The main criminal court of London from the late 17th century to the early 20th century was known as the Old Bailey. Many of the proceedings of this court are available online, and provide an insight into the London justice system from the year 1674 until 1913. However, only the years 1674 through 1700 will be observed in this instance, and only for one observed offence (though there are many listed). These proceedings, as stated, can provide a glimpse into the lives of commoners accused of crimes and brought to trial for these actions. The observed offence for this instance is listed under “Sexual Offences,” and the subcategory is bigamy.
Listed on the Old Bailey Online, there are a number of bigamy offences, and each year between 1674 and 1700 contain anywhere from one to five cases, which leads to the conclusion that the offence of bigamy is not related to any major events happening in this time frame, and that offenders commit this offence regardless of any national situation, as one might expect of most sexual crimes. Also of note is that in most cases, there does do not seem to be any overlap, as it does not appear that anyone is accused of bigamy more than once, as can be inferred from the offence itself (i.e. one charge of bigamy in and of itself can contain multiple instances, by being married to multiple people at once, so the offence is not all that repeatable). However, as will be explored below, there is at least one person who was charged twice for bigamy, with multiple sets of husbands each time.
Of the numerous case results, several will be examined and analyzed herein. The first case occurred May 10, 1676, the defendant being a man who had for about five years last past or more…made it his business to ramble up and down most parts of England pretending himself a person of quality, and assuming the names of good families, and that he had a considerable Estate per Annum, though in Truth he was old sutor ultra Crepidam, a Knight of the Order of the famous Crispin, being originally by profession a Shomaker , and not many years since a Journyman; but on the pretensions aforesaid, where ever he came if he heard of any rich Maid, or wealthy widow at their own disposal, he…commonly succeeded to engage their easie affections. And having inveigled them to marry him, and for some small time injoy'd their persons, and got possession of their more beloved Estates, he would march off in Triumph with what ready mony and other portable things of value he could get, to another strange place, and there lay a new plot for a second Adventure. This man, whose name is not listed in the entry, was accused of marrying seventeen women. However, in this case, he was only indicted for four of the counts. This man was originally a journeyman shoemaker, but, as the document says, winnowed his way into the hearts of wealthy, unsuspecting women. This man pled guilty to the charge, because “if he were found Guilty on that, he should be excluded from the benefit of his Clergy upon the rest that he should be Convicted of.” Looking closely at this case, it seems hard to believe that marrying multiple people, even doing so as a con artist, to deprive them of their wealth, would result in a punishment of death, even if he waived the benefit of the Clergy, and instead tried for something called “Transportation,” though the document fails to clarify what that entails, but he stood “charged in the Sheriffs custody with an Action of a thousand pounds,” which could be a possible debtor’s prison, possibly due to a creditor or perhaps one of the victims themselves. These aggravators of depriving the women of their wealth and the Action against him probably made this crime a felony. A punishment of murder appears to be common for a felony conviction. The common punishment for a misdemeanor offence of bigamy seems to be that of branding.
The second case to be examined is that of a Richard Boile,...