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Burned at the Stake (Paperback)

The Life and Death of Mary Channing

Military > Biographies P&S History > True Crime Women of History

By Summer Strevens
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 117
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781473898721
Published: 6th November 2017



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In 1706 19-year-old Mary Channing was convicted of poisoning her husband and became the last woman to be burned at the stake in Dorset. Despite her impressive attempts to defend herself, the jury had taken only half an hour to find her guilty. Yet on pronouncement of the death sentence, Mary 'pleaded her belly' and thus postponed her execution until after she had given birth to her child in gaol.

When the day finally arrived, her execution was made into something of a county fair, with 10,000 spectators gathering to view the barbaric ordeal upon the floor of Dorchester's ancient Roman amphitheatre, Maumbury Rings. Although the law extended an act of clemency allowing for Mary to be strangled to death before the fires were lit, there is evidence to suggest that she was, in fact, still alive when consigned to the flames. After the gory spectacle was complete, it was said ‘not one of those 10,000 people ever cared particularly for hot roast after that.’

More than 300 years after her dramatic demise, Mary’s fate still holds a macabre fascination, as it did for Thomas Hardy, who recorded some of the grislier details of her execution in his notebooks and used her as the inspiration for his poem, 'The Mock Wife'. Yet while Mary Channing has been granted a kind of grim celebrity, as well as an established place in the annals of female murderers, a measure of compelling sympathy for her case is nonetheless another lasting aspect of her legacy.

Summer Strevens, in Burned at the Stake, tells the story of Mary Channing, and tells it very well.

Ripperologist, February/March 2018 – reviewed by Paul Begg

As featured in

Ripperologist, December 2017 – January 2018

Article abridged from book as featured in

Dorset Life, December 2017

As featured in

Bournemouth Daily Echo

As featured in

Dorset Echo
 Summer Strevens

About Summer Strevens

Born in London, Summer Strevens now lives and writes in Hampshire. Capitalising on a life-long passion for historical research, Summer has embraced writing as a full time occupation. As well as penning feature articles of regional historical interest, her published books include Haunted Yorkshire Dales, York Murder & Crime, The Birth of the Chocolate City: Life in Georgian York, The A-Z of Curiosities of the Yorkshire Dales, Fashionably Fatal and Before They Were Fiction.

The death of Mary Channing

21st March 1706

Mary Channing was burned at the stake on 21 March 1706 at Maumbury Rings (a Neolithic henge in the south of Dorchester). She was tried and executed for poisoning her husband. It was witnessed by about 10,000 people

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