Mary Blandy (Born 1720) was executed on 6 April 1752 outside Oxford Castle for murdering her father, Francis Blandy at the request of her lover, Captain William Henry Cranstuon. As with Mary Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell and several other famous ghosts, Miss Blandy reputedly haunts at numerous locations over several counties.
The following is how Mary’s life, her crime and execution appeared in the popular Newgate Calendar which dated from the 18th and 19th century. I have added notes to elaborate on or correct details.
Mary Blandy was the only daughter of a Mr Francis Blandy, an eminent attorney at Henley-upon-Thames, and town-clerk of that place. She had been educated with the utmost tenderness; and every possible care was taken to impress her mind with sentiments of virtue and religion. Her person had nothing in it remarkably engaging, but she was of a sprightly and affable disposition, of polite manners, engaging in conversation, and was much distinguished by her good sense.
[Mary was the only child of Francis Blandy and his wife Anne. Francis was the son of John Blandy of Letcombe Bassett. Anne was the second daughter of Thomas Stevens, who in turn was the son of Richard Stevens of Culham Court in Remenham.]
She had read the best authors in the English language, and had a memory remarkably retentive of the knowledge she had acquired. In a word, she excelled most of her sex in those accomplishments which are calculated to grace and dignify the female mind.
The father being reputed to be rich*, a number of young gentlemen courted his acquaintance, with a view to make an interest with his daughter: but, of all the visitors, none were more agreeable, both to father and daughter, than the gentlemen of the army; and the former was never better pleased than when he had some of them at his table.
[*It is often suggested that Francis had a £10,000 fortune]
Miss Blandy was about twenty-six years of age when she became acquainted with Captain William Henry Cranstoun, who was then about forty-six. He was the son of Lord Cranstoun, of an ancient Scotch family, which had made great alliances, by intermarriages, with the nobility of Scotland. Being a younger brother, his uncle, Lord Mark Ker, procured him a commission in the army, which, with the interest of fifteen hundred pounds, was all he had for his support.
[Captain William Henry Cranstoun (Baptised 12 August 1714 – Crailing, Roxburghshire) was the fifth son of Lord William Canstoun (Died 27 January 1727) and Jean Kerr (Died March 1768)]
Cranstoun married a Miss Murray in Scotland, in the year 1745, and received a handsome fortune with her; but he was defective in the great article of prudence. His wife was delivered of a son within a year after the marriage. About this period he received orders to join his regiment in England, and was afterwards sent on a recruiting party to Henley, which gave rise to the unhappy connexion which ended so fatally.
[William Cranstoun married Anne Murray in private at Leith on 22 May 1744. She was the daughter of a merchant named David Murray and granddaughter of Sir David Murray of Stanhope. As she was a Roman Catholic, Cranstoun wanted the ceremony kept secret as it might interfere with his military career. It is said there was one witness and Cranstoun provided the minister. As there is no parish record of this wedding I assume it was an ‘irregular marriage’. Mr and Mrs Cranstoun lived together until July 1744, then went separated to live with their respective family’s before William moved to London in November 1744. Anne was pregnant and Cranstoun acknowledged their marriage to both his and Anne’s family, also acknowledging he was the father. His daughter was born on 19 February 1745 in Edinburgh and christened with members of both families in attendance].
It may seem extraordinary, and is, perhaps, a proof of Cranstoun’s art, that he could ingratiate himself into the affections of Miss Blandy; for his person was diminutive, he was so marked with the small-pox that his face was in seams, and he squinted very much: but he possessed that faculty of small-talk which is unfortunately too much esteemed by many of the fair sex.
Mr Blandy, who was acquainted with Lord Mark Ker, was fond of being deemed a man of taste, and so open to flattery, that it is not to be wondered at that a man of Cranstoun’s artifice ingratiated himself into his favour, and obtained permission to pay his addresses to the daughter.
Cranstoun, apprehending that Miss Blandy might discover that he had a wife in Scotland, informed her that he was involved in a disagreeable lawsuit in that country with a young lady, who claimed him as a husband; and so sure was he of the interest he had obtained in Miss Blandy’s affections, that he had the confidence to ask her if she loved him well enough to wait the issue of the affair. She told him that, if her father and mother approved of her staying for him, she had no objection.
[In 1746 William Cranstoun disowned his marriage, claiming it never happened. He said that he had agreed to marry her if she changed her religion and turned protestant, which she had not done. Though he was willing to support her, he claimed to have had pretended to have married her to protect her honour and amuse his friends. Before the commissaries of Edinburgh, in October 1746, Anne raised a declarator of her daughter’s legitimacy and her marriage].
This must be allowed to have been a very extraordinary declaration of love, and as extraordinary a reply.
Cranstoun endeavoured to conduct the amour with all possible secrecy; notwithstanding which it came to the knowledge of Lord Mark Ker, who wrote to Mr Blandy, informing him that the captain had a wife and children in Scotland, and conjuring him to preserve his daughter from ruin.
Alarmed by this intelligence, Mr Blandy informed his daughter of it; but she did not seem equally affected, as Cranstoun’s former declaration had prepared her to expect some such news; and, when the old gentleman taxed Cranstoun with it, he declared it was only an affair of gallantry, of which he should have no difficulty to free himself.
Mrs. Blandy appears to have been under as great a degree of infatuation as her daughter, for she forbore all farther inquiry, on the captain’s bare assurance that the report of his marriage was false. Cranstoun, however, could not be equally easy. He saw the necessity of devising some scheme to get his first marriage annulled, or of bidding adieu to all the gratifications he could promise himself by a second.
After revolving various schemes in his mind, he at length wrote his wife, requesting her to disown him for a husband. The 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 preferred, which would procure him a sufficiency to maintain her, as well as himself, in a genteeler manner than now he was able to do. All, therefore (adds he), I have to request of you is, that you will transcribe the enclosed copy of a letter, wherein you disown me for a husband; put your maiden name to it, and send it by the post: all the use I shall make of it shall be to procure my advancement, which will necessarily include your own benefit. In full assurance that you will comply with my request, I remain, your most affectionate husband,
“W. H. Cranstoun.”
Mrs. 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 sent him the requested paper, signed Murray, which was her maiden name.
The villainous captain, being possessed of this letter, made some copies of it, which he sent to his wife’s relations, and his own: the consequence of which was that they withdrew the assistance they had afforded the lady, which reduced her to an extremity she had never before known.
Exclusive of this, he instituted a suit before the lords of session, for the dissolution of the marriage; but when Mrs. Cranstoun was heard, and the letters read, the artful contrivance was seen through, the marriage was confirmed, and Cranstoun was adjudged to pay the expenses of the trial.
At the next session Captain Cranstoun preferred a petition, desiring to be heard by counsel on new evidence, which it was pretended had arisen respecting Miss Murray. This petition, after some hesitation, was heard; but the issue was, that the marriage was again confirmed, and Cranstoun was obliged to allow his wife a separate maintenance.
[On 1st March 1748 it was decreed that the child was legitimate and that Anne and William were lawfully married and he was ordered to pay £50 annually for the upkeep of his wife and child].
Still, however, he paid his addresses to Miss Blandy with the same fervency as before; which coming to the knowledge of Mrs. Cranstoun, she sent her the decree of the Court of Session, establishing the validity of the marriage.
It is reasonable to suppose that this would have convinced Miss Blandy of the erroneous path in which she was treading. On this occasion she consulted her mother: and, Cranstoun having set out for Scotland, the old lady advised her to write to him, to know the truth of the affair.
Absurd as this advice was, she wrote to him; but, soon after the receipt of her letter, he returned to Henley, when he had impudence enough to assert that the cause was not finally determined, but would be referred to the House of Lords.
Mr Blandy gave very little credit to this assertion; but his wife assented at once to all Cranstoun said, and treated him with as much tenderness as if he had been her own child; of which the following circumstance will afford ample proof.
Mrs. Blandy and her daughter being on a visit to Mrs. Pocock, of Turville Court, the old lady was taken so ill as to be obliged to continue there for some days. In the height of her disorder, which was a violent fever, she cried “Let Cranstoun be sent for.” He was then with the regiment at Southampton; but, her request being complied with, she no sooner saw him than she raised herself on the pillow, and hung around his neck repeatedly exclaiming “(My dear Cranstoun, I am glad you are come; I shall now grow well soon!” So extravagant was her fondness, that she insisted on having him as her nurse; and he actually administered her medicines.
On the following day she grew better; on which she said “This I owe to you, my dear Cranstoun; your coming has given me new health and fresh spirits. I was fearful I should die, and you not here to comfort that poor girl. Flow like death she looks!”
It would be ungenerous to the memory of Mrs. Blandy to suppose that she saw Cranstoun’s guilt in its true light of enormity; but certainly she was a most egregious dupe to his artifices.
Mrs. Blandy and her daughter having come to London, the former wanted forty pounds, to discharge a debt she had contracted unknown to her husband; and Cranstoun coming into the room while the mother and the daughter were weeping over their distresses, he demanded the reason of their grief; of which being informed, he left them, and, soon returning with the requisite sum, he threw it into the old lady’s lap. Charmed by this apparent generosity, she burst into tears, and squeezed his hand fervently; on which he embraced her, and said, “Remember, it is a son; therefore do not make yourself uneasy: you do not lie under any obligation to me.”
Of this debt of forty pounds, ten pounds had been contracted by the ladies while in London, for expenses in consequence of their pleasures; and the other thirty by expensive treats given to Cranstoun at Henley, during Mr Blandy’s absence.
Soon after this Mrs. Blandy died; and Cranstoun now complaining of his fear of being arrested for the forty pounds, the young lady borrowed that sum, which she gave him, and made him a present of her watch: so that he was a gainer by his former apparent generosity.
Mr Blandy began now to show evident dislike of Captain Cranstoun’s visits: but he found means to take leave of the daughter, to whom he complained of the father’s ill treatment; but 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.”
It does not appear that the young lady had any idea that the powders he was to send her were of a poisonous nature. She seems rather to have been infatuated by her love; and this is the only excuse that can he made for her subsequent conduct, which appears otherwise totally inconsistent with that good sense for which she was celebrated.
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.
When the old gentleman’s disorder increased, and he was attended by a physician, his daughter came into the room, and, falling on her knees to her father, said, “Banish me where you please; do with me what you please, so you do but forgive me; and, as for Cranstoun, I will never see him, speak to him, or write to him, as long as I live, if you will forgive me.”
In reply to this the father said, “I forgive thee, my dear, and I hope God will forgive thee, but thou shouldst have considered before thou attemptedst any thing against thy father; thou shouldst have considered I was thy own father.”
Miss Blandy now acknowledged that she had put powder in his gruel, but that it was for an innocent purpose; on which the father, turning in his bed, said, “O such a villain! to come to my house, eat of the best and drink of the best my house could afford; and, in return, take away my life, and ruin my daughter. O! my dear, thou must hate that man.”
The young lady replied, “Sir, every word you say is like a sword piercing to my heart; more severe than if you were angry: I must kneel, and beg you will not curse me.” The father said, “I curse thee my dear! how couldst thou think I would curse thee? No, I bless thee, and hope God will bless thee, and amend thy life. Do, my dear, go out of the room; say no more, lest thou shouldst say any thing to thy own prejudice. Go to thy Uncle Stephens; and take him for thy friend: poor man! I am sorry for him.”
Mr Blandy dying in consequence of his illness, it was suspected that the daughter had occasioned his death; whereupon she was taken into custody, and committed to the gaol at Oxford.
[When Francis died,Mary was initially detained in her room. During this early incarceration she went for a walk around Henley after discovering the door open. However, the people of Henley, seeing her walking free, chased her into Remenham over the bridge, where she was given refuge in the ‘Little Angel’ public house where her friend Mrs Davis was the landlady]
She was tried on the 3d of March, 1752; and, after many witnesses had been called to give evidence of her guilt, she was desired to make her defence, which she did in the following speech:–
“My lord, — It is morally impossible for me to lay down the hardships I have received. — I have been aspersed in my character. In the first place it has been said I spoke ill of my father; that I have cursed him, and wished him at hell; which is extremely false. Sometimes little family affairs have happened, and he did not speak to me so kindly as I could wish. I own I am passionate, my lord; and in those passions some hasty expressions might have dropped; but great care has been taken to recollect every word I have spoken at different times, and to apply them to such particular purposes as my enemies knew would do me the greatest injury. These are hardships, my lord, such as yourself must allow to be so. It was said too, my lord, that I endeavoured to make my escape. Your lordship will judge from the difficulties I laboured under: — I had lost my father; — I was not permitted to go near him; — I was forsaken by my friends — affronted by the mob — and insulted by my servants. — Although I begged to have the liberty to listen at the door where he died, I was not allowed it. My keys were taken from me; my shoe-buckles and garters too — to prevent me from making away with myself, as though I was the most abandoned creature. What could I do, my lord? I verily believe I must have been out of my senses. When I heard my father was dead, I ran out of the house, and over the bridge, and had nothing on but a half sack and petticoats, without a hoop — my petticoats hanging about me. The mob gathered round me. Was this a condition, my lord, to make my escape in? A good woman beyond the bridge, seeing me in this distress, desired me to walk in till the mob was dispersed: the town-sergeant was there. I begged he would take me under his protection, to have me home: the woman said it was not proper, the mob was very great, and that I had better stay a little. When I came home they said I used the constable ill. I was locked up for fifteen hours, with only an old servant of the family to attend me. I was not allowed a maid for the common decencies of my sex. I was sent to gaol, and was in hopes there at least this usage would have ended; but was told it was reported I was frequently drunk; that I attempted to make my escape; that I did not attend at chapel. A more abstemious woman, my lord, I believe, does not live.
“Upon the report of my making my escape, the gentleman who was high-sheriff last year (not the present) came and told me, by order of the higher powers, he must put an iron on me. I submitted as I always do, to the higher powers. Some time after he came again, and said he must put a heavier one upon me; which I have worn, my lords till I came hither. I asked the sheriff why I was so ironed. He said he did it by command of some noble peer, on his hearing that I intended making my escape. I told him I never had any such thought, and I would bear it with the other cruel usage I had received on my character. The Reverend Mr Swinton, the worthy clergyman who attended me in prison, can testify I was regular at the chapel when ever I was well: sometimes I really was not able to come out, and then he attended me in my room. They have likewise published papers and depositions, which ought not to have been published, in order to represent me as the most abandoned of my sex, and to prejudice the world against me. I submit myself to your lordship, and to the worthy jury. I do assure your lordship, as I am to answer at the great tribunal where I must appear, I am as innocent as the child unborn of the death of my father. I would not endeavour to save my life at the expense of truth: I really thought the powder an innocent inoffensive thing; and I gave it to procure his love (meaning toward Cranstoun). It has been mentioned, I should say, I was ruined. My lord, when a young woman loses her character, is not that her ruin? Why, then, should this expression be construed in so wide a sense? Is it not ruining my character to have such a thing laid to my charge? And, whatever may be the event of this trial, I am ruined most effectually.”
The trial lasted eleven hours, and then the judge summed up the evidence, mentioning the scandalous behaviour of some people respecting the prisoner, in printing and publishing what they called depositions taken before the coroner relating to the affair before them: to which he added, “I hope you have not seen them; but, if you have, I must tell you, as you are men of sense and probity, that you must divest yourselves of every prejudice that can arise from thence, and attend merely to the evidence that has been given.”
The judge then summed up the evidence with the utmost candour; and the jury, having considered the affair, found her guilty without going out of court.
After the conviction she behaved with the utmost decency and resignation. She was attended by the Reverend Mr Swinton, from whose hands she received the sacrament on the day before her execution, declaring that she did not know there was anything hurtful in the powders she had given her father.
The night before her death she spent in devotion; and at nine in the morning of the 6th of April, 1752, she left her apartment, being dressed in a black bombasin, and having her arms bound with black ribands.
The clergyman attended her to the place of execution, to which she walked with the utmost solemnity of deportment; and, when there, acknowledged her fault in administering the powders to her father; but declared that, as she must soon appear before the most awful tribunal, she had no idea of doing injury, nor any suspicions that the powders were of a poisonous nature.
Having ascended some steps of the ladder, she said, “Gentlemen, don’t hang me high, for the sake of decency.” Being desired to go something higher, she turned about and expressed her apprehensions that she should fall. The rope being 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.
The crowd of spectators assembled on this occasion was immense; and when she had hung the usual time she was cut down, and the body, being put into a hearse, was conveyed to Henley, and interred with her parents, at one o’clock on the following morning.
It will now be proper to return to Cranstoun, who was the original contriver of this horrid murder. Having heard of Miss Blandy’s commitment to Oxford gaol, he concealed himself some time in Scotland, and then escaped to Boulogne, in France. Meeting there with Mrs. Ross, who was distantly related to his family, he acquainted her with his situation, and begged her protection; on which she advised him to change his name for her maiden name of Dunbar.
Some officers in the French service, who were related to his wife, hearing of his concealment, vowed revenge, if they should meet with him, for his cruelty to the unhappy woman; on which he fled to Paris, from whence he went to Furnes, a town in Flanders, where Mrs. Ross had provided a lodging for his reception.
He had not been long at Furnes when he was seized with a severe fit of illness, which brought him to a degree of reflection to which he had been long a stranger. At length he sent for a father belonging to an adjacent convent, and received absolution from his hands, on declaring himself a convert to the Romish faith.
Cranstoun died on the 30th of November, 1752; and the fraternity of monks and friars looked on his conversion as an object of such importance, that solemn mass was sung on the occasion, and the body was followed to the grave not only by the ecclesiastics, but by the magistrates of the town.
[Cranstoun actually died on 2nd December 1752].
His papers were then sent to Scotland, to his brother, Lord Cranstoun; his clothes were sold for the discharge of his debts; and his wife came into possession of the interest of the fifteen hundred pounds above mentioned.
This case is one of the most extraordinary that we shall have occasion to record in these volumes. The character and conduct of Cranstoun are infamous beyond all description. A married man seeking a young lady in marriage, deluding her by the vilest artifices, and the most atrocious falsehoods; and then murdering her father to obtain the object of his wishes, exhibits an accumulated picture of guilt to which no language can do justice. His sufferings afterwards appear to have been a providential punishment of his crimes. We are to hope that his penitence was sincere; but it is impossible to think highly of a religion that offers immediate pardon and absolution to a criminal, of whatever magnitude, on the single declaration of his becoming a convert to that religion.
With regard to Miss Blandy, the public have ever been divided in opinion on her case. Those who have presumed on her innocence have tacitly acknowledged that she was very weak, which contradicts the accounts we have of her genius and mental acquirements. On the contrary, those who have insisted on her guilt, have made no allowances for the weakness of the female mind; nor considered the influence of an artful man over the heart of a girl in love.
Her solemn declaration of her innocence would almost tempt one to think that she was innocent; for it is next to impossible to suppose that a woman of her sense and education would depart this life with a wilful lie in her mouth.
Be all this as it may, an obvious lesson is to be learnt from her fate. — Young ladies should be cautious of listening to the insidious address of artful love as they know not how soon, and how unsuspectedly, their hearts may be engaged to their own destruction, founded on the violation of all their nobler duties.
[Mary was buried at Henley Parish Church between the graves of her two parents. Rev. William Stockwood conducted the service].
Among the locations that are reputedly haunted by Mary Blandy are:
Dolesden Lane, Turville, Buckinghamshire
Churchfield Wood, Turville, Buckinghamshire
Little Angel Inn, Remenham, Berkshire
Westgate, Oxford, Oxfordshire
Park Place, Remenham, Berkshire
Henley on Thames Parish Church, Oxfordshire
Thames Riverbank, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Blandy House, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Town Hall, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire