Mary Ellenor, 1684-1708

Servant and Murderer of her Bastard Child

Young women such as Mary Ellenor who became pregnant out of wedlock faced an impossible choice. If the infant lived, they would lose their job, endure public shame, and probably be unable to support themselves and the child. If they chose infanticide, however, the repercussions could be still worse.

Early Life and Immigration to London

Mary Ellenor, the daughter of Phinice and Catherine Ellenor, was christened on 5 October 1684 in the parish of St James the Apostle, Dover.1 Like many young women at this time, she moved to London at the age of around seventeen to become a domestic servant.

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Life as a Domestic Servant

During her time in London she was servant to several "honest" families and in her later words to the Ordinary she described herself as "faithful to her Masters and Mistresses".

At some point during this time she met a young man who was an apprentice coach-maker. This young man is referred to in the Ordinary’s Account as T.F., in an effort to conceal his identity, "being more desirous to bring him to serious Consideration and Reformation, than to Shame and Confusion". Having promised Mary that once he had finished his apprenticeship he would marry her, he "prevailed with her to commit Lewdness with him". Mary told the Ordinary that she "never knew any Man besides him in that foul carnal way".

During this relationship Mary was living as a servant in the parish of St Olave Silver Street in the City of London. On 23 September 1708 she was taken ill, complaining to her mistress of a "Pain in the Arm". Her mistress believed this to be rheumatism and gave her the appropriate treatment. Mary continued to be ill until the morning of 25 September, when she was discovered showing signs of childbirth. Upon a search of the house privy, "a Child was found newly thrown in".

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Inquest and Trial

Mary was indicted at the Old Bailey for the murder of her bastard child after a Coroner's Inquest (IC). The inquest jury determined that upon the delivery of a healthy bastard child Mary "did afterwards [throw] the sd Male Bastard Inft. alive into a house of Easement Filled with Piss dung & other Filtly matter".

At the trial Mary pleaded not guilty, testifying that the baby had miscarried, but according to the Old Bailey Proceedings "sufficient Proof being given that she went her full time", she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

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Whoredom and Ignorance of Religion

Mary was taken to Newgate Prison where she came under the care of the Ordinary (chaplain). According to his Account of their conversations, Mary accepted that she had indeed given birth to a healthy baby and that she killed it by throwing it into a vault, adding one further grizzly detail that "with a Broom-stick she kept him down, till he was quite dead".

Under the Ordinary's influence, Mary identified the cause of her inhumanity as that the "Devil had too much power over her". She acknowledged she was guilty of the sins of whoredom and uncleanness. According to the Ordinary, she could not resist these temptations since "She was very ignorant, and could not so much as read". Nonetheless, he believed that she acted very penitently.

On the morning of execution the Ordinary was meant to provide the Eucharist to those who he believed were truly penitent. On this occasion he indicates that he did not give mass to some prisoners contrary to certain reports, as they had not confessed to their crimes. Even though she had confessed, Mary was also denied, since she was "so ignorant of that Ordinance, as not to be able to discern the Lord's Body". While he clearly believed that she was very sorry for her crime, he thought she was far too ignorant of the Lord’s word to be saved.

Mary was executed at Tyburn on 27 October 1708.

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External Sources


1 Family Search, consulted 22 April 2010.

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker