Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Execution of Constantia James

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.


Newgate Prison

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.

11 comments:

  1. Great post! I wonder how many like Constantia had to resort to becoming a prostitute..

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    1. Thank you; I feature so many noblewomen that i thought it was time that someone slightly less illustrious got a look in!

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  2. That Newgate was a horrid place for those on Death Row--there will lbe a post on nit on EHFA soon. :p

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    1. Tragically, back in those days the word of a MAN was all it took for a capital conviction. This was the era of hypocrisy where it was ALWAYS the Woman's fault! Her story is so dreadfully common that you can simply list the steps involved in her fall and apply it to tens of thousands of her Sisters. As a young and impressionable Girl (and I'm not using the word "impressionable" as a joke....due to the MALE imposed code of propriety, there was no safe sex training or any other such warnings), She was seduced by the "Gentleman" (Here I use this term as an insult because he no doubt was not) of the house in which She worked as a housemaid. He no doubt turned her head with ALL KINDS of sweet words just to get in her pants (the oldest scam in the book)....of course when this poor Girl turns up pregnant it of course was ALL her fault! Then she gets thrown out the door with a "reputation" which means that NOBODY will ever hire her again and She is left penny less and in the streets as "A Woman of Loose Morals". A hypocritical Society then flushes the poor FEMALE VICTIM down the tubes after which great efforts are taken to use Her and others in a sort of sickening morality play. Interestingly enough, I learned an enormous amount about this seeing as I am married to my Bermuda Princess....it was fascinating to see what I found in nook and crannies everywhere in Her Parents and Relative's Homes. Even though Bermuda physically is but a flyspeck out in the middle of the South Atlantic, it was never out of the loop as to what was going on in the Mother Country since Bermuda was a critical Naval Yard for the Royal Navy and Ships arrived almost daily with news. Interestingly, they were well up to date with the latest Newgate Calendar and these stories of "Fallen Women" were the "Supermarket Rags" of their day....I guess when you don't have 168 channels of Cable, you have to do something to pass your week. Bermuda was no better only in the beginning, they burned their "Fallen Women"....also on the sole evidence of HE said...case closed! I am a Man but the sheer injustice extended to another Human Soul sickens me since even today, in more places than not....a Man's word still counts for everything and a Woman's for nothing!!

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    2. So many of the Old Bailey trials hide a sad story, I think. Do tell us more about what your found in the homes of your wife's relatives, it all sounds fascinating!

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  3. If the walls of The Old Bailey could only speak I wonder how many would have gone free?

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    1. There are so many sad stories like this, one can only wonder at it!

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  4. Really interesting account, thank you! Stories like this get to the heart of life lived by our ancestors and are more interesting because of it.

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    1. Thank you; the story touched me so much when I read it.

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