(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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Executed 6th of
April, 1752, for murdering her Father at the Request of her Lover
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Complete Newgate Calendar - Volume III