“Do not hang me too high for the sake of decency”
Born about 1718 at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, Mary Blandy was an only child spoiled by her doting parents. It was said of her father that his “whole thoughts were bent to settle her advantageously in the world”. He also let it be known that he was worth £10,000 when in fact he had less than £3,000. It is believed that he thought his daughter would attract a better class of suitor if she were a wealthy heiress since, although pleasant enough with nice manners, she was no great beauty. However, every boyfriend was put off because Mary’s father refused to spend his “fortune” on her but promised to “leave her his All at his Death”. The behaviour began to grate on Mary who grew to resent her father for ruining her happiness.
In the summer of 1746 a new suitor appeared in the form of Captain William Henry Cranstoun, the fifth and younger son of a Scottish laird. Mary was by this time in her late twenties and in danger of becoming an old maid, so she may have seen Cranstoun as her last chance of happiness even though he was short, cross-eyed, had a face that was badly pockmarked and was 20 years her senior. A further problem was that he was married and also had a daughter still in Scotland. He was, however, a serial flatterer and became interested in Mary, probably as much for her supposed fortune as herself.
When Francis Blandy discovered that his daughter’s new boyfriend had a wife and child he forbade the relationship to continue. Cranstoun was not easily dissuaded and continued to court Mary, telling her that his marriage was illegal. In June 1751, Mary began — perhaps at Cranstoun’s urging — to put arsenic into her father’s tea and later his gruel.
She called it a “love powder” and said that she hoped it would lessen his contempt for her boyfriend. Two months later Francis Blandy fell ill and, on 14 August 1751, he died. Almost immediately, Mary was arrested for murder. She had burned all the letters from Cranstoun but servants discovered one package containing arsenic and an incriminating letter to Cranstoun was intercepted.
Her trial opened in the Divinity School at the Oxford Assizes on 3 March 1752 and family servants testified that Mary had called her father “a rogue, a villain, a toothless old dog” and said that she wanted him “dead and at Hell”. A servant testified that Mary had told her father that she had been giving him arsenic but only “to make him love Cranstoun”. Mary implored her father not to curse her and he 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 told her to keep quiet in case she said anything “to her own prejudice”. The jury took just five minutes to pass a guilty verdict and the judge sentenced Mary to death. Her impending doom didn’t hurt her appetite and she sat down to mutton chops and apple pie soon after the judge’s sentence.
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England
Wednesday 14 August 1751
Public opinion was divided on whether Mary was a calculating murderess or a “poor lovesick girl” in thrall to her older lover. Mary Blandy, protesting her innocence, was hanged outside Oxford Castle Prison at 9am on Easter Monday (6 April) 1752. Her last words were, as she ascended the scaffold,”Gentlemen, do not hang me too high for the sake of decency” and, as she stood there, “I am afraid I shall fall”. She was buried with her parents in Henley parish church. William Cranstoun had fled to France in 1751 to avoid prosecution where he died of natural causes on 2 December 1752. He left his money to the wife and daughter he had once renounced.