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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner - At the request of her lover
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 14, 1751
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1719
Victim profile: Her father, Francis Blandy
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Henley-upon-Thames, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging outside of Oxford Castle prison on November 30, 1752

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The Trial of Mary Blandy, by William Roughead (7,8 Mb)

Mary Blandy (1719–November 30, 1752) was a well-born woman who was said to have poisoned her father at the behest of her suitor.

Mary's dowry was proclaimed by her father Francis, a lawyer, to be £10,000. When Mary was 26, she met Captain William Henry Cranstoun, who was considered by both of Mary's parents to be a fair suitor. Cranstoun, from a prominent family and descended from two famous Scottish clans, the Kerrs and Campbells, was already married, with two children in Scotland. He convinced his wife to sign papers that stated that she disowned him. She did not, however, agree to an annulment. When Blandy found out about Cranstoun's behaviour, he decided that he was not, after all, worthy to marry his daughter.

Cranstoun sent Mary some powder which he claimed was a love potion that would change her father's mind about their union. Mary put the powder in Francis's tea and gruel. Blandy became ill and after a few days, died. Mary was arrested, found guilty of murder, and hanged on November 30, 1752. Cranstoun disappeared and spent the rest of his days in France.


  • Look For the Woman by Jay Robert Nash. M. Evans and Company, Inc. 1981. ISBN 0871313367


Mary Blandy (1720 – April 6, 1752) was a female murderer in 18th century England. In 1751, she poisoned her father, Francis Blandy, with arsenic. She claimed that she thought the arsenic was a love potion that would make her father approve of her relationship with William Henry Cranstoun, an army officer and son of a Scottish nobleman.

On Easter Monday 1752, she was hanged outside of Oxford Castle prison for the crime of parricide. Her case attracted a great deal of attention from the press. Many pamphlets claiming to be the "genuine account" or the "genuine letters" of Mary Blandy were published in the months following her execution. The reaction among the press was mixed. While some believed her version of the story, most thought that she was lying. The debate over whether or not she was morally culpable for her crime continued for years after her death. In the 19th century, her case was reexamined in several texts with a more sympathetic light. People began to think of her as a "poor lovesick girl." Today, her case has been practically forgotten.


Mary's parents raised her to be an intelligent, articulate Anglican woman. Her reputation in Henley, where she lived her entire life, was that of a well-respected, well-mannered, and well-educated young woman. In 1746, Mary met Captain William Henry Cranstoun. The two intended to marry in 1751. However, it was exposed that he was married to a woman in Scotland and had a child by this marriage. Cranstoun denied the validity of this marriage and made several trips to Scotland over the course of his relationship with Mary to have the marriage annulled.

After months of stalling, Mary's father, Francis Blandy, became suspicious of Cranstoun and believed that he did not intend to leave his wife. Mr. Blandy made no attempt to hide his disapproval of Cranstoun's marriage. What happened next is unclear. Mary claimed that Cranstoun sent her a love potion (which later turned out to be arsenic) and asked her to place it in her father's food to make him approve of their relationship. Mary did this, and inevitably, her father died.

The trial was of some forensic interest as there was expert testimony about the arsenic poisoning that was presented by Dr. Anthony Addington. Addington had done testing that would be rudimentary by today's standards, but was quite fascinating in the 18th Century, based on testing residue for traces of arsenic. It was of such interest to 18th Century England, that Dr. Addington's career was made. The doctor eventually became the family doctor to William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. His son would be Henry Addington, future Prime Minister and Home Secretary (as Viscount Sidmouth.


Mary Blandy

Mary was raised with all the advantages. She was the only daughter of a lawyer, Francis Blandy of Henley on Thames, and had the best in home life and education. By the time she was twenty-six years old she was beginning to think that an advantageous marriage had passed her by, despite the promise of a £10,000 dowry from her father.

It was about this time that Captain William Henry Cranstoun came into the Blandy's lives. He was the son of a Scottish peer and was recruiting in the area. On hearing of the dowry he ingratiated himself with the family. Mary was flattered by the man and her parents, snobbishly, thought him a worthy suitor for their daughter. For Cranstoun's part, he had a problem. He was already married, with two children. Cranstoun wrote to his wife asking her to disown him, which she did. When he wrote and asked her to have the marriage annulled she objected and brought legal proceedings against her husband. Francis Blandy heard of the scandalous behaviour of Cranstoun and threw him out. Cranstuon went to live with his mistress and then returned to his family in Scotland.

Despite the distance, Mary and Cranstoun carried on their contact. Cranstoun sent Mary some powders. These, according to Mary, were designed to make her father more compliant in the matter of their relationship. Mary put them into her father's gruel and tea. He quickly became ill, as did a servant who had finished off some of the poisoned food. Doctors told Mary that if her father died she would be accused of murder. She quickly disposed of the rest of the powders and her letters from Cranstoun but the servants saw her while she was burning them. Francis Blandy died on 14th August 1751.

Mary came to trial on 3rd March 1752. After eleven hours she was convicted and sentenced to death. She went to the gallows in Oxford on 6th April 1752. On mounting the ladder some people in the crowd tried to look up her skirts and she requested the executioners, "Gentlemen, don't hang me high, for the sake of decency."

Cranstoun fled to France on hearing of Mary's arrest and joined a monastery. He died there on 30th November 1752. Had Cranstoun managed to marry Mary he would never have got his hands on the £10,000 dowry. Blandy's entire estate amounted to less than £4,000.


Mary Blandy (1720-1752)

Born: 1720 at Henley-upon-Thames, Oxfordshire


Died: 6th April 1752 at Oxford, Oxfordshire

Mary Blandy was the only child of Francis Blandy, an attorney and town clerk of Henley-upon-Thames in Oxfordshire, and his wife, Anne, the 2nd daughter of Thomas Stevens of the same town. Her paternal grandfather was John Blandy of Letcombe Bassett and her maternal great grandfather was Richard Stevens of Culham Court in Remenham, both in Berkshire. It was said that Francis had a fortune of £10,000 which he would be able to leave to his daughter. An avaricious officer in the marines, named William Henry Cranstoun, son of William, 5th Lord Cranstoun, proposed to marry her. The two were lovers for six years, often meeting along 'Miss Blandy's Walk' at Park Place across the Thames in Remenham. The father, however, objected, suspecting Cranstoun to be already married. He had, in fact, married a certain Anne Murray in 1745. Thereupon Cranstoun induced Miss Blandy to administer arsenic in small doses to her father. He died, after some mouths, on 14th August 1751. Mary was immediately detained in her room; but, on finding the door open, she went for a walk around Henley. The townsfolk were not happy and chased her over the bridge into Remenham where she took refuge with her friend, Mrs. Davis, the landlady of the ‘Little Angel’, before being taken back into custody.

Miss Blandy was tried at Oxford, on 3rd March 1752, convicted upon strong evidence, including that of her father's physician, Anthony Addington. She was hanged on 6th April 1752, her last request being that, for the sake of decency, she should not be hoisted too high. Much attention was aroused at the time, especially by the pathetic circumstance that the father, when he knew himself to be dying by his daughter's hands, only pitied her and tried to prevent her committing herself. He appears to have thought that she mistook the poison, which she received from Cranstoun, for a potion intended to win his favour to the match. This view was suggested at the trial and solemnly asserted by Miss Blandy at her death, but is inconsistent with many facts brought out in evidence. Cranstoun escaped, but died on 2nd December 1752. It was remarked as a strange coincidence that a banker in the Strand, named Gillingham Cooper, received, as lord of the manor at Henley, the forfeiture of two fields belonging to Miss Blandy; and of a malthouse belonging to a Miss Jefferys who, on 28th March 1752, was hanged for the murder of her uncle at Walthamstow.

Edited from Leslie Stephen's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1886)



Mary Blandy was 31 when she was hanged in 1752 for the murder of her father, by poisoning. She behaved with bravery and penitence to the end.

She was unusual in the annals of women who were executed - she was middle class and well educated for her day. Her father, Francis Blandy, was a prosperous lawyer and the Town Clerk of Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire at the time of his murder so Mary lived a comfortable life style.

Francis had unwisely advertised a dowry of £10,000 - a huge sum for those days, for the man who married Mary and this attracted plenty of suitors all of whom being promptly rejected except one, the Honourable Captain William Henry Cranstoun, who was initially acceptable. Cranstoun was the son of a Scottish nobleman and therefore seen as a suitable match for Mary. By all accounts he was not a physically attractive person but seems to have been able to take Mary in completely. All went well to begin with but then problems arose when it was discovered that Cranstoun was in fact still married in Scotland although he had been living in the Blandy household for a year. Mary's father became very unhappy about Cranstoun and began to see him for what he was. To get over Francis' hostility, Cranstoun persuaded Mary to give her father powders which he described as an ancient "love philtre" and which he assured her would make Francis like him.

He knew what the powders contained but presumably didn't mind letting his girlfriend murder her father to get the £10,000 dowry. Ironically Francis Blandy's estate came only to around £4000. Under the law at the time this would have automatically passed to him if they married.

Mary seemed to be totally taken in by Cranstoun and administered these powders, which were in fact arsenic, in her father's tea and gruel. He became progressively more ill. The servants had also become ill from eating some of the left over food although they all recovered. None of this seemed to register with Mary - that the powders might be the cause of the problem.

When her father was seriously ill and obviously near death Mary sent for the local doctor who advised her that she could be held responsible for poisoning him so she quickly burned Cranstoun's love letters and disposed of the remaining powders. Susan Gunnel the housemaid had the presence of mind to rescue some of the powder from the fire when Mary tried to destroy the evidence, and take it to a chemist for analysis who found that it was arsenic. Arsenic is a cumulative poison and only kills when the levels have built up in the body.

Francis realised he was dying and asked to see Mary, telling her that he suspected he was being poisoned by her. She begged for his forgiveness, which he indeed gave her, despite the fact that she did not admit her crime to him. He finally succumbed to the poison on the 14th August 1751.

In spite of popular suspicion it was some time before Mary was arrested, however. As soon as he got wind of her likely arrest, Cranstoun deserted her and is thought to have escaped abroad and died penniless in France in late 1752.


She came to trial at Oxford Assizes on the 29th of  February 1752. The trial was of particular interest because it was the first time detailed medical evidence had been presented in court on a charge of murder by poisoning. Although Dr. Anthony Addington had not been able to chemically analyse Francis Blandy's organs for traces of arsenic as the technology didn't exist at the time, he was able to convince the court on the basis of observed comparison that the powder Mary had put in her father's was indeed arsenic.

She defended herself with what as been described as "intelligence and zeal" although her case was hopeless. She made an impassioned speech for her own defence (defendants were not allowed lawyers at this time) in which she totally denied administering poison but did admit that she had put a powder into her father's food - she claimed "which had been given me with another intent". The servants gave evidence against her - telling the court that they had seen her administering the powders to her father's food and drink and trying to destroy the evidence.

Not surprisingly at the end of the 13 hour trial the jury swiftly convicted her of murder and she received the mandatory death sentence.

She was allowed six weeks between sentence and execution and appeared completely unmoved by her situation. The trial judge would have sent his recommendation to the Secretary of State and this would have been considered by the King and Privy Council at a “Hanging Cabinet.” Few murderers were reprieved, although it was not entirely unknown.  Poisoners stood even less chance. 

On arrival back at Oxford Castle, where Mary was imprisoned awaiting both her trial and execution, she requested and was given a hearty meal of mutton chops and apple pie.  She got on well, apparently, with her jailers and was well treated by them.  In July 1752 the Murder Act was passed which stipulated that all persons convicted of murder were to be fed only on bread and water and hanged within two days of sentence and that their body be dissected afterwards.  Fortunately for Mary she missed this new law and was able to buried in a proper grave.

Mary was the main news story in the Spring of 1752 and there were endless stories about her in the press.  She also wrote a great deal in the condemned cell including "Miss Mary Blandy's Own Account of the Affair between her and Mr. Cranstoun" which was described by one legal authority as the "most famous apologia in criminal literature".

Mary was allowed to correspond with another woman under sentence of death, Elizabeth Jefferies (who was convicted, with her lover John Swann, and hanged at Epping Forest in Essex on the 28th of March 1751 for the murder of her master and his uncle)

A middle class lady who visited Mary in prison was shocked to find that Mary was sympathetic to this woman who she regarded as a common criminal who deserved her fate. Mary was recorded as saying of her "I can't bear these over virtuous women. I believe that if ever the devil picks a bone it is one of theirs."


She was publicly hanged in the Castle Yard at Oxford (a large open space) on Monday the 6th April 1752 from a gallows consisting of a wooden beam placed between two trees.

When she was led out her last request to the officials was "for the sake of decency, gentlemen, don't hang me high". She was naturally modest and concerned that the young men in the crowd would look up her skirts if she was too high.

She was then made to climb a ladder draped in black cloth, whilst the hangman climbed a ladder beside her. Mary was noosed and her hands were tied in front to allow her to hold her prayer book. She covered her face with a large handkerchief. Her legs were not tied together.

It had been agreed that when she had finished her prayers she would drop the book as signal to the hangman to turn the ladder over and "turn her off" as the saying went.  She passed into unconsciousness very quickly and, as reported, "died without a struggle" - presumably due to vagal or carotid reflex.


So what do we conclude from this sad case which has remained famous for almost 250 years? Mary was notably brave in the way she faced her death. She knew she would die in public and would have expected that death by hanging would be slow and painful even though in the event it seemed not to be. Her last words ("for the sake of decency, gentlemen, don't hang me high") became instantly famous although they hardly seem those of someone who is terrified as to what lays ahead - rather more those of someone concerned with preserving her modesty than with her imminent death.

She admitted her guilt, at least to herself and probably felt that death was a proportional punishment for her crime. At that time hanging was the punishment for many crimes - all far less serious than hers - so there was no expectation of a reprieve or a sentence of transportation.

She was completely alone in the world, she was an only child, her parents were dead (her mother by natural causes) and abandoned by her lover.

Mary must have been totally devastated at the knowledge that the man who she thought loved her had duped her into murdering her own father and then immediately abandoned her to save his own skin while allowing her to take the punishment.

But how could an educated and mature woman be so taken in? Sadly she was by no means the first, nor will she be the last to murder for love. She must surely have had her suspicions when everyone who ate the food to which she had added the powders became violently ill and yet she brushed these aside in the hope that Cranstoun would marry her.

By the standards of justice prevailing in 1752, Mary had a fair trial and a fair sentence. Ironically modern forensic science would have simply made it easier to convict her. The only doubt as to her guilt is that of her intention - she loved her father and I feel sure she neither meant nor wanted to kill him but rather wanted to believe what Cranstoun had told her even though she had clear evidence that it was wrong. At one time arsenic was used as a tonic and this may account for why her father seemed actually better the first time she gave it to him.


Mary Blandy

Executed 6th of April, 1752, for murdering her Father at the Request of her Lover

Mr Francis Blandy was an attorney residing at Henley-on-Thames, and held the office of town clerk of that place. Possessed of ample means, his house became the scene of much gaiety; and as report gave to his daughter a fortune of no inconsiderable extent, and as, besides, her manners were sprightly and affable, and her appearance engaging, her hand was sought in marriage by many persons whose rank and wealth rendered them fitting to become her partner for life. But among all these visitants none were received with greater pleasure by Mr or Mrs Blandy, or their daughter, than those who held commissions in the army. This predilection was evidenced in the introduction of the Hon. William Henry Cranstoun, at that time engaged on the recruiting service for a foot regiment, in which he ranked as captain.

Captain Cranstoun was the son of Lord Cranstoun, a Scottish peer of ancient family, and through the instrumentality of his uncle, Lord Mark Ker, he had obtained his commission. In the year 1745 he had married a young lady of good family, named Murray, with whom he received an ample fortune; and in the year 1752 he was ordered to England to endeavour to procure his complement of men for his regiment. His bad fortune led him to Henley, and there he formed an intimacy with Miss Blandy.

At this time Cranstoun was forty-six years of age, while Miss Blandy was twenty years his junior ; and it is somewhat extraordinary that a person of her accomplishments and beauty should have formed a liaison with a man so much older than herself, and who, besides, is represented as having been devoid of all personal attractions.

A short acquaintance, it appears, was sufficient to excite the flame of passion in the mind of the gallant captain, as well as of Miss Blandy; and ere long their troth was plighted that they would be for ever one. The Captain, however, felt the importance of forestalling any information which might reach the ears of his new love of the existence of any person who possessed a better right to his affections than she, and he therefore informed her that he was engaged in a disagreeable lawsuit with a young lady in Scotland who had claimed him as her husband; but he assured her that it was a mere affair of gallantry, of which the process of the law would in the course of a very short time relieve him. This disclosure being followed by an offer of marriage, Cranstoun was referred to Mr Blandy, and he obtained an easy acquiescence on his part in the wishes expressed by the young lady.

At this juncture, an intimation being conveyed to Lord Ker of the proceedings of his nephew, his lordship took instant steps to apprise Mr Blandy of the position of Cranstoun. Prejudice had, however, worked its end as well with the father as the daughter, and the assertion of the intended bridegroom of the falsehood of the allegations made was sufficient to dispel all the fears which the report of Lord Ker had raised. But although Captain Cranstoun had thus temporarily freed himself from the effects of the imputation cast upon him, he felt that some steps were necessary to get his first marriage annulled, and he at length wrote to his wife, requesting her to disown him for a husband.

The substance of this letter was that, having no other way of rising to preferment but in the army, he had but little ground to expect advancement there while it was known he was encumbered with a wife and family; but could he once pass for a single man he had not the least doubt of being quickly promoted, which would procure him a sufficiency to maintain her as well as himself in a more genteel manner than now he was able to do.

Mrs Cranstoun, ill as she had been treated by her husband, and little hope as she had of more generous usage, was, after repeated letters had passed, induced to give up her claim, and at length wrote a letter disowning him. On this an attempt was made by him to annul the marriage, this letter being produced as evidence; but the artifice being discovered, the suit was dismissed, with costs. Mr Blandy soon obtained intelligence of this circumstance, and, convinced now of the falsehood of his intended son-in-law, he conveyed a knowledge of it to his daughter; but she and her mother repelled the insinuations which were thrown out, and declared, in obedience to what they had been told by the gallant Captain, that the suit was not yet terminated, for an appeal to the House of Lords would immediately be made.

Soon after this Mrs Blandy died, and her husband began now to show evident dislike for Captain Cranstoun's visits; but the latter complained to the daughter of the father's ill-treatment, and insinuated that he had a method of conciliating his esteem, and that when he arrived in Scotland he would send her some powders proper for the purpose, on which, to prevent suspicion , he would write "Powders to clean the Scotch pebbles."

Cranstoun sent her the powders, according to promise; and, Mr Blandy being indisposed on the Sunday se'nnight before his death, Susan Gunnel, a maid-servant, made him some water-gruel, into which Miss Blandy conveyed some of the powder and gave it to her father ; and repeating this draught on the following day, he was tormented with the most violent pains in his bowels.

The disorder, which had commenced with symptoms of so dangerous a character, soon increased ; and the greatest alarm was felt by the medical attendants of the old gentleman that death alone would terminate his sufferings. Every effort was made by which it was hoped that his life could be saved ; but at length, when all possibility of his recovery was past, his wretched daughter rushed into his presence, and in an agony of tears and lamentations confessed that she was the author of his sufferings and of his inevitable death.

Urged to account for her conduct, which to her father appeared inexplicable, she denied, with the loudest asseverations, all guilty intention. She repeated the tale of her love and of the insidious arts employed by Cranstoun, but asserted that she was unaware of the deadly nature of the powders, and that her sole object in administering them was to procure her father's affection for her lover. Death soon terminated the accumulated misery of the wretched parent, and the daughter had scarcely witnessed his demise ere she became an inmate of a jail.

At the ensuing assizes at Oxford Miss Blandy was indicted for the wilful murder of her father, and was immediately found guilty upon the confession which she had
made. She addressed the jury at great length, repeating the story which she had before related; but all was of no avail, and sentence of death was passed. At nine in the morning of the 6th of April, 1752, she left her apartment to be conducted to the scaffold, habited in a black bombasine dress, her arms being bound with black ribands.

On her ascending the gallows she begged that she might not be hanged high, "for the sake of decency"; and on her being desired to go a little higher, expressed her fear that she should fall. The rope having been put round her neck, she pulled her handkerchief over her face, and was turned off on holding out a book of devotions which she had been reading.

The Complete Newgate Calendar - Volume III



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