If you sometimes wonder about present day newspaper coverage of crimes before they go to trial, things could be worse.
This account (1641) of a supposed poisoning of a man by his wife and their landlady offers evidence, persuasion of guilt and straight to the judgement on the first page and all apparently before the woman had gone to trial!
The account reads like a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon lamenting that ‘a daughter of Jerusalem hath committed an abomination’. We are told that one Anne Hamton of the Parish of Saint Margaret’s, Westminster spent all of her husband’s money in riotous living and when her good (and a little dull) husband begs her to leave off drinking and spending, she plots to poison him on the advice of the wicked landlady Margaret Harwood. He begs her ‘oh wife, wife, take counsell by me thy hitherto loving husband, forsake that company which hate not thy body, but soule, do not drink healths to thine own confusion, nor with so greedy an appetite swallow thine own destruction’ (p3). The poor man comes to a painful end but the evil deed of the women is soon discovered.
This may be a cautionary tale rather than a factual account. Court proceedings were not written down until the 1670s and it wasn’t until the 1750s that (nearly) every case was recorded.
Guildhall Library holds many of these short accounts of criminal activity which were printed and sold as a private enterprise and had nothing to do with the formal legal system. Some offer confessions or speeches purported to come from criminals about to be executed, sometimes ‘from the ladder’ just before they were hung.
One of my colleagues has suggested that this woodcut illustration is far older than the 1641 publication. The clothing depicted suggests an earlier date. Perhaps the workshop which did the printing owned the woodcut illustration and as it was to hand made use of it.
‘Murther, Murther!’ can be ordered at the library using reference A 1.2 no1 in 12.
This and other ‘accounts’ can be found on the library catalogue and you are welcome to visit to read them – just bring along proof of your name and address.