chapter  3
The Prosecutorial Passions
An Emotional History of Petty Treason and Parricide in England, 1674–1790
ByAndrea McKenzie
Pages 21

This chapter examines the role of emotions, both sympathetic and vindictive, in trials for petty treason, the murder of a husband, or (more rarely) of a master or mistress by a servant, at London’s Old Bailey in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century. Representation in the press of those accused of petty treason, as well as parricide (a still rarer crime), is also discussed. Defendants who utilised the language and gestures of sensibility to cast themselves as innocent victims tended to elicit less sympathy than women who remained silent and allowed witnesses—or testimony of their dying victims—to testify in their defence. The credibility of the words and non-verbal performances—from tears to swoons—of female defendants was liable to be measured critically against reputation and gender norms of wifely devotion and sexual virtue. Sensibility also heightened the emotional power of legal rituals disadvantaging the accused, such as inflammatory prosecutorial opening speeches. Jurors may have been moved to pity the ‘Fair Parricide’, Mary Blandy in 1752, or even the maidservant Henrietta Radbourne, the last petty traitor tried at the Old Bailey in 1787, but such feelings lost out against a stronger prosecutorial passion: sympathetic identification with their genteel victims.