your breast." So, with the promise to be "a
suitor for her at the Throne of Mercy," Miss Blandy intimated that
the correspondence must close; and on the 28th Miss Jeffries duly
paid the penalty of her crime.

In _A Book of Scoundrels_, that improving and delightful work, Mr.
Charles Whibley has, well observed: "A stern test of artistry is the
gallows. Perfect behaviour at an enforced and public scrutiny may
properly be esteemed an effect of talent - an effect which has not
too often been rehearsed." This high standard, the hall-mark of the
artist in crime, Mary Blandy admittedly attained. The execution,
originally fixed for Saturday, 4th April, was postponed until
Monday, the 6th, by request of the University authorities, who
represented that to conduct such a ceremony during Holy Week "would
be improper and unprecedented." The night before her end the doomed
woman asked to see the scene of the morrow's tragedy, and looked out
from one of the upper windows upon the gibbet, "opposite the door of
the gaol, and made by laying a poll across upon the arms of two
trees" - in her case "the fatal tree" had a new and very real
significance; then she turned away, remarking only that it was "very
high." At nine o'clock on Monday morning, attended by Parson
Swinton, and "dress'd in a black crape sack, with her arms and hands
ty'd with black paduasoy ribbons," Mary Blandy was led out to her
death. About the two trees with, their ominous "poll" a crowd of
silent spectators was assembled on the Castle Green, to whom, in
accordance with the etiquette of the day, she made her "dying
declaration" - to wit, that she was guiltless of her father's blood,
though the innocent cause of his death, and that she did not "in the
least contribute" to that of her mother or of Mrs. Pocock. This she
swore upon her salvation; which only shows, says Lord Campbell, who
was convinced of her guilt, "the worthlessness of the dying
declarations of criminals, and the absurdity of the practice of
trying to induce them to confess." We shall not dwell upon the
shocking spectacle - the curious will find a contemporary account in
the Appendix - but one characteristic detail may be mentioned. As she
was climbing the fatal ladder, covered, for the occasion, with black
cloth, she stopped, and addressing the celebrants of that grim
ritual, "Gentlemen," said she, "do not hang me high, for the sake of
decency."

Mary Blandy was but just in time to make so "genteel" an end. That
very year (1752), owing to the alarming increase of murders, an Act
was passed (25 Geo. II. c. 37) "for better preventing the Horrid
Crime of Murder," whereby persons condemned therefor should be
executed on the next day but one after sentence, and their bodies be
given to the Surgeons' Company at their Hall with a view to
dissection, and also, in the discretion of the judge, be hanged in
chains. The first person to benefit by the provisions of the new Act
did so on 1st July. But although Mary Blandy's body escaped these
legal indignities, as neither coffin nor hearse had been prepared
for its reception, it was carried through the crowd on the shoulders
of one of the Sheriff's men, and deposited for some hours in his
house. There suitable arrangements were made, and at one o'clock in
the morning of Tuesday, 7th April, 1752, the body, by her own
request, was buried in the chancel of Henley Parish Church, between
those of her father and mother, when, notwithstanding the untimely
hour, "there was assembled the greatest concourse of people ever
known upon such an occasion." Henley Church has been "restored"
since Mary's day, and there is now no indication of the grave,
which, as the present rector courteously informs the Editor, is
believed to be beneath the organ, in the north choir aisle.

_Apropos_ to Mary Blandy's death, "Elia" has a quaint anecdote of
Samuel Salt, one of the "Old Benchers of the Inner Temple." This
gentleman, notable for his maladroit remarks, was bidden to dine
with a relative of hers (doubtless Mr. Serjeant Stevens) on the day
of the execution - not, one would think, a suitable occasion for
festivity. Salt was warned beforehand by his valet to avoid all
allusion to the subject, and promised to be specially careful.
During the pause preliminary to the announcing of dinner, however,
"he got up, looked out of window, and pulling down his ruffles - an
ordinary motion with him - observed, 'it was a gloomy day,' and
added, 'I suppose Miss Blandy must be hanged by this time.'"

The reader may care to know what became of Cranstoun. That "unspeakable
Scot," it has regretfully to be recorded, was never made amenable to
earthly justice. He was, indeed, the subject of at least four
biographies, but human retribution followed him no further. Extracts
from one of these "Lives" are, for what they are worth, printed in the
Appendix, together with his posthumous _Account of the Poisoning of
the late Mr. Francis Blandy_, a counterblast to Mary's masterpiece.
This tract includes the text of three letters, alleged to have been
written by her to her lover, and dated respectively 30th June, 16th
July, and 1st August, 1751; but as, after his death, all his papers
were, by order of Lord Cranstoun, sealed up and sent to his lordship
in Scotland, who, in the circumstances, was little likely to part with
them, it does not appear how these particular manuscripts came into
the "editor's" possession. But, in that age of literary marvels,
nothing need surprise us: a publisher actually issued as genuine the
_Original Letters to and from Miss Blandy and C - - C - - _, though the
fact that Cranstoun's half of the correspondence had been destroyed by
Mary Blandy was then a matter of common knowledge. In all these
pamphlets, Cranstoun, while admitting his complicity in her crime,
with, characteristic gallantry casts most of the blame upon his dead
mistress. For the rest, he seems to have passed the brief remainder of
his days in cheating as many of his fellow-sinners as, in the short
time at his disposal, could reasonably be expected.

A hitherto unpublished letter from Henry Fox at the War Office, to
Mr. Pitt, then Paymaster General, dated 14th March, 1752, is, by
kind permission of Mr. A.M. Broadley, printed in the Appendix.
After referring to Mary's conviction, the writer intimates that
Cranstoun, "a reduc'd first Lieut. of Sir Andrew Agnew's late Regt.
of Marines, now on the British Establishment of Half-Pay, was
charged with contriving the manner of sd. Miss Blandy's Poisoning
her Father and being an Abettor therein; and he having absconded
from the time of her being comitted for the above Fact, I am
commanded to signify to you it is His Majesty's Pleasure that the
sd. Lieutenant Wm. Henry Cranstoune be struck off the sd.
Establishment of Half-Pay, and that you do not issue any Moneys
remaining in your Hands due to the sd. Lieut. Cranstoune." This
shows the view taken by the Government of the part played by
Cranstoun in the tragedy of Henley.

There will also be found in the Appendix an extract from, a letter
from Dunkirk, published in the _London Magazine_ for February, 1753,
containing what appears to be a reliable account of the last days of
Mary Blandy's lover; the particulars given are in general agreement
with those contained in the various "Lives" above mentioned. Obliged
to fly from France, where he had been harboured by one Mrs. Ross,
his kinswoman, whose maiden name of Dunbar he had prudently assumed,
he sought refuge in Flanders. Furnes, "a town belonging to the Queen
of Hungary," had the dubious distinction of being selected by him as
an asylum. There, on 2nd December, 1752, "at the sign of the
Burgundy Cross," after a short illness, accompanied, it is
satisfactory to note, with "great agonies," the Hon. William Henry
Cranstoun finally ceased from troubling in the thirty-ninth year of
his age. His personal belongings, "consisting chiefly of Laced and
Embroidered Waistcoats," were sold to pay his debts. On his deathbed
he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. The occasion of so
notable a conversion was fittingly marked by the magnificence of his
obsequies. "He was buried," we read, "in great solemnity, the
Corporation attending the funeral; and a grand Mass was said over
the corpse in the Cathedral Church, which, was finely illuminated."
The impressive ceremonial would have gratified vainglorious Mr.
Blandy had circumstances permitted his presence.

Some account of the descendants of Cranstoun is given in a letter by
John Riddell, the Scots genealogist, hitherto unpublished, which is
printed in the Appendix. George Cranstoun, Lord Corehouse,
Cranstoun's nephew, was afterwards an eminent Scottish judge.

A word as to the guilt of Mary Blandy and her accomplice, which, in
the opinion of some writers, is not beyond dispute. The question of
motive in such cases is generally a puzzling one, and in the
commission of many murders the end to be gained, always inadequate,
often remains obscure. Barely does the motive - unlike the punishment
which it was the sublime object of Mr. Gilbert's "Mikado" equitably
to adjust - "fit the crime." Mary was well aware that she could not
be Cranstoun's lawful wife, but hers was not a nature to shrink from
the less regular union. Her passion for him was irresistible; she
had ample proof of his chronic infidelity, but, in her blind
infatuation, such "spots" upon the sun of her affection, were
disregarded. She knew that, but for the £10,000 bait, her crafty
lover would surely play her false; her father was sick of the whole
affair, and if she went off with the captain, would doubtless
disinherit her. As for that "honourable" gentleman himself, the
inducement to get possession of her £10,000, the beginning and end
of his connection with the Blandys, sufficiently explains his
purpose. Was not the spirit of his family motto, "Thou shalt want
ere I want," ever his guiding light and principle, and would such a
man so circumstanced hesitate to resort to a crime which he could
induce another to commit and, if necessary, suffer for, while he
himself reaped the benefit in safety? Had he succeeded in securing
both his mistress and her fortune, Mary's last state would, not
improbably, have been worse than her first.

So much for the "motive," which presents little difficulty. Then,
with regard to the question whether, on the assumption of his guilt,
Mary Blandy was the intelligent agent of Cranstoun or his innocent
dupe, no one who has studied the evidence against her can entertain
a reasonable doubt. Apart from the threatening and abusive language
which she applied to her father, her whole attitude towards his last
illness shows how false were her subsequent professions of
affection. She herself has disposed of the suggestion that she
really believed in the love-compelling properties of the magic
powder, though such a belief was not inconceivable, as appears from
the contemporary advertisement of a "Love Philtre," of which a copy
is printed in the Appendix. She told her dying father that if he
were injured by the powder, she was not to blame, as "it was given
her with another intent." What that "intent" was she did not then
explain, but later she informed Dr. Addington that it was to "make
him [her father] kind" to Cranstoun and herself. In the speech which
she delivered in her own defence she said, "I gave it to procure his
love"; and again, on the conclusion of Bathurst's reply, "It is said
I gave it my father to make him fond of me: there was no occasion
for that - but to make him fond of Cranstoun." In her _Narrative_ she
repeats this statement; but in her _Own Account_, written and
revised by herself, she says, "I gave it to my poor father innocent
of the effects it afterwards produced, God knows; _not so stupid as
to believe it would have that desired, to make him kind to us_; but
in obedience to Mr. Cranstoun, who ever seemed superstitious to the
last degree." Here we have an entirely fresh (if no less false)
reason assigned for the exhibition of the wise woman's drug; only,
of course, another lie, but one which, disposes of her previous
defence. Of the true qualities of the powder she had ample proof;
she warned the maid that the gruel "might do for her," she saw its
virulent effects upon Gunnell and Emmet, as well as on her father
from its first administration, while her concealment of its use from
the physician, and her destruction of the remanent portion, are
equally incompatible with belief either in its innocence or her own.
Finally, her burning of Cranstoun's letters, which, if her story was
true, were her only means of confirming it, her attempts to bribe
the servants, and her statements to Fisher and the Lanes at the
Angel, afford, in Mr. Baron Legge's phrase, "a violent presumption"
of her guilt.

Cranstoun, even at the time, did not lack apologists, who held that
Miss Blandy, herself the solo criminal, cunningly sought to involve
her guileless lover in order to lessen her own guilt. This view has
been endorsed by later authorities. Anderson, in his _Scottish
Nation_, remarks, "There does not appear to have been any grounds
for supposing that the captain was in any way accessory to the
murder"; and Mr. T.F. Henderson, in his article on Cranstoun in the
_Dictionary of National Biography_, observes, "Apart from her [Mary
Blandy's] statement there was nothing to connect him with the
murder." These writers seem to have overlooked the following


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Online LibraryUnknownTrial of Mary Blandy → online text (page 5 of 23)