This essay will bring a summarization of the events that occurred before and after the trial and the fate in which Elizabeth Herring faced in the end. Also, this essay will bring forth some of the problems in the eighteenth century that had been occurring in many peoples everyday lives and is still occuring today. Some of the problems that will be brought to attention is; Abuse at this time, drinking and the corruption of the witness and justice system.
Elizabeth Herring was a women in 1773 who was married to her husband Robert Herring. She was brought into trial because she was convicted of murdering her husband with a knife. She stabbed him one time in the throat and he died shortly after, this occurred on August 5th, 1773. She however was not tried until around September 8th, 1773. The first witness that was brought to the stand was a man by the name of John Boyle. Boyle testifies that he was there when it happened and he had been just a, “half a yard from them” when it had happened. Boyle’s stated that Herring had gone to her husband and, “Struck the knife into his throat.” He then goes to describe the amount of blood coming from the wound. Boyle’s was asked when he died, he stated that Robert had died right away and also mentioned he had not heard them fighting prior to the incident. The second witness was called and it was the owner of the house in which the said act occurred. Hannah Darling stated she also had not heard them fighting. Darling then goes to describe that she had been uttering threats at him before this. She had also stated that there had been a lot of blood as well. At the end of Darling’s testimony she stated that, Elizabeth ran out screaming that she had just killed her husband and committed murder. At this time the third witness to take the stand was Thomas Duncan. Duncan is a brick layer who was working at Hannah Darling’s property at the time of the murder. He testified that the husband had sat in the spot beside the car and him and Elizabeth were facing each other at this time. Duncan stated that he could not make out what they were saying but, he notes that they were arguing about something. The next thing he had seen was the knife dropping to the floor and the blood pouring out of Robert. Duncan then goes onto say that he was still alive when he went to help and he had called for help but, no one came. He then drug around Robert to get to help but, numerous times Robert Herring had stumbled or fallen because of the weakness caused by the injury. Next the Surgeon shows up just minutes before Herring dies. Elizabeth Herring inquires about a question at this time. The two surgeons take the stand (one after another). William Pidley had taken the stand and claimed he was the one that examined Robert Herring on site. Next was James Blythe who testified that he examined the body as well and agreed that Herring’s neck was cut and it had hit a major blood vessel. Elizabeth Herring starts her defense speech and starts telling everyone of the harsh times of abuse that he husband had committed. Elizabeth also drops the bomb that he and her “husband” were actually not married and that they had never been married, they only lived together for over a decade. She then admitted that she is guilty of killing her common law but, she did it for good reason. Elizabeth then took time to address the fact that Hannah Darling had always disliked her. Four witnesses are called to the stand to testify on Elizabeth’s behalf. All of which testify that Robert had been an abuser and that Elizabeth was actually kind-hearted. The hearing then ends with Elizabeth stating she was pregnant but, this turns out to be false after. She was sentenced guilty of murder and she was sentenced to be killed. She was then executed by being burned alive at the stake.
This trial lets people in the world today draw many inside conclusions on what it may have been like back in the eighteenth century. One thing that I have drawn from this trial is the treatment of women by others. The continuous details given in the trial of the abuse in which Elizabeth had been subject to in her everyday life is eye opening. Men abusing women is still an occurrence in the world even today so this brings it into a more relatable context for readers today. Most of the details were from the people that were defending Elizabeth. Some had stated details such as, “he would knock her down with quart pots; stick form in her hand” (quart pots), “he has turned her out of doors without shoes and stockings, and “he has got up and beat her with a poker without a handle.” These details would suggest that abuse was harsh in this instance but, abuse of women in the eighteenth century was very much present. Even while I was searching for my trial I had run into many other women trials that were found guilty for murdering of their husbands. In the end of the trial even after the testimonies of people stating that Robert Herring was indeed violent and that was the reason Elizabeth had been pushed over the edge, Elizabeth was still found guilty for murder and executed in a non-humane way.
Drinking had always been a problem during early centuries. This is still a problem now but, not as severe as it was then. This trial brings a slight light onto this problem through the trial of Elizabeth Herring. In this trial Robert Herring was never outright stated to be an alcoholic because at this time drinking was another part of the day. Although it was not directly mentioned the witnesses do point to him drinking beer or throwing beer at Elizabeth when he was having one of his abuser moods where he just had to take it out on someone. This may also show the reader the relationship of men drinking and abuse going hand in hand with each other in the eighteenth century.
The corruption of witnesses was another thing I found in this trial. This did occur to me when first reading it even before Elizabeth called out Hannah Darling for doing exactly this during the statements in which she gave. This would help people from the twenty first century get a glance at what the law had been like then compared to now. Now it is thought to be horrid that someone would lie on the stand but, back then it seemed rather normal which is weird because it always seemed like religion was more intact back then, then it is in current days. This would have to do with someones morals and actually lying to people and God. Through this trial it could be argued that this was true when Hannah Darling(not so darling) starts spewing words in which Elizabeth was said to have said when other witnesses heard nothing and reported that Elizabeth and Robert barely spoke that day and if so it was only a few words. This would contradict and prove that Hannah had gone rogue.
To tie in with the previous paragraph, this trial helps us understand how corrupt the government and justice system had been at this time. The punishment’s that criminals had been faced with would be argued to be in-humane in the twenty first century(even though what they use in the death sentences now in other states could be argued to be just as in-humane). Elizabeth Herring was punished to be burned till dead at the stake. Others who committed “petty” crimes were sentenced to execution by hanging. It was mentioned by Professor Magrath in class that at this time the executors did not have the science down in order to “effectively” kill someone in the least amount of time. Most people who were burned at the stake were supposed to have a rope around their neck and it would be pulled on and this was suppose to break their neck but, the thing is that sometimes the people were dumb and did not pull it in time and can anyone guess what happened? that is right the rope burned and this would let the person die the most horrible death possible by being burned alive. This trial also showed us as readers how women were treated and how trials had gone down. Even though Elizabeth did admit to killing her common law the jury did not even take into account that the only reason this happened was the underlying abuse in the relationship and if one thinks about it, if this was really as bad as it was described Elizabeth would of been killed at some point and the idiot would of probably got away scotch free. Also, this would show and help people of today understand that most people who committed even a minor offense such as stealing a handkerchief, the punishment was death.
I really enjoyed this trial because it was very interesting. Being able to view the conversation of may people would were there to defend Elizabeth or testify against her. Although I do understand she did kill her common law I do not feel one bit sorry for Robert being murdered just because of being told as a reader and as a woman how he injured her it is disgusting and I still believe that if she did not kill him when she did he would of killed her at some point. I also thought this brought a lot of attention to the problems that had been causing havoc in society back then. These problems were stated very clearly throughout the trial and also they turned into the underlying cause of murder. Also, the reader may have been more emotional toward this trial because some of the problems (such as abuse) were happening/occurring even as far back as then and it is still present now which would make the problem more of a reality to the readers rather then something people today could never fully understand or be exposed to this. This article did help readers understand, the justice system/government was corrupt at this time and its laws were wack, abuse and the impact of drinking on family/everyday life at this time can also be compared to the twenty first century.