I have been meditating a lot on the proceedings of the court case I have chosen on Thomas Bridge and I have come to two conclusions:
1) Drinking a pint of Gin (no matter what century you are in) is a terrible idea with terrible outcomes.
2) People still do not know how to use their cutlery properly.
The second point is because I have yet to figure out how to dice onions fast enough to avoid crying like a small child, much like Mr. Bridge could not eat breakfast without stabbing his wife in the chest.
But I digress.
The Thomas Bridge case deals with a lot of witness accounts, to be very precise, 11 different witness accounts on: the scene of the crime, the night of June the 4th, the morning of June the 5th, Elizabeth Bridge and Thomas Bridge himself. Most of the witnesses consisted of Bridge’s associates, a shop owner, the constable who brought in the prisoner and the coroner who examined Elizabeth Bridge.
Now, each witness account is not so much individually different as…the exact same story with slightly varying details or points of view.
Take for example the account of John Thomas; one of the witnesses who saw Bridge before the morning of the murder. Thomas describes Bridge as being “much in Liquor” which I deduced to mean, “being very drunk”. Again, you may be wondering how this is relevant to the case, besides obscuring one’s sound and moral judgment. The phrase “being much in Liquor” is relevant because it was repeated not once, not twice, not thrice but 7 times (twice by Sarah Miller) to describe Bridge’s demeanor.
I take suspect to this little detail for this reason: the judge and jury had to hear 6 different witnesses say that Thomas Bridge “was much in the Liquor” 7 different times in order to determine that yes, he was a bit drunk. I understand that these court proceedings were quite thorough in the 18th century but to study this case in GREAT detail I have figured out what details are important to the case and what details are relevant but do not need to be repeated 7 TIMES. Really though the last witness, Sarah Miller had to reiterated this fact specifically, when asked how Thomas Bridge was acting “Very brisk; – but he was in Liquor”.
Which brings me to my next point: Thomas Bridge’s defense. This, has to be, the worst drunken explanation of how someone “accidentally” murdered they’re wife I have ever read. The worst part is, Bridge sticks with this story when he defends himself on the stand and I am fairly certain that you aren’t allowed to be drunk in court even in the 18th century.
Bridge’s first account was retold by John Wilsted (witness); the first of the witnesses to see John after the murder and hear his story.
“The Prisoner, on the 5th of June, came to me, and told me, that his Wife was murdered, and that he had stabbed her in the Breast with a Knife, and that she was dead. I asked him if his Wife was dead? He said yes, and lay dead on the Floor.”
Right at the very beginning of the story, he admits to Wilsted that he murdered his wife and told Wilsted what he did in details…and then continues.
“He told me, he was eating a Piece of Bread and Cheese, and held his Knife against his Breast; with the Point outwards, and she flew at him in a violent Passion, and stabbed the Knife into her Breast.”
For the sake of clarification, Bridge confessed to eating his breakfast while his wife ran herself through on his knife. If it wasn’t for the fact that this case is accessible through the Old Bailey website I would not believe that any human being could possible make up a story like Bridge’s story; let alone present it in front of a judge and jury. Of course it is more extraordinary that Bridge’s sticks to his alcohol inspired story in court and more incredible that he expects people to believe it.
With the Thomas Bridge case, the sense of unnecessary repetition and over zealous attention to detail is overwhelming. I find myself both amused and angry because of how obvious the evidence points to Thomas being the murderer. Which causes me to pause…
What I think I have to understand is the context in which Bridge’s case falls under and I think context gives way to better understanding what I may deem as an excruciating and needless attention to a man who is clearly the guilty. I think about what I know about the role of women in the 18th century, and I think about how a judge and jury may view the murder of a woman in comparison to say the murder of a man or a child. 18th century women were, in essence, property of the men they were tied to; whether they were their fathers, brother or husbands essentially women were just another piece of property to be sold, bought, traded or exchanged.
This changes the flavor of the whole court proceedings. Instead of being a really annoying tedious bureaucratic process it is now a really REALLY annoying bureaucratic process. The Thomas Bridge case seems more like an excuse to draw out the fact that the Bridge was obvious a drunk, obviously not very bright and obviously someone who is guilty but yet the judge, jury and the court found different ways to draw out the proceedings to, give Bridge an out?
If you read the proceedings in close details, you can almost visualize the faces of each witness as they say repeatedly things like “I am sorry I don’t have so much to say against him” (George Reader) and “I never heard any Ill of either of them” (John Thomas) that give Thomas Bridge a sort of sensible demeanour except that we have just heard their accounts on what a drunk Bridge is. I think this is the most infuriating and ridiculous detail about the entire court proceedings; they are looking for an excuse to let him of the hook. It is hard for me, a 21st century man, with the weight of my present perspective to read the Bridge case with the historical context behind it but this case (no matter what century) is open and shut.
And do you know what detail tip the scales for the judge and jury to find Bridge guilty? The one thing they could not let slip?
“After my Wife had received the Wound, she fell from me; I withdrew the Knife, and put it into the Sheath, and clapp’d it into the Bosom of my Waistcoat.” (Thomas Bridge)
“One would think it more natural for the Prisoner to have dropp’d the Knife, after the Accident, than to have put it first into the Sheath, and then into his Bosom.” (Jury)
“It was as quickly put there as any where.” (Bridge)
It wasn’t the ridiculous story, it wasn’t that many of the witnesses saw how drunk Bridge was, it wasn’t the obvious blood that drenched Bridge’s body and clothing or that he changed out of the bloody clothing or that no one eats with their knife resting on their chest (point out) as they eat. No they thought it was ridiculous that a man would sheath his knife instead of dropping it on the floor after “accidentally” stabbing their wife. I don’t know whose worse, Bridge or the judge and jury.
Thomas Bridge’s case is on of intrigue because of how RIDICULOUS it is, and not because of the actual crime but because this case had to go through court and God knows how long it actually went on for. It also sheds light on how difficult women in the 18th actually had it when it came to justice and rights. A man who clearly murdered his wife and even ADMITTED to doing so had to stand trial with 11 witnesses saying the exact same thing in order to be found guilty. The real tragedy about the Bridge case is how justice for Elizabeth Bridge came only because of a technicality and not because of the obvious evidence.
I would like to say that we have come a long way from this kind of ridiculousness but the truth is we haven’t.
So boys, next time you decide to eat your breakfast in a new and adventurous way, remember! Women tend to stab themselves randomly and enthusiastically.