This execution notice begins: 'THE / Last SPEECH and CONFESSION / AND / DYING WORDS / OF HELLEN MARISHAL / Who was executed at the Grass-Market of Edinburgh, upon the Thirty Day of March, One thousand Seven hundred and twenty, for the Crime of Murdering her own Child.' This sheet was printed in Edinburgh, at the bottom of Horse Wynd, in 1720.
Helen Marishal was nineteen when she was convicted of murdering her illegitimate child. She recounts how she birthed the child herself, hid the evidence and continued working - quite a terrifying experience for a nineteen-year-old. She is being punished, according to this text, not for fornication, but for disobeying her parents and killing an innocent child.
Reports recounting dark and salacious deeds were popular with the public, and, like today's sensationalist tabloids, sold in large numbers. Crimes could generate sequences of sheets covering descriptive accounts, court proceedings, last words, lamentations and executions as they occurred. As competition was fierce, immediacy was paramount, and these occasions provided an opportunity for printers and patterers to maximise sales.
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Date of publication:
1720 shelfmark: Ry.III.c.36(069)
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