Troubador By Force of Circumstances: The Lefley Case Reopened

Released: 28/03/2021

ISBN: 9781800462649

Format: Paperback

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By Force of Circumstances: The Lefley Case Reopened

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Mary Lefley was the last woman to be executed in Lincoln, arraigned for the alleged brutal poisoning of her husband in 1884 with enough arsenic to kill fifty men. Despite there being little hard evidence, including a lack of motive, as well as a total absence of poison in the house, she was found guilty and hanged on the strength of the circumstantial and the suspicious. 


This book examines in forensic detail the judicial processes which led to the execution of an obscure woman living in a remote part of rural England and critically analyses those processes. It also defines the social and historical factors of the case which shaped the attitudes and therefore the actions of the key players in the story. Finally, it traces and tracks the reinventions of Mary Lefley’s identity found in a variety of different contexts, up and including to present day internet blogs. 

Whilst the historical sources are examined, compared and evaluated, the book is not an attempt to either exonerate or prove the guilt of Mary Lefley. Even if that was possible after all this time, it would be treading the well-worn path of previous writers on the subject. Rather, the book seeks to clear away the historical contradictions and confusions which have accumulated over time and have prevented a clear understanding of the misfortunes of Mary Lefley.

The story of Mary Lefley, the last woman to be hanged in Lincoln, has been told by various writers on Victorian Crime and Punishment, but not in this kind of forensic detail, as far as I know. The story of how a probably innocent woman was condemned to death on purely circumstantial evidence is recounted and analysed with discrimination and sympathy. A worthwhile topic given the attention it deserves, which serves as a lesson for all time. A really good read!

by Andrew Clarke


I found this book extremely interesting and thought-provoking. The narrative is very purposeful and objective, but the plight of the accused is clearly felt. It makes you think how often such cases may have occurred, and how often they may still occur. I thoroughly recommend it.

by Dameris Alonso


This book examines a sensational poisoning case in a remote Lincolnshire village. It's told as a murder-mystery, packed with interesting ways of viewing the evidence, as well as sharply observed commentary on the roles of the key players in the unfolding courtroom drama. It also hints at how Victorian women were typecast as saints or sinners by novelists, journalists and local gossips alike.

I enjoyed this book. The accurate details of the trial will appeal to both historians and fans of real life crime. The accounts of how the popular press contricuted to the invention of a criminal identity for Mary Lefley are timely reminders that trial by the media isn't a new phenomenon.

by Annie Franklin


A fascinating and well written book about the 1884 “Wrangle Poisoning case.”
From 6 February 1884, it took three Court hearings to find Mrs Leafley guilty and the execution carried out in just over 3 months later in May 1884.
The author provides details of the poor press coverage, even back in 1884 the coverage provided details and alleged facts which would have created bias. Nowadays, poor press coverage leads to loss of reputation, then it was far more serious.
The book takes you through the various hearings and questions the integrity of some of the prosecution witnesses, questions whether the Defence properly advanced the case for Mrs Leafley, what was the motive? What evidence was there that she had any poison, or even access to it and did some one else have access to the house and poison the rice pudding?
The author gives detail of some death bed confessions, which apparently suggested how the murder could have occurred, details of the hangman and how, later on, the case was considered a miscarriage of justice and that an innocent lady went to the gallows.
A great read and a book I would highly recommend to any keen reader of true crime.

by Andrew GOLDSBOROUGH


The book focuses on the effective "trial by media" of the late 1800's murder case in Wrangle, Lincolnshire. The author explores the effects the media will have had on the case including the potential of creating fictional facts and very unbalanced reporting throughout. We are walked through the trial and are introduced to the mistakes and sometimes clear disregard of circumstances from the defence counsel, coupled with the questionable ever changing stories of some of the prosecutions key witnesses.

I would have to highly recommend this book, it has you thinking and considering throughout the read. From a personal point of view it also made me consider whether we truly have moved away from trial by media considering the way things are regularly reported.

by Luke Mitchell


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