Archive for December 16th, 2012

1678: Stephen Arrowsmith

4 comments December 16th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1678, one Stephen or Steven Arrowsmith was executed at Tyburn for the rape of a little girl the previous summer.

He was one of six people sentenced to hang that day, but four of them got reprieved. Arrowsmith and Nathaniel Russel, a convicted murderer, were the ones who had to swing.

The victim in Arrowsmith’s case, eight-year-old Elizabeth Hopkins, testified against her rapist in court, as did the child who walked in and saw Arrowsmith abusing the victim on July 7 of that year. Neither witness was properly sworn in. From the Old Bailey records:

The Girl that was ravished, being between 8 and 9, testified that he had had to do with her for half a year together every sunday, that she was hindred from crying the first time, by his stopping her mouth, and that he gave her money afterwards; and she never discovered it, till some of her friends observing her to go as if she were very sore, examined her, and by telling her she would be in danger of hanging in Hell, got her to confess, that the Prisoner was her fathers Prentice.

One Mrs. Cowel did testifie that upon observing her going, and other Circumstances, she did resolve to examine her, and made her confess, which she did, and being searched, was found shamefully abused, and sent to the Doctors to cure.

The like was attested by one Mrs. Sherwin, and by a Midwife, who said, she had got a very foul disease by it.

Arrowsmith’s defense was two-pronged:

  1. he hadn’t done it
  2. but if he had done it, Elizabeth had consented

The maid of the doctor who examined Elizabeth testified for the defense, saying she’d asked the victim why she hadn’t told anyone about the abuse, and Elizabeth answered that she took pleasure in it.

The jury was very reluctant to convict and, in fact, initially brought back a verdict of not guilty. And here the judge, a fellow with the Dickensian name Lord Chief Justice Scroggs,* decided to become the prosecutor.

He had had already expressed his own “great Detestation and abhorrence of so Horrid and Vile an offense,” and demanded to know why the jury had acquitted Arrowsmith.

One of the jurors, an apothecary, ventured that he personally believed Elizabeth had consented to intercourse. Scroggs reminded this person that she was under age and so the issue of her consent was irrelevant.

Other jury members said they were bothered by the fact that almost all the evidence was hearsay and the only direct witnesses, Elizabeth and her friend, had not been sworn. Testily, the judge replied that a rapist was not going to commit his crime in crowd of eyewitnesses, and the only reason the two girls had not been sworn was because of their youth, but if the jury wanted them sworn in he was prepared to do that. Then he sent them back to re-think their verdict.

To further complicate matters, during the second round of deliberations a thoughtless officer of the court, charged with looking after the two child witnesses, brought both girls to the jury to talk to them in private. When Scroggs found out he quickly put a stop to this and had the bailiff thrown in jail, and the jury (who swore that this hadn’t been their idea) was allowed to continue its deliberations. Jurors later said the unauthorized meeting had convinced them of the girls’ honesty, and they returned with a verdict of guilty.

Kind of like Twelve Angry Men in reverse.

“The Criminal Trial Before the Lawyers,” (pdf) a paper published in the University of Chicago Law Review in 1978, referenced the Arrowsmith case and Scroggs’s behavior. The paper’s author, John H. Langbein, tried to explain and defend the “judicial dominance” which might lead a modern reader to look askance at the fairness of the proceeding:

Hale’s treatise confirms this practice. “If the jurors by mistake or partiality give their verdict in court, yet they may rectify their verdict before it is recorded, or by advice of the court go together again and consider better of it, and alter what they have been delivered.” The tradition that the jury would lightly disclose the reasoning for a verdict became especially important in this situation, because it enabled the court to probe the basis of the profferred verdict, hence to identify the jury’s “mistake” and correct it. Thus, in the Arrowsmith case, the court discovered that the chemist’s opinion that an eight-year-old “could not be Ravished” had been influential, and the court refuted it…

Indeed, to this day in many countries, including the UK and the USA, a judge still has the right to overturn a jury’s decision if he or she feels the evidence did not support the verdict. This privilege is but rarely exercised.

At the gallows, just before his death, Arrowsmith wept and finally owned up to what he had done, saying he’d been a good person all his life until “Satan seduced him to this abominable wickedness.”

* Seen here in a more everyday juridical situation, Scroggs was also a figure in the “Popish Plot” anti-Catholic trials breaking out at this period.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Notable Jurisprudence,Other Voices,Public Executions,Rape,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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Themed Set: Tyburn on the cusp of the Bloody Code

1 comment December 16th, 2012 Headsman

If to the city sped – What waits him there?
To see the profusion that he must not share;
To see ten thousand baneful arts combined
To pamper luxury, and thin mankind;
To see those joys the sons of pleasure know,
Extorted from his fellow-creature’s woe.

Here, while the courtier glitters in brocade,
There the pale artist plies his sickly trade;
Here, while the proud their long-drawn pomps display,
There the black gibbet glooms beside the way.

-Oliver Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village” (1770) (via Linebaugh)

The “Bloody Code” — England’s profusion of sanguinary capital punishment laws and the terrifying quantities of hangings that resulted — can be variously dated.

The 1688 Glorious Revolution makes for convenient periodization, aligning as it does with the the stirrings that would make a burgeoning London the heart of the industrial revolution. As capital crimes multiplied from about 50 when the House of Stuart fled, to well over 200 by 1815, property crimes featured heavily: commercial burglary past five shillings’ value, or shoplifting at the same threshold, became “non-clergyable” hanging crimes as soon as the 1690s.

Perhaps the more emblematic legal innovations are better sought after 1714, when Hanover princes arrived bringing Whig governance and noteworthy arrogations of state violence in the Riot Act (1714) and the Waltham Black Acts (1723).*

Less exalted infractions than these fell, in general, to their victims themselves for investigation and prosecution, a bizarre system of law enforcement as a private good to thrill the libertarian heart. Naturally this encouraged new forms of horrible entrepreneurship, like professional thief-takers who were simultaneously the major crime lords.

To give force to unpoliced laws, London depended upon the outsized threat of the rope (mitigated in the breach by “pious perjury”: the readiness of jurors to mercifully deflate the value of offended property just below the hanging threshold in many cases). The statutes multiplied organically upon themselves across the years, little bulwarks thrown up higgledy-piggledy to defend multiplying forms of commerce, property, and merchants in a city whose disorder grew side by side with her wealth.

“Are there not capital punishments sufficient in your statutes?” Lord Byron demanded in the House of Lords in 1812. “Will you erect a gibbet in every field, and hang up men like scarecrows?” The occasion was a bill to make it a hanging crime to break stocking frames, a protection of the capital stock the law had long ago extended to silk looms.

However one charts the Bloody Code’s subsequent growth, its root in the last decades of the 17th century and the start of the 18th lay in the classic crimes of violence dating back to before William and Mary — murder, rape, highway robbery, crimes of state including coining — as well as significant thefts, to which the new varieties of larceny were gradually to be adjoined. Across the century, London’s Tyburn gallows bent for all these men and women.

Our next few posts visit offenders in this time, not really so different from those who followed: people sucked into the city from every quarter, bound by their offenses large and small to blaze a trail for posterity to the deadly tree.

* An American legislative commission tallying the capital crimes legislated during England’s different ruling dynasties found:

  • There were 4 [crimes] made capital under the Plantagenets.
  • There were 27 made capital under the Tudors.
  • There were 36 made capital under the Stuarts.
  • There were 156 made capital under the House of Brunswick.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Themed Sets


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