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The Perreaus and Mrs. Rudd: Forgery and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century London

DONNA T. ANDREW
RANDALL McGOWEN
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 358
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnjjm
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  • Book Info
    The Perreaus and Mrs. Rudd
    Book Description:

    The Perreaus and Mrs. Ruddtells the remarkable story of a complex forgery uncovered in London in 1775. Like the trials of Martin Guerre and O.J. Simpson, the Perreau-Rudd case-filled with scandal, deceit, and mystery-preoccupied a public hungry for sensationalism. Peopled with such familiar figures as John Wilkes, King George III, Lord Mansfield, and James Boswell, this story reveals the deep anxieties of this period of English capitalism. The case acts as a prism that reveals the hopes, fears, and prejudices of that society. Above all, this episode presents a parable of the 1770s, when London was the center of European finance and national politics, of fashionable life and tell-all journalism, of empire achieved and empire lost. The crime, a hanging offense, came to light with the arrest of identical twin brothers, Robert and Daniel Perreau, after the former was detained trying to negotiate a forged bond. At their arraignment they both accused Daniel's mistress, Margaret Caroline Rudd, of being responsible for the crime. The brothers' trials coincided with the first reports of bloodshed in the American colonies at Lexington and Concord and successfully competed for space in the newspapers. From March until the following January, people could talk of little other than the fate of the Perreaus and the impending trial of Mrs. Rudd. The participants told wildly different tales and offered strikingly different portraits of themselves. The press was filled with letters from concerned or angry correspondents. The public, deeply divided over who was guilty, was troubled by evidence that suggested not only that fair might be foul, but that it might not be possible to decide which was which. While the decade of the 1770s has most frequently been studied in relation to imperial concerns and their impact upon the political institutions of the day, this book draws a different portrait of the period, making a cause célèbre its point of entry. Exhaustively researched and brilliantly presented, it offers both a vivid panorama of London and a gauge for tracking the shifting social currents of the period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92370-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    London newspaper readers were startled in March 1775 to see the first reports of an extensive forgery. This crime always attracted attention in eighteenth-century Britain, if for no other reason than that a conviction almost certainly carried the offender to the gallows. The English financial system at that time was held up to a great extent by faith in the individual’s word. If that faith was broken—as it was each time forgery was committed—the authorities felt compelled to punish the transgressor severely.

    From the first, this was an unusual case. Two respectable men—identical twins, in fact—and...

  5. One TO THE HANGING TREE
    (pp. 7-12)

    The winter had been as severe as any in recent memory. By the new year, England was in the grip of cold and snow. The Thames was frozen above Fulham. The papers contained stories of people perishing on the roads. “Raw, cloudy day,” the American loyalist Samuel Curwen noted in his journal. “Hourly accounts of the damage by the excessive snow that has been falling more or less for these ten days now, higher than has been known within the memory of any.”¹ Still, a crowd estimated to number forty thousand gathered early on January 17, 1776, hoping to catch...

  6. Two ALARMING CRIMES AND UNSETTLING STORIES
    (pp. 13-50)

    Although eighteenth-century London was one of the largest cities in Europe, in 1775 it still had no “police” as we today think of that institution. The apprehension and prosecution of criminals were largely in the hands of the victims, aided by various semi-professional local peace officers such as constables and watchmen. If the victim apprehended a malefactor or had a suspicion of who was involved in a crime, he went to the local magistrate’s office. The justice of the peace then had a number of options. In some instances he offered mediation in an attempt to reconcile the parties in...

  7. Three THE PRESS AND THE CASE
    (pp. 51-84)

    In march 1775 the newspapers were full of gloomy reports about relations between England and her American colonies. Despite the occasional glimmer of hope—a report of an important defection among the rebels or a notice of some new gesture from the administration—most commentators recognized that the two sides stood on the brink of civil war. London papers reflected the several shades of English opinion. In general there was a good deal of controversy about the best way to handle the crisis, but most of the press, like much of the public, supported the increasingly firm measures being adopted...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. Four PASSING FAIR
    (pp. 85-111)

    During and immediately after their trials, the Perreaus and their witnesses told of the fair promises that Mrs. Rudd had employed to secure their confidence. She had, they said, offered such a tempting prospect of advancement that they could be pardoned for naively acting as her agents. They were dazzled when she spoke of how her relations and their connections were at work to set the brothers up as bankers, buy them a country estate, make Daniel a member of Parliament and a baronet. Although the press, after the fact, characterized these promises as having a romantic or fairy-tale quality...

  10. Five FASHION AND ITS DISCONTENTS
    (pp. 112-135)

    From the first moments when the news spread of Robert Perreau’s arrest, the story drew a crowd. As a large number of people gathered at Bow Street, “each coach in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden was taken and the streets lined on both sides with persons of every denomination.” Fielding’s office was soon “filled with genteel people.”¹ The fascination the case held for the elite and near-elite remained one of its most striking aspects. They were attracted for a combination of reasons: the suspects belonged to the fashionable world of London, and this fashionable world itself inspired deeply ambivalent feelings....

  11. Six PRIVATE CREDIT AND PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
    (pp. 136-164)

    Both the perreaus, in their accounts of Mrs. Rudd, and Mrs. Rudd in defense of her own reputation, made her pretensions the most frequently debated issue. For many, the forgery of the bonds had receded before the scandal of her seeming forgery of birth and character. But this case cannot be understood without reference to another set of concerns arising from the peculiar financial circumstances of the 1770s. If fashion and ambition describe two strands of this complicated affair, economic context illuminates a third. The use of paper instruments as the mainstay of the system of credit was widely believed...

  12. Seven DEBATING THE LAW
    (pp. 165-188)

    When mrs. rudd was detained after the trial of Daniel Perreau, she was sent back to Newgate and told to await her own impending trial. This act transformed what had been a scandal into a major legal controversy. Before the case was over, it would raise serious questions about the law and bring the procedures of justice itself into dispute. In the charged political climate of the 1770s, the press and the public were sensitive to the conduct of the executive and the courts. The complex, ongoing struggle between the Crown and the supporters of the radical MP John Wilkes...

  13. Eight WRITING HER LIFE: MRS. RUDD’S LIFE STORIES
    (pp. 189-217)

    Mrs. rudd wrote the first version of her life, her “Case,” just after her arrest in February. After the brothers’ trial and her remand to Newgate she wrote another version, published this time as a pamphlet, “Facts.” Her pen had not been idle in the interval. Indeed, she wrote with frantic energy from the opening days of the case until its close in January of the following year. The volume and vociferousness of her writing are the most singular features of the entire peculiar episode. While the occasional opponent suggested that she might not have been the author of her...

  14. Nine MRS. RUDD ON TRIAL
    (pp. 218-241)

    By december 1775, many were impatient for Mrs. Rudd’s trial. The public had endured nearly nine months of controversy concerning the case. It had listened time and again to the rehearsal of the same facts and opinions. Irritation was mounting. The Perreau defenders complained of the repeated delays. Mrs. Rudd’s trial had been put off several times for the judges to decide the legal claims in her case and to give her time to prepare her defense. One letter expressed annoyance at the “doubts, opinions, and scruples, among these sages, on a point of law which I expected to find...

  15. Ten “IF INNOCENTS SHOULD SUFFER”
    (pp. 242-268)

    The outcome of mrs. rudd’s trial was a blow for the Perreaus. The brothers had staked everything on her conviction, and they had had every reason to expect a different result. Once again, a jury of their fellow citizens had dealt them an unexpected reverse. The public seemed no more satisfied with the verdict than the brothers. The trial did not put to rest lingering doubts about the justice of the proceedings; on the contrary, it only heightened a sense of frustration and indignation as the fundamental questions remained unresolved. “The case of the Perreaus affords matter capable of almost...

  16. Eleven LOOKING BACK
    (pp. 269-278)

    The execution of the Perreaus left the public stunned and subdued. In the theater of the day imposture was treated comically; duplicitous characters defeated themselves, and truth was revealed in the end. Although the Perreau-Rudd case inspired a great deal of humorous comment as it unfolded, suddenly, against expectation, it ended at the gallows. It remained unclear whether the brothers’ deaths represented justice to criminals, the price paid for extraordinary folly, or the murder of two innocent men. This uncertainty made it difficult to settle on a genre within which to narrate events. The case did not fit the conventions...

  17. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 279-284)

    After flooding the daily newspapers for almost a year, the story of the famous forgery and its protagonists faded from public view. Whether or not justice had been done, the price had been paid, the Perreaus executed, Mrs. Rudd released, and the case closed. However, many of the case’s main characters survived for several decades.

    Admiral Frankland died in 1784, with only a brief notice in the press. In September 1809 Mrs. Henrietta Perreau died in upper Mary-le-bone Street, Fitzroy Square. In the immediate aftermath of the executions she had been reported to have attempted suicide or gone raving mad,...

  18. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 285-286)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 287-324)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 325-334)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 335-346)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 347-347)