Posts filed under '17th Century'

1685: Elizabeth Gaunt, for refuge

Add comment October 23rd, 2018 Thomas Babington Macaulay

(Thanks to Thomas Babington Macaulay for the guest post on “the blackest [case] which disgraced the sessions” prosecuting the Rye House Plot to kidnap and murder King Charles II and his Catholic brother soon-to-be-heir James. It originally appeared in Macaulay’s History of England. -ed.)

Among the persons concerned in the Rye House plot was a man named James Burton. By his own confession he had been present when the design of assassination was discussed by his accomplices.

When the conspiracy was detected, a reward was offered for his apprehension. He was saved from death by an ancient matron of the Baptist persuasion, named Elizabeth Gaunt.

This woman, with the peculiar manners and phraseology which then distinguished her sect, had a large charity. Her life was passed in relieving the unhappy of all religious denominations, and she was well known as a constant visitor of the gaols.

Her political and theological opinions, as well as her compassionate disposition, led her to do everything in her power for Burton. She procured a boat which took him to Gravesend, where he got on board of a ship bound for Amsterdam. At the moment of parting she put into his hand a sum of money which, for her means, was very large.

Burton, after living some time in exile, returned to England with Monmouth, fought at Sedgemoor, fled to London, and took refuge in the house of John Fernley, a barber in Whitechapel.

Fernley was very poor. He was besieged by creditors. He knew that a reward of a hundred pounds had been offered by the government for the apprehension of Burton. But the honest man was incapable of betraying one who, in extreme peril, had come under the shadow of his roof.

Unhappily it was soon noised abroad that the anger of James was more strongly excited against those who harboured rebels than against the rebels themselves. He had publicly declared that of all forms of treason the hiding of traitors from his vengeance was the most unpardonable. Burton knew this. He delivered himself up to the government; and he gave information against Fernley and Elizabeth Gaunt.

They were brought to trial. The villain whose life they had preserved had the heart and the forehead to appear as the principal witness against them.

They were convicted. Fernley was sentenced to the gallows, Elizabeth Gaunt to the stake. Even after all the horrors of that year, many thought it impossible that these judgments should be carried into execution. But the King was without pity. Fernley was hanged. Elizabeth Gaunt was burned alive at Tyburn on the same day on which Cornish suffered death in Cheapside.

She left a paper written, indeed, in no graceful style, yet such as was read by many thousands with compassion and horror. “My fault,” she said, “was one which a prince might well have forgiven. I did but relieve a poor family; and lo! I must die for it.”

She complained of the insolence of the judges, of the ferocity of the gaoler, and of the tyranny of him, the great one of all, to whose pleasure she and so many other victims had been sacrificed. In so far as they had injured herself, she forgave them: but, in that they were implacable enemies of that good cause which would yet revive and flourish, she left them to the judgment of the King of Kings.

To the last she preserved a tranquil courage, which reminded the spectators of the most heroic deaths of which they had read in Fox. William Penn, for whom exhibitions which humane men generally avoid seem to have had a strong attraction, hastened from Cheapside, where he had seen Cornish hanged, to Tyburn, in order to see Elizabeth Gaunt burned. He afterwards related that, when she calmly disposed the straw about her in such a manner as to shorten her sufferings, all the bystanders burst into tears.

It was much noticed that, while the foulest judicial murder which had disgraced even those times was perpetrating, a tempest burst forth, such as had not been known since that great hurricane which had raged round the deathbed of Oliver. The oppressed Puritans reckoned up, not without a gloomy satisfaction the houses which had been blown down, and the ships which had been cast away, and derived some consolation from thinking that heaven was bearing awful testimony against the iniquity which afflicted the earth. Since that terrible day no woman has suffered death in England for any political offence.


Newgate, 22d of Octob. 1685.

Mrs. Gaunt’s Speech, written the Day before her Sufferings.

Not knowing whether I should be suffered or able, because of Weaknesses that are upon me through my hard and close Imprisonment, to speak at the Place of Execution; I writ these few Lines to signifie, That I am well reconciled to the Way of my God towards me, though it be in Ways I looked not for; and by Terrible Things, yet in Righteousness; having given me Life, he ought to have the disposing of it, when and how he pleases to call for it; and I desire to offer up my AH to him, it being but my reasonable Service; and also the first Terms that Jesus Christ offers, that he that will be his Disciple, must forsake all, and follow all; and therefore let none think hard, or be discouraged at what hath happened at me; for he doth nothing without Cause, in all he hath done to us, he being holy in all his Ways, and righteous in all his Works; and ’tis but my Lot in common with poor desolate Sion at this Day.

Neither do I find in my Heart the least Regret for what I have done in the Service of my Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in succouring and securing any of his poor Sufferers, that have shewed Favour to his righteous Cause: Which Cause, though now it be fallen and trampled upon, as if it had not been anointed, yet it shall revive, and God will plead it at another Rate than ever he hath done yet, and reckon with all its Opposers and malicious Haters; and therefore let all that love and fear him, not omit the least Duty that comes to Hand, or lyes before them, knowing that now it hath need of them, and expects they shall serve him.

And I desire to bless his holy Name, that he hath made me useful in my Generation to the Comfort and Relief of many Desolate Ones, and the Blessing of those that are ready to perish has come upon me, and being helpt to make the Heart of the Widow to sing. And I bless his holy Name, that in all this, together with what I was charged with, I can approve my Heart to him, that I have done His Will; tho’ it does cross Man’s Will, and the Scriptures that satisfie me are. Isaiah 16. 4, Hide the Outcasts, betray not him that wandereth. And Obad. 13 14, Thou shouldst not have.given up those of his that did escape in the Day of his Distress.

But man says, You shall give them up, or you shall die for it. Now who to obey, judge ye.

So that I have Cause to rejoyce and be exceeding glad, in that I suffer for Righteousness Sake, and that I am accounted worthy to suffer for Well-doing, and that God has accepted any Service from me, which has been done in Sincerity, tho’ mixed with manifold Infirmities, which he hath been pleased for Christ’s Sake to cover and forgive.

And now as concerning my Fact, as it is called, alas it was but a little one, and might well become a Prince to forgive; but he that shews no Mercy, shall find none: And I may say of it in the Language of Jonathan, I did but taste a little Honey, and lo I must die for it. I did but relieve an unworthy, poor, distressed Family, and lo I must die for it.

Well, I desire in the Lamb-like Gospel Spirit to forgive all that are concerned, and to say, Lord, lay it not to their Charge; but I fear he will not: Nay, I believe when he comes to make Inquisition for Blood, it will be found at the Door of the furious Judge; who, because I could not remember Things through my Dauntedness at Burton’s Wife’s and Daughter’s Vileness, and my Ignorance, took Advantage thereat, and would not hear me, when I had called to Mind that which I am sure would have invalidated their Evidence; tho’ he granted something of the same Nature to another, yet denied it to me.

My Blood will also be found at the Door of the unrighteous Jury, who found me Guilty upon the single Oath of an Out-lawed Man; for there was none but his Oath about the Money, who is no legal Witness, though he be pardoned, his Out-lawry not being’ recalled; and also the Law requires two Witnesses in Point of Life: And then about my going with him to the Place mentioned, ’twas by his own Words, before he was Out-lawed, for ’twas two Months after his absconding; and tho’ in a Proclamation, yet not High Treason, as I have heard; so that I am clearly murdered by you.

And also Bloody Mr. A. who has so insatiably hunted after my Life; and though it is no Profit to him, through the ill Will he bore me, left no Stone unturned, as I have Ground to believe, till he brought it to this; and shewed Favour to Burton, who ought to have died for his own Fault, and not bought his own Life with mine; and Capt. R. who is cruel and severe to all under my Circumstances, and did at that Time, without all mercy or Pity, hasten my Sentence, and held up my Hand, that it might be given; all which, together with the Great One of all, by whose Power all these, and a Multitude more of Cruelties are done, I do heartily and freely forgive, as against me; but as it is done in an implacable Mind against the Lord Christ, and his righteous Cause and Followers, I leave it to him who is the Avenger of all such Wrongs, who will tread upon Princes as upon Mortar, and be terrible to the Kings of the Earth: And know this also, that though ye are seemingly fixt, and because of the Power in your Hand, are writing out your Violence, and dealing with a despiteful Hand, because of the old and new Hatred; by impoverishing and every Way distressing of those you have got under you; yet unless you can secure Jesus Christ, and all his Holy Angels, you shall never do your Business, nor your Hands accomplish your Enterprizes; for he will be upon you ere you are aware; and therefore, O that you would be wise, instructed and learn, is the Desire of her that finds no Mercy from you,

Elizabeth Gaunt.

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1660: John Carew, regicide

Add comment October 15th, 2018 Headsman

This morning Mr. Carew was hanged and quartered at Charing Cross; but his quarters, by a great favour, are not to be hanged up.

Diary of Samuel Pepys, October 15, 1660

John Carew, one of the 59 Parliamentarians to sign the death warrant of King Charles I, was executed on this date in 1660 for regicide. He was the second regicide upon the gallows in a week of bloodshed, following the October 13 butchery of Major General Thomas Harrison.

According to the Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, Carew

was a gentleman of an ancient family in the county of Cornwall, educated in one of the universities, and at the inns of court. He had a plentiful estate, and being chosen to serve in the great parliament, he was elected into the council of state, and employed in many important affairs; in which he shewed great ability. He found the same usage from the court as major-general Harrison had done, being frequently interrupted, and counsel denied, though earnestly desired by him, in that point of law touching the authority by which he had acted: when he saw that all he could say was to no purpose, he frankly acknowledged, that he sat in the high court of justice, and had signed two warrants, one for summoning the court in order to the king’s trial, and another for his execution. Upon this, the court, who were well acquainted with the disposition of the jury, permitting him to speak, he said, That in the year 1640, a parliament was called according to the laws and constitution of this nation: That some differences arising between the king and that parliament, the king withdrew his person from them; upon which the lords and commons declared — Here the court being conscious, that their cobweb coverings were not sufficient to keep the light of those truths he was going to produce, contrary to the liberty they had promised, interrupted him, under colour that what he was about to say, tended not only to justify the action for which he was accused, but to cast a ball of division among those who were present. But Mr. Carew going on to say, The lords and commons by their declaration — Judge Foster interrupted him again, and told him, he endeavoured to revive those differences which he hoped were laid asleep, and that he did so to blow the trumpet of sedition; demanding, if he had ever heard, or could produce an act of parliament made by the commons alone? To this he would have answered, but was not permitted to finish what he began to say, or hardly any one thing he endeaoured to speak in his defence during the whole trial; Mr. Arthur Annesley particularly charging him with the exclusion of the members in the year 1648, of which number he had been one; to which he only replied, That it seemed strange to find a man who sat as a judge on the bench, to give evidence as a witness in the court. These irregular proceedings, unbecoming a court of judicature, obliged Mr. Carew to address himself to the jury, leaving them to judge of the legality of his trial; and appealing to their consciences, whether he had been permitted to make his defence. But they, who were not to be diverted from the resolutions they had taken, without any regard to the manner of his trial, declared him guilty as he was accused.

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1685: Rebecca Fowler, Chesapeake witch

3 comments October 9th, 2018 Headsman

From The Penguin Book of Witches concerning the milestone execution of the rare Maryland “witch” Rebecca Fowler on this date in 1685; italicized text is the modern writer’s commentary.


One of the rare Chesapeake witches, Fowler was accused of being led by the Devil to injure a man named Francis Sandsbury using witchcraft and sorcery. She was hanged. Usually Chesapeake witchcraft cases were milder than their New England equivalents, often limited to bad-mouthing and rumor. Accused witches in the South were fewer in number and were usually acquitted. Fowler is thought to be the only witch executed in the Maryland colony, though a man named John Cowman was accused of witchcraft, condemned, and then begged a stay of execution.

Court Records of Rebecca Fowler

At a meeting of the provincial court on the 29th day of September, 1685, Rebecca Fowler was indicted by a grand jury.

For that she, the said Rebecca Fowler, the last day of August in the year of our Lord, 1685, and at diverse other days and times, as well before and after, having not the fear of God before her eyes, but being led by the instigation of the Devil certain evil and diabolical arts, called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms, and sorceries, then wickedly, devilishly, and feloniously, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in Calvert County of her malice forethought feloniously did use, practice, and exercise, in, upon, and against one Francis Sandsbury, late of Calvert County aforesaid, laborer, and several other persons of the said county, whereby the said Francis Sandsbury and several others, as aforesaid, the last day of August, in the year aforesaid and several other days and times as well before as after, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in the said county, in his and their bodies were very much the worse, consumed, pined, and lamed again the peace, et cetera, and against the form of the statute in this case made and provided.

To this indictment Rebecca pleaded not guilty. She was tried before a jury who rendered the following verdict:

We find that Rebecca Fowler is guilty of the matters of fact charge din the indictment against her and if the court finds the matters contained in the indictment make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, and sorceries, et cetera, then they find her guilty. And if the court finds those matters contained in the indictment do not make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, sorceries, et cetera, then they find her not guilty.

In view of this finding of the jury, judgment was “respited” until the court had time to further consider the case. After the court reconvened a few days later, Rebecca was again brought to the bar and the judges having “advised themselves of and upon the premises, it is considered by the court that the said Rebecca Fowler be hanged by the neck until she be dead, which was performed the ninth day of October aforesaid.”

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1682: Ivan Khovansky

Add comment September 17th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1682, the boyar Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky went from being the power behind the throne to one of the skulls under it.

A veteran military commander, Khovansky (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) became a key figure in the months after the death of Tsar Feodor III of Russia. This perilous political moment left the throne in the hands of two underage half-brothers overseen by a female regent.

With benefit of hindsight we know that 10-year-old (in 1682) Peter will emerge from this troika to become the mighty Tsar Peter the Great. In 1682, it was anybody’s guess whether any of these dubious prospective autocrats might survive at all.

Peter in particular had cause to fear for his life in May 1682 when the Streltsy, a hereditary guard of Moscow musketeers, bloodily rebelled in favor of his co-heir’s privileges and against his own, rampaging through the Kremlin murdering princes in Peter’s circle. And at the head of these furies stood Khovansky.

Many years later, Peter would revenge himself upon the Streltsy for this horror but in the moment it carried the day, incidentally also carrying Khovansky to a preeminent position in the state.

But he was pitted almost immediately against his erstwhile patron and ally, the regent Sophia Alekseyevna.

Even though the Streltsy rebellion had been conducted on Sophia’s behalf, she could see as well as the next tsar the perils of embracing these latter-day praetorians‘ authority to remake the government by force … and the Streltsy made sure to remind her of it almost immediately when the “Old Believer” movement that predominated among its ranks started raising complaints about Sophia’s religious accommodations.*

Fearing an overmighty nobleman at the head of a treasonable host — and Khovansky has been suspected by both his contemporaries and posterity of coveting the regency for himself — Sophia and the young co-tsars briefly fled Moscow “because we could not tolerate the many offences, unlawful and gross actions and violations committed by criminals and traitors.” Meanwhile she maneuvered adroitly to isolate him politically and had the boyar Duma vote his attainder.

His fate was sealed by the discovery of an anonymous (probably fabricated) letter of denunciation. On 17 September, her own name day, Sophia succeeded in luring Ivan Khovansky and his son Ivan to the royal summer residence at Vozdvizhenskoe outside Moscow. The charges against them centred on their ‘evil designs upon the health and authority of the great sovereigns’ which involved no less than plotting to use the strel’tsy to kill the tsars, Tsaritsa Natalia, Sophia and the patriarch, then to raise rebellion all over Moscow and snatch the throne. The lesser charges included association with ‘accursed schismatics’, embezzlement, dereliction of military duty, and insulting the boyars. The charges were full of inconsistencies and illogicalities, but their sheer weight sealed the Khovanskys’ fate and Prince Ivan and his son were beheaded on the spot … The strel’tsy were forced to swear an oath of loyalty based on a set of conditions, the final clause of which threatened death to anyone who ‘speaks approvingly of the deeds of late, or boasts of committing murder or makes up phrases inciting rebellion as before, or stirs up people to commit criminal acts.’ (Source)

He’s the subject of the Mussorgsky opera Khovanshchina.

* Old Believers wanted a rollback of religious reforms decreed in recent years; Sophia said no dice. Once Peter the Great took over, Sophia and Old Believers alike would end up in the same boat.

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1697: Three at Tyburn, multiply sinning

Add comment September 15th, 2018 Headsman

An account by the Ordinary of Newgate Samuel Smith … in fact,

A True Account of the Behaviour, Confessions, and last Dying Speeches of the Condemned Criminals, that were Executed at Tyburn on Wednesday the 15th of this Instant Sep. 1697.
On the Lords-Day, after the Condemnation of the Condemned Criminals, a Sermon was Preached on this Text, Reve. 2. 21. I gave her a Space for Repentance; yet she Repented not.

In these Words are three Observations

  1. THE Lord gives the worst of Sinners a suffficient Time for Repentance. I gave her, even Jesabel who seduced others to commit Spiritual Fornication, in grose Idoaitry.
  2. The Lord doth not only afford a sufficient Time for Repentance, but adds many advantageous Opportunities, and the assistance of his Spirit to compleat it.
  3. To Sin against all the advantageous Encouragements, which might promote Repentance, by persisting in Impenitency, deeply aggrevates the Sinners Condemnation.

The necessary Ingredients which constitute and compleat the nature of Repentance; without which it cannot be available to Salvation, in.

1st. A strict search into the frame of the Heart; to find out the mistery of Iniquity in our most secret and indulged Lusts. There must be a deep Humiliation for the universal Corruption of the Sinners nature, and the peculiar Sins of every Age of his Life.

2ly. An universal hatred of the least Sin, because it offends God, as contrary to his Holy Nature; and for Ingratitude against all the endearing Obligations of divine Mercies, which should soften the Sinners Heart; yet usually these extinguish all good resolutions of Amendment, and the flood of Afflictions more inflame and irritate Men’s Lusts.

3ly. Sincere Repentance includes not only an universal forsaking every evil Way, but also a watchful Circumspection and fixt Resolution to avoid all the occasions of Sinning.

4ly. A turning to God with the whole Heart, in the constant practice of all those Christian Duties which the Lord requires of us.

The second Query.

What are the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities, wherein to promote the work of Repentance?

1st. Whilst clear and strong Convictions are imprest upon the Conscience, before these be stifled or made ineffectual by the Sinners Corrupting or bribing the sentiments of right Reason; yet many Sinners strive to wear out the Convictions of their Consciences, so that they do no execution on their Lusts.

2ly. When the fond Love of the World is imbittered by sharp Afflictions, now turn the Stream of this Worldly sorrow into the Channel of Sincere Repentance: I affirm that a gracious Person prefers the sharpest and longest Afflictions Sanctify’d, in impressing the divine nature deeper on the Heart, than if the Lord should heap the confluence of worldly injoyments, which usually are abused to Pride, Wantonness, or Slothfulness in his Duty.

3ly. When by an Eye of Faith we behold our Redeemer Crucify’d a fresh in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as a memorial of his dying Love, to make Sin more bitter to us; now let thine Heart be contrite with Godly sorrow, and pour out the blood of every Lust at the foot of the Altar, as an acceptable Sacrifice to the mortifying Spirit of Christ.

4ly. Comply with the Lord’s design, when he sets out other Sinners as the Monuments and Examples of his severity: The Lord will take this very ill when he writes our Duty in the blood and Destruction of other Sinners Less peccant. and yet such who are spared, have no Impression of an Holy Ingenuity to learn Righteousness in the amendment of their Lives.

5ly. When the Lord makes deep Wounds in thine own Conscience, do not presume to heal them by a few slight Formalities in Relenting, neither let the fountanel of Godly sorrow dry up, which should drain out the malignant Humors of thy defiled Heart.

6ly. When thou undertakest any great Service for God, attended with difficulties and discouragements, now is a Time to renew Godly Sorrow, for offending a gracious Lord who puts an eminent Honour on thee, in that he will employ thee in his Service.
Also when thou desirest success in entring upon any new state of Life, thou can’st not expect any blessing from God unless thou cleanse thy self from all filthiness of Flesh and Spirit, contracted before in any part of thy Conversation.

7ly. When thou observest the wickedness of other Men, mourn by a sad Reflection on thine own corrupt Nature: This is alike if the Lord had not renewed it by his Regenerating Spirit: Mourn that you have not been faithful in reproving Sinners; because hereby you have Adopted their Sins to become your own.

8ly. When good Resolutions are formed up within us in any Duty of Religion, let us step presently into the Pool of Repentance, for our former not Compliance with the blessed motions of God’s Spirit.

Here a Case may offer it self to be stated. It is thus.

Considering that God gives a fit space of time to the worst of Sinners, to accommodate their Repentance; What Time is requisit for the Magistrate to afford Condemned Criminals to prepare them for their Death?

This cannot be stated Absolutely, so as to limit the Power of the Magistrate in this Case. Neither ought any Minister to repine or grudg at the length of Time, as being sparing of his utmost endeavours to save Souls: Yet some think that a compleat Weeks time at least is fit to be granted, if Criminals do not abuse it by being ungovernable, in attempting to break Prison. But much longer Time may make Condemned Persons more secure in presuming that they shall be Pardoned: Hereupon the means of Grace work not so effectually upon them: For when they have no hopes of Respiting their Death, their Convictions are usually the more strengthned, their Prayers more fervent, and their Resolutions to Repent the more settled and confirmed. It is an honourable remark of Piety, and Clemency in the Magistrates of England, that they allow a convenient Time for Reconciling the Souls of Condemned Persons unto God. Yet how strange and deplorable is this, that tho’ a sufficient respiting the execution of the Sentence be indulged; Criminals draw on themselves deeper security in Sinning; a stroke far worse than Death, because not felt.

Hopes of Life, Dead praying, and Men’s promises of Improving the Space for Repentance, are blown away, when the fears of Death are abated. Impenitent Sinners abuse God’s sparing Mercy; and as I have observed, are not so fit to dye upon a long Reprieve: They are more Solicitous in employing their Friends to make intercession for their Pardon, than themselves are careful to set forward their Repentance thereby, to be Reconciled to God, by whose Smiles or Frownes Men’s Souls are disposed of in Happiness or Misery, throw all the Ages of Eternity.

The conclusion was thus Directed to the Condemned.

You have heard discrib’d unto you the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities to set Repentance on Work, that it may be compleated unto Salvation; also the dreadful pernicious Effects of willful Impenitency. Yet you have Presumptuously adventured to multiply Sinning, tho’ this hath sharpned stinging reflections in your guilty Consciences. Your Ears have been very attentive to the Councils of ungodly Associates: But you have out done the deaf Adder, in stoping your Ears against all God’s counter-charmings of your sensual Lusts, by the instructions of Heavenly Wisdom. Do not dare any longer to elude or frustrate the main design of God, in exhibiting the offers of Salvation. How durst any of you cast your Repentance into your last Accounts, which ought to have been the first and choicest Work of your whole Life.

Oh! That you would duly consider that all Supernatural Probationary Acts of Grace, such as Repentance, and the severity of mortifying your corrupt Nature, ought to be swiftest toward the end of your Lives, because it is not possible, and cannot be Available to renew them after Death in the rectifying, of any mistake. Consider that there is great difference ‘twixt a Conscience legally wounded for the dreadful Shameful Punishments of Sinning, and a Conscience Evangelically contrite, out of an Holy ingenuity for offending a gracious God, who hath long waited to overcome the Sinners Stubornness with his Clemency. Fear, least after some short Anguish in your Consciences, you should perish in your delay to compleat Repentance.

Consider the Spiritual benefits which sweeten the difficulties, and austerities of sincere Repentance: Tho’ sensual Sinners despise a contrite Heart, as effeminacy and baseness of Spirit; yet it is the best Demonstration of love to God, and a genuine fear of his long suffering; not to Sin against it by vile ingratitude. It doth not dispirit Men’s Courage in dying, but contemn Life when it cannot be prolonged with the safety of the the Souls integrity and loyalty to Christ’s Laws; it casts forth the oppressing load of sensual Surfeits, which defiled the Souls heavenly Purity. In the midst of National amazing Confusions, penitential Converts to God shall be as safe as Salvation it self can make them: Yet consider how difficult it will be to unravel the Web of Sinning, when Men never Communed with their own Hearts, to search out those Iniquities which are confirmed by a long Custom in Sinning. Familiarize therefore to your selves the severities of sincere Repentance: Justify God in his sharpest Corrections of you, to reduce you from wandring in the Bewildring devices of Sinning, and condemn your selves for the minutest Errors of your Lives. Be not slow and slight in so solemn a work; your whole Life ought to have been a continual exercise of Repentance, and of mortifying your Lusts, as a meet disposition for Eternal Life.

Take heed of dying in an obstinate contempt of God and Godliness, least the Lord harden his Heart against you, so that when you cry for Mercy, under the anguish of your Consciences, the least glance of it should be denied you.

I proceed to give an Account of the Behaviour and Confessions of the Condemned Criminals.

I. John Dewin, Condemned for Counterfeiting the Coin of this Kingdom: Aged thirty four Years. He was born in Norfolk: Was Prentice to a Shoemaker in the Northern parts. He kept Shop four or five Years; but left that Employment to deal in Cheese and Bacon at Waltham-Abby. He confest that tho’ he had not wronged any Man in his Trading; yet, that he had not led a Religious Life towards God: For he neglected the Duty of Praying to him; kept the Sabbath very slightly; that he was guilty of Swearing; but seldom Drunk in excess. He wept and said, That it now grieves him that he hath in many things sinned against the Holy Trinity: And yet that he doth not Repent as he ought, for his being so negligent of his Duty to God. But he begs of him earnestly to change his Heart, and not only to pardon his Sins; and hopes that if he might be spared he should never return to any Customary provoking his most holy Creator, but become a reformed Man.

II. Isaac Blount, Condemned for Stealing a Gelding: Aged twenty three Years. He was born in Gray’s-Inn-lane. He was an Hackny Coach-man , and drove as a Journy-man for some time, till he wrought for himself. He confest that he had many ways offended God, in prophaning the Lord’s Day; in omitting often the Duty of praying that he might be kept from bad Company; that he had kept Company with bad Women, but not lately; that he was not addicted to Swearing nor Drunkenness, yet had at times committed these Sins. He said, that he now is sensible of his evil Courses, and mourns for offending God by them, and hopes that he will so soften his Heart, that the Convictions which are in his Conscience may work to a thorough Repentance.

III. John Chamberlain, Condemned for Felony and Robbery: Aged twenty six Years: Born in Herefordshire. He was Journyman to a Butcher. He left that Employment about three Weeks since; but was joyned to bad Company before. He denied not the Crime. He confest that he did not performe the Duties of the Lord’s Sabbath, but walkt in the Fields with idle and vain Persons; that he was no much given to Swearing, and had somtimes been overcome with excessive drinking; yet he hopes that being now penitent for all his Sins, that God will pardon them. I stated for several days the nature of true and false sorrow for Sinning, also the nature of true saving Faith; wherein it differs from a presumptuous reliance on God’s Mercy and Christ’s Merits, and the danger of Sinning in hopes of future Repentance; so that they desired me to pray for them, that they might not deceive themselves with false hopes of Heaven.

IV. Mary Taylor, Condemned for a Burglary. She was born in Chancery-Lane. Was a Servant for eight Years to several Persons of Quality. She said, That altho’ she knew her Duty to God, yet she had Sinned against the Convictions of her Conscience; whereby she had much wounded it. She confest that she had not taken former warning, altho’ she had been punished for an evil practice, and that therefore God had justly inflicted this dreadful Scourge upon her, to bring her as she hoped to Repentance. She said, That now the chief trouble of her mind is for offending God her Creator and great Redeemer. She said, That she heartily desires that she may be cleansed with the Blood of Christ. O how merciful said she, is God! that he thus Corrects me, and moderates his Justice toward me, in this, that I am Respited from dying, for the space of six Months, till I am delivered of the Child I am quick with; hereby I have time to Repent of my Sins of Presumption, for I knew God’s Will, but obeyed it not; such deserve a more terrible Condemnation.

The other Women Condemned, were also found with Child, as the Jury of Women affirmed; therefore they are reserved for a longer time before they suffer. I am sorry that they make so ill an use of it, that they grow secure; yea, obstinate, in refusing to come on the last Lord’s Day, and at other times to receive Instruction, in order to bring them to a sensibleness of their evil Courses. Callow especially was obstinate, who is Condemned on two Indictments, for picking of Pockets.

On Wednesday the 15th of September, 1697. John Dewin, John Chamberlain, and Isaac Blunt, were convey’d to Tyburn; the first on a Sledge, and the other two in a Cart. But Flora alias Flower, he died in Prison the 12th of September. The Prisoners being brought to the Tree, were tied up. Dewin would not own his Crime, but desired all good People to take warning by him, how they led their Lives, least by their sinful Courses they should come to such untimely ends. Isaac Blunt would not own his Crime, but said, he had been guilty of divers such Crimes; he did not shew any outward appearance of Repentance. John Chamberlain said, That he was a great Sinner, and had been drawn in by evil Company to do the Fact for which he now suffers; he desired all good Christian People to pray for him, and to take warning by him, and eschew evil Company, and have regard to the Sabbath; he said, That he was bred a labouring Man, and one that did use to work hard for his living; but forgetting God and following Idleness brought him to this untimely end. The Ordinary prayed with them for some considerable Time, and sung a Penitential Psalme. And afterwards they were turned off.

This is all the Account that I can give of this Sessions.

Dated Sept. 15.

Sam. Smith, Ordinary .

LONDON, Printed for E. Mallet, in Nevil’s-Court in Fetter-lane, 1697

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1678: Five at Tyburn

Add comment September 6th, 2018 Headsman

Three men and two women hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1678.

Our text here is one of the earliest of the Ordinary’s Accounts, a far shorter and less ostentatious affair than examples of the genre even a few years later from the hand of a clergyman who has scarcely begun to grasp his true calling, moving copy.


THE CONFESSION AND EXECUTION Of the Five PRISONERS That suffered on the New Gallows at TYBURN On Friday the 6th of September 1678.

At which time were Executed

Daniel Massey. John Johnson. Sarah Brampfield. Hannah Smith, otherwise call'd Hebshebeth Cobb. Anne Davis, alias Smalman.

With Brief Notes of Two SERMONS Preached before them after Condemnation, their Carriage in Prison, and last Speeches at the place of Execution.
The Confession & Execution of the several Prisoners that suffered on the New Gallows at Tyburn, on Friday the 6th of September 1678.

AT the last Sessions there were in all Ten persons Condemned to die; Four menf or Robberies on the Highway, and Six women for Felonies here in Town, either Lifting (as they call it) of Goods out of Shops, or else Robbing those whom they pretended to serve: both which wicked Practises are become so common, and more than once followed by these incorrigible Prisoners, that it was highly necessary to make them Exemplary. Two of the before-mentioned men, viz. those concerned in that barbarous Assault and Robbery, whereof a particular Narrative hath been made publick by the unexpected Mediation of some generous Friends; and the women whose Crimes had not been so great and obstinately continued in as the others, obtained his Majesties gracious Reprieve: and another woman, immediately after she stood attainted, was reprieved by the Court, in reguard she was found by a Female Jury to be quick with Childe.

The Rest came this day to suffer, being charitably indulged in pity to their Souls, so long time to sit and prepare themselves for their great and terrible Change. In order to which, on the Lords-day before, there were two Sermons on most suitable Texts preached before them in the Chappel of Newgate. That in the Forenoon on the fifth verse of the 38 Psalm — My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness: Wherein the Minister very pathetically laid open the deplorable Condition such sinners are in by Nature, wallowing not onely in their original Depravity and Corruption, but in continued actual Transgressions against the holy Laws of God; whereby they become abominable, and as a loathsome stench in the Nostrils of that pure Majesty and all good men; and all this occasioned by their own foolishness, that is, their wilful rebellion and obstinacy against all the dictates of Reason, offers of Grace, and impulses of the Holy Spirit upon their Consciences. Which having, like a true Bonaerges, hereby endeavoured to awaken, and put them into a serious sense and apprehension of their lost, undone, and perishing Estate, without speedy and sincere Repentance.

In the Afternoon, as a Son of Consolation, from the 147 Psalm, vers. 3. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds, he came to shew them the infinite Mercies of God, and Love of Jesus Christ, if they would come in and accept of Pardon and Salvation upon Gospel-terms. That although they had made their wounds to fester and rankle by their foolishness, and had Souls all over bespread with a filthy Leprosie, yet there was Balm in Gilead, an Almighty Physician, both able and willing to heal them, if they would submit to his Prescriptions. In order to which, he gave them divers most necessary and excellent Directions; Not to deceive themselves with a false and palliated Cure, but to close with Christ on his own Terms, and in all his Offices, as their King to Rule them, and their Prophet to Guide them, as well as their Priest to Intercede and make Atonement for them. To hate Sin more, because it was displeasing to God, than because it brought upon them temporal or eternal Punishments. To be as desirous to be Holy as to be Happy; because none can be justified until they are sanctified, Etc.

During the whole time of Religious Worship, and the Sermons, they behaved themselves very Reverently and Attentively; nor was the Minister wanting afterwards, daily to visit them, with pressing Exhortations, and necessary directions to sit them for their last end; especially charging them to disburthen their Consciences, and give glory to God by a free and hearty Confession of their Sins; which had so good an effect, as to bring them to an Acknowledgment; not only in general term, but particularly bewailing the Ill Courses of their past Lives; in neglect of the publick Divine Worship, Violation of the Lords day, Drunkenness, Swearing, and continual practises of Lascivious Debauchery; Two of them above the rest abounding in expressions of Penitence, and endeavouring to improve those few moments of their Lives, to work out their Salvation, and make their peace with God; begging heartily forgiveness from his most holy Majesty, for their Rebellion against his Precepts, and of all those whom they had wronged, by violent taking away their Temporal Goods.

Some of the Women had been Condemned before, and would often bewail the wickedness of their Hearts, that would take no warning thereby: the Men alleadged, they were ignorantly drawn in to that ill Fact, for which they suffer’d, being their first of that kind, and rather by the unhappy operation of too much Drink, than any premeditated design; yet confessed, they had more than once deserved to Dye, and freely acknowledged the justice of the punishment they were to suffer.

At the place of Execution they said little, besides those common, but too much neglected Exhortations, desiring all present to take Warning by them, and remember their Creator in the days of their youth; Not to suffer themselves to be seduced by Ill Company, or sensual pleasures, which had been the means of their destruction, and would be so of all, that did not continually keep a reverent fear of God, and his Worship and Laws in their Hearts.

Thus heartily praying to God for Forgiveness, and to receive their Souls for the alone Merits of his blessed Son; and desiring all good people to joyn with them and for them in those Supplications, they submitted to the Sentence, and taking their leave of all things in this world, were wasted into the unfathomable Regions of Eternity.

FINIS.

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1650: Four condemned and one reprieved on appeal from the Wiltshire Assizes

Add comment August 21st, 2018 Headsman

From the Journals of the House of Commons

Die Mercurii, 21 Augusti, 1650

PRAYERS.

A LETTER from Henry Roll, Lord Chief Justice, and Robert Nicholas, one of the Justices of the Upper Bench, from Taunton, of the Fourteenth of August 1650; and a Certificate from them of the whole State of the Matter, and Cause of Condemning of Nicholas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goff, at the last Assizes, in the County of Wiltes, were this Day read; viz.

In Obedience to the Vote of the honourable Parliament, on Thursday the Twenty-fifth of July last; whereby we were required to certify the whole State of the Matter concerning the Condemning of Nicolas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goffe, at the last Assizes held in the County of Wiltes, for the Murdering of one Joel Swettingham (a very honest Man, and had been a Soldier and Drummer in the Service of the Parliament), at the Town of the Devises, in the said County of Wiltes, and continued faithful unto the Parliament until his Death;

We humbly certify, that the Evidence appeared before us to be thus:

That the said Westwood, Cowdry, and Goff, amonst divers other Soldiers, and new-raised Men, for Ireland, were quartered at Cannyngs, some Two Miles from the Devises: And some of the said Soldiers coming to the Devises, some Three Days before the said Murder committed, and offering some Incivilities unto the People of the Town, they were questioned for it by the Constable and Officers of the said Town; and were detained in Custody for some time; but were the same Day released; and so went back to their Quarters at Cannyngs; and from thence, within a Day or two after, the said Soldiers removed their Quarters to Bromham, about Two Miles likewise distant from the said Town of the Devizes: And, the next Day, being the Day when the Murder was committed, the said Westwood, Cowdry, and Goff, amonst divers other Soldiers, came to the said Town of the Devises, and expressed some Dislike against the said Townsmen, for Imprisoning of some of their Company, the Day or Two before: And the said Goff, coming into the Mayor’s Shop of the Devises, and talking with John Imber his Apprentice, cast out some Words of Dislie concerning the Imprisoning of the Soldiers a Day or Two before; and then asked of the said Apprentice, whether there were not a fat Constable in the Town; meaning one Fitzell, a very honest Man and who had been ever faithful to the Parliament: And the said Goff expressed himself to be much discontented with the said Constable, for Imprisoning of the Soldiers some Two Days before: Then, saying, That he would be revenged to the Death of the said Constable, calling the said Constable Rogue: And, shortly after, the same Day, the said Goff, meeting with one Thomas Street, a Youth of the Devises, asked the way to some Place in the Town: The said Street told him, He might go which way he would: And the said Goff presently drew his Sword, and run the said Street into the Thigh: Whereupon the said Street’s Brother took the said Goff’s Sword, and endeavoured to break it; but, could not: Yet he bended it very muh: Whereupon the said Goff run after the said Street’s Brother, with his Sword in his Hand: And, the said Street’s Foot slipping, he fell: And the said Goff laid on the said Street with his Sword very much: Which some of the Townsmen seeing, came to rescue the said Street from Goff: Whereupon the said Goff, Westwood, and Cowdry, and Two or Three Soldiers more unknown, fell on the said Swettingham, who had nothing to do with them, being then Gathering up of Monies for the Rent of the Butcher’s Shambles; and, having only a wooden Hilt of a Hatchet in his Hand, defended himself as well as he could; but, in short Space, he was run into the Groin by the said Goffe; and received another Wound in the Buttock, by the said Cowdry: And, feeling himself so wounded, run away very feebly, from them, into a House: And they all Three followed him: And there the said Westwood gave the said Swettingham a great Wound on the Shoulder: But Swettingham got into the House, and shut the Door, to keep out the said Westwood, Goff and Cowdry; for that they thrust very hard at the Door, to come in after him: But the said Swettingham, and some others, which were in the House, kept the Door fast, and kept them out: But the said Swettingham was so mortally wounded by them, that, within a short Time after, the same Night, he died. Upon which Evidence the Jury found them all guilty of the Murder: Upon which, Sentence of Death was given on all Three, in regard they were all Three present and Actors in the said Murder.

All which we humbly submit to the Consideration of the Honourable Parliament.

Taunton, 14 Augusti 1650.
Hon. Rolle, Robert Nicholas

Resolved, by the Parliament, That the Sheriff of the County of Wiltes be, and is hereby, required to proceed to the Execution of Nicholas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goff, according to Law; notwithstanding the Order of Parliament of the Twenty-fifth of July last, for respiting their Execution.

A Certificate from Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, and Robert Nicholas, one of the Justices of the Upper Bench, of the whole State of the Matter, and Cause of Condemning of Thomas Dirdo, at the Assizes for the County of Wiltes, was this Day read; viz.

In Obedience to the Vote of the Honourable Parliament, dated the Twenty-fifth of July last; whereby we were required to certify the whole State of the Matter concerning the Condemning of one Thomas Dirdo, at the last Assizes held in the County of Wiltes;

We humbly certify, that the Evidence appeared to be thus:

That the said Dyrdo, with some other Persons, came to the House of one John Pitt, an Innkeeper in Wiltes, somewhat late in the Night: and desired Entertainment; and, having set up their Horses, and prepared something for their Suppers, finding most Part of the People gone to Bed, set on the rest of the People of the House, and bound them: And then the said Dirdo, as the said Pitt affirmed, on his Oath, to be one of the said Robbers, took, of the Goods of the said Pitt, a Sack and Three Shillings Eight-pence in Money: And the said Pitt affirmed further, That the said Dyrdoe, and the rest of the Company, went into a Chamber in the said House, where one Matthew Kynton, a Carrier then lay, with their Swords drawn; and demanded of the said Kynton his Money: And thereupon the said Kynton delivered them a Bag of Money, wherein, he said, was Ten Pounds: And then the said Dirdoe, and the rest of the said Company, cut the Packs of the said Carrier, and took thence certain Broad Cloths; a Part of which said Cloth one Coombes sold to one Blake, who shewed the said Cloth, in a Suit on his Back, at the Tryal of the said Dirdoe, and the said Coombe, and one Hussey; and also took his oath, That the said Coombes affirmed he had the said Cloth, at the time of the said Robbery: And he also affirmed, on his Oath, That the said Coombes and Hussey told him, That they did the said Robbery: Upon which Evidence, the Jury found them all Three guilty of the said Robbery: And thereupon, Sentence of Death was given against the said Dirdoe and the said Coombes and Hussey: And we further certify, That we were credibly informed, That the said Dirdoe was burnt in the Hand, at the Sessions at Newgate, for a Felony by one Levendon Blisse and him committed.

All which we humbly submit to the Consideration of the Honourable Parliament.

Taunton, 14 Augusti 1650.
Hon. Rolle, Robert Nicholas

Resolved, That the Sheriff of the County of Wiltes be, and is hereby, required to proceed to the Execution of Thomas Dirdo, according to Law, notwithstanding the Order of Parliament of the Twenty-fifth of July last, for respiting his Execution.

The humble Petition of Edward Hussey, now a condemned Prisoner in the Gaol at Sarum, lately a Soldier in the Service of the Parliament, was this Day read.

The Certificate from the Justices of Assizes, upon the former Order, touching Thomas Dirdo, was again read.

Resolved, that Edward Hussey, who stands condemned at the Assizes for the County of Wiltes, be reprieved, until the Parliament take further Order: And that Mr. Speaker do issue a Warrant to the Sheriff for that Purpose.

Ordered, that the Judges of Assizes for the County of Wiltes be required and enjoined to make Certificate to the Parliament of the whole State of the Matter of Fact touching Edward Hussey, who was condemned at the last Assizes in the County of Wiltes.

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1648: Sultan Ibrahim the Mad

Add comment August 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1648, the once-debauched and now-deposed Ottoman sultan Ibrahim I “the Mad” was strangled to make way for his seven-year-old son.

He’s fondly remembered as a debauched madman at the helm of state but you’d go crazy too with his upbringing. He was locked up by his famously brutal brother Sultan Murad in the palace Kafes — literally, “cages”, where potentially dangerous rival claimants lived under constant surveillance — and could not but dwell on the Damoclean sword constantly dangling at his throat. Justifiably nervous about the ever-present danger of a coup — Murad owed his own throne to the Janissaries deposing and murdering a prior sultan in 1622 — Murad had three of his caged brothers put to death. Ibrahim woke each day from the ages of 8 to 25 in his gilded cage knowing that Murad was one foul mood away from ordering his own death, too.

So paranoid was he that when informed that he was to come to the throne as sultan, he suspected a trick meant to implicate himself in treason. Only the combined assurance of his and Murad’s mother and the Grand Vizier* plus a personal inspection of the late Murad’s corpse convinced him to accept rulership of the Ottoman Empire.

And once he did so, he was able to unite in his person the pathologies of imprisonment with those of absolutism.

Freed from the terror of his cell, he gave himself to sensuality that was noted for both volume and transgressiveness: forcing himself on the Grand Mufti’s daughter, scouring his empire for the fattest woman he could find and elevating her to the pinnacle of his harem, and pony playing a virile stallion in his gardens to virginal women who were made to disrobe and act his mares. But don’t forget the wild mood swings! Becoming convinced that his harem was indulging in sub-imperial frolics, he once had 278 of them drowned in the Bosporous.

We will leave to wiser observers of the Porte than we just where among these legends we enter into the calumnies of the enemies who eventually toppled him. That happened in 1648 and had more to do with his profligacy in matters financial, for he gobbled jewelry and expensive furs as voraciously as maidenheads, and then put the Ottoman economy under a fearful strain by launching a ruinous war of choice against Venice that would drag on for 24 years and result in the Venetian navy blockading his capital.

Pitiably, his last days were spent back in the Kafe after he was displaced by rebelling Janissaries driven to fury by the growing tax burden required to support a war that brought only immiseration. Maybe it was a mercy that he had not years thereafter to pace the gardens under the eyes of burly minders with unknown orders, but for 10 days** that quarter of the palace redounded with his wails until

on August 18, the executioners entered the “Cage”. With the Koran in his hand, Ibrahim cried out: “Behold! God’s book! By what writ shall you murder me?” and “Is there no one among those who have eaten my bread who will take pity on me and protect me? These cruel men have come to kill me. Mercy! Mercy!”

* In 1644, Ibrahim would have this same Grand Vizier executed.

** We would be remiss on this grim site not to mention the fate that befell his Grand Vizier on August 8, when Ibrahim fell: torn apart by an angry mob for attempting to impose a heavy tax, he gained the posthumous nickname “Hezarpare” (“thousand pieces”).

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1681: Donald Cargill, Covenanter rebel

Add comment July 27th, 2018 Headsman

Scottish Covenanter Donald Cargill ascended his Edinburgh gallows on this date in 1681 with the undaunted last words, “The Lord knows I go on this ladder with less fear and perturbation of mind, than ever I entered the pulpit to preach.”

This Cameronian radical had been a fugitive for many years, ever since he darkened a thanksgiving service for King Charles II’s restoration by voicing from the pulpit of his Glasgow parish what many feared in their hearts: that Presbyterians were about to get the rough end of the restoration pineapple.

We are not come here to keep this day upon the account for which others keep it. We thought once to have blessed the day wherein the king came home again, but now we think we shall have reason to curse it; and if any of you come here in order to the solemnising of this day, we desire you to remove.

That was the end of Cargill’s career as a licensed preacher. His remaining years were illicit services, ducking arrests, and a flight to the Netherlands; he was wounded in service of the Covenanter cause at the 1679 Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Back in Scotland by 1680, Cargill’s Queensferry Declaration* dared an open case for rebellion in pursuit of “the overthrow of the kingdom of darkness, and whatever is contrary to the kingdom of Christ,” for

now it cannot be called a government, but a lustful rage, exercised with as little right reason, and more cruelty than beasts; and they themselves can no more be called governors, but public grassators, and public judgements, which all ought to set themselves against, as they would do against pestilence, sword and famine raging among them.

The grassators finally got him the following year.

There’s a short biography of our man, The Life of Donald Cargill, available in the public domain which remarks (discount accordingly for hagiographical perspective), that Cargill was memorialized by an associate as

affectionate, affable, and tender-hearted to all such as he thought had anything of the image of God in them, sober and temperate in his diet, saying commonly, ‘It was well won that was won off the flesh,’ generous, liberal, and most charitable to the poor; a great hater of covetousness, a frequent visitor of the sick; much alone, loving to be retired, but when about his Master’s public work, laying hold of every opportunity to edify; in conversation still dropping what might minister grace to the hearers. His countenance was edifying to beholders; often sighing with deep groans; preaching in season and out of season upon all hazards; ever the same in judgment and practice. From his youth he was much given to the duty of secret prayer for whole nights together wherein it was observed that, both in secret and in families, he always sat straight upon his kneesk with his hands lifted up; and in the posturel as some took notice, he died with the rope about his neck.

* The thrust of this militant manifesto is similar to the Sanquhar Declaration issued by Cargill’s ally Richard Cameron, also in 1680.

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1661: Antonius Hambroek, defying Koxinga

Add comment July 21st, 2018 Headsman

Missionary Antonius Hambroek was put to death on this date in 1661 as the warlord Koxinga wrested control of Formosa (Taiwan) from the Dutch.

In the 1620s, the running Dutch-Spanish war as projected into both countries’ colonial extrusions had resulted in the two dividing that South China island: the Dutch in the south, based at Fort Zeelandia, and Spain in the north. In 1641 the Dutch conquered Spanish Formosa to establish themselves as the apex predators on a rough and lawless island.


Fort Zeelandia.

But that’s before they ran into Koxinga.

Simultaneous with the Dutch advance on Formosa, China’s Ming dynasty was in the process of collapsing. From the 1640s, civil wars between the advancing Manchus (eventually victorious as the incoming Qing dynasty) and the remnants of the Ming would tear at the mainland.

Koxinga was the last great Ming commander. He’d been born on a Nagasaki beach to a Japanese mother. His family ran a commercial concern stretching across the South China Sea as far as Vietnam and the Philippines; its dubious legality confers the romantic sobriquet “pirate” upon Koxinga but think corporate raider here. “Some people call him a pirate, but he was a businessman,” said present-day Taiwan historian Chu Cheng-yi.

And in both commerce and war, Koxinga could flex.

The author of this book about Koxinga’s victory over Dutch Formosa describes his book in this video.

Paradoxically the Ming’s collapse launched Koxinga; his very name as history knows it derives from a title (“Lord of the Imperial Surname”) conferred by the executed Longwu Emperor in gratitude for staying loyal when even Koxinga’s own dad had gone over to the Qing. In one cinematic moment, with the Ming looking toast, Koxinga torched the scholarly robes he had earned studying for a respectable court career and swore he would don nothing bur armor until he’d expelled the Manchus from China.

This “Badass of the Week” post chronicles his scintillating military career; in the twilight of the Ming, Koxinga’s victories gave the foundering dynasty its last legitimate cause for hope and in the course of the 1650s his sword-arm established a Qing-defying state in the southerly province of Fujian. From this base in 1659 he launched a proposed history-altering attack on Nanjing that only narrowly failed.

Win or lose on terra firma, the pirate was nails on the waves. “Never before nor since was a more powerful and mighty fleet seen in the waters than that of Koxinga, numbering more than 3,000 junks,” Jesuit missionary Vittorio Ricci wrote of the armada he had once assembled to attack Xiamen. (Source) “The sight of them inspired one with awe. This squadron did not include the various fleets he had, scattered along neighboring coasts.”

In his reduced circumstances post-Nanjing, Koxinga managed “only” 400 ships to launch from Fujian with 25,000 souls … to arrive at Formosa and set up shop there. “Hitherto this island had always belonged to China, and the Dutch had doubtless been permitted to live there, seeing that the Chinese did not require it for themselves,” he remarked. “But requiring it now, it was only fair that Dutch strangers, who came from far regions, should give way to the masters of the island.”

To make the argument persuasive, Koxinga delivered his ultimatum via this post’s principle, Antonius Hambroek (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), a missionary whom Koxinga cautioned not to return with a displeasing answer at the risk of his life.

On May 25, 1661, Koxinga sent Hambroek to Fort Zeelandia with one of the Chinese leader’s letters demanding surrender. Hambroek had to leave his wife and children behind as hostages to assure his return. When Coyett refused to surrender, Hambroek was urged to stay at the fort as he and his family were bound to be killed because of the failure of his mission. The emotional pull to remain was intensified by the discovery that two of his daughters from whom the family had been separated during the chaos of the invasion were among the refugees in the fort. But Hambroek decided his duty was with his wife and other children. The two daughters, says, the fort daybook, “hung about his neck, overwhelmed with grief and tears to see their father ready to go where he knew he must be sacrificed by the merciless enemy.” The fate of Hambroek is recorded by Caeuw, the commander of the relief fleet. Two native boys got into the fort in October and said they had seen Koxinga fly into a rage the previous month and order the decapitation of all the Dutch male prisoners, Hambroek among them. The wives were given to Koxinga’s captains as concubines and the small children were sent to China. Koxinga himself took one of Hambroek’s teenage daughters — “a very sweet and pleasing maiden” according to Caeuw — as one of his concubines. In August there was also a killing of captive Dutch from the hinterland and Fort Provintia [a lesser outpost opposite Fort Zeelandia -ed.]; Koxinga believed they had been inciting the aborigines against the Chinese. The Dutch reports say five hundred men were either beheaded or “killed in a more barbarous manner.” Many women and children were killed too, but others were “preserved for the use of the commanders, and then sold to the common soldiers. Happy was she that fell to the lot of an unmarried man, being thereby freed from vexations by the Chinese women, who are very jealous of their husbands,” says the fort’s daily journal.

The results of these incidents are still evident in some parts of southern Taiwan. There are areas where the people have decidedly European features and even occasionally the red or auburn hair common among seventeenth century Dutch.

-Jonathan Manthorpe, Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan

Koxinga’s siege delivered him Fort Zeelandia by February of the following year.


Antonius Hambroek taking leave of his daughters, by Jan Willem Pieneman (1810)

The fate of Hambroek, Zeelandia, the women, and all the rest make for literary pathos in Joannes Nomsz’s Anthonius Hambroek (1775). Koxinga lives on as an iconic hero celebrated in China and Taiwan and Japan, which is a complicated trick indeed. (A refugee prince from the ancien regime setting up a holdout state on Taiwan made him an obvious propaganda reference for Chiang Kai-shek.) For all his legend, his life remains a bit of a what-might-have-been: a few months after taking Fort Zeelandia, Koxinga died suddenly, perhaps of malaria, still well shy of his fortieth year. His son Zheng Jing, whom the violent-tempered Koxinga had nearly executed in his last hours, maintained an independent Formosa-Fujian kingdom that held out against the Qing until 1683.


Statue of Koxinga at the present-day remains of Fort Zeelandia.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Hostages,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Taiwan,Wartime Executions

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