Posts filed under 'Assassins'

1506: James Tyrrell, Princes in the Tower murderer?

Add comment May 6th, 2020 Thomas More

(Thanks to Sir Thomas More, himself an eventual Executed Today client, for the guest post on the knight Sir James Tyr(r)ell — originally from More’s The History of King Richard the Third. Tyrrell was executed on May 6, 1506, for treason, for supporting the exiled royal pretender Edmund de la Pole; according to More, Tyrrell had previously proved his loyalty to the Yorkist house to the extent of orchestrating the murder of the Princes in the Tower. All-in-the-family detail for House Tyrell: the man’s father had been executed in 1462 with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. -ed.)

I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of those babes, not after every way that I have heard, but after that way thay I have so hard by such men & by such meanes, as me thinketh it wer hard but it should be true. King Richarde after his coronacion, takyng his way to Gloucester to visit in his newe honor, the towne of which he bare the name of his old, devised as he roode, to fulfil that thing which he before had intended. And forasmuch as his minde gave him, that his nephewes living, men woulde not recken that hee could have right to the realm, he thought therfore without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen, could amend his cause, and make him a kindly king. Whereuppon he sent one John Grene whom he specially trusted, unto sir Robert Brakenbury constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence also, that the same sir Robert shoulde in any wise put the two children to death. This John Grene did his errande unto Brakenbery kneling before our Lady in the Tower, who plainely answered that he would never putte them to death to dye therfore, with which answer Jhon Grene returning recounted the same to Kynge Richarde at Warwick yet in his way. Wherwith he toke such displeasure and thought, that the same night, he said unto a secret page of his: Ah whome shall a man trust? those that I have brought up my selfe, those that I had went would most surely serve me, even those fayle me, and at my commaundemente wyll do nothyng for me. Sir quod his page there lyeth one on your paylet without, that I dare well say to do your grace pleasure, the thyng were right harde that he wold refuse, meaning this by sir James Tyrell, which was a man of right goodlye parsonage, and for natures gyftes, woorthy to have served a muche better prince, if he had well served god, and by grace obtayned asmuche trouthe & good will as he had strength and witte. The man had an high heart, and sore longed upwarde, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, being hindered and kept under by the meanes of sir Richard Ratcliffe and sir William Catesby, which longing for no moo parteners of the princes favour, and namely not for hym, whose pride thei wist would beare no pere, kept him by secrete driftes out of all secrete trust. Whiche thyng this page wel had marked and knowen. Wherefore thys occasion offered, of very speciall frendship he toke his time to put him forward, & by such wise doe him good, that al the enemies he had except the devil, could never have done him so muche hurte. For upon this pages wordes king Richard arose. (For this communicacion had he sitting at the draught, a convenient carpet for such a counsaile) and came out in to the pailet chamber, on which he found in bed sir James and sir Thomas Tyrels, of parson like and brethren of blood, but nothing of kin in condicions. Then said the king merely to them: What sirs be ye in bed so soone, and calling up syr James, brake to him secretely his mind in this mischievous matter. In whiche he founde him nothing strange. Wherfore on the morrow he sente him to Brakenbury with a letter, by which he was commaunded to deliver sir James all the kayes of the Tower for one nyght, to the ende he might there accomplish the kinges pleasure, in such thing as he had geuen him commaundement. After which letter delivered and the kayes received, sir James appointed the night nexte ensuing to destroy them, devysing before and preparing the meanes. The prince as soone as the protector left that name and toke himself as king, had it shewed unto him, that he should not reigne, but his uncle should have the crowne. At which worde the prince sore abashed, began to sigh and said: Alas I woulde my uncle woulde lette me have my lyfe yet, though I lese my kingdome. Then he that tolde him the tale, used him with good wordes, and put him in the best comfort he could. But forthwith was the prince and his brother bothe shet up, and all other removed from them, onely one called black wil or William slaughter except, set to serve them and see them sure. After whiche time the prince never tyed his pointes, nor ought rought of himselfe, but with that young babe hys brother, lingered in thought and heavines til this tratorous death, delivered them of that wretchednes. For Sir James Tirel devised that thei shold be murthered in their beddes. To the execucion wherof, he appointed Miles Forest one of the foure that kept them, a felowe fleshed in murther before time. To him he joyned one John Dighton his own horsekeper, a big brode square strong knave. Then al the other beeing removed from them, thys Miles Forest and John Dighton, about midnight (the sely children lying in their beddes) came into the chamber, and sodainly lapped them up among the clothes so be wrapped them and entangled them keping down by force the fetherbed and pillowes hard unto their mouthes, that within a while smored and stifled, theyr breath failing, thei gave up to god their innocent soules into the joyes of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodyes dead in the bed.

Whiche after that the wretches parceived, first by the strugling with the paines of death, and after long lying styll, to be throughly dead: they laide their bodies naked out uppon the bed, and fetched sir James to see them. Which upon the sight of them, caused those murtherers to burye them at the stayre foote, metely depe in the grounde under a great heape of stones. Than rode sir James in geat haste to king Richarde, and shewed him al the maner of the murther, who gave hym gret thanks, and as som say there made him knight. But he allowed not as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he woulde have them buried in a better place, because thei wer a kinges sonnes. Wherupon thei say that a prieste of syr Robert Brakenbury toke up the bodyes again, and secretely entered them in such place, as by the occasion of his deathe, whiche onely knew it could never synce come to light. Very trouthe is it & well knowen, that at such time as syr James Tirell was in the Tower, for Treason committed agaynste the moste famous prince king Henry the seventh, bothe Dighton an he were examined, & confessed the murther in maner above writen, but whither the bodies were removed thei could nothing tel. And thus as I have learned of them that much knew and litle cause had to lye, wer these two noble princes, these innocent tender children, borne of moste royall bloode, brought up in great wealth, likely long to live to reigne and rule in the realme, by traitorous tiranny taken, depryved of their estate, shortly shitte up in prison, and privily slaine and murthered, theyr bodies cast god wote where by the cruel ambicion of their unnaturall uncle and his dispiteous tormentors. Which thinges on every part wel pondered: god never gave this world a more notable example, neither in what unsuretie standeth this worldy wel, or what mischief worketh the prowde enterprise of an hyghe heart, or finally what wretched end ensueth such dispiteous crueltie. For first to beginne with the ministers, Miles Forest at sainct Martens pecemele rotted away. Dighton in ded walketh on a live in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye. But sir James Tirel dyed at Tower hill, beheaded for treason.


Although the veracity of More’s account cannot be proven — the purported original confessions do not survive and are not attested elsewhere — Tyrrell’s reputation as the agent of this notorious outrage earned him a bit part in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,England,Guest Writers,Nobility,Other Voices,Public Executions,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1985: The Dujail Massacre

Add comment March 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1985, 96 Iraqis were executed for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. Though not the only or the largest atrocity of that dictator, it was the crime that would do to hang him under the U.S. occupation.

Two years deep into the horrific Iran-Iraq War, Hussein paid a ceremonial visit to theShi’ite town of Dujail north of Baghdad and was greeted by an armed ambuscade — up to a dozen gunmen springing from the cover of date palms to fire at the president’s motorcade. They missed.*

The ensuing vengeance was visited so widely as to earn the sobriquet Dujail Massacre: something like 1% of the 75,000-strong town wound up in the hands of the torturers, with 148 death sentences handed down and approved by the president — and they were none too exacting about direct complicity in the assassination, freely sweeping up regime opponents and sympathizers with the outlawed Dawa Party.

A document of March 23, 1985, certifies their mass execution although the Iraqi Special Tribunal‘s investigation found this to be a a bit of an overstatement; some had already been executed previously or died of maltreatment in custody, while a few of those still alive were not present in Abu Ghraib on that day. All told, it appears that 96 of the 148 people condemned to death for the attempt on Saddam Hussein’s life were put to death on March 23, 1985. To multiply the injury, the families of the alleged perpetrators also suffered confiscation of their homes and destruction of their orchards.

The detailed documentary trail, and specifically Hussein’s personal approval of the death sentences, recommended this case to the U.S. occupation of the early 2000s as the rope by which to hang the now-deposed dictator and his closest associates. Accordingly, the Dujail Massacre executions formed one of the central charges in the 2005-2006 trial that resulted in Saddam Hussein’s own execution.

* There were a couple of presidential bodyguards killed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

2016: Mumtaz Qadri, assassin of Salman Taseer

Add comment February 29th, 2020 Headsman

On Leap Day in 2016, the bodyguard-turned-assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer was hanged for murder.

A longtime activist of the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party, Taseer was a prominent public figure for thirty-plus years and wrote a biography of hanged PPP Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1980.

A millionaire through financial services businesses and a minister in the federal government from 2007, Taseer became governor of the Punjab region in 2010. But as a secular- and liberal-minded elite, he was already becoming an artifact from a different Pakistan, and indeed his party was routed at the 2013 election.

The specific grievance nursed by our date’s principal Mumtaz Qadri, a former police commando recruited in 2010 to the personal security detail of the businessman/politician, was Taseer’s support for reversing the high-profile death sentence for blasphemy against a Pakistani Christian woman.* On January 4, 2011, Qadri opened up on his protective charge in an Islamabad marketplace, shooting him 28 times.

As a legal matter, this was all open and shut — but Qadri’s strike on behalf of Islamic militancy earned him wide admiration that reminded some observers of the Raj-era Punjabi assassin Ilm Deen. Hundreds of lawyers clamored to represent him pro bono while “cheering supporters clapped Qadri as he was bundled into court. ‘Death is acceptable for Muhammad’s slave,’ they chanted.” (Guardian)

Death is what he got, of course, although thousands subsequently marched in mourning and staged a parliament sit-in to demand sharia law. On the same day as that march, a suicide bomber attacked a Christian Easter gathering in a Lahore public park, killing 75 or more.

* After a yearslong legal odyssey, Asia Bibi’s conviction was vacated by the Pakistani Supreme Court only in 2018. She was allowed to emigrate to Canada in 2019. (Here’s a short interview with her Incidentally, a second politician, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated in 2011 for advocating her position.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Murder,Pakistan,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2019: Nine for assassinating Hisham Barakat

Add comment February 20th, 2020 Headsman

Last year on this date, nine men purportedly involved in the 2015 car bomb assassination of Egyptian prosecutor general Hisham Barakat were hanged at a Cairo prison.

Barakat had prosecuted thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in 2013.

“A monument to unfair trials in Egypt” in the words of Amnesty International, this case compassed 28 total death sentences,* supported by the exercises of Egypt’s feared torturers. “Give me an electric probe and I’ll make anyone confess to assassinating [the late President Anwar] Sadat,” was the videotaped courtroom quip of Mahmoud al-Ahmadi, who was one of those noosed on February 20, 2019. “We have been electrocuted so much we could power Egypt for 20 years.” Other defendants described being hung upside-down, menaced with knives, forced into stress positions, and coerced via threats to their family members.

Not particularly aggressive with (judicial) executions prior to the Arab Spring that brought Morsi to power, Egypt under his deposer/successor Sisi has warmed up its gallows and now perennially ranks among the most execution-happy jurisdictions in the world. As of this writing we’re still awaiting Amnesty International’s annual review of global death penalty trends, but in 2018 that organization “credited” Egypt with 717 death sentences and 43 executions. Those figures respectively were second in the world (behind China) and sixth in the world (behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq).

* According to Amnesty International, 13 of the 28 convictions were in absentia (although at least one of these 13 has since been repatriated to Egypt). Of the 15 whom Egypt convicted in the flesh, six had their sentences reduced on appeal.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1877: Dato Maharaja Lela, Perak War rebel

Add comment January 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1877, the British put a bow on a suppressed rebellion in Malaysia by executing one of its leaders.

The conflict is known as the Perak War. Perak was a sultanate on the Malaysian peninsula that had been torn by conflict for much of the 19th century and in 1874 sought protectorate status from the trade-hungry British who were only too happy to grant it.

Many Malayans were much less happy, and the very next year the first British Resident of Perak, James W. W. Birch, was assassinated by nationalists chuffed at his meddling — launching in the process the brief and unsuccessful Perak War.

The sultan-appointed mufti Dato Maharaja Lela (English Wikipedia entry | Malaysian) was the author of this murder* and then one of the primary leaders of a very short-lived rebellion. It was all done and dusted in a matter of weeks with the British carrying a couple of decisive early engagements and our Maharaja sinking into the wilderness for a few months as a fugitive. Add in some mopping up and there’s your war.

He’d be captured and eventually executed for the Birch assassination, in Taiping, Perak (Not to be confused with Taiping Island, in Taiwan); in this he had a better fate than the sultan, whom the British merely exiled to the Seychelles — where the deposed sovereign occupied his time adapting a French ditty into what became the Malaysian national anthem.

* Birch’s ham-handed carelessness of local mores is the stock motivation imputed to his killers, but some have pointed to his move towards outlawing the slave trade as a serious ding to Dato Maharaja Lela’s bottom line.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Malaysia,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Separatists,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , ,

1935: Kemal Syed, assassin

Add comment January 14th, 2020 Headsman

A 28-year-old Afghan nationalist was executed in Berlin’s Ploetzensee Prison on this date in 1935.

“During a heated argument” with Sardar Mohammed Aziz Khan* on June 6, 1933, Kemal (or Kamal) Syed on June 6, 1933 “accused the minister of treason and of selling out his country to the British. He then pulled a revolver and shot him fatally.” (UP wire report via the redoubtable pages of the Oshkosh (Wisc.) Northwestern, Jan. 14, 1935)

His punishment was delayed by diplomatic wrangling between Germany and Afghanistan over possible extradition. In the end, Berlin handled matters directly.

* This man also happened to be the brother to the late (and likewise assassinated) King of Afghanistan. In time, the assassinated diplomat’s son would overthrow the assassinated king’s son and rule from 1973 to 1978 as Afghanistan’s first president. (Although if you like, you could also consider him the last of the Musahiban dynasty.) That diplomat’s son in turn was deposed in a palace coup by the ham-handed Communist who would set off the catastrophic Soviet-Afghan War.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Tags: , , , , ,

1915: Mewa Singh, Sikh martyr-assassin

Add comment January 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1915, Mewa Singh Lopoke was hanged in British Columbia, Canada.

He was part of a massive influx of Punjabi migrants to Canada, and particularly its westernmost province of British Columbia, from around 1904 until Canada clamped down on immigration from the subcontinent in 1908.*

There Mewa Singh became involved in activism for the Ghadar Party — the North American expatriate movement for Indian independence. This movement was heavily infiltrated by spies and informants, some of whom ratted Mewa Singh out after he attempted to deliver some firearms to Punjabi passengers stranded on the Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s harbor and slated for return to the subcontinent.**

In an atmosphere of rising tension within the Vancouver Sikh community, a police informant named Bela Singh, driven to desperation by the pressure of his handlers and fear of exposure, opened fire on his coreligionists inside a Sikh temple. In the resulting trial, B.C. immigration inspector William C. Hopkinson — the man who ran the spies within the Sikh community — was scheduled to testify on the gunman’s behalf. Instead, Mewa Singh shot him dead in the hallway outside the courtroom, them immediately surrendered his pistol and calmly submitted to arrest. As he entered a guilty plea and took full responsibility for the murder, his trial came in under two hours.

“These people have disgraced us,” Mewa Singh said in his confession, accusing Hopkinson of exploiting vulnerable Sikhs to mine them for information and bribes.

We are poor, only coolie men, and whatever Hopkinson said was law. The Government listened to him completely.

Everyone knows that Hopkinson did these underhand things and it must be brought to light. The European public must be aware of the fact that Hopkinson draws money from us poor native men. In the Vancouver public there are a few that are Christian men who have received us with the proper spirit. The other have treated us like dogs.

He hanged at 7:45 a.m. at New Westminster jail. To this day he remains a martyr to many within his community; there have been campaigns for a posthumous pardon on grounds that his assassin’s turn was strictly the result of the injustice Sikhs faced in Vancouver.


Funerary procession for Mewa Singh.

By the time of Mewa Singh’s execution, World War I was well underway and Ghadrites, sensing their chance to break free from British domination, were working on orchestrating a mutiny in India. Thanks in no small part to the many spies keeping tabs on the Ghadrites, that mutiny was strangled in its crib.

* As a longer-range effect of this migration period, Canada today has a reputation as “Little Punjab” and its substantial Sikh minority is a significant political bloc — especially in B.C.

** This incident, in which 352 Punjabis were refused entry into Canada and forced to return to India — where Raj police arrested a number of the leaders as subversives, triggering a riot that took 20 lives — is still notorious in Canada today. “Not to be confused with Kobayashi Maru,” Wikipedia observes, sagely.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1879: Juan Oliva Moncusi, attempted regicide

Add comment January 4th, 2020 Headsman

Juan Oliva Moncusi (sometimes given as Moncasi) was publicly garroted at Madrid’s Campo de Guardias on this date in 1879 for his failed assassination attempt on King Alfonso XII the previous October 25.

“That day the young* king had returned to his capital, after a month’s absence,” quoth The Atlantic,

Everywhere he was received with hearty welcomes; the crowds cheered, and ladies showered bouquets of flowers upon him from the balconies. As the royal cortege passed along the principal street of Madrid a young man pressed through the soldiers who kept the line, and, drawing a pistol, fired point-blank at Alfonso. The bullet missed its aim. The would-be assassin was instantly seized, and he proved to be one Juan Oliva Moncasi, a cooper, twenty-three years of age. He had for several years been noted in the district of Tarragona, in the province of Catalonia, where he was born, for his exaggerated ideas in politics. He was uncommonly daring and cool in his behavior after his arrest, and he declared that he did not feel the slightest remorse. He had meditated this crime for a long time past, and came to Madrid with the firm resolve to carry out his design. He admitted that he had forfeited his life, but said he believed that he was, like Nobiling and Hoedel, furthering the objects of his school in social questions.

Source are at odds over whether to characterize this young man as a socialist or an anarchist, but his attack — succeeding the aforementioned separate assassination attempts by Nobiling and Hoedel upon the German Kaiser, and followed by the November 1879 attempt on the Italian king by Giovanni Passannante — shook Europe’s crowned heads. The anarchist Kropotkin would complain in his memoirs of the harassment he endured in Switzerland by authorities who suspected a coordinated international plot.

Although that proved not to be the case, Moncusi’s errant bullet might have actually insured the continued existence — down to the present day — of the Bourbon line in Spain, for in view of the year’s campaign of attentatsthe royal advisers deemed it urgent that the succession to the throne should be assured” and accelerated negotiations to wed Alfonso to the Habsburg princess Maria Christina.

And not a moment too soon. When Alfonso died young of dysentery in 1885, Maria Christina was pregnant with what proved to be a posthumous son and heir.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Garrote,History,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Spain,Strangled

Tags: , , , , ,

1620: Michal Piekarski, warhammer wielder

Add comment November 27th, 2019 Headsman

Calvinist nobleman Michal Piekarski was spectacularly executed in Warsaw on this date in 1620 for attempting the life of the Polish-Lithuanian king.

The lengthy reign of Sigismund III Vasa marks Poland’s downward slide out of her golden age, although how much of this trendline is personally attributable to Sigismund embarks scholarly debates well beyond this writer’s ken.

Sigismund III Vasa held both the Polish-Lithuanian and the Swedish thrones in a personal union but he lost the latter realm to rebellion; he meddled unsuccessfully in Russia’s Time of Troubles interregnum; and he faced a rebellion of nobility in 1606-1608 that, although it failed to overthrow him, permanently curtailed the power Polish monarchy.

That conflict with the aristocracy overlapped with a sectarian schism common throughout Europe in the train of the Protestant Reformation — for Sigismund was very Catholic and his nobility divided.

It’s the latter fissure that’s thought to have supplied the proximate motivation for our date’s principal. Piekarski (English Wikipedia entry | Polish), a petty noble, had long been noted as a moody, melancholic man too unstable even to be entrusted with the management of his own estates — the consequence of a childhood head injury.

He was also a staunch Calvinist, but broad-minded enough to find virtue in his opponents’ tactics. In 1610, Catholic ultra Francois Ravaillac had assassinated France’s Henri IV, and it’s thought that Ravaillac’s boldness put the bee into Piekarski’s bonnet.

A decade later, the Pole stung with cinematic flair: he jumped Sigismund in a narrow corridor while the latter was en route to Mass and dealt 1d8 bludgeoning damage by thumping the king in the back with a warhammer; after a second attempted blow only grazed the sovereign’s cheek, the royal entourage subdued Piekarski and started looking up chiropractors.


It’s only a model: replica of the would-be assassin’s instrument on display in Warsaw.

Torture failed to elucidate a coherent motivation from a muddled mind. Reports had him only babbling nonsense, so attribution of the attack to religious grievance remains no more than partially satisfying; there were rumors of other more determined instigators to steer Piekarski’s mind towards regicide for their own ends. (Although he didn’t get the king, he did confer upon the Polish tongue the idiom “plesc jak Piekarski na mekach” — “to mumble like Piekarski under torture”.)

In the end, for Ravaillac’s crime, he took Ravaillac’s suffering: the Sejm condemned him to an elaborate public execution which comprised having his flesh torn by red-hot pincers as he was carted around Warsaw, until reaching a place called Piekielko (“Devil’s Den”) where the hand he had dared to raise against the king was struck off, and then what was left of his ruined flesh was torn into quarters with the aid of four straining horses.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,By Animals,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Poland,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1615: Anne Turner

2 comments November 15th, 2019 Headsman

For Sommersett must love Essex faire wife
by wich his deerest servant lost his life.
losse upon losse, all things grow cleane contrary
and thus our sinfull times themselves doe vary.

From a 17th century libel

On this date in 1615, Anne Turner hanged at Tyburn for a shocking society murder remembered as the Overbury Affair.

Turner was quite a character herself, but her journey to the pages of Executed Today begins in the bedsheets of the nobility. In fact, events revolve around a marriage alliance between two families of notable beheadings, in the persons of Frances Howard — the grandsondaughter of Queen Elizabeth’s enemy Thomas Howard (beheaded 1572) — and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex — son of Queen Elizabeth’s lover also named Robert Devereux (beheaded 1601).

‘Twas often that noble pairings were cynical, loveless expediencies but this union exceeded most in its deficiencies.

They married so young — 13 to 14 years old as they tied the knot — that they were initially kept apart to prevent them sleeping together but this failure to consummate developed into firm policy. Devereux was impotent with her — even though, per Francis Bacon’s investigation, “before and after the marriage, he hath found an ability of body to know any other woman, and hath oftentimes felt motions and provocations of the Flesh, rending to carnal copullation” — and Howard seemingly systematically refused him. (Devereux was elsewhere heard to note that his virility failed because his wife “reviled him, and miscalled him, terming him a cow, and coward, and beast.”)

By that time — we’re into 1613 here — the missus was also intentionally trying to force an annulment of the marriage, so that she could pursue love and power with the king’s young favorite, Robert Carr. Both spouses agreed that their union had never been consummated, a fact “verified” by a panel of matrons who inspected the wife’s bits to confirm the presence of the hymen. Frances was veiled during this humiliating spectacle to preserve her modesty and/or identity, as widely believed rumor held that she’d swapped in a ringer to pass the exam.

This maide inspected;
But fraud interjected
A Maid of more perfection:
The midwives did her handle,
While the Kn[igh]t held the candle
O there was a clear inspection!

While Frances was orchestrating all this, her lover’s close friend Sir Thomas Overbury was energetically counseling that youth against the match, going so far as to write one of the classics of Jacobean poetry, “A Wife”, expounding on the preferred virtues of such a partner in an apparent attempt to underscore to his chum Frances Howard’s conspicuous want of them, e.g.

Where goodnesse failes, ’twixt ill and ill that stands:
Whence ’tis, that women though they weaker be,
And their desire more strong, yet on their hands
The chastity of men doth often lye:
Lust would more common be then any one,
Could it, as other sins, be done alone.

Long story short, the mistress won the struggle over the valuable Robert Carr and her powerful family arranged to sideline Overbury by means of a royal appointment to Russia. When Overbury refused the post, the outraged King James had him locked up in the Tower of London for his impertinence; Overbury soon died there, and Frances Howard and Robert Carr tied the match before 1613 was out.

Carr should have listened to that poem.

It was no more than months ere that gentleman was being eclipsed in King James’s favor by George Villiers, and his eroding status licensed the interest of court enemies in the surprise death of Carr’s friend.

Suspicions of foul play soon appeared vindicated, and we come at last at this point to our gallows-fruit Anne Turner, a wealthy woman in the train of Frances Howard, for the evidence developed by Bacon indicated that Turner acted as Howard’s agent in arranging for Overbury’s guards to poison him off.

The affair was the ruin of her patron, who was convicted along with her prized new husband.* Both of these blueblooded types were spared, but no such mercy obtained for the four commoners who had been the Lady’s instruments.

Turner, who did a brisk business in saffron supplying the royal court its fashionable yellow accoutrements, arranged for “tarts and jellies” procured from a sinister chemist to be delivered to the men at the Tower for ministration to the imprisoned poet. Really it was just as Overbury had tried to warn Carr:

A passive understanding to conceive,
And judgement to discerne, I wish to finde:
Beyond that, all as hazardous I leave;
Learning and pregnant wit in woman-kinde,
What it findes malleable, makes fraile,
And doth not adde more ballast, but more saile.

She, the chemist, and both Overbury’s jailer and the governor of the Tower of London would all four suffer execution on distinct occasions for doing the Lady Howard’s bidding in this matter. Turner’s hanging at Tyburn had a classic dash of showmanship: both the victim and the executioner were pointedly dressed in the yellow saffron ruffles whose lucrative traffic had empowered Anne Turner with the werewithal to corrupt the king’s dungeon. The design fell speedily out of fashion.

Our intrepid assassin, however, had the consolation of a vigorous literary afterlife as her character became a fixture of the 17th century theater. (So did Overbury’s.)

The Overbury Affair’s rich text touching power, gender, commerce, revenge, social climbing, print culture, and murderous intrigue has continued to fascinate new audiences ever since then, intermittently refreshed by many new volumes both fiction and non-.

* Frances Howard confessed the plot — accurately, as it is generally understood. Robert Carr never did, and he’s often been read as a plausible naif, blind to his pretty new wife’s vengeful treatment of his former bosom friend.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Sex

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

July 2020
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!