Friday, May 1, 2009

Tart of the Week: Jane Butterfield

On first impressions, a name like "Miss Butterfield" may convey the sense of a sweet little thing, and not a young woman capable of murder. ...Not that I'm accusing her of murder or anything!

Jane Butterfield was born in the late 1750s/early 60s to humble origins. Like many shady women's stories, her's contains many holes and peculiarities. According to Jane, she was very close to her ailing father and perhaps that is why she took a job as a servant to William Scawen as a teenager. The press embellished the story to proclaim that she was "seduced" by a women employed by Mr. Scawen. Apparently this broke poor, ailing Mr. Butterfield's heart and he soon died after Jane took her employment. Jane was wracked with guilt.

An alternative story is that Jane had always been a little slut and she had been sleeping around with a few guys until she hit the jackpot with the wealthy William Scawen. In all likelihood, Jane did begin sleeping with her employer which, to her credit, must have been a difficult task since Mr. Scawen was old and in bad physical condition. According to the periodicals of the time, Scawen required help to stand or sit, was blind, and constantly required his his head bandages to be redressed, which Jane insisted on doing. Wink wink nudge nudge. How a fourteen year old begins to actually have a sexual relationship with a man (or what's left of him) such as this, boggles my mind. Perhaps she should be given credit for that feat.

Then suddenly, Scawen kicked the bucket. To you, this may come as no surprise but to Scawen's personal surgeon, it was highly suspicious...especially since Scawen willed most of his fortune to the simple little maid, Jane Butterfield. Upon further investigation it was revealed that Scawen had indeed died, not by natural causes, but by poisoning through mercury. But was this a suicide, murder, or was someone just putting Scawen out of his misery? Scawen's surgeon was convinced it was a murder and Jane was to be blamed, after all there was a payout to reap and a dead father to avenge.

Jane was brought to trial and of course it was the talk of the town. Pamphlets circulated and had already decided that a meek little servant girl could not be credited with such a heinous crime, even if she was his mistress. The reason why the press was so sure of her innocence: fashion. Surely a woman who was a murderess and mistress would dress flashy. Jane carefully picked out respectable outfits for her public appearances. Her defense lawyers also were much better than the opposition who couldn't come up with sufficient evidence. Jane was found innocent; after all, how could a woman be capable of such a crime? It is supposed that afterward, Jane happily made off with her money and a lover into the sunset. Even though Jane was found innocent by judge and jury, many elderly men began dismissing their young maids...just in case.


  1. Ha, that's a weird story! You'd think that the executors would challenge her right to the inheritance and while that was pending use some of it to hire good lawyers. Did anyone end up being found guilty of his murder?

    By the way, the name made me think "Miss Butterfield's Blueberry Pancake Mix, $6.95"--not a real thing, but it has a good ring to it, no?

  2. "Even though Jane was found innocent by judge and jury, many elderly men began dismissing their young maids...just in case."

    Now that's funny!