1803: John Hatfield, Beauty of Buttermere deceiver

Add comment September 3rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1803, the Maid of Buttermere was widowed by the hangman. (She only used to be a Maid, of course.)

Before he was the presenter of BBC’s venerable In Our Time program, Melvyn Bragg wrote a historical novel about (and titled) The Maid of Buttermere

This legendary beauty bound for legendary sorrow entered literary annals and the nation’s romantic consciousness courtesy of a 1792 travelogue by Joseph Budworth (aka Joseph Palmer) titled A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes of Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Cumberland. The 35-ish Budworth/Palmer met the girl in her Cumbrian village and honored or embarrassed her with a breathless chapter celebrating Mary Robinson’s allure:

Mary of Buttermere

Her mother and she weere spinning woollen yarn in the back kitchen. On our going into it, the girl flew away as swift as a mountain sheep, and it was not until our return from Scale Force that we could say we first saw her. She brought in part of our dinner, and seemed to be about fifteen. Her hair was thick and long, of a dark brown, and, though unadorned with ringlets, did not seem to want them; her face was a fine oval, with full eyes, and lips as red as vermilion; her cheeks had more of the lily than the rose; and, although she had never been out of the village (and I hope will have no ambition to wish it), she had a manner about her which seemed better calculated to set off dress, than dress her. She was a very Lavinia,

Seeming, when unadorn’d, adorn’d the most.

When we first saw her at her distaff, after she had got the better of her first fears, she looked an angel; and I doubt not but she is the reigning Lily of the Valley.

Ye travellers of the Lakes, if you visit this obscure place, such you will find the fair Mary of Buttermere.

After this, a side trip to ogle the Lily of the Valley became part of the regular itinerary of Lake District visitors for a couple of years. How Mary felt about, or leveraged, her strange celebrity can only be guessed at but ten years onward she was still unmarried.

Enter John Hatfield.

This fellow made his wastrel’s way by imposture and cozening, having charmed his way into the company of the Duke of Rutland and two different heiresses. He overdrafted all these fortunes and paid some visits to debtors’ prison.

By the time he turned up in the Lake District, he was impersonating an M.P. named Colonel Hope, and under this name wooed and won our fair Lavinia. The poet Samuel Coleridge, who happened to be in the area on a walking tour, wrote up the event for the Oct. 11 edition of London’s Morning Post.

Romantic Marriage

On the 2d instant a Gentleman, calling himself Alexander Augustus Hope, Member for Linlithgowshire, and brother to the Earl of Hopetown, was married at the church of Lorten, near Keswick, to a young woman, celebrated by the tourists under the name of The Beauty of Buttermere. To beauty, however, in the strict sense of the word, she has small pretensions, for she is rather gap-toothed, and somewhat pock-fretten. But her face is very expressive, and the expression extremely interesting, and her figure and movements are graceful to a miracle. She ought indeed to have been called the Grace of Buttermere, rather than the Beauty. — She is the daughter of an old couple, named Robinson, who keep a poor little pot-house at the foot of the small lake of Buttermere, with the sign of the Char, and has been all her life the attendant and waiter, for they have no servant. She is now about thirty, and has long attracted the notice of every visitor by her exquisite elegance, and the becoming manner in which she is used to fillet her beautiful long hair; likewise by the uncommonly fine Italian hand-writing in which the little bill was drawn out. Added to this, she has ever maintained an irreproachable character, is a good daughter, and a modest, sensible, and observant woman. That such a woman should find a husband in a man of rank and fortune, so very far above her sphere of life, is not very extraordinary; but there are other circumstances which add much to the interest of the story. Above two months ago, Mr. Hope went to Buttermere upon a fishing expedition, in his own carriage, but without any servants, and took up his abode at the house kept by the father of the beauty of Buttermere, in the neighbourhood of which he was called the Honourable Charles Hope, Member for Dumfries. Here he paid his addresses to a lady of youth, beauty, and good fortune, and obtained her consent. The wedding clothes were bought, and the day fixed for their marriage, when he feigned a pretence for absence, and married the beauty of Buttermere. The mistake in the name, the want of an establishment suited to his rank, and the circumstance of his attaching himself to a young lady of fortune, had excited much suspicion, and many began to consider him an impostor. [sic] His marriage, however, with a poor girl without money, family, or expectations, has weakened the suspicions entertained to his disadvantage, but the interest which the good people of Keswick take in the welfare of the beauty of Buttermere, has not yet suffered them to entirely subside, and they await with anxiety the moment when they shall receive decisive proofs that the bridegroom is the real person whom he describes himself to be. The circumstances of his marriage are sufficiently to satisfy us that he is no impostor; and, therefore, we may venture to congratulate the beauty of Buttermere upon her good fortune. The Hon. Alexander Hope, the member for Linlithgowshire, is a Colonel in the army, a Lieut. Colonel of the 14th regiment of foot, brother, to the Earl of Hopetoun, and Lieutenant Governor of Edinburgh Castle.

Unfortunately Coleridge labored under a false Hope, and the wide publicity of this union instantly validated the locals’ suspicions of the suitor: plenty of Londoners knew that the real Colonel Hope was off in Vienna. Within a month (Nov. 8) the very same journal printed a lengthy article under a less flattering headline:

Fraudulent Marriage

[The following advertisement has been issued for apprehending the pretended Colonel Hope, who lately married the Buttermere Beauty]

Notorious Imposter, Swindler, and Felon. — John Hatfield, who lately married a young woman (commonly called the Beauty of Buttermere), under an assumed name. Height about five feet ten inches, aged about 44, full face, bright eyes, thick eye-brows, strong but light beard, good complection with some colour, thick but not very prominent nose, smiling countenance, fine teeth, a scar on one of his cheeks near the chin; very long, thick, light hair, with a great deal of it grey, done up in a club; stout, square shouldered, full breast and chest, rather corpulent and stout limbed, but very active, and has rather a spring in his gait, with apparently a little hitch in bringing up one leg; the two middle fingers of his left hand are stiff from an old wound, and he frequently has a custom of putting them straight with his right: has something of the Irish brogue in his speech, fluent & elegant in his language, great command of words, frequently puts his hand to his heart, very fond of compliments, and generally addressing himself to persons most distinguished by rank or situation, attentive in the extreme to females, and likely to insinuate himself where there are young ladies; he was in America during the war, is fond of talking of his wounds and exploits there, and on military subjects, as well as of Hatfield Hall, and his estates in Derbyshire and Chester, of the antiquity of his family, which he pretends to trace to the Plantagenets; all which are shameful falsehoods, thrown out to deceive. He makes a boast of having often been engaged in duels; he has been a great traveller also (by his own account), and talks of Egypt, Turkey, Italy, and in short has a general knowledge of subjects, which, together with his engaging manner, is well calculated to impose on the credulous. He was seven years confined in Scarborough gaol, from whence he married, and removed into Devonshire, where he has basely deserted an amiable wife and young family. He had art enough to connect himself with some very respectable merchants in Devonshire as a partner in business, but having swindled them out of large sums of money he was made a separate bankrupt, in June last, and has never surrendered to his commission, by which means he is guilty of felony. He cloaks his deceptions under the mask of religion, appears fond of religious conversation, and makes a point of attending divine service and popular preachers. To consummate his villainies he has lately, under the very respectable name of the Hon. Col. Hope, betrayed an innocent but unfortunate young woman near the Lake of Buttermere. He was on th 25th of October last, at Ravenglass in Cumberland, wrapped in a sailor’s great coat and disguised, and is supposed to be now secreted in Liverpool, or some adjacent port, with a view to leave the country.

He was indeed captured, convicted on three counts of felony forgery related to his pretense, and hanged on market day at Carlisle.

For the Beauty of Buttermere, the addition of this humiliating personal tragedy only deepened her charm to the literary set. William Wordsworth‘s lengthy autobiographical poem The Prelude contains in Book VII a meditation on the now-older Mary as a doting mother settled in with a respectable farmer, her youthful beauty and her consequent fame both receding into time.

I mean, O distant Friend! a story drawn From our own ground, — the Maid of Buttermere, — And how, unfaithful to a virtuous wife Deserted and deceived, the Spoiler came And wooed the artless daughter of the hills, And wedded her, in cruel mockery Of love and marriage bonds. These words to thee Must needs bring back the moment when we first, Ere the broad world rang with the maiden’s name, Beheld her serving at the cottage inn; Both stricken, as she entered or withdrew, With admiration of her modest mien And carriage, marked by unexampled grace. We since that time not unfamiliarly Have seen her, — her discretion have observed, Her just opinions, delicate reserve, Her patience, and humility of mind Unspoiled by commendation and the excess Of public notice — an offensive light To a meek spirit suffering inwardly. From this memorial tribute to my theme I was returning, when, with sundry forms Commingled — shapes which met me in the way That we must tread — thy image rose again, Maiden of Buttermere! She lives in peace Upon the spot where she was born and reared; Without contamination doth she live In quietness, without anxiety: Beside the mountain chapel, sleeps in earth Her new-born infant, fearless as a lamb That, thither driven from some unsheltered place, Rests underneath the little rock-like pile When storms are raging. Happy are they both — Mother and child! — These feelings, in themselves Trite, do yet scarcely seem so when I think On those ingenuous moments of our youth Ere we have learnt by use to slight the crimes And sorrows of the world. Those simple days Are now my theme; and, foremost of the scenes, Which yet survive in memory, appears One, at whose centre sate a lovely Boy, A sportive infant, who, for six months’ space, Not more, had been of age to deal about Articulate prattle — Child as beautiful As ever clung around a mother’s neck, Or father fondly gazed upon with pride. There, too, conspicuous for stature tall And large dark eyes, beside her infant stood The mother; but, upon her cheeks diffused, False tints too well accorded with the glare From play-house lustres thrown without reserve On every object near. The Boy had been The pride and pleasure of all lookers-on In whatsoever place, but seemed in this A sort of alien scattered from the clouds. Of lusty vigour, more than infantine He was in limb, in cheek a summer rose Just three parts blown — a cottage-child — if e’er, By cottage-door on breezy mountain-side, Or in some sheltering vale, was seen a babe By Nature’s gifts so favoured. Upon a board Decked with refreshments had this child been placed ‘His’ little stage in the vast theatre, And there he sate, surrounded with a throng Of chance spectators, chiefly dissolute men And shameless women, treated and caressed; Ate, drank, and with the fruit and glasses played, While oaths and laughter and indecent speech Were rife about him as the songs of birds Contending after showers. The mother now Is fading out of memory, but I see The lovely Boy as I beheld him then Among the wretched and the falsely gay, Like one of those who walked with hair unsinged Amid the fiery furnace. Charms and spells Muttered on black and spiteful instigation Have stopped, as some believe, the kindliest growths. Ah, with how different spirit might a prayer Have been preferred, that this fair creature, checked By special privilege of Nature’s love, Should in his childhood be detained for ever! But with its universal freight the tide Hath rolled along, and this bright innocent, Mary! may now have lived till he could look With envy on thy nameless babe that sleeps, Beside the mountain chapel, undisturbed. Four rapid years had scarcely then been told Since, travelling southward from our pastoral hills, I heard, and for the first time in my life, The voice of woman utter blasphemy — Saw woman as she is, to open shame Abandoned, and the pride of public vice; I shuddered, for a barrier seemed at once Thrown in that from humanity divorced Humanity, splitting the race of man In twain, yet leaving the same outward form. Distress of mind ensued upon the sight And ardent meditation. Later years Brought to such spectacle a milder sadness, Feelings of pure commiseration, grief For the individual and the overthrow Of her soul’s beauty; farther I was then But seldom led, or wished to go; in truth The sorrow of the passion stopped me there.

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1724: Jack Sheppard, celebrity escape artist

9 comments November 16th, 2011 Headsman

“Yes sir, I am The Sheppard, and all the gaolers in the town are my flocks, and I cannot stir into the country but they are at my heels baaing after me.”

Jack Sheppard

On this date in 1724, the hangman finally got Jack Sheppard.

Sheppard was a thief, a romantic hero, a highwayman of the urban proletariat, a Houdini whom no prison could hold.

It had become possible in his time to ride criminal notoriety into celebrity: Jack Sheppard, a mere 22 at his death, proved as adept with that quicksilver element during his personal annus mirabilis of 1724 as he was with a lockpick.

Sheppard’s world had him fitted to wield a hammer better than thieves’ tools — but at about age 20, a young man awash in the illicit liberty of London’s underbelly, he ditched the square carpenter to whom he was apprenticed to live free by his wits.

Peter Linebaug’s The London Hanged finds in Jack Sheppard’s career and his runaway popularity an important marker of the capital city’s “refusal of subordination: — contra Foucaultian discipline, which “makes the rulers of government and society seem all-powerful.”

An important meaning of liberation … [consisted of] the growing propensity, skill and success of London working people in escaping from the newly created institutions that were designed to discipline people by closing them in. This tendency I have dubbed ‘excarceration’ because I wish to draw attention to the activity of freedom in contrast to its ideological or theoretical expressions…

This lithe youth is most famous for his literal talent for freedom: four times in 1724 he escaped from custody in ever more dramatic fashion.

He busted out through the ceiling of St. Giles Roundhouse. He rappelled with a bedsheet rope down the 20-foot wall of Clerkenwell Prison with his lover.

This sort of thing won the enterprising rogue growing folk hero status. The vaunted Sheppard “made such a noise in the town, that it was thought the common people would have gone mad about him, there being not a porter to be had for love nor money, nor getting into an ale-house, for butchers, shoemakers and barbers, all engaged in controversies and wagers about Sheppard.”*

It also drew the unwanted attention of 1720s London’s Jabba the Hutt: “thief-taker” Jonathan Wild, who managed a vast thieving cartel enforced by Wild’s willingness to turn in non-participants in his ingenious cover role as the city’ preeminent lawman. That’s some protection racket.

Sheppard, to the fame of his memory, scorned obeisance to the crime lord as much as to any guild carpenter and worked for no man but himself. A vengeful Wild shopped him to the authorities.

This time, Sheppard was actually condemned to death for burglary but broke prison again, using yet another classic ruse: the “disguised in smuggled women’s clothes.”

Back on the lam, he posted a cocky letter to his executioner “Jack Ketch” giving his regrets at not having joined two fellow-sufferers on the scheduled hanging date. (September 4.)

I thank you for the favour you intended me this day: I am a Gentleman, and allow you to be the same, and I hope can forgive injuries; fond Nature pointed, I follow’d, Oh, propitious minute! and to show that I am in charity, I am now drinking your health, and a Bon Repo to poor Joseph and Anthony. I am gone a few days for the air, but design speedily to embark, and this night I am going upon a mansion for a supply; its a stout fortification, but what difficulties can’t I encounter, when, dear Jack, you find that bars and chains are but trifling obstacles in the way of your Friend and Servant

JOHN SHEPPARD

London’s finest were determined to put an end to this character’s preposterous run of prison breaks, so when they caught him the fourth time Sheppard found himself loaded with manacles and chained to the floor of a special strongroom in Newgate Prison. Get out of that, Jack.

Somehow, Jack got out of it.

On the night of Oct. 14, Sheppard authored the sublimest breakout in Newgate’s voluminous annals. Picking the locks of his fetters with a small nail, our acrobat scurried up a chimney, picked, prised, or otherwise passed a succession of locked doors in the dead of night, paused to rest on the condemned pew of the gaol chapel, forced a grille, reached the roof, and threw another homemade rope over the wall to scamper down to safety.

And then “he promptly went forth and robbed a pawnbroker’s shop in Drury Lane of a sword, a suit of apparel, snuff boxes, rings, &c., and suddenly made a startling appearance among his friends, rigged out as a gentleman from top to toe.”

There’s no doubt but that Jack had showmanship, but at a certain point he could have done with just the tiniest measure of discretion. But then, this was a man writing his own legend. Sure, he could have put his head down and tried to disappear into some nameless Puritan settlement in the New World. (His distraught mother kept telling him to get out of the country.) He traded those dull and toilsome years for the fame of generations: his candle burned at both ends.

When next Sheppard was detained, it was towards his apotheosis. It was the only time he would be arrested and fail to escape.

A throng of thousands mobbed London’s route to execution this date, almost universally supporting the ace escapologist. And Sheppard very nearly had for them the piece de resistance in his career of magical disappearances: it was only at the last moment before boarding the fatal tumbril that Sheppard’s executioners found the penknife their prey had secreted on his person, evidently intending to cut his cords and spring from the cart into the safety of the surging crowd. What an exploit that would have been.


Detail view (click for full image) of George Cruikshank‘s illustration of Sheppard’s death for William Ainsworth‘s Victorian novel about the legendary criminal. More of these illustrations here.

This indomitable soul has enjoyed a long afterlife as a subversive hero.

A celebrity in his own time, his execution-eve portrait was taken by the Hanover court painter himself, James Thornhill. Sheppard is a very likely candidate as an inspiration for the criminal Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera completed just a few years after his death; likewise, his abandoned apprenticeship makes him the most apparent model for Hogarth‘s “idle prentice” plates.

A century later, prolific historical novelist William Ainsworth** claimed the convict-martyr for an 1839 retelling. This popular potboiler — read it free online here — came in for a spate of 19th century social panic when it was learned that a notorious servant-on-master murder had been carried out by a young man who had recently read it. A two-decade ban on public plays based on the Jack Sheppard novel ensued.

For as much as Jack Sheppard is romanticized in his remarkable individual characteristics, his story has always had a class undertow that raises the hackles of the powerful — and is celebrated by the people who menace that power. Linebaugh, again:

Jack Sheppard, housebreaker and gaol-breaker, was once the single most well-known name from eighteenth-century England. His fame spread across oceans and the centuries. When the bandit Ned Kelly was alive, the Australian press was full of comparisons between him and Sheppard. At the same time on the other side of the globe in Missouri, Frank and Jesse James wrote letters to the Kansas City Star signed ‘Jack Sheppard’. In England his name cut deep into the landscape of popular consciousness. Henry Mayhew noted that Cambridgeshire gypsies accepted Sheppard stories as the archetype of ‘blackguard tales’. Among English sailors anyone with the surname of ‘Sheppard’ was automatically called ‘Jack’. Within the Manchester proletariat of the 1840s his name was more widely known than that of the Queen herself. One of these lads said, ‘I was employed in a warehouse at 6s. 6d. a week, and was allowed 6d. of it for myself, and with that I went regularly to the play. I saw Jack Sheppard four times in one week.’

The oral history of Sheppard has maintained his memory within human contexts where books were scarce and working-class resources for an independent historiography were non-existent. Moreover, that memory was kept in contexts of social struggle in which a continuity, if not a development, with earlier moral and political conflicts was suggested.

* cited in Andrea McKenzie, “The Real Macheath: Social Satire, Appropriation, and Eighteenth-Century Criminal Biography,” Huntington Library Quarterly, December 2006

** Ainsworth is also known for a novel about Sheppard’s near-contemporary, highwayman Dick Turpin.

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2001: Mona Fandey, witch doctor

6 comments November 2nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2001, former pop singer and shaman Mona Fandey was hanged with two accomplices at Kajang Prison outside Kuala Lumpur, closing the noose on one of the world’s weirdest and most sensational recent crimes.

Aging B-list pop crooner Maznah Ismail — “Mona Fandey” was her stage name — had transitioned to a gig as a high-rent spiritualist and healer, known locally as a bomoh.

In that capacity, she and hubby Mohd Affandi Abdul Rahman landed a politician with more money than sense. After collecting a bunch of cash from him, they got him to lie down with his eyes closed as part of a ritual that was supposed to make money fall from the skies. Instead, the couple’s assistant Juraimi Hussin chopped off his head, and Mona went on a shopping spree.

The effect of the grisly celebrity murder was heightened by Mona’s cheery demeanor throughout the trial and thereafter, as if a murderess’ notoriety was the pinnacle she never achieved as an entertainer.

She and her husband maintained an unsettling placidity about their demise to the very end. Some sources say she uttered the mysterious remark, “I will never die” just before her hanging. (Others have everyone silent.)

The end of the three killers was hardly the end of such a headline-grabbing case in the public memory. Her cell is becoming a protected “heritage site”, and her story has been treated on screens both small and silver.

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1959: Charles Starkweather, Nebraska spree killer

31 comments June 25th, 2008 Headsman

Just past midnight this date in 1959, Charles Starkweather was electrocuted in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a mass-murdering road trip with his jailbait date that claimed ten lives.*

A loner and loser, Starkweather’s spree in January 1958 caught the national imagination and has never quite let it go since — the prototypical despair of miscarried white masculinity, a primal scream from the underbelly of the American dream.

Bowlegged, myopic, slightly speech-impaired, Starkweather was an outcast at school and fought back with his fists, then dropped out entirely and into a yawning dead-end economic life collecting garbage from the wealthier quarters of Lincoln. “The more I looked at people the more I hated them because I knowed they wasn’t any place for me with the kind of people I knowed,” he said in his confession. Starkweather palliated his isolation by aping James Dean, dreaming of a big robbery score, and losing his heart to 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, in whose adolescent eyes the beaten boy felt his stature grow.

He — or maybe they together — killed her parents when they tried to interfere in the relationship, and then eight days of murderous desperation ensued that riveted Lincoln and the nation: they lived a few days with the corpses, shooing neighbors away with a story about the flu, then fled like animals, killing ruthlessly for a couple of cars and a place to spend the night and heading for Wyoming — all to no end that would make a lick of sense, not even the cockeyed hope that there was somewhere to go to outrun the gore. Killing and running had just become what they did to keep from having to stop.

I had hated and been hated. I had my little world to keep alive as long as possible and my gun. That was my answer. (Source)

Four months after he murdered the Fugate family and not yet 20 years of age, Charles heard his own death sentence from jurors in the city he’d briefly but unforgettably terrorized. (There’s a pdf timeline of the case from the Lincoln Evening Journal here.)

He lived cruelly, and it went cruelly with him to the last; offered a chance to donate his eyes, Starkweather retorted that “nobody ever did anything for me when I was alive. Why should I help anybody when I’m dead?” According to the Los Angeles Times, the doctor who was supposed to pronounce the prisoner dead himself suffered a fatal heart attack minutes before the electrocution.

Fugate’s tender age and sex spared her a death sentence, even though Starkweather said that she ought to be “sitting in my lap” when he went to the chair. She was paroled in 1976 and has mostly stayed out of view since. Laura James at CLEWS recently posted an update on her whereabouts.

More detailed annotations of this notorious duo’s life and times can be found here and here; the Lincoln Journal Star recently published an online 50-year retrospective on the case with high production values.

But if Starkweather’s James Dean fixation denoted the pull of celebrity glamor culture, his death left an enduring legacy for a world that had nothing for him in life, a haunting name recognition few school shooters or bell tower snipers have been able to hold since. He captivated the boyhood Steven King:

I do think that the very first time I saw a picture of [Starkweather], I knew I was looking at the future. His eyes were a double zero. There was just nothing there. He was like an outrider of what America might become.

The title track of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska is written as a first-person narrative by Starkweather, to the tune of a desolate acoustic accompaniment that imbues the killer’s brutality with an aching loneliness.

They wanted to know why I did what I did
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world

Martin Sheen wonderfully rendered a (heavily fictionalized) Starkweather character opposite Sissy Spacek on the silver screen in Badlands (1973):

Rather less artistically consequential, the 1963 low-budget film The Sadist, also based on the Starkweather case, is in the public domain and available free on Google video:* Starkweather killed a gas station attendant in a separate incident weeks before, so his body count is 11, with ten of them on his infamous spree.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Serial Killers,USA

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