Though I’m not a British historian, this is supremely cool. As Sharon Howard explains, the new Old Bailey site not only allows folks to search the records from more than 200,000 trials held at London’s main criminal court, but it also includes digitized versions of the Ordinary’s Accounts from Newgate Prison, where condemned criminals were held until they were sent off to the gallows. These “accounts” were the famous non-fictional morality tales published by the prison chaplain, who described the attitude and conduct of the doomed during their final days; the narratives usually ended well enough from the vantage point of the Ordinary, who almost always brought forth good news regarding the final disposition of the felon’s soul. Like so:
At the Place of Execution, to which they were carry’d from Newgate in Two Carts this Day, I attended them for the last time; and after proper Exhortations to, Prayers for, Singing of Penitential Psalms, and rehearsing the Apostles Creed with, Them, I left them to GOD’s Mercy, which they all implor’d; desiring also the Spectators to pray for them, and wishing, That all that saw them, or heard of them, might take Warning by their untimely Death, and by avoiding their Sins, prevent their own coming to the like shameful End.
Then, of course, we find those who failed to play their assigned roles and died without repenting for their crimes or — what’s worse — went to the great beyond without renouncing their Catholic faith. In these cases, the Ordinary’s accounts read like an early modern version of Little Green Footballs. Here’s an especially vicious one (which happens as well to be the first Ordinary’s pamphlet, published in May 1690):
Let every True Hearted and Unprejudiced Protestant, of what Rank and Quality soever, see now what kind of Instruments, and Dubbed Utensils, the late King James has to work withal, no better than House-breakers, and Common Thieves, who have been fairly Convicted by our English Laws: Yea such Laws that King James himself must needs have made use of, for the Conviction of such Cruel Miscreants as these were; if he had been Seated in the Royal Throne, (which God forbid.) These, and such like, are the Men that even when the Ropes are about their Necks, and just ready to be turned off, they will spit their Venom against the Face of the Government, and if it were possible Stone to Death all the Spectators. Yea the very Civil Officers who are ordered by Law to attend their Execution were affronted, the Prisoners Dying (as it were) like Mad men, putting a bold Face upon’t, as if there were no Heaven to Condemn, nor no Hell to Torment, trusting only to the deluding Vanities of a vain hop’d for Purgatory. Which the laborious and never wearied Jesuits, and untir’d Popish Priests do always Buz in their Ignorant Ears, till they have them so fast, that they can never be unlinked, from the Cunning Devices, and Devilish Stratagems, of that Whore of Babylon, who has always been striving to make the Nations Drunk with the Blood of her Fornications, by joining their Gog and Magogs together to undo, yea, (and if it were possible,) to deceive, the very Elect, which such silly Earth-Worms as those will not be sensible of till they come to feel the dreadful effects of it, (in another World,) to their final and everlasting Destruction and Misery, from which dismal Sentence they can never be Redeemed.
Good times, good times.
(For those who are wondering, no one from LGM surrendered their earthly shells on the scaffold. It does appear, however, that Robert Farley is a bit of a snitch, and DJW steals clothes from widows. Lemieux and Bean appear to be unblemished in the eyes of the law, though one never knows. As for me, I just want my fucking silk handkerchiefs back.)