On March 7, 1775, a handsome young apothecary named Robert Perreau entered a London bank with a simple, if somewhat extravagant request. He wanted to take out a £5,000 loan (equivalent to just under $1 million today) from the bank’s owners, the Drummond brothers. As collateral for the loan, Perreau offered a bond for £7,500 signed by the wealthy and respectable William Adair⁠⁠—in other words, if Perreau didn’t pay back the £5,000 on schedule, Mr. Adair would cover the bank’s loss, plus a 50 percent profit.

Though the effective interest rate Perreau offered was unusually high, withdrawing cash using someone else’s cash as collateral was an otherwise common way of securing credit in the 18th century. Similar to co-signing agreements today, it was a system based on personal reputation, and a relatively safe bet for lenders, if not for the rich guarantors whose friends might abuse their trust. The only way it could go wrong for the bank was if the bond itself⁠⁠—that is, the wealthy person’s promise to cover the loan⁠⁠—was forged. In this case, Robert Perreau was a successful businessman with plenty of assets, and Adair was known to have signed bonds for the Perreau family in the past. The Drummonds themselves had made previous loans to Perreau for other forms of collateral. By all appearances, it should have been a straightforward and safe investment for the Drummonds, especially considering the temptingly high payout.

But on this day, Henry Drummond had a gut feeling that something was wrong. He asked whether Perreau had personally seen Adair sign the bond. Perreau admitted that he hadn’t, but insisted there could be no question of its authenticity: Adair’s lawyer and his personal servant had both witnessed the bond, he pointed out, placing their own unique signatures just under Adair’s. But the other Drummond brother⁠⁠—coincidentally also named Robert⁠⁠—was equally insistent. He knew Adair personally, and this was not his handwriting.

Seemingly unruffled, Robert Perreau took back the bond and promised to sort out the matter with Adair. Two hours later, Perreau returned, claiming a fortuitous run-in with Mr. Adair just as the man was heading out for a lengthy excursion on horseback. Adair could not come himself, Perreau explained⁠⁠—due to the horseback riding, naturally⁠⁠—but Adair had of course verified that the signature on the bond was his own. As for the differing penmanship, Adair had confided that his hands had become shaky with age⁠⁠—an understandably embarrassing situation that should not be dwelled upon further⁠⁠—and told Perreau to tell the Drummonds that all was well and to accept the bond without delay.

Instead, the Drummonds asked to keep the bond overnight and render a decision in the morning. Perreau readily agreed.

A contemporaneous portrait of Robert Perreau
A contemporaneous portrait of Robert Perreau

Upon his return the next morning, the Drummonds reiterated their misgivings, and suggested that the three of them should go visit Mr. Adair together. Again, Robert Perreau seemed happy to comply. His attitude changed dramatically, however, once they arrived at the estate, where Adair confirmed what the Drummonds had suspected: the signature was not his, nor had he ever met Robert Perreau in his life.

“Surely, sir, you are jocular!” cried Robert.

“It is no time to be jocular when a man’s life is at stake,” replied Henry Drummond gravely. Indeed, the banking industry was still wobbling on foal’s legs in the 18th century, and forgery was considered a particularly heinous crime against the public trust: two-thirds of those convicted were sentenced to execution, a rate second only to murder.

“Well, then, I have been sent on a fine errand!” Robert declared. He told the men they should locate his sister-in-law, Caroline, who happened to be married to his identical twin brother, Daniel. She could explain everything.

Despite his winding and patently unbelievable tale, this last part turned out to be true. Robert did, in fact, have a twin brother, so close in appearance that even friends had trouble distinguishing them. What’s more, Daniel’s wife Caroline was not at all shocked to be summoned to the Adair estate by the local constable. Standing before the group of angry men, she seemed completely at ease and in control of the situation. First, she asked to speak to Robert Perreau alone, but the Drummonds refused. She then asked for a private audience with Mr. Adair, but he, too, refused. Finally, the two bankers agreed to speak with Caroline in a separate room while they waited for the constable to return once more with her husband, Daniel.

Once the doors were closed, Caroline made a startling confession: it was she who had forged the bond and instructed her clueless brother-in-law to cash a loan on it. Her remorse was both deep and eloquent⁠⁠—it was only a silly game played by a bored housewife, she lamented. Robert was a good man with children to support, and she would be utterly heartbroken if he were arrested for her foolishness.

Despite Caroline’s flowing tears and prostrate pleading, the Drummonds were skeptical. How could a delicate woman possibly imitate a man’s handwriting? It must be that sweet Caroline was altruistically covering for her brother-in-law’s misdeeds, the Drummonds decided, perhaps even in fear of him. For that matter, where was her husband in all of this? How could they even be sure that it was Robert who had come to them yesterday, or who had returned the second time with tales of elderly socialites on horseback?

So Caroline offered the bankers a demonstration⁠⁠—as long as they agreed to destroy it afterward, so the evidence could not be used against her. According to the Drummonds, Caroline reproduced the fake signature on the bond perfectly, then burned the paper in the fireplace. When they emerged from the parlor, they found Caroline’s husband, Daniel, lounging rather indifferently on the sofa, while Robert continued to vehemently argue his complete ignorance of the situation to Adair. It really was amazing, the Drummonds noted: the brothers were like the two heads of Janus, as identical in looks as they were different in demeanor.

The Drummonds conferred with Adair, and he reluctantly agreed to let Robert go⁠⁠—for now. Daniel’s role in the crime was left unexamined, while Caroline’s apparent masterminding was written off entirely. By her own admission she was guilty, but dragging her before the magistrate after she’d made such a noble sacrifice to save her brother-in-law seemed, well… undignified.

The Perreau family exited William Adair’s house that day as free individuals, albeit with varying opinions on the narrowness of their escape. Robert continued to fret about his perceived culpability⁠⁠—knowingly or not, he had been the one to present the forged bond, and either the Drummonds or Adair could withdraw their forgiveness at any time. Caroline, meanwhile, exuded a breezy satisfaction, convinced that the consequences of her confession were as surely behind them as Adair’s glowering face. Daniel, as always, split the difference: he may have privately shared his brother’s concerns, but he knew better than to contradict his wife. He urged his brother to be patient, and assured him that if they just carried on as they always had, the situation would soon fade from memory.

•     •     •

Portrait of Caroline Rudd
Portrait of Caroline Rudd

If Robert Perreau was telling the truth⁠⁠—if he had, indeed, been taken for a rube by his conniving sister-in-law⁠⁠—then he would hardly have been the first. From a young age, Margaret Caroline Rudd had an almost supernatural ability to manipulate those around her, especially when it came to men. Her opinion of the opposite sex was no doubt cemented in her formative years, after she was expelled from boarding school at the tender age of 13 for so-called “illicit relations” with a staff member. Social mores of the time placed blame firmly upon the victim, at least if the victim were female, and local gossip could barely keep up with the flirtations and affairs that supposedly followed. At 17, Caroline ran off with an English soldier whose regiment was stationed near her small Irish hometown, but his commanding officer promptly sent her home again. Undeterred, she continued courting military men⁠⁠—who offered both a secure income, and an escape from the drudgery of rural life⁠⁠—until she won the heart of another young soldier named Valentine Rudd. Ten days after meeting, the two were married.

Unfortunately, even a respectable soldier’s salary was not enough to satisfy Caroline’s apparent taste for luxury. Within a year, Rudd and his new wife were deeply in debt, and he was forced to send her to live with his parents in England while he continued his deployment. This gave young Caroline the opportunity to work on a new kind of charm: talking people out of their money. Rudd’s family was well off, and before long she had convinced her in-laws to pay off all the couple’s debts, and send her to London to await the day when Rudd could secure an officer’s commission⁠⁠—which, she assured them, was right around the corner.

In reality, Rudd was underperforming in his job, and unsuited to military life in general. Instead, he surprised Caroline by retiring early so he could join her in London. Living on a half-pension had not been part of her plans, but it turned out the constant presence of her husband was an even bigger irritation. Before long, Caroline ran off with an upstairs neighbor by the name of Benjamin Read.

This was doubly unkind to Rudd, as along with any emotional anguish he may have suffered, Caroline’s betrayal left him in a delicate financial situation. Technically, divorce was legal in 18th-century Britain, but in practice dissolving a marriage was nearly impossible due to the high burden of proof and prohibitive cost. And without a divorce, a husband was assumed to be responsible for his wife no matter the state of their relationship. Thus, when Caroline and her new beau failed to pay the rent on their lovenest, the landlord instead came after Rudd to clear their debt⁠⁠—and when Rudd couldn’t pay, he was arrested and thrown in prison.

Like the institution of marriage, penal institutions of the time were also very different from their modern counterparts: conditions were squalid, disease was rampant, and jailers had no obligation to provide even basic necessities for their residents. Those who didn’t bribe the guards for upgrades like bread, water, and blankets were likely to die before even a short sentence had been served, and those in debtor’s prison were especially unlikely to have such funds.

Caroline fared only somewhat better than her destitute husband. The relationship with Read soon faltered, and she was forced to support herself through prostitution. Regardless of how she may have felt about this new mode of employment, historical evidence seems to indicate that she was an excellent practitioner. Caroline’s status as an articulate, well-dressed, and putatively middle-class woman earned her an equally sophisticated clientele, and she charmed more than one “acquaintance” into vouching for her with local merchants. During this time she also began experimenting with forged promissory notes to extend her credit further, although her initial attempts were not always successful⁠⁠—as one merchant disdainfully pointed out to her, the handwriting of both the guarantor and the recipient was the same.

More impressive than her mercantile and horizontal exploits, however, was the fact that Caroline successfully talked Rudd into a reconciliation once he was finally released from prison three months later. It had all been a terrible mistake, she told him, and she still loved him as much as ever. Rudd had organized the sale of some family property from behind bars, and had a little money left over after paying all her outstanding debts⁠⁠—including not only the apartment where she’d shacked up with Benjamin Read, but also several merchants she’d skipped out on while her husband was jailed. Somehow, the heartbroken Valentine saw his way to forgiveness and a new apartment for the two of them. Or perhaps he just decided it was more financially prudent to keep her close at hand, since he was on the hook for her debts regardless. Either way, it didn’t matter: just three weeks after Caroline reunited with her husband, Benjamin Read showed back up in London claiming he’d received a large inheritance, and she absconded with him again.

In November of 1767, a general notice appeared in the Daily Advertiser:

Whereas Margaret, wife of Valentine Rudd, gentleman, has withdrawn herself from her husband, this is therefore to caution all persons against giving her credit on her husband’s account, as he will not pay any debts she contracts.

Though she had moved in under her middle name, Caroline’s new landlady connected the dots and kicked her out. Yet through her feminine wiles (or perhaps plain old blackmail), Caroline managed to convince the same landlady’s husband to vouch for her with a different lodging house. Of course, she never paid there, either, and the new landlord tracked down Rudd and once again had him arrested for her debt. Rudd entered his advertisement into evidence, and made a passionate plea for mercy based on his wife’s semi-permanent lover and profligate spending, but the judge was unmoved. A husband was responsible for his wife, period, and only a divorce could sever that obligation. So Valentine Rudd returned to debtor’s prison once more, with the only consolation that his name was so fully tarnished by now that Caroline could no longer secure even a single night’s lodging on the promise of it.

Caroline and Benjamin Read took up a new set of rooms posing as rich Irish nobles, and conned their way into another few months of rent-free living, but eventually, Read’s father came to London to bail out his son and sever him from all bad influences, Caroline included. (Since the new landlord didn’t know Caroline’s real identity, her imprisoned husband was, for the time being, safe.) Whether by necessity or choice, the senior Read left exactly one debt unpaid in London, and allowed his son to be placed in debtor’s prison back home in Dublin until he could pay it off or learn his lesson, whichever came first. Unfortunately, it was neither⁠⁠—just a few months later, Read died in prison, most likely from infectious disease.

Marshalsea, an infamous debtor's prison in 18th century London
Marshalsea, an infamous debtor's prison in 18th century London

Rudd emerged from his own prison sentence alive, but broken. Once again, Caroline begged for reconciliation, and once again, Rudd agreed. She no longer made any secret of her profession, and he made no attempt to control his rage. One landlady during this time reported that Caroline would bring johns into their apartment while Rudd drank and fumed in the adjacent room, and “at times he beat her, not moderately, but very severely.” Finally, in March of 1769, Caroline left her husband for good, and rather than wait for his inevitable arrest for new debts, Rudd fled to France.

Though she was again homeless, Caroline quickly worked her way back up to respectability as a grande horizontale, and business improved significantly after she connected with a pimp named Andrew White. Like Caroline, White understood that it was far more lucrative to make weak men love rather than lust, and the two concocted numerous schemes to keep her patsies on the hook for the long haul. Sometimes he posed as her husband, other times her footman, but Caroline always presented quite believably as a fine lady of impeccable class and wit, and for several months they stayed one step ahead of London’s doe-eyed men and star-struck property holders. Eventually, however, one particularly shrewd landlady caught them in the act of sneaking out unpaid, and White and Caroline were arrested.

There are no records of what transpired immediately after⁠⁠—but somehow, Caroline spent only a few hours in prison before being released, while White would not be heard from again for many years. But Caroline didn’t need him anymore, anyway. She had her established clients, and a host of high-society connections to procure more. Blackmail and fraud were occasional sources of income, but for the most part she lived a lavish life as the mistress of a rotating cast of thoroughly beguiled, and often foreign, men. A certain reputation with the locals was inevitable, after all⁠⁠—yet even those who knew for certain that she had fleeced friends often found her irresistible when their turn came. She was by all accounts quite average in beauty, but as historian Sarah Bakewell put it, “Caroline had wit in the full eighteenth-century sense of the term: insight, intellect, adaptability, cynicism, and the ability to use language as a deadly weapon.” She could talk her way into, and out of, anything, at least as long as the listener was male. Some of her lovers included the poet John James Boswell (who wrote extensively of her wickedness even as he continued to visit her nightly), the Marquis of Granby (who died carrying a mind-boggling £37,000 in debt, due in no small part to Caroline), and possibly even King George’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland.

One lover in particular was notable for his irrational level of devotion, even among such crowded company. Joseph Salvador was a wealthy Jewish man with broad tastes, who was reportedly “of such an amorous disposition that every woman was alike to him.” Perhaps he enjoyed a certain element of role-playing in his pursuits, or perhaps his eyesight was truly bad, but Caroline took advantage of his polygamous desires by posing as no fewer than four different women, all of them yearning for his physical (and more importantly, financial) affections. Of course, a change of dress and hair color was not enough to fool anyone with their wits about them, and Salvador’s servants tried to warn him repeatedly that the same woman was collecting jewels and gifts from him under different personas⁠⁠—often multiple times in the same day⁠⁠—but Salvador dismissed these concerns. This was also when Caroline mastered the art of using different styles of handwriting, in order to send letters to Salvador from each of his different paramours. Yet when Caroline’s own servant told Salvador that she had seen her mistress writing each of the letters she held in her hand for delivery, he refused to hear it.

At one point, Caroline agreed to marry Salvador, then called off the wedding after the finery had been purchased. Often she would take furniture and belongings directly out of his home, once filling two horse-drawn carts she’d brought along for the purpose. She also frequently expressed a need to travel⁠⁠—usually to visit her “royal relatives” in the countryside, which was at least more plausible than the time she claimed she wanted to join a convent in France. Salvador would pay for the cost of the journey, as well as new clothes so she could arrive in style, then Caroline would contrive to send letters from wherever she was supposed to be until it was time for him to send her money for the trip home. After one such staycation, she returned to Salvador in tears, claiming that her jealous, abusive husband had accosted her abroad and demanded half the value of the expensive jewelry that Salvador had given her for the trip. In the ensuing struggle, Caroline said, the jewels had fallen into the river, and she simply could not forgive herself for losing such a heartfelt representation of his love. Salvador immediately purchased her a second set. Occasionally, she would simply send him a note that read, “Send me fifty pounds now, or you will not see me tomorrow.” Salvador always paid.

Such was the state of Caroline’s power when, in the spring of 1770, she first became acquainted with the dashing and insouciant Daniel Perreau. Like almost every detail of their relationship, later accounts would conflict wildly about when and where they actually met. According to Daniel, they were introduced by a mutual friend in April, and he invited her to a masquerade ball the following night. According to others, the ball itself was their first meeting, complete with locked eyes across a crowded room à la Romeo and Juliet. Caroline, for her part, insisted that she didn’t meet Daniel for another several weeks⁠⁠—after the masquerade ball, but more significantly, after he formally declared bankruptcy on May 4. Daniel himself was no stranger to living a luxurious life well beyond his means, and in this, the two were a perfect match. Convincing a court to wipe free one’s debts, rather than consigning the borrower to debtor’s prison, was itself a feat of persuasion that seems more like Caroline’s strength than Daniel’s, but whatever the timing, all accounts agree that by the end of May the two were living together as husband and wife⁠⁠—the existence of Caroline’s actual husband notwithstanding.

St. Paul's Cathedral from St. Martin's-le-Grand, Thomas Girtin, late 18th century
St. Paul's Cathedral from St. Martin's-le-Grand, Thomas Girtin, late 18th century

Daniel, in fact, knew nothing of Rudd’s existence until the estranged husband made a surprise return to London in October of that year, now fully delusional from a combination of poverty and paranoia. He told friends that Caroline’s “network” had conspired to ruin every opportunity he had come across in France, and that he had been “robbed, cheated, and persecuted… where-ever I have been.” When he tried to break down the door of Daniel and Caroline’s new living quarters, Caroline hastily explained her brave escape from an abusive marriage, and told Daniel that they would only be safe in more secure⁠⁠—and more expensive⁠⁠—housing. Daniel, of course, complied. Fortunately for the couple, Rudd’s friends convinced him to leave town once more, and Rudd spent the remainder of his life in destitution at an almshouse for the poor, forever cursing the name of Margaret Caroline Rudd.

Few, however, knew her by that name anymore. Most assumed she was Caroline Perreau, which she and Daniel happily encouraged, though they couldn’t formally be married. This polite fiction was strengthened by the arrival of one baby, and then a second⁠⁠—yet even motherhood seemed no more than an incidental tool for Caroline, one she could easily set aside whenever a pose of childlessness suited her better. In addition to her many previous aliases and identity scams, she was also known during this time as Margaret Youngson, Peggy, Mrs. Shee, and Mrs. Gore⁠⁠—a name that she freely admitted was fake when she used it, because the so-called Mrs. Gore was purportedly in hiding as the secret daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, pretender to the throne of England. Several of these identities continued to visit her old mark Salvador during her courtship with Daniel, who would again maintain that he had no knowledge of her extracurriculars. Certainly Salvador knew about Daniel to some degree, since Caroline told him at one point that Daniel was demanding a duel for her honor, and would only be satisfied with a large influx of cash.

Women, however, were harder for Caroline to win over, most especially Robert Perreau’s wife, Henrietta. While Daniel had spent his youth hopping from industry to industry, failing to establish trade businesses everywhere from the Caribbean to the Canadian frontier, Robert had steadily worked his way up from a traditional apprenticeship to a thriving apothecary business on London’s posh Pall Mall. Henrietta was not especially pleased when Daniel had arrived in London to tempt her husband with his flashy lifestyle and penchant for gambling, but she was downright hostile toward Caroline’s influence over the both of them. As Henrietta saw it, Robert had always been the proper, obedient, well-behaved twin, and they didn’t need Daniel or his mistress intruding on their virtuous prosperity.

Or perhaps Robert wasn’t so innocent after all. His detractors would later paint him as a hypocrite full of secret vices, including gambling losses and mistresses of his own. He seemed more than happy to collude with Daniel in various financial schemes once his brother arrived in London, and some said it was actually Robert who directed Daniel to the coffee house where he made an unsavory (not to mention unsteady) income as a stock-jobber, betting on various political and economic events of the day. But it’s easy to understand how Henrietta, at least, believed her husband to be the clear victim among the three.

Whether Henrietta was right about what lay in Robert’s heart, the fact remained that he had spent several years entangling both his social and financial affairs with those of his brother, and as of 1775, he had participated in the shockingly bold scam against the Drummond brothers involving a forged £7,500 bond in William Adair’s name. The three had been let go, thanks to Caroline’s moving confession, but either the Drummonds or Adair could choose to press charges against Robert or Caroline at any time. Nor was that the only sword looming over their heads: in the months prior, bonds supposedly signed by “William Adair” had been used to secure three other loans for the Perreau brothers⁠⁠—two in Robert’s name, and one in Daniel’s. The bankers who had made these loans remained unaware of the Drummonds’ discovery for now, but if word got around before the Perreaus could pay off the balances and take back the evidence, they would not escape arrest again.

Despite her ever-confident demeanor, Caroline did seem to recognize the danger they were in. She attempted to sell some jewels to pay off the outstanding loans, but couldn’t secure a buyer quickly enough. She asked one of Adair’s relatives to intervene with him on their behalf, but was met with icy rejection. Worse, Robert himself tried to contact Adair three days after the initial confrontation, and the latter’s response made it clear that he had not forgotten the incident, and had most likely decided to alert the authorities after all. So on the evening of March 11, out of options and increasingly desperate, Caroline and the twins bundled themselves into a carriage and sped off down the narrow streets of London, planning to flee the country.

Robert clearly had the most to lose. Both Daniel and Caroline could start anew in France or elsewhere with minimal difficulty, but Robert was leaving behind a loving family and a thriving business. In truth, Caroline and Daniel had three young children by now as well⁠⁠—one of whom had been used to extort money from poor Salvador, though he had never seen the child he thought was his⁠⁠—but they apparently didn’t consider it necessary to bring the children along for the escape, nor did Caroline and Daniel seem to have any concrete plan for what would happen to the children in their absence. At any rate, before the carriage had traveled more than a few blocks, Robert changed his mind, or else acted on a plan he’d been contriving since the scene in William Adair’s parlor. On the pretense of having forgotten something, he climbed out of the carriage, then dashed around the corner to the magistrate’s office on Bow Street and declared that he wished to testify against Margaret Caroline Rudd in a case of forgery.

Here, again, accounts differ as to what actually occurred. According to the police blotter in the Annual Register,

. . . A gentleman came to the Public Office, in Bow Street, in company with a woman elegantly dressed, and inquired for one of the Magistrates. . . . The parties were introduced, when the man, after a short preface in which he acquainted the Justice that his name was Robert Perreau, and that he had lived as an apothecary, for some time on Golden Square, in great reputation, said he was come to do himself justice, by producing the person who had given him a bond for £7,500, which was a forgery. The woman denying the circumstance, and the parties mutually upbraiding each other, Mr. Addington thought proper, as there was a great appearance of an iniquitous combination, to commit them both to Tothill-Fields Bridewell for further examination.

According to Daniel, all three of them were actually in the room at the magistrate’s office, though it is a fact that he⁠⁠—or one of the brothers, at least⁠⁠—was not arrested until a day or two later. Meanwhile, the apparently calm presence of Caroline during the extended introductions reported in the blotter doesn’t precisely jibe with the image of a woman who knows that she is about to be betrayed. She was no stranger to sneaky exits and speedy pursuits, and it seems unlikely to imagine her climbing out of the carriage and following Robert into the magistrate’s office just as escape was in her grasp. Then again, Caroline was nothing if not brash and overconfident. She had already taken one huge and unnecessary gamble by demonstrating her handwriting skills to the Drummonds, being apparently certain that she could talk her way out of any consequences. Like Daniel, she had no qualms about disagreeing with the public record of events, insisting that in fact the two brothers had been the ones to enter the office, while she’d waited outside, ignorant of their plot against her.

Once the three were in custody, with the threat of death by hanging weighing heavily over each, their stories diverged even further. Caroline claimed that she had been covering Daniel’s constant gambling debts since the beginning of their relationship; Daniel insisted it was the other way around. Robert continued to claim no knowledge of the forgeries, despite cashing in on several in the name of a man he’d never met. Caroline admitted to her skill with handwriting, but claimed that Robert had been the one who instructed her to forge the signature, and that Daniel had threatened to harm her with a knife if she did not comply. Daniel admitted to posing as Robert on at least one occasion, but claimed he only did it because he’d received a letter from William Adair instructing him to do so⁠⁠—which he only now, upon somber reflection, realized was a fake from Caroline.

In fact, Daniel claimed, Caroline had been controlling both him and Robert for years through the use of clever letters and impersonation from friends. Starting at least three years prior, he said, a man who identified himself as her cousin had come to stay with them, though Daniel had not been especially fond of his demeanor. This cousin⁠⁠—of supposedly royal lineage through the Stewart line, as Caroline claimed to be, and quite possibly the pimp Andrew White in reality⁠⁠—had fostered a friendly relationship between Caroline and the wealthy James Adair, a relative of William’s. Even after the supposed cousin left, Daniel explained, Caroline continued to return to the house each evening with money that she claimed James Adair had given her out of a general fondness for their family, and all of the various financial schemes that Daniel and Robert had participated in had been at the recommendation⁠⁠—though never in person⁠⁠—of their kind benefactor and his extended family. Daniel even said that he’d wanted to name their first son after James, but that Caroline had discouraged it, lest Mrs. Adair get the wrong idea.

This, in fact, was Daniel’s justification for the roundabout method of securing loans on bonds from William Adair: James Adair’s wife was the jealous type⁠⁠—Daniel said that Caroline said⁠⁠—and might jump to false conclusions if she knew how much money her husband was lavishing upon Caroline. Caroline, for her part, claimed that none of this ever happened. All of her money, from the very beginning, had been a lump sum from her abusive but wealthy husband Rudd (who was conveniently unavailable to testify otherwise), and irresponsible Daniel had been frittering away her savings ever since.

One thing all three had in common was maintaining their appearance as upper-crusters with plenty of cash to spend. Caroline dressed for the initial deposition in a gown of striped silk and an ermine fur cloak, while the Perreau brothers wore fine frock coats and hats laced with gold. The presiding magistrate, Sir John Fielding, could not be impressed one way or the other⁠⁠—he was legally blind, though he reportedly could identify as many as 3,000 repeat offenders from the streets of London by voice alone⁠⁠—but there were more than enough in the audience to show off for. News of such an audacious crime, committed by such high-status individuals, had spread fast, and the proceedings had to be moved more than once to accommodate the ever-growing crowd of spectators, most of whom had bribed their way in for better seats.

As was so often the case, Caroline was given deference by the men presiding over the hearing, while her male co-conspirators received none. She was released on bail, consisting of £200 from her own pocket, plus another £100 each from two men in the audience who did not know her personally, but had been moved by her tearful description of Daniel’s knife at her throat. Robert and Daniel Perreau, on the other hand, were remanded to prison to await their trials. Technically, they were being accused of separate crimes: Robert was to be tried for soliciting and then attempting to cash in on the bond he had presented to the Drummonds, as well as two previous forgeries cashed at the bank of Sir Thomas Frankland. Daniel was accused of the same actions for the single loan taken in his name, held by Dr. Thomas Brooke. When Robert Perreau turned Caroline in to the police, he had hoped for immunity in exchange for testifying against her. Instead, to his horror, the court granted immunity to Caroline to testify against both brothers.

One friend who visited the twins in prison noted their dramatic difference in behavior, as Robert “covered his face with his handkerchief, and bursting into tears, sobbed aloud,” while Daniel cheerfully extended his hand, “with as much apparent ease and nonchalance as if receiving company in his own elegant mansion in Upper Harley Street.”

One of the oddities of dividing the twins’ cases was that each individual complainant was free to pursue or drop their charges as they saw fit. Sir Thomas Frankland, especially, concluded that the perpetrator he was circumstantially connected to was not, in fact, the real villain. Robert’s name may have been on his particular unsupported loan, but after hearing the initial depositions, Frankland concluded that Daniel and Caroline were the most guilty. Frankland quietly dropped his charges against Robert, and instead orchestrated an agreement between Daniel and his creditor, Dr. Thomas Brooke, to seize Daniel’s house and divide the proceeds between all of the Perreaus’ creditors. In this way, Frankland could get his vengeance on Caroline as well, since she was still living in the house while awaiting her husband’s trial. Evicting Caroline would require a cooperative signature from Daniel, but he no longer seemed to care what happened to his duplicitous pretend-wife and the spacious rooms she was once again calling home. He signed the form, and Caroline was again put out on the streets.

Now that he expected to be paid in full from the proceeds of Daniel’s house, Brooke was inclined to drop his charges against Daniel, just as Frankland had dropped his against Robert⁠⁠—but Frankland advised against it. Nor was he the only one who still wanted to see Daniel receive his comeuppance. Caroline would later claim that Robert’s wife, Henrietta, had personally convinced Brooke not to drop his case against Daniel. Robert, after all, would still have to face trial against the Drummonds, and how could it possibly be fair for the no-good twin and the strumpet to walk free when Robert was the least guilty of them all?

Plenty of others had come to the same conclusion, judging by the lengthy letters and opinion pieces that were now being published every day in the local papers. The financial excess of the crime and its glamorous high-class defendants had captured the public’s attention right at the moment in history when newspapers became widespread in London and society gossip transformed into real currency. If Caroline hoped to have any future in London after the Perreau Affair, as it was quickly becoming known, salvaging her reputation would be paramount. So she went to work defending herself in a serialized editorial in the Morning Post, laying out her original deposition in even more dramatic detail, and wasting no opportunity to smear those who had wronged her.

Almost immediately, anonymous authors began to publish competing narratives, signed with colorful pseudonyms like “Justice,” “No Puffer,” and “Jack Spy.” Some were clearly merchants and former friends who had not forgotten old wounds, while others appeared to be servants of either Caroline or her lovers, gleefully revealing everything from scandalous liaisons to the peculiar grooming habits of the rich. Those who didn’t want to bother penning their own screeds could still participate by offering up old letters sent to them by the now quite famous trio, which readers would comb through for the barest hints of credibility or vice. Daniel and Robert had to rely on supporters to argue their innocence⁠⁠—and both had their rabidly loyal factions⁠⁠—but Caroline answered all comers herself, addressing each mention of her with a tone of haughty indignation while conveniently dodging the most damning pieces of evidence. She claimed Henrietta had stolen dresses from her and never visited Robert in prison; she predicted Frankland would destroy even her youngest children before he would admit his basic inferiority to her; she accused the long-silent Salvador of being a pickpocket and con man.

Of course, newspaper publishers were happy to print anything that promised to entice their readership, regardless of the objectivity or veracity of their tales. At one point, a letter purporting to be from Caroline’s uncle in Ireland⁠⁠—who in truth had had no contact with her since her first scandal at boarding school⁠⁠—was supposedly verified in its authorship by the Morning Post. The editor satisfied himself by writing to the letter’s return address, which was in London rather than Ireland, asking for written confirmation from the letter-writer that he was who he claimed to be. “Uncle John” wrote back that yes, he was Caroline’s true and honest uncle, and the Post ran the letter, despite the obvious linguistic similarity to Caroline’s own passages about herself. Even when war broke out in the American colonies and some began predicting a formal declaration of independence, a larger portion of column space remained dedicated to the Perreau Affair in nearly all the London papers. It was the court case of the century.

•     •     •

The brothers Perreau testifying at Old Bailey
The brothers Perreau testifying at Old Bailey

After three months of growing anticipation, Robert Perreau’s trial finally began on 1 June 1775. Caroline, who had once again managed to secure money and lodging from friends, arrived well-dressed and ready to play the part of a helpless damsel. But before she could take the stand to testify against her ostensible brother-in-law, the presiding judge made a surprise proclamation: Caroline’s evidence was unnecessary to the case, and would not be heard. The magistrates who had offered her immunity had no legal standing to do so, the judge declared, and Sir Thomas Frankland was ready to press charges against her for the forgeries presented to him. Shocked and furious, Caroline was removed from the courtroom on the spot and locked in Newgate prison to await a formal hearing.

It was a dramatic but short-lived interruption, as the court quickly got on with the business of Robert’s trial. The prosecution presented the expected evidence from the Drummonds, including Robert’s now-obvious lies about encountering William Adair on horseback and his “shaky” handwriting, as well as a brief statement from Frankland about the other loans going unpaid⁠⁠—though without any mention of their forgery, since that was to be designated as Caroline’s crime. William Adair himself did not bother to appear, and his relative James was so tersely literal in his answers as to have practically no effect. It was clear that Robert had presented a forged bond, knowingly or not, and was perhaps in the kind of financial straits that might tempt a man to commit fraud, but the defense had done well at highlighting Caroline’s signature on the bond, not to mention her confession to the Drummonds.

As the prosecution rested and the defense began, Robert read an impassioned 90-minute statement that had been ghostwritten by an eloquent supporter on his behalf. He implored the jury to consider that even the most upright, well-intentioned man could be conned:

Many and recent instances have occurred of men of much more enlightened understanding than I can claim, who have been made the dupes of adventurers less able and less artful than she . . . and yet, when I have either heard or read their stories, I have thought I should not have been [trapped] into the same snares. They and the world in general must think the same of me; but they must recollect, that they are commenting on a plot after it is detected – they are reasoning upon the deception of a juggler, when the whole process of the trick is laid open.

Robert admitted to his lie about speaking to William Adair personally⁠⁠—it had, of course, been Caroline he’d gone to see during his two-hour absence from the Drummonds. She’d left and returned with the horseback riding excuse, and he’d seen no harm in adjusting the message ever-so-slightly when he believed it to be completely true. He pointed out how his behavior consistently matched with one who believed he was innocent, first leaving the bond overnight with the Drummonds, then readily agreeing to visit Adair in person, then voluntarily presenting himself to the magistrate’s office when he could have easily escaped. His conduct, he said, was “absolutely irreconcilable with every idea of guilt.”

What’s more, the defense had witnesses of their own. A family friend⁠⁠—though never one to Caroline⁠⁠—testified that he had frequently heard her speak of her supposed connection to James Adair, and had personally seen papers at both Daniel’s and Robert’s homes purporting to be from William Adair. As for the general disposition of Caroline, “she has told me very often, so and so, when I am a lady, I shall do so and so.” One of Daniel’s footmen testified that he had personally seen Caroline writing letters in a false hand claiming to be from William Adair, and that she had paid him to lie to Daniel about who delivered them, or to say that James Adair had visited when he had not. Another servant and one of the Perreaus’ sisters both testified to the same. Daniel testified to both men’s innocence, though he was cagey when asked about his own statements to the Drummonds. This was followed by no fewer than 24 character witnesses who attested to Robert Perreau’s diligence, honesty, and good standing in the community.

The defense had every reason to feel hopeful. Aside from the mountain of evidence in their favor, the twelve men of the jury had watched Caroline be accused and dragged out of the courtroom that very morning. And indeed, they deliberated for just ten minutes.

“Guilty, upon the third count, of uttering and publishing the bond, well knowing it to be forged.”

It was a crushing blow. And if the jury had convicted such an upstanding citizen as Robert, how could they possibly find the drunken gambler living in sin with his mistress to be a more sympathetic character? Daniel’s trial must have seemed like a waste of time for everyone. Sure enough, both the prosecution and the defense seemed to put in far less effort the next morning, and Daniel himself abandoned the similarly long, heart-rending statement he had planned to deliver (though he would later publish it, alongside many more tales of woe from the “unfortunate Perreaus.”) Instead, he read only the following:

My Lord, I received the bond from Mrs. Rudd as a true bond of Mr. William Adair’s. I did really believe it to be a genuine, authentic, and valid bond; and I solemnly protest, by all my hopes of happiness here and hereafter, so villainous an intention of defrauding any man of his property never entered my mind. I adjure the Almighty to assist me, in my present and dangerous situation, as I speak here before you.

The defense called largely the same witnesses as before, though the handful of character witnesses willing to speak on Daniel’s behalf did so ambivalently, at best. Daniel’s jury deliberated for even less time than Robert’s had: guilty as charged.

Sentencing for the brothers took place four days later, in a rapid-fire proceeding alongside other criminals whose trials had concluded in the previous weeks. Without fanfare, the single word “death” was pronounced for both.

Still, there were appeals to be waged, and Caroline was awaiting her own trial after being stripped of her immunity. If she were found guilty, the Perreaus’ lawyers would have significant standing to have their clients’ verdicts overturned, or at least have their sentences reduced to transportation; i.e., shipment to a brutal labor camp in the American colonies. Then again, transportation was a markedly less attractive option for the King’s courts in 1775, since the colonies were no longer cooperating and recent shipments seemed to have a way of getting dumped into the harbor.

Meanwhile, press coverage surrounding the three cases continued to increase. Scores of editorials and open letters to the judge appeared on Robert’s and Caroline’s behalf⁠⁠—though very few on Daniel’s, with only one letter-writer bothering to mention that “[his] conviction may very possibly be just, but, by the Lord, I cannot believe it legal.” Others praised the court’s findings, referring derisively to “the uncommon pains that have been taken to save Mr. Robert Perreau” while asserting that the claims laid out against Mrs. Rudd were also “very probably true.”

Caroline kept up her publishing pace as well, though her tone shifted during this time from one of melodrama to hard logic. She was, after all, quite skilled at using others’ words against them, and made the straight-faced counterargument that if a wife were truly the sole subject of her husband⁠⁠—a fact that had been brandished against her, since how could Daniel have compelled her with threats if they were not legally married?⁠⁠—then Robert’s wife, Henrietta, was surely more guilty of accomplice in his crimes than she was in Daniel’s. How, indeed, could she logically be guilty at all, when the twins had already been found so under just and due process? She also demanded much sympathy over the conditions of Newgate prison, though in truth she had it far better than most, and certainly more so than the twins. Somehow, through all of this, she had retained several wealthy (and almost certainly male) friends and benefactors, who paid for her to have a private cell, decent food, and regular visitors, such as the milliner who would bring silks for her to choose from, so that she could have a new dress sewn for each court appearance.

The Old Bailey
The Old Bailey

There were, it turned out, several such appearances to be made, as the court fought over whether Caroline should have been granted immunity, both originally and now. The prosecution argued that immunity was for accomplices, and as Mrs. Rudd was now claiming innocence, she could not therefore have been one. The defense countered that she had taken the magistrate’s offer only as a way to save herself, knowing in her heart her own innocence but not understanding the complexities of such masculine practices as law; furthermore, if the prosecution was accepting here and now that she was no accomplice, then no trial was necessary and they could all go home. In the end, the judge ruled that she would have neither bail, nor immunity⁠⁠—yet despite Caroline’s supposed ignorance of the law, she personally cited an obscure legal precedent for throwing out her trial, or at least delaying it by several months, which was granted. She now had until September to figure out a plan.

But distractions abounded. First, there was the matter of Caroline’s house and belongings, currently in Sir Thomas Frankland’s hands. Now that Daniel was a convict, all of his property was forfeit to the state⁠⁠—raising the question of whether such forfeiture occurred at the time of the crime (before Frankland had seized it), or at the time of conviction (by which point Daniel possessed nothing). Caroline sided with the national interest, partly because she hated Frankland, but mostly because, as everyone kept reminding her, she was not Daniel’s legal wife, and therefore many of the seized items⁠—such as expensive dresses and jewelry⁠—belonged to her alone, and would be returned by the state more readily than Frankland.

Second, there was the matter of her children. By now the three of them were each living in different places: the eldest, Susan, was staying with an old friend of Daniel’s, which he had arranged immediately upon his incarceration. (When Caroline had demanded that the other two be sent with her, Daniel said they could go to a workhouse, for all he cared. “Poor Stewart and Caroline was more like their mother,” the elder Caroline complained bitterly.) The younger two had been housed for a time with the children’s nanny, Hannah Dalboux, but payment for their care had been irregular, so the middle child had been passed off to another family while Dalboux continued to wet-nurse baby Caroline, born only a month or so before the forgery took over their lives.

Since then, however, Dalboux had testified for Daniel at his trial, painting Caroline in a negative light and leaving her not at all inclined toward the woman. She filed a claim for Dalboux to surrender the child, but Dalboux’s lawyer disingenuously retorted that the notice had not been properly served in person⁠⁠—which, of course, the imprisoned Caroline could not do⁠⁠—therefore they could not be certain that it came from the child’s actual mother. In response, Caroline’s lawyer, John Bailey, dutifully presented a verified letter to the court, but when an officer attempted to serve it, they found both Hannah and the baby were gone. It was soon discovered that Thomas Frankland and Henrietta Perreau had both been making frequent visits to the Dalboux residence, the former most likely paying for the baby’s care and the latter ferrying them back and forth to visit the twins at Newgate prison. A series of argumentative letters were published in the Post between Caroline and Hannah⁠⁠—who claimed she was only waiting for the payment she was owed, ransom apparently being a more sympathetic crime than kidnapping⁠⁠—and Hannah’s husband was at one point arrested for a physical altercation with Caroline’s lawyer. Eventually the matter was resolved, though it’s unclear where the baby went next, only that she never came to stay with Caroline in her cell.

When September arrived, Caroline’s lawyers again contrived for another three-month delay, until finally, her trial began on 8 December 1775. The line for spectator seats formed before dawn, and was mostly filled with Caroline’s supporters. Three judges presided, as well as three lawyers for each side, plus a number of High Court officials who had taken a professional⁠⁠—or more likely personal⁠⁠—interest in the case. With so many people crammed into the room, the most spacious seat was ironically the small prisoners’ dock, where Caroline would sit for the duration of the trial. Its short walls were lined with spikes to deter those with thoughts of a quick escape, and hung with garlands of strong herbs to disinfect the “diseased miasma” that generally wafted from defendants lodged at Newgate. Throughout the 11-hour ordeal, Caroline would be seen passing dozens of notes to her attorneys, but otherwise she remained the epitome of dignified composure. One writer noted that “had the whole tenor of Mrs. Rudd’s conduct through life been equal to her behavior since the ungenerous attempt to sacrifice her, she would be an object of universal admiration.”

Caroline Rudd in the witness box at the Old Bailey
Caroline Rudd in the witness box at the Old Bailey

The prosecution called their first witness: Henrietta Perreau. The defense moved to block her testimony, given Henrietta’s obvious stake in seeing Caroline convicted and thus her husband freed, but the judges ruled she could continue. Henrietta testified in great detail as to the bond Caroline had given her husband as well as several conversations she’d overheard, and the defense lawyers contentiously questioned how she could possibly remember so much, given that she’d never seen a bond before and should have been playing hostess to other guests at the time. “I have the happiness to have a good memory,” Henrietta replied coldly.

Next came Thomas Frankland, who gave basic evidence regarding the loans he had issued. Hoping to paint Frankland as greedy and dishonest, the defense honed in on certain items that had been seized from the Perreau household, and Frankland played dumb for several minutes as the defense tried to force him to admit that they logically must have been Caroline’s, and not part of Daniel’s property.

“By whom did you suppose the gowns and petticoats and other women’s apparel were worn?” asked one of Caroline’s lawyers incredulously. “By the two Perreaus?”

“They might go in masquerade,” retorted Frankland.

Regardless of the answers they eventually wrenched from him, the defense had made their point. Frankland appeared bitter and obstructionist at every turn, compared to the guileless angel perched in the prisoner’s dock.

Several more witnesses followed, including bankers who made it clear that while the loan may have been in Robert’s name, Daniel (and by extension Caroline) had spent the money. The prosecution’s final witness was Christian Hart, a former housemaid to Caroline who had not appeared at either Robert’s or Daniel’s trials. Hart was nervous, and had clearly rehearsed her testimony. She had good reason to be afraid, as she was about to betray a very dangerous woman.

Hart’s testimony centered around a recent pair of visits she had made to Newgate prison, to see “the best mistress I ever lived with.” Caroline had begged a series of favors from her, Hart explained, and Hart had been quite willing at first, delivering several messages and offering a room in her lodging house to Caroline, should she ever be released. But Caroline had other plans for that empty room.

Hart produced a stack of papers for the court, which she said that Caroline had given to her on the second visit. The papers were a detailed statement, in Caroline’s handwriting but from Christian Hart’s perspective, describing how, over the course of several months, Hart had seen Henrietta Perreau in her lodging house forging various bonds with a mysterious man, and more recently, Henrietta had used the room for a meeting with Thomas Frankland, during which Hart overheard them conspiring to pin the blame for Robert’s forged bond on Caroline. According to Hart, Caroline had given her this written statement, and asked Hart to sign it and deliver it to Caroline’s lawyer. Instead, Christian Hart had written at the bottom, “I received this paper from Mrs. Rudd on 5th July, 1775,” and turned it over to the magistrate.

It was a shocking turn of events, and the defense made little headway against it, other than to highlight the fact that Christian Hart had not initially intended to turn the papers over, but her husband had demanded it. Mrs. Hart’s husband took the stand to corroborate her story, and a few other witnesses confirmed that the handwriting was indeed one of Caroline’s many styles.

The prosecution rested, no doubt confident of the mortal wound they had just delivered. But the defense had their own star witness up their sleeve.

The defense called solicitor John Bailey, Caroline’s original lawyer⁠⁠—who had been helping her from prison these past six months, and had once gotten into a fistfight with Hannah Dalboux’s husband on her behalf. The only reason Bailey wasn’t on her current defense team was because he would be testifying. And his story was, indeed, as shocking as Christian Hart’s.

According to Bailey, he had been in the cell with Caroline when Hart visited the second time, though Christian Hart had testified they were alone. Caroline claimed that Hart had brought her “a very strange incredible story” on her first visit, which Caroline herself couldn’t possibly believe, but she would nonetheless be grateful if her lawyer sat in on any future visits with Mrs. Hart. When Mrs. Hart did arrive the second time, testified Bailey, it was she who had asked Mrs. Rudd to write down her own story, so that she could be sure of all the facts and wouldn’t trip up from nervousness when conferring with her husband. As proof, Mrs. Rudd had made a second copy for herself, in full view of Christian Hart, and had her lawyer write upon it: “This account was taken down in writing, in the presence of counsellor John Bailey, from Christian Hart’s own words and dictating . . .”

The matching stack of papers was produced, and a brief performative back-and-forth took place between the old and new guard, confirming that Bailey remembered delivering this paper to Caroline’s current lawyers the day after it was written, and that they remembered receiving it from him. Christian Hart’s testimony was not, it seemed, a shock after all⁠⁠—the defense team had known about it the whole time. Though he declined to name names, Bailey vaguely testified that he had the impression Mrs. Hart had been sent by someone to trick Caroline into writing a false story in her own hand, for the precise purpose of “betraying” her in court.

The prosecution rebounded well on cross-examination, revealing that Bailey had not, in fact, delivered the second copy of the papers to the other lawyers until after visiting the Harts’ house that evening⁠⁠—and had perhaps only done so in response to learning that Mr. Hart had delivered his wife’s copy to the magistrate, rather than allowing her to sign it or destroy it. What’s more, the papers themselves were not identical, as Bailey had implied. His copy was significantly shorter, and altered key words and phrases in almost every sentence. One of the judges even remarked aloud for the jury, “It is plainly a paper wrote from recollection,” rather than a copy made with the original still at hand. But at the end of the day, the jury was being asked to weigh the word of a respected lawyer against a lowly former housemaid, who had already shown herself willing, at a minimum, to ignore damning evidence, were it not for her husband’s fear that Caroline intended to “hang you and me and all the world.”

The final nail in the coffin was a brief testimony from an employee at Newgate prison, who reported that she had seen Bailey and Hart together in Caroline’s cell. If it seems difficult to believe that Caroline could convince both her own jailer and lawyer to lie on her behalf, one must only consider that, if they were telling the truth, others must have been telling equally galling lies⁠⁠—and Caroline, at least, had a demonstrable history of such schemes. The only mystery is how she possibly managed to pull it off, again and again.

In his final address to the jury, the presiding judge instructed the twelve men to effectively ignore Christian Hart’s testimony, and everything that came after it. The only relevant questions were whether Caroline had signed William Adair’s name on the bond (as Daniel’s servant had testified that he had seen her do), and whether she had caused that bond to be used by Robert Perreau (as Henrietta and a second servant had corroborated). Everything else, extraordinary though it might be, carried only a loose implication as to the credibility of Henrietta Perreau and nothing more. “The prisoner has produced no evidence of any kind whatever,” he reminded them, “[except] what observations she made herself on the characters of the persons who have appeared against her.”

Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison

It didn’t matter. In thirty minutes, the jury returned, and the foreman displayed a visible smile at Caroline. He delivered the verdict of “not guilty,” and a cheer erupted from the packed room of spectators. Later, one of the jury would claim that he was the sole voice in favor of acquittal during initial deliberations, and had successfully won over the other eleven⁠⁠—but whether that is true is as much up in the air as any words ever spoken on her behalf.

One thing, however, was certain: the Perreaus now had no hope for a retrial. All that remained was the possibility of a pardon. Hundreds of letters poured into the appellate court in support of Robert, many declaring that Daniel’s death was acceptable and should be sufficient payment for both of their crimes. Daniel himself wrote a moving letter asking only for his brother’s life to be spared. Henrietta and her children visited the Queen personally, and she seemed much moved by the widow- and orphans-to-be, but was apparently unable to sway King George III to leniency. The King also received a petition on Robert’s behalf signed by 78 bankers and merchants of London. But in general, King George deferred all such matters to Viscount Weymouth, the Secretary of State in charge of finalizing pardons and executions. In the last days before the execution was to take place, Weymouth received just one letter strongly in favor of executing them both⁠⁠—from Margaret Caroline Rudd.

Legally, she had nothing to lose if they were spared, but she’d already seen what the wrath of betrayed men looked like at the hands of Valentine Rudd. She wasn’t going to leave any loose ends. In addition to reiterating all her previous allegations, Caroline claimed in her letter to have additional witnesses to Robert’s shameful character, who had not testified at her trial only because her counsel had thought it “most honourable for me to be acquitted upon the case of the prosecution – to which I cheerfully consented, as I wished not to expose the Perreaus more than was absolutely requisite for my own vindication.”

The Viscount recommended no pardon, and the King did not issue one. On the morning of 17 January 1776, as many as 30,000 spectators assembled near the gallows and along the route from the prison. Estimates are hard to confirm, but it was by all accounts the largest crowd that had ever attended a public execution in London⁠⁠—though Caroline herself was not, apparently, among them. Between the surging bystanders and snowy conditions, the three-mile journey took over two hours, during which time the Perreaus conferred with a chaplain inside their covered coach, while the lower-class prisoners scheduled for execution rode in the open, alternately cowering or grandstanding for the mob.

Three scaffolds had been erected: one for the Perreaus, one for three lesser criminals, and a hasty, makeshift structure far off to the side for the group’s two Jewish prisoners. The hangman placed hoods over each man’s eyes, though he had to loosen the formal scarves around the twins’ necks before the nooses could be properly fitted. The Perreau brothers, now openly weeping, reached out and took each other’s hand, then the cart they were standing on was driven out from beneath them. Onlookers said their hands stayed firmly clasped until the deed was done.

Never before had a pair of twins been executed simultaneously, and the moving nature of their final moments caused an improbable swerve in public sympathies after their deaths. The Perreaus had maintained their innocence to the end, even to the chaplain⁠⁠—which would have endangered their souls, if untrue, and therefore inspired a swell of posthumous regret from the general public. The daily press moved on, but more permanent forms of print endured, including full-length works from Christian Hart and several anonymous authors who claimed to have known the trio personally. As with modern media-heavy scandals, everybody got a book deal⁠⁠—and none were complimentary to Caroline.

Though she changed her name and attempted to lay low in the years following her trial, Caroline’s infamy was too widespread for it to do much good. She continued to rely on the benevolence of lovers, whose overall status declined steadily over time, and she spent almost a year in debtor’s prison between 1787 and 1788. By the age of 50, she was said to be living in prison voluntarily alongside her current beau as he served his own sentence.

Rumors of Caroline’s death cropped up steadily over the years, and the exact details are not certain, but the most reliable is probably an announcement from The Times in 1797, which read simply, “The once celebrated Mrs. Rudd died a short time since in an obscure apartment near Moorfields’.” At the very least, it seems to have been taken as fact by one particular resident of an almshouse in Ireland: the destitute Valentine Rudd was, as it turned out, still very much alive, and shortly after receiving news of Caroline’s death that year, he married another resident of the almshouse named Judith. They continued to live there together in austere matrimony until his death some 11 years later.