On this date in 1677, Thomas Sadler and William Johnson were hanged at Tyburn for one of the most impudent burglaries in English history.
“Thomas Sadler alias Clarke, William Johnson alias Trueman and Thomas Reneger … broke burglariously into the dwelling house of Heneage Lord Finch the Lord Chancellor of the said Lord the King and then and there stole and carried off a silver mace gilt gold worth one hundred pounds and two velvet purses imbroydered with gold and and silver and sett with pearles, worth forty pounds, of the goods and chattels of the said Lord the King.”
That’s right. They robbed the Lord Chancellor of his ceremonial mace while he slept, and a couple of embroidered ceremonial purses. (Representative pictures here.) The only reason they didn’t make off with the Great Seal of the Realm too was that the Chancellor had it under his pillow while he slept, for safekeeping. That’s some security.
The robbers, to their misfortune, were little better conscious of this crucial precaution.
They paraded through the darkened streets with mace poised on shoulder, a glorious revelry of knaves celebrating what they surely anticipated was the signal achievement of their lives — and the knell of their deaths.
Upon return to their lodging-house, and having no particular place to stash this hottest of loot, they just stuck it in a cabinet. There, the landlady ran across it while cleaning, and raised the alarum.
So Sadler and Johnson died for the astounding crime — Reneger, who didn’t, hadn’t been involved in a previous robbery that Sadler and Johnson committed, which might have helped mitigate his guilt — along with three distinctly undercard common criminals whom even the Newgate Ordinary scarcely noticed.
Johnson left a mournful little self-eulogy, many centuries since lost but preserved for us in that Ordinary’s evocative text.
Before his Tryal, having an excellent fancie, and a hand no less happy at Limning, he had drawn most lively on the wall of his Chamber in Newgate, a pair of Scales, and in one balance the Mace, and in the other Tyburn; the last much over weighing the first: But since his Condemnation, he drew in one Scale the Gallows, in the other a Crucifix; the first mounted up by the greater weight of the last, and these lines under-written, as I have been informed.
My Precious Lord, from all Transgressions free, Was pleas’d, in tender pity unto me, To undergo the Ignominious Tree.
I Suffer justly; but his Sacrifice, I trust, shall make my groveling Spirit rise, And from the Gibbet mount the glorious Skies.