Constantia Jones

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Constantia Jones (c.1708—December 22, 1738) was a prostitute in London, UK during the term of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, who was sentenced to hang for stealing 36 shillings and a half-guinea (the equivalent of about GB£300 today) from one of her clients. Her accuser, describing her as "a three-penny upright," testified as follows: "As I stood against the Wall, [she] came behind me, and with one hand she took hold of . . . --and the other she thrust into my Breeches Pocket and took my Money." Based on this testimony, Jones was sentenced to hang at Tyburn.

Jones, who had been sent to the notorious prison at Newgate some twenty times before, was 30 years old upon her execution. Historian Peter Linebaugh asserts that regardless of her guilt or innocence, her conviction on such flimsy evidence indicates the bias of 18th-century English courts against the trade of prostitution and those who worked in the industry. Prostitutes are always vulnerable, and in the middle of the 18th century in England, their testimony in court was not regarded as equal to that of their clients. Jones would have been a particularly weak defendant, as she had been in Newgate on multiple occasions. Although officially London courts took all persons as equally worthy, class distinctions were still operative, and therefore testimony from a "gentleman," in particular, would weigh heavily. At the same time, prostitutes were extremely common and were generally tolerated. Prostitution gangs also operated, and some gangs included "toughs" and "bullies," who would attack the prostitutes' clients for robbery.

Whether Jones robbed her client or not, she would have faced a high barrier in court. What may be more remarkable about her case than her conviction is the testimony presented against her. Solicitation was a dubious act, and the clients of prostitutes were unlikely to go to the police to give evidence. Those patrons of prostitutes with money to steal were usually jealous of their social standing and would not go to the justices.