Saturday, December 3, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Most Dangerous and Daring Escape of Blanche Gamond

The Dangerous and Daring Escape of...

BLANCHE GAMOND

1687

Blanche Gamond belonged to a Protestant family of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, when the Protestants were subjected to the most rigorous persecution, Mademoiselle Gamond, whose piety was of the most fervent and exalted kind, resolved to fly the kingdom. The city of Saint-Paul was closely invested, and the dragoons overran all the neighboring country in search of the Protestants. Blanche left the city and wandered about for some time alone, and afterwards with her parents, who had joined her. At times they were exposed to all the hardships of forest life, and it was only at intervals that they could venture to show themselves in towns. In this manner they traveled through the greater part of Dauphiné; but they were obliged to separate at last, to escape the more easily from the dragoons; and our poor heroine was about to pass the frontier with her brother and her mother and sister, when she was taken near Goncelin. Her brother escaped from the soldiers, but her mother and her sister were brutally ill-treated by these wretches, and were taken to Grenoble and thrown into a horrible dungeon. Blanche Gamond was then twenty-one years of age. She was subjected for a long time to the most terrible tortures; but insulted, mercilessly beaten, dying of hunger, and sinking under a lingering illness, as she was, she bore all with the courage and the resignation of a martyr.

The following is her account of her attempt at escape, the consequences of which were most disastrous to her:—
“We were told to get ourselves ready in three days for a voyage to America; ‘and when,’ it was added, ‘you are once on shipboard you will be made to walk the plank, and will be thrust into the sea, so that the detested race of the Huguenots may perish with you.’

“ ‘It concerns me little,’ I replied, ‘whether my body be eaten by the fish in the sea or by the worms in the earth.’

“When they had left us alone, Susan de Montélimart said, ‘We might make our escape by this window if we could only break the bars.’

“ ‘We are at such a height from the ground,’ I replied, ‘that we should either kill or lame ourselves; and then we should only be recaptured and treated worse than before. If that should happen, I could never survive my sufferings. I prefer death, therefore, and will rather set out for America. God will deliver us, as he delivered the victims of La Rapine.’ ”

La Rapine, or D’Herapine, who had been formerly condemned for robbery, under his real name of Guichard, had become director of the hospital of Valence, where he was told to employ all the means in his power for the conversion of the Protestants—a commission which he executed with all the cynicism and the ferocity of one of the worst of scoundrels.

“Susan replied, ‘If they had done to me what they have done to you I should have died ere this; but they are killing us of hunger; and, besides, they are going to take us to America, and we shall be half dead when they throw us in the sea. We might get out of this window. We seem to be despising the means which God has placed within our reach; but, for my part, I mean to attempt to use them.’

“At length, by her persuasion, I joined her in cutting a piece of cloth into shreds, and sewing it together; and when we had made a long band in this manner we tied a piece of stone to the end of it and lowered it, to ascertain the height of the window from the ground. We were on the fourth storey, and we found that our band was too short; but we lengthened it, and finally the end touched the ground. I then put my head out of the window and said to my dear sisters, ‘Alas! we shall kill ourselves, for it almost frightens me to death to look down.’

“That same evening, when our guards were asleep, we crept to the window with bare feet, for we were afraid that the priest, whose chamber was beneath ours, would hear our footsteps. Susan was the first to get out, and she was followed by Mademoiselle Terrasson de Die, then by me and by Mademoiselle Anne Dumas, of La Salle, in Languedoc. When I got outside and began to lay hold of the band, my strength failed me, and I heard the bones of my arm crack. My dress caught in a hook outside the window, and I was obliged to support myself with one arm while I disengaged myself with the other. I no longer felt either strength or courage, and I cried, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ But I seized the band with my teeth, and joining my two hands over it, I fell, rather than lowered myself, to the ground, striking against the stones with such violence that I cried, ‘Mercy! My God, I am either killed or maimed for life!’


I was obliged to support myself with one arm.
 
 “The dear sisters who were waiting for me ran up to me and asked me where I was hurt.

“ ‘Everywhere,’ I replied; ‘I am sure that I have broken my thigh,’ and I begged of them to tie it up for me with my apron. I then limped away, my two sisters supporting me on either side. I made sixty or seventy steps in great pain, and reached the gate of the Faubourg de Valence: but it was closed. They helped me to get upon the wall, but when I stood upon the top of it, and saw how high it was, I said to my three dear sisters, ‘This is a second precipice, and I am not brave enough to attempt to descend. Leave me and go alone.’

“They let me down from the wall and left me there, and then they tried to get down themselves, and succeeded after great trouble. When they had reached the other side, Mademoiselle Dumas cried out to me, ‘We are going. We are very sorry to leave you behind. God preserve you from our enemies. I wish you prosperity, and give you my blessing, and I beg of you to give me yours in return.’

“ ‘Who am I,’ I replied, ‘to give you my blessing? but I pray that God will give you his. I pray fervently that he will lead you in all his ways; and I conjure you to leave this place as quickly as you can, or all of us may be recaptured.’

“I was thus left quite alone, still suffering the cruel and violent pains which had never left me from the moment of my fall. It was not yet daybreak, and I lifted up my heart to God. But I fainted in the midst of my prayer, and did not come to myself for, at least, a quarter of an hour. I had no one to console me, or even to offer me a single drop of water; but as soon as I came to myself I cried out, ‘Lord, do not abandon me.’ I lay for a time without being able to make any movement, and then I thought that at daybreak they would be sure to find me, and then I should be recaptured and taken to the hospice. ‘O God,’ I prayed, ‘grant me this mercy that this day may see the last of my troubles, for death is better than life. I have lived enough. Take my soul to thee, O God. Oh grant, if it please thee, that I may be taken to the tomb, and not to the hospice this day.’

“Day then began to break. I had not enough strength to raise myself, so that those who passed by did not know that I was lamed. I was only just able to hide my face from them by covering it with my tappeta. I was interrupted during my prayers by the agony which I suffered from my broken thigh and dislocated ankle. After a time a gentleman came by, and said, ‘It would be better, mademoiselle, for you to be at your own house than to remain here, and it would certainly be more becoming.’

“ ‘If you knew who I was, sir,’ I replied, ‘you would not address me in such language.’

“In another moment they opened the gate of the Faubourg and the passers-by said very hard and cruel things about me, seeing me lying at full length in the road so early in the morning.”

She begged one of them to fetch Mademoiselle Marsilière, a Protestant converted to Catholicism, whom she knew, and she prayed God that this early friend might turn out a good Samaritan, but this prayer was not heard.
“Are you asking for me?” said Mademoiselle Marsilière, when she approached the poor wounded creature. “Yes, mademoiselle; save me—for mercy’s sake help me. Take me to some place where I may die, so that no one may witness my sufferings.”


“But Mademoiselle Marsilière replied that I should endanger her safety as well as my own. ‘I must go,’ she said, ‘before any one sees me, or I shall be put in prison myself.’

“I was wounded to the heart at this treatment from a co-religionist, and I asked her if she had the courage to leave me in this condition. ‘Help me, at least,’ I said, ‘to crawl behind this wall, so that I may not be seen by the passers-by.’ ”

But neither the prayers nor the sufferings of the unfortunate Blanche had the least effect on the prudent and charitable person whom she had called to her aid. Mademoiselle Marsilière went away, but returned shortly afterwards with the almoner of the religious house of which she was a member, who, without paying the least regard to the distressed condition of the wounded girl, began to address to her a series of questions about her escape and her accomplices. At length two men, seizing her by the shoulders and the feet, carried her to the hospice and laid her down upon the stones in the courtyard.

It is impossible to enter fully here into all the details of the rigorous punishment endured by the poor girl for some months after this. She bore all with her ordinary courage and patience, but the mere recital of such atrocities would give too much pain to the most unfeeling heart.

She was at last allowed to return to her parents, and she recovered her health after her long sufferings, and retired to Switzerland with her family.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.


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Smiles & Good Fortune,
Teresa
************************************
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Escape of Marie De Medicis

THE ESCAPE OF 

MARIE DE’ MEDICIS.

1619


Marie de’ Medicis, after the assassination of her favourite, Concini, seeing herself shut out from all participation in affairs by the intrigues of Luynes, asked for and obtained permission to retire to Blois (May, 1617), where she soon became a prisoner. Luynes surrounded her with spies, and placed two companies of cavalry in the neighbouring villages, with orders to watch her slightest movements. But the Duke d’Épernon and other malcontent lords, who had retired from the court, wishing to give more importance to their party, sought to deliver the Queen-mother and to place her at their head.

M. d’Épernon was chiefly urged on to this enterprise by a devoted adherent of the Queen-mother, named De Ruccellai, who had no other thought than how to serve his mistress, and no other inspiration than a passionate desire to see her at liberty. After long meditation over various plans, Ruccellai thought that no person could be made so useful to him as M. de Bouillon, on account both of that nobleman’s reputation among all classes of his countrymen, particularly among the Huguenots, and of the security which was afforded by his retreat at Sedan. He accordingly made a secret journey to Blois, and obtained the Queen-mother’s permission to speak to M. de Bouillon, and to promise him whatever might be necessary, in her name. He then sought out M. de Bouillon, but at very great peril, for he was obliged to travel by night and alone, for fear of being discovered. M. de Bouillon, however, excused himself from all participation in the design on account of his age, his infirmities, and his good understanding with the King, which he was unwilling to risk, as he had no other wish than to enjoy the benefits of that mercy which had been extended to him after the death of Marshal d’Ancre, and to end his days in peace. He, however, referred the Queen-mother’s messenger to M. d’Épernon, who, being extremely ill-satisfied with De Luynes, and having, besides, a number of large establishments in the kingdom, would be likely to prove far more serviceable in the cause than himself.

Ruccellai, having written to the Queen-mother and obtained her consent to this change of plan, laid his proposals before M. d’Épernon. The latter at first received them with some suspicion, but he was finally won over. At the end of a secret conference at his house, which lasted several days, he authorised Ruccellai to tell the Queen that if she could once contrive to escape from the chateau, and to pass the bridge on the Loire, he would await her arrival on the other side of the river, with such an escort as would conduct her safely, in spite of every obstacle, to Angoulême, or any other part of the kingdom to which she might choose to go. The Queen replied that nothing would be more easy; and Ruccellai pressed D’Épernon to hasten the execution of his part of the plan; but the latter insisted on putting off the enterprise till the February of the following year.

De Luynes, ever suspicious, and wishing to discover the real feelings of the Queen, sent one of his creatures to her, to say that the King was shortly going to Blois, and that he would fetch her away with him. The envoy also made repeated protestations of service on the part of De Luynes, and assured the Queen that she would in future be treated exactly in accordance with her own desires; but he never failed, while proffering these services, to narrowly watch the countenances of the Queen and all who approached her, to gather what he could of their real feelings. But not one of the Queen’s people was yet aware of her design; and as she had already sworn without scruple, so she did not hesitate to swear again, and that so well, that the agent of De Luynes went back firmly persuaded that she was impatient for the coming of the King, and was perfectly ready to be on good terms with his master and forget everything.

D’Épernon, having completed his measures, went to Confolens, where the Archbishop of Toulouse was waiting for him, with two hundred of his friends; but he did not find the expected news of the Queen-mother. He had, however, gone too far to recede; and he at once sent M. du Plessis to the Queen, to warn her of his arrival and to learn her wishes. When M. du Plessis had delivered his message, the Queen decided on setting out that same night.

She then for the first time took others into her confidence, and broke the matter to the Count de Brennes, her master of the horse, to M. de Merçay, and another officer of her body guard, and to the Signora Caterine, her woman of the bedchamber. She ordered the Count de Brennes to be at the door of her room at five the next morning, and to see that her travelling chariot with six horses was at the same time beyond the bridge. The others she kept with her all night, to pack up her jewels and wearing apparel.

With these three gentlemen then, and a single woman of the bedchamber, she left the place on the 22nd of February, at six in the morning, by the window of a room looking out upon the terrace, from which, owing to a broken wall, it was easy to reach the ground without passing by the door of the chateau. After the Queen had let herself glide down this ruin, and had regained her feet, she made her way to the bridge, where she met two men, one of whom, seeing her almost alone at that early hour, passed a very uncharitable judgment upon her. The other, however, recognised her, guessed her purpose, and wished her “God speed.”

On the other side of the bridge she found her carriage, and entering it, with her attendants she went to Montrichard, where she came up with one of her gentlemen, who had preceded her to make sure of the passage of the Cher. She remained there two days, during which time she wrote to the King, and then she set out for Angoulême.

After long conferences and innumerable intrigues, in which De Luynes and Richelieu, then Bishop of Luçon, displayed all their ability, Marie de’ Medicis, seeing all her partisans abandoning her interests in their anxiety to carry on a quarrel among themselves, left Angoulême for Tours, where Louis XIII. and Anne of Austria were waiting for her. They received her at about two leagues from the city, and lavished upon her the most affectionate caresses. She passed seven or eight days with them, and then withdrew for a time to Chinon, until the preparations were completed for her grand entry into Angers.—(Memoirs of Fontenay-Mareuil.)

 Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
Teresa
************************************
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Daring Escape of Mary Queen of Scots from Loch Leven Castle.

THE DARING ESCAPE OF MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS.

1568.

When the confederate Scotch lords had taken Mary Stuart prisoner after her defeat at Carberry Hill, and had resolved to dethrone her, they sent her for safe custody to the castle of Loch Leven, situate on a small island in the middle of the lake of that name. They chose this gloomy place, not only because it was nearly inaccessible, but because the hapless lady would there be in the keeping of that most watchful of all gaolers, a mortal enemy. Margaret Erskine, mother of William Douglas, the owner of the castle, had had a son by James V., whom it pleased her to regard as the legitimate heir to the throne of Scotland, and she hated Mary as an obstacle to her schemes of ambition. Religious differences intensified this feeling, for Margaret was a zealous Presbyterian. In short, her character, her faith, her family pride, and the natural harshness of her temper, all conspired to make her an inexorable guardian of the unfortunate Queen.

After Mary had been compelled by violence to renounce the crown in favour of her son, she was placed in the most rigorous confinement, the strictest watch being kept over her to prevent her, not only from effecting her escape, but from holding any sort of communication with the outer world. Many of the sovereigns of Europe were well disposed towards her, but she was not allowed to write to her friends, though she sometimes found an opportunity of doing so while the daughters of Margaret, who shared her chamber, were asleep, or at their meals. The cruelty of these restraints defeated their end, for it touched the very son her gaoler, George Douglas, with compassion for the captive Queen, and led him to form a plan for her escape. But his first attempt to aid her was unsuccessful.

It was arranged that the Queen should leave the castle in the dress of the laundress who brought her linen to Loch Leven, and that George Douglas and a number of his partisans should be ready to receive her as soon she had crossed the lake. The appointed day came; the young man was at his post, and the Queen, thanks to her disguise, had actually got clear of the castle, and reached the boat, when one of the boatmen, struck by the figure of the pretended laundress, attempted to lift her veil, and the hasty gesture with which the Queen resisted his touch, revealed a hand too white and too delicately formed to be that of a hard-working girl. The man at once guessed her real rank, but even at that moment Mary did not lose her presence of mind. She declared her name and title, and ordered him, on pain of death, to row her across the lake. The name of Margaret Erskine had, however, greater terror for the fellow than that of Mary Stuart; and the Queen was taken back to captivity again.


As the penalty of this unfortunate attempt of the 25th March, George Douglas was sent away from the island. This did not, however, make him one whit the less eager to succeed in his noble design; and he confided the Queen to the care of one who was equally devoted to her—his brother, a youth of fifteen or sixteen, called the “Little Douglas,” and employed as page to his mother.

Mary was, of course, made to suffer more heavily, and every fresh precaution against her escape took the form of a new torture. Her life became almost unendurable. She wrote to Elizabeth, to Catherine de’ Medicis, and to Charles IX., supplicating them for aid, but before any of them could move in her favour other help was at hand. George Douglas had never forgotten his promise to set her free. He used the liberty gained by his banishment from the castle in extending the circle of her friends. He engaged the powerful families of the Seatons and the Hamiltons in her cause, and with their aid formed a more carefully prepared plan than the last for her escape. It was arranged that on a given night they should be waiting for her where he had formerly waited. The page, young Douglas, undertook the rest.

Sunday, the 2nd May, 1568, was the day fixed for the execution of the project. The whole household at Loch Leven took their meals in a common hall; and while they were together the keys of the fortress were placed on the table by the governor’s side. At supper time on the appointed night the young page watched his opportunity; and while he held out his plate to be filled, he contrived to get possession of the keys without being for the moment observed. He at once ran to Mary’s chamber and released her, and then led her to the boat, locking every door behind him on his way to diminish the chances of pursuit. He then threw the keys into the lake, and took the oars, after handing the Queen and her waiting-woman into their seats, and pulled vigorously for the shore. Before leaving the castle he had placed a signal light in one of the windows, so that when the Queen stepped from the boat she found her friends waiting to receive her. She at once took horse, and accompanied by Lord Seaton, galloped hard for that nobleman’s house at Niddry, in East Lothian, whence after a few hours’ repose she made her way to the more strongly fortified castle of the Hamiltons. She was received there by the Archbishop St. Andrew’s and Lord Claude, who had gone out to meet her with fifty horses.

The news of this escape, according to Scott, spread through Scotland with the rapidity of lightning, and the Queen was greeted everywhere with enthusiasm. The people remembered her affability, her grace, her beauty, and her misfortunes; and if they remembered her errors too, it was only to say that she had been punished for them too severely. On Sunday Mary had been a sad captive, abandoned to her enemies in a solitary tower; and on the Saturday following she found herself at the head of a powerful confederation, in which nine counts, eight lords, nine bishops, and a great number of gentlemen of the highest rank were engaged to defend her and to restore her to her throne. But this ray of hope only illumined her sombre destiny for an instant. On February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded for treason. Mary's son, King James VI of Scotland became king of England, Scotland, and Ireland upon Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603.



The keys thrown into the lake by the page were found by a fisherman in 1805, and are now placed at Kinross. The place where the fugitive Queen landed, on the southern shore of the lake, is still called Mary’s Knoll

Contents prepared from sources in the public domain.



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Smiles & Good Fortune,
Teresa
************************************
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Assassination of Iñez de Castro

THE ASSASSINATION OF IÑEZ DE CASTRO

(A.D. 1355.)

As one of the most cruel and heart-rending tragedies of the middle ages, the love-story and the assassination of Iñez de Castro has lived in song and story for five hundred and fifty years, and still awakens echoes of pity and sorrow whenever read or heard.
Constancia, the wife of Pedro, son of Alfonso the Fourth of Portugal, and heir-presumptive to the crown of that kingdom, died in 1344, and left to her husband a son of tender age, named Ferdinand. Pedro thereupon desired to marry the countess Iñez de Castro, a young lady of great beauty and loveliness, and, like himself, sprung in direct lineage, but on her mother’s side, from the royal house of Castile. Iñez de Castro was of an illustrious family, it is true, but her rank was not deemed sufficient to entitle her to become the wife of the Crown Prince; therefore when Dom Pedro mentioned to his father his intention to marry her, the King positively refused his consent. Dom Pedro, however, instead of obeying his father, secured permission from the Pope, and secretly married her, bestowing upon her the full rank and all the rights of a legitimate wife.

In the meantime the King and his advisers urged Dom Pedro to get married again, and proposed a number of young princesses of renowned beauty and ancestry for his choice. But Pedro, without disclosing the secret of his marriage with Iñez de Castro (rumors of which were nevertheless whispered and busily circulated at the court of the King), persistently rejected all these proposals, giving no other reason for his refusal than his personal disinclination to marry. While Pedro’s father reluctantly accepted his son’s emphatic declaration, the most trusted advisers and counsellors of the King, Diego Lopez Pacheco, Pedro Coello, and Alvaro Calvarez, did not, because they were afraid lest the influence of the beautiful and accomplished Iñez de Castro—no matter whether she was legally married to Pedro or not—would be dangerous and possibly fatal to their own preëminence at the court, as soon as Pedro should succeed his father on the throne. They shrewdly worked upon the King’s mind by insinuating that if the rumor of Pedro’s secret marriage should prove to be true, the ultimate succession of Ferdinand, Pedro’s son by his first wife, to whom the King was very much attached, might be endangered, and that possibly the son of Iñez de Castro would become Pedro’s successor on the throne.

The King summoned Pedro to a private interview, and asked him concerning his relations with Iñez de Castro, informing him at the same time of the rumor of his secret marriage. Pedro denied the truth of this rumor, admitting, however, that Iñez de Castro, while not his wedded wife, was so dear to his heart that on her account he would not consent to form a new matrimonial alliance, no matter how illustrious by birth or beauty the princess proposed to him might be. The emphasis with which Pedro made this assertion satisfied his father that the rumor of a secret marriage was true; and when the King, at the next cabinet council, repeated to his confidants the result of his interview with the Crown Prince, they predicted that the greatest calamities would arise, after the King’s death, from the Crown Prince’s infatuation for Iñez, which they ascribed rather to unnatural evil influences than to the surpassing beauty and loveliness of the young woman. The King, a man of very irascible temperament, became excited and indignant; he declared again and again that, if there were no other means of separating Pedro and Iñez, the young woman would have to die. The council then broke up.
It was but a short time afterwards that Dom Pedro left the court for a few days to go out hunting with some friends. But warned by his mother, who had heard of the King’s evil designs upon Iñez de Castro, he had taken her and her two children to Coimbra, where he left them in a convent to await his return. On the day after his departure, King Alfonso suddenly appeared at the convent and demanded to see Iñez de Castro. Pedro’s wife immediately made her appearance, accompanied by her two children. As she looked upon the King, whose mien was grim and menacing, and who was surrounded by a number of his knights in full armor, a presentiment of some terrible calamity which was to befall her and her two children entered her breast, and from an impulse of both fear, and of hope to save her children, she threw herself at the King’s feet, imploring him to forgive her and to take pity on her innocent children. Alfonso’s heart melted with pity at the sight of so much beauty and innocence. He raised her from her kneeling position and told her to be of good cheer, and that no harm would befall her. And then turning round, he left the convent, followed by his attendants, who were not a little surprised at this peaceful ending of a visit which had promised to be a tragedy.

But while Iñez already congratulated herself on her lucky escape from a terrible death, and even on her good fortune in having softened the King’s heart toward herself and her two children, she was nevertheless doomed to ruin. The three counsellors so hostile to her had not accompanied the King on his visit to the convent; they were waiting for the return of their sovereign at some distance from Coimbra, and were greatly disappointed when they learned from his own lips that, instead of having slain with his own hands, as he had promised to do, the woman who had seduced his son and enthralled him either by her beauty or by the employment of supernatural means, he had changed his mind concerning her, and now spoke feelingly and affectionately of her and her sweet children. The counsellors concealed with great difficulty the irritation and disgust with which the King’s weakness filled them; they immediately proceeded to counteract the favorable impression which Iñez had made, uttering the foulest insinuations and aspersions upon her character. The very change which she had succeeded in effecting in the King’s sentiments toward her was made the means of renewing and corroborating the charge that evil spirits were assisting her in bewitching the royal family for her own selfish purposes. “Since she has so easily captured your majesty,” said one of them cunningly, “who can hope to resist her and her ambitious designs? Poor Ferdinand!”


The artful mention of the name of the young prince, whose right of succession was endangered by the recognition of Iñez de Castro, was sufficient to elicit from the King the promise that his son’s mistress should never be received at the court. Having obtained this concession, the three counsellors found it comparatively easy to persuade him that the original purpose for which they had come to Coimbra—the death of Iñez—was the only salvation for the throne and the dynasty, and that it was his duty as a monarch to remove her as soon as possible in order to avert greater calamities. They told him that it was perhaps right that he had not soiled his royal hands with the blood of one who was unworthy of the high distinction of dying by his sword, but that it was a duty he owed to the state and to the legitimate heir to the throne to order her death at the earliest moment. Alfonso was weak and foolish enough to believe them and to sanction the murder of the fair and innocent wife of his son. That very night Iñez de Castro fell a victim to the daggers of two assassins.

The assassination provoked terror throughout Portugal and Spain, and general were the denunciations of the King and the counsellors who had advised him to commit the crime. But in this case what followed the murder has, even more than the atrocity of the crime itself, made it famous in song and story. The murder of Iñez de Castro occurred in 1355.

A rumor of the tragedy reached Dom Pedro while he was taking dinner at the small tavern of a village, some thirty leagues from Coimbra. The Crown Prince was traveling incognito, and neither the host nor the guests of the tavern, except his own companions, knew him and how deeply he was interested in the terrible news which a cattle dealer had just reported as the latest sensation in the city. Dom Pedro hurried back to Coimbra and to the convent. The rumor was only too true. His idolized wife was dead. Three horrible wounds, each of which would have been sufficient to cause death, disfigured her beautiful corpse; but her countenance shone with angelic radiance and sweetness, and the agony of death seemed to have left no trace on it. When Dom Pedro learned from the nuns how the assassins had demanded entrance in the name of the King and had burst open the bedroom of Iñez and butchered her without mercy, he knelt down by the coffin and swore bloody vengeance against all those who had taken a hand in this inhuman and atrocious crime. He called upon Heaven to assist him in bringing the assassins and their instigators to justice, and laying his hands upon the breast of his murdered wife, he swore that he would not desist from the pursuit of the guilty persons, even if he had to seek them on the throne. The meaning of these words could not be misconstrued, for it was generally understood that, while the three counselors had proposed the murder, the King had given his consent to it. When Dom Pedro’s threat was repeated to him, the King, highly incensed, loudly proclaimed that Iñez de Castro’s death was a just punishment for her criminal liaison with the Crown Prince, in open violation of the King’s order, and assumed the full responsibility for the murder. The Crown Prince, so rudely repelled by his father and deeply wounded by the disgrace heaped upon his virtuous wife, refused to return to the court; on the contrary, he called his friends, and the friends of Iñez de Castro, her brothers and cousins, to arms. The cruel and unjustifiable homicide he justly ascribed to the calumnies and intrigues of a set of rapacious cut-throats who were ready to sacrifice everything to their own personal interests, and who had deceived the King. In a very short time Dom Pedro found himself at the head of an army, with which he invaded those provinces in which the castles and mansions of the counsellors were situated. With merciless severity their lands were laid waste, their castles razed to the ground, their families and friends killed, and everything was done to make their very names and memories odious to their fellow-men.

By that time the King had also been informed by high dignitaries of the Church that the union between his son and Iñez de Castro had been consecrated, that the Pope himself had granted them permission to get married, and that strict secrecy had been observed simply out of high regard for the King, in the hope that he would never hear of it and would consequently not feel irritated by it. This information had a powerful effect on the King’s mind. He began to see what a great crime he had committed in sanctioning the murder of a virtuous and innocent young wife, whose only fault had possibly been her yielding, against the King’s outspoken wishes, to the Prince’s ardent wooing. And when the Queen, Dom Pedro’s mother, added her supplications and tears in behalf of her son, whom the murder of his wife had made nearly insane from grief, the King became more and more willing to be reconciled to him. He not only forgave his acts of rebellion, but even made amends, as much as he could, for the cruel wrong he had done him.

Under such circumstances it was comparatively easy for the Archbishop of Braga, whom the Pope had authorized to impart to the King the information concerning Dom Pedro’s marriage, to effect a reconciliation between father and son. Thereupon the son returned to the court, where he was received with the highest honors, after he had solemnly promised not to take revenge on the counsellors who had been instrumental in causing the death of his wife, and who had already been so severely punished by the devastation of their lands and the destruction of their castles. To consent to this condition was the cruelest sacrifice on the part of Dom Pedro, but he finally yielded to the tears and prayers of his mother—very likely, however, as we shall see, with a mental reservation.

Two years later, King Alfonso the Fourth died, and Dom Pedro ascended the throne of Portugal. The old King’s death was also the signal for the flight of his three counsellors, Pacheco, Coello, and Gonsalvez, whose absence was first noticed at the King’s obsequies. They had sought refuge in Castile, because they felt instinctively that it would not be safe for them to remain in Portugal, and that the ill-concealed hatred of Dom Pedro might break forth at any moment and punish them terribly for the part they had taken in Iñez de Castro’s death. In fact Pedro had never forgiven the assassins of his wife. On the contrary, his heart had never ceased to yearn for the day when he could not only take full and bloody revenge on her persecutors and murderers, but also restore the honor of her name and memory, which had been sullied by the calumnies of those scoundrels.

Castile was at that time ruled by Pedro the Cruel, one of the worst and most bloodthirsty tyrants that ever sat upon a Spanish throne. Some of his victims had made their escape into Portugal and had found protection at the court of Alfonso, Dom Pedro’s father. But when the counselors of Alfonso arrived at his court, Pedro the Cruel formed the diabolical plan of delivering them up to Pedro of Portugal, provided the latter would deliver, in exchange for them, the Castilians who had found an asylum in his kingdom. No more agreeable proposition could have been made to the King of Portugal, and the exchange was readily made. Two of the counsellors, Coello and Gonsalvez, were transported in chains to Portugal, and executed with inhuman cruelty. They were put to the torture in the hope of extorting from them the names of other accessories to the crime; thereupon they were burned at the stake, and their hearts were torn out; and thereafter their ashes were scattered to the winds. Pacheco, however, escaped this terrible fate. Being absent from the court of Castile when his two colleagues were arrested, he fled to Aragon.

After having in this manner satisfied his vengeance on the assassins, King Pedro assembled the high nobility and the great dignitaries of his kingdom at Cataneda, and in their presence swore that, after the death of his first wife, Constancia, he had legally married Iñez de Castro; that the Pope of Rome had given him special permission to do so, and that the marriage ceremony had been performed by the Archbishop La Guarda, in the presence of two witnesses, whom he mentioned by name. He ordered these facts to be entered upon the archives of the state and to be proclaimed publicly in every city, town, and village of the kingdom. The children of Iñez de Castro were declared legitimate and entitled to all the rights and prerogatives of princes of the blood, including succession to the throne of Portugal. Proceeding thence to Coimbra, the King ordered the vault in which the remains of Iñez had been deposited to be opened, her corpse, which had been embalmed, to be dressed in a royal robe and placed upon a throne, and her head to be adorned with a royal crown. He compelled his attendants, composed of the highest men of the monarchy, to pass by the throne and bow their knees and kiss the edge of the Queen’s robe,—in fact, to show the same reverence and respect to the dead Queen as they might have shown to the living Queen on the day of her coronation. As soon as this ghastly ceremony was over, the corpse was placed in a magnificent metal coffin and escorted by the King and a most brilliant cortège of knights and noblemen to Alcobaza, a royal residence about seventeen miles from Coimbra, and placed in a royal vault. A magnificent monument, which represented Iñez de Castro in her incomparable beauty and loveliness, was shortly after erected near the vault. It was the last tribute which the love and admiration of her husband could render to her memory.



Compiled from sources in the public domain.
 
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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Assassination of Hypatia


THE ASSASSINATION OF HYPATIA

(A. D. 415.)

NEVER, perhaps, did the wonderful genius of Alexander the Great appear to better advantage than when he selected Alexandria as a commercial center and distributing point for the products of three continents, and as an intellectual focus from which Hellenic culture should be transmitted to those countries of Asia and Africa which his victories had opened to Greek civilization. The rapidity with which the city—to which Alexander had given his own name—grew to the dimensions of a great capital and a world-emporium, proved the sagacity and ingenious foresight of its founder, and was unrivaled among all the cities of the ancient world. It became the greatest seaport of the world, surpassing in the grandeur and magnificence of its buildings every other city except Rome itself; and when, through the genius of the Ptolemies, the successors of Alexander as rulers of Egypt, the great library was added to its monuments and treasures of art, it became also the intellectual capital of the world, rivaling and in some respects eclipsing the city of the Cæsars. It is true, long before Alexandria had reached its greatest prosperity, the creative power of Hellenic genius in the higher spheres of poetry and philosophy had passed its zenith. In the so-called Alexandrian age of literature the most beautiful and most poetical inspirations were the idyls of Theocritus. But Alexandria was the first city in the ancient world which became the seat of a many-sided, methodical scholarship, and of systematic, zealous studies of the exact sciences,—a university in the modern sense. It also became the great library city of the world.

It is true, the great library of inestimable value collected by Ptolemy Philadelphus (who also purchased the large library of Aristoteles) had been ruthlessly destroyed in the Alexandrian war of Julius Cæsar. But Ptolemy Physcon collected a second valuable library, which was augmented by the splendid library of King Eumenes of Pergamus, and formed by far the grandest collection of books to be found in the world. Mark Antony gave this splendid library to Queen Cleopatra. It comprised the intellectual treasures of the ancient world, and was placed in a wing of the Serapeum,—in that gigantic and magnificent building which was the grandest temple of ancient Egypt and the pride of Alexandria. The great city of the Ptolemies, with a population of nearly a million souls, had also become a sort of neutral territory upon which all religions could meet on equal terms. The cosmopolitan character of this great commercial centre, in which Christians, Jews, and pagans of all countries competed for the acquisition of wealth, made it natural for all these different citizens to live in harmony and mutual toleration. The time came, however, when Christianity was proclaimed the official state religion under Theodosius the Great, upon whose instigation or order the Roman Senate (not by a unanimous, but by a simple majority vote) passed a resolution declaring that the Christian religion should be the only true religion for the Roman Empire. This official declaration became the signal for a brutal persecution of the old religion throughout the Empire, and especially in its eastern provinces. Very prominent in this work of persecution and destruction was Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, who was famous far and wide as one of the great lights of the Church and as a man of exceptional piety, although many of his actions are utterly inexcusable from a moral point of view. Theophilus was in constant warfare with the pagans and Jews of Alexandria, who quite often joined hands in fighting him. But, as a rule, they were defeated by the pugnacious prelate, who, on such occasions, always found at his command a formidable army composed of the mob of the city and of the monks of the desert of Nitria, which was near the city. The main object of Theophilus’s attacks was the great Serapeum, in which immense treasures of gold, silver, and sacred vessels were stored away, and which contained also the great collection of books,—a perfect armory of pagan philosophy, religion, and poetry,—which was especially obnoxious to him. By shrewdly misrepresenting the spirit of revolt among the Jews and pagans of the city, he succeeded in getting an edict from the Emperor authorizing him to destroy this temple of ancient wisdom and culture,—and, for the second time, the magnificent library of Alexandria was partly destroyed, partly scattered to the winds.

The audacity of Theophilus had inflicted terrible defeats on the non-Christian population of Alexandria, and had utterly disheartened it. On the other hand, the Christian inhabitants showed by their increasing arrogance that they were conscious of the supremacy of their church and of the exclusive protection to which their religion entitled them. However, in spite of this cruel discrimination there still remained at Alexandria a large and intelligent element true to the old religion, or rather to the old philosophy.

Theophilus died in the year 412 A.D., and was succeeded by his nephew Kyrillos, better known as St. Cyril, who continued the vindictive policy against the Jews and pagans which his uncle had inaugurated. It was not long before Cyril had fanaticized the mob against the Jews to such an extent that the latter, driven to despair, took up arms against their aggressors, who had undertaken a regular crusade against their lives and property. Pitched battles and massacres took place in the streets of Alexandria. Hundreds of the unfortunate Jews were slain, and very likely the Jewish population would have been entirely exterminated or expelled from the city, had not Orestes, the imperial governor, interfered in their behalf, and defeated the infuriated mob and the monks of Nitria, who as usual had taken a hand in the fight. But it was a long and stubbornly contested battle. Although Cyril personally did not show himself, it was nevertheless well known that he directed the attacks against the Jews from his hiding-place. Moreover all his most intimate friends actively participated in the riot and strenuously resisted the efforts of the governor to restore peace.

One of these friends personally assaulted and seriously wounded the governor. After the revolt had been quelled, this man was put on trial and sentenced to death. In vain Cyril appealed for mercy and tried to save the life of the accused man. Orestes was implacable, and the condemned man was executed. The disdain with which he had been treated by the governor, enraged the prelate and stimulated him to revenge. A large procession of priests and citizens took the body of the criminal from the gibbet and carried it to the principal church of Alexandria, where the Archbishop read high mass and delivered a sermon full of admiration and eulogy for the victim, filling the hearts of the congregation with hatred and contempt for the authorities, and invoking the punishment of Heaven upon their heads. But even this public demonstration did not satisfy the Archbishop; and with consummate cruelty he hit upon a plan for deeply wounding the governor without attacking him personally.

At that time there lived at Alexandria a young lady of great talent and renown. Her name was Hypatia. She was the daughter of Theon, a celebrated mathematician who lived at Alexandria, and whose genius for mathematics she seemed to have inherited. She first became his pupil, but soon surpassed him in ability and reputation. She also applied herself with great zeal and rare penetration to the study of the philosophy of Plato, whom she greatly admired and much preferred to Aristotle. Since Alexandria had no professors superior to herself in attainments and learning, Hypatia went to Greece and for several years attended the lectures of the most famous professors of Athens. She then returned to Alexandria, and was immediately invited by the authorities to the chair of philosophy in the University. Hypatia accepted this honor and filled the position with brilliant success. It was not only her profound and extensive learning, embracing the entire compass of the exact sciences, but also the charm of her persuasive and mellifluous eloquence which filled her hearers with admiration.

Her reputation as a public lecturer soon equalled her renown as a mathematician and philosopher, and a number of the most distinguished men of Alexandria and other cities were among her regular disciples, listening with delight to her dissertations. One of her most enthusiastic students was Synesius, afterwards Bishop of Ptolemais, who always held her in affectionate reverence, although she had steadily refused to profess the Christian religion. Orestes, the governor, was also among the number of her admirers and was frequently seen at her lectures, which were attended by Christians as well as by pagans. To the great qualities of her mind were added rare physical beauty and a suavity of manners which won the hearts of all those who became acquainted with her. Several of Alexandria’s most prominent citizens desired to marry her, but she refused all proposals because she wanted to live only for the sciences to which she had devoted her life. In spite of her great popularity and the steadily increasing number of admirers, Hypatia’s reputation was spotless; she had many friends, but never had a lover.

While this eminent woman’s celebrity as a thinker—which entirely eclipsed his own—would have been sufficient to fill the heart of Cyril with envy and jealousy, there was an additional reason for his hatred and hostility. Orestes, the governor, was a frequent visitor at her house and was known to consult her frequently on important public questions. The Archbishop, perhaps justly, attributed to Hypatia’s influence the governor’s evident leaning toward paganism and his open admiration for the philosophical doctrines of the Greek philosophers. Seeking for a victim on whom to vent his spite against Orestes, he therefore selected Hypatia as the one whose destruction would hurt him most deeply, while at the same time it would deliver himself and the church from their most dangerous opponent. It was comparatively easy for him to inflame the minds of the ignorant masses with rage against the woman who was represented to them as the implacable enemy of their religion, and whose pernicious teachings had led so many others from the path of virtue and salvation.

Everything was carefully but secretly prepared for the fatal blow, which was struck in the month of March, 415. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Hypatia got ready to proceed to the University, where she was to lecture that forenoon. A carriage was waiting for her at the door of her residence. When she entered the carriage she was surprised at the unusual number of people filling the street, and at the great number of monks passing through their ranks and apparently haranguing them. She could not account for this strange gathering, for it was not a Christian holiday, nor was any civil procession to come off that morning.

All at once she noticed that this great assemblage of people began to move in the direction of her own house. As it came nearer she heard wild exclamations and threats, without comprehending, however, that she was the object of this hostile demonstration. At the head of the procession marched Peter, the reader, one of the most fanatical of the priests of the city; he had played a very prominent part in the previous riots, and was evidently the leader in this new movement. With growing astonishment Hypatia saw them coming, but in the consciousness of her innocence she had no fear. She was soon to be cruelly disabused.

As soon as the rioters were within a few hundred feet of her residence and saw her seated in her carriage ready to start, the leaders and those in the front rank rushed toward her. Peter, the reader, was the first to reach her and to lay hands on her. As she recoiled from his touch in terror, others climbed upon the wheels of the carriage and dragged her down into the street. She resisted and called for help, but her cries died away unheard in the tumult of the roaring and jeering multitude who surrounded the carriage and with ever-increasing violence uttered threats against her.

Popular excitement is a flame which feeds itself by the electric current emanating from thousands of impassioned and excited minds. It is ready on slight provocation to burst forth in all-devouring violence. But a few minutes had passed from the moment the procession reached Hypatia’s carriage until the infuriated mob, holding the victim firmly in their grasp, had torn the garments from her body and hurried her with wild cheers and laughter to the Cæsarium, the great Christian church. Paralyzed with fear, unable to utter anything but screams and cries for help, she was dragged, in a state of perfect nudity, through the streets, and neither her helplessness nor her beauty softened the hearts of her tormentors and murderers. She was doomed to die, to be sacrificed at a Christian altar, atoning for her unbelief and her pernicious teachings with her life. One of her own friends, like herself adhering to the ancient cult and to Platonic philosophy, fitly compared Hypatia’s murder to the sacrifice of a Greek goddess by drunken and infuriated barbarians. But the crowning infamy of this assassination, as brutal as any that history has recorded, was that the victim was dragged to the church of Christ,—Christ, the incarnation of love and mercy,—and slaughtered there amidst the yells and curses of the so-called believers.

Hundreds of women had swelled the mob, and like the men they were brandishing flints, shells, and broken pottery, with which to cut and lacerate their victim that they might feast their eyes on her agony.
Charles Kingsley has given in his famous novel, “Hypatia,” a heart-rending description of the last moments of the illustrious woman-philosopher. The description may not be accurate in every little detail, but Mr. Kingsley sees the scene with the eye and with the imagination of a poet, and his description is poetically true. Our readers will thank us for quoting his words in rendering this final scene:—

“Whither were they dragging her?... On into the church itself! Into the cool dim shadow, with its fretted pillars, and lowering domes, and candles, and incense, and blazing altar, and great pictures looking from the walls athwart the gorgeous gloom; and right in front, above the altar, the colossal Christ watching unmoved from off the wall, his right hand raised to give a blessing—or a curse?

“On, up the nave, fresh shreds of her dress strewing the holy pavement—up the chancel steps themselves—right underneath the great, still Christ: and there even those hell-hounds paused.... She shook herself free from her tormentors, and springing back, rose for one moment to her full height, naked, snow-white against the dusky mass around—shame and indignation in those wide, clear eyes, but not a stain of fear. With one hand she clasped her golden locks around her; the other long white arm was stretched upward toward the great still Christ, appealing—and who dare say in vain?—from man to God. Her lips were open to speak; but the words that should have come from them reached God’s ear alone; for in an instant Peter struck her down, the dark mass closed over her again ... and then wail on wail, long, wild, ear-piercing, ran along the vaulted roofs.... What in the name of the God of mercy were they doing? Tearing her piece-meal? Yes, and worse than that!... It was over. The shrieks had died away into moans, the moans to silence.... A new cry rose through the dome: ‘To the Cinaron! Burn the bones to ashes! Scatter them into the sea!’
In the whole annals of crime not a more heart-rending and more brutal scene can be found than the murder of Hypatia. The assassination of the beautiful young Princess de Lamballe, the friend of Marie Antoinette, during the worst days of the French Revolution, bears some resemblance to it; but, after all, political fanaticism is never equal in its intensity and cruelty to religious fanaticism. Moreover, the fate of Hypatia shows that not all the martyrs were on the side of Christianity in the early ages of the Christian church. It should be stated, however, that a general cry of horror resounded through the world when the terrible news of Hypatia’s death crossed the seas and was echoed from land to land, and that the Christian Church, by its most illustrious representatives, was loud in its denunciation of the murder.

Upon the fame and name of St. Cyril the murder of Hypatia has left a lasting stain; for the plan and execution were generally attributed to him. Even Catholic Church historians, both ancient and modern, criticize him severely for his imprudent and ill-advised instigations against Hypatia and her followers, although they try to protect his memory against the reproach of having intentionally caused her death.

 Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
Teresa
************************************
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Monday, July 4, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Sad Tale of Beatrice Censi: Infamous Murderess or Tragic Victim

Beatrice Cenci
 In 1593 Francesco Cenci took a second wife, by name Lucrezia Petroni, a woman of great piety, with whom he led a tempestuous life. He was a wicked and neglectful father whose family led a wretched existence, ever the prey of his unbridled passions. He pursued his eldest daughter with his ignoble attentions, but she successfully repulsed him and appealed for protection to the pope, who rescued her from her father’s violence and gave her in marriage to a gentleman of Gubbio, with a suitable dower extorted from her father. The atrocious Francesco showed ever increasing animosity toward his children, who, although full grown, he detained as close prisoners in the Cenci palace, while he transferred his attentions to Beatrice, his youngest daughter, now a maiden of eighteen, possessing many attractions, and whose beautiful face is familiar to all the world from the well known portrait by Guido still preserved in the Barberini Palace.

Poor Beatrice suffered many barbarities at her inhuman father’s hands. Fearing that she would appeal, like her sister, to the pope, he kept her constantly locked up and frequently beat her. With the connivance of her stepmother, she contrived to send a petition to the pope, but the holy father declined to be friendly. About this time a young priest, Guido Guerra, who had not as yet taken the vows, fell in love with Beatrice and she returned his affection, but Francesco Cenci altogether disapproved of the attachment and drove Guido Guerra away, furiously threatening to kill him if he dared to reopen communications with the family. Guerra after this tried to carry Beatrice off, but failed and further exasperated her father, who now abruptly left Rome, removing with his family to the castle of Petrella, a remote mountain stronghold near Aquila, on the frontier of the Neapolitan states, where he held Beatrice a close prisoner in a dark dungeon. But the measure of his iniquities was nearly full, and dire retribution was at hand.

Maddened by his ill-usage, his wretched victims plotted to compass his death. Giacomo Cenci, the eldest son, joined with Guido Guerra, Beatrice’s lover, and with two hired assistants found among Francesco’s vassals—all of whom loathed their inhuman master—the manner of the murder was quickly arranged. Francesco was first drugged with opium by his wife Lucrezia, and when sleeping soundly the assassins approached him, but hesitated to strike while he was thus unconscious. Beatrice had followed them into his room and upbraiding them for their cowardice, declared that she would do the deed herself. When at last they fell to their murderous work, they despatched Francesco by driving a nail through his temples. The corpse was then dressed, carried out to an open gallery and thrown down upon the branches of an elder tree growing in the garden below. It was thought that when the body was found next day it would be supposed that the dead man had fallen from the gallery in the dark. This was the charitable conclusion arrived at. No suspicion was expressed of foul play; the two women Lucrezia and Beatrice lamented loudly and after a brief period of mourning, the family returned to Rome.

Several months passed before justice intervened. The story of accidental death began to be doubted. The Neapolitan authorities communicated with the Roman, inquiries were set on foot and the theory of murder was first broached, being justified presently by the medical evidence forthcoming on the disinterment of the corpse. Guerra, the priest, becoming alarmed, tried to put the servants, who had actually committed the crime, beyond giving evidence by taking their lives. One indeed was killed, the other escaped but surrendered himself and made full confession. The case was now clear against the Cenci family as well as Guido Guerra, who fled across the frontier disguised as a charcoal burner. At this point the two brothers, Giacomo and Bernardo, were imprisoned in the Corte Savella, the common gaol, while Beatrice and Lucrezia were detained in the Cenci palace in Rome. The servant who had been arrested in Naples was brought to Rome for examination, but would not implicate Beatrice, who had been persistent in her denial, declaring that so beautiful a girl was incapable of a crime. This servant was put to torture and died upon the rack, after which all the accused were committed to St. Angelo and finally removed to the Corte Savella where the criminal court of justice then sat. The judge had such presumption of their guilt that, failing to extort confession, he ordered the “question” to be applied.

When subjected to the “cord” the brothers’ courage failed. This was torture by means of a rope attached to the arms and rove into a running knot with a pulley in the ceiling. When run up, the whole weight of the body was borne by the arms which were nearly drawn from their sockets. Then the squasso was tried, a sudden drop of the body, but not so far as to touch the floor. The brothers stood out at first but were told their sufferings would be increased by the addition of lead weights to their feet. Then they gave in and admitted the crime but laid the chief blame on Beatrice as the instigator. Lucrezia being aged and corpulent was not tried with the cord.
Beatrice, however, would not yield to either the persuasion or threats of the judge. She bore the torment of the “cord” with extraordinary firmness. Torture failed to extort a single word from her. The judge saw in this no obstinacy but a proof of innocence, which he duly reported to the pope. Clement VIII, believing the judge to be swayed by the prisoner’s great beauty, gave the case to another, made of sterner stuff, one Luciani, a man of cruel character. When Beatrice persisted in declaring her innocence, he ordered the torture of the vigilia to be continued with full severity for five hours.

The vigilia is a narrow stool with a high back having a seat cut into pointed diamonds. The sufferer sits crosswise and the legs are fastened together on either side without support. The body is closely attached to the back of the chair, which is also cut into angular points. The hands are bound behind the back with a cord and running knot attached to the ceiling. The process of the torture is to push the victim from side to side against the points, run the body up and drop it perpetually the whole of the time ordered. The first infliction failed of effect and it was repeated on the third day.  Beatrice was almost exhausted, but she still declined to confess, and the next stage in the devilish business was that of the torture of the hair, capillorum.

In this the hair of the head is twisted into a knot and attached to a rope and pulley by which the body is raised until it hangs by the hair. At the same time the fingers are imprisoned in a mesh of thin cord which is tightened and twisted till they are out of joint. Beatrice continued to protest her innocence and the judge could only conclude that she was supported by witchcraft. The story is too painful to carry further, and I forbear to describe the taxillo, or application of a block of heated wood fastened to the soles of the bare feet. At last her brothers and stepmother were brought in to make piteous entreaty to the poor victim to yield, till she cried, “Let this martyrdom cease and I will confess anything.” She went on to declare: “That which I ought to confess; that I will confess; that to which I ought to assent, to that I will assent, and that which I ought to deny, that will I deny.” She was accordingly convicted without direct confession and she never really admitted her crime.

The pope, Clement VIII, now ordered that all four should be dragged through the streets, tied to the tails of horses, and then decapitated. But many great people interceded on their behalf, praying that they might first be heard in their defence, and the pope at last reluctantly consented to listen to their advocates, whom he roundly abused, telling them that he was surprised at their effrontery in daring to defend the unnatural crime of parricide. But one of the most eminent jurists of his time, Prospero Farinacci, whose portrait is still to be seen in the castle of St. Angelo painted on one of the doors of the great hall, expatiated so eloquently upon the cruel wrongs Francesco Cenci had inflicted upon his family that Clement was moved to pity and spent a whole night in pondering over the arguments put forward by the defence. Next day he granted a reprieve, and it appeared more than likely that he would extend a full pardon to all. But at this moment another murder, a matricide in a princely family of Rome, shocked all society, and the pope insisted that justice should take its course upon all the Cenci and that all should suffer death except the entirely innocent son, Bernardo, who was, however, condemned to witness the execution of the other three.

The sentence was carried out on the ridge of St. Angelo just in front of the castle, the convicts having spent their last hours at the Corte Savella. Only a short notice was given them; they were warned one morning at six o’clock that they were to be executed on the same day. Beatrice, on hearing her fate, burst into piteous lamentations, crying, “Is it possible, O, God! that I must die so suddenly?” Her stepmother was more resigned and strove to calm Beatrice. The priests came to confess them and administer the last sacrament, after which they were led forth to join the funeral procession, which had started from St. Angelo, traversing the city to the Cenci Palace, and, after stopping for the condemned at the Corte Savella, returning to the bridge. Giacomo was in the first cart, as he was to be the first to expiate his crime. The sentence imposed upon him included the additional torture of being torn with red hot pincers as he passed along the road to the bridge, where he was to be beaten to death. Bernardo was in the second cart and Lucrezia with Beatrice in the third. The ladies were dressed wholly in black and veiled to the girdle, to which was fastened a silken cord binding their wrists, instead of manacles.

On reaching the scaffold, Bernardo mounted it and was left there alone while the ladies entered the chapel. The poor youth, ignorant of the favour shown him, believed he was to suffer death at once, and he fainted just opposite the block. Lucrezia came out first and was beheaded while repeating a psalm. Beatrice followed and bravely walked to the scaffold reciting her prayers, “with such fervour of spirit that all who heard her shed tears of compassion.” With her lovely fair hair she looked like a sad but beautiful angel. She would have lingered at her prayers but the executioner seized her, and struck ferociously at her neck, the head falling into her own blood. Bernardo meanwhile, awakening from his deadly swoon, again fainted when he saw these horrible sights and was thought to be dead until revived by powerful remedies which were applied. Last of all Giacomo was brought out, blindfolded; his legs were tied to the scaffold and the executioner struck him a fatal blow on the temples with a loaded hammer and then cut off his head. After the ceremony Bernardo was taken back to the castle of St. Angelo and kept there for a year and a half, then exiled to Tuscany, where he died.

The foregoing narrative follows the facts as stated in the archives of the Cenci family, but some authorities question whether Beatrice was ever imprisoned and tortured in St. Angelo. The evidence however seems perfectly clear. The cells she and her mother occupied are still shown, as mentioned above, and in her will Beatrice, who left the larger part of her possessions to the Church, also bequeathed money to four soldiers of the garrison who had probably been her guards in the castle. Doubts are to-day expressed as to the authenticity of the famous portrait which is attributed to the eminent painter Guido, who, according to the story, was introduced by her lawyer Farinacci into her cell for the purpose. The personal description of Beatrice given in the Cenci documents does not tally with the picture. She is recorded to have been “small and of a fair complexion with a round face, two dimples in her cheeks and golden, curling hair, which being extremely long she used to tie up; and when afterwards she loosened it the splendid ringlets dazzled the eyes of the spectators. Her eyes were of a deep blue, pleasing and full of fire, and her face was so smiling in character that even after her death she still seemed to smile.” On the other hand in the Guido canvas the eyes are hazel, the hair is not long or curling, the face is drawn with thin and haggard cheeks and no dimples. It is in the highest degree improbable that she would have worn such a head-dress or costume at the time the portrait is said to have been taken, and even the suggested solution that it was painted from recollection is not borne out by any sort of proof. The portrait is on view to-day in the Barberini Palace in Rome, having come into the possession of that noble family from another of Colonna.

The poetic traditions that have been woven around this marvellous painting have inspired much fine writing by famous hands. Some of the most interesting passages may be transcribed here.

“The portrait of Beatrice,” says Charles Dickens, “is a picture almost impossible to be forgotten. Through the transcendant sweetness and beauty of the face there is a something shining out that haunts me. I see it now as I see this paper or my pen. The head is loosely draped in white, the light hair falling down below the linen folds. She has turned suddenly toward you, and there is an expression in the eyes—although they are very tender and gentle—as if the wildness of a momentary terror or distraction had been struggled with and overcome that instant; and nothing but a celestial hope and a beautiful sorrow and a desolate earthly helplessness remained.”

Again, Nathaniel Hawthorne has written:—“The picture of Beatrice Cenci is the very saddest picture ever painted or conceived; it involves an unfathomable depth of sorrow, the sense of which comes to the observer by a sort of intuition. She knows that her sorrow is so strange and immense that she ought to be solitary for ever, both for the world’s sake and her own; and this is the reason we feel such a distance between Beatrice and ourselves, even when our eyes meet hers. It is infinitely heart-breaking to meet her glance and to know that nothing can be done to help or comfort her; neither does she ask help or comfort, knowing the hopelessness of her case better than we do. She is a fallen angel—fallen and yet sinless.”

“The very saddest picture ever painted or conceived,” says Nathaniel Hawthorne. Accused of complicity in the murder of a brutal father, Beatrice Cenci endured horrible torture in St. Angelo with heroic fortitude rivalling that of strong men, and never really confessed the crime. She was beheaded in front of the Castle of St. Angelo.

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.


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Smiles & Good Fortune,
Teresa
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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Mary Blandy Infamous Murderess


THE LOVE PHILTRE
THE CASE OF MARY BLANDY

“Who hath not heard of Blandy’s fatal fame, Deplored her fate, and sorrowed o’er her shame?” Henley, a poem, 1827.

During the reign of George II.—when the gallant Young Pretender was leading Jenny Cameron toward Derby, and flabby, gin-besotted England, dismayed by a rabble of half-famished Highlanders, was ready to take its thrashing lying-down—a prosperous attorney, named Francis Blandy, was living at Henley-upon-Thames. For nine years he had held the post of town clerk, and was reckoned a person of skill in his profession. A dour, needle-witted man of law, whose social position was more considerable than his means or his lineage, old Mr Blandy, like others wiser than himself, had a foible. His pride was just great enough to make him a tuft-hunter. In those times, a solicitor in a country town had many chances of meeting his betters on equal terms, and when the attorney of Henley pretended that he had saved the large sum of ten thousand pounds, county society esteemed him at his supposed value. There lived with him—in an old-world home surrounded by gardens and close to the bridge on the London road—his wife and daughter, an only child, who at this period was twenty-five years of age.

Mrs Blandy, as consequential an old dame as ever flaunted sacque or nodded her little bugle over a dish of tea, seems to have spent a weary existence in wringing from her tight-fisted lord the funds to support the small frivolities which her social ambition deemed essential to their prestige. A feminine mind seldom appreciates the reputation without the utility of wealth, and the lawyer’s wife had strong opinions with regard to the propriety of living up to their ten-thousand-pound celebrity. While he was content with the barren honour that came to him by reason of the reputed dot which his daughter one day must enjoy—pluming himself, no doubt, that his Molly had as good a chance of winning a coronet as the penniless daughter of an Irish squireen—his lady, with more worldly wisdom, knew the value of an occasional jaunt to town, and was fully alive to the chances of rout or assembly hard-by at Reading. Thus in the pretty little home near the beautiful reach of river, domestic storms—sad object-lesson to an only child—raged frequently over the parental truck and barter at the booths of Vanity Fair.

Though not a beauty—for the smallpox, that stole the bloom from the cheeks of many a sparkling belle in hoop and brocade, had set its seal upon her face—the portrait of Mary Blandy shows that she was comely. Still, it is a picture in which there is a full contrast between the light and shadows. Those fine glistening black eyes of hers—like the beam of sunshine that illumines a sombre chamber—made one forget the absence of winsome charm in her features; yet their radiance appeared to come through dark unfathomable depths rather than as the reflection of an unclouded soul. With warmth all blood may glow, with softness every heart can beat, but some, like hers, must be compelled by reciprocal power. Such, in her empty home, was not possible. Even the love and devotion of her parents gave merely a portion of their own essence. From a greedy father she acquired the sacred lust, and learnt from infancy to dream, with morbid longing, of her future dower; while her mother encouraged a hunger for vain and giddy pleasure, teaching unwittingly that these must be bought at the expense of peace, or by the sacrifice of truth. To a girl of wit and intelligence in whose heart nature had not sown the seeds of kindness, these lessons came as a crop of tares upon a fruitful soil. But, as in the case of all women, there was one hope of salvation. Indeed, since the passion of her soul cried out with imperious command that she should fulfil the destiny of her sex, the love of husband and children would have found her a strong but pliable material that could be fashioned into more gentle form. Without such influence she was one of those to whom womanhood was insufferable—a mortal shape where lay encaged one of the fiercest demons of discontent.

Molly Blandy did not lack admirers. Being pleasant and vivacious—while her powers of attraction were enhanced by the rumour of her fortune—not a few of the beaux in the fashionable world of Bath, and county society at Reading, gave homage and made her their toast. In the eyes of her parents it was imperative that a suitor should be able to offer to their daughter a station of life befitting an heiress. On this account two worthy swains, who were agreeable to the maiden but could not provide the expected dower, received a quick dismissal. Although there was nothing exorbitant in the ambition of the attorney and his dame, it is clear that the girl learnt an evil lesson from these mercenary transactions. Still, her crosses in love do not seem to have sunk very deeply into her heart, but henceforth her conduct lost a little of its maidenly reserve. The freedom of the coquette took the place of the earnestness and sincerity that had been the mark of her ardent nature, and her conduct towards the officers of the regiment stationed at Henley was deemed too forward. However, the father, whose reception into military circles no doubt made the desired impression upon his mayor and aldermen, was well satisfied that his daughter should be on familiar terms with her soldier friends. Even when she became betrothed to a captain of no great fortune, he offered small objection on account of the position of the young man. Yet, although the prospect of a son-in-law who held the king’s commission had satisfied his vanity, the old lawyer, who foolishly had allowed the world to believe him richer than he was, could not, or (as he pretended) would not, provide a sufficient dowry. Thus the engagement promised to be a long one. Fate, however, decided otherwise. Very soon her suitor was ordered abroad on active service, and the hope of marriage faded away for the third time.

In the summer of 1746, while no doubt she was sighing for her soldier across the seas, the man destined to work the tragic mischief of her life appeared on the scene. William Henry Cranstoun, a younger son of the fifth Lord Cranstoun, a Scottish baron, was a lieutenant of marines, who, since his regiment had suffered severely during the late Jacobite rebellion, had come to Henley on a recruiting expedition. At first his attentions to Miss Blandy bore no fruit, but he returned the following summer, and while staying with his grand-uncle, General Lord Mark Kerr, who was an acquaintance of the lawyer and his family, he found that Mary was off with the old love and willing to welcome him as the new. All were amazed that the fastidious girl should forsake her gallant captain for this little sprig from North Britain—an undersized spindleshanks, built after Beau Diddapper pattern—in whose weak eyes and pock-fretten features love must vainly seek her mirror. Still greater was the astonishment when ten-thousand-pound Blandy, swollen with importance, began to babble of “my Lord of Crailing,” and the little bugle cap of his dame quivered with pride as she told her gossips of “my Lady Cranstoun, my daughter’s new mamma.” For it was common knowledge that the small Scot was the fifth son of a needy house, with little more than his pay to support his many vicious and extravagant habits. Such details seem to have been overlooked by the vain parents in their delight at the honour and glory of an alliance with a family of title. In the late autumn of 1747 they invited their prospective son-in-law to their home, where, as no one was fonder of free quarters, he remained for six months. But the cruel fate that presided over the destinies of the unfortunate Mary intervened once more. Honest Lord Mark Kerr (whose prowess as a duellist is chronicled in many a page), perceiving the intentions of his unscrupulous relative, made haste to give his lawyer friend the startling news that Cranstoun was a married man.

This information was correct. Yet, although wedded since the year before the rebellion, the vicious little Scot was seeking to put away the charming lady who was his wife and the mother of his child. Plain enough were the motives. A visit to England had taught him that the title which courtesy permitted him to bear was a commercial asset that, south of the Tweed, would enable him to sell himself in a better market. As one of his biographers tells us, “he saw young sparklers every day running off with rich prizes,” for the chapels of Wilkinson and Keith were always ready to assist the abductor of an heiress. Indeed, before his arrival at Henley, he had almost succeeded in capturing the daughter of a Leicestershire squire, when the father, who suddenly learnt his past history, sent him about his business. Still, he persisted in his attempts to get the Scotch marriage annulled, and his chances seemed favourable. Most of the relatives of his wife, who had espoused the losing side in the late rebellion, were fled in exile to France or Flanders. Moreover, she belonged to the Catholic Church, which at that time in stern Presbyterian Scotland had fallen upon evil days. Believing that she was alone and friendless, and relying, no doubt, upon the sectarian prejudices of the law courts, he set forth the base lie that he had promised to marry her only on condition she became Protestant. His explanation to the Blandys, in answer to Lord Mark’s imputation, was the same as his defence before the Scottish Commissaries. The lady was his mistress, not his wife!

Miss Blandy took the same view of the case that Sophy Western did under similar circumstances. Human nature was little different in those days, but men wore their hearts on their sleeve instead of exhibiting them only in the Courts, and women preferred to be deemed complacent rather than stupid. Doubtless old lawyer Blandy grunted many Saxon sarcasms at the expense of Scotch jurisprudence, and trembled lest son-in-law Diddapper had been entangled beyond redemption. Still, father, mother, and daughter believed the word of their guest, waiting anxiously for the result of the litigation that was to make him a free man. During the year 1748 the Commissaries at Edinburgh decided that Captain Cranstoun and the ill-used Miss Murray were man and wife. Then the latter, being aware of the flirtation at Henley, wrote to warn Miss Blandy, and provided her with a copy of the Court’s decree. Great was the consternation at the house on the London road. Visions of tea-gossip over the best set of china in the long parlour at Crailing with my Lady Cranstoun vanished from the old mother’s eyes, while the town clerk forgot his dreams of the baby whose two grand-fathers were himself and a live lord. Nevertheless, the young Scotsman protested that the marriage was invalid, declared that he would appeal to the highest tribunal, and swore eternal fidelity to his Mary. Alas, she trusted him! Within the sombre depths of her soul there dwelt a fierce resolve to make this man her own. In her sight he was no graceless creature from the barrack-room, but with a great impersonal love she sought in him merely the fulfilment of her destiny.

“In her first passion, woman loves her lover:

In all the others, all she loves is love.”

At this time Cranstoun’s fortunes were in a parlous state. More than half of his slender patrimony had been sequestered for the maintenance of his wife and child, and shortly after the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, his regiment being disbanded, he was left on half-pay. Still, he did not waver in his purpose to win the heiress of Henley.

On the 30th of September 1749, the poor frivolous old head, which had sported its cap so bravely amidst the worries of pretentious poverty, lay still upon the pillow, and Mary Blandy looked upon the face of her dead mother. It was the turning-point in her career. While his wife was alive, the old lawyer had never lost all faith in his would-be son-in-law during the two years that he had been affianced to his daughter, in spite of the rude shocks which had staggered his credulity. Cranstoun had been allowed to sponge on him for another six months in the previous summer, and had pursued his womenfolk when they paid a visit to Mary’s uncle, Serjeant Stevens, of Doctors’ Commons. However, soon after the death of his wife the patience of Mr Blandy, who must have perceived that the case of the pretender was hopeless, seems to have become worn out. All idea of the baron’s grandchild faded from his mind; the blear-eyed lover was forbidden the house, and for nearly twelve months did not meet his trusting sweetheart.

Although a woman of her intelligence must have perceived that, but for some untoward event, her relationship with her betrothed could never be one of honour, her fidelity remained unshaken. Having passed her thirtieth birthday, the dreadful stigma of spinsterhood was fast falling upon her. If the methods of analogy are of any avail, it is clear that she had become a creature of lust—not the lust of sensuality, but that far more insatiable greed, the craving for conquest, possession, the attainment of the unattainable, calling forth not one but all the emotions of body and soul. A sacrifice of honour—a paltry thing in the face of such mighty passion—would have been no victory, for such in itself was powerless to accomplish the essential metamorphosis of her life. In mutual existence with a lover and slave the destiny of this rare woman alone could be achieved. Thus came the harvest of the tempest. It was not the criminal negligence of the father in encouraging for nearly three years the pretensions of a suitor, who—so a trustworthy gentleman had told him—was a married man, that had planted the seeds of storm. Nor did the filial love of the daughter begin to fade and wither because she had been taught that the affections, like anything which has a price, should be subject to barter and exchange. Deeper far lay the roots of the malignant disease—growing as a portion of her being—a part and principle of life itself. Environment and education merely had inclined into its stunted form the twig, which could never bear fruit unless grafted upon a new stalk! And while the sombre girl brooded over her strange impersonal passion, there rang in her ears the voice of demon-conscience, unceasingly—a taunting, frightful whisper, “When the old man is in his grave you shall be happy.”

The esteem of posterity for the eighteenth century, to which belong so many noble lives and great minds, has been influenced by the well-deserved censure bestowed upon a particular epoch. The year 1750 marks a period of transition when all the worst characteristics of the Georgian era were predominant. For nearly a quarter of a century the scornful glance that the boorish little king threw at any book had been reflected in the national taste for literature. Art had hobbled along bravely on the crutches of caricature, tolerated on account of its deformity, and not for its worth. The drama, which had drifted to the lowest ebb in the days of Rich and Heidegger, was just rising from its mudbank, under the leadership of Garrick, with the turn of the tide. Religion, outside the pale of Methodism, was as dead as the influence of the Church of England and its plurality divines. The prostitution of the marriage laws in the Fleet and Savoy had grown to be a menace to the social fabric. London reeked of gin; and although the business of Jack Ketch has been seldom more flourishing, property, until magistrate Fielding came forward, was never less secure from the thief and highwayman. Our second George, who flaunted his mistresses before the public gaze, was a worthy leader of a coarse and vicious society. Female dress took its form from the vulgarity of the times, and was never uglier and more indecent simultaneously. Not only was the ‘modern fine lady,’ who wept when a handsome thief was hung, a common type, but the Boobys and Bellastons were fashionable women of the day, quite as much alive as Elizabeth Chudleigh or Caroline Fitzroy. Such was the age of Miss Blandy, and she proved a worthy daughter of it.

In the late summer of 1750 the fickle attorney, who had become weary of opposition, consented to withdraw the sentence of banishment he had pronounced against his daughter’s lover. Possibly he fancied that there was a chance, after all, of the Scotch lieutenant’s success in the curious law-courts of the North, and perhaps a present of salmon, received from Lady Cranstoun, appeared to him as a favourable augury. Consequently the needy fortune-hunter, who was only too ready to return to his free quarters, paid another lengthy visit to Henley. As the weeks passed, it was evident that the temper of the host and father, whose senile humours were swayed by gravel and heartburn, could not support the new ménage. Fearful lest the devotion of his Molly had caused her to lose all regard for her fair fame, wroth that the clumsy little soldier should have disturbed the peace of his household, the old man received every mention of “the tiresome affair in Scotland” with sneers and gibes. Vanished was the flunkey-optimism that had led him to welcome once more the pertinacious slip of Scottish baronage. Naught would have appeased him but prompt evidence that the suitor was free to lead his daughter to the altar. Nothing could be plainer than that the querulous widower had lost all confidence in his unwelcome guest.

The faithful lovers were filled with dismay. A few strokes of the pen might rob them for ever of their ten thousand pounds. Their wishes were the same, their minds worked as one. A deep, cruel soul-blot, transmitted perhaps by some cut-throat borderer through the blood of generations, would have led William Cranstoun to commit, without scruple, the vilest of crimes. Those base attempts to put away his wife, and to cast the stigma of bastardy upon his child, added to his endeavour to entrap one heiress after another into a bigamous marriage, make him guilty of offences less only than murder. In his present position he had cause for desperation. Yet, although utterly broken in fortune, there was a rich treasure at his hand if he dared to seize it. Were her father dead, Molly Blandy, whether as wife or mistress, would be his—body, soul, and wealth. Within the veins of the woman a like heart-stain spread its poison. All the lawless passion of her nature cried out against her parent’s rule, which, to her mind, was seeking to banish what had become more precious than her life. Knowing that her own fierce will had its mate in his, she believed that his obduracy could not be conquered, and she lived in dread lest she should be disinherited. And all this time, day after day, the demon-tempter whispered, “When the old man is in his grave you shall be happy.”

Which of the guilty pair was the first to suggest the heartless crime it is impossible to ascertain, but there is evidence, apart from Miss Blandy’s statement, that Cranstoun was the leading spirit. Possibly, nay probably, the deed was never mentioned in brutal plainness in so many words. The history of crime affords many indications that the blackest criminals are obliged to soothe a neurotic conscience with the anodyne of make-belief. It is quite credible that the two spoke of the projected murder from the first (as indeed Miss Blandy explained it later) as an attempt to conciliate the old lawyer by administering a supernatural love philtre, having magical qualities like Oberon’s flower in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which would make him consent to their marriage. Presently a reign of mystic terror seemed to invade the little house in the London road. With fear ever present in her eyes, the figure of the sombre woman glided from room to room, whispering to the frightened servants ghostly tales of things supernatural—of unearthly music that she had heard during the misty autumn nights, of noises that had awakened her from sleep, of the ghastly apparitions that had appeared to her lover. And to all these stories she had but one dismal interpretation—saying it had come to her from a wizard-woman in Scotland—they were signs and tokens that her father would die within a year! Those who heard her listened and trembled, and the words sank deep into their memory. So the winter crept on; but while all slunk through the house with bated breath, shrinking at each mysterious sound, the old man, doomed by the sorceress, remained unsuspicious of what was going on around him.

Not long before Christmas, to the great relief of his churlish host, the little Scotsman’s clumsy legs passed through the front door for the last time, and he set out for his brother’s seat at Crailing in the shire of Roxburgh. Yet, though his lengthy visit had come to an end, his spirit remained to rule the brain of the woman who loved him. Early in the year 1751 she received a box, containing a present from Cranstoun, a set of table linen, and some ‘Scotch pebbles.’ Lawyer Blandy viewed the stones with suspicious eyes, for he hated all things beyond the Cheviot Hills, but did not make any comment. The relationship between father and daughter had become cold and distant. Quarrels were constant in the unhappy home. Often in the midst of her passion she was heard to mutter deep curses against the old man. Indeed, so banished was her love that she talked without emotion to the servants of the likelihood of his death, in fulfilment of the witch’s prophecy.

Some weeks later, when another consignment of the mysterious ‘Scotch pebbles’ had arrived for Miss Blandy, it was noticed that her conduct became still more dark and strange. Slinking through the house with slow and stealthy tread, she appeared to shun all eyes, as though bent upon some hidden purpose. A glance within the box from the North would have revealed the secret. When the crafty accomplice found that she was unable to procure the means of taking her father’s life, he had been forced to supply her with the weapons. During the spring, the health of the old lawyer, who suffered more or less from chronic ailments, began to grow more feeble. His garments hung loosely upon his shrunken limbs, while the teeth dropped from his palsied jaws. The old witch’s curse seemed to have fallen upon the home, and, to those who looked with apprehension for every sign and portent, it was fulfilled in many direful ways. Early in June, Ann Emmet, an old charwoman employed about the house, was seized with a violent illness after drinking from a half-emptied cup left at Mr Blandy’s breakfast. A little later, Susan Gunnel, one of the maid-servants, was affected in a similar way through taking some tea prepared for her master. One August morning, in the secrecy of her own chamber, trembling at every footfall beyond the locked door, Mary Blandy gazed with eager, awestruck eyes upon a message sent by her lover.
“I am sorry there are such occasions to clean your pebbles,” wrote the murderous little Scotsman. “You must make use of the powder to them, by putting it into anything of substance, wherein it will not swim a-top of the water, of which I wrote to you in one of my last. I am afraid it will be too weak to take off their rust, or at least it will take too long a time.”

From the language of metaphor it is easy to translate the ghastly meaning. She must have told Cranstoun that the white arsenic, which he had sent to her under the pseudonym of ‘powder to clean the pebbles,’ remained floating on the surface of the tea. Possibly her father had noticed this phenomenon, and, not caring to drink the liquid, had escaped the painful sickness which had attacked the less cautious servants. But now she had found a remedy—‘anything of substance!’—a safe and sure vehicle that could not fail. Louder still in the ears of the lost woman rang the mocking words, “When the old man is dead you shall be happy.”

During the forenoon of Monday, the 5th of August, Susan Gunnel, the maid, met her young mistress coming from the pantry.

“Oh, Susan,” she exclaimed, “I have been stirring my papa’s water gruel”; and then, perceiving other servants through the half-open door of the laundry, she added gaily, “If I was ever to take to eating anything in particular it would be oatmeal.”

No response came from the discreet Susan, but she marvelled, calling to mind that Miss Blandy had said to her some time previously, noticing that she appeared unwell:

“Have you been eating any water gruel? for I am told that water gruel hurts me, and it may hurt you.”
Later in the day, her wonder was increased when she saw her mistress stirring the gruel in a half-pint mug, putting her fingers into the spoon, and then rubbing them together. In the evening the same mug was taken as usual to the old man’s bedroom. On Tuesday night Miss Blandy sent down in haste to order gruel for her father, who had been indisposed all day, and such was her solicitude that she met the footman on the stairs, and taking the basin from his hands, carried it herself into the parlour. Early the next morning, while Ann Emmet, the old charwoman, was busy at her wash-tub, Susan Gunnel came from upstairs.

“Dame,” she observed, “you used to be fond of water gruel. Here is a very fine mess my master left last night, and I believe it will do you good.”

Sitting down upon a bench, this most unfortunate old lady proceeded to consume the contents of the basin, and for a second time was seized with a strange and violent illness. Soon afterwards Miss Blandy came into the kitchen.

“Susan, as your master has taken physic, he may want some more water gruel,” said she. “As there is some in the house you need not make fresh, for you are ironing.”

“Madam, it will be stale,” replied the servant. “It will not hinder me much to make fresh.”

A little later, while tasting the stuff, Susan noticed a white sediment at the bottom of the pan. Greatly excited, she ran to show Betty Binfield, the cook, who bore no good-will towards her young mistress.

“What oatmeal is this?” asked Betty, significantly. “It looks like flour.”

“I have never seen oatmeal as white before,” said the maid.

Carefully and thoroughly the suspicious servants examined the contents of the saucepan, taking it out of doors to view it in the light. And while they looked at the white gritty sediment they told each other in low whispers that this must be poison. Locking up the pan, they showed it next day to the local apothecary, who, as usual in those times, was the sick man’s medical attendant.

Nothing occurred to alarm the guilty woman until Saturday. On that morning, in the homely fashion of middle-class manners, the lawyer, who wanted to shave, came into the kitchen, where hot water and a good fire were ready for him. Accustomed to his habits, the servants went about their work as usual. Some trouble seemed to be preying upon his mind.  


“I was like to have been poisoned once,” piped the feeble old man, turning his bloodshot eyes upon his daughter, who was in the room.

“It was on this same day, the tenth of August,” he continued, in his weak, trembling voice, for his frame had become shattered during the last week. “It was at the coffee-house or at the Lyon, and two other gentlemen were like to have been poisoned by what they drank.”

“Sir, I remember it very well,” replied the imperturbable woman, and then fell to arguing with her querulous father at which tavern the adventure had taken place.

“One of the gentlemen died immediately,” he resumed, looking at her with a long, reproachful glance. “The other is dead now, and I have survived them both. But”—his piteous gaze grew more intense—“it is my fortune to be poisoned at last.”

A similar ordeal took place in a little while. At breakfast Mr Blandy seemed in great pain, making many complaints. As he sipped his tea, he declared that it had a gritty, bad taste, and would not drink it.
“Have you not put too much of the black stuff into it?” he demanded suddenly of his daughter, referring to the canister of Bohea.

This time she was unable to meet his searching eyes.

“It is as usual,” she stammered in confusion.

A moment later she rose, trembling and distressed, and hurriedly left the room.

There was reason for the old man’s suspicion. Before he had risen from his bed, the faithful Susan Gunnel told him of the discovery in the pan of water gruel, and both agreed that the mysterious powder had been sent by Cranstoun. Yet, beyond what he had said at breakfast, and in the kitchen, he questioned his daughter no more! Still, although no direct charge had been made, alarmed by her father’s hints she hastened to destroy all evidence that could be used against her. During the afternoon, stealing into the kitchen under pretence of drying a letter before the fire, she crushed a paper among the coals. As soon as she was gone the watchful spies—servants Gunnel and Binfield—snatched it away before it had been destroyed by the flames. This paper contained a white substance, and on it was written ‘powder to clean the pebbles.’ Towards evening famous Dr Addington arrived from Reading, summoned by Miss Blandy, who was driven on account of her fears to show a great concern. After seeing his patient the shrewd old leech had no doubt as to the symptoms. With habitual directness he told the daughter that her father had been poisoned.

“It is impossible,” she replied.

On Sunday morning the doctor found the sick man a little better, but ordered him to keep his bed. Startling proofs of the accuracy of his diagnosis were forthcoming. One of the maids put into his hands the packet of arsenic found in the fire; while Norton the apothecary produced the powder from the pan of gruel. Addington at once took the guilty woman to task.

“If your father dies,” he told her sternly, “you will inevitably be ruined.”
Nevertheless she appears to have brazened the matter out, but desired the doctor to come again the next day. When she was alone, her first task was to scribble a note to Cranstoun, which she gave to her father’s clerk to “put into the post.” Having heard dark rumours whispered by the servants that Mr Blandy had been poisoned by his daughter, the man had no hesitation in opening the letter, which he handed over to the apothecary. It ran as follows:—

Dear Willy,—My father is so bad that I have only time to tell you that if you do not hear from me soon again, don’t be frightened. I am better myself. Lest any accident should happen to your letters be careful what you write.

“My sincere compliments.—I am ever, yours.”
That evening Norton ordered Miss Blandy from her father’s room, telling Susan Gunnel to remain on the watch, and admit no one. At last the heartless daughter must have seen that some other defence was needed than blind denial. Still, the poor old sufferer persisted that Cranstoun was the sole author of the mischief. On Monday morning, although sick almost to death, he sent the maid with a message to his daughter.
“Tell her,” said he, “that I will forgive her if she will bring that villain to justice.”

In answer to his words, Miss Blandy came to her father’s bedroom in tears, and a suppliant. Susan Gunnel, who was present, thus reports the interview.

“Sir, how do you do?” said she.

“I am very ill,” he replied.

Falling upon her knees, she said to him:

“Banish me or send me to any remote part of the world. As to Mr Cranstoun, I will never see him, speak to him, as long as I live, so as you will forgive me.”

“I forgive thee, my dear,” he answered. “And I hope God will forgive thee, but thee should have considered better than to have attempted anything against thy father. Thee shouldst have considered I was thy own father.”
“Sir,” she protested, “as to your illness I am entirely innocent.”

“Madam,” interrupted old Susan Gunnel, “I believe you must not say you are entirely innocent, for the powder that was taken out of the water gruel, and the paper of powder that was taken out of the fire, are now in such hands that they must be publicly produced. I believe I had one dose prepared for my master in a dish of tea about six weeks ago.”

“I have put no powder into tea,” replied Miss Blandy. “I have put powder into water gruel, and if you are injured,” she assured her father, “I am entirely innocent, for it was given me with another intent.”

The dying man did not wait for further explanation, but, turning in his bed, he cried:

“Oh, such a villain! To come to my house, eat of the best, drink of the best that my house could afford—to take away my life, and ruin my daughter! Oh, my dear,” he continued, “thee must hate that man, thee must hate the ground he treads on. Thee canst not help it.”

“Oh, sir, your tenderness towards me is like a sword to my heart,” she answered. “Every word you say is like swords piercing my heart—much worse than if you were to be ever so angry. I must down on my knees and beg you will not curse me.”

“I curse thee, my dear!” he replied. “How couldst thou think I could curse thee? I bless thee, and hope that God will bless thee and amend thy life. Go, my dear, go out of my room.... Say no more, lest thou shouldst say anything to thy own prejudice.... Go to thy uncle Stevens; take him for thy friend. Poor man,—I am sorry for him.”

The memory of the old servant, who repeated the above conversation in her evidence at Miss Blandy’s trial, would seem remarkable did we not bear in mind that she went through various rehearsals before the coroner and magistrates, and possibly with the lawyers for the prosecution. Some embellishments also must be credited to the taste and fancy of Mr Rivington’s reporters. Still, the gist must be true, and certainly has much pathos. Yet the father’s forgiveness of his daughter, when he must have known that her conduct was wilful, although piteous and noble, may not have been the result of pure altruism. Naturally, the wish that Cranstoun alone was guilty was parent to the thought. Whether the approach of eternity brought a softening influence upon him, and he saw his follies and errors in the light of repentance, or whether the ruling passion strong in death made the vain old man struggle to avert the black disgrace that threatened his good name, and the keen legal intellect, which could counsel his daughter so well, foresaw the coming escheatment of his small estate to the lord of the manor, are problems for the student of psychology.

During the course of the day brother leech Lewis of Oxford—a master-builder of pharmacopœia—was summoned by the sturdy begetter of statesmen, and there was much bobbing of learned wigs and nice conduct of medical canes. Addington asked the dying man whom he suspected to be the giver of the poison.
“A poor love-sick girl,” murmured the old lawyer, smiling through his tears. “I forgive her—I always thought there was mischief in those cursed Scotch pebbles.”

In the evening a drastic step was taken. Acting on the principle of ‘thorough,’ which made his son’s occupancy of the Home Office so memorable at a later period, the stern doctor accused Miss Blandy of the crime, and secured her keys and papers. Conquered by fear, the stealthy woman for a while lost all self-possession. In an agony of shame and terror she sought to shield herself by the pretence of superstitious folly. Wringing her hands in a seeming agony of remorse, she declared that her lover had ruined her.

“I received the powder from Mr Cranstoun,” she cried, “with a present of Scotch pebbles. He had wrote on the paper that held it, ‘The powder to clean the pebbles with.’ He assured me that it was harmless, and that if I would give my father some of it now and then, a little and a little at a time, in any liquid, it would make him kind to him and to me.”

In a few scathing questions the worldly-wise Addington cast ridicule upon this weird story of a love philtre. Taking the law into his own resolute hands, with the consent of colleague Lewis he locked the wretched woman in her room and placed a guard over her. Little could be done to relieve the sufferings of poor ten-thousand-pound Blandy—who proved to be a mere four-thousand-pound attorney when it came to the test—and on Wednesday afternoon, the 14th of August, he closed his proud old eyes for ever. In her desperation the guilty daughter could think of naught but escape. On the evening of her fathers death, impelled by an irresistible frenzy to flee from the scene of her butchery, she begged the footman in vain to assist her to get away. During Thursday morning—for it was not possible to keep her in custody without legal warrant—a little group of children saw a dishevelled figure coming swiftly along the High Street towards the river. At once there arose the cry of ‘Murderess!’ and, surrounded by an angry mob, she was driven to take refuge in a neighbouring inn. It was vain to battle against fate. That same afternoon the coroner’s inquest was held, and the verdict pronounced her a parricide. On the following Saturday, in charge of two constables, she was driven in her father’s carriage to Oxford Castle. An enraged populace, thinking that she was trying again to escape, surrounded the vehicle, and sought to prevent her from leaving the town.

Owing to the social position of the accused, and the enormity of her offence, the eyes of the whole nation were turned to the tragedy at Henley. Gossips of the day, such as Horace Walpole and Tate Wilkinson, tell us that the story of Miss Blandy was upon every lip.  In spite of the noble irony of ‘Drawcansir’ Fielding, journalists and pamphleteers had no scruple in referring to the prisoner as a wicked murderess or a cruel parricide. Yet the case of Henry Coleman, who, during the August of this year, had been proved innocent of a crime for which he had suffered death, should have warned the public against hasty assumption. For six months the dark woman was waiting for her trial. Although it was the custom for a jailor to make an exhibition of his captive to anyone who would pay the entrance fee, nobody was allowed to see Miss Blandy without her consent. Two comfortable rooms were set apart for her in the keeper’s house; she was free to take walks in the garden, and to have her own maid. At last, when stories of a premeditated escape were noised abroad, Secretary Newcastle, in a usual state of fuss, fearing that she might repeat the achievement of Queen Maud, gave orders that she must be put in irons. At first Thomas Newell, who had succeeded her father as town clerk of Henley four years previously, was employed in her defence, but he offended her by speaking of Cranstoun as “a mean-looking, little, ugly fellow,” and so she dismissed him in favour of Mr Rives, a lawyer from Woodstock. Her old invincible courage had returned, and only once—when she learnt the paltry value of her father’s fortune—did she lose self-possession. For a dismal echo must have come back in the mocking words, “When the old man is in his grave you shall be happy.”


At last the magistrates—Lords Cadogan and ‘New-Style’ Macclesfield, who had undertaken duties which in later days Mr Newton or Mr Montagu Williams would have shared with Scotland Yard—finish their much-praised detective work, and on Tuesday, the 3rd of March 1752, Mary Blandy is brought to the bar. The Court meets in the divinity school, since the town-hall is in the hands of the British workman, and because the University, so ‘Sir Alexander Drawcansir’ tells his readers, will not allow the use of the Sheldonian Theatre. Why the most beautiful room in Oxford should be deemed a fitter place of desecration than the archbishop’s monstrosity is not made clear. An accident delays the trial—this second ‘Great Oyer of Poisoning!’ There is a small stone or other obstruction in the lock—can some sentimental, wry-brained undergraduate think to aid the gallows-heroine of his fancy?—and while it is being removed, Judges Legge and Smythe return to their lodgings.

At eight o’clock, Mary Blandy, calm and stately, stands beneath the graceful fretted ceiling, facing the tribunal. From wall to wall an eager crowd has filled the long chamber, surging through the doorway, flowing in at the open windows, jostling even against the prisoner. A chair is placed for her in case of fatigue, and her maid is by her side. A plain and neat dress befits her serene manner—a black bombazine short sacque (the garb of mourning), white linen kerchief, and a thick crape shade and hood. From the memory of those present her countenance can never fade. A broad high forehead, above which her thick jet hair is smoothed under a cap; a pair of fine black sparkling eyes; the colouring almost of a gipsy; cheeks with scarce a curve; mouth full, but showing no softness; nose large, straight, determined—it is the face of one of those rare women who command, not the love, but the obedience of mankind. Still it is intelligent, not unseductive, compelling; and yet, in spite of the deep, flashing eyes, without radiance of soul—the face of a sombre-hearted woman.

Black, indeed, is the indictment that Bathurst, a venerable young barrister who represents the Crown, unfolds against her, but only once during his burst of carefully-matured eloquence is there any change in her serenity. When the future Lord Chancellor declares that the base Cranstoun “had fallen in love, not with her, but with her fortune,” the woman’s instinct cannot tolerate the reflection upon her charms, and she darts a look of bitterest scorn upon the speaker. And only once does she show a trace of human softness. When her godmother, old Mrs Mountenay, is leaving the witness-box, she repeats the curtsey which the prisoner had previously disregarded, and then, in an impulse of pity, presses forward, and, seizing Miss Blandy’s hand, exclaims, “God bless you!” At last, and for the first time, the tears gather in the accused woman’s eyes.

Many abuses, handed down from a previous century, still render barbarous the procedure of criminal trials. The case is hurried over in one day; counsel for the prisoner can only examine witnesses, but not address the jury; the prosecution is accustomed to put forward evidence of which the defence has been kept in ignorance. Yet no injustice is done to Mary Blandy. Thirteen hours is enough to tear the veil from her sombre heart; the tongue of Nestor would fail to show her innocent; of all that her accusers can say of her she is well aware. Never for one moment is the issue in doubt. What can her scoffing, sceptic age, with its cold-blooded sentiment and tame romance, think of a credulity that employed a love-potion in the guise of affection but with the result of death! How is it possible to judge a daughter who persisted in her black art, although its dire effects were visible, not once, but many times! Her defence, when at last it comes, is spoken bravely, but better had been left unsaid.
“My lords,” she begins, “it is morally impossible for me to lay down the hardships I have received. I have been aspersed in my character. In the first place, it has been said that I have spoke ill of my father; that I have cursed him and wished him at hell; which is extremely false. Sometimes little family affairs have happened, and he did not speak to me so kind as I could wish. I own I am passionate, my lords, and in those passions some hasty expressions might have dropt. But great care has been taken to recollect every word I have spoken at different times, and to apply them to such particular purposes as my enemies knew would do me the greatest injury. These are hardships, my lords, extreme hardships!—such as you yourselves must allow to be so. It was said, too, my lords, that I endeavoured to make my escape. Your lordships will judge from the difficulties I laboured under. I had lost my father—I was accused of being his murderer—I was not permitted to go near him—I was forsaken by my friends—affronted by the mob—insulted by my servants. Although I begged to have the liberty to listen at the door where he died, I was not allowed it. My keys were taken from me, my shoe-buckles and garters too—to prevent me from making away with myself, as though I was the most abandoned creature. What could I do, my lords? I verily believe I was out of my senses. When I heard my father was dead and the door open, I ran out of the house, and over the bridge, and had nothing on but a half sack and petticoat, without a hoop, my petticoats hanging about me. The mob gathered about me. Was this a condition, my lords, to make my escape in? A good woman beyond the bridge, seeing me in this distress, desired me to walk in till the mob was dispersed. The town sergeant was there. I begged he would take me under his protection to have me home. The woman said it was not proper, the mob was very great, and that I had better stay a little. When I came home they said I used the constable ill. I was locked up for fifteen hours, with only an old servant of the family to attend me. I was not allowed a maid for the common decencies of my sex. I was sent to gaol, and was in hopes, there, at least, this usage would have ended, but was told it was reported I was frequently drunk—that I attempted to make my escape—that I never attended the chapel. A more abstemious woman, my lords, I believe, does not live.


“Upon the report of my making my escape, the gentleman who was High Sheriff last year (not the present) came and told me, by order of the higher powers, he must put an iron on me. I submitted, as I always do to the higher powers. Some time after, he came again, and said he must put a heavier upon me, which I have worn, my lords, till I came hither. I asked the Sheriff why I was so ironed? He said he did it by command of some noble peer, on his hearing that I intended to make my escape. I told them I never had such a thought, and I would bear it with the other cruel usage I had received on my character. The Rev. Mr. Swinton, the worthy clergyman who attended me in prison, can testify that I was very regular at the chapel when I was well. Sometimes I really was not able to come out, and then he attended me in my room. They likewise published papers and depositions which ought not to have been published, in order to represent me as the most abandoned of my sex, and to prejudice the world against me. I submit myself to your lordships, and to the worthy jury. I can assure your lordships, as I am to answer it before that Grand Tribunal where I must appear, I am as innocent as the child unborn of the death of my father. I would not endeavour to save my life at the expense of truth. I really thought the powder an innocent, inoffensive thing, and I gave it to procure his love. It was mentioned, I should say, I was ruined. My lords, when a young woman loses her character, is not that her ruin? Why, then, should this expression be construed in so wide a sense? Is it not ruining my character to have such a thing laid to my charge? And whatever may be the event of this trial, I am ruined most effectually.” 

A strange apology—amazing in its effrontery!

Gentle Heneage Legge speaks long and tenderly, while the listeners shudder with horror as they hear the dismal history unfolded in all entirety for the first time. No innocent heart could have penned that last brief warning to her lover—none but an accomplice would have received his cryptic message. Every word in the testimony of the stern doctor seems to hail her parricide—every action of her stealthy career has been noted by the watchful eyes of her servants. And, as if in damning confirmation of her guilt, there is the black record of her flight from the scene of crime. Eight o’clock has sounded when the judge has finished. For a few moments the jury converse in hurried whispers. It is ominous that they make no attempt to leave the court, but merely draw closer together. Then, after the space of five minutes they turn, and the harsh tones of the clerk of arraigns sound through the chamber.

“Mary Blandy, hold up thy hand.... Gentlemen of the jury, look upon the prisoner. How say you: Is Mary Blandy guilty of the felony and murder whereof she stands indicted, or not guilty?”

“Guilty!” comes the low, reluctant answer.

Never has more piteous drama been played within the cold fair walls of the divinity school than that revealed by the guttering candles on this chill March night. Amidst the long black shadows, through which gleam countless rows of pallid faces, in the deep silence, broken at intervals by hushed sobs, the invincible woman stands with unruffled mien to receive her sentence. As the verdict is declared, a smile seems to play upon her lips. While the judge, with tearful eyes and broken voice, pronounces her doom, she listens without a sign of fear. There is a brief, breathless pause, while all wait with fierce-beating hearts for her reply. No trace of terror impedes her utterance. Thanking the judge for his candour and impartiality, she turns to her counsel, among whom only Richard Aston rose to eminence, and, with a touch of pretty forethought, wishes them better success in their other causes. Then, and her voice grows more solemn, she begs for a little time to settle her affairs and to make her peace with God. To which his lordship replies with great emotion:

“To be sure, you shall have proper time allowed you.”

When she is conducted from the court she steps into her coach with the air of a belle whose chair is to take her to a fashionable rout. The fatal news has reached the prison before her arrival. As she enters the keeper’s house, which for so long has been her home, she finds the family overcome with grief and the children all in tears.
“Don’t mind it,” she cries, cheerfully. “What does it matter? I am very hungry. Pray let me have something for supper as soon as possible.”

That sombre heart of hers is a brave one also.

All this time William Cranstoun, worthy brother in all respects of Simon Tappertit, had been in hiding—in Scotland perhaps, or, as some say, in Northumberland—watching with fearful quakings for the result of the trial. Shortly after the conviction of his accomplice he managed to take ship to the Continent, and luckily for his country he never polluted its soil again. There are several contemporary accounts of his adventures in France and in the Netherlands, to which the curious may refer. All agree that he confessed his share in the murder when he was safe from justice. With unaccustomed propriety, our Lady Fate soon hastened to snap the thread of his existence, and on the 3rd of December of this same year, at the little town of Furnes in Flanders, aged thirty-eight, he drew his last breath. A short time before, being seized with remorse for his sins, he had given the Catholic Church the honour of enrolling him a proselyte. Indeed the conversion of so great a ruffian was regarded as such a feather in their cap that the good monks and friars advertised the event by means of a sumptuous funeral.

Worthy Judge Legge fulfils his promise to the unhappy Miss Blandy, and she is given six weeks in which to prepare herself for death. Meek and more softened is the sombre woman, who, like a devoted penitent, submits herself day after day to the vulgar gaze of a hundred eyes, while she bows in all humility before the altar of her God. Yet her busy brain is aware that those to whom she looks for intercession are keeping a careful watch upon her demeanour. For she has begged her godmother Mrs Mountenay to ask one of the bishops to speak for her; she is said to entertain the hope that the recently-bereaved Princess will endeavour to obtain a reprieve. In the fierce war of pamphleteers, inevitable in those days, she takes her share, playing with incomparable tact to the folly of the credulous. Although the majority, perhaps, believe her guilty, she knows that a considerable party is in her favour. On the 20th of March is published “A Letter from a Clergyman to Miss Blandy, with her Answer,” in which she tells the story of her share in the tragedy. During the remainder of her imprisonment she extends this narrative into a long account of the whole case—assisted, it is believed, by her spiritual adviser, the Rev. John Swinton, who, afflicted possibly by one of his famous fits of woolgathering, seems convinced of her innocence. No human effort, however, is of any avail. Both the second and third George, knowing their duty as public entertainers, seldom cheated the gallows of a victim of distinction.

Originally the execution had been fixed for Saturday, the 4th of April, but is postponed until the following Monday, because the University authorities do not think it seemly that the sentence shall be carried out during Holy Week. A great crowd collects in the early morning outside the prison walls before the announcement of the short reprieve, and it speaks marvels for the discipline of the gaol that Miss Blandy is allowed to go up into rooms facing the Castle Green so that she can view the throng. Gazing upon the assembly without a tremor, she says merely that she will not balk their expectations much longer. On Sunday she takes sacrament for the last time, and signs a declaration in which she denies once more all knowledge that the powder was poisonous. In the evening, hearing that the Sheriff has arrived in the town, she sends a request that she may not be disturbed until eight o’clock the next morning.

It was half-past the hour she had named when the dismal procession reached the door of her chamber. The Under-Sheriff was accompanied by the Rev. John Swinton, and by her friend Mr Rives, the lawyer. Although her courage did not falter, she appeared meek and repentant, and spoke with anxiety of her future state, in doubt whether she would obtain pardon for her sins. This penitent mood encouraged the clergyman to beg her declare the whole truth, to which she replied that she must persist in asserting her innocence to the end. No entreaty would induce her to retract the solemn avowal.

At nine o’clock she was conducted from her room, dressed in the same black gown that she had worn at the trial, with her hands and arms tied by strong black silk ribbons. A crowd of five thousand persons, hushed and expectant, was waiting on the Castle Green to witness her sufferings. Thirty yards from the door of the gaol, whence she was led into the open air, stood the gallows—a beam placed across the arms of two trees. Against it lay a step-ladder covered with black cloth. The horror of her crime must have been forgotten by all who gazed upon the calm and brave woman. For truly she died like a queen. Serene and fearless she walked to the fatal spot, and joined most fervently with the clergyman in prayer. After this was ended they told her that if she wished she might speak to the spectators.

“Good people,” she cried, in a clear, audible voice, “give me leave to declare to you that I am perfectly innocent as to any intention to destroy or even hurt my dear father; that I did not know, or even suspect, that there was any poisonous quality in the fatal powder I gave him; though I can never be too much punished for being the innocent cause of his death. As to my mother’s and Mrs Pocock’s deaths, that have been unjustly laid to my charge, I am not even the innocent cause of them, nor did I in the least contribute to them. So help me, God, in these my last moments. And may I not meet with eternal salvation, nor be acquitted by Almighty God, in whose awful presence I am instantly to appear hereafter, if the whole of what is here asserted is not true. I from the bottom of my soul forgive all those concerned in my prosecution; and particularly the jury, notwithstanding their fatal verdict.”

Then, having ascended five steps of the ladder, she turned to the officials. “Gentlemen,” she requested, with a show of modesty, “do not hang me high.” The humanity of those whose task it was to put her to death, forced them to ask her to go a little higher. Climbing two steps more, she then looked round, and trembling, said, “I am afraid I shall fall.” Still, her invincible courage enabled her to address the crowd once again. “Good people,” she said, “take warning by me to be on your guard against the sallies of any irregular passion, and pray for me that I may be accepted at the Throne of Grace.” While the rope was being placed around her neck it touched her face, and she gave a deep sigh. Then with her own fingers she moved it to one side. A white handkerchief had been bound across her forehead, and she drew it over her features. As it did not come low enough, a woman, who had attended her and who had fixed the noose around her throat, stepped up and pulled it down. For a while she stood in prayer, and then gave the signal by thrusting out a little book which she held in her hand. The ladder was moved from under her feet, and in obedience to the laws of her country she was suspended in the air, swaying and convulsed, until the grip of the rope choked the breath from her body.

Horrible! Yet only in degree are our own methods different from those employed a hundred and fifty years ago.
During the whole of the sad tragedy, the crowd, unlike the howling mob at Tyburn, maintained an awestruck silence. There were few dry eyes, though the sufferer did not shed a tear, and hundreds of those who witnessed her death went away convinced of her innocence. An elegant young man named Edward Gibbon, with brain wrapped in the mists of theology, who for three days had been gentleman commoner at Magdalen, does not appear to have been attracted to the scene. Surely George Selwyn must be maligned, else he would have posted to Oxford to witness this spectacle. It would have been his only opportunity of seeing a gentlewoman in the hands of the executioner.

After hanging for half an hour with the feet, in consequence of her request, almost touching the ground, the body was carried upon the shoulders of one of the sheriff’s men to a neighbouring house. At five o’clock in the afternoon the coffin containing her remains was taken in a hearse to Henley, where, in the dead of night, amidst a vast concourse, it was interred in the chancel of the parish church between the graves of her father and mother.
So died ‘the unfortunate Miss Blandy’ in the thirty-second year of her age—with a grace and valour which no scene on the scaffold has ever excelled. If, as the authors of The Beggars Opera and The History of Jonathan Wild have sought to show, in playful irony, the greatness of the criminal is comparable with the greatness of the statesman, then she must rank with Mary of Scotland and Catherine of Russia among the queens of crime. Hers was the soul of steel, theirs also the opportunity.

In every period the enormity of a sin can be estimated only by its relation to the spirit of the age; and in spite of cant and sophistry, the contemporaries of Miss Blandy made no legal distinction between the crimes of parricide and petty larceny. Nay, the same rope that strangled the brutal cut-throat in a few moments might prolong the agony of a poor thief for a quarter of an hour. Had the doctors succeeded in saving the life of the old attorney, the strange law which in later times put to death Elizabeth Fenning would have been powerless to demand the life of Mary Blandy for a similar offence. The protests of Johnson and Fielding against the iniquity of the criminal code fell on idle ears.

Thus we may not judge Mary Blandy from the standpoint of our own moral grandeur, for she is a being of another world—one of the vain, wilful, selfish children to whom an early Guelph was king—merely one of the blackest sheep in a flock for the most part ill-favoured. As we gaze upon her portrait there comes a feeling that we do not know this sombre woman after all, for though the artist has produced a faithful resemblance, we perceive there is something lacking. We look into part, not into her whole soul. None but one of the immortals—Rembrandt, or his peer—could have shown this queen among criminals as she was: an iron-hearted, remorseless, demon-woman, her fair, cruel visage raised mockingly amidst a chiaroscuro of crime and murkiness unspeakable.

“a narrow, foxy face,

Heart-hiding smile, and gay persistent eye.”

In our own country the women of gentle birth who have been convicted of murder since the beginning of the eighteenth century may be counted on the fingers of one hand. Mary Blandy, Constance Kent, Florence Maybrick—for that unsavoury person, Elizabeth Jefferies, has no claim to be numbered in the roll, and the verdict against beautiful Madeleine Smith was ‘Not proven’—these names exhaust the list. And of them, the first alone paid the penalty at the gallows. The annals of crime contain the records of many parricides, some that have been premeditated with devilish art, but scarce one that a daughter has wrought by the most loathsome of coward’s weapons. In comparison with the murderess of Henley, even Frances Howard and Anne Turner were guilty of a venial crime. Mary Blandy stands alone and incomparable—pilloried to all ages among the basest of her sex.

Yet the world soon forgot her. “Since the two misses were hanged,” chats Horace Walpole on the 23rd of June, coupling irreverently the names of Blandy and Jefferies with the beautiful Gunnings—“since the two misses were hanged, and the two misses were married, there is nothing at all talked of.” Society, however, soon found a new thrill in the adventures of the young woman Elizabeth Canning.



Miss MARY BLANDY
B. Cole Sculp
Aged 33 and Executed at Oxford April 6, 1752, for poisoning her Father.


Compiled from sources in the public domain.

One of the main characters is scheduled to be burned atop a Pyre along with a dozen other victims of the inquisition as part of Shadows In A Timeless Myth.  

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
Teresa
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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915