During the 18th Century, gender often played a large part in the court cases. While some women were committing crimes, women were accused a lot less than the men were. Margaret Larney was one woman who was tried in the 18th Century. It was often the case that the women who were tried and found to be guilty, were acquitted if they were found to be with child. Margaret Larney was a woman who challenged this misconception and on the 2nd day of October, in the year 1758, shortly after giving birth to a baby boy she was executed. Larney claimed she was innocent, but the jury believed otherwise. Margaret Larney’s trial shows that some things are more important than one’s gender.
There are two sides to every story and two sides to every coin. Tell me, what side do you choose: Heads or Tails? Margaret or jury?
John and Alice Diamond were a married couple who had been once been in jail on charges of coining and were only released from jail so that they could appear in court to testify against people who had been accused of the same crimes that they were arrested for. One of the criminals they had to testify against was Margaret Larney, a poor woman who lived with her husband and four children in London, who was charged with the Royal Offence of coining. Alice had been an acquaintance of Margaret Larney since the time that they were children and John, too, had been her acquaintance for quite some time but that did not stop the Diamonds from testifying against Margaret Larney in court. In fact, it only made their case even stronger because they had witnessed occasions where she did unlawful things. The couple played a large role in the trial; it was mainly from them that the jury was able to piece together Margaret Larney’s crime.
Alice and John Diamond were the most ideal witnesses for Margaret Larney’s trial that took place on the 13th of January, 1758, for they knew personally that she was involved in filing guineas. Margaret Larney told Diamond that in order to get the guineas used for filing she would buy goods and then get silver coins for her change. Larney would also ask any friends she had to loan her money. Larney told Diamond that she would then file off some of the metal off the guineas and sell the metal and then proceed to use the filed off guineas to buy goods. Not only did Larney tell Diamond about her crimes, she also filed a guinea while Diamond was present. Both Alice and John Diamond also witnessed Larney selling the metal off the filed guineas to a Jewish man named Abraham Jacob. John Diamond testified that witnessed the defendant selling the metal to Abraham Jacob for about £3 per ounce. The Diamonds were not the only witnesses that testified against her; one constable named Roger Boucher and another man named William Marsden also gave evidence that supported the Diamonds’ claims.
Roger Boucher and William Marsden testified that they had entered Margaret Larney’s home and had found proof that she was filing coins. When they arrived at the Larney residence, they entered her bedroom and saw a little box on the dresser. Margaret Larney insisted that the men not look in the box and stated that they did not need to, for there was nothing in there but rags. The men looked in the box and while there were rags, the rags were being used to cover up the files that were used for filing the coins. This piece of evidence played a large part in proving to the jury that Margaret Larney was guilty. But, like I said, there are two sides to every coin.
When the files were found in her home Larney claimed that she had never seen them before. Larney had an idea of where they came from, however, and she wanted to protect the one who put the files there, so she lied and said that her son must have found the files in the cellar and placed them there. Unfortunately her son told the Constable that he had never seen the files before. Larney then asked a woman who was present in the room at the time if the child had placed them there, and the woman lied for Margaret Larney and said “yes.” Larney knew that her son had not brought the files to the room, but she wanted to protect her friend, the one who actually did put the files there; she wanted to protect Alice Diamond. Luckily for Larney, she did have someone who supported her and believed that the files belonged to Diamond, Elizabeth Roberts.
Elizabeth Roberts, the woman who had been taking care of Margaret Larney’s children during the time she was accused of coining, spoke at the trial in Larney’s defense. She claimed that once, while Margaret Larney was out, she was watching the children and Alice Diamond appeared at the house. Diamond went into Larney’s bedroom and was in there for some time. When she came out she requested that Roberts not let the children in the room, because she did not want them to meddle with something that she had left in the room. When Roberts went into the room to make the Larneys’ bed later that evening she saw a handkerchief peeking out from under the bed and she picked it up and noticed that there were two files in it so she put the whole thing in a box on the dresser, assuming that it belonged to Margaret Larney’s husband. The handkerchief was not there before Diamond had gone into the bedroom, which could lead one to believe that this was what Diamond had intended to keep away from the children.
While Larney pleaded that she was innocent and that it was, in fact, Alice Diamond who had committing the crime, no one believed her. The jury decided that she was guilty and sentenced her to death. When she was about to be executed, however, she was found to be with child, and therefore was kept alive until the baby was born. While many women of the time ended up getting pardoned after they had dealt with the hardships of being in a cell while pregnant, Margaret Larney was executed. But, before she was executed she prayed for those who had found her guilty, even for her old friend who had lied to the jury in order to save herself.
You have read both sides of the story. You have seen both sides of the coin. Now tell me, which side do you believe?
Gender often played a large part in the courts in the 18th Century. It was often the case that women were involved in crimes that were not considered to be as serious as the crimes that men often were known for committing. Even when women were involved in serious crimes it was often the case that they were doing so because a man had told them to. Women were a lot less likely to be punished for their crimes, either by jail time or being sentenced to death. This trial, of Margaret Larney, shows that some things are more important than gender. The severity of coining was far greater than her “weak” gender.
The crime of coining was a Royal offence in the 18th Century and its seriousness was shown when a woman, Margaret Larney, was punished for said crime. She was on trial for filing coins then selling the dust so that other people could melt it down and forge new coins out of it, which was severe. It was said that Margaret Larney was, “indicted for that she feloniously and traiterously [sic] with certain files and other instruments, one piece of good and lawful money of the current coin of this kingdom, call’d a guinea, did unlawfully file and diminish, against the form of the statute in that case made and provided”. The words “feloniously” and “traiterously”[sic] are two words that express the enormity of this crime that Larney committed.
After spending months in a horrific jail cell and going through a tough childbirth, she assumed that the courts may give her pardon for the crime she had committed, because this had been the case for other women charged in the 18th Century. Despite her hardships, however, Larney was still to be sentenced to death for the crime because of its intensity. The fact that her sentence was not pardoned shows that this heinous crime meant a great deal to the people of London, more than her role of being a woman and a mother.
The information from this trial was found at: