Archive for May 7th, 2020

1720: James Cotter the Younger

Add comment May 7th, 2020 Headsman

Just, Prudent, Pious, everything that’s Great
Lodg’d n his Breast, and form’d the Man complete,
His Body may consume, his Virtues shall
Recorded be, till the World’s Funeral.

-broadsheet elegy from Cork: History & society

On this date in 1720, Irish Catholic landlord James Cotter the Younger was hanged at Cork City. The charge was rape — but in the eyes of most it was his politics that were really on trial.

In a way it was the dexterity of his old man, James Cotter the Elder, for navigating the English Civil War that set up his offspring for this unfortunate fate. A second son of an ancient house, this man made a scintillating career as a royalist officer who went into exile during the Cromwellian interregnum.

Naturally Cotter-Elder made out like a Cotter-Bandit upon the monarchy’s restoration, proving his zeal by hunting down and slaying an absconded regicide.* Emoluments ensued, eventually raising the man to a colonial governor. With the resulting wealth he consolidated his family’s fragmented estates and became one of southwestern Ireland’s greatest landholders — yet his deft political touch enabled him to keep his station intact after the Glorious Revolution deposed the Stuart dynasty he had served so excellently. Still, Cotter’s survival in the anomalous position of a Catholic Jacobite lord under a regime which Jacobites thirsted to overthrow required some tradeoffs; according to this Carrigtwohill newsletter (scroll down to p. 62), he had to let his son be raised as a Protestant to insure his inheritance. The family apparently found a loophole by marrying him young to a Protestant, which provided the youth a legal foothold to secure his position whilst openly returning to the old faith.

Unfortunately the ample rents that the 16-year-old Master Cotter became entitled to upon his father’s death in 1705 did not come with dad’s diplomatic talent.

In the wake of the failed 1715 Jacobite rising, a Protestant rival accused Cotter of abducting and raping a Quaker woman named Elizabeth Squibb. In Catholic eyes, the whole proceeding was a naked assassination, with partisan judges and jurors ramrodding a dubious conviction to reduce a major Catholic family. If so, it was successful; Cork noblemen preferred the charge to Dublin. The conviction was enforced with speed — allegedly to preempt any possible pardon — despite the outrage of a good portion of the populace. On execution day, it was necessary to improvise a rope pegged to an obliging post, because angry Cotter supporters had destroyed the gallows which was to bear his body. Gnashing of teeth among the printed-word set ran to some 20 still-surviving poems and broadsheets lamenting

* The assassination target was parliamentarian John Lisle. In 1685, Lisle’s widow was targeted for a still-infamous judicial killing after the Whig rebellion of Monmouth failed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Rape,Wrongful Executions

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