Priscilla Mahon alias Trilcourt, c. 1716-1741

Minister’s Daughter, Prostitute and Betrayed Wife

Priscilla Mahon (sometimes spelled "Mabon") appears in the London Lives records briefly, but they reveal that she led an eventful life. Though she started life as a minister’s daughter, she ended as a prostitute betrayed by her husband.

Early Life

All of our information about Priscilla’s early life comes from the Ordinary’s Account. In 1741 Priscilla told the Ordinary, James Guthrie, that she was aged twenty-five, meaning that she was born sometime in 1716. She said she was born in Cumberland, to good parents. According to Guthrie she received a very good education at an unnamed school where she learned "to read, write, and learn all Sorts of Needlework, and was instructed in the Christian Religion". She spent much of her youth in Dublin, where her father moved as he "kept a Presbyterian Meetinghouse". Her father was of a high status and as Guthrie remarks, was "a noted Man amongst the Dissenters".

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Move to London and Slide into Depravity

When Priscilla was thirteen years old her father died and rather than stay with "the old Gentlewoman her Mother" she went to London. She soon became a servant and "served in some good Families with Reputation".

Sometime during her service she met a man, only described in the Ordinary’s Account as a "Doctor of Physick". Apparently at some point she "gave Way to his Solicitations" and ended up having two children with this man, though she never married him. After about three years of living with the Doctor, she left him to pursue a more interesting life, as she "began to think that she was not made for one, and that her Life was too confined". However, according to Guthrie she ended up "little better than a common Prostitute, and took up with the vilest of Company".

Sometime in 1736 she met John Mahon, who had similarly left a reputable family in Dublin for London. Soon after the pair met they married, and as Guthrie notes added "Adultery to the rest of her Crimes". According to Guthrie, their life together was full of "Lewdness, with the vilest Company in Town".

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Theft and Betrayal

On the 23rd of October 1740 John Layton was going down Haymarket at about seven or eight in the evening when he met Elizabeth Fox in the middle of the street, who offered him a "Dram of very good Rum". Though initially reluctant to do so, Layton followed Fox into a house, with Priscilla following closely behind. Layton sought to leave the house after he and Fox had "drank 3 Quarterns". When he went to the door the pair seized him, broke a stick he was carrying, and, as he later testified, "they struck and punched me, and made my Cheeks bleed".

The women stopped the attack when the house's landlord emerged. While Layton wanted to take the women to the watchmen’s roundhouse, the landlord persuaded him to come back and sit and drink with him. Apparently the two women, Priscilla's husband John, John Elvar, and a man called Richardson joined them, and the whole group continued to give Layton more drinks.

This drinking culminated when the group offered Layton a large glass of plain gin which though Layton "drank a little" the group "insisted that I should drink it up". Layton then attempted to leave again and was attacked again by the two women, as well as John Mahon, Elvar, and Richardson.

During the scuffle Layton stolen "five 36 s. Pieces, and an 18 s. Piece" from his pocket. When the group tried to flee, Layton gave chase and managed to catch Priscilla and inform the watch what had occurred. The watchmen eventually managed to capture Elvar and Fox. John Mahon successgully fled to Dublin with "the 9 or 10 pounds" the group had stolen, leaving Elvar, Fox and even his wife Priscilla to face trial.

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The Trial

Priscilla, Elizabeth Fox, and John Elvar were tried at the Old Bailey on 16 January 1741 for assault and theft from William Layton in "the dwelling-House of a Person unknown". Priscilla was listed with an alias of Trilcourt, which was perhaps her maiden name.

Richardson appears to have turned king's evidence and testified for the prosecution. He said he returned home to find the pair busy at work trying to rob Layton, but he claimed nothing occurred whilst he was in the room.

Priscilla’s only defence was to claim that she was drunk, and was not in the room when she heard Layton fighting with the landlord. She also said that she was caught by Layton, not by the watchmen, implying that the evidence of Layton, who was drunk, could not be trusted.

All three were found guilty of the assault and sentenced to death.

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The Ordinary's Account

Once in Newgate, Priscilla gave an account of her life to the Ordinary, James Guthrie. Guthrie found her to be from a good background, but noted she was guilty of adultery among other sins. He noted that she did not confess to any other crimes beyond the robbery she was tried for, but she did acknowledge "that she had been guilty of innumerable other wicked and indirect Practices".

Guthrie gave Priscilla extra attention the Friday before her execution as she was sick in her cell. Priscilla found it difficult to see any way of being forgiven as she had sinned so badly despite been "bred in the strictest Way of Religion". Despite the Ordinary’s attempts to reassure her, she still "cried bitterly, lamenting in a deplorable Manner her sinning" up to her execution.

The Ordinary’s account includes a letter addressed to Priscilla from her sister, Elizabeth Holford. Holford offered her sympathy and even expressed her intention to "send a Minister, if he can be admitted". It is not recorded whether this minister came to Priscilla’s side during her time at Newgate.

Priscilla Mahon was executed at Tyburn on 18 March 1741. Guthrie reports that she "was very serious, and so desirous of prayers, that she call'd me out of the coach to pray by her, and behaved very penitent".

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker