Mary Blandy was a young heiress of Henley-on-Thames who became passionately involved with the unscrupulous Hon. William Henry Cranstoun. This passion eventually and tragically cost her and her father their lives.
Mr Francis Blandy was an attorney residing at Henley-on-Thames, and held the office of town clerk of that place. Possessed of ample means, his house became the scene of much gaiety; and as report gave to his daughter a fortune of no inconsiderable extent, and as, besides, her manners were sprightly and affable, and her appearance engaging, her hand was sought in marriage by many persons whose rank and wealth rendered them fitting to become her partner for life. But among all these visitants none were received with greater pleasure by Mr or Mrs Blandy, or their daughter, than those who held commissions in the army. This predilection was evidenced in the introduction of the Hon. William Henry Cranstoun, at that time engaged on the recruiting service for a foot regiment, in which he ranked as captain.
Captain Cranstoun was the son of Lord Cranstoun, a Scottish peer of ancient family, and through the instrumentality of his uncle, Lord Mark Ker, he had obtained his commission. In the year 1745 he had married a young lady of good family, named Murray, with whom he received an ample fortune; and in the year 1752 he was ordered to England to endeavour to procure his complement of men for his regiment. His bad fortune led him to Henley, and there he formed an intimacy with Miss Blandy. At this time Cranstoun was forty-six years of age, while Miss Blandy was twenty years his junior; and it is somewhat extraordinary that a person of her accomplishments and beauty should have formed a liaison with a man so much older than herself, and who, besides, is represented as having been devoid of all personal attractions.
A short acquaintance, it appears, was sufficient to excite the flame of passion in the mind of the gallant captain, as well as of Miss Blandy; and ere long their troth was plighted that they would be for ever one. The Captain, however, felt the importance of forestalling any information which might reach the ears of his new love of the existence of any person who possessed a better right to his affections than she, and he therefore informed her that he was engaged in a disagreeable lawsuit with a young lady in Scotland who had claimed him as her husband; but he assured her that it was a mere affair of gallantry, of which the process of the law would in the course of a very short time relieve him. This disclosure being followed by an offer of marriage, Cranstoun was referred to Mr Blandy, and he obtained an easy acquiescence on his part in the wishes expressed by the young lady.
At this juncture, an intimation being conveyed to Lord Ker of the proceedings of his nephew, his lordship took instant steps to apprise Mr Blandy of the position of Cranstoun. Prejudice had, however, worked its end as well with the father as the daughter, and the assertion of the intended bridegroom of the falsehood of the allegations made was sufficient to dispel all the fears which the report of Lord Ker had raised. But although Captain Cranstoun had thus temporarily freed himself from the effects of the imputation cast upon him, he felt that some steps were necessary to get his first marriage annulled, and he at length wrote to 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 promoted, which would procure him a sufficiency to maintain her as well as himself in a more genteel manner than now he was able to do.
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 wrote a letter disowning him. On this an attempt was made by him to annul the marriage, this letter being produced as evidence; but the artifice being discovered, the suit was dismissed, with costs. Mr Blandy soon obtained intelligence of this circumstance, and, convinced now of the falsehood of his intended son-in-law, he conveyed a knowledge of it to his daughter; but she and her mother repelled the insinuations which were thrown out, and declared, in obedience to what they had been told by the gallant Captain, that the suit was not yet terminated, for an appeal to the House of Lords would immediately be made. Soon after this Mrs Blandy died, and her husband began now to show evident dislike for Captain Cranstoun’s visits; but the latter complained to the daughter of the father’s ill-treatment, and 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.
“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.
The disorder, which had commenced with symptoms of so dangerous a character, soon increased ; and the greatest alarm was felt by the medical attendants of the old gentle- man that death alone would terminate his sufferings. Every effort was made by which it was hoped that his life could be saved ; but at length, when all possibility of his recovery was past, his wretched daughter rushed into his presence, and in an agony of tears and lamentations confessed that she was the author of his sufferings and of his inevitable death. Urged to account for her conduct, which to her father appeared inexplicable, she denied, with the loudest asseverations, all guilty intention. She repeated the tale of her love and of the insidious arts employed by Cranstoun, but asserted that she was unaware of the deadly nature of the powders, and that her sole object in administering them was to procure her father’s affection for her lover. Death soon terminated the accumulated misery of the wretched parent, and the daughter had scarcely witnessed his demise ere she became an inmate of a jail.
At the ensuing assizes at Oxford Miss Blandy was indicted for the wilful murder of her father, and was immediately found guilty upon the confession which she had made. She addressed the jury at great length, repeating the story which she had before related; but all was of no avail, and sentence of death was passed. At nine in the morning of the 6th of April, 1752, she left her apartment to be conducted to the scaffold, habited in a black bombasine dress, her arms being bound with black ribands. On her ascending the gallows she begged that she might not be hanged high, “for the sake of decency”; and on her being desired to go a little higher, expressed her fear that she should fall. The rope having been 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.