Did the promising young lawyer kill the young lass?
Still another episode of the old British "On Trial" series of 1960. This episode deals with a homicide from 1699 - the oldest in that series. But an interesting one.
When Thomas Babbington Macauley wrote his "History Of England" in the 1850s, he approached history writing differently from previous writers. Instead of concentrating on political figures, careers, wars, empire building, and some economic development, Macauley tried to introduce a more natural aspect to the story - he brought in various anecdotes and stories to illustrate the lives of the people. In volume four of the History he tells of a major scandal of 1699 involving a young lawyer of promise named Spencer Cowper.
Cowper knew a Quaker family named Stout, and the daughter of the family (Sarah) fell in love with him. However, for her to marry out of the faith would lead to her being thrown out of the Quakers. Moreover, Cowper was already married. Cowper attended the spring assizes of the home country circuit in Hertford, and went to the Stouts' home to pay interest on a mortgage. Cowper returned to his lodgings, but Sarah vanished and her body was found in a river. Cowper and three fellow lawyers were accused of the killing and arrested. They were put on trial on July 16, 1699. There was an attempt by the prosecution to bring in "expert testimony" to prove that Sarah's body was thrown into the river. One of the experts was Sir Hans Sloane, the savant whose collection of natural curiosities exists to this day. But the defendants were acquitted, with the jury believing Sarah committed suicide.
Cowper's trial becomes a centerpiece for Macauley's history, and most people are acquainted with it from the account there. Spencer Cowper eventually became a Judge. His grandson was the poet William Cowper.
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