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It had taken them just 43 minutes to find her guilty of murdering her husband, a verdict that many would call the greatest miscarriage of justice in English criminal history.
Her mother later claimed that Florence was ‘a woman of little penetration’, that she had been bullied and denounced by women, including her husband’s female friends and her children’s nursemaid.
This would make sense of oddities Yapp had noticed, including a bowl left on the dressing table in the main bedroom in which arsenic-rich flypapers had been put to steep. James’s friend Mrs Briggs cabled James’s older brother in London: ‘Come quick! ’ The management of Florence’s household was wrested from her; she was forbidden from having anything to do with her husband’s care. Once arrested, after his death, apart from the presence of her mother, she was entirely alone.
Once Florence’s liaison with Brierley had been made public, censure shone in their faces. Her deviancy confirmed their own successful negotiation of the narrow path of virtue but it was also a potent threat to middle-class complacency.
Then, towards the end of 1888, she discovered that he had been keeping a mistress for years. In the spring of 1889 she went to London both to consult a solicitor about divorce and with something more audacious in mind.
Over several days in a private hotel she cast caution to the wind, entertaining a handsome young cotton broker called Alfred Brierley, in whom all her dreams of escape were lodged.
Florence’s libido was evidence, in the minds of most, of her degeneracy and guilt.
Because a number of high-profile cases during the previous two decades had already equated poison with the idea of sexually charged female evil, the fact that arsenic was involved in this case further increased the extremity of society’s reaction.