She Stands Accused
Victor MacClure

Part 1 out of 5

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

% II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


``More deadly than the male.''

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This in parenthesis, I hope not inappropriately.

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

[1] Bles, 1934.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

% IV

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] A stanza in one ballad runs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

% II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jean Livingstone did die a good death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

% IV

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

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

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

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

% V

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Hutchinson, 1930.

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

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

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

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

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

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

% II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

``This Forman,'' he says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badgered, not only by her husband but by her own relatives,
scared no doubt, certainly unhappy, unable for politic reasons to
appeal freely to her beloved Robin, to whom might Frances turn
but the helpful Turner? And to whom, having turned to pretty
Anne, was she likely to be led but again to the wizard of

Dr Forman had a heart for beauty in distress, but dissipating the
ardency of an exigent husband was a difficult matter compared
with attracting that of a negligent lover. It was also much more
costly. A powder there was, indeed, which, administered secretly
by small regular doses in the husband's food or drink, would soon
cool his ardour, but the process of manufacture and the
ingredients were enormously expensive. Frances got her powder.

The first dose was administered to Lord Essex just before his
departure from a visit to his wife at Audley End. On his arrival
back in London he was taken violently ill, so ill that in the
weeks he lay in bed his life was despaired of. Only the
intervention of the King's own physician, one Sir Theodore
Mayerne, would appear to have saved him.

Her husband slowly convalescing, Lady Essex was summoned by her
family back to London. In London, while Lord Essex mended in
health, she was much in the company of her ``sweet Turner.'' In
addition to the house in Paternoster Row the little widow had a
pretty riverside cottage at Hammersmith, and both were at the
disposal of Lady Essex and her lover for stolen meetings. Those
meetings were put a stop to by the recovery of Lord Essex, and
with his recovery his lordship exhibited a new mood of
determination. Backed by her ladyship's family, he ordered her
to accompany him to their country place of Chartley. Her
ladyship had to obey.

The stages of the journey were marked by the nightly illness of
his lordship. By the time they arrived at Chartley itself he was
in a condition little if at all less dangerous than that from
which he had been rescued by the King's physician. His illness
lasted for weeks, and during this time her ladyship wrote many a
letter to Anne Turner and to Dr Forman. She was afraid his
lordship would live. She was afraid his lordship would die. She
was afraid she would lose the love of Rochester. She begged Anne
Turner and Forman to work their best magic for her aid. She was
afraid that if his lordship recovered the spells might prove
useless, that his attempts to assert his rights as a husband
would begin again, and that there, in the heart of the country
and so far from any refuge, they might take a form she would be
unable to resist

His lordship did recover. His attempts to assert his rights as a
husband did begin again. The struggle between them, Frances
constant in her obduracy, lasted several months. Her obstinacy
wore down his. At long last he let her go.


If the fate that overtook Frances Howard and Rochester, and with
them Anne Turner and many another, is to be properly understood,
a brief word on the political situation in England at this time
will be needed--or, rather, a word on the political personages,
with their antagonisms.

Next in closeness to the King's ear after Rochester, and perhaps
more trusted as a counsellor by that ``wise fool,'' there had
been Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, for a long time First
Secretary of State. But about the time when Lady Essex finally
parted with her husband Cecil died, depriving England of her
keenest brain and the staunchest heart in her causes. If there
had been no Rochester the likeliest man in the kingdom to succeed
to the power and offices of Cecil would have been the Earl of
Northampton, uncle of Lord Suffolk, who was the father of Lady
Essex. Northampton, as stated, held the office of Lord Privy

The Howard family had done the State great service in the past.
Its present representatives, Northampton and Suffolk, were
anxious to do the State great service, as they conceived it, in
the future. They were, however, Catholics in all but open
acknowledgment, and as such were opposed by the Protestants, who
had at their head Prince Henry. This was an opposition that they
might have stomached. It was one that they might even have got
over, for the Prince and his father, the King, were not the best
of friends. The obstacle to their ambitions, and one they found
hard to stomach, was the upstart Rochester. And even Rochester
would hardly have stood in their way had his power in the Council
depended on his own ability. The brain that directed Robert Carr
belonged to another man. This was Sir Thomas Overbury.

On the death of Cecil the real contenders for the vacant office
of First Secretary of State--the highest office in the land--were
not the wily Northampton and the relatively unintelligent
Rochester, but the subtle Northampton and the quite as subtle,
and perhaps more spacious-minded, Thomas Overbury. There was, it
will be apprehended, a possible weakness on the Overbury side.
The gemel-chain, like that of many links, is merely as strong as
its weakest member. Overbury had no approach to the King save
through the King's favourite. Rochester could have no real
weight with the King, at least in affairs of State, except what
he borrowed from Overbury. Divided, the two were powerless. No,
more than that, there had to be no flaw in their linking.

The wily Northampton, one may be certain, was fully aware of this
possible weakness in the combination opposed to his advancement.
He would be fully aware, that is, that it was there potentially;
but when he began, as his activities would indicate, to work for
the creation of that flaw in the relationship between Rochester
and Overbury it is unlikely that he knew the flaw had already
begun to develop. Unknown to him, circumstance already had begun
to operate in his favour.

Overbury was Rochester's tutor in more than appertained to
affairs of State. It is more than likely that in Carr's wooing
of Lady Essex he had held the role of Cyrano de Bergerac, writing
those gracefully turned letters and composing those accomplished
verses which did so much to augment and give constancy to her
ladyship's love for Rochester. It is certain, at any rate, that
Overbury was privy to all the correspondence passing between the
pair, and that even such events as the supplying by Forman and
Mrs Turner of that magic powder, and the Countess's use of it
upon her husband, were well within his knowledge.

While the affair between his alter ego and the Lady Essex might
be looked upon as mere dalliance, a passionate episode likely to
wither with a speed equal to that of its growth, Overbury, it is
probable, found cynical amusement in helping it on. But when, as
time went on, the lady and her husband separated permanently, and
from mere talk of a petition for annulment of the Essex marriage
that petition was presented in actual form to the King, Overbury
saw danger. Northampton was backing the petition. If it
succeeded Lady Essex would be free to marry Rochester. And the
marriage, since Northampton was not the man to give except in the
expectation of plenty, would plant the unwary Rochester on the
hearth of his own and Overbury's enemies. With Rochester in the
Howard camp there would be short shrift for Thomas Overbury.
There would be, though Rochester in his infatuation seemed blind
to the fact, as short a shrift as the Howards could contrive for
the King's minion.

In that march of inevitability which marks all real tragedy the
road that is followed forks ever and again with an `if.' And we
who, across the distance of time, watch with a sort of Jovian
pity the tragic puppets in their folly miss this fork and that
fork on their road of destiny select, each according to our
particular temperaments, a particular `if' over which to shake
our heads. For me, in this story of Rochester, Overbury, Frances
Howard, and the rest, the point of tragedy, the most poignant of
the issues, is the betrayal by Robert Carr of Overbury's
friendship. Though this story is essentially, or should be, that
of the two women who were linked in fate with Rochester and his
coadjutor, I am constrained to linger for a moment on that point.

Overbury's counsel had made Carr great. With nothing but his
good looks and his personal charm, his only real attributes, Carr
had been no more than King James's creature. James, with all the
pedantry, the laboured cunning, the sleezy weaknesses of
character that make him so detestable, was yet too shrewd to have
put power in the hands of the mere minion that Carr would have
been without the brain of Overbury to guide him. Of himself Carr
was the `toom tabard' of earlier parlance in his native country,
the `stuffed shirt' of a later and more remote generation. But
beyond the coalition for mutual help that existed between
Overbury and Carr, an arrangement which might have thrived on a
basis merely material, there was a deep and splendid friendship.
`Stuffed shirt' or not, Robert Carr was greatly loved by
Overbury. Whatever Overbury may have thought of Carr's mental
attainments, he had the greatest faith in his loyalty as a
friend. And here lies the terrible pity in that `if' of my
choice. The love between the two men was great enough to have
saved them both. It broke on the weakness of Carr.

Overbury was aware that, honestly presented, the petition by Lady
Essex for the annulment of her marriage had little chance of
success. But for the obstinacy of Essex it might have been
granted readily enough. He had, however, as we have seen, forced
her to live with him as his wife, in appearance at least, for
several months in the country. There now would be difficulty in
putting forward the petition on the ground of non-consummation of
the marriage.

It was, nevertheless, on this ground that the petition was
brought forward. But the non-consummation was not attributed, as
it might have been, to the continued separation that had begun at
the altar; the reason given was the impotence of the husband.
Just what persuasion Northampton and the Howards used on Essex to
make him accept this humiliating implication it is hard to
imagine, but by the time the coarse wits of the period had done
with him Essex was amply punished in ridicule for his primary

Sir Thomas Overbury, well informed though he usually was, must
have been a good deal in the dark regarding the negotiations
which had brought the nullity suit to this forward state. He had
warned Rochester so frankly of the danger into which the scheme
was likely to lead him that they had quarrelled and parted. If
Rochester had been frank with his friend, if, on the ground of
their friendship, he had appealed to him to set aside his
prejudice, it might well have been that the tragedy which ensued
would have been averted. Enough evidence remains to this day of
Overbury's kindness for Robert Carr, there is enough proof of the
man's abounding resource and wit, to give warrant for belief that
he would have had the will, as he certainly had the ability, to
help his friend. Overbury was one of the brightest intelligences
of his age. Had Rochester confessed the extent of his commitment
with Northampton there is little doubt that Overbury could and
would have found a way whereby Rochester could have attained his
object (of marriage with Frances Howard), and this without
jeopardizing their mutual power to the Howard menace.

In denying the man who had made him great the complete confidence
which their friendship demanded Rochester took the tragically
wrong path on his road of destiny. But the truth is that when he
quarrelled with Overbury he had already betrayed the friendship.
He had already embarked on the perilous experiment of straddling
between two opposed camps. It was an experiment that he, least
of all men, had the adroitness to bring off. He was never in
such need of Overbury's brain as when he aligned himself in
secret with Overbury's enemies.

It is entirely probable that in linking up with Northampton
Rochester had no mind to injure his friend. The bait was the
woman he loved. Without Northampton's aid the nullity suit could
not be put forward, and without the annulment there could be no
marriage for him with Frances Howard. But he had no sooner
joined with Northampton than the very processes against which
Overbury had warned him were begun. Rochester was trapped, and
with him Overbury.

For the success of the suit, in Northampton's view, Overbury knew
too much. It was a view to which Rochester was readily
persuaded; or it was one which he was easily frightened into
accepting. From that to joining in a plot for being rid of
Overbury was but a step. Grateful, perhaps, for the undoubted
services that Overbury had rendered him, Rochester would be eager
enough to find his quondam friend employment. If that employment
happened to take Overbury out of the country so much the better.
At one time the King, jealous as a woman of the friendship
existing between his favourite and Overbury, had tried to shift
the latter out of the way by an offer of the embassy in Paris.
It was an offer Rochester thought, that he might cause to be
repeated. The idea was broached to Overbury. That shrewd
individual, of course, saw through the suggestion to the


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