matrimonial bargains

Mary Blandy was a female murderer in 18th century England. In 1914 William Roughead, who appears to be the Truman Capote of his day wrote of her trial for the killing of her father

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“Mr. Blandy, business-like in all things, wanted full value for his money; as none of Mary’s local conquests appeared to promise him an adequate return, he and his wife and daughter spent a season at Bath, then the great market-place of matrimonial bargains.

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The first suitor to appear with matrimonial intent was a thriving young apothecary, but Mr. Blandy quickly made it plain that Mary and her £10,000 dowry were not to be had by any drug-compounding knave who might make sheep’s eyes at her, and the apothecary returned to his gallipots for healing of his bruised affections.

Japanese gallipots found here

Dining with her parents in the summer of 1746, Mary Blandy encountered her fate. Among the guests was one Captain the Hon. William Henry Cranstoun, a soldier and a Scot, whose appearance, according to a diurnal writer, was unprepossessing. “In his person he is remarkably ordinary, his stature is low, his face freckled and pitted with the smallpox, his eyes small and weak, his eyebrows sandy, and his shape no ways genteel; his legs are clumsy, and he has nothing in the least elegant in his manner.” The moral attributes of this ugly little fellow were only less attractive than his physical imperfections. “He has a turn for gallantry, but Nature has denied him the proper gifts.” He was at this time thirty-two years of age, and, as the phrase goes, a man of pleasure.

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Mr Blandy found to his surprise and joy that the little lieutenant, with his courtesy style of captain, was no less a person than the son of a Scots peer. As a very much “younger” son, he probably had little more than his pay and a fine assortment of debts. But for Mr Blandy it was a chance to marry his daughter to a man who called the daughter of an Earl grandmother, and could claim kinship with half the aristocracy of Scotland.

Scottish slippers found here

Cranstoun, formally proposing to the old folks for their daughter’s hand, was well received.  The mother enjoyed for the first time the company and conversation of a man of fashion, and Mary felt amid the Henley meadows paradisiacal experiences with her beau. But her happiness received an unexpected check when her father was told the amazing news that his daughter’s lover already had a wife and child living in Scotland.

The old attorney was justly incensed at the unworthy trick of which he had been the victim. In all the majesty of outraged fatherhood, he sought an interview with his treacherous guest. That gentleman, whose acquaintance with “tight corners” was extensive and peculiar, rose gallantly to the occasion.

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Mr. Blandy, accepting his guest’s denial, allowed the engagement to continue in the meantime, until the result of legal proceedings should be known. He was as loath to forego the chance of such an aristocratic connection as was his wife to part from so “genteel” a friend; while Mary Blandy–well, the damsels of her day were not morbidly nice in such matters, more than once had the nuptial cup eluded her expectant lips, she was nearing her thirtieth year: such an opportunity might not occur again.

nuptial cup found here

We hear nothing further of their doings until Thursday, 28th September 1749, when Mrs. Blandy became seriously ill. The complaint of which Mrs. Blandy died was, as appears, intestinal inflammation, but, as we shall see later, her daughter was popularly believed to have poisoned her. 

Francis Blandy was much affected by the loss of his wife. At first he seems to have raised no objection to Cranstoun’s constant presence in the house, but soon Mary had to complain of the “unkind things” which her father said both to her lover and herself. 

Miss Blandy states that, apropos to her father’s unpropitious attitude, her lover acquainted her of the great skill of the famous Mrs. Morgan, a cunning woman in Scotland, from whom he had received a certain love powder. Mary said she had no faith in such things, but Cranstoun assured her of its efficacy, having once taken some himself, and immediately forgiven a friend to whom he had intended never to speak again. “If I had any of these powders,” said he, “I would put them into something Mr. Blandy should drink.” Such is Mary’s account of the inception of the design upon her father’s love–or life.

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One morning, Mary states, Cranstoun put some of the magic powder in the old gentleman’s tea. Mr. Blandy, who at breakfast had been very cross, appeared at dinner in the best of humours, and continued so all the time Mr. Cranstoun stayed with him. After this, who could doubt the beneficent efficacy of the wise woman’s drug?

A day or two afterwards, when Cranstoun was out, Mary, so far anticipating her wifely duties, entered his room in order to collect his things for the wash. She found more “dirty linen” than she expected. In an unlocked trunk was a letter of recent date, addressed to the gallant captain by a lady then enjoying his protection in town. Even Miss Blandy’s robust affection was not, for the moment, able to overlook a treachery so base. A disgusting scene ensued. For two hours the wretched little captain wept and raved, imploring her forgiveness. On his knees, clinging to the skirts of her gown, he swore he would not live unless she pardoned his offence. Mary foolishly yielded.

Begging monkeys found here

From about that date Francis Blandy’s health began to fail. He was in the sixty-second year of his age, and he suffered the combined assault of gout, gravel, and heartburn. He ordered Mary to write to Cranstoun telling him on no account to show his face until his matrimonial difficulties were “quite decided.”

But if Miss Blandy were to secure a husband and Cranstoun lay hands upon her £10,000, some step must be taken. Both knew that while his wife lived Cranstoun could never marry Mary. At any moment her father might learn the truth and alter the disposition of his fortune. That they openly agreed to remove by murder the obstacle to their mutual desires is unlikely. Cranstoun, as appears from all the circumstances, was the instigator of the plot; probably nothing more definite was said between them than that the “love powder” would counteract the old man’s opposition; but from her subsequent conduct, it is unlikely that Mary acted in ignorance of the true purpose of the prescription.

In April, she received from her lover a letter informing her that he had seen his old friend Mrs. Morgan, who was to oblige him with a fresh supply of her proprietary article, which he would send along with some “Scotch pebbles” for his betrothed’s acceptance. “Ornaments of Scotch pebbles,” says Lady Russell, “were the extreme of fashion in the year 1750.” Mary consented to give the love philtre a fair trial.

Scotch pebble cross found here

Miss Blandy was seen by the maids at mid-day stirring gruel with a spoon in the pantry. On Tuesday Mr. Blandy had become seriously ill in the night, with symptoms of violent pain, vomiting, and purging. The strange circumstances attending this gruel aroused the maids’ suspicions. They examined the contents of the pan and found a white, gritty “settlement” at the bottom. They prudently put the pan in a locked closet overnight. Next day Susan sent for Mr. Norton, the apothecary, who removed it for examination.

apothecary shower curtain found here

Dr. Addington arrived at midnight. From the condition of the patient, coupled with what he learned from him and Mr. Norton, there was no doubt Mr. Blandy was suffering from the effects of poison. Mary was that evening confined to her chamber and a guard was placed outside.

The person charged with the duty of warding Mary in her chamber was Edward Herne, parish clerk of Henley. Next morning, Ned Herne leaving his fair charge unguarded, went off to dig a grave for her now dead father. As soon as the coast was clear, Mary, with “nothing on but a half-sack and petticoat without a hoop,” ran out into the street and over Henley bridge, in a last wild attempt to cheat her fate.

Henley Bridge found here

She was quickly recaptured and removed to Oxford Castle. At first, we are told, “her imprisonment was indeed rather like a retirement from the world than the confinement of a criminal.” She had her maid to attend her, the best apartments in the keeper’s house were placed at her disposal, she drank tea twice a day, walked at her pleasure in the keeper’s garden, and of an evening enjoyed her game of cards.

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Then a rumour reached the authorities in London that a scheme was afoot to effect her rescue. The Sheriff of the county was instructed “to take more particular care of her,” the felon’s fetters were riveted upon her slender ankles; and there was an end to the daily walks amid the pleasant alleys of the keeper’s garden.

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Mary Blandy’s trial lasted thirteen hours. The Crown case clearly established the fact that arsenic was the cause of Mr. Blandy’s death. Mary was found guilty and condemned to hang.

As she was climbing the fatal ladder, covered, for the occasion, with black cloth, she stopped, and addressing the celebrants of that grim ritual, “Gentlemen,” said she, “do not hang me high, for the sake of decency.” 

The reader may care to know what became of Cranstoun. That “unspeakable Scot,” it has regretfully to be recorded, was never made amenable to earthly justice. He was, indeed, the subject of at least four biographies, but human retribution followed him no further.

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52 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. your stream of conciousness…. is always facinating

    • thank you John. Why doesn’t your name link back to your blog? do you need to sign in when you comment?

  2. Beware of courting those who claim kinship with half the aristocracy of Scotland. Your snobbish ambitions may bring a host of unexpected troubles in their wake.

    • My heritage is Irish. Bog Irish not aristocracy.

  3. I could do with a brief stay in prison at Oxford castle – preferably unfettered.
    The begging monkeys? Don’t find them endearing at all – that picture is the stuff of nightmares…

    • I was pissed on by a female monkey in Indonesia once. Her male partner was getting a little too friendly and she objected strongly

    • Begging monkeys. Reminds me of south africa. 17 million live on welfare while only 4.5 million are registered to pay tax. Still the world is happy its a so called democracy! Actually its a kleptocracy.

      • the actual tony blair was a man of rather simiar ears … one wonders if they were every used to hear, or simply flap explosives onto people less pasty than himself …

  4. Those monkeys have me gibbering too – as for the Blandys ….

    • I like chimpanzees, they have better manners generally.

  5. another fascinating story! thanks NM.

    • You’re welcome queenie. When are you going to post again?

  6. Well then, let’s go for the long fall and hope that the head remains in place.
    Basteds all along.

  7. Didn’t Idi Amin think he was royalty or aristocracy from Scotland?
    And I thought all gallipots came from Gallipoli.No? 😉

    • Yes, King of Scotland was a great film. Have you seen it John?

      • I just caught it recently on cable. Thought Forest Whitaker did a great job, from the bits I remember as a kid during the whole Entebbe thing. Very good movie, highly recommended!

      • I want to try to rent that one this weekend. I’m actually more taken with the Scotch Pebbles.

  8. You do find some fancy footwear to feature, don’t you, Nurse? Poor Mary, duped by all the men in her life.

    • Yeah, her father sure had her fooled as well. There was not much dowry to speak of after all.

  9. That source was a little hard to follow…phew.

    • Gutenberg usually is. I had a devil of a time cutting it down to a reasonable length without losing any pertinent details.

  10. Fun with poison! Until you get caught.

    • I prefer to stay on the right side of the law

  11. Hope she was decent enough to wear her hoop at her hanging?

    • Actually, I don’t think she did. If I remember correctly she was only wearing a shift.

  12. “Love powder” reminds me of the time Daisyfae got ruffied.

    • It’s a brave man (or woman) who would roofie daisyfae 😉

  13. I’ve just spent far too much time at that Trocadero site(gallipots dealer) Oh my stars! What lovely pieces they have, including a Japanese shunga painting much like one I have.
    Now…what could I sell?

    • I didn’t know what gallipots were until I found that site.

  14. Bounder…he got away with it…

    • a bounder and a cad!

  15. Poor silly Mary… I was hoping that at some point she would wise up, pop them all off [including her Scottish beau], and run off with the loot.

    • She was a fool for love

  16. When I was younger I was made to believe that when a person rubs you with tiger balm, you will follow them and beg them to sleep with you. One boy was rumoured to have it in our primary school once. I have never seen it but have heard of love portion story in my day.

    • I use tiger balm while I’m waiting for my migraine meds to kick in. It’s a wonderful temporary pain reliever

      • yes Tiger Balm is great. i also love the Axe oil. i’m not sure if you have it over there.

  17. that looks like the Monkey Bay in Phuket, Thailand :p

    • I’m not sure where it was taken Jaya. The source doesn’t say

  18. Strange how money seems to be a motivator for killing people. I always found it more interesting when the murderer doesn’t have a motive. You know like the Joker from Batman “Some men just want to watch the world burn”.

    • People who kill just for the thrill of it are the scariest of all

  19. I couldn’t help noticing your “Scottish” slippers had Confederate battle flags emblazoned on them.

    Shurely shome mishtake!

  20. Excuse me please, Nursie; I think one says ‘Scottish pebble…’ rather than ‘Scotch pebble…’.

    • Now I’m confused, I see that site also uses ‘Scotch’. I’ll have to ask Bill – he was born in Scotland.

      • “During the nineteenth century the term “Scotch Pebble” was first used”

        I now it sounds all wrong, but apparently it was correct back then

      • I beg your pardon, Nursie.

  21. I love these kind of stories. As sad as they are, they do fire he imagination. Thanks for this.


  22. Love the shower curtain

  23. A slow painful death…Mary is my new hero!

  24. Great tale! I suggest also the poisoning crimes of Livia, wife of the Roman Emperor, Augustus. She did away with almost every relative in order to stay in power. Chilling! Especially as retold in Robert Graves’ ‘I Claudius’.

  25. ‘Remarkably ordinary’… ha! I can relate!
    Of course, I’m not big on assisting with murder, though.

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