For Linden: Mrs. Leigh Perrot's Testimony (long)
Posted by Patricia Bingham on May 29, 1998 at 17:02:53:
I stumbled onto this and remembered your particular interest in the court room. I hope this can help you. (Warning, A long post) This is an exerpt from a book called A History of Jane Austen's Family by George Holbert Tucker. Revised edition 1998 by Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-1663-X. Here is the trial of Mrs. Leigh Perrot. I have here most of it as the court proceedings were recorded her with much detail which I thought you might enjoy but, further down, you will see that Mrs. Perrot does offer a testimony in her own behalf:
...Mrs. Leigh-Perrot's trial, presided over by Sir Soulden Lawrence, a judge of the King's Bench, was held in the great Hall of Taunton Castle on Saturday, 29 March 1800. The Case had attracted a great deal of attention, and by the early morning it was estimated that two thousand persons, including "many elegantly dressed women", had occupied every available space "and were almost pressed to death and suffocated with heat, merely for the satisfaction of seeing a Criminal Court from a distance." The fashionable Lady's Magazine had a reporter and an artist on hand. While the latter was busily sketching the account of Perrot, who appeared very pale and emacipated, was dressed in a "very light lead-color pelisse, a muslin handkerchief on her neck, with a cambric cravat. Her hair of dark brown, curled on her forehead; a small black bonnet, round which was purple ribband, and over it a black lace veil, whoich was thrown up over her head."
After the indictment had been read and Mrs. Leigh perrot had pleased not guilty, the jury was sworn in. The councel for the prosecution then summond its three witnesses, Miss Gregory, Filby and Sarah Raines. By that time, having been baulked in their attempt at blackmail, the trio had concocted such a well-tailored story that it appeared at first as though their mutually corroborative evidence would result in Mrs. Perrot's conviction. But they had not reckoned with the able counsel for the defence, and when Mrs. Leigh Perrot's lawyers had completed cross-examining the witnesses it was shown Filby had perjured himself under oath.
After the cross-examination was completed, Mr. Justice Lawrence told Mrs. Leigh Perrot that it was her turn to speak in her own defence. By then she had become extremely aggitated, and in an attmept to address the court her voice failed her so frequently the judge asked one of her councel to sit by her and repeat what she said. As the printed accounts of Mrs. Leigh Perrot's statement published after her acquitaldo not agree with her own copy included in a letter to her cousin Mountague Cholmeley, the latter will be quoted here as it was probably copied from the original statement prepared by her counsel:
My Lord & gentlemen of the Jury,
I am told that my counsel cannot be permitted to address to you any remarks on my case. The circumstances of it do not render it necessary to detain you long, but as my Counsel are prevented I cannot (although nearly unequal to the speaking in such an assembly) help taking advantage of this opportunity. Placed in a situation in every respect the most enviable - blessed with the tender and most affectionate husband who is ever anxious to indulge my wants and anticipate my wishes and whose supply of money is so ample as to leave me rich even after every desire is gratified what inducement could I have to commit this offence? Depraved indeed must have been my mind if these comforts I could have been tempted to this crime. You will here from my noble and highly respected friends what has been my conduct, and what has been, and stil is, there opinion of me. Can you think it possible they have been so many years deceived? Is it possible that at this ime in my life my disposition should be so suddenly change and that I should foolishly hazard the well earned reputation of a whole life by such conduct, or endanger the peace of mind of a husband for whom I would willingly lay down that life?
At that point Mrs. Leigh Perrot's voice faltered, and her husband, who had until then born up under the indignity of the situation, placed his handkerchief over his face and wept violently, an emotion that was shared by many iof those present. Once she had regained her composure, Mrs. Leigh Perrot continued:
You have heard their evidence. I shall not, nor indeed can I make any comments on it: I leave that where I am satisfied itwill be used with justice and mercy. I will only ask you wether to be found opposite to the shop within the space of a little more than half a hour. , and with the lace in my hand is like the conduct of a guilty person. My oath is on this occasion inadmissible: but I most sollemnly assure you and call on that God whom we all aknowledge and adore, to reward or punish me as I now speak true or false and to witness my assertion that I did not take the white lace knowingly from Smith's Shop, nor had I any reason to suspect or believe that the same was in my parcel when accosted by my prosecutrx.
When Mrs. Perrot had finished speaking, her councel then called three witnesses in her behalf, one of whom, a London Pawnbroker, showed that Filby had perjured himself under oath. The others testified that the extra items beside their regular purchases had been included in their parcels at miss Gregory's shop. They were followed by eleven friends of Mrs. Perrot, all of the highest social and clerical standing, who attested to her good character. A Mrs. Winstone, stated testily: "...If she had not been of that opinion she should not have appeared in the public situation she was now standing in." Three Bath tradesmen were then called, all of whom gave evidence of the prisoner's integrity. With that the counsel for the defence rested.
Mr Justice then summoned up hte evidence in a fifty-five minute address to the jury. Although the testimony as given by hte three witnesses for the prosecution had been initially incriminating, it had been damaged by contradictions brought out by hte counsel for the defense in cross-examination, particularly of Filby. Then, after calling the jury's attention to the additional incriminating evidence given against Miss Gregory and her associates by the witnesses for the defence, the judge emphasized that the parcel containing the lace in her hand, so soon after she had left it, when it was proved by the witness Filby that sufficient time had elapsed for her to have gone home and concealed it, sis not appear to be the conduct of the guilty person.
The case was then turned over to the jury, and after a brief consultation, it brought in a verdict of not guilty. In repiorting the reaction to the verdict, the Lady's Magazine said, "The trial lasted seven hours and the scene at the acquittal was extremely affecting. The agitation and embracs of Mr. & Mrs. Perrot may be more easily conceived than described.
The long ordeal for the Leigh Perrot's was over and Mrs. Leigh Perrot's name was cleared. But the family tradition says that had she been found guilty and condemned to death, a sentence that undoubtedly would hage been commuted to transportation to Botany Bay, her loyal husband had arranged to sell his property and accompany her.
- Thank you very much for that: very useful Linden 03:00:16 5/31/98 (2)
- Mrs. Leigh-Perrot's Trial Iveta 17:04:30 5/30/98 (0)
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