She Stands Accused
by Victor MacClure
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Being a Series of Accounts of the Lives and Deeds of Notorious Women, Murderesses, Cheats, Cozeners, on whom Justice was Executed, and of others who, Accused of Crimes, were Acquitted at least in Law; Drawn from Authenticated Sources




I had a thought to call this book Pale Hands or Fair Hands Imbrued—so easy it is to fall into the ghastly error of facetiousness.

Apart, however, from the desire to avoid pedant or puerile humour, re-examination of my material showed me how near I had been to crashing into a pitfall of another sort. Of the ladies with whose encounters with the law I propose to deal several were assoiled of the charges against them. Their hands, then—unless the present ruddying of female fingernails is the revival of an old fashion—were not pink-tipped, save, perhaps, in the way of health; nor imbrued, except in soapsuds. My proposed facetiousness put me in peril of libel.

Interest in the criminous doings of women is so alive and avid among criminological writers that it is hard indeed to find material which has not been dealt with to the point of exhaustion. Does one pick up in a secondhand bookshop a pamphlet giving a verbatim report of a trial in which a woman is the central figure, and does one flatter oneself that the find is unique, and therefore providing of fresh fields, it is almost inevitable that one will discover, or rediscover, that the case has already been put to bed by Mr Roughead in his inimitable manner. What a nose the man has! What noses all these rechauffeurs of crime possess! To use a figure perhaps something unmannerly, the pigs of Perigord, which, one hears, are trained to hunt truffles, have snouts no keener.

Suppose, again, that one proposes to deal with the peccancy of women from the earliest times, it is hard to find a lady, even one whose name has hitherto gleamed lurid in history, to whom some modern writer has not contrived by chapter and verse to apply a coat of whitewash.

Locusta, the poisoner whom Agrippina, wanting to kill the Emperor Claudius by slow degrees, called into service, and whose technique Nero admired so much that he was fain to put her on his pension list, barely escapes the deodorant. Messalina comes up in memory. And then one finds M. Paul Moinet, in his historical essays En Marge de l'histoire, gracefully pleading for the lady as Messaline la calomniee—yes, and making out a good case for her. The Empress Theodora under the pen of a psychological expert becomes nothing more dire than a clever little whore disguised in imperial purple.

On the mention of poison Lucretia Borgia springs to mind. This is the lady of whom Gibbon writes with the following ponderous falsity:

In the next generation the house of Este was sullied by a sanguinary and incestuous race in the nuptials of Alfonso I with Lucretia, a bastard of Alexander VI, the Tiberius of Christian Rome. This modern Lucretia might have assumed with more propriety the name of Messalina, since the woman who can be guilty, who can even be accused, of a criminal intercourse with a father and two brothers must be abandoned to all the licentiousness of a venal love.

That, if the phrase may be pardoned, is swatting a butterfly with a sledge-hammer! Poor little Lucretia, described by the excellent M. Moinet as a "bon petit coeur,'' is enveloped in the political ordure slung by venal pamphleteers at the masterful men of her race. My friend Rafael Sabatini, than whom no man living has dug deeper into Borgia history, explains the calumniation of Lucretia in this fashion: Adultery and promiscuous intercourse were the fashion in Rome at the time of Alexander VI. Nobody thought anything of them. And to have accused the Borgia girl, or her relatives, of such inconsiderable lapses would have been to evoke mere shrugging. But incest, of course, was horrible. The writers paid by the party antagonistic to the Borgia growth in power therefore slung the more scurrile accusation. But there is, in truth, just about as much foundation for the charge as there is for the other, that Lucretia was a poisoner. The answer to the latter accusation, says my same authority, may take the form of a question: WHOM DID LUCRETIA POISON? As far as history goes, even that written by the Borgia enemies, the reply is, NOBODY!

Were one content, like Gibbon, to take one's history like snuff there would be to hand a mass of caliginous detail with which to cause shuddering in the unsuspecting reader. But in mere honesty, if in nothing else, it behoves the conscientious writer to examine the sources of his information. The sources may be—they too frequently are—contaminated by political rancour and bias, and calumnious accusation against historical figures too often is founded on mere envy. And then the rechauffeurs, especially where rechauffage is made from one language to another, have been apt (with a mercenary desire to give their readers as strong a brew as possible) to attach the darkest meanings to the words they translate. In this regard, and still apropos the Borgias, I draw once again on Rafael Sabatini for an example of what I mean. Touching the festivities celebrating Lucretia's wedding in the Vatican, the one eyewitness whose writing remains, Gianandrea Boccaccio, Ferrarese ambassador, in a letter to his master says that amid singing and dancing, as an interlude, a "worthy'' comedy was performed. The diarist Infessura, who was not there, takes it upon himself to describe the comedy as "lascivious.'' Lascivious the comedies of the time commonly were, but later writers, instead of drawing their ideas from the eyewitness, prefer the dark hints of Infessura, and are persuaded that the comedy, the whole festivity, was "obscene.'' Hence arises the notion, so popular, that the second Borgia Pope delighted in shows which anticipated those of the Folies Bergere, or which surpassed the danse du ventre in lust-excitation.

A statue was made by Guglielmo della Porta of Julia Farnese, Alexander's beautiful second mistress. It was placed on the tomb of her brother Alessandro (Pope Paul III). A Pope at a later date provided the lady, portrayed in 'a state of nature,' with a silver robe—because, say the gossips, the statue was indecent. Not at all: it was to prevent recurrence of an incident in which the sculptured Julia took a static part with a German student afflicted with sex-mania.

I become, however, a trifle excursive, I think. If I do the blame lies on those partisan writers to whom I have alluded. They have a way of leading their incautious latter-day brethren up the garden. They hint at flesh-eating lilies by the pond at the path's end, and you find nothing more prone to sarcophagy than harmless primulas. In other words, the beetle-browed Lucretia, with the handy poison-ring, whom they promise you turns out to be a blue-eyed, fair-haired, rather yielding little darling, ultimately an excellent wife and mother, given to piety and good works, used in her earlier years as a political instrument by father and brother, and these two no worse than masterful and ambitious men employing the political technique common to their day and age.

% II

Messalina, Locusta, Lucretia, Theodora, they step aside in this particular review of peccant women. Cleopatra, supposed to have poisoned slaves in the spirit of scientific research, or perhaps as punishment for having handed her the wrong lipstick, also is set aside. It were supererogatory to attempt dealing with the ladies mentioned in the Bible and the Apocrypha, such as Jael, who drove the nail into the head of Sisera, or Judith, who cut off the head of Holofernes. Their stories are plainly and excellently told in the Scriptural manner, and the adding of detail would be mere fictional exercise. Something, perhaps, might be done for them by way of deducing their characters and physical shortcomings through examination of their deeds and motives—but this may be left to psychiatrists. There is room here merely for a soupcon of psychology—just as much, in fact, as may afford the writer an easy turn from one plain narrative to another. You will have no more of it than amounts, say, to the pinch of fennel that should go into the sauce for mackerel.

Toffana, who in Italy supplied poison to wives aweary of their husbands and to ladies beginning to find their lovers inconvenient, and who thus at second hand murdered some six hundred persons, has her attractions for the criminological writer. The bother is that so many of them have found it out. The scanty material regarding her has been turned over so often that it has become somewhat tattered, and has worn rather thin for refashioning. The same may be said for Hieronyma Spara, a direct poisoner and Toffana's contemporary.

The fashion they set passed to the Marquise de Brinvilliers, and she, with La Vigoureux and La Voisin, has been written up so often that the task of finding something new to say of her and her associates looks far too formidable for a man as lethargic as myself.

In the abundance of material that criminal history provides about women choice becomes difficult. There is, for example, a plethora of women poisoners. Wherever a woman alone turns to murder it is a hundred to one that she will select poison as a medium. This at first sight may seem a curious fact, but there is for it a perfectly logical explanation, upon which I hope later to touch briefly. The concern of this book, however, is not purely with murder by women, though murder will bulk largely. Swindling will be dealt with, and casual allusion made to other crimes.

But take for the moment the women accused or convicted of poisoning. What an array they make! What monsters of iniquity many of them appear! Perhaps the record, apart from those set up by Toffana and the Brinvilliers contingent, is held by the Van der Linden woman of Leyden, who between 1869 and 1885 attempted to dispose of 102 persons, succeeded with no less than twenty-seven, and rendered at least forty-five seriously ill. Then comes Helene Jegado, of France, who, according to one account, with two more working years (eighteen instead of sixteen), contrived to envenom twenty-six people, and attempted the lives of twelve more. On this calculation she fails by one to reach the der Linden record, but, even reckoning the two extra years she had to work in, since she made only a third of the other's essays, her bowling average may be said to be incomparably better.

Our own Mary Ann Cotton, at work between 1852 and 1873, comes in third, with twenty-four deaths, at least known, as her bag. Mary Ann operated on a system of her own, and many of her victims were her own children. She is well worth the lengthier consideration which will be given her in later pages.

Anna Zwanziger, the earlier 'monster' of Bavaria, arrested in 1809, was an amateur compared with those three.

Mrs Susannah Holroyd, of Ashton-under-Lyne, charged in September of 1816 at the Lancashire Assizes with the murder by poison of her husband, her own son, and the infant child of Anna Newton, a lodger of hers, was nurse to illegitimate children. She was generally suspected of having murdered several of her charges, but no evidence, as far as I can learn, was brought forward to give weight to the suspicion at her trial. Then there were Mesdames Flanagan and Higgins, found guilty, at Liverpool Assizes in February 1884, of poisoning Thomas Higgins, husband of the latter of the accused, by the administration of arsenic. The ladies were sisters, living together in Liverpool. With them in the house in Skirvington Street were Flanagan's son John, Thomas Higgins and his daughter Mary, Patrick Jennings and his daughter Margaret.

John Flanagan died in December 1880. His mother drew the insurance money. Next year Thomas Higgins married the younger of the sisters, and in the year following Mary Higgins, his daughter, died. Her stepmother drew the insurance money. The year after that Margaret Jennings, daughter of the lodger, died. Once again insurance money was drawn, this time by both sisters.

Thomas Higgins passed away that same year in a house to which what remained of the menage had removed. He was on the point of being buried, as having died of dysentery due to alcoholism, when the suspicions of his brother led the coroner to stop the funeral. The brother had heard word of insurance on the life of Thomas. A post-mortem revealed the fact that Thomas had actually died of arsenic poisoning; upon which discovery the bodies of John Flanagan, Mary Higgins, and Margaret Jennings were exhumed for autopsy, which revealed arsenic poisoning in each case. The prisoners alone had attended the deceased in the last illnesses. Theory went that the poison had been obtained by soaking fly-papers. Mesdames Flanagan and Higgins were executed at Kirkdale Gaol in March of 1884.

Now, these are two cases which, if only minor in the wholesale poisoning line when compared with the Van der Linden, Jegado, and Cotton envenomings, yet have their points of interest. In both cases the guilty were so far able to banish "all trivial fond records'' as to dispose of kindred who might have been dear to them: Mrs Holroyd of husband and son, with lodger's daughter as makeweight; the Liverpool pair of nephew, husband, stepdaughter (or son, brother-in-law, and stepniece, according to how you look at it), with again the unfortunate daughter of a lodger thrown in. If they "do things better on the Continent''—speaking generally and ignoring our own Mary Ann—there is yet temptation to examine the lesser native products at length, but space and the scheme of this book prevent. In the matter of the Liverpool Locustas there is an engaging speculation. It was brought to my notice by Mr Alan Brock, author of By Misadventure and Further Evidence. Just how far did the use of flypapers by Flanagan and Higgins for the obtaining of arsenic serve as an example to Mrs Maybrick, convicted of the murder of her husband in the same city five years later?

The list of women poisoners in England alone would stretch interminably. If one were to confine oneself merely to those employing arsenic the list would still be formidable. Mary Blandy, who callously slew her father with arsenic supplied her by her lover at Henley-on-Thames in 1751, has been a subject for many criminological essayists. That she has attracted so much attention is probably due to the double fact that she was a girl in a very comfortable way of life, heiress to a fortune of L10,000, and that contemporary records are full and accessible. But there is nothing essentially interesting about her case to make it stand out from others that have attracted less notice in a literary way. Another Mary, of a later date, Edith Mary Carew, who in 1892 was found guilty by the Consular Court, Yokohama, of the murder of her husband with arsenic and sugar of lead, was an Englishwoman who might have given Mary Blandy points in several directions.

When we leave the arsenical-minded and seek for cases where other poisons were employed there is still no lack of material. There is, for example, the case of Sarah Pearson and the woman Black, who were tried at Armagh in June 1905 for the murder of the old mother of the latter. The old woman, Alice Pearson (Sarah was her daughter-in-law), was in possession of small savings, some forty pounds, which aroused the cupidity of the younger women. Their first attempt at murder was with metallic mercury. It rather failed, and the trick was turned by means of three-pennyworth of strychnine, bought by Sarah and mixed with the old lady's food. The murder might not have been discovered but for the fact that Sarah, who had gone to Canada, was arrested in Montreal for some other offence, and made a confession which implicated her husband and Black. A notable point about the case is the amount of metallic mercury found in the old woman's body: 296 grains—a record.

Having regard to the condition of life in which these Irishwomen lived, there is nothing, to my mind, in the fact that they murdered for forty pounds to make their crime more sordid than that of Mary Blandy.

Take, again, the case of Mary Ansell, the domestic servant, who, at Hertford Assizes in June 1899, was found guilty of the murder of her sister, Caroline, by the administration of phosphorus contained in a cake. Here the motive for the murder was the insurance made by Ansell upon the life of her sister, a young woman of weak intellect confined in Leavesden Asylum, Watford. The sum assured was only L22 10s. If Mary Blandy poisoned her father in order to be at liberty to marry her lover, Cranstoun, and to secure the fortune Cranstoun wanted with her, wherein does she shine above Mary Ansell, a murderess who not only poisoned her sister, but nearly murdered several of her sister's fellow-inmates of the asylum, and all for twenty odd pounds? Certainly not in being less sordid, certainly not in being more 'romantic.'

There is, at root, no case of murder proved and accepted as such which does not contain its points of interest for the criminological writer. There is, indeed, many a case, not only of murder but of lesser crime, that has failed to attract a lot of attention, but that yet, in affording matter for the student of crime and criminal psychology, surpasses others which, very often because there has been nothing of greater public moment at the time, were boomed by the Press into the prominence of causes celebres.

There is no need then, after all, for any crime writer who wants to fry a modest basket of fish to mourn because Mr Roughead, Mr. Beaufroy Barry, Mr Guy Logan, Miss Tennyson Jesse, Mr Leonard R. Gribble, and others of his estimable fellows seem to have swiped all the sole and salmon. It may be a matter for envy that Mr Roughead, with his uncanny skill and his gift in piquant sauces, can turn out the haddock and hake with all the delectability of sole a la Normande. The sigh of envy will merge into an exhalation of joy over the artistry of it. And one may turn, wholeheartedly and inspired, to see what can be made of one's own catch of gudgeon.


"More deadly than the male.''

Kipling's line about the female of the species has been quoted, particularly as a text for dissertation on the female criminal, perhaps rather too often. There is always a temptation to use the easy gambit.

It is quite probable that there are moments in a woman's life when she does become more deadly than the male. The probability is one which no man of age and experience will lack instance for making a fact. Without seeking to become profound in the matter I will say this: it is but lightly as compared with a man that one need scratch a woman to come on the natural creature.

Now, your natural creature, not inhibited by reason, lives by theft, murder, and dissimulation. It lives, even as regards the male, but for one purpose: to continue its species. Enrage a woman, then, or frighten her into the natural creature, and she will discard all those petty rules invented by the human male for his advantage over, and his safety from, the less disciplined members of the species. All that stuff about 'honour,' 'Queensberry rules,' 'playing the game,' and what not will go by the board. And she will fight you with tooth and talon, with lies, with blows below the belt—metaphorically, of course.

It may well be that you have done nothing more than hurt her pride—the civilized part of her. But instinctively she will fight you as the mother animal, either potentially or in being. It will not occur to her that she is doing so. Nor will it occur to you. But the fact that she is fighting at all will bring it about, for fighting to any female animal means defence of her young. She may not have any young in being. That does not affect the case. She will fight for the ova she carries, for the ova she has yet to develop. Beyond all reason, deep, instinct deep, within her she is the carrier of the race. This instinct is so profound that she will have no recollection in a crisis of the myriads of her like, but will think of herself as the race's one chance to persist. Dangerous? Of course she's dangerous—as dangerous as Nature! Just as dangerous, just as self-centred, as in its small way is that vegetative organism the volvox, which, when food is scarce and the race is threatened, against possible need of insemination, creates separate husband cells to starve in clusters, while 'she' hogs all the food-supply for the production of eggs.

This small flight into biology is made merely for the dim light it may cast on the Kipling half-truth. It is not made to explain why women criminals are more deadly, more cruel, more deeply lost in turpitude, than their male colleagues. But it may help to explain why so many crime-writers, following Lombroso, THINK the female more deadly.

There is something so deeply shocking in the idea of a woman being other than kind and good, something so antagonistic to the smug conception of Eve as the "minist'ring angel, thou,'' that leaps to extremes in expression are easy.

A drunken woman, however, and for example, is not essentially more degraded than a drunken man. This in spite of popular belief. A nymphomaniac is not essentially more degraded than a brothel-haunting male. It may be true that moral sense decays more quickly in a woman than in a man, that the sex-ridden or drink-avid woman touches the deeps of degradation more quickly, but the reasons for this are patent. They are economic reasons usually, and physical, and not adherent to any inevitably weaker moral fibre in the woman.

Women as a rule have less command of money than men. If they earn what they spend they generally have to seek their satisfactions cheaply; and, of course, since their powers of resistance to the debilitating effects of alcohol are commonly less than those of men, they more readily lose physical tone. With loss of health goes loss of earning power, loss of caste. The descent, in general, must be quicker. It is much the same in nymphomania. Unless the sex-avid woman has a decent income, such as will provide her with those means whereby women preserve the effect of attractiveness, she must seek assuagement of her sex-torment with men less and less fastidious.

But it is useless and canting to say that peccant women are worse than men. If we are kind we say so merely because we are more apprehensive for them. Safe women, with but rare exceptions, are notably callous about their sisters astray, and the "we'' I have used must be taken generally to signify men. We see the danger for erring women, danger economic and physical. Thinking in terms of the phrase that "a woman's place is the home,'' we wonder what will become of them. We wonder anxiously what man, braver or less fastidious than ourselves, will accept the burden of rescuing them, give them the sanctuary of a home. We see them as helpless, pitiable beings. We are shocked to see them fall so low.

There is something of this rather maudlin mentality, generally speaking, in our way of regarding women criminals. To think, we say, that a WOMAN should do such things!

But why should we be more shocked by the commission of a crime by a woman than by a man—even the cruellest of crimes? Take the male and female in feral creation, and there is nothing to choose between them in the matter of cruelty. The lion and the lioness both live by murder, and until gravidity makes her slow for the chase the breeding female is by all accounts the more dangerous. The she-bear will just as readily eat up a colony of grubs or despoil the husbandry of the bees as will her mate. If, then, the human animal drops the restraints imposed by law, reverting thereby to the theft, murder, and cunning of savagery, why should it be shocking that the female should equal the male in callousness? Why should it be shocking should she even surpass the male? It is quite possible that, since for physiological reasons she is nearer to instinctive motivation than the male, she cannot help being more ruthless once deterrent inhibition has been sloughed. But is she in fact more dangerous, more deadly as a criminal, than the male?

Lombroso—vide Mr Philip Beaufroy Barry in his essay on Anna Zwanziger—tells us that some of the methods of torture employed by criminal women are so horrible that they cannot be described without outraging the laws of decency. Less squeamish than Lombroso or Mr Barry, I gather aloud that the tortures have to do with the organs of generation. But male savages in African and American Indian tribes have a punishment for adulterous women which will match anything in that line women have ever achieved, and men in England itself have wreaked perverted vengeance on women in ways indescribable too. Though it may be granted that pain inflicted through the genitals is particularly sickening, pain is pain all over the body, and must reach what might be called saturation-point wherever inflicted. And as regards the invention of sickening punishment we need go no farther afield in search for ingenuity than the list of English kings. Dirty Jamie the Sixth of Scotland and First of England, under mask of retributive justice, could exercise a vein of cruelty that might have turned a Red Indian green with envy. Moreover, doesn't our word expressing cruelty for cruelty's sake derive from the name of a man—the Marquis de Sade?

I am persuaded that the reason why so many women murderers have made use of poison in their killings is primarily a simple one, a matter of physique. The average murderess, determined on the elimination of, for example, a husband, must be aware that in physical encounter she would have no chance. Then, again, there is in women an almost inborn aversion to the use of weapons. Once in a way, where the murderess was of Amazonian type, physical means have been employed for the slaying.

In this regard Kate Webster, who in 1879 at Richmond murdered and dismembered Mrs Julia Thomas, springs to mind. She was, from all accounts, an exceedingly virile young woman, strong as a pony, and with a devil of a temper. Mr Elliot O'Donnell, dealing with her in his essay in the "Notable British Trials'' series, seems to be rather at a loss, considering her lack of physical beauty, to account for her attractiveness to men and to her own sex. But there is no need to account for it. Such a thing is no phenomenon.

I myself, sitting in a taberna in a small Spanish port, was once pestered by a couple of British seamen to interpret for them in their approaches to the daughter of the house. This woman, who had a voice like a raven, seemed able to give quick and snappy answers to the chaff by frequenters of the taberna. Few people in the day-time, either men or women, would pass the house if 'Fina happened to be showing without stopping to have a word with her. She was not at all gentle in manner, but children ran to her. And yet, without being enormously fat, 'Fina must have weighed close on fifteen stone. She had forearms and biceps like a coal-heaver's. She was black-haired, heavy-browed, squish-nosed, moled, and swarthy, and she had a beard and moustache far beyond the stage of incipiency. Yet those two British seamen, fairly decent men, neither drunk nor brutish, could not have been more attracted had 'Fina had the beauty of the Mona Lisa herself. I may add that there were other women handy and that the seamen knew of them.

This in parenthesis, I hope not inappropriately.

Where the selected victim, or victims, is, or are, feeble-bodied you will frequently find the murderess using physical means to her end. Sarah Malcolm, whose case will form one of the chief features of this volume, is an instance in point. Marguerite Diblanc, who strangled Mme Reil in the latter's house in Park Lane on a day in April 1871, is another. Amelia Dyer, the baby-farmer, also strangled her charges. Elizabeth Brownrigg (1767) beat the feeble Mary Clifford to death. I do not know that great physical difference existed to the advantage of the murderess between her and her older victim, Mrs Phoebe Hogg, who, with her baby, was done to death by Mrs Pearcy in October 1890, but the fact that Mrs Hogg had been battered about the head, and that the head had been almost severed from the body, would seem to indicate that the murderess was the stronger of the two women. The case of Belle Gunness (treated by Mr George Dilnot in his Rogues March[1]) might be cited. Fat, gross-featured, far from attractive though she was, her victims were all men who had married or had wanted to marry her. Mr Dilnot says these victims "almost certainly numbered more than a hundred.'' She murdered for money, using chloral to stupefy, and an axe for the actual killing. She herself was slain and burned, with her three children, by a male accomplice whom she was planning to dispose of, he having arrived at the point of knowing too much. 1907 was the date of her death at La Porte, U.S.A.

[1] Bles, 1934.

It occurs when the female killer happens to be dramatical-minded that she will use a pistol. Mme Weissmann-Bessarabo, who, with her daughter, shot her husband in Paris (August 1920), is of this kind. She and the daughter, Paule-Jacques, seem to have seen themselves as wild, wild women from the Mexico where they had sometime lived, and were always flourishing revolvers.

I would say that the use of poison so much by women murderers has reason, first, in the lack of physique for violent methods, but I would put alongside that reason this other, that women poisoners usually have had a handy proximity to their victims. They have had contact with their victims in an attendant capacity. I have a suspicion, moreover, that a good number of women poisoners actually chose the medium as THE KINDEST WAY. Women, and I might add not a few men, who would be terribly shocked by sight or news of a quick but violent death, can contemplate with relative placidity a lingering and painful fatal illness. Propose to a woman the destruction of a mangy stray cat or of an incurably diseased dog by means of a clean, well-placed shot, and the chances are that she will shudder. But—no lethal chamber being available—suggest poison, albeit unspecified, and the method will more readily commend itself. This among women with no murderous instincts whatever.

I have a fancy also that in some cases of murder by poison, not only by women, the murderer has been able to dramatize herself or himself ahead as a tender, noble, and self-sacrificing attendant upon the victim. No need here, I think, to number the cases where the ministrations of murderers to their victims have aroused the almost tearful admiration of beholders.

I shall say nothing of the secrecy of the poison method, of the chance which still exists, in spite of modern diagnosis, that the illness induced by it will pass for one arising from natural causes. This is ground traversed so often that its features are as familiar as those of one's own house door. Nor shall I say anything of the ease with which, even in these days, the favourite poison of the woman murderer, arsenic, can be obtained in one form or another.

One hears and reads, however, a great deal about the sense of power which gradually steals upon the poisoner. It is a speculation upon which I am not ready to argue. There is, indeed, chapter and verse for believing that poisoners have arrived at a sense of omnipotence. But if Anna Zwanziger (here I quote from Mr Philip Beaufroy Barry's essay on her in his Twenty Human Monsters), "a day or two before the execution, smiled and said it was a fortunate thing for many people that she was to die, for had she lived she would have continued to poison men and women indiscriminately''; if, still according to the same writer, "when the arsenic was found on her person after the arrest, she seized the packet and gloated over the powder, looking at it, the chronicler assures us, as a woman looks at her lover''; and if, "when the attendants asked her how she could have brought herself calmly to kill people with whom she was living—whose meals and amusements she shared—she replied that their faces were so stupidly healthy and happy that she desired to see them change into faces of pain and despair,'' I will say this in no way goes to prove the woman criminal to be more deadly than the male. This ghoulish satisfaction, with the conjectured feeling of omnipotence, is not peculiar to the woman poisoner. Neill Cream had it. Armstrong had it. Wainewright, with his reason for poisoning Helen Abercrombie—"Upon my soul I don't know, unless it was that her legs were too thick''—is quite on a par with Anna Zwanziger. The supposed sense of power does not even belong exclusively to the poisoner. Jack the Ripper manifestly had something of the same idea about his use of the knife.

As a monster in mass murder against Mary Ann Cotton I will set you the Baron Gilles de Rais, with his forty flogged, outraged, obscenely mutilated and slain children in one of his castles alone—his total of over two hundred children thus foully done to death. I will set you Gilles against anything that can be brought forward as a monster in cruelty among women.

Against the hypocrisy of Helene Jegado I will set you the sanctimonious Dr Pritchard, with the nauseating entry in his diary (quoted by Mr Roughead) recording the death of the wife he so cruelly murdered:

March 1865, 18, Saturday. Died here at 1 A.M. Mary Jane, my own beloved wife, aged thirty-eight years. No torment surrounded her bedside [the foul liar!]—but like a calm peaceful lamb of God passed Minnie away. May God and Jesus, Holy Ghost, one in three, welcome Minnie! Prayer on prayer till mine be o'er; everlasting love. Save us, Lord, for Thy dear Son!

Against the mean murders of Flanagan and Higgins I will set you Mr Seddon and Mr Smith of the "brides in the bath.''

% IV

I am conscious that in arguing against the "more deadly than the male'' conception of the woman criminal I am perhaps doing my book no great service. It might work for its greater popularity if I argued the other way, making out that the subjects I have chosen were monsters of brutality, with arms up to the shoulders in blood, that they were prodigies of iniquity and cunning, without bowels, steeped in hypocrisy, facinorous to a degree never surpassed or even equalled by evil men. It may seem that, being concerned to strip female crime of the lurid preeminence so commonly given it, I have contrived beforehand to rob the ensuing pages of any richer savour they might have had. But I don't, myself, think so.

If these women, some of them, are not greater monsters than their male analogues, monsters they still remain. If they are not, others of them, greater rogues and cheats than males of like criminal persuasion, cheats and rogues they are beyond cavil. The truth of the matter is that I loathe the use of superlatives in serious works on crime. I will read, I promise you, anything decently written in a fictional way about 'master' crooks, 'master' killers, kings, queens, princes, and a whole peerage of crime, knowing very well that never yet has a 'master' criminal had any cleverness but what a novelist gave him. But in works on crime that pretend to seriousness I would eschew, pace Mr Leonard R. Gribble, all 'queens' and other honorifics in application to the lost men and women with whom such works must treat. There is no romance in crime. Romance is life gilded, life idealized. Crime is never anything but a sordid business, demonstrably poor in reward to its practitioners.

But, sordid or not, crime has its human interest. Its practitioners are still part of life, human beings, different from law-abiding humanity by God-alone-knows-what freak of heredity or kink in brain convolution. I will not ask the reader, as an excuse for my book, to view the criminal with the thought attributed to John Knox:

"There, but for the Grace of God, goes ——'' Because the phrase might as well be used in contemplation of John D. Rockefeller or Augustus John or Charlie Chaplin or a man with a wooden leg. I do not ask that you should pity these women with whom I have to deal, still less that you should contemn them. Something between the two will serve. I write the book because I am interested in crime myself, and in the hope that you'll like the reading as much as I like the writing of it.


In her long history there can have been few mornings upon which Edinburgh had more to offer her burghers in the way of gossip and rumour than on that of the 1st of July, 1600. In this 'gate' and that 'gate,' as one may imagine, the douce citizens must have clustered and broke and clustered, like eddied foam on a spated burn. By conjecture, as they have always been a people apt to take to the streets upon small occasion as on large, it is not unlikely that the news which was to drift into the city some thirty-five days later—namely, that an attempt on the life of his Sacred Majesty, the High and Mighty (and Rachitic) Prince, James the Sixth of Scotland, had been made by the brothers Ruthven in their castle of Gowrie—it is not unlikely that the first buzz of the Gowrie affair caused no more stir, for the time being at any rate, than the word which had come to those Edinburgh folk that fine morning of the first day in July. The busier of the bodies would trot from knot to knot, anxious to learn and retail the latest item of fact and fancy regarding the tidings which had set tongues going since the early hours. Murder, no less.

If the contemporary juridical records, even what is left of them, be a criterion, homicide in all its oddly named forms must have been a commonplace to those couthie lieges of his Slobberiness, King Jamie. It is hard to believe that murder, qua murder, could have been of much more interest to them than the fineness of the weather. We have it, however, on reasonable authority, that the murder of the Laird of Warriston did set the people of "Auld Reekie'' finely agog.

John Kincaid, of Warriston, was by way of being one of Edinburgh's notables. Even at that time his family was considered to be old. He derived from the Kincaids of Kincaid, in Stirlingshire, a family then in possession of large estates in that county and here and there about Lothian. His own property of Warriston lay on the outskirts of Edinburgh itself, just above a mile from Holyroodhouse. Notable among his possessions was one which he should, from all accounts, dearly have prized, but which there are indications he treated with some contumely. This was his wife, Jean Livingstone, a singularly beautiful girl, no more than twenty-one years of age at the time when this story opens. Jean, like her husband, was a person of good station indeed. She was a daughter of the Laird of Dunipace, John Livingstone, and related through him and her mother to people of high consideration in the kingdom.

News of the violent death of John Kincaid, which had taken place soon after midnight, came quickly to the capital. Officers were at once dispatched. Small wonder that the burghers found exercise for their clacking tongues from the dawning, for the lovely Jean was taken by the officers 'red-hand,' as the phrase was, for the murder of her husband. With her to Edinburgh, under arrest, were brought her nurse and two other servingwomen.

To Pitcairn, compiler of Criminal Trials in Scotland, from indications in whose account of the murder I have been set on the hunt for material concerning it, I am indebted for the information that Jean and her women were taken red-hand. But I confess being at a loss to understand it. Warriston, as indicated, stood a good mile from Edinburgh. The informant bringing word of the deed to town, even if he or she covered the distance on horseback, must have taken some time in getting the proper authorities to move. Then time would elapse in quantity before the officers dispatched could be at the house. They themselves could hardly have taken the Lady Warriston red-hand, because in the meantime the actual perpetrator of the murder, a horse-boy named Robert Weir, in the employ of Jean's father, had made good his escape. As a fact, he was not apprehended until some time afterwards, and it would seem, from the records given in the Pitcairn Trials, that it was not until four years later that he was brought to trial.

A person taken red-hand, it would be imagined, would be one found in such circumstances relating to a murder as would leave no doubt as to his or her having "airt and pairt'' in the crime. Since it must have taken the officers some time to reach the house, one of two things must have happened. Either some officious person or persons, roused by the killing, which, as we shall see, was done with no little noise, must have come upon Jean and her women immediately upon the escape of Weir, and have detained all four until the arrival of the officers, or else Jean and her women must have remained by the dead man in terror, and have blurted out the truth of their complicity when the officers appeared.

Available records are irritatingly uninformative upon the arrest of the Lady Warriston. Pitcairn himself, in 1830, talks of his many "fruitless searches'' through the Criminal Records of the city of Edinburgh, the greater part of which are lost, and confesses his failure to come on any trace of the actual proceedings in this case, or in the case of Robert Weir. For this reason the same authority is at a loss to know whether the prisoners were immediately put to the knowledge of an assize, being taken "red-hand,'' without the formality of being served a "dittay'' (as who should say an indictment), as in ordinary cases, before the magistrates of Edinburgh, or else sent for trial before the baron bailie of the regality of Broughton, in whose jurisdiction Warriston was situated.

It would perhaps heighten the drama of the story if it could be learned what Jean and her women did between the time of the murder and the arrest. It would seem, however, that the Lady Warriston had some intention of taking flight with Weir. One is divided between an idea that the horse-boy did not want to be hampered and that he was ready for self-sacrifice. "You shall tarry still,'' we read that he said; "and if this matter come not to light you shall say, 'He died in the gallery,' and I shall return to my master's service. But if it be known I shall fly, and take the crime on me, and none dare pursue you!''

It was distinctly a determined affair of murder. The loveliness of Jean Livingstone has been so insisted upon in many Scottish ballads,[2] and her conduct before her execution was so saintly, that one cannot help wishing, even now, that she could have escaped the scaffold. But there is no doubt that, incited by the nurse, Janet Murdo, she set about having her husband killed with a rancour which was very grim indeed.

[2] A stanza in one ballad runs:

"She has twa weel-made feet; Far better is her hand; She's jimp about the middle As ony willy wand.''

The reason for Jean's hatred of her husband appears in the dittay against Robert Weir. "Forasmuch,'' it runs, translated to modern terms,

as whilom Jean Livingstone, Goodwife of Warriston, having conceived a deadly rancour, hatred, and malice against whilom John Kincaid, of Warriston, for the alleged biting of her in the arm, and striking her divers times, the said Jean, in the month of June, One Thousand Six Hundred Years, directed Janet Murdo, her nurse, to the said Robert [Weir], to the abbey of Holyroodhouse, where he was for the time, desiring him to come down to Warriston, and speak with her, anent the cruel and unnatural taking away of her said husband's life.

And there you have it. If the allegation against John Kincaid was true it does not seem that he valued his lovely wife as he ought to have done. The striking her "divers times'' may have been an exaggeration. It probably was. Jean and her women would want to show there had been provocation. (In a ballad he is accused of having thrown a plate at dinner in her face.) But there is a naivete, a circumstantial air, about the "biting of her in the arm'' which gives it a sort of genuine ring. How one would like to come upon a contemporary writing which would throw light on the character of John Kincaid! Growing sympathy for Jean makes one wish it could be found that Kincaid deserved all he got.

Here and there in the material at hand indications are to be found that the Lady of Warriston had an idea she might not come so badly off on trial. But even if the King's Majesty had been of clement disposition, which he never was, or if her judges had been likely to be moved by her youth and beauty, there was evidence of such premeditation, such fixity of purpose, as would no doubt harden the assize against her.

Robert Weir was in service, as I have said, with Jean Livingstone's father, the Laird of Dunipace. It may have been that he knew Jean before her marriage. He seems, at any rate, to have been extremely willing to stand by her. He was fetched by the nurse several times from Holyrood to Warriston, but failed to have speech with the lady. On the 30th of June, however, the Lady Warriston having sent the nurse for him once again, he did contrive to see Jean in the afternoon, and, according to the dittay, "conferred with her, concerning the cruel, unnatural, and abominable murdering of the said whilom John Kincaid.''

The upshot of the conference was that Weir was secretly led to a "laigh'' cellar in the house of Warriston, to await the appointed time for the execution of the murder.

Weir remained in the cellar until midnight. Jean came for him at that hour and led him up into the hall. Thence the pair proceeded to the room in which John Kincaid was lying asleep. It would appear that they took no great pains to be quiet in their progress, for on entering the room they found Kincaid awakened "be thair dyn.''

I cannot do better at this point than leave description of the murder as it is given in the dittay against Weir. The editor of Pitcairn's Trials remarks in a footnote to the dittay that "the quaintness of the ancient style even aggravates the horror of the scene.'' As, however, the ancient style may aggravate the reader unacquainted with Scots, I shall English it, and give the original rendering in a footnote:

And having entered within the said chamber, perceiving the said whilom John to be wakened out of his sleep by their din, and to pry over his bed-stock, the said Robert came then running to him, and most cruelly, with clenched fists, gave him a deadly and cruel stroke on the jugular vein, wherewith he cast the said whilom John to the ground, from out his bed; and thereafter struck him on his belly with his feet; whereupon he gave a great cry. And the said Robert, fearing the cry should have been heard, he thereafter, most tyrannously and barbarously, with his hand, gripped him by the throat, or weasand, which he held fast a long time, while [or until] he strangled him; during the which time the said John Kincaid lay struggling and fighting in the pains of death under him. And so the said whilom John was cruelly murdered and slain by the said Robert.[3]

[3] And haifing enterit within the faid chalmer, perfaving the faid vmqle Johnne to be walknit out of his fleip, be thair dyn, and to preife ouer his bed ftok, the faid Robert cam than rynnand to him, and maift crewallie, with thair faldit neiffis gaif him ane deidlie and crewall straik on the vane-organe, quhairwith he dang the faid vmqle Johnne to the grund, out-ouer his bed; and thaireftir, crewallie ftrak him on bellie with his feit; quhairvpoun he gaif ane grit cry: And the faid Robert, feiring the cry fould haif bene hard, he thaireftir, maift tyrannouflie and barbarouflie, with his hand, grippit him be the thrott or waifen, quhilk he held faft ane lang tyme quhill he wirreit him; during the quhilk tyme, the faid Johnne Kincaid lay ftruggilling and fechting in the panes of daith vnder him. And fa, the faid vmqle Johnne was crewallie murdreit and flaine be the faid Robert.''

It will be seen that Robert Weir evolved a murder technique which, as Pitcairn points out, was to be adopted over two centuries later in Edinburgh at the Westport by Messrs Burke and Hare.

% II

Lady Warriston was found guilty, and four days after the murder, on the 5th of July, was taken to the Girth Cross of Holyrood, at the foot of the Canongate, and there decapitated by that machine which rather anticipated the inventiveness of Dr Guillotin—"the Maiden.'' At the same time, four o'clock in the morning, Janet Murdo, the nurse, and one of the serving-women accused with her as accomplices were burned on the Castle Hill of the city.

There is something odd about the early hour at which the executions took place. The usual time for these affairs was much later in the day, and it is probable that the sentence against Jean ran that she should be executed towards dusk on the 4th of the month. The family of Dunipace, however, having exerted no influence towards saving the daughter of the house from her fate, did everything they could to have her disposed of as secretly and as expeditiously as possible. In their zeal to have done with the hapless girl who, they conceived, had blotted the family honour indelibly they were in the prison with the magistrates soon after three o'clock, quite indecent in their haste to see her on her way to the scaffold. In the first place they had applied to have her executed at nine o'clock on the evening of the 3rd, another unusual hour, but the application was turned down. The main idea with them was to have Jean done away with at some hour when the populace would not be expecting the execution. Part of the plan for privacy is revealed in the fact of the burning of the nurse and the "hyred woman'' at four o'clock at the Castle Hill, nearly a mile away from the Girth Cross, so—as the Pitcairn Trials footnote says-"that the populace, who might be so early astir, should have their attentions distracted at two opposite stations . . . and thus, in some measure, lessen the disgrace of the public execution.''

If Jean had any reason to thank her family it was for securing, probably as much on their own behalf as hers, that the usual way of execution for women murderers should be altered in her case to beheading by "the Maiden.'' Had she been of lesser rank she would certainly have been burned, after being strangled at a stake, as were her nurse and the serving-woman. This was the appalling fate reserved for convicted women[4] in such cases, and on conviction even of smaller crimes. The process was even crueller in instances where the crime had been particularly atrocious. "The criminal,'' says the Pitcairn account of such punishment, "was 'brunt quick'!''

[4] Men convicted of certain crimes were also subject to the same form of execution adulterating and uttering base coins (Alan Napier, cutler in Glasgow, was strangled and burned at the stake in December 1602) sorcery, witchcraft, incantation, poisoning (Bailie Paterson suffered a like fate in December 1607). For bestiality John Jack was strangled on the Castle Hill (September 1605), and the innocent animal participator in his crime burned with him.

Altogether, the Dunipace family do not exactly shine with a good light as concerns their treatment of the condemned girl. Her father stood coldly aside. The quoted footnote remarks:

It is recorded that the Laird of Dunipace behaved with much apathy towards his daughter, whom he would not so much as see previous to her execution; nor yet would he intercede for her, through whose delinquency he reckoned his blood to be for ever dishonoured.

Jean herself was in no mind to be hurried to the scaffold as early as her relatives would have had her conveyed. She wanted (poor girl!) to see the sunrise, and to begin with the magistrates granted her request. It would appear, however, that Jean's blood-relations opposed the concession so strongly that it was almost immediately rescinded. The culprit had to die in the grey dark of the morning, before anyone was likely to be astir.

In certain directions there was not a little heart-burning about the untimely hour at which it was manoeuvred the execution should be carried out. The writer of a Memorial, from which this piece of information is drawn, refrains very cautiously from mentioning the objectors by name. But it is not difficult, from the colour of their objections, to decide that these people belonged to the type still known in Scotland as the 'unco guid.' They saw in the execution of this fair malefactor a moral lesson and a solemn warning which would have a salutary and uplifting effect upon the spectators.

"Will you,'' they asked the presiding dignitaries, and the blood-relations of the hapless Jean, "deprive God's people of that comfort which they might have in that poor woman's death? And will you obstruct the honour of it by putting her away before the people rise out of their beds? You do wrong in so doing; for the more public the death be, the more profitable it shall be to many; and the more glorious, in the sight of all who shall see it.''

But perhaps one does those worthies an injustice in attributing cant motives to their desire that as many people as possible should see Jean die. It had probably reached them that the Lady Warriston's repentance had been complete, and that after conviction of her sin had come to her her conduct had been sweet and seemly. They were of their day and age, those people, accustomed almost daily to beheadings, stranglings, burnings, hangings, and dismemberings. With that dour, bitter, fire-and- brimstone religious conception which they had through Knox from Calvin, they were probably quite sincere in their belief that the public repentance Jean Livingstone was due to make from the scaffold would be for the "comfort of God's people.'' It was not so often that justice exacted the extreme penalty from a young woman of rank and beauty. With "dreadful objects so familiar'' in the way of public executions, it was likely enough that pity in the commonalty was "choked with custom of fell deeds.'' Something out of the way in the nature of a dreadful object-lesson might stir the hearts of the populace and make them conscious of the Wrath to Come.

And Jean Livingstone did die a good death.

The Memorial[5] which I have mentioned is upon Jean's 'conversion' in prison. It is written by one "who was both a seer and hearer of what was spoken [by the Lady Warriston].'' The editor of the Pitcairn Trials believes, from internal evidence, that it was written by Mr James Balfour, colleague of Mr Robert Bruce, that minister of the Kirk who was so contumacious about preaching what was practically a plea of the King's innocence in the matter of the Gowrie mystery. It tells how Jean, from being completely apathetic and callous with regard to religion or to the dreadful situation in which she found herself through her crime, under the patient and tender ministrations of her spiritual advisers, arrived at complete resignation to her fate and genuine repentance for her misdeeds.

[5] The Memorial is fully entitled: A Worthy and Notable Memorial of the Great Work of Mercy which God wrought in the Conversion of Jean Livingstone Lady Warristoun, who was apprehended for the Vile and Horrible Murder of her own Husband, John Kincaid, committed on Tuesday, July 1, 1600, for which she was execute on Saturday following; Containing an Account of her Obstinacy, Earnest Repentance, and her Turning to God; of the Odd Speeches she used during her Imprisonment; of her Great and Marvellous Constancy; and of her Behaviour and Manner of Death: Observed by One who was both a Seer and Hearer of what was spoken.

Her confession, as filleted from the Memorial by the Pitcairn Trials, is as follows:

I think I shall hear presently the pitiful and fearful cries which he gave when he was strangled! And that vile sin which I committed in murdering my own husband is yet before me. When that horrible and fearful sin was done I desired the unhappy man who did it (for my own part, the Lord knoweth I laid never my hands upon him to do him evil; but as soon as that man gripped him and began his evil turn, so soon as my husband cried so fearfully, I leapt out over my bed and went to the Hall, where I sat all the time, till that unhappy man came to me and reported that mine husband was dead), I desired him, I say, to take me away with him; for I feared trial; albeit flesh and blood made me think my father's moen [interest] at Court would have saved me!

Well, we know what the Laird of Dunipace did about it.

"As to these women who was challenged with me,'' the confession goes on,

I will also tell my mind concerning them. God forgive the nurse, for she helped me too well in mine evil purpose; for when I told her I was minded to do so she consented to the doing of it; and upon Tuesday, when the turn was done, when I sent her to seek the man who would do it, she said, " I shall go and seek him; and if I get him not I shall seek another! And if I get none I shall do it myself!''

Here the writer of the Memorial interpolates the remark, "This the nurse also confessed, being asked of it before her death.'' It is a misfortune, equalling that of the lack of information regarding the character of Jean's husband, that there is so little about the character of the nurse. She was, it is to be presumed, an older woman than her mistress, probably nurse to Jean in her infancy. One can imagine her (the stupid creature!) up in arms against Kincaid for his treatment of her "bonny lamb,'' without the sense to see whither she was urging her young mistress; blind to the consequences, but "nursing her wrath'' and striding purposefully from Warriston to Holyroodhouse on her strong plebeian legs, not once but several times, in search of Weir! What is known in Scotland as a 'limmer,' obviously.

"As for the two other women,'' Jean continues,

I request that you neither put them to death nor any torture, because I testify they are both innocent, and knew nothing of this deed before it was done, and the mean time of doing it; and that they knew they durst not tell, for fear; for I compelled them to dissemble. As for mine own part, I thank my God a thousand times that I am so touched with the sense of that sin now: for I confess this also to you, that when that horrible murder was committed first, that I might seem to be innocent, I laboured to counterfeit weeping; but, do what I could, I could not find a tear.

Of the whole confession that last is the most revealing touch. It is hardly just to fall into pity for Jean simply because she was young and lovely. Her crime was a bad one, much more deliberate than many that, in the same age, took women of lower rank in life than Jean to the crueller end of the stake. In the several days during which she was sending for Weir, but failing to have speech with him, she had time to review her intention of having her husband murdered. If the nurse was the prime mover in the plot Jean was an unrelenting abettor. It may have been in her calculations before, as well as after, the deed itself that the interest of her father and family at Court would save her, should the deed have come to light as murder. Even in these days, when justice is so much more seasoned with mercy to women murderers, a woman in Jean's case, with such strong evidence of premeditation against her, would only narrowly escape the hangman, if she escaped him at all. But that confession of trying to pretend weeping and being unable to find tears is a revelation. I can think of nothing more indicative of terror and misery in a woman than that she should want to cry and be unable to. Your genuinely hypocritical murderer, male as well as female, can always work up self-pity easily and induce the streaming eye.

It is from internal evidences such as this that one may conclude the repentance of Jean Livingstone, as shown in her confession, to have been sincere. There was, we are informed by the memorialist, nothing maudlin in her conduct after condemnation. Once she got over her first obduracy, induced, one would imagine, by the shock of seeing the realization of what she had planned but never pictured, the murder itself, and probably by the desertion of her by her father and kindred, her repentance was "cheerful'' and "unfeigned.'' They were tough-minded men, those Scots divines who ministered to her at the last, too stern in their theology to be misled by any pretence at finding grace. And no pretty ways of Jean's would have deceived them. The constancy of behaviour which is vouched for, not only by the memorialist but by other writers, stayed with her until the axe fell.


"She was but a woman and a bairn, being the age of twenty-one years,'' says the Memorial. But, "in the whole way, as she went to the place of execution, she behaved herself so cheerfully as if she had been going to her wedding, and not to her death. When she came to the scaffold, and was carried up upon it, she looked up to "the Maiden'' with two longsome looks, for she had never seen it before.''

The minister-memorialist, who attended her on the scaffold, says that all who saw Jean would bear record with himself that her countenance alone would have aroused emotion, even if she had never spoken a word. "For there appeared such majesty in her countenance and visage, and such a heavenly courage in her gesture, that many said, 'That woman is ravished by a higher spirit than a man or woman's!' ''

As for the Declaration and Confession which, according to custom, Jean made from the four corners of the scaffold, the memorialist does not pretend to give it verbatim. It was, he says, almost in a form of words, and he gives the sum of it thus:

The occasion of my coming here is to show that I am, and have been, a great sinner, and hath offended the Lord's Majesty; especially, of the cruel murdering of mine own husband, which, albeit I did not with mine own hands, for I never laid mine hands upon him all the time that he was murdering, yet I was the deviser of it, and so the committer. But my God hath been always merciful to me, and hath given me repentance for my sins; and I hope for mercy and grace at his Majesty's hands, for his dear son Jesus Christ's sake. And the Lord hath brought me hither to be an example to you, that you may not fall into the like sin as I have done. And I pray God, for his mercy, to keep all his faithful people from falling into the like inconvenient as I have done! And therefore I desire you all to pray to God for me, that he would be merciful to me!

One wonders just how much of Jean's own words the minister-memorialist got into this, his sum of her confession. Her speech would be coloured inevitably by the phrasing she had caught from her spiritual advisers, and the sum of it would almost unavoidably have something of the memorialist's own fashion of thought. I would give a good deal to know if Jean did actually refer to the Almighty as "the Lord's Majesty,'' and hope for "grace at his Majesty's hands.'' I do not think I am being oversubtle when I fancy that, if Jean did use those words, I see an element of confusion in her scaffold confession—the trembling confusion remaining from a lost hope. As a Scot, I have no recollection of ever hearing the Almighty referred to as "the Lord's Majesty'' or as "his Majesty.'' It does not ring naturally to my ear. Nor, at the long distance from which I recollect reading works of early Scottish divines, can I think of these forms being used in such a context. I may be—I very probably am—all wrong, but I have a feeling that up to the last Jean Livingstone believed royal clemency would be shown to her, and that this belief appears in the use of these unwonted phrases.

However that may be, Jean's conduct seems to have been heroic and unfaltering. She prayed, and one of her relations or friends brought "a clean cloath'' to tie over her eyes. Jean herself had prepared for this operation, for she took a pin out of her mouth and gave it into the friend's hand to help the fastening. The minister-memorialist, having taken farewell of her for the last time, could not bear the prospect of what was about to happen. He descended from the scaffold and went away. "But she,'' he says,

as a constant saint of God, humbled herself on her knees, and offered her neck to the axe, laying her neck, sweetly and graciously, in the place appointed, moving to and fro, till she got a rest for her neck to lay in. When her head was now made fast to "the Maiden'' the executioner came behind her and pulled out her feet, that her neck might be stretched out longer, and so made more meet for the stroke of the axe; but she, as it was reported to me by him who saw it and held her by the hands at this time, drew her legs twice to her again, labouring to sit on her knees, till she should give up her spirit to the Lord! During this time, which was long, for the axe was but slowly loosed, and fell not down hastily, after laying of her head, her tongue was not idle, but she continued crying to the Lord, and uttered with a loud voice those her wonted words, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! O Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me! Into thy hand, Lord, I commend my soul!'' When she came to the middle of this last sentence, and had said, "Into thy hand, Lord,'' at the pronouncing of the word "Lord'' the axe fell; which was diligently marked by one of her friends, who still held her by the hand, and reported this to me.

% IV

On the 26th of June, 1604, Robert Weir, "sumtyme servande to the Laird of Dynniepace,'' was brought to knowledge of an assize. He was "Dilaitit of airt and pairt of the crewall Murthour of umqle Johnne Kincaid of Wariestoune; committit the first of Julij, 1600 yeiris.''

Verdict. The Assyse, all in ane voce, be the mouth of the said Thomas Galloway, chanceller, chosen be thame, ffand, pronouncet and declairit the said Robert Weir to be ffylit, culpable and convict of the crymes above specifiet, mentionat in the said Dittay; and that in respect of his Confessioun maid thairof, in Judgement.

Sentence. The said Justice-depute, be the mouth of James Sterling, dempster of the Court, decernit and ordainit the said Robert Weir to be tane to ane skaffold to be fixt beside the Croce of Edinburgh, and there to be brokin upoune ane Row,[6] quhill he be deid; and to ly thairat, during the space of xxiiij houris. And thaireftir, his body to be tane upon the said Row, and set up, in ane publict place, betwix the place of Wariestoune and the toun of Leyth; and to remain thairupoune, ay and quhill command be gevin for the buriall thairof. Quhilk was pronouncet for dome.

[6] A 'row' is a wheel. This is one of the very few instances on which the terrible and vicious punishment of 'breaking on a wheel' was employed in Scotland. Jean Livingstone's accomplice was, according to Birrell's Diary, broken on a cartwheel, with the coulter of a plough in the hand of the hangman. The exotic method of execution suggests experiment by King Jamie.

% V

The Memorial before mentioned is, in the original, a manuscript belonging to the Advocates' Library of Edinburgh. A printed copy was made in 1828, under the editorship of J. Sharpe, in the same city. This edition contains, among other more relative matter, a reprint of a newspaper account of an execution by strangling and burning at the stake. The woman concerned was not the last victim in Britain of this form of execution. The honour, I believe, belongs to one Anne Cruttenden. The account is full of gruesome and graphic detail, but the observer preserves quite an air of detachment:

IVELCHESTER: 9th May, 1765. Yesterday Mary Norwood, for poisoning her husband, Joseph Norwood, of Axbridge, in this county [Somerset], was burnt here pursuant to her sentence. She was brought out of the prison about three o'clock in the afternoon, barefoot; she was covered with a tarred cloth, made like a shift, and a tarred bonnet over her head; and her legs, feet, and arms had likewise tar on them; the heat of the weather melting the tar, it ran over her face, so that she made a shocking appearance. She was put on a hurdle, and drawn on a sledge to the place of execution, which was very near the gallows. After spending some time in prayer, and singing a hymn, the executioner placed her on a tar barrel, about three feet high; a rope (which was in a pulley through the stake) was fixed about her neck, she placing it properly with her hands; this rope being drawn extremely tight with the pulley, the tar barrel was then pushed away, and three irons were then fastened around her body, to confine it to the stake, that it might not drop when the rope should be burnt. As soon as this was done the fire was immediately kindled; but in all probability she was quite dead before the fire reached her, as the executioner pulled her body several times whilst the irons were fixing, which was about five minutes. There being a good quantity of tar, and the wood in the pile being quite dry, the fire burnt with amazing fury; notwithstanding which great part of her could be discerned for near half an hour. Nothing could be more affecting than to behold, after her bowels fell out, the fire flaming between her ribs, issuing out of her ears, mouth, eyeholes, etc. In short, it was so terrible a sight that great numbers turned their backs and screamed out, not being able to look at it.


It is hardly likely when that comely but penniless young Scot Robert Carr, of Ferniehurst, fell from his horse and broke his leg that any of the spectators of the accident foresaw how far-reaching it would be in its consequences. It was an accident, none the less, which in its ultimate results was to put several of the necks craned to see it in peril of the hangman's noose.

That divinely appointed monarch King James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England had an eye for manly beauty. Though he could contrive the direst of cruelties to be committed out of his sight, the actual spectacle of physical suffering in the human made him squeamish. Add the two facts of the King's nature together and it may be understood how Robert Carr, in falling from his horse that September day in the tilt-yard of Whitehall, fell straight into his Majesty's favour. King James himself gave orders for the disposition of the sufferer, found lodgings for him, sent his own surgeon, and was constant in his visits to the convalescent. Thereafter the rise of Robert Carr was meteoric. Knighted, he became Viscount Rochester, a member of the Privy Council, then Earl of Somerset, Knight of the Garter, all in a very few years. It was in 1607 that he fell from his horse, under the King's nose. In 1613 he was at the height of his power in England.

Return we for a moment, however, to that day in the Whitehall tilt-yard. It is related that one woman whose life and fate were to be bound with Carr's was in the ladies' gallery. It is very probable that a second woman, whose association with the first did much to seal Carr's doom, was also a spectator. If Frances Howard, as we read, showed distress over the painful mishap to the handsome Scots youth it is almost certain that Anne Turner, with the quick eye she had for male comeliness and her less need for Court-bred restraint, would exhibit a sympathetic volubility.

Frances Howard was the daughter of that famous Elizabethan seaman Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk. On that day in September she would be just over fifteen years of age. It is said that she was singularly lovely. At that early age she was already a wife, victim of a political marriage which, in the exercise of the ponderous cunning he called kingcraft, King James had been at some pains to arrange. At the age of thirteen Frances had been married to Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, then but a year older than herself. The young couple had been parted at the altar, the groom being sent travelling to complete his growth and education, and Frances being returned to her mother and the semi-seclusion of the Suffolk mansion at Audley End.

Of the two women, so closely linked in fate, the second is perhaps the more interesting study. Anne Turner was something older than the Countess of Essex. In the various records of the strange piece of history which is here to be dealt with there are many allusions to a long association between the two. Almost a foster-sister relationship seems to be implied, but actual detail is irritatingly absent. Nor is it clear whether Mrs Turner at the time of the tilt-yard incident had embarked on the business activities which were to make her a much sought-after person in King James's Court. It is not to be ascertained whether she was not already a widow at that time. We can only judge from circumstantial evidence brought forward later.

In 1610, at all events, Mrs Turner was well known about the Court, and was quite certainly a widow. Her husband had been a well-known medical man, one George Turner, a graduate of St John's College, Cambridge. He had been a protege of Queen Elizabeth. Dying, this elderly husband of Mistress Turner had left her but little in the way of worldly goods, but that little the fair young widow had all the wit to turn to good account. There was a house in Paternoster Row and a series of notebooks. Like many another physician of his time, George Turner had been a dabbler in more arts than that of medicine, an investigator in sciences other than pathology. His notebooks would appear to have contained more than remedial prescriptions for agues, fevers, and rheums. There was, for example, a recipe for a yellow starch which, says Rafael Sabatini, in his fine romance The Minion,[7] "she dispensed as her own invention. This had become so widely fashionable for ruffs and pickadills that of itself it had rendered her famous.'' One may believe, also, that most of the recipes for those "perfumes, cosmetics, unguents and mysterious powders, liniments and lotions asserted to preserve beauty where it existed, and even to summon it where it was lacking,'' were derived from the same sources.

[7] Hutchinson, 1930.

There is a temptation to write of Mistress Turner as forerunner of that notorious Mme Rachel of whom, in his volume Bad Companions,[8] Mr Roughead has said the final and pawky word. Mme Rachel, in the middle of the nineteenth century, founded her fortunes as a beauty specialist (?) on a prescription for a hair-restorer given her by a kindly doctor. She also 'invented' many a lotion and unguent for the preservation and creation of beauty. But at about this point analogy stops. Both Rachel and her forerunner, Anne Turner, were scamps, and both got into serious trouble—Anne into deeper and deadlier hot water than Rachel—but between the two women there is only superficial comparison. Rachel was a botcher and a bungler, a very cobbler, beside Anne Turner.

[8] Edinburgh, W. Green and Son, Ltd., 1930.

Anne, there is every cause for assurance, was in herself the best advertisement for her wares. Rachel was a fat old hag. Anne, prettily fair, little-boned, and deliciously fleshed, was neat and elegant. The impression one gets of her from all the records, even the most prejudiced against her, is that she was a very cuddlesome morsel indeed. She was, in addition, demonstrably clever. Such a man of talent as Inigo Jones supported the decoration of many of the masques he set on the stage with costumes of Anne's design and confection. Rachel could neither read nor write.

It is highly probable that Anne Turner made coin out of the notes which her late husband, so inquisitive of mind, had left on matters much more occult than the manufacture of yellow starch and skin lotions. "It was also rumoured,'' says Mr Sabatini, "that she amassed gold in another and less licit manner: that she dabbled in fortune-telling and the arts of divination.'' We shall see, as the story develops, that the rumour had some foundation. The inquiring mind of the late Dr Turner had led him into strange company, and his legacy to Anne included connexions more sombre than those in the extravagantly luxurious Court of King James.

In 1610 the elegant little widow was flourishing enough to be able to maintain a lover in good style. This was Sir Arthur Mainwaring, member of a Cheshire family of good repute but of no great wealth. By him she had three children. Mainwaring was attached in some fashion to the suite of the Prince of Wales, Prince Henry. And while the Prince's court at St James's Palace was something more modest, as it was more refined, than that of the King at Whitehall, position in it was not to be retained at ease without considerable expenditure. It may be gauged, therefore, at what expense Anne's attachment to Mainwaring would keep her, and to what exercise of her talent and ambition her pride in it would drive her. And her pride was absolute. It would, says a contemporary diarist, "make her fly at any pitch rather than fall into the jaws of want.''[9]

[9] Antony Weldon, The Court and Character of King James (1651).

% II

In his romance The Minion, Rafael Sabatini makes the first meeting of Anne Turner and the Countess of Essex occur in 1610 or 1611. With this date Judge A. E. Parry, in his book The Overbury Mystery,[10] seems to agree in part. There is, however, warrant enough for believing that the two women had met long before that time. Anne Turner herself, pleading at her trial for mercy from Sir Edward Coke, the Lord Chief Justice, put forward the plea that she had been "ever brought up with the Countess of Essex, and had been a long time her servant.''[11] She also made the like extenuative plea on the scaffold.[12] Judge Parry seems to follow some of the contemporary writers in assuming that Anne was a spy in the pay of the Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Northampton. If this was so there is further ground for believing that Anne and Lady Essex had earlier contacts, for Northampton was Lady Essex's great-uncle. The longer association would go far in explaining the terrible conspiracy into which, from soon after that time, the two women so readily fell together—a criminal conspiracy, in which the reader may see something of the "false nurse'' in Anne Turner and something of Jean Livingstone in Frances Howard, Lady Essex.

[10] Fisher Unwin, 1925. [11] State Trials (Cobbett's edition). [12] Antony Weldon.

It was about this time, 1610-1611, that Lady Essex began to find herself interested in the handsome Robert Carr, then Viscount Rochester. Having reached the mature age of eighteen, the lovely Frances had been brought by her mother, the Countess of Suffolk, to Court. Highest in the King's favour, and so, with his remarkably good looks, his charm, and the elegant taste in attire and personal appointment which his new wealth allowed him lavishly to indulge, Rochester was by far the most brilliant figure there. Frances fell in love with the King's minion.

Rochester, it would appear, did not immediately respond to the lady's advances. They were probably too shy, too tentative, to attract Rochester's attention. It is probable, also, that there were plenty of beautiful women about the Court, more mature, more practised in the arts of coquetry than Frances, and very likely not at all 'blate'—as Carr and his master would put it—in showing themselves ready for conquest by the King's handsome favourite.

Whether the acquaintance of Lady Essex with Mrs Turner was of long standing or not, it was to the versatile Anne that her ladyship turned as confidante. The hint regarding Anne's skill in divination will be remembered. Having regard to the period, and to the alchemistic nature of the goods that composed so much of Anne's stock-in-trade at the sign of the Golden Distaff, in Paternoster Row, it may be conjectured that the love-lorn Frances had thoughts of a philtre.

With an expensive lover and children to maintain, to say nothing of her own luxurious habits, Anne Turner would see in the Countess's appeal a chance to turn more than one penny into the family exchequer. She was too much the opportunist to let any consideration of old acquaintance interfere with working such a potential gold-mine as now seemed to lie open to her pretty but prehensile fingers. Lady Essex was rich. She was also ardent in her desire. The game was too big for Anne to play single-handed. A real expert in cozening, a master of guile, was wanted to exploit the opportunity to its limit.

It is a curious phenomenon, and one that constantly recurs in the history of cozenage, how people who live by spoof fall victims so readily to spoofery. Anne Turner had brains. There is no doubt of it. Apart from that genuine and honest talent in costume-design which made her work acceptable to such an outstanding genius as Inigo Jones, she lived by guile. But I have now to invite you to see her at the feet of one of the silliest charlatans who ever lived. There is, of course, the possibility that Anne sat at the feet of this silly charlatan for what she might learn for the extension of her own technique. Or, again, it may have been that the wizard of Lambeth, whom she consulted in the Lady Essex affair, could provide a more impressive setting for spoof than she had handy, or that they were simply rogues together. My trouble is to understand why, by the time that the Lady Essex came to her with her problem, Anne had not exhausted all the gambits in flummery that were at the command of the preposterous Dr Forman.

The connexion with Dr Forman was part of the legacy left Anne by Dr Turner. Her husband had been the friend and patron of Forman, so that by the time Anne had taken Mainwaring for her lover, and had borne him three children, she must have had ample opportunity for seeing through the old charlatan.

Antony Weldon, the contemporary writer already quoted, is something too scurrilous and too apparently biased to be altogether a trustworthy authority. He seems to have been the type of gossip (still to be met in London clubs) who can always tell with circumstance how the duchess came to have a black baby, and the exact composition of the party at which Midas played at 'strip poker.' But he was, like many of his kind, an amusing enough companion for the idle moment, and his description of Dr Forman is probably fairly close to the truth.

"This Forman,'' he says,

was a silly fellow who dwelt in Lambeth, a very silly fellow, yet had wit enough to cheat the ladies and other women, by pretending skill in telling their fortunes, as whether they should bury their husbands, and what second husbands they should have, and whether they should enjoy their loves, or whether maids should get husbands, or enjoy their servants to themselves without corrivals: but before he would tell them anything they must write their names in his alphabetical book with their own handwriting. By this trick he kept them in awe, if they should complain of his abusing them, as in truth he did nothing else. Besides, it was believed, some meetings were at his house, wherein the art of the bawd was more beneficial to him than that of a conjurer, and that he was a better artist in the one than in the other: and that you may know his skill, he was himself a cuckold, having a very pretty wench to his wife, which would say, she did it to try his skill, but it fared with him as with astrologers that cannot foresee their own destiny.

And here comes an addendum, the point of which finds confirmation elsewhere. It has reference to the trial of Anne Turner, to which we shall come later.

"I well remember there was much mirth made in the Court upon the showing of the book, for, it was reported, the first leaf my lord Cook [Coke, the Lord Chief Justice] lighted on he found his own wife's name.''

Whatever Anne's reason for doing so, it was to this scortatory old scab that she turned for help in cozening the fair young Countess. The devil knows to what obscene ritual the girl was introduced. There is evidence that the thaumaturgy practised by Forman did not want for lewdness—as magic of the sort does not to this day—and in this regard Master Weldon cannot be far astray when he makes our pretty Anne out to be the veriest baggage.

Magic or no magic, philtre or no philtre, it was not long before Lady Essex had her wish. The Viscount Rochester fell as desperately in love with her as she was with him.

There was, you may be sure, no small amount of scandalous chatter in the Court over the quickly obvious attachment the one to the other of this handsome couple. So much of this scandalous chatter has found record by the pens of contemporary and later gossip-writers that it is hard indeed to extract the truth. It is certain, however, that had the love between Robert Carr and Frances Howard been as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, jealousy would still have done its worst in besmirching. It was not, if the Rabelaisian trend in so much of Jacobean writing be any indication, a particularly moral age. Few ages in history are. It was not, with a reputed pervert as the fount of honour, a particularly moral Court. Since the emergence of the lovely young Countess from tutelage at Audley End there had been no lack of suitors for her favour. And when Frances so openly exhibited her preference for the King's minion there would be some among those disappointed suitors who would whisper, greenly, that Rochester had been granted that prisage which was the right of the absent Essex, a right which they themselves had been quite ready to usurp. It is hardly likely that there would be complete abnegation of salty gossip among the ladies of the Court, their Apollo being snatched by a mere chit of a girl.

What relative happiness there may have been for the pair in their loving—it could not, in the hindrance there was to their free mating, have been an absolute happiness —was shattered after some time by the return to England of the young husband. The Earl of Essex, now almost come to man's estate, arrived to take up the position which his rank entitled him to expect in the Court, and to assume the responsibilities and rights which, he fancied, belonged to him as a married man. In respect of the latter part of his intention he immediately found himself balked. His wife, perhaps all the deeper in love with Rochester for this threat to their happiness, declared that she had no mind to be held by the marriage forced on her in infancy, and begged her husband to agree to its annulment.

It had been better for young Essex to have agreed at once. He would have spared himself, ultimately, a great deal of humiliation through ridicule. But he tried to enforce his rights as a husband, a proceeding than which there is none more absurd should the wife prove obdurate. And prove obdurate his wife did. She was to be moved neither by threat nor by pleading. It was, you will notice, a comedy situation; husband not perhaps amorous so much as the thwarted possessor of the unpossessable—wife frigid and a maid, as far, at least, as the husband was concerned, and her weeping eyes turned yearningly elsewhere. A comedy situation, yes, and at this distance almost farcical—but for certain elements in it approaching tragedy.

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