Elizabeth Richardson: Executed for Jealousy

Elizabeth Richardson (alias Forrester) was a woman of the 1700s that was done in by her jealousy. Her story begins when she was seduced at an early age and when older subsisted on wages made from “casual prostitution.” It was that employment that allowed her to meet an attorney named William Pilmott (perhaps Pilmot or even Pimlot or Pimlott), whose chambers were located at Symond’s Inn.

Their relationship seemed to be filled with passion, and Pilmott liked Richardson, even though she was pockmarked. He liked her so much he decided to support her and so it seems unlikely that he cheated on her or gave her reason to be jealous. However, she was intensely jealous of him and in fact, her jealousy drove her to regularly visit him at his chambers thinking she would find him engaged in some sort of compromising situation with another woman. If he was cheating on her, she never succeeded in finding him with another woman.

One Sunday, Pilmott went with his friends to a house on Fleet Street. While he was out, Richardson visited his chambers, and, as he was missing, she decided to wait for him. However, at some point she left for a few minutes and during her absence Pilmott returned and bolted the latch.

At about midnight Pilmott climbed into bed. A half later Elizabeth Richardson returned and tried to gain entry. As Pilmott was sleeping, Richardson’s knocks went unanswered. She thought he was home and believed he was purposely refusing to open the door. So, she pound harder, but her noisy clamor and “horrid imprecations” still did not rouse Pilmott.

As Pilmott would not open the door, Richardson became staunchly determined to see him and refused to leave. As she waited, she became more and more incensed that he wouldn’t answer the door. At last her passions got the better of her. She purposely broke a window, and, perhaps, that is what woke Pilmott, because he suddenly appeared at the door.

Once awake, Pilmott found Elizabeth Richardson in a rage. A screaming match ensued and Pilmott then handed her over to the watch because she was so mad and uncontrollable. While she was in their custody, and moments after Pilmott handed her over, Richardson, who was still fuming, stabbed Pilmott. She rammed a two-inch pointed-pen knife under his left breast.

Elizabeth Richardson and Pilmott's Murder

Pilmott’s murder. Public domain.

Pilmott was shocked Richardson had been stabbed him. Then, as the watchman was explaining to Richardson that he was taking her to the watch-house, Pilmott pulled the pen knife from his chest and told the watchman he’d been stabbed. Of the incident, the Kentish Gazette reported:

“[S]he [Elizabeth Richardson] instantly struck him on the left breast; the poor deceased put his hand to his breast, and took from thence an open knife, which he delivered to the watchman; telling him, the woman had murdered him, and that was the knife she had stabbed him with.”[1]

As Pilmott seemed fine, the watchman requested he accompany them about 100 yards to the watch-house. Upon their arrival, Pilmott felt faint. He sat down and opened his waistcoat. It must have come as a surprise to everyone when they saw “blood was … issuing from his wound; and, [Pilmott] leaning down his head … presently expired, without speaking.”[2] Elizabeth Richardson was aghast at what she had done and begged the watchman to call for a physician, which the watchman did.

While they were waiting for the physician, amidst “grievous tears” and “laments” about what she had done, the watchman locked Richardson inside a cell. When the physician arrived and examined the injured man, no one was surprised when he pronounced Pilmott dead. Nor was it a surprise to learn the following day, after Pilmott’s chest was opened, that Richardson had penetrated Pilmott’s heart with her pen knife.

The trial of Elizabeth Richardson took place at Old Bailey, a spot where other murderers were tried such as Elizabeth Ross (a convicted Burkeite), John Bellingham (assassin of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval), or Elizabeth Brownrigg (executed for torture). Little evidence about Richardson’s trial was published in London newspapers. However, the evidence given at trial was deemed “indisputable,” and she was found guilty of “Wilful Murder” and sentenced to death. The Salisbury and Winchester Journal reported:

“Yesterday 26 prisoners were tried at Old Baily, four of whom were capitally convicted, viz. Elizabeth Richardson, other wife Forrister, for the wilful murder of Wm. Pimlot, in Chancery lane; she received sentence to be executed on Monday next, and her body to be dissected and anatomized.”[3]

The Old Bailey Sessions House. John Ellis (1790). © Corporation of London Libraries and Guildhall Art Library.

Richard’s death sentence was overshadowed by her claims Pilmott’s death was her greatest punishment. Moreover, she reverted to an “unhappy woman [who] employed herself in a truly contrite manner, regularly attending public devotions and at other times engaged in earnest prayer.”[4] She carried on this way until her execution, which happened about nine months before Napoleon Bonaparte was born. After Richardson’s execution at Tyburn on 21 December 1768, her body was cut down and carried to the Surgeons’ Hall for dissection.

But the real moral of the story maybe this tidbit of advice:

“Let the untimely fate of Mr. [Pilmott] and the disgraceful death of Elizabeth Richardson, remain a dread[ed] lesson to each sex. Females, avoid the arts of men! and ye, seducers of innocence, be careful how you form connexions with her who, once ruined, becomes abandoned to misery, and seeks retaliation on the sex by whom she was betrayed!”[5]

References:

  • [1] “Died,” in the Kentish Gazette, 12 November 1768, p. 4.
  • [2] Knapp, Andrew, etal., The Newgate Calendar, Vol. 2, 1825, p. 410.
  • [3] “London, Saturday, December 10,” in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 12 December 1768, p. 3.
  • [4] Knapp, Andrew, p. 410.
  • [5] Ibid.

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2 Comments

  1. Charles Bazalgette on April 19, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    It looks as if she was mentally ill, and looking for an excuse to be jealous when none existed. Just a sad story, repeated every day unfortunately.

    • Geri Walton on April 19, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      I thought she was probably mentally ill too.

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