Saturday, 19 November 2011



In the midst of all the high-falutin' language, among all the majesty of wigs and scarlet gowns, and the lawyers' addresses to m'lud and gentlemen of the jury, there are still the ordinary folk in the background on whom the effective carrying out of the sentence depends. Obviously, we need policemen and prison warders but we need others, ordinary tradesmen, to do quite simple tasks as in this case. Bear with the turgid legalese which I confess I rather like and which outlines the indictment in 1776 against Ann Cruttenden. Then you'll see what I mean by the involvement of ordinary tradesmen in the business of carrying out the law's demands.

The indictment at Horsham Assizes stated:

The Jurors for our Lord and King upon their Oath Present That Ann the Wife of Joseph Cruttenden late of the Parish of Brightling in the County of Sussex Butcher not having the fear of God before her Eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the fifteenth day of June in the Sixteenth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord George the third now King of Great Britain & with force and Arms at the Parish aforesaid in the County aforesaid in and upon the said Joseph Cruttenden her Husband in the peace of God and our said Lord the King then and there being feloniously Traitorously Wilfully and of her malice aforethought did make an Assault And that she the said Ann with a certain Knife of the Value of two pence which she the said Ann in her right hand then and there had and held in and upon the right side of the neck of him the said Joseph then and there feloniously Traitorously Wilfully and of her Malice aforethought did strike and thrust giving to him the said Joseph in and upon the right side of the neck of him the said Joseph one Mortal Wound of the breadth of two inches and of Depth of half an inch of which said Mortal Wound he the said Joseph then and there instantly Died.

Ann Cruttenden was found guilty of 'feloniously Traitorously Wilfully' murdering her husband. Note the word 'Traitorously.' If you commit an act of treachery against the State you commit High Treason. According to Common Law at this time, in killing her husband, Ann Cruttenden committed Petty Treason. As a wife she was considered in the eyes of the law as a subordinate who had therefore committed a vile offence which demanded special punishment. She was sentenced 'to be Drawn on a Hurdle and Burned with fire until she be dead on Thursday next.'

Poor Ann Cruttenden. The couple had been married for eight years. Joseph was 42 when he died. Ann was 80. Maybe there is a story here which has not been told.

But at last to the point I was making about the contribution of ordinary people in these matters. Well, a carpenter, Peter Potter, submitted a bill for 'putting up the post for the woman to be burnt on, making a slip board to stand Doing the slide and putting on hurdell for her to ride on and board and side for ditto: time, nails and board...£1.10 shillings. The gaoler charged fifteen shillings for 'wood and faggots.'

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