Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bloudy Mother

This pamphlet written by Thomas Brewer tells the story of Jane Hattersley, who was convicted of infanticide in 1609 and sent to the gallows. While the pamphlet is obviously meant to reflect a true story, the reader is forced to read between the lines to obtain all of the facts. The pamphlet openly condemns Jane and her lover for their wicked actions, but it also is written much like one would expect a tabloid to be written. While it is true that infanticide and the abuse of innocence is contemptible and heinous, one must also realize that these two people had every eye in the community on them, and the obvious fear that drives us to condemn others before we have any sufficient evidence is brought to our attention in the very beginning. Brewer states that "The eye of man cannot pierce or pry into the thoughts and intent of man; neither can it give the heart intelligence but from outward behavior and working. And therefore right easily may the judgements of men be deceived . . ."(Staub 243). The fear that we might be so easily deceived by someone within our community drives us to be suspicious and overcautious even today.
Recall how betrayed we all felt when members of the Catholic Church were facing accusations of child molestation. The scariest thing about this incident is that someone trusted these men to take care of innocent children. The entire nation continues to ask itself how this could have happened. This same fear drives us to be most terrified of what we don't know. Why do you think that we are so openly terrified of serial killers? They are considered monstrous even in modern society because they are so deceptive. It strikes fear in our hearts to realize that we might not recognize evil if we carried on a conversation with it.
For all of these reasons women such as Jane Hattersley are openly condemned by community members once their story is revealed. Community members volunteer information about how she often wore baggy clothes or appeared to have a belly at certain times, once they recognize that she may have been deceptive. One of the many 'witnesses' within this story claims to have been looking through a keyhole while Jane gave birth to one of the many children that she was accused of murdering. The witness also states that after delivering the baby, Jane came downstairs and conversed with her for half and hour, during which time the witness tried to find evidence that Jane had just given birth but could not (Staub 249). The fact that she as a servant, had an affair with her master, and had children out of wedlock is enough to appear monstrous to Early Modern Society. Without any evidence that her children didn't die from natural causes, and without proof that more than one child was secretly buried, a story of a women who has murdered numerous infants to conceal an affair is born. A story that would have shocked and awed members of the community and aroused their suspicions surrounding every women capable of becoming pregnant. A miscarriage or the death of an infant could easily lead to accusations of abortions, witchcraft, or infanticide; and only those with spotless reputations would be safe from this social prying and condemnation.
Of course I'm not arguing that this woman was innocent of these heinous crimes, I'm just commenting on the judicial system of the period which relied heavily on the testimony of members of the community, and often condemned victims with little or no hard evidence. The fact that there were laws which condemned bastard children and their mothers would have given Jane enough reason to conceal her pregnancy and try to hide her children if she had any. She could have just as easily given them away without anyone knowing. Of course that would not have made for such great press.

This pamphlet and others like it can be found in:
Nature's cruel stepdames: murderous women in the street literature of seventeenth century England by Susan C. Staub

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