“THE GERMAN PRINCESS,” Mary Carleton, was a Kentish Adventuress who travelled the Continent, acquired several Husbands, was tried more than once for polygamy but always managed to avoid a guilty verdict. During her heyday she was a feature of London’s social scene and is mentioned in Pepys’ Diary. In the end, she was undone by an unlucky chance. Here is part Two of her story.
NewgateThe young gentleman received it at her hands, and read as follows:DEAR MADAM,
I have several times taken my pen in hand, on purpose to write to you, and as often laid it aside again, for fear of giving you more trouble than you already labour under. However, as the affair so immediately concerns you, I cannot in justice hide what I tremble to disclose, but must in duty tell you the worst of news, whatever may be the consequence of my so doing. Know, then, that your affectionate and tender brother is dead.
I am sensible how dear he was to you, and you to him; yet let me entreat you for your own sake to acquiesce in the will of Providence as much as possible, since our lives are all at His disposal Who gave us being. I could use another argument to comfort you, that with a sister less loving than you would be of more weight than that I have urged, but I know your soul is above all mercenary views. I cannot, however, forbear just to inform you that he has left you all he had; and you know further, that your father’s estate of two hundred pounds per annum can now devolve upon nobody after his decease but yourself, who are now his only child.
What I am next to acquaint you with may perhaps be almost as bad as the former particular. Your hated lover has been so importunate with your father, especially since your brother’s decease, that the old gentleman resolves, if ever he should hear of you any more, to marry you to him, and he makes this the condition of your being received again into his favour, and having your former disobedience, as he calls it, forgiven. While your brother lived he was every day endeavouring to soften the heart of your father, and we were but last week in hopes he would have consented to let you follow your inclinations, if you would come home to him again; but now there is never an advocate in your cause who can work upon the old man’s peevish temper, for he says, as you are now his sole heir, he ought to be more resolute in the disposal of you in marriage.
While I am writing, I am surprised with an account that your father and lover are both preparing to come to London, where they say they can find you out. Whether or no this be only a device, I cannot tell, nor can I imagine where they could receive their information if it be true. However, to prevent the worst, consider whether or no you can cast off your old aversion, and submit to your father’s commands; for if you cannot, it will be most advisable, in my opinion, to change your habitation. I have no more to say in the affair, being unwilling to direct you in such a very nice circumstance; the temper of your own mind will be the best instructor you can apply to, for your future happiness or misery, during life, depends on your choice. God grant that everything may turn for the better.
From your friend,
S. E.Our young lover having read the letter, found that she had real cause to be afflicted. Pity for her, and, above all, a concern for his own interest, and the fear of losing his mistress to the country lover, through the authority of her father, put him upon persuading her to remove from her habitation and come to reside with him, having very hand- some rooms, fit for the reception of a person of such high quality. Thither she went the next day with her maid, who knew her design, and had engaged to assist her therein to the utmost of her ability. When they were come into madam’s bedchamber they resolved not to go to rest, that they might be ready to move off in the morning at the first opportunity. By turns they slept in their clothes on the bed, and towards morning, when all were fast but themselves, they went to work, broke open a trunk, took a bag with one hundred pounds in it, and several suits of apparel, and then slipped out, leaving our poor lover to look for his money and mistress together when he was stirring, both being by that time far enough out of his way.In a word, it would be impossible to relate half the tricks which she played, or mention half the lodgings in which she at times resided. Seldom did she miss carrying off a considerable booty wheresoever she came; at best she never failed of something, for all was fish that came to her net; where there was no plate, a pair of sheets, half-a-dozen napkins or a pillow-bier – nay, even things of a less value than these – would serve her turn, rather than she would suffer her hands to be out of practice. One time she went to a mercer’s in Cheapside with her pretended maid, where she agreed for as much silk as came to six pounds, and pulled out her purse to pay for it, but there was nothing therein but several particular pieces of gold, which she pretended to have a great value for. The mercer, to be sure, would not be so rude as to let a gentle- woman of figure part with what she had so much esteem for; so he ordered one of his men to go along with her to her lodgings, and receive the money there. A coach was ready, which she had brought along with her, and they all three went up into it. When they came to the Royal Exchange, madam ordered the coachman to set her down, pretending to the mercer that she wanted to buy some ribbons suitable to the silk; upon which he suffered the maid, without any scruple, to take the goods along with her, staying in the coach for their return. But he might have stayed long enough if he had attended till they came again, for they found means to get off into Threadneedle Street, and the young man having waited till he was quite weary made the best of his way home to rehearse his misfortune to his master.Something of a piece with this was a cheat she put upon a French master weaver in Spittlefields, from whom she bought to the value of forty pounds, taking him home with her to her lodging, and bidding him make a bill of parcels, for half the silk was for a kinswoman of hers in the next room. The Frenchman sat down very orderly to do as she bid him, whilst she took the silk into the next room for her niece to see it. Half-an-hour he waited pretty contentedly, drinking some wine which madam had left him. At last, beginning to be a little uneasy, he made bold to knock, when the people of the house came up, and upon his asking for the gentlewoman, told him she had been gone out some time, and was to come there no more. The poor man seeming surprised, they took him into the next room and showed him a pair of back stairs, which was the proper way to her apartment. Monsieur was at first in a passion with the people, till they convinced him that they knew nothing more of his gentlewoman than that she had taken their room for a month, which being expired, she had removed, they could not tell whither.The next landlord she had was a tailor, whom she employed to make up what she bilked the mercer and weaver of. The tailor imagined he had got an excellent job, as well as a topping woman for his lodger, so he fell to work immediately, and by the assistance of some journey- men, which he hired on this occasion, he got the clothes finished against a day which she appointed, when she pretended she was to receive a great number of visitors. Against the same time she gave her landlady twenty shillings to provide a supper, desiring her to send for what was needful, and she would pay the overplus next day. Accordingly an elegant entertainment was prepared, abundance of wine was drunk, and the poor tailor was as drunk as a beast. This was what our princess wanted, for the landlady going up to put her husband to bed, she and all her guests slipped out, one with a silver tankard, another with a salt, her maid with their clothes which were not on their backs; and, in a word, not one of them all went off empty-handed. Being got into the street, they put the maid and the booty into the coach, getting themselves into others, and driving by different ways to the place of their next residence, not one of them being discovered.Another time she had a mighty mind, it seems, to put herself into mourning, to which purpose she sent her woman to a shop in the New Exchange in the Strand, where she had bought some things the day before, to desire that the people would bring choice of hoods, knots, scarves, aprons, cuffs and other mourning accoutrements to her lodging instantly, for her father was dead, and she must be ready in so many days to appear at his funeral. The woman of the shop presently looked out the best she had of each of these commodities, and made the best of her way to madam’s quarters. When she came there, the poor lady was sadly indisposed, so that she was not able to look over the things till after dinner; when, if madam milliner would please to come again, she did not doubt but they should deal. The good woman was very well satisfied, and refused to take her goods back again, but desired she might trouble her lady- ship so far as to leave them there till she came again; which was very readily granted. At the time appointed comes our tradeswoman, and asks if the gentlewoman above-stairs was at home, but was told, to her great mortification, that she was gone out, they could not till whither, and that they believed she would never return again; for she had found means, before her departure, to convey away several of the most valuable parts of furniture in the room which she had hired. The next day confirmed their suspicions, and made both the landlord and milliner give her up for an impostor, and their goods for lost.Being habited, a la mode, all in sable, she took rooms in Fuller’s Rents in Holborn, and sent for a young barrister of Gray’s Inn. When Mr Justinian came, she told him she was heir to her deceased father, but that having an extravagant husband, with whom she did not live, she was willing to secure her estate in such a manner as that he might not enjoy the benefit of it, or have any command over it, for, if he had, she was certain of coming to want bread in a little time. Here she wept plentifully, to make her case have the greater effect, and engage the lawyer to stay with her till the plot she had laid could be executed. While the grave young man was putting his face into a proper position, and speaking to the affair in hand with all the learning of Coke, a woman came upstairs on a sudden, crying out:”0 Lord, madam, we are all undone, for my master is below! He has been asking after you, and swears he will come up to your chamber. I am afraid the people of the house will not be able to hinder him, he appears so resolute.””0 heavens!” says our counterfeit, “what shall I do?””Why?” says the lawyer.”Why? “quoth she, “I mean for you, dear me; what excuse shall I make for your being here? I dare not tell him your quality and business; for that would endanger all. And, on the other side, he is extremely jealous. Therefore, good sir, step into that closet till I can send him away.” The lawyer being surprised, and not knowing what to do on a sudden, complied with her request, and she locked him into the closet, drawing the curtains of the bed, and going to the door to receive her counterfeit husband, who by this time had demanded entrance. No sooner was our gentleman entered but he began to give his spouse the most opprobrious language he could invent. “0 Mrs Devil,” says he, “I understand you have a man in the room! A pretty companion for a poor innocent woman, truly! One who is always complaining how hardly I use her. Where is the son of a whore? I shall sacrifice him this moment. Is this your modesty, madam? This your virtue? Let me see your gallant immediately, or, by the light, you shall be the first victim yourself.”Upon this he made to the closet door, and forced it open in a great fury, as he had before been directed. Here he discovers our young lawyer, all pale and trembling, ready to sink through the floor at the sight of one from whom he could expect no mercy. Out flies the sword, and poor Justinian was upon his marrow-bones in a moment. Just in this instant madam interposed, being resolved rather to die herself than see the blood of an innocent man spilt in her apartment, and upon her account. A companion also of our bully husband stepped up, and wrested the sword out of his hand by main strength, endeavouring to pacify him with all the reason and art he was master of. But still, that there might be no appearance of imposture, the more they strove the more enraged our injured poor cornuto appeared, for such he thought to make the lawyer believe he imagined himself.They could not, however, so effectually impose on our limb of the law as that he discerned nothing of the artifice. He began to see himself trepanned, and ventured to speak on his own behalf, and tell the whole truth of the story. But he might as well have said nothing; for the other insisted upon it that this was only pretence, and that he came there for other purposes. His honour was injured, and nothing would serve but blood, or other sufficient reparation. It was at last referred to the arbitration of the other man who came with the sham husband; and he proposed the sum of five hundred pounds to make up the matter. This was a large sum, and, indeed, more than the lawyer could well raise. However, he at last consented to pay down one hundred pounds rather than bring himself into fresh inconveniences which they obliged him immediately to send for, first looking over the note, to see that he did not send for a constable instead of the money. Upon the payment, they discharged him from his confinement.Not long after this our princess was apprehended for stealing a silver tankard in Covent Garden and, after examination, committed to Newgate. At the following sessions she was found guilty, and condemned, but was afterwards reprieved, and ordered for transportation. This sentence was executed, and she was sent to Jamaica, where she had not been above two years before she returned to England again, and set up for a rich heiress. By this means she got married to a very wealthy apothecary at Westminster, whom she robbed of above three hundred pounds and then left him. After this she took a lodging in a house where nobody lived but the landlady, a watchmaker, who was also a lodger, and herself and maid. When she thought her character here pretty well established, she one night invited the watchmaker and her landlady to go with her to see a play, pretending she had a present of some tickets. They consented, and only madam’s maid, who was almost as good as herself, was left at home. She, according to agreement, in their absence broke open almost all the locks in the house, stole two hundred pounds in money, and about thirty watches; so that the prize, in all, amounted to about six hundred pounds, which she carried to a place before provided, in another part of the town. After the play was over, our princess invited her companions to drink with her at the Green Dragon tavern in Fleet Street, where she gave them the slip and went to her maid.We now proceed to the catastrophe of this prodigious woman, who, had she been virtuously inclined, was capable of being the phoenix of her age; for it was impossible for her not to be admired in everything she said and did. The manner of her last and fatal apprehension was as follows, we having taken the account from the papers of those times. One Mr Freeman, a brewer in Southwark, had been robbed of about two hundred pounds, whereupon he went to Mr Lowman, keeper of the Marshalsea, and desired him to search all suspicious places, in order to discover the thieves. One Lancaster was the person most suspected, and while they were searching a house near New Spring Gardens for him they spied a gentlewoman, as she seemed to be, walking in the two-pairs-of-stairs room in a night-gown. Mr Lowman immediately enters the room, spies three letters on the table, and begins to examine them. Madam seems offended with him, and their dispute caused him to look on her so steadfastly that he knew her, called her by her name, and carried away both her and her letters. This was in December 1672, and she was kept close prisoner till the 16th of January following, when she was brought by writ of habeas corpus to the Old Bailey, and asked whether or no she was the woman who usually went by the name of Mary Carleton, to which she answered that she was the same. The Court then demanded the reason of her returning so soon from the transportation she had been sentenced to. Here she made a great many trifling evasions to gain time, by which means she gave the bench two or three days’ trouble.At last, when she found nothing else would do, she pleaded her belly; [Note 1] but a jury of matrons being called, they brought her in not quick with child. So that on the last day of the sessions she received sentence of death, in the usual form, with a great deal of intrepidity.After condemnation she had abundance of visitants, some out of curiosity, others to converse with her, learn her sentiments of futurity, and give her such instructions as were needful. Among the latter was a gentleman to whom she gave a great many regular responses; in which she discovered herself to be a Roman Catholic, professed her sorrow for her past life, and wished she had her days to live over again. She also blamed the women who were her jury for their verdict, saying she believed they could not be sure of what they testified, and that they might have given her a little more time.On the 22nd of January, which was the day of her execution, she appeared rather more gay and brisk than ever before. When her irons were taken off (for she was shackled) she pinned the picture of her husband Carleton on her sleeve, and in that manner carried it with her to Tyburn. Seeing the gentleman who had conversed with her, she said to him in French, ” Mon ami, le bon Dieu vous benisse ” – ” My friend, God bless you.” At hearing St Sepulchre’s bell toll, she made use of several ejaculations. One Mr Crouch, a friend of hers, rode with her in the cart, to whom she gave at the gallows two Popish books, called The Key of Paradise and The Manual of Daily Devotion. At the place of execution she told the people that she had been a very vain woman, and expected to be made a precedent for sin; that though the world had condemned her, she had much to say for herself; that she prayed God to forgive her, as she did her enemies; and a little more to the same effect. After which she was turned off, in the thirty-eighth year of her age, and in the same month she was born in. Her body was put into a coffin and decently buried in St. Martin’s churchyard, on which occasion a merry wag wrote this distich: “The German princess here, against her will, Lies underneath, and yet oh, strange! lies still.”