The Trial of Catherine Hayes

 

This week’s episode focuses on the trial of Catherine Hayes, convicted of murdering her husband and executed for it in 1726.

Catherine Hayes was accused, along with two men, of murdering her abusive husband. The facts are just as fascinating now as they were in 1726. Spoiler alert: we’ll see a preserved (pickled?) head, allegations of adultery and incest, and a horrifying botched execution.

Catherine Hayes and the two Thomases, decapitating Mr. Hayes. I was wrong about Catherine holding the candle – instead, she is depicted pointing to the infamous pail in which the head would go. Note also the wine on the table.

 

We’ll then try to avoid being historical voyeurs–only interested in cases for their scandal and dramatic value–by focusing on what this case tells us about women who killed their husbands in the history of murder. We’ll see how contemporaries thought this crime was unnatural and motivated by lust and lewdness – much like other crimes committed by women. We’ll also see once again that the common law seems to have had no way to take into account a woman’s abusive situation in determining her guilt when it comes to petty treason. 

Note: If you do check out the case on the Old Bailey Online and the Ordinary’s Accounts, Catherine’s name is spelled differently in certain places. Your best bet is to search for Thomas Billings and find her in the associated records.

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