Joyce Hodgkins, c. 1672-1714

Husband Murderer Burned at the Stake

In modern parlance, Joyce Hodgkins may have been a battered wife, but mistreatment by her husband did not in any way reduce the punishment she received for killing him, a crime which was a form of petty treason.

Early Life and Marriage

According to her testimony to the Ordinary of Newgate, Joyce Hodgkins was born around 1672, but it has not been possible to confirm this. She said she was born in Staffordshire, but while still a child she moved to London, and was brought up in the parish of St Paul Shadwell, in east London.

She resided in Shadwell for fifteen years, but was removed from the parish to the neighbouring parish of Limehouse. It is not apparent why this occurred, however we do know that around 1700, whilst living in Limehouse, Joyce met and then married John Hodgkins, a shoemaker. She later described John to the Ordinary of Newgate as "a very cruel Husband to her all the time she was his Wife, which was Fourteen Years".

On the 18th of August 1714 the two quarrelled, and John was stabbed with a large knife, dying instantly.

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Trial for Murder

On 8 September 1714 Joyce Hodgkins was tried at the Old Bailey for murdering her husband John.

During the trial the first witness, who was lodging in the same house at the time, testified that she heard "a great Noise and Scolding between the Prisoner and the Deceas'd". Having heard the noise, this lodger investigated and saw Joyce run at John with a knife.

A second witness, who lived across the road, had similarly heard a disturbance and investigated. When this witness arrived "she heard the Man groaning, and saw the Blood run violently out of his Breeches". When she asked Joyce what had happened, she replied by pointing to a large butcher’s carving knife saying that "that cursed knife had done it" and "that he would have stab'd her with it".

The surgeon testified that after he arrived and found the man dead, he asked what had happened and "she said he did it himself".

Joyce spoke in her own defence, and admitted that they had been arguing about how to keep John’s mother. She maintained that John had picked up the knife and threatened her with it, and that "she running away to avoid it, when she turn'd back again saw him bleed, and that he did it himself".

The jury found Joyce guilty of petty treason, a more severe crime than ordinary murder. Because a wife was subordinate to her husband, murdering one's husband was viewed as an aggravated form of murder, as it was a crime against the social hierarchy.

After the trial Joyce pleaded her belly; upon inspection by the jury of matrons she was found not to be pregnant, and her sentence was upheld.

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Imprisonment and Execution

While imprisoned in Newgate Prison awaiting her execution, Joyce was under the care of the Ordinary, the prison chaplain. In his account of her case, he notes that she denied committing the crime even after her sentence was confirmed. Eventually she did admit to the murder, but she argued that she did it in a passion and that "she gave him the Wound he dy'd of, but did not design to have killed him".

Joyce maintained that John was "such a wicked Person as she had represented him, who dealt very ill with her, in using her most unmercifully", but accepted she shouldn’t have killed him. She expressed regret that she had not gone to the minister of her parish in an effort to improve his temper.

Having acknowledged her faults, the Ordinary found Joyce to have "Guilt and Trouble upon her, more than she ever had before". She regularly attended Church but she was unable to read and couldn’t understand the Bible and gain the "Advantage of understanding Good Things". The Ordinary found it very difficult to console Joyce, due to her being "ignorant in Matters of Religion".

On Wednesday 22 September 1714 Joyce was executed by being burned at the stake, the punishment for women convicted of petty treason.

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker