On March 26th, 1768 Frederic Lord Baltimore escaped conviction for raping one Sarah Woodcock. This innocent verdict also decided the fate of his accomplices, Elizabeth Griffenburg and Anne Harvey, who were set free as a result of Baltimore’s acquittal. It is my opinion that justice was not served on this sad day, for I believe Lord Baltimore escaped conviction due to his high position in society, and due to society’s faulty perceptions of noblemen.
Lord Baltimore was a nobleman who attained his fortune through inheritance. His father served for the parliament of Epsom, England, where Lord Baltimore was born and grew up. Lord Baltimore did not confine himself to England, for he used his wealth to travel abroad. During his travels he was inspired by a rather odd form of architecture. He was fascinated with the design of the Turkish harems (the part of a Muslim household reserved for a man’s multiple female partners), so fascinated in fact, that upon his return to England he had part of his house torn down in order that it could be rebuilt to resemble the Turkish harems that captured his attention abroad. In this house, he kept a number of women for the purpose of satisfying his needs. However, he soon realized that he needed diversity in his life, so he promoted many of these women to the role of agent. The women who were assigned the role of agent were responsible for going out and procuring some fresh faces that would satisfy the Lord’s hungry libido. Unfortunately, Sarah Woodcock was one of the girls who was unwillingly scouted for a role in Lord Baltimore’s revolting play house.
Sarah Woodcock was brought to the attention of Lord Baltimore by Mrs. Harvey, who was later put on trial with him as an accomplice in his rape. A member of the “rigid sect of dissenters called Independents,” Sarah Woodcock never strayed from her Christian duties. She was both respectable and beautiful. Her appearance attracted Lord Baltimore, but her unwillingness to be swayed by the compliments paid to her by a married man protected her from ever being fooled by his flattery. The disinterest she showed in Lord Baltimore motivated him to take extreme measures. With the help of his accomplices, Mrs. Harvey and Mrs Griffenburg, Lord Baltimore tricked Sarah Woodcock into entering his house. Mrs. Harvey convinced the girl to come to the house of a customer who took great interest in her work. Reluctant to oblige, she had little choice, as she was soon pushed into a coach that took her and Mrs. Harvey to Lord Baltimore’s house. Sarah Woodcock unknowingly entered Lord Baltimore’s house, thinking that she was entering the house of a lady who was interested in buying her products. However, when Lord Baltimore walked in, she soon realized that this was not the case, as she recognized him from the previous visits he had paid to her shop.
Suspicious of Lord Baltimore’s intentions, Sarah Woodcock refused any food or refreshment offered her, and insisted on leaving the house. However, Lord Baltimore continued to come up with excuses as to why she needed to stay longer, and refused to allow her to leave. Sarah Woodcock soon realized that she was being detained against her will when Mrs. Griffenburg and Mrs. Harvey pushed her from the window, from which she was trying to signal for help. It became increasingly clear that Lord Baltimore was not going to let her go when he threatened to “throw her into the street” if she tried to communicate with anyone from the window. Thus, Sarah Woodcock was detained against her will, being forced physically to refrain from seeking help, and being threatened with her life if she did not obey his orders.
The rape occurred on the fourth night after Sarah Woodcock’s arrival at Lord Baltimore’s. Having refused almost all food offered her, she was extremely weak, and was unable to fight off Lord Baltimore, who succeeded in raping her.
Twice (according to Miss Woodcock’s deposition) was this horrid purpose effected; and, though she called out repeatedly for help, yet she found none; and in the morning, when she went to Mrs. Harvey’s room, and told her what had passed, the latter advised her to be quiet, for that she had made noise enough already.
The abuse shown towards Sarah Woodcock continued for days, as she was repeatedly raped by Lord Baltimore night after night. Mrs. Griffenburg and Mrs. Harvey continued to assist Lord Baltimore in containing Sarah Woodcock. What is more, both women believed that she should be grateful for what was happening to her, because Lord Baltimore was a man of good fortune. Sarah Woodcock responded by saying, “that all the fortune the man possessed should not prevail on her to think of living with him on dishonourable terms; and she again demanded that liberty to which she had so just a claim.” Sarah Woodcock was intelligent and ethical. She did not excuse Lord Baltimore’s behaviour on account of his noble status, and his good fortune. She understood that money did not buy him rights to her body, because she did not want his money or his association.
Unfortunately, wealth and status was exactly what assured Lord Baltimore’s freedom. His position as a nobleman placed him in high regard in society, and the court was unwilling to defame a man whose position as a nobleman would bring shame to the country as a whole. I can argue this because Lord Baltimore did not offer any valid evidence that would contradict the accusations made towards him on behalf of Sarah Woodcock. Rather, he relied on the reputation of his father and the supposed honour that he gained from his family’s position in society.
I am sure I have sufficiently atoned for every indiscretion, which a weak attachment to this unworthy woman may have led me into, by having suffered the disgrace of being exposed as a criminal at the bar in the county which my father had the honour to represent in parliament, and where I had some pretensions to have attained the same honour, had that sort of an active life been my object.
Lord Baltimore basically argued that his father’s role in parliament and his relation to his father spoke to his own honour, credit, and respectability. Basically, he believed that he did not need to defend himself because his societal status should speak for itself. Furthermore, he argued that he had suffered enough from the defaming that Sarah Woodcock’s accusations had caused him. He stressed the importance of equating status with trust and this was emphasized when he referred to Sarah Woodcock as unworthy. Sarah Woodcock would be regarded as unworthy for two reasons in the eighteenth century. For one, she is a woman, and second, she is of lower status. Therefore, Lord Baltimore describes Sarah Woodcock as unworthy in order to make a point that trust should be based on gender and status. He further equates his reputation with trust when he states,
I will take up no more of your lordship’s time than to add that, if I had been conscious of the guilt now imputed to me, I could have kept myself and my fortune out of the reach of the laws of this country, I am a citizen of the world; I could have lived anywhere: but I love my own country, and, submit to its laws, resolving that my innocence should be justified by the laws.
Lord Baltimore placed his trust in his own country, because he knew that the court would be biased in his favour. Furthermore, he wanted to be tried in England, because he knew the court would have to face disgracing the country if they decided on a verdict of guilty.
Lord Baltimore argued that he should be deemed trustworthy despite the fact that he completely abused his power. However, Sarah Woodcock had trouble conveying his hypocrisy, because his unethical behaviour towards her made her question her trust in any Lord. Her case was weakened by her failing to trust in Lord Mansfield, when she first escaped from Lord Baltimore. She initially denied abuse to Lord Mansfield, “who was the supreme magistrate in the kingdom in criminal matters,” because she did not know if she could trust this Lord until she asked her family and friends if he was an honourable man. Therefore, the title of Lord did nothing to secure her trust because Lord Baltimore proved to her that a high ranking in society does not speak to one’s character. She later explained to Lord Mansfield why she had not told him the truth initially, however her change in story most likely impacted the jury’s decision.
To be sure, Lord Baltimore’s hypocrisy helped assure his victory, as he maintained the trust of those who heard his words, but who were not impacted by his actions. Thus, the jury voted in his favour, because they chose to believe that his title, and the honour associated with his title spoke to his character. His success serves as a perfect example of how power was abused in 18th century society.
Now, the question remains, how far have we progressed since the 18th century? I would argue that we still place a tremendous amount of faith in titles, as is evident in the trust we place in doctors, policemen, and politicians. We trust in the people who hold these professions, because we trust in their training and their ability to help us. However, do we trust too easily? How often do we take medications doctors prescribe without questioning what we are putting into our bodies? How many times do policemen get away with unjustified shootings? And how many times do we place our trust in a politician’s false promises? Just some food for thought to leave you with.
All quotations from the trial transcript are taken from The Newgate Calendar, http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng441.htm
Photo taken from http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ngillus.htm