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Blandy, Maryfree

(1718/19–1752)
  • Andrea McKenzie

Mary Blandy (1718/19–1752), by Thomas Ryley, after F. Wilson, c. 1740s-50s

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Blandy, Mary (1718/19–1752), murderer, was born in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, the only child of Francis Blandy (c.1689–1751) and Mary Stevens (c.1700–1749), parents so 'excessively fond' of her that they could 'scarce bear her out of their sight', and 'whose continual Study was to promote her Happiness' (Genuine and Impartial Account, 3; Authentic Tryals, 21). Francis Blandy, an attorney, whose 'whole thoughts were bent to settle her advantageously in the world', not only provided her with 'the most liberal Education' but, presumably in hopes of marrying her 'into Opulence', committed the 'pious fraud' that would ultimately prove the undoing of both father and child. Although Blandy's wealth was later discovered to amount to less than £3000, he 'gave out, or encouraged, or did not contradict, a Report, that he was a Man of £10,000 Fortune' (Roughead, 65; Authentic Tryals, 6; London Evening Post). Not surprisingly, Mary's reputed wealth, 'join'd to her Accomplishments'—for, although no beauty, Miss Blandy was described as having an 'agreeable' and 'genteel Person' and 'engaging' manners, as well as a 'Capacity as few Women are Blessed with'—attracted many suitors (London Evening Post; Genuine and Impartial Account, 3). Unfortunately, however, 'every Match … was broke off, because the Father would advance no Money with his Daughter but only promis'd that he would leave her his All at his Death'. In the view of many contemporaries, 'such frequent Disappointments of Miss's Expectations, and natural Desires, undoubtedly raised her Resentment' (London Evening Post).

In the summer of 1746 Captain William Henry Cranstoun (bap. 1714, d. 1752), the younger son of a Scottish lord, began to pay his addresses to Miss Blandy, then in her late twenties and still unmarried. Cranstoun cut a less than dashing figure; he was more than twelve years Mary's senior and, in the words of one account, 'diminutive in Stature', 'of a very mean Aspect', and so 'disfigured by the Small Pox … as to have his Face all in Seams'. He was, however, possessed of sufficient 'Flattery and Complaisance' to insinuate himself into the daughter's good graces, while the fact that he was 'quality' was recommendation enough for the 'unhappy father', who was said to have cherished the hope of some day becoming 'grandfather to a lord' (Genuine and Impartial Account, 5, 4; GM). However, after learning that Cranstoun had a wife and child in Scotland, Francis Blandy actively discouraged the captain's suit. But the latter continued to correspond with Mary, whom he assured that the marriage was not legal. Beginning in June 1751, apparently at Cranstoun's urging, Mary laced her father's tea and later his water-gruel with arsenic—or, as Mary claimed to have believed, a 'love powder' which would induce her father to look more favourably upon their union. In early August Francis Blandy fell seriously ill; he lingered for over a week, finally expiring on 14 August 1751.

Mary Blandy, who had been seen tampering with her father's oatmeal and behaving suspiciously in general, was almost immediately apprehended for murder. While Mary had burnt her correspondence with Cranstoun, several fragments of a package containing arsenic were salvaged by the servants, and an apparently incriminating letter she had sent to her lover intercepted. More damning evidence emerged at her trial at the Oxford assizes on 3 March 1752, where servants testified that Mary had cursed her father for 'a rogue, a villain, a toothless old dog' whom she wished 'dead and at Hell', and was once heard to remark, 'who would grudge to send an old Father to Hell for £10,000?' (Roughead, 105; Genuine Account, 7). Perhaps the most moving testimony concerned the last interview between father and daughter, when the latter confessed to administering the ‘love powder’ to her father, but maintained she had done so only 'to make him love Cranstoun' (Genuine and Impartial Account, 7). When Mary begged her father not to curse her, the latter replied: 'my dear, how couldst thou think I could curse thee? No, I bless you, and hope God will bless thee and amend thy life'; he then instructed her to 'say no more', lest she say anything 'to her own prejudice' (Roughead, 93).

While it took less than five minutes for the jury to find Mary Blandy guilty, public opinion was sharply divided over the case. Many found it incredible that the accomplished Miss Blandy could have been so foolish as to mistake arsenic for an innocent ‘love powder’; others—including, it seems, her own father—saw Blandy as the innocent dupe of that 'cruel Spoiler', Cranstoun: a 'poor lovesick girl' who would do anything for 'the man she love[ed]' (Covent-Garden Journal, 10 March 1752; Genuine and Impartial Account, 7). After all, even if 'she were, as common repute would have it, a woman of “superior Understanding” she was still a woman' (Case of Miss Blandy, 19). And if many characterized Blandy as a cold-blooded murderer who during her trial neither 'shew[ed] the least Remorse' nor 'shed a Tear' and who, shortly after receiving sentence of death, supped 'very heartily' on 'Mutton Chops' and 'Apple Pye' (Authentic Tryals, 14; Genuine and Impartial Account, 8, 10), it was this very 'coolness and courage', as well as the steadfastness with which Blandy maintained her innocence which, as Horace Walpole sourly remarked, 'made a kind of party in her favour; as if a woman who would not stick at Parricide would scruple a lie' (Walpole, 4.317).

Mary Blandy would maintain to the last not only her innocence but her resolution. On 6 April 1752 the 33-year-old 'Fair Parricide' went to the gallows 'with such serenity and composure … as greatly surprised and charmed many of the spectators', 'many of whom … shed tears'. A lady to the end, Blandy's last words before ascending the ladder at the place of execution were, 'Gentlemen, don't hang me high for the sake of decency'; and, shortly afterwards, a tremulous 'I am afraid I shall fall' (London Magazine, April 1752; GM). She was buried with her parents in Henley parish church. William Cranstoun, for many the real villain, died on 2 December 1752 of natural causes in France, where he had fled the previous year to avoid prosecution, leaving his small fortune to the wife and daughter whom he had once renounced.

Sources

  • A genuine and impartial account of the life of Miss Mary Blandy (1752)
  • A genuine account of the most horrid parricide committed by Mary Blandy, spinster, upon the body of her father (1751)
  • The authentic tryals of John Swan, and Elizabeth Jeffryes, for the murder of Mr. Joseph Jeffryes of Walthamstow in Essex: with the tryals of Miss Mary Blandy, for the murder of her own father (1752)
  • W. Roughead, ed., Trial of Mary Blandy (1914)
  • Miss Mary Blandy's own account of the affair between her and Mr. Cranstoun … published at her dying request (1752)
  • Execution of Miss Blandy, who was tried at the assizes, at Oxford, and suffered at the same place, April 6th, for poisoning her father [1752]
  • Memoirs of the life of William Henry Cranstoun, esq (1752)
  • The case of Miss Blandy, consider'd as a daughter, as a gentlewoman, and as a Christian … by an impartial hand (1752)
  • A letter from a clergyman to Miss Mary Blandy with her answer thereto … as also Miss Blandy's own narrative (1752)
  • London Evening Post (5–7 March 1752)
  • Covent-Garden Journal (10 March 1752)
  • Covent-Garden Journal (14 April 1752)
  • London Magazine, 21 (1752), 127–33
  • London Magazine, 21 (1752), 180–84, 186–7
  • GM, 1st ser., 22 (1752), 109–17, 153–5
  • General Advertiser (8 April 1752)
  • Read's Weekly Journal, or, British Gazetteer (11 April 1752)
  • Read's Weekly Journal, or, British Gazetteer (3 Feb 1753)
  • Remarkable trials and interesting memoirs, of the most noted criminals, 2 vols. (1765)

Likenesses

  • B. Cole, line engraving, BM, NPG
  • T. Ryley, mezzotint (after F. Wilson), BM, NPG [see illus.]
  • portrait, repro. in A genuine account of the most horrid parricide, frontispiece
  • portrait, repro. in A genuine and impartial account of the life of Miss Mary Blandy, frontispiece
  • prints, BM
  • sepia drawing, repro. in Roughead, ed., Trial of Mary Blandy, frontispiece

Wealth at Death

approximately £2000–£3000: London Evening Post; London Magazine

Gentleman's Magazine
H. Walpole, ed. W. S. Lewis & others, 48 vols. (1937–83)