J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Sudden Death of Frantizek Kotzwara

At Writing Women’s History, Jen Newby laid out the facts of the death of the Czech composer Frantizek Kotzwara (also Kotzwarra and Koczwara) in London in 1791.

Kotzwara was a patron of prostitutes, a type of masochist (a term not coined until 1886), and a fan of erotic asphyxiation—which turned out to be a very bad idea for the sexagenarian artist and for prostitute Susannah Hill.

Newby writes:
Susannah was tried for Kotzwara’s murder at the Old Bailey. The victim being foreign and sexually peculiar, the jury sympathised with the traumatised young harlot and acquitted her. The court records on the case were allegedly suppressed, and, as I discovered, they are not to be found in the Old Bailey records.
In 1791 a London publisher claimed to use Hill’s statements as material for the pamphlet Modern Propensities, subtitled “an essay on the art of strangling, &c. Illustrated with several anecdotes. With Memoirs of Susannah Hill, and a summary of her trial at the Old-Bailey, on Friday, September 16, 1791, on the charge of hanging Francis Kotzwarra, At her Lodgings in Vine Street, on September 2nd.”

What’s the connection to Boston (as if we needed one)? Wikipedia says (citation needed, but evidently this webpage) that “A 2005 radio competition organised by the Radio Prague station led a listener to reveal that these court records had in fact not been destroyed, and somehow found their way to the Francis Countway Library of Medicine in Boston.” I can’t confirm that with a look at the library’s website or Harvard’s larger library catalogue. Any inside information, anyone?

Kotzwara’s “Battle of Prague” was a popular musical piece for a century after that 1757 event. There are eighteenth-century prints that could illustrate Kotzwara and Hill’s encounter (Newby shares one from 1752), but I’m showing an American edition of Kotzwara’s “Prague” composition that featured a portrait of George Washington. Though I doubt he’d be pleased at the association.


Charles Bahne said...

Perhaps these missing court records were part of the museum of medical oddities that once was displayed at the Countway Library. Unfortunately, much of that museum's collection has been dispersed, and lost, over the decades -- including the original photographs (daguerreotypes) of Joseph Warren's skull, which has been the subject of earlier posts on this website.

I don't think that Dr. Warren would be pleased by the association with Kotzwara's strange death, either.

J. L. Bell said...

I fear the most likely possibility is that the Czech radio comment wasn't about the original "court records," missing from the Old Bailey, but about a copy of the published Modern Propensities or even the digital reproduction of that pamphlet, which is available to Harvard researchers. But I could be too pessimistic.