Category Archives: crime

From Shoe Lane to St. Giles in 1674

One of the first cases that drew me into the Old Bailey Online is a convoluted account from the first year of the published proceedings dealing with clothing theft that incidentally involved child kidnapping. It has little, if anything, of the legal particulars of the case, but Mall Floyd’s targeting of an eight-year-old girl drew the attention of the court. Coming upon a young girl in Shoe Lane (just a little bit to the west of the city wall) and

pretending She came from her Mother, carryed it with her as farr as St Giles’s , and had it into an Alehouse there, where seeing it rain, She pretended all the Childs Cloathes would be Spoiled, and under that pretence took away from it Severall Laces and peices of Linnen Knots and the like, and then carrying her into St Giles’s Churchyard where there then happened to be a Burial, She Lost her in the Crowd of People , who then not Knowing where She was, nor the way home, fell a crying, and was brought home that Night by some honest Inhabitant there abouts

It’s a fair distance from Shoe Lane (red line on the map below, generated from The Map of Early Modern London) to St. Giles north of Cripplegate (the purple church at the upper left). What a scary time for the child and her family that must have been!

Shoe Lane to St. Giles from the Agas Map

The Proceedings chattily explains that, while the child couldn’t identify her kidnapper, her mother saw some of the stolen clothing for sale in Holborn (so back near the Shoe Lane site of the girl’s kidnapping). That sighting led, after some serious detective work, to Mall Floyd, described as a frequent resident of the “Inchanted Castle” as the reporter cheekily characterized Newgate Prison.

Floyd was fortunate that her felony punishment was commuted to transportation to plantations beyond the seas – presumably service in the American or Caribbean colonies. Of Mall Floyd or her unnamed victim, we have no further record.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 10 January 2018), July 1674, trial of Mall. Floyd (t16740717-6).

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Deliciously Criminal

This term I’m teaching a new history of crime and punishment course. It’s inspired all sorts of fun forays into the Old Bailey Online database, particularly as I’ve shown students how they can search on any number of topics. The research is frequently delicious and I mean that in both the enjoyable and the culinary ways. For instance, we can study thefts involving food or food as an incidental in the course of testimonies.

The most obvious “food theft” might be poaching and, yes, this was a concern even in a city such as London. Convictions for game law offences show an awful lot of fallow deer at risk (as well as the occasional pond full of carp). This case from 1725 features three deer killed by two violent poachers, whose dangerous ways were intimately experienced by one Charles George:

The Prisoner stept to me with a Pistol in his Hand, and swore if I did not go back, he’d shoot me. I was not sure that my Piece would go off, and so I retreated, and found two Deer lying dead, and they look’d as if they had been torne by Dogs. In the mean time the Prisoner and Biddesford got over the Pales. It fell out that some Countrymen were coming by soon after without-side the Pales, (for there’s no Foot-Path thro’ the Park.) I cry’d out Thieves, and they join’d together to assist me. I got over the Pales, and there found another Deer with his Throat cut, and not quite cold. The Prisoner and old Biddesford took their Way towards Roger’s Ferry, and we pursued them. When they came to the Ferry, they turned about, presented their Pistols, and swore we were dead Men, if we came a Foot nearer. However, when they were gone off, we took a Boat after them: They landed at the Half-Mile Tree, (about half a Mile from Kingston) and we were not far behind them. Biddesford was shot in the Fields, and the Prisoner was taken in Kingston, with a Powder-Horn and naked Knife in his Pocket.1

In another case, the sharing of brandy between men and cheesecake between women helped to acquit a family of murder. Seriously! At least that’s what the Proceedings for the 1708 trial of Webb Rawlins, Elizabeth Rawlins and Gabriel Huff for the murder of Jacob Hamson suggests, although the details are sketchy.

The Prisoners in their defence deny’d the Fact and Huff produc’d several Witnesses, to prove that he was at Home from the Morning till he went to Bed, and was that Night at Supper with some Friends at his own House, which was at Old-street, it being St. Crispin’s Day, a remarkable time: Webb and Elizabeth Rawlins produc’d Witnesses who depos’d they had not been from Home that Day, neither had there been any Company at their House from the Morning till their time of going to Bed, except one Man for a Quartern of Brandy in the Morning, and a Woman in the Afternoon for a 2 d Cheescake: Upon the whole, the Jury acquitted the Prisoners.2

I wonder if the jurors wrapped up their day with a little brandy and cheesecake or perhaps a bit of venison?

In case you’re interested, I dug up a 1747 Lemon Cheesecake recipe courtesy of Sasha Cottman, a Regency romance writer whose most recent book I picked up because, hey, historical fiction and recipes? That’s another delicious idea.

Notes
1. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 28 March 2015), April 1725, trial of John Guy (t17250407-57).

2. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 28 March 2015), December 1708, trial of Webb Rawlins Gabriel Huff Elizabeth Rawlins (t17081208-23).

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Mary Carleton, the Heroine Bigamist

She was born in Canterbury, or maybe Cologne, in 1634 or 1639 or perhaps even as late as 1642. Whoever she was and wherever she came from, Mary was a fascinating individual Counterfeit Lady who captured the interests of many, including the famed diarist Pepys. She convinced many Londoners that she was a wealthy and well-educated German princess but other contemporaries claimed Mary was actually the runaway wife of a Canterbury shoemaker who fled to Barbados seeking to escape her husband before taking up with three other men, the last of whom, John Carleton, prosecuted her for bigamy at the Old Bailey in 1663. When Mary was acquitted, she took lovers, changed identities and supported herself through tricks and thievery. Convicted of theft in 1670, she was transported to Jamaica but engineered her return to England where she was caught again, and recognized. Confessing all, Mary was taken to the gallows at Tyburn and executed in January of 1673.

Too often we assume that our modern age of celebrity culture is unique in fixating on the bad boys and girls of the day. But Mary Moders, as she was born in Canterbury, fascinated her contemporaries to the extent that she spawned two remarkable flurries of publications decrying her perfidy or defending her honour. Some scholars have claimed that her defensive memoirs, An Historical Narrative of the German Princess and particularly The Case of Madam Mary Carleton, were so learned and well-written that they must have been authored by someone else, i.e. a man. Other academics and even Mary’s most skeptical contemporaries believed these were her own words. Those who doubted Mary’s truthfulness but not her authorship pointed to Mary’s facility with words, her practice at forging identity documents and her skill at appearing part of the highest ranks of society: this was no empty foil but a full-out confidence artist.

In her long and varied career, Mary was also a bigamist several times over: she left her first husband after the death of two children, marrying a doctor who aided her in her escape before abandoning him and taking up with a bricklayer. After she travelled to London in the guise of a rich continental woman, she drew the attention of the Carleton family and was courted by young John Carleton, an ambitious lawyer’s clerk. The two of them must have been a disappointment to each other in terms of riches and opportunities. The Carletons, tipped off to Mary’s true past, attempted to prosecute her for bigamy. A 1604 legislative change, “An Act to restrain all persons from marrying until their former wives and former husbands be dead” (I Jac I, c. 11) had taken what was formerly a spiritual offense punishable by penance and transformed it into a felony crime. Mary could have been executed for her disregard of the solemnity of marriage as other contemporaries were.

However, the Carletons failed to document Mary’s bigamous past. They produced few witnesses who could testify to her previous life in Canterbury and the case was overthrown. Instead of a humbled convict, Mary became a darling of fashionable London. She was visited by gawkers while still in custody and may well have used the experience to find new ways to exploit her new-found fame to extract gifts and confidences from those who rose to her defence. Given her later convictions for theft of silver plate and the heady riches she accumulated through fraud, Mary appears to have been always on the make.

And yet, how much can we really know of what she did and what she desired? As her best biographer, Frances Kirkman, author of The Counterfeit Lady pictured above, wrote of her in 1673: “How can Truth be discovered of her who was wholly composed of Falsehood?” For the intriguing story of a woman who shed the conventional life and embraced an early form of celebrity culture in a life of scandal and adventure, look no farther than the bigamous thief, Mary Carleton.

Suggested Readings:
Susan Brown, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. “Mary Carleton entry: Overview screen” within Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. http://orlando.cambridge.org/public/svPeople?person_id=carlma.
Kate Lilley, “Mary Carleton’s False Additions: The Case of the ‘German Princess'” Humanities Review 2010 https://www.academia.edu/265004/Mary_Carletons_False_Additions_the_Case_of_the_German_Princess.
Janet Todd, “Carleton , Mary (1634×42–1673)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4676.
Geraldine Wagner, “The Staged Self in Mary Carleton’s Autobiographical Narratives” CLCWeb 7:3 (September, 2005) http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/clcweb/vol7/iss3/7.

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