Knee-deep in Alligators

My father – himself a long-time academic administrator – had a cartoon he had posted on a bulletin board, featuring several business-suit wearing men, looking more than a bit terrified and bedraggled, struggling to keep themselves out of the maws of several alligators taking up the terrain below their dangling feet. The caption read “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s difficult to remember that your first objective was to drain the swamp.” These days, “drain the swamp” has a different connotation – more about corruption than heretofore unknown hazards, but the unpleasant prospect still holds. In today’s more environmentally-informed era, maybe we should preserve the swamp and other habitats – leaving the alligators to flourish in their own world and stay within safer bounds?

Hazards abound in working life – many of them surfacing with no ill-intent. The other day I got an email politely asking about when a pending report could be expected. *CHOMP* It felt as if an alligator was suddenly underfoot, even if I knew well that responsibility was on my shoulders. It had been such a pleasant 36 hours with only one immediate crisis to manage. . . .

The learning curve for serving as Director is steep. That I spent my first month in the role covering for another major set of responsibilities in the Faculty stretched me thin for time. The final straw was squeezing in prep for a new course that I ran in the fall term: Games and History.

It all worked, somehow. The course was great – it really worked well to engage students thinking about history as much as “covering” topics. They connected practices well across time and considered thoughtfully how contemporary games about historical eras were, themselves, a form of historical interpretation that was worthy to examine.

This term there’s only one new preparation and it’s a shared course, so it’s work, but not nearly as daunting. I still have many daunting parts of my director’s duties to handle, though – recruiting faculty members for urgently-needed committees, drafting necessary reports, tweaking the timetable for next year, and, yes, sometimes meeting with folks.

Speaking of which, it’s time to get cracking on prep work for meetings and more (and keep working on my French because, dang, while my written French has improved greatly over the past eight months, my spoken French is still very much my Achilles heel). Au revoir, tout le monde. Qu’il n’y ait pas d’alligators chez vous!


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Summertime Re-set

So much has happened in the last two years. . . let me sum up. The good news? I still have a full-time faculty job. The bad news? Too many others don’t. Yes, my university has gone through the wringer. Truth be told, we’re still in the midst of matters and it’s a big ol’ mess. Here’s the CBC story covering the provincial auditor’s preliminary report on the matter.

Those of us who remain are becoming experts at doing more with less. I’ve said too many goodbyes, among them the cheerful kind that comes at convocation where students celebrate their triumphs and share their plans of what comes next. But too many of my goodbyes have been sad ones: of careers cut short or student dreams denied. I also bid my beloved Siberian cat, Sisu, goodbye, last December when cancer finally got the better of her.

We had already welcomed Gráinne into our lives at that point. Named after the pirate queen of Connacht, she is small but imperious: a worthy successor to Sisu. Along with Kaiser, the two cats keep us busy.

I’m working, as much as possible, from my home office this summer. After being dismissed as Chair of History when our department was amalgamated with all the others in the Faculty, I’m now a sort of “super-chair”: Director of the School of Liberal Arts. It’s a fancy term for someone who’s good at signing a lot of digital paperwork and supporting students in programs from English through Law & Justice. I’m also getting to teach some of my favourite courses along with one new one: a second-year class on Games and History. Lots of reading, lots of administrivia, and a little bit of summer fun, including some counted cross-stitch, a hobby that’s sustained me through this pandemic.


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Virtual with a Vengeance

Back in the 1990s, I used to joke that I lived much of my life virtually. When I wasn’t caring for kids or working at the U, I could be found in online forums like those at iVillage and other, even more fantastical virtual locations like the dock on the Oasis of Marr in Everquest. Screenshot of my character from early Everquest

Now we’re all going virtual with a vengeance – Zoom meetings populate everyone’s online calendar and shared Google Drives allow us to coordinate efforts from miles apart. For my part, I’ve been doubling down on my early love of the possibilities we can find online in this pandemic: with incorporating more game-based learning, recording a lot of short, simple videos, and brushing up on other techniques. all hoping to cultivate our learning community in the online world. Although I’ve presented virtually before at a wonderful conference on the Old Bailey, it’s still a brave new world to have Zoom conferences (with very little schmoozing opportunities).

But it’s a whole new ball game to be managing everything without access to my office (old/current or new/awaiting move-in indefinitely due to COVID-19 interruptions), my books (even though I hauled a huge bag home of the ones that I knew I’d need), and my colleagues who are in and out of the virtual space as much as I am. I even missed out on some of my own virtual appointments: a Wednesday morning social meeting passed me by after I stepped into our basement storage room for no more than ten minutes and emerged over an hour later.

At least my commute is super-short! Makes more time to squeeze out some new adventures in the ongoing saga of Everquest!


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Writing Re-energized

Term is over and I even wrangled in a vacation. (A week in eastern Ireland: it was lovely!) Now it’s back to work which means writing. I’ve been writing throughout the academic term, but it’s time to get serious and pull together the bits and pieces for an article that I can submit on crime and mothering.

I cleared the decks yesterday by completing a book review due at the end of the month. The eight hundred words is just a tenth of the article total I’ll be pulling together but it helps to both relieve the tension of a looming deadline and remind me of how modest the goal of an 8,000 word article will be to polish off. Then I can move on to the next article that’s been backed up nearly as long as the first.

Today I downloaded the template and author instructions for the first journal I’m targeting. I had been putting off writing the next bit and I realized that part of it was simply not feeling certain about the format. Problem solved and a page added!

Much of this re-energizing was fuelled by my conference paper last fall that led to a forum piece dealing with the transience of impoverished early modern London mothers. The chance to quickly refine and submit the work was exciting, but it also made me realize that I have several stalled projects that I really ought to move along.

This is also why I refrained from proposing a conference paper for the upcoming NECBS meetings in Montreal this October, instead helping to organize three sessions along with volunteering to chair at least one: this is the summer of writing and, more importantly, submitting!

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On Teaching as Deep Thought

When a sessional instructor bowed out in August, I knew that I was the only logical candidate in our department to take over teaching the second-year survey course on early industrial Europe. However, this was a course that had been my personal bête noire for some time. I’d team-taught it on return from maternity leave in early 1997 and again a few years later. Neither time did I feel I’d done the topic justice, yet here I was volunteering to do it on a few weeks notice? What changed? A lot, and a lot of it was me.

I credit Jo VanEvery for a fair chunk of that change – a few years ago I signed up for her one-on-one sessions and it was wondrously helpful. I learned to clarify what I wanted to be doing so that I could be more mindful in what I was doing. At the time we spoke, I felt as if my research and teaching were insurmountably disconnected. Jo helped me to revisit my teaching, approaching it to find links with my research, and, honestly? That changed the entire game. I have always loved teaching, but approaching teaching as a way to link students and their studies to my own expertise helped enliven the practice. Next term, I’ll do that in one way with a course on Game of Thrones (on which I’ve published and lectured), but I have also used that perspective to help improve my classroom work on other “regular”histories. The challenge, I thought, would be to see if I could do this with a course I’d taught twice before and despaired about: Early Industrial Europe.

So I asked myself two  questions: what really had to be in the course and what could I do to make that exciting? Continue reading

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On Grand Tour, 1740

Johann Georg Keyssler (1693-1743), was a German scholar who served as steward to a succession of German nobles before making his name as a skilled tutor ideal for leading young noblemen on the Grand Tour. In 1740 he published a collection of his travel letters as Neueste Reisen durch Deutschland, Böhmen, Ungarn, die Schweiz, Italien und Lothringen which was translated into English in 1756. Keyssler’s observations combined careful descriptions of terrain and town life along with keen assessments of the political and economic contexts of the European continent since the 1680s.

These excerpts come from “Letter XIX” in Volume 1 of Travels Through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy, and Lorrain. London: A. Linde & T. Field, 1756.

Lausanne lies in a valley, but so uneven that the carriage wheels must be continually shod. On the east side of the town is a very spacious walk, with a wall, and a prospect towards the city and lake of Geneva, which seems very near, but is a good half league off.

In the wall of the great Church was a crack wide enough for a man to creep through, occasion’d by an earthquake in the year 1634. The celebrated old professor Pictet used to say, that when he was a boy and at play in the church-yard, he has sometimes laid his cloak in it; about thirty years ago it was closed again by another earthquake, and the crevice which remain’d was fill’d up with mortar, being not above an inch in breadth. The tower does not want beauty, but having been twice burned, only half of it is now standing. A smaller tower belonging to this church was also set on fire by lightening, when they produently beat it down by a chain ball, by which the body of the church was saved, and since a spire has been raised on it. In the church is the marble tomb of a chevalier of the house of Granson, likewise of duke Charles Schomberg, who lost his life in Piedmont in the year 1698.[1] On one side of this cathedral is a wall’d terrass like that at Bern, with this difference, that the terrass of Bern is much higher wall’d, and that of Lausanne has the advantage in prospect, commanding the lake and all the low country towards Geneva. This country indeed from its nature, and the improvements of it, affords a delicious view in the variety of little hills and dales, fields, meadows, vineyards and woods, together with the neighbourhood of the lake. All these allurements, and the regularity and mildness of the government, draw people of all countries into the Païs de Vaud, and especially to pass the summers and autumns there; some also purchase lands.

The resort of persons of rank from Geneva and the canton of Bern, of men of letters and parts, of gentlemen who have travell’d, of experienced merchants, and other persons of amiable qualities who come hither as to refuge from civil and ecclesiastical tyranny, affords the most desirable opportunities of spending the time agreeably in improving conversation. Even ministers of state whose talents have shown in the greatest courts of Europe, have chosen this spot for the seat of their repose: and their conversation to a mind turn’d for instruction, whom they are pleased to honour with their confidence, cannot but be an exquisite entertainment, as they themselves may feel transports of rational pleasures, which they were strangers to amidst the tumult of a court, and the embarrassments of their station. [155-6]


To return from my digression, and say a word more of the charming Païs de Vaud, which beginning at Morat, reaches to Geneva, and is to be distinguished from La Vaux, which is but a small part thereof lying betwixt Lausanne and Bevay, and not above three leagues in length, and but one in breadth; it produces the wine called Vin de la Vaux, of a good body and agreeable flavour, yet has not such a demand as the Vin de la Côte growing betwixt Lausanne and Geneva, which not being so strong is accounted more wholesome. The country from Lausanne to Geneva abounds in vineyards, but the wine of a strip of land betwixt the river Aubonne and Pronsontause, a little brook falling in to the lake, half a league on this sideNyon, is esteemed the choicest. This territory is three small leagues in length, and is distinguished by the name of la Côte. The wine of the growth of Rolle and Bursin, two particular spots from here, is reckoned to surpass the rest, and especially the white wine; a the barony of Copet, which lies nearer towards Geneva, is celebrated for red wine.

The wine growing on the Savoy side of the lake of Geneva had formerly a very soniderable vent, the people of Geneva, and the neighbouring Switzers buying their wine from Savoy; but a certain rapacious placeman put the duke upon laying a duty upon this wine, which, as the Switzers could not be without it, he said would be a great increase to the revenue. Such counsellors are but too readily listened to, and the imposition took place. This of course occasioned the wine to rise, and the Switzers were not wanting to make remonstrances, but to no purpose; at last, seeing no remedy, it came into the minds of some leading men, that though their forefathers had never any thoughts of planting vines, yet that it was not impossible that their country, especially that part of it between Geneva and Lausanne, might yield as good wine as Savoy; the position of their mountains and of the land in general, affording a better exposure to the sun than the Savoy territory. The business was set on foot, and the consequence far exceeded all expectation; whereas the Savoy wines remained upon their hands, and instead of the uncertain advantage which the duke’s finances were gaping after, they lost, besides the detriment to the industrious subjects, a certain income, which they have never since been able to retrieve.

From Lausanne through Morges to Rolle is reckoned five hours journey; but it is usually gone in four. On the right-hand lies Aubonne, at present a government of the canton of Bern, but formerly a lordship belonging to the marquis du Quesne, which he purchased of Tavernier, the famous traveller, and afterward sold it to Bern. Tavernier had bought it upon the king of France’s having given him letters of nobility, with an intent of quietly spending there the remainder of his life; but by the knavery of a cousin of his, whom he had sent to the East-Indies with a cargo of two hundred and twenty two thousand French livres value, and the sale of which would at least have fetched a million, became involved in such troubles, that he was obliged to dispose of every thing, and ended his life in a manner very different from the ease and affluence with which he had flattered himself. As for the marquis du Quesne, he was eldest son of the famous admiral du Quesne, the only person whom the French could oppose to the Dutch admiral Ruyter. These two sea heroes are said to have had such mutual esteem, and such a dread of losing the honour they had gained, that they always avoided each other, sending private information of the course they intended to steer; till once du Quesne being by contrary winds hindered from pursuing the course which he had specified to Ruyter, they happened, contrary to the inclinations of both to meet of Mesina, and thus there was a necessity of coming to an engagement. It is also said, that from a false motion made by the Dutch admiral’s ship, du Quesne concluding Ruyter to be no longer in command, immediately animated his men with assuring them that Ruyter was killed; whereas he lived some days after he received the wound.[2]

Du Quesne continued a firm Protestant; so that when, in his advanced age Lewis XIV. Was practising upon him to forsake his religion, he frankly answered, Sire, j’ai rendu asses long temps á Cesar ce qui est dû á cesar; il est temps, que je rende aussi á Dieu ce qui lui est dû. ‘I have long enough been rendering to Cesar the things which are Cesar’s, it is now time for me to render also to God what is due to him.’ So little did the king understand this, that turning to the by-standers he said, Est ce que la tête tourney á cet homme? Veut il server l’empereur? ‘Is the man out of his mind? Is he for serving the emperor?’ Being on account of his naval qualities, the person whom in those times the crown of France could not spare, he was the only one who, at the time of the repeal of the edict of Nantz, was connived at, and not compelled to abjure his religion, or quit the country. The heart of this great man lies in a marble tomb erected by his son in the church of Aubonne; the spirit of persecution, after all his eminent services, not allowing the whole body to be carried out of town. [161-3]

[1] Charles Schomberg (1645-93) was born in Brandenburg but ended life as an English duke under William & Mary. He served as a general in the Prussian, Dutch, and English armies. He perished at the Battle of Marsaglia during the Nine Years’ War, among the 10,000 allies who perished failing to take the French-held town of Pinerolo.

[2] Keyssler here refers to the 1676 death of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter during the Franco-Dutch War as a result of wounds suffered at the Battle of Agosta. Admiral Abraham Duquesne, a renowned Huguenot naval leader, disengaged his fleet from the attack upon word of his rival’s injuries but continued to serve Louis XIV until 1684

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Have Mercy, 1722

In 1722 a ten-year-old girl, Hannah (surname possibly Starky, Norman, or Smart) came before the Old Bailey, charged with thefts. She appears to have been alone in the world – no parents are mentioned and she seems to have no home or family to care for her. Nevertheless, little Hannah was not content to be the object of anyone’s charity and stole from her benefactors. The list of what she stole is staggering: a watch, smocks, sheets, and other linens, a bodice and a petticoat – from two different individuals. Both appeared to have offered the young girl a kindness. John Hoxly had taken Hannah in off the streets, given her shelter, but she stole his goods and pawned them for liquor. Hannah had been sleeping alongside the daughter of her second victim, Anne Harding, when she stole the clothes to be pawned.

All told, Hannah’s crimes deprived her victims of over 8 pounds sterling worth of personal effects. By the letter of the law, that was more than enough to ensure that the young girl would suffer the death penalty. But at the end of each brief summary of Hannah’s crimes, the record indicates that Hannah was found “Guilty to the value of 10 d.” That valuation had nothing to do with Hoxly’s and Harding’s losses. It had everything to do with mercy. Thefts valued over ten pence merited execution. Thefts under that value were seen as open to mercy.

Hannah received mercy from the court. She was one of 35 prisoners sentenced to be transported at this session: over half of all those convicted. Only five were executed. For all that England had a Bloody Code, the courts often found good reason to set aside the extremes, and show some mercy. The mercy shown her was not necessarily unusual and we need to keep that in mind when reading the early modern law. What was on the books did not correlate to people’s lived experience of the courts.

There were two ways in which Hannah might have been thought worthy of mercy: on the basis of her age and her sex. Eighteenth century children weren’t seen as innocent angels: especially not poor and thieving children like Hannah. At the same time, authorities were receptive to the idea that children could be redeemed and a ten-year-old would seem on the verge of either falling irredeemably into vice or being restored to good order and godly living. Similarly, while early modern ideas of women still emphasized their carnal nature as descendants of Eve, popular culture was also willing to excuse women as being less than fully culpable in some cases.

Gregory Durston studied the two broad categories into which women at the courts were slotted: as victims or viragos. Little Hannah might have been a victim in some of the onlookers’ eyes because of her youth and her gender. But a ten-year-old girl either herself a gin addict or taking advantage of the gin craze? She might be seen as more of a virago.

Her crimes were serious enough to warrant punishment, but her age and gender made the court leery of putting the young girl to death. Transportation it would be: how merciful really was that? It’s a false dichotomy that without transportation the only alternative was death. Ashley Rubin shows that other alternative punishments such as whipping, branding, or fining were far less employed after the Transportation Act of 1718. If Hannah had been tried ten years early, she might well have been whipped or received some other punishment: now she would face seven years transported to the colonies. Compared to death, that was mercy. Compared to some of the other punishments more commonly employed before 1718? Not so much.


Durston, Gregory. Victims and Viragos: Metropolitan Women, Crime and the Eighteenth Century Justice System. Bury St. Edmunds: arima, 2007.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 8.0, 29 March 2018), July 1722, trial of Hannah Starky Hannah Norman , alias Smart (t17220704-59).

Rubin, Ashley T. “The Unintended Consequences of Penal Reform: A Case Study of Penal Transportation in Eighteenth‐Century London.” Law & Society Review 46, no. 4 (2012): 815–51.

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Poisoned Family, 1720

One case I return to often in The Old Bailey Online is the trial of Elizabeth Cranberry for the murder of Thomas Biggs. It is a case of poisoning, long seen as a women’s weapon, but it’s so much more than this: the more you dig, the more you see an unhappy household and the possibility of a poorly-blended family.

I first stumbled upon this case when searching out stepmothers’ stories and looking up every possible use of related terms. Since step-parents and in-laws were interchangeable terms, there’s some confusion in the terms. Elizabeth shared a bed with Hannah Tudor in the house, the first person giving evidence in the case, revealing some interesting family dynamics:

that on Friday Night the Prisoner and the Deceased (who was her Father-in-Law) had many Words together, insomuch that he threatned to turn her out of Doors; and she told him he should not: that on Saturday Morning while the Deceased’s Wife was feeding of him, he complained there was something in the Porridge, and that she told him there was nothing to her Knowledge for she clean’d the Sauce-Pan and boyled it her self, and if there was any thing it must be in the Oat-meal; that he eat two or three Spoonfuls more, and complained again, whereupon she went and took the Spoon out of her Mistresses Hand. and stirring the Milk found something in it, which she said look’d like Lime, and his Son said it look’d like Starch; that stirring it to the Bottom she found a great many white Specks

So either Hannah, testifying here, or Elizabeth, was Thomas’ stepdaughter. Malcolm Gaskill saw that as Hannah Tudor’s relationship. When he discusses this case in Crime and Mentalities, he assigns Elizabeth Cranberry the role of household servant. Therefore, her poisoning of Thomas Biggs would be not just murder but petty treason. However, in the passage that I quoted above, Hannah is the one describing Mrs. Biggs as her mistress and when she talks about the other witness, it is as Thomas’ son, not as her step-brother (or, more likely, brother-in-law given the earlier phrasing in this case).

Whatever Elizabeth’s and Hannah’s relationship to the Biggs, something was clearly amiss with this meal. Thomas demanded to search everyone’s boxes and only Elizabeth resisted. When her belongings were finally searched, a packet of white powder was found and was brought to a Dr. Perkins who testified that it contained white arsenic, white vitriol and bole armoniac. Given that Elizabeth had previously been a servant to an apothecary and admitted that she had the materials to help in washing gloves, the case seemed clear-cut to the court, and she was sentenced to death.
The Female Poisoner, Mary Blandy, 1752
But I wonder at the possible family dynamics unexplored. If Elizabeth Cranberry was Thomas Biggs’ stepdaughter and not his servant, her mother was his wife: the same woman who admitted she mixed the porridge herself and “she made a Saucepan of Milk-Porridge, as usual, and left her Daughter (the Prisoner) to look after her Nursery while she fed her Husband (the Deceased) that he complained there was something in his Porridge twice, &c”. We learn that Mrs. Biggs was the one her husband sent to the doctors when he fell ill, who conveyed his order to feed Mr. Biggs oil to induce vomiting, and who oversaw the unsuccessful treatment.

To construct a storyline where Mrs. Biggs murdered her husband and framed, or at the very least allowed Elizabeth Cranberry to take the blame, is deliciously simple – probably much more appetizing a prospect than that mess of porridge that poisoned Thomas, whoever truly was the culprit.

Gaskill, Malcolm. Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 07 February 2018), April 1720, trial of Elizabeth Cranbery (t17200427-43).

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Making But a Bad Defence, 1681

It was on Christmas Eve in 1680 that a young girl died a horrible death in London. The victim was twelve or fourteen years of age and apprenticed to the chief suspect: one Leticia Wigington (aka Alice Wiggens), a seamstress of Ratcliff parish to the east of the city proper. At the January sessions in 1681, Wigington was brought to trial in a case that captured London’s attention. The Proceedings opened with a shopping list of crimes being tried at the court and the punishments meted out, but made special mention of Wiginton’s crime, averring that she had murdered the girl “in such a barbarous manner, that the like hath scarce been heard.”

The brief account in the middle of the full Proceedings made up in pathos what it lacked in detail. The manner of death was shocking: apparently the apprentice girl had either stolen some money or spoiled some work and, as a result, Wigington got one of her lodgers (some suggested her adulterous lover) to make a cat o’ nine tails – a short whip tipped with multiple lashes that would become a byword for cruel military punishment. Then Wigington and her lodger, one Sadler by name, whipped the child for hours, reportedly rubbing salt in her wounds to further torture the girl. They felt it necessary to muffle her cries so as not to disturb the neighbours, and then beat her until she seemed dead and soon expired. Sadler fled and Wigington went on trial alone. (He was captured a few days later, soon tried and quickly put to death.)

While convicted in January, Wigington was not executed summarily. She plead the belly and so languished in Newgate until September when she finally hanged for her crime. The defence that she had so lacked in January apparently came to her in the intervening time. A London printer produced The confession and execution of Leticia Wigington of Ratclif two days before her September 11 death, prefacing it by an outraged notice that the murderess had confessed her crime before the court in January, but now sought to change her story. Likely, the editorial insertion suggested, this was the result of her close contact with Catholic priests (this being the height of the Popish Plot hysteria).

In this final gasp of a condemned woman, the story changes dramatically. Sadler is not a aid to her cruelty but the central figure in the murderous event. He doesn’t just make a weapon for Wigington’s use, he is the central driver in the foul scheme (he is also living out of wedlock with another woman, Wigington contends). When she tries to see justice done for this murdered girl, Leticia Wigington is instead framed and indicted on false testimony. Abandoned by all, even her husband who repudiates her for pleading the belly while they have been separated for months, she ends the rambling account with prayers for the souls of those whose evils brought her to death’s door.

But the time to have made this case was long past. Wigington had been quickly condemned in the court of public opinion as many pamphlets had shown. Neighbours characterized her as cruel and her own words were used to condemn her, as well as another apprentice, Rebecca Clifford. The last had apparently recanted her claims, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the end.

Martin, Randall. Women, Murder and Equity in Early Modern England. London: Routledge, 2007.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 30 January 2018), January 1681 (16810117A).

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 30 January 2018), February 1681, trial of John Sadler (t16810228-2).

Wigington, Leticia. The confession and execution of Leticia Wigington of Ratclif. London : Printed for Langley Curtis …, [1681]. Wing W2110

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The Lodger’s Scheme, 1678

The Old Bailey Online shows us a great deal about the everyday lives of early modern people, often inadvertently. Something of the makeshift economy that keeps single women afloat in London – both its legal and illegal elements – appears in the case of a household of women. Somewhere to the west of London proper, in the growing suburban parish of St. Andrew Holborn, a drama emerged involving four women who, at least for a time, lived under the same roof. This story shows that beneath the seemingly placid facade of household heads could live an interesting mix of different people in different situations. This home had a landlady and her daughter, a lodger and someone who sublet from the lodger, setting up the opportunity for an attempted crime that needed just one more thing: a chance to be alone in the shared room.

In mid-December of 1678, Anne Moundsel appeared before the court, charged by Mary Brasier with felony theft. Moundsel was a lodger in Mary’s room – we have no other details of the women’s relationship besides the weekly rent that Anne paid (6 pence). However Anne Moundsel apparently was close enough to Mary Brasier that she was able to convince Mary to deliver a letter on Anne’s behalf somewhere on the Strand, The Strand on the Agas Map the bustling commercial street running from Temple Bar into Westminster. Mary Brasier complained to the court that she had been sent on “a false Errand, with a feigned Letter into the Strand, to a person whom she could never find” while her roommate used her absence to systematically rob Mary of a gown, a petticoat and other linens.

Brasier’s complaint was supported by another woman of the household. Eleanor Hasset, her landlady, revealed that the scheme had involved her innocent daughter. Anne Moundsel reportedly had asked the landlady’s child to write a letter and promised her something in return. The mother reported “the Child told her, She suspected the Prisoner was a Thief, and that she her self thought so too” and so Eleanor set up a sting, watching to see the schemer put on Brasier’s gown and gather up her other cloth, then leave the house. Determinedly, Hasset set out in pursuit, fetching the miscreant back once and yet again when Moundsel tried to flee. And then she saw that justice was done.

The Proceedings concludes with Moundsel’s counter-claim that she had been permitted to borrow the dress and was taking the rest for mending, but standing against the clear narrative of her roommate and the landlady, the court and the jury demurred. Anne Moundsel was found guilty of theft and sentenced to branding. This likely would have been a “T” for theft on the thumb – Anne Moundsel is fortunate that she didn’t commit her theft closer to the start of the eighteenth century: from 1699 to 1707, brandings were done on the face in order to more clearly mark out a felon.


Baldwin, Neil. n.d. “The Strand.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed January 23, 2018.

Clive Emsley, Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker, “Punishments at the Old Bailey”, Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 6.0, 17 April 2011).

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 23 January 2018), December 1678, trial of Anne Moundsel (t16781211e-13).

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 23 January 2018), December 1678 (s16781211e-1).

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