Constantia James (Norham, Northumberland, England, c.1708 – London, England, 22nd December 1738)
As we prepare for Christmas festivities, spare a thought for those not fortunate enough to share in the spirit of festive cheer. We have witnessed executions before here at the Guide and we Georgians were nothing if not keen on the noose, nor did we always demand much in the way of evidence before we passed judgement, wielding the power of life and death.
The sad facts in the case of Constantia James were recorded by the chroniclers of the Old Bailey and tell the story of an unhappy life. When she was brought before the judge for the final time, the life of the 30 year old woman was laid before the court and they heard that she had enjoyed a settled upbringing, even undertaking some education. In her teens Constantia took a job as housekeeper to a gentleman but the young woman fell pregnant by her employer and found herself without employment, references or reputation.
With nothing to her name Constantia found her way to London where she eventually became a prostitute. Over the decade that followed she was imprisoned in Newgate on 20 occasions for solicitation and petty crimes committed during her career on the streets. She had previously stood trial for her life and walked free but this time, in the bitter winter of 1738, she was not to be so fortunate.
Constantia was accused of picking the pocket of a Mr Davis of 36 shillings and a half-guinea whilst performing a service for him with her other hand. The evidence was the word of her accuser and on this, the woman was sentenced to death; she pled her belly but the midwives told the court that the woman was not pregnant and could, therefore, face the executioner. On the morning of her execution Constantia took her final prayers before going to the gallows, weeping bitterly to the end for her life and the fate that had befallen her.