Book Review: Broadmoor Women

Kim E. Thomas ~ Broadmoor Women


Broadmoor, Britain’s first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members.


There’s something about the dark, the evil and the morbid that fascinates many of us. Perhaps it is so that we feel better about our own quirks and foibles, or perhaps it is because it is still unknown why some people kill, maim and abuse.

Although we have come a long way, mental illness is still something of a taboo subject. These days post-natal depression is recognised and supported. For many women in Victorian times, this and the general fatigue from all but continuous pregnancy and childbirth, not to mention infant mortality, were not acknowledged.

It is no wonder that many women struggled with the stress and strain on their mind and bodies. Some were struck with only one option: murder.

In Broadmoor Women, Kim Thomas looks at the women who killed their husbands, children and other relatives and were found not guilty by way of insanity.

It’s an interesting read, documenting the lives of several women who spent time at Broadmoor. We see the women for more than just criminals or victims but see their lives leading up to their arrest and perhaps the reasons behind their actions.

Although the content is fascinating, it does read like a dissertation and is very academic in its style. For a more readable book, certain elements could’ve been omitted. At times there is also excessive information about people only loosely related to the woman in question, which feels like padding.

Overall it does provide good insight into the workings of Broadmoor, but feels a little unbalanced and censored at times.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for my copy. Opinions my own.

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