They stood over the lifeless body unsure of what they had just done. Then they heard her voice, urging them to continue, to take the knife and to cut the body into pieces. They turned and saw her face, the candle she was holding demonizing her features. They had come too far. There was no going back.
Catherine Hayes was convicted of Petty Treason and sentenced to pay for her felony by burning on the 9th of May, 1726. Catherine’s crime was not just a simple murder- in this male dominated time to aid in the murder of someone’s superior was a far more ghastly crime. While Catherine herself did not murder her husband she was a driving force behind it, and because of the patriarchal ideology of the time that was largely founded by religion, Catherine was seen just as much, if not more at fault then the others. In the story of this trial, religion is an active entity that has the power to condemn a person or to make them acceptable in the eyes of society.
From a young age Catherine Hayes was a manipulative and determined women. Coming from an impoverished background, she left home and set out into the world when she was only fifteen. Despite her young age she was not afraid to use her body to acquire what she wanted, and resorted to prostitution until she met her future husband. On her journey to London she found herself employed at a farm owned by a Mr. Hayes. After Catherine seduced and married Mr. Hayes (the son of her employer), she began to take control of his life.
Not only was Catherine domineering but she was also deceitful and a slanderer. She convinced her husband to move to London where she could often be found igniting fights, spreading rumors, and talking about her husband in tones ranging from “tenderness and respect”” to describing him as, “everything that was contemptible in human nature”. Her habits continued, and when she was joined by Thomas Billings, only worsened.
Give to the One Who Begs From You
Thomas Billings was raised by relatives of Catherine, and while he was aware that some relationship existed between them, Catherine later claimed that Thomas was her son. With Thomas in their lives, things between Catherine and her husband grew more tense, probably due to the fact that Thomas was Catherine’s lover. This is suspected to be the time when Catherine began to plot the demise of Mr. Hayes. Because Catherine was a woman she decided that she needed the help of men to carry out her plan. She has already coerced her son into doing as she wished, and when a man names Thomas Wood came into their lives Catherine decided he could be of use as well.
Thomas Wood from Worcestershire had become fast friends with Mr. Hayes. Mr. Wood subsequently became fast lovers with Mrs. Hayes, which is most likely why she thought it wise to impart her plan to him. He first responded with incredulity to her suggestion, seeing as he had a good relationship with Mr. Hayes and saw no reason to cause him harm. Catherine then told Mr. Wood of how her husband had murdered two of their children, as well as being an atheist. The fact that her husband’s supposed religion was brought into conversation illustrates that religion played a large part in how people were perceived, and it continues to do so throughout this trial.
Thou Shalt Not Murder
With Thomas’ consent, the plan was decided on. Mr. Wood came home one evening to find Mrs and Mr Hayes as well as Thomas Billings drinking amicably together. Mr. Hayes, with much encouragement from the others, ended up sprawled out on his bed, passed out from a large consumption of alcohol. Catherine assured her cohorts that this was the time to act, for as her husband was unconscious he could not resist. Mr. Billings took a hatchet to the back of Mr. Hayes’ head, and when he dropped it Mr. Wood came in and finished the job.
When it came to decided what to do with the body, Catherine suggested that they cut off the body and throw it into the Thames to avoid detection. The men left to take care of it, and when they came back they were urged to cut the body into small pieces so as to fit inside of a box which was later thrown into a pond. When the head was found, there was no sure way of telling who it was, so it was put atop a wooden spike for all to see. This brought about a lot of speculation regarding the Hayes’, which led to the eventual capture of Mrs. Hayes, Thomas Billings and Thomas Wood.
Whoever Sheds the Blood of Man, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed
Billings and Wood both admitted to their crimes, and did not forget to leave out Catherine’s role, though she tried to deny it. Billings, after finding out that Mr. Hayes was his father, showed deep remorse. In the 18th century parricide was much more heinous a crime then simply murdering someone to whom one has no connection. Thomas Wood, though, showed even more remorse, and would have been ready to receive his punishment had he not fallen ill and died before it had been doled out.
Catherine, however, showed little remorse. She cried and acted upset, but it seemed to be more so because of being found out than anything else. It seemed that Catherine had truly thought that she could get away with murder, seeing that she had been in control of everything else that had happened in her life. Sadly for her, this was not the case, as was proven when she tried to poison herself before her execution. Catherine was found, brought back to good health and burned at the stake as was custom for women who committed felonies at this time.
Just like Catherine’s life, her death was not a usual one. When a woman was being set aflame, there was a cord around her neck to strangle her before the flames could completely consume her. But in Catherine’s case, her executioner was not able to tighten the ropes due to the flames threatening his hands. So Catherine literally burned before having her head smashed in by a faggot thrown by a bystander.
It seems that Catherine’s punishment may have been extreme due to the fact that she did not act as a Christian should. In these extremely religious times, it was to Catherine’s demise that she did not show true repentance in the time leading up to her trial, for this was a sign of a Christian. Between this and Billing’s and Woods’ testimonies that demonized Catherine, she had no hope, for a woman without religion in this time ought to be burned.