Sunday, 19 May 2013

Female Horse Thieves mid-C18th: Part 1 (Revised 20 August 2013)

Dick Turpin:, accessed 30 August 2013.
Before the advent of the steam engine and motor car, horse theft was a particularly serious offence. A horse was the only mode of transportation over any distance for most people and, in the case of a farm animal, an essential piece of machinery for working the farm.

Horse theft in the early modern period is generally associated with men and was characterized in the eighteenth century by the activities of men such as Dick Turpin. Women were only occasionally charged with horse theft, although it is possible that women acted as ‘fences’ for stolen livestock or took care of the animals until they could be passed on.[1]

Steps in following a capital offence through the legal process: the case of Ann Taylor, alias Ann Taverley, alias Ann Nightingale, 1753.

1. Examination by a magistrate of the accused, the victim and any witnesses.

Deposition/Examination – North Riding, Yorkshire 14 June 1753.[2]

Ann Nightingale, daughter of Robert Nightingale of Yearsley
Theft of a mare from Edward Jobson of Heverstough, Lincolnshire
This Examinant saith and deposeth that this black mare was left for her with Mr John Brady Inn Keeper of Great Grimsby in the county of Lincoln by Jeremiah Taylor, saylor where she received her about twelve or thirteen weeks since of the said Mr Brady and paid him one Guinea for the keeping of the said mare and rode upon the same to Tipsthorpe in the East Riding of Yorkshire from whence she was brought by her order to Whenby in the North Riding of Yorkshire by John Weddell Overseer of the poor of Whenby aforesaid.

Other statements in this series include:

Information of John Gibson of Wass, Kilburn, North Riding re theft of his bay mare on 21 March 1750 by Ann Nightingale who sold it on to Hannah Hollings.
Information of Edward Jobson of Heverstough, Lincolnshire re theft of a black mare out of its stable 15 March 1753.
Information of Francis Richardson of Ryland Abby, Coxwould, North Riding re theft of his saddle five years ago that was later found with Ann Nightingale.
Information of William Skleton of Yearsley, Coxwould, North Riding re theft of a dark grey mare in March 1751.[3]

2.  The indictment put to a grand jury.[4]

3.  Verdict of the petty jury.

Ann was sentenced to death at the Summer Assizes for the county in July 1753.[5]

4.  Recommendation for a reprieve from a guilty verdict.[6]

5.  Response of the king via the secretary of state.

Following the assize sessions for Yorkshire, presided over by Serjeant Eyre, Baron Legge and Justice Clive, a circuit memorial recommended Ann Taylor inter alia as ‘a fit object of mercy’. Ann’s sentence was commuted to transportation to America for fourteen years in June 1754. Even though Ann would have served at least one year served in gaol pending her trial and reprieve, there would be no remission in the term of years to be served in America.[7]

Unusually, TNA ASSI 45 includes a list of costs in this case and provides evidence of the use of legal counsel by the prosecutor in this case. Until the mid-eighteenth century, prosecution costs were recoverable only from the defendant but following an Act of 1752 costs were recoverable from the crown. However, the estreat process enabled the crown to attempt to recoup the costs from a convicted prisoner.[8]

The King v Ann Nightingale.
For Horse stealing on the prosecution of William Skelton, Castle of York – Summer Assizes 1753.

Paid Clerk of Assizes for drawing the Indictment
Paid for swearing
Paid for subpoena
      2s 6d
Paid John Smith a witness for coming 25 miles
     10s 6d
Drawing a Brief
Fair copy for Council
Fee to him
     10s 6d
To Mr Graves the Attorney
       6s 8d
£2 14s 2d
     15s 6d
£1 18s 8d

A wide ranging survey of trial outcomes for capital offences in England and Wales (1735-1799) by Richard Clark and Dave Mossop demonstrates that while few women were convicted of horse theft, those that were could not be assured of a reprieve from execution.

Female executions 1735 – 1799, England and Wales.[9] 

Horse/sheep theft

29 August 1740
Martha Allen
with 2 men
Horse theft
5 August 1785
Mary Morgan
Hanged with 1 man
Horse theft
28 April 1791
Catherine Lloyd
Horse theft

It is possible that some victims of horse theft failed to prosecute and were satisfied by the retrieval of their property, although they may have been more vigilant in the prosecution of organised crime associated with gangs of horse rustlers.

By the way:

When Joan of Arc was tried in Rouen by an ecclesiastical court in 1430, the 70 charges against her ranged from sorcery to horse theft. They were later whittled down to twelve charges, mainly relating to her wearing of men’s clothing and claims that God had directly spoken to her.[10]

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[1] Edwards, Peter (1988) The Horse Trade of Tudor and Stuart England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 168.
[2] The National Archives (TNA) ASSI 45.
[3] See, on horse fairs and data gathering.
[4] Not located: it should have filed in TNA ASSI 44.
[5] TNA ASSI 42.
[6] TNA ASSI 42.
[7] TNA SP 44, circuit memorial; TNA ASSI 42.
[8] 25 Geo. II c.36 (1752) An Act for better preventing Thefts and Robberies, allowed prosecution costs to be paid in the case of a successful conviction for felony.
[9] Clark, Richard (2013) ‘Female executions 1735 – 1799’ (data collection Dave Mossop), accessed 19 August 2013.
[10] Cohen, Jennie (2012) ‘7 Things You Didn’t Know About Joan of Arc’,, accessed 19 August 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Since writing this blog I came across the word 'Feague' - a term from around the 18th century that means to put a live eel up a horse's bottom. Apparently, this was a horse dealer's trick to make an old horse seem more lively.