Victim of a stitch-up or murderess for love? That’s the dichotomy surrounding the case of one Mary Blandy in the mid 18th-century.
Blandy was hanged for killing her dad in 1752, after she poisoned him to death. But her case became a cause célèbre, not least because she bucked the trend in terms of the run-of-the-mill killers. She was middle class and well educated – the daughter of an eminent lawyer and town clerk of well-to-do Henley on Thames.
As a result of their prosperity, her dad put it about that marriage to his daughter came with a £10,000 reward in the shape of a dowry.
Gold-diggers came from far and wide – the furthest being Scotland with the arrival of the Honourable Captain William Henry Cranstoun. However, it turned out that he wasn’t that honourable. He already had a wife and child stashed away in Scotland, but that didn’t stop him seeing pound signs when he looked at Blandy. With his eyes on the prize, he wooed her convincingly, because she, by all accounts, was completely besotted.
Her dad, on the other hand, was not and slowly got wise to the interloper. So what did Cranstoun do? He persuaded his love-struck bit of stuff to feed her dad a ‘love’ potion in a bid to get him to like his would-be son-in-law. But it turned out to be poison – arsenic to be precise, and bit by bit, Blandy started blinding killing her dad by lacing his food. When it was too late, her father confronted her and told her he thought she was poisoning him. Luckily he was able to forgive her. Nonetheless, the damage was done and he died.
Thing is the servants caught her trying to burn love letters and packets of poison, but they quickly nabbed them before the evidence went up in smoke. Sadly the correspondence charcoaled but there was enough poison salvaged to incriminate her. That suspicious display of surreptitiousness meant that the servants had no qualms about testifying against her in a court of law, and amid such damning accounts, Blandy had no hope. She was even saddled with the blame for her mother’s death and one Mrs Pocock’s too.
Following a 13-hour trial, the jury was in no doubt as to her guilt. She was sentenced to death and hanged at Oxford, aged 31. As she ascended the steps to her death, she is said to have remarked ‘I’m afraid I shall fall’, which in the grand scheme of things was the least of her worries. And in a way she was lucky in death. Just three months later, they passed the 1752 Murder Act, which deemed that poisoners should be deprived of food save for bread and water in the run-up to execution and that their bodies should be handed over for medical research rather than be afforded a burial.
To be fair, Blandy may have been a scheming little minx all along, but the evidence suggests that she was easily led by her would-be bigamist of a fiancé. Talking of the dastardly Cranstoun, you’re probably wondering what happened to him. Well he fled to France, where he died a destitute man.
Also on this day
6 April 1844 – John Gavin
6 April 1992 – Donald Harding
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