The Persistent Witness, 1715

You’re walking through the eastern parishes in mid-March of 1715, when a child is crying loudly as a young woman roughly takes off his clothing. Other passersby must have disregarded Mary Skip’s disrobing of this sobbing young boy on the bank beside the king’s highway before this one woman intervened. Even then, Skip’s affirmation that this was her own child could well have satisfied the curious woman that all she had seen was a dispute between a parent and child. This was the normal, everyday trials of family life in the growing city, or was it?
Painting of Two Young Children in Petticoats, c. 1755
Instead of accepting this explanation, the witness persisted, seeing the aggrieved child, Joseph Murrel, alone now and stripped of his warm stuff coat and petticoats (normal attire for a younger child at this point in history). The trial report from late April explains that this bystander

then came back again, and ask’d the Child if that was its Mother; to which it reply’d, No; upon which she seiz’d the Prisoner, with the Goods upon her, and found another Child’s Cloaths in her Lap

Found guilty of highway robbery, for stealing the goods of Joseph Murrel, Senior, in the form of the child’s clothing, Mary Skip was sentenced to death. She claimed to be pregnant and thus ineligible to be executed, but the jury of matrons confirmed only one such pleading of the belly from those sentenced on this day. There was no pardon: Mary Skip would hang for her crime.

In the Ordinary of Newgate’s account for 11 May, Mary Skip (or Ship) is painted even more unsympathetically than in the trial account. It notes that she was

condemn’d for robbing and stripping Naked two Infants, upon the King’s Highway, on the 18th of March last. She said, she was about 24 Years of Age, born in the Parish of St. Mary Magdalen Bermondsey, and of late Years liv’d in East-Smithfield: That she often help’d her Mother, who nurs’d Children , and at other times went to Washing and Scuoring ; by which Means she got a Livelihood, tho’ a very poor one; and, That it was meer Poverty (but, as I observ’d her, it was more the want of Grace) that occasion’d her committing this cruel Fact.

Sources:
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 11 January 2018), April 1715, trial of Mary Skip (t17150427-52).

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 11 January 2018), April 1715 (s17150427-1).

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 11 January 2018), Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, May 1715 (OA17150511).

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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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Shall We Play a Game?

I’m returning to the subject of crime history in this fall’s teaching: a third-year course on Crime & Punishment in England, 1500-1900. I was happy with a lot of material and activities that I used last time. I was even happier that I made some good notes about what not to do when I revisited the course (so students will do three projects using records of London criminal trials and not four).

What’s got me most excited is the prospect of building a game with the class. We’re going to use Twine 2.0 to create several text-based “choose your own story” adventures using material gleaned from the Old Bailey Online.

Each student will be responsible for suggesting some cases we might use in the storylines – a great way to get them to dig around in the archive – and also locating some images to add interest to the game as we develop it (along with documentation of where they found these so we can assemble a proper set of credits in the game).

They’ll also be expected to create some narrative choices for the game stories as we develop this: for instance, letting the player choose to either apprehend a suspect when someone shouts “Stop, thief!” or ask the complainant “What’s this about?”

Right now, I’m still working my way through the screencast tutorials while I prepare a sample game to start the course and spark their interest. When it’s up and running, I’ll link it here. But for now?

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Dog Days of Summer

It’s hot and hazy: we’re into the reality of summer, finally. At least this year the blueberry crop is plentiful enough for people AND for bears. That didn’t stop a black bear from wandering through our backyard the other week and leaving visible evidence of that passage and its recent diet, mind you!

I’m vacillating in my work between preparations for the fall term of teaching and scholarly writing of my own in crime history and the family. Since one of the courses I’m teaching is on the history of crime, there’s some overlap which is welcome. Otherwise, most days my biggest excitement is walking Xena.

All in all, not too exciting right now but that’s just fine. I’m involved in planning two big events in the coming months on campus. One of these involves a visit in late September from my esteemed blog-friend, Historiann, who also has had reason to blog about bears recently. It’s a small world sometimes!

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Reading to Fuel the Fire

You know what Erasmus said? “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” Well, I bought another bunch of academic books this month. Eight in print depicted, one still on the way and one ebook awaiting me on my ereader. Oops? Eight books piled up

This fall term I’m teaching a bunch of familiar courses: Western Civilization from the Renaissance to the French Revolution, Crime and Punishment in England, 1500-1900 and then our graduate course on research methods which is going interdisciplinary across the humanities thanks to the wonders of cross-listing. With that in mind, I’m expanding my mind and my reading list particularly as it comes to the last element. In between writing up my crime history research in hopes of having another article complete this summer, I’m reading in order to lead a wide-ranging class of students on the start of their own research journeys.

However, on the heels of presenting at Congress 2017, I’m taking the rest of this week as a bit of a vacation. The scholarly reading goes on hold but it’s hard when the books are so tempting. . . .

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Rocking Cradles & Hatching Dragons

Next month sees the release of GotvsHistory Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood in print on 17 April, 2017. Edited by Brian Pavlac and published by Wiley (small world!), it’s a fun collection of pop culture linked with history. I’ve contributed a chapter on what the history of parenting can tell us about the characters and cultures of Westeros and Essos: “Rocking Cradles and Hatching Dragons: Parents in Game of Thrones” A lot of other great scholars have also contributed to this volume: I’m especially excited about Steve Muhlberger’s piece as well as the chapters by Kris Swank and Gillian Polack, all of whom were on board to contribute to the volume I’d planned to edit in 2013. Take a look: there are chapters on the Machiavellian world of Westeros and slave soldiers, along with so many other fascinating topics. I’m pleased this topic is finally getting a chance to be seen by so many, and ahead of season seven!

Here’s an excerpt from my chapter:

Rather than seeing children as expendable pawns, historical fathers and mothers were normally expected to treasure them. Consider a fifteenth‐century story about a young girl badly injured by a fallen tree. Her father rushed to her rescue, “his heart wrung with an agony of grief: yet, lifting the log with some difficulty, he raised her in his hands. Then the fountains of his eyes were loosed.” The tale concludes with the desperate parents restoring their daughter to life and health through the miraculous intervention of the deceased King Henry VI (r. 1421–1471), to whom they prayed in their distress. These medieval parents’ devastation recalls the grief and worry weighing down Ned and Catelyn Stark after Bran’s horrific fall in the first episode. While some historical parents may have felt little or no emotional bond with their offspring, the Starks’ heartfelt love for their injured son would have been widely lauded in the Middle Ages.

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Unsung Heroine

Bridget Hussey: surely you’ve heard of her? Likely not. I first stumbled upon her during my doctoral research. She married Richard Morison, a Henrician humanist pamphleteer who was a devout, nay, rabid Protestant as well as a lover of classical and Renaissance literature. At the time, I could little afford to do more than note her existence – their marriage occurred in the waning years of Henry VIII’s reign when Morison was no longer tossing off propaganda pamphlets like fast food burgers. I made a note of her will, proved many years later – in early January of 1601, which reflected her long and varied life in the half century since her first marriage.

Bridget Hussey buried three husbands in her long life: Morison, Henry Manners, the Earl of Rutland, and finally Francis Russell, second Earl of Bedford. Bridget got along poorly with her Russell stepchildren, a situation which was only exacerbated by the marriage she brokered between one of her daughters and a sickly stepson. Bridget remained closely involved in the lives of her children as well as her stepchildren and their progeny, helping to groom a Manners granddaughter, Bridget, to serve as lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth.

For all of this, you don’t find a DNB entry for Bridget. There’s a fairly detailed genealogical discussion at Tudor Place that touches on her marriages and her daughters’ dynastic connections as well. The will (transcribed with Oxfordian commentary above) is an intriguing piece of elite social history – you see Bridget’s keen concern that her household and servants be well-supported after her death as well as specific provisions made for her grandchildren and stepchildren’s families.

I’ve struggled in vain to find a decent photograph of her translated altar tomb (decorated with her many armorial achievements) now extant at Chenies. Next time I’m in the UK, I’m going to see if I can get some pictures and maybe track down something of the family records further to see what else remains of the long-lived and caring countess.

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