Posts filed under 'Women'

1588: St. Margaret Ward, the Pearl of Tyburn

Add comment August 30th, 2020 Richard Challoner

(Thanks to 18th century English Catholic Bishop Richard Challoner for the guest post — originally from Memoirs of Missionary Priests — on an intrepid Elizabethan Catholic, hanged in an anti-Catholic crackdown following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. While the timing of her execution might have been circumstantial, she earned her martyr’s crown fully by pulling off an daring jailbreak that loosed an English priest who might otherwise have hanged in her place. She’s one of three women among the 40 Martyrs of England, along with St. Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne Line, all three of whom are commemorated on August 30. Also martyred on the same occasion were John Roche (the waterman who aided Margaret Ward), a priest named Richard Leigh, and three other lay Catholics condemned for aiding priests — Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley.)

THE HISTORY OF MRS. MARGARET WARD.

Keeping watch at London’s St. Etheldreda’s, an escape-rope curled in her basket. (cc) image from John Salmon.

Mrs. Margaret Ward was born at Congleton, in Cheshire, of a gentleman’s family, and was ia the service of a lady of distinction, when Mr. Watson, a secular priest, was confined in Bridewell for his religion. The story of this gentleman is thus related by the bishop of Tarrasona, J. 2. c. 5.

Richard Watson was a priest of the seminary of Rheims, a virtuous and zealous missioner, who had laboured much in the Lord’s vineyard; but being apprehended, and confined to Bridewell, was, at length, by force of torments, and the insupportable labours, and other miseries of the place, prevailed upon, through human frailty, to go once to the protestant church; upon which, he was set at liberty. But such was the remorse he felt in his soul after this sin, that, instead of bettering his condition by being thus enlarged, he found his case far worse, and the present torments of his mind much more insupportable, than those which he before had endured in his body, the more because he had now lost his God, whose divine grace had formerly been his comfort and support; whereas he now could find no comfort, either from God or man; but the heavens were become to him as of brass, and the earth as iron.

In this melancholy condition, he went to one of the prisons, where some others, his fellow priests were confined, to seek for counsel and comfort from them; and here, having confessed his fault, with great marks of a sincere repentance, and received absolution, desiring to repair the scandal he had given, in the same place where he had sinned, he returned to the church at Bridewell, and there, in the middle of the congregation, declared with a loud voice, that he had done very ill in coming lately to church with them, and joining in their service; which, said he, you untruly call the service of God, for it is, indeed, the service of the devil. He would have said much more, but was prevented by the people, who immediately laid hold of him, and stopping his mouth, dragged him to prison; where they thrust him into a dungeon so low, and so strait, that he could neither stand up in it, nor lay himself down at his full length to sleep. Here they loaded him with irons, and kept him for a whole month upon bread and water; of which they allowed him so small a pittance, that it was scarce enough to keep him alive, not suffering any one to come near him to comfort him or speak to him.

At the month’s end, he was translated from this dungeon to a lodging at the top of the house, where, at least, he could see the light, and was less straitened for room: but the adversaries of his faith made this lodging more troublesome to him than the former, by plying him continually, sometimes with threats, sometimes with prayers and promises, to engage him to go again to church, and to seem, at least outwardly, whatever he might inwardly believe, to be of their religion: so that their continual importunities made him perfectly weary of his life. In the mean time, the catholics, who heard of his sufferings, durst not attempt to come near him, to succour or comfort him, for fear of being taken for the persons who had persuaded him to what he had one, till Mrs. Margaret Ward, a gentlewoman of a courage above her sex, undertook to do it.

She was in the service of a lady of the first rank, who then resided at London; and hearing of the most afflicted condition of Mr. Watson, asked and obtained leave of her lady to go and attempt to visit and relieve him. In order to this, she changed her dress, and taking a basket upon her arm, full of provisions, went to the prison, but could not have leave to come at the priest, till, by the intercession of the gaoler, whom Mrs. Ward had found means to make her friend; with much ado she obtained permission to see him from time to time, and bring him necessaries, upon condition that she should be searched in coming in and going out, that she might carry no letter to him, or from him; which was so strictly observed for the first month, that they even broke the loaves, or pies, that she brought him, lest any paper should thereby be conveyed to him; and all the while she was with him, care was taken that some one should stand by to hear all that was said. But, at length, beginning to be persuaded that she came out of pure compassion to assist him, they were less strict in searching her basket, and in hearkening to their conversation; so that he had an opportunity of telling her, that he had found a way by which, if he had a cord long enough for that purpose, he could let himself down from the top of the house, and make his escape.

Mrs. Ward soon procured the cord, which she brought in her basket under the bread and other eatables, and appointed two catholic watermen, who were let into the secret, to attend with their boat near Bridewell, between two and three o’clock the next morning; at which time Mr. Watson, applying to the corner of the cornice his cord, which he had doubled, not sufficiently considering the height of the building, began to let himself down, holding the two ends of the cord ia his hands, with a design of carrying it away with him, after he had got down, that it might not be discovered by what means he had made his escape. But, by that time he had come down something more than half the way, he found that his cord, which he had doubled, was not now long enough; and he, for some time, remained suspended in the air, being neither able to ascend or descend, without danger of his life.

At length, recommending himself to God, he let go one end of his cord, and suffered himself to fall down upon an old shed or penthouse, which, with the weight of his body, fell in with a great noise. He was very much hurt and stunned by the fall, and broke his right leg and right arm; but the watermen run in immediately to his assistance, and carried him away to their boat. Here he soon came to himself, and, feeling the cord, remembered his coat which he had left in the fall, which he desired one of the watermen to go and bring him. And when they were now advanced in their way, he bethought himself of the cord, and told the watermen, that if they did not return to fetch it, the poor gentlewoman that had given it him would certainly be put to trouble. But it was now too late; for the noise having alarmed the gaoler, and others in the neighbourhood, they came to the place, and finding the cord, immediately suspected what the matter was; and made what search they could to find the priest, but in vain; for the watermen, who had carried him off, took proper care to conceal him, and keep him safe, till he was cured: but God was pleased that, instead of one who thus escaped from prison, two others, upon this occasion, should meet with the crown of martyrdom, as we shall now see.

For the gaoler seeing the cord, and being convinced that no one but Mrs. Ward could have brought it to the prisoner, and having before found out where she lived, seat, early in the morning justices and constables to the house, who, rushing in, found her up, and just upon the point of going out, in order to change her lodgings. They immediately apprehended her, and carried her away to prison, where they loaded her with irons, and kept her m this manner for eight days. Dr. Champney and father Ribadaneira add, that they hung her up by the hands, and cruelly scourged her, which torments she bore with wonderful courage, saying, they were preludes of martyrdom with which, by the grace of God, she hoped she should be honoured.*

After eight days she was brought to the bar, where, being asked by the judges, if she was guilty of that treachery to the queen, and to the laws of the realm, of furnishing the means by which a traitor of a priest, as they were pleased to call him, had escaped from justice, she answered, with a cheerful countenance, in the affirmative: and that she never, in her life, had done any thing of which she less repented, than of the delivering that innocent lamb from the hands of those bloody wolves. They sought to terrify her by their threats, and to oblige her to confess where the priest was, but in vain; and therefore they proceeded to pronounce sentence of death upon her, as in cases of felony: but, withal, they told her, that the queen was merciful; and that if she would ask pardon of her majesty, and would promise to go to church, she should be set at liberty, otherwise she must look for nothing but certain death.

She answered, that as to the queen, she had never offended her majesty; and that it was not just to confess a fault, by asking pardon for it, where there was none: that as to what she had done in favouring the priest’s escape, she believed the queen herself, if she had the bowels of a woman, would have done as much, if she had known the ill treatment he underwent. That as to the going to their church, she had, for many years, been convinced that it was not lawful for her so to do, and that she found no reason now to change her mind, and would not act against her conscience; and therefore they might proceed, if they pleased, to the execution of the sentence pronounced against her; for that death, for such a cause, would be very welcome to her; and that she was willing to lay down not one life only, but many, if she had them, rather than betray her conscience, or act against her holy religion.

She was executed at Tyburn, August 30, 1588, showing to the end a wonderful constancy and alacrity; by which the spectators were much moved, and greatly edified.

Whilst these things were acting, Mr. Watson was under care in the waterman’s house, who, as soon as he was recovered, thought proper to withdraw farther from danger; and that he might be the better disguised, changed clothes with the waterman, who joyfully accepted the change, and put on, with great devotion, the clothes of one whom he regarded as a confessor of Christ. But not long after, walking in the streets, he met the gaoler, who took notice of the clothes, and caused him to be apprehended and carried before a justice of peace, where, being examined how he came by those clothes, he confessed the whole truth; upon which he was committed, prosecuted, and condemned: and making the same answers as Mrs. Ward had done, with regard to the begging the queen’s pardon, and going to church, he endured the same death with much spiritual joy in his soul, and a constancy which many admired, and were very much edified by it.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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2012: Nine in Gambia

Add comment August 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2012, the small west African country of Gambia suddenly shot nine.

Effectively abolitionist, Gambia had not exercised capital punishment since 1981, when an attempted coup led to one (1) execution.

But it did have a (seemingly) latent death row of close to 50 souls* and in August 2012 autocratic president Yahya Jammeh used that stockpile to suddenly break the death penalty moratorium with a shock mass execution.

Those executed included one woman, at least two Senegalese nationals, and several soldiers involved in anti-Jammeh mutinies. The nine were identified as

  • Dawda Bojang
  • Malang Sonko
  • Lamin Jarjou
  • Alieu Bah
  • Lamin F. Jammeh
  • Buba YarboeLamin B.S Darboe
  • Gebe Bah (Senegalese)
  • Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female)

As might be expected for such an impetuous deed, several of these individuals so suddenly killed were not even at the end of their legal journeys through the state’s regular channels. Buba Yarboe’s family had been fighting for recognition of his mental illness as a mitigating condition; Yarboe and Malang Sonko both had judicial appeals remaining that had not yet been heard; Lamin Darboe’s sentence had been irregularly vacated and then reinstated. No matter.

Jammeh backed off his threats of follow-up executions to purge the entirety of its death row, and Gambia has conducted no further executions since that one dark day. His successor Adama Barrow officially re-imposed a moratorium and in 2019 commuted all remaining death sentences with an avowed intention to abolish capital punishment altogether.

* Reports on the size of Gambia’s death row at this time varied. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions named 39 still-living condemned individuals in a letter to President Jammeh days after the nine were killed.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gambia,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1820: Rebecca Worlock, arsenic poisoner

Add comment August 16th, 2020 Headsman


From a 2017 film treatment of the case.

Thirty-seven-year-old Rebecca Worlock was hanged at Gloucester on this date in 1820 for poisoning her husband.

She’d mixed in a lethal dose of arsenic into a jug of beer from Oldland‘s the Chequers Inn that Thomas Worlock had thirstily quaffed at the end of a long journey. She did this, according to her confession (see p. 19) due to “jealousy on the part of her husband, who had repeatedly called her the most opprobrious epithets, which she declared was without foundation.”

According to Penny Deverill, a descendant of this unfortunate couple who wrote a book about the case, this was a euphemism on Rebecca’s part for her husband’s violent drunken rages.

She certainly was no master criminal. Instead of obtaining the beer herself, she sent her 13-year-old daughter Mary Ann to get it which positioned the kid to testify that, yup, mom intercepted the drink and might have tampered with it. In fact, according to Mary Ann the victim immediately realized what had been done to him.

Father was drinking the last of the beer. He said there was something at the bottom of the cup; and then said to mother you have done for me … I went to call Mrs. Butler; my mother then had the cup and was throwing away what was in it. Mrs. Butler lives next door but one. Mrs. Butler came with me immediately. After I came back mother had the cup in her hands; father was by the fire, and mother by him. Afterwards she threw the stuff out and swilled it. Mother took the cup out of the kitchen into the cellar adjoining the kitchen; could see from the kitchen into the cellar; no steps down. I saw her then empty it into water in a bucket; she swilled the cup out and brought it into the kitchen. My father said he wanted to show the stuff to some one, and was unwilling that she should throw it away.

Still worse, Rebecca to purchase this putative rat poison had been required by regulation to buy in the company of a second person — owing to its very popularity as an expedient for domestic homicide.

To accomplish this, she had fast-talked an obliging passerby outside the apothecary to act as her impromptu aide … and then on leaving the store with her deadly draught in hand, spontaneously blabbed about its real purpose to this total stranger.

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Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Women

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1843: Sarah Dazley

Add comment August 5th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today, and footnotes which are also my own commentary. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Sarah was born in 1819 as Sarah Reynolds in the village of Potton in Bedfordshire, the daughter of the village barber, Phillip Reynolds. Phillip died when Sarah was seven years old and her mother then embarked on a series of relationships with other men. Hardly an ideal childhood.

Sarah grew up to be a tall, attractive girl with long auburn hair and large brown eyes. However she too was promiscuous and by the age of nineteen had met and married a local man called Simeon Mead. They lived in Potton for two years before moving to the village of Tadlow just over the county border in Cambridgeshire in 1840. It is thought that the move was made to end one of Sarah’s dalliances. Here she gave birth to a son in February 1840, who was christened Jonah. The little boy was the apple of his father’s eye, but died at the age of seven months, completely devastating Simeon. In October Simeon too died suddenly, to the shock of the local community. Sarah did the grieving mother and widow bit for a few weeks, before replacing Simeon with another man, twenty-three-year-old William Dazley. This caused a lot of negative gossip and considerable suspicion in the village. In February 1841, Sarah and William married and moved to the village of Wrestlingworth three miles away and six miles north east of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. Sarah invited Ann Mead, Simeon’s teenage daughter, to live with them. It seems that all was not well in the marriage from early on and William took to drinking heavily in the village pub. This inevitably led to friction with Sarah which boiled over into a major row culminating in William hitting her. Sarah always had other men in her life through both her marriages and confided to one of her male friends, William Waldock, about the incident, telling him she would kill any man who hit her. Sarah also told neighbours a heavily embroidered tale of William’s drinking and violence towards her.

William became ill with vomiting and stomach pains a few days later and was attended by the local doctor, Dr. Sandell, who prescribed pills which initially seemed to work, with William being looked after by Ann Mead and showing signs of a steady recovery. Whilst William was still bedridden, Ann — not entirely realising what she was seeing at the time — observed Sarah making up pills in the kitchen.

Sarah told a friend of hers in the village, Mrs. Carver, that she was concerned about William’s health and that she was going to get a further prescription from Dr. Sandell. Mrs. Carver was surprised to see Sarah throw out some pills from the pillbox and replace them with others. When she remarked on it, Sarah told her that she wasn’t satisfied with the medication that Dr. Sandell had provided and instead was using a remedy from the village healer. In fact the replacement pills were those that Sarah had made herself. She gave these to William who immediately noticed that they were different and refused to take them. Ann who had been nursing him and had still not made any connection with the pills she had seen Sarah making, persuaded William to swallow a pill by taking one too. Inevitably they both quickly became ill with the familiar symptoms of vomiting and stomach pains. William vomited in the yard and one of the family pigs later lapped up the mess and died in the night. Apparently Sarah was able to persuade William to continue taking the pills, assuring him that they were what the doctor had prescribed. He began to decline rapidly and died on the 30th of October, his death being certified as natural by the doctor. He was buried in Wrestlingworth churchyard. Post mortems were not normal at this time, even when a previously healthy young man died quite suddenly.

As usual Sarah did not grieve for long before taking up a new relationship. She soon started seeing William Waldock openly and they became engaged at her insistence in February 1843. William was talked out of marriage by his friends who pointed to Sarah’s promiscuous behaviour and the mysterious deaths of her previous two husbands and her son. William wisely broke off the engagement and decided not to continue to see Sarah.

Suspicion and gossip was now running high in the village and it was decided to inform the Bedfordshire coroner, Mr. Eagles, of the deaths. He ordered the exhumation of William’s body and an inquest was held on Monday the 20th of March 1843 at the Chequers Inn in Wrestlingworth High Street. It was found that William’s viscera contained traces of arsenic and an arrest warrant was issued against Sarah. Sarah it seems had anticipated this result and had left the village and gone to London. She had taken a room in Upper Wharf Street where she was discovered by Superintendent Blunden of Biggleswade police. Sarah told Blunden that she was completely innocent and that she neither knew anything about poisons nor had she ever obtained any. Blunden arrested her and decided to take her back to Bedford. What would be a short journey now required an overnight stop in those days and they stayed in the Swan Inn, Biggleswade. Sarah was made to sleep in a room with three female members of the staff. She did not sleep well and asked the women about capital trials and execution by hanging. This was later reported to Blunden and struck him as odd.*

The bodies of Simeon Mead and Jonah had also now been exhumed and Jonah’s was found to contain arsenic, although Simeon’s was too decomposed to yield positive results.

On the 24th of March 1843, Sarah was committed to Bedford Gaol to await her trial and used her time to concoct defences to the charges. She decided to accuse William Dazley of poisoning Simeon and Jonah on the grounds that he wanted them out of her life so he could have her to himself. When she realised what he had done she decided to take revenge by poisoning William. Unsurprisingly these inventions were not believed and were rather ridiculous when it was William’s murder she was to be tried for. In another version William had poisoned himself by accident.

She came to trial at the Bedfordshire Summer Assizes on Saturday the 22nd of July before Baron Alderson, charged with William’s murder, as this was the stronger of the two cases against her. The charge of murdering Jonah was not proceeded with but held in reserve should the first case fail.

Evidence was given against her by two local chemists who identified her as having purchased arsenic from them shortly before William’s death. Mrs. Carver and Ann Mead told the court about the incidents with the pills that they had witnessed.

William Waldock testified that Sarah had said she would kill any man that ever hit her after the violent row that she and William had. Forensic evidence was presented to show that William had indeed died from arsenic poisoning, it being noted that his internal organs were well preserved. The Marsh test, a definitive test for arsenic trioxide, had been only available for a few years at the time of Sarah’s trial. Arsenic trioxide is a white odourless powder that can easily pass undetected by the victim when mixed into food and drink.

Since 1836 all defendants had been legally entitled to counsel and Sarah’s defence was put forward by a Mr. O’Malley, based upon Sarah’s inventions. He claimed that Sarah had poisoned William by accident. Against all the other evidence this looked decidedly weak and contradicted the stories Sarah had told the police. It took the jury just thirty minutes to convict her. Before passing sentence Baron Alderson commented that it was bad enough to kill her husband but it showed total heartlessness to kill her infant child as well. He recommended her to ask for the mercy of her Redeemer. He then donned the black cap and sentenced her to hang. It is interesting to note that Baron Alderson had, at least in his own mind, found her guilty of the murder of Jonah, even though she had not been tried for it.

During her time in prison, Sarah learnt to read and write and began reading the Bible. She avoided contact with other prisoners whilst on remand, preferring her own company and accepting the ministrations of the chaplain. In the condemned cell she continued to maintain her innocence and as far as one can tell never made a confession to either the matrons looking after her or to the chaplain.

There was no recommendation to mercy and the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, saw no reason to offer a reprieve. The provision of the Murder Act of 1752, requiring execution to take place within two working days, had been abolished in 1836 and a period of not less than fourteen days substituted. Sarah’s execution was therefore set for Saturday the 5th of August 1843. A crowd variously estimated at 7,000 – 12,000 assembled in St. Loyes Street outside Bedford Gaol to watch the hanging. It was reported that among this throng was William Waldock.

The New Drop gallows was erected on the flat roof over the main gate of the prison in the early hours of the Saturday morning and the area around the gatehouse was protected by a troop of javelin men. William Calcraft had arrived from London the previous day to perform the execution.

Sarah was taken from the condemned cell to the prison chapel at around ten o’clock for the sacrament. The under sheriff of the county demanded her body from the governor and she was taken to the press room for her arms to be pinioned. She was now led up to the gatehouse roof and mounted the gallows platform, accompanied by the prison governor and the chaplain. She was asked if she wished to make any last statement which she declined, merely asking that Calcraft be quick in his work and repeating “Lord have mercy on my soul”. He pinioned her legs, before drawing down the white hood over her head and adjusting the simple halter style noose around her neck. He then descended the scaffold and withdrew the bolt supporting the trap doors. Sarah dropped some eighteen inches and her body became still after writhing for just a few seconds, as the rope applied pressure to the arteries and veins of her neck, causing a carotid reflex. Sarah was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and the body taken back into the prison for burial in an unmarked grave, as was now required by law.

It was reported by the local newspapers that the crowd had behaved well and remained silent until Sarah was actually hanged. Once she was suspended they carried on eating, drinking, smoking, laughing and making ribald and lewd remarks. Copies of broadsides claiming to contain Sarah’s confession and her last dying speech were being sold among the crowd, which amazingly people bought even though she had made neither. You can see a broadside about her hanging below. Note the stylised woodcut picture that was modified to show a man or a woman as appropriate.

The 1840s were a time of great hardship nationally and yet Sarah, whilst hardly wealthy, did not seem to suffer from this and it was never alleged that she was unable to feed her child or that she was destitute. Extreme poverty in rural areas did appear to be the motive in some murders at this time, especially of infants. Sarah’s motive seems to be a much more evil one, the elimination of anyone who got in the way of her next relationship.

Sarah’s was the first execution at Bedford since 1833 and she was the only woman to be publicly hanged there. In fact Bedfordshire executions were rare events and there were to be only two more in public, Joseph Castle on the 31st of March 1860 for the murder of his wife and William Worsley on the 31st of March 1868 for the murder of William Bradbury.

Notes on the period.

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, at the age of eighteen and her reign saw a great deal of change in the penal system. For the first thirty one years of it executions were a very public event enjoyed by the masses. People would come from far and wide to witness the spectacle, in some cases special trains were even laid on! Broadsides were sold at many executions giving the purported confessions of the prisoner and there was considerable press interest, particularly where the criminal was female.

Thirty women and two teenage girls were to be executed in England and Scotland in the thirty one year period from May 1838 to the abolition of public hanging in May 1868. Of these twenty-one had been convicted of poisoning (two thirds of the total). Sarah Chesham was actually executed for the attempted murder of her husband but was thought to be guilty of several fatal poisonings as well. Attempted murder ceased to be a capital crime in 1861 under the provisions of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act of that year. Mary Ann Milner would have made the total thirty three had she not hanged herself in Lincoln Castle the day before her scheduled execution on the 30th of July 1847. There were no female executions in Wales during this time but a further ten women were hanged in Ireland during the period, all for murder.

Sarah Chesham‘s case prompted a House of Commons committee to be set up to investigate poisoning. This found that between 1840 and 1850, ninety seven women and eighty two men had been tried for it. A total of twenty-two women were hanged in the decade 1843-1852 of whom seventeen had been convicted of murder by poisoning, representing 77% of the total. There were no female executions in the years 1840-1842 in England. This rash of poisonings led to a Bill being introduced whereby only adult males could purchase arsenic. Poisoning was considered a particularly evil crime as it is totally premeditated and thus it was extremely rare for a poisoner to be reprieved whereas it was not unusual for females to be reprieved for other types of murder, such as infanticide. One of the few poisoners to be reprieved was Charlotte Harris in 1849 who had murdered her husband but who was pregnant at the time of her trial.

* I’m baffled as to why anyone would find it odd — much less incriminating — for a person freshly in custody on a potential capital charge to lose sleep fretting about the horrors of execution. -ed.

** Alderson took part in his share of capital trials, as did any judge of consequence in his day, but was notable as a jurist on the more progressive and less bloody-minded end of the spectrum. An oft-quoted comment of his cautioning against stretching facts to fit your theory would have prevented many a wrongful punishment imposed by tunnel-visioned investigators: “The mind is apt to take pleasure in adapting circumstances to one another, and even in straining them a little if need be, to force them to form parts of one consecutive whole … and in considering such matters to overreach and mislead itself, to suppose some little link that is wanting, to take for granted some fact consistent with previous theories, and necessary to render them complete.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women

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1645: Fourteen Essex witches

Add comment July 25th, 2020 Headsman

A True Relation of the Arraignment of Thirty Witches at Chensford in Essex, before Judge Coniers, fourteene whereof were hanged on Friday last, July 25 * 1645 * there being at this time a hundred more in severall prisons in Suffolke and Essex. Setting forth the Confessions of the principall of them. Also shewing how the Divell had carnall copulation with Rebecca West, a young maid, daughter to Anne West. And how they bewitched Men, Women, Children, and Cattell to death: with many other strange things, the like was never heard of before. The names of those that were executed. * Mrs. Wayt a Ministers wife * Anne West * Mother Benefield * Mother Goodwin * Jane Browne * Mother Forman * Rachel Flower * Mary Greene * Mary Foster * Jane Brigs * Mother Miller * Mother Clarke * Frances Jones * Mary Rhodes
The Confession of REBECCA WEST, daughter to Anne West of Colchester in ESSEX.

The said Rebecca confessed at the Barre, that about Shrovetide last her mother bad her make haste of her worke, for she must gee along with her before Sunne downe: and as they were going over the fields, her mother gave her a great charge never to speake of what shee should heare or see, and she faithfully promised to keep counsel. When she came to the house of meeting there were five Witches more; the two chiefs were Mother Benefield and Mother Goodwin: this Mother Goodwin pulled out a Booke, and after their manner they prayed out of it, and presently their severall Impes appeared in severall shapes: fix whereof appeared in the shapes of Kitnens [sic] about a weeke old in Mother Benefield’s lap, and after she had kissed them, she said unto Rebecca that those were all her children which she had by as handsome a man as any was in England. Then they commanded their Spirits come to kill such a mans Horse, some a cow, some a Childe, &c. then Mother Benefield called to mother West, and asked if she were sure that her daughter Rebecca would keepe counsel, or else she might seeke all their blood. She answered, Rebecca had promised. They all then replyed, if shee ever did speake of it that shee should suffer more tortures and paines on earth, then the paines of hell. Presently mother Benefield said, for more certainty let her take cur Covenant and Oath as we have already done. Then they taught her what to say, the summe whereof was to deny God and her Saviour Jesus Christ, to renounce all promises of his blessings, and the merits of his bitter death and passion, to beleeve as they did, and to serve and obey as they did. And the said Rebecca confessed that so soone as she had done thus, the Divel in the shape of a little blacke dog leaped into hes lap, & kissed her three times, but she felt them very cold. Shortly after, when she was going to bed, the Divel appeared unto her againe in the shape of a hand some young man, saying that he came to marry her. The manner was thus: he took her by the hand, and leading her about the roome, said, I take thee Rebecca to be my wife, and doe promise to be thy loving husband till death, defending, thee from all harmes; then he told her what shee must say, whereupon she took him by the hand and said, I Rebecca take thee to be my husband, and doe promise to be an obedient wife till death, faithfully to performe and observe all thy commands; the first whereof was that she should deny and renounce as aforesaid. And being asked by the Judge whether she ever had carnall copulation with the Divel, she confessed that she had. And being asked divers questions by a Gentleman that did speake severall times with her before and afterward (giving her godly and comfortable instructions) she affirmed that so soone as one of the said Witches was in prison, she was very desirous to confesse all she knew, which accordingly the did, whereupon the rest were apprehended and sent unto the Gaole. She further affirmed, that when she was going to the Grand Inquest with one mother Miller (indicted for a Witch) she told mother Miller that shee would confesse nothing, if they pulled her to pieces with pincers: and being asked the reason by the Gentleman, she said she sound her selfe in such extremity of torture and amazement, that she would not endure it againe for the world: and when she looked upon the ground shee saw her selfe encompassed in flames of fire: and presently the Grand Inquest called for her, where they admit but one at a time, and so soone as she was thus separated from this mother Miller, the tortures and the flames beganne to cease: whereupon she then confessed all shee ever knew, and said that so soone as her confession was fully ended, she found her conscience so satisfied and disburdened of all her tortures, that she thought her selfe the happiest creature in the world: withall affirming that the Divel can take any shape, and speake plaine English.

Another Witch sent her maid to a neighbours house for a handfull of herbes, who meeting with her sweetheart staid an houre by the way, saying she should bee halfe hanged for staying so long: whereupon he told her that in such a place in their owne garden there grew the same herbes, so it was but going over the pale and her journey was ended; which she did, and pleased her mistris well for her long stay, by bringing those herbes. At night her mistris bade her go up to bed first, which made her mistrust something; where upon she peeked between the boards, and observed her mistris to cut the herbes in small peeces, shrewing them about the roome: the next morning her husband rising betimes found twelve or fourteene great Hogs, being all his owne, dead in the yard, and so for his Sheepe and all his other Cattell, and telling his wife how they were undone, she replyed, Hath the queane served me thus? she shall suffer for it. Then he examined the maid, and both gave evidence. This was at Ipswich in Suffolke.

The evidence of Mr. Long a Minister neere Colchester in Essex.

First, that as he was riding on the way, the shape of a red Dog passed by him, at which his blood did rise: and being passed a small distance, turned his face, his eyes appearing not like the eyes of any creature, his horse presently started, and never left kicking and flinging untill he threw him downe, but had no hurt. An old woman in the Towne called goodwife Clarke being mistrusted and examined before Sir Thomas Boes, confessed that she sent forth this spirit, with command to make the horse throw Mr. Loig and breake his necke: and being demanded by Sir Thomas Boes what was the reason the Spirit did not performe her commands, she answered because the power of God was above the power of the Divel. But the horse did pine to death for his punishment.

The evidence of the said Mr. Long.

He said that one morning as he was walking abroad, a poore woman being of his own Parish spake kindly to him, but his answer was that he had a long time a good opinion of her, although he ever accounted her sister, an ill liver, and little better then those that are accounted Witches, but now he strongly beleeved that her sister had made her as bad as herselfe; this much troubled the old woman, and she would not leave following and perswading of the said Mr. Long to bee of his former good opinion, professing her own innocence in any ill of such nature, or any compact with such evil Spirit whatsoever: but finding him not satisfied with any thing she had said, she assured him she would give him an evidence undenyable, whereupon she lifted up both her hands towards heaven, calling God to witnes, and desired that he would shew a present Iudgement upon her if she were not innocent and cleare: now Mr. Long affirmed upon his oath that these words were no sooner out of her mouth, but she was strucke to the ground upon her back before his face, where she did lye in a most lamentable condition, trembling and crying; be took her up and carried her into an Alehouse hard by, where she did lie in this extremitie two dayes, and that so soone as she came to herselfe he gave her the best comfort he could, shewing how mercifull God had beene to her in sparing her life, giving her time of repentance, the first step whereof must be her confession and contrition, whereupon she confessed that she had done much mischief, and that she had compacted with the Devill, that hee usually sucked her and appeared unto her in the shape of a Squirell. These aforesaid Witches have confessed that they did raise the great windes in March last, and caused a Hoy to be cast away, wherein were many passengers.

When these Witches came first into the Gaole at Colchester, the Gaoler lost his meat often, and mistrusting that the Witches had got it, upon a time bought a good shoulder of Mutton, and said hee would looke to the dressing of it himselfe, but when it was ready the Witches had got it, and all the while the Witches were at supper with it, the Gaoler in stead of Mutton was eating Hogs-wash.

After this the Gaoler desirous to see more of their feats, intreated some of them to shew him a little of their cunning, thinking to make himselfe meny for the losse of his meat, whereupon one of the Witches bid him goe fetch her foure pewter dishes wherein never water came; straightway went the Gaoler to a Pewterer and got 4. new dishes, and afore he brought them to the Witch he wet one of them, contrary to the Witches direction, neverthelesse as soone as the Witch had them, she put her bands and feet into the foure dishes, and upon an instant was lifted into the ayre with three dishes that were dry, the fourth falling off, and by good chance was found in a meadow about halfe a mile off, and brought backe to Prison.
                                            

F I N I S.

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1788: Elisabetha Gassner

Add comment July 16th, 2020 Headsman

Thief Elisabetha Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was beheaded in Oberdischingen by executioner Xaver Vollmer on this date in 1788.

Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an industrious laborer who, born a vagrant and soon after losing her father, busted her hump into a home and a small farm of her own while maintaining a large family (seven kids by the time of her beheading, plus an invalid mother).

Nimble fingers made her this nest egg — fingers for knitting stockings, and, more and more, for picking pockets in Biderberg and Württemberg.

With a purported 300+ thefts attributed to her, she acquired outsized reputation as a thief transcendent enough to apotheosize her under the nickname Schwarze Lies (“Black Lisa”) alongside the legendary outlaws of the day.

Her ambition for a foothold in this precarious world made her as bold with the quality of her targets as their quantity: her arrest was for lifting a 1,700 guilder purse from Count Franz Ludwig Schenk von Castell, in the chapel of Ludwigsburg Palace.

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1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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1748: Marretje Arents, for the Pachtersoproer

2 comments June 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1748, three instigators of a riot hanged in an Amsterdam public square, while worse fates befell those who came to see it.

It was only a few days earlier that the Pachtersoproer (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had torn apart the homes of nineteen tax collectors and magnates in the capital. These violent protests against inequitable taxation and oligarchical power had actually begun in Friesland and Groningen, the northernmost provinces of the Low Countries, before spreading to Amsterdam.

Marretje Arents (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), a fishmonger supporting four children while her husband was abroad as a soldier in the East Indies, was seen on that Monday, June 24th, clad in a distinctive red chintz exhorting rioters to wreak revenge on the grandees and helping to ransack at least one house. According to the chronicle (1740-1752) of Abraham Chaim Braatbard, she spat at one agent,

Today we are the boss and tomorrow we will come to you at the town hall. Then we will see what we will do with all of you, gentlemen land-thieves … [then, lifting her skirt] Now you can clean my ass, because that’s all I have left for you.

This bold and public flaunting of an insurrectionary intent was not accompanied by a political achievement more lasting than a couple of days’ looting. When Arents simply turned up on June 27th at her market stall to go about her usual business just as if she hadn’t been trying to overturn it all three days before, she was arrested for sedition. Of course, there must have been hundreds of others who either weren’t identified or weren’t deemed worth making an example of who did go right back to their normal lives, nursing their grievances in customary silence.

Marretje Arents’s voice is heard in the annals, at the cost of her life.

By the next day at noon, she and two other perceived leaders of the disturbance, Mat van der Nieuwendijk [see comments] and Pieter van Dordt, were publicly hanged at the Waag op de Dam.* Over the brattle of drummers charged with drowning her incitements to the crowd, she was still heard to keep out her cries for rebellion until the moment the rope closed her throat.

Revenge, my dear citizens, assist me. For you now let me die so shamefully, while I have not fought for myself. I did it for the whole country, against the tyranny of the tenants, who tormented us citizens and forcibly took our money and good for the lease.

She would not have had to outlive her hanging more than a few minutes to see it. As the next of the riotous “captains” was strung up, a disturbance broke out in the packed square. It’s not certainly recorded whether this was a wave of sympathy responding to Marretje Arents, or the chance surge of a large crowd jostling for position, or something else besides — but suddenly the host of onlookers stampeded, crushing their fellows underfoot and pushing others into the Amstel River. Braatbard guessed that some 200 souls might have lost their lives for the sake of this triple execution … but whether 3 lives or 203, the important thing to the Low Countries’ rulers was that the Pachtersoproer did not re-emerge.

* The Waag, or weigh-house, served the bustling commercial district that grew up around Dam Square at the heart of Amsterdam. It was demolished in 1808 under French occupation.


Painting of Dam Square from the late 1600s, by Dutch master Gerrit Berckheyde. The weigh-house in the middle of the square presents an obviously suitable landmark for an affair like a public execution; just as well, since by this time its original function had been ceded to a new and larger weigh-house which still survives as the city’s venerable Waag. It was in the latter building that the dissection was performed that Rembrandt immortalized in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

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1786: Phoebe Harris, coiner

Add comment June 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Up to 1790, women convicted of High Treason and Petty Treason were burned at the stake. Although I am sure you have a perception of what High Treason is, as a crime in those days, it also encompassed several other offences, notably coining. Coining covered several individual offences relating only to gold and silver coins, e.g. clipping coins to provide coin metal for forgeries, colouring coins to make them appear of higher value, making counterfeit coins and having the equipment to do any of the above. Coining was considered treasonable because it directly affected the State and confidence in the currency.

The crime.

Under the name of Mrs. Brown, Phoebe Harris had rented a room from one Joel Sparkes at a house in Drury Lane, London (No. 19, in Swan-yard) before Christmas 1785. A friend of hers, Francis Hardy, had recommended her to Sparkes, describing her as a captain’s widow with a private income. In reality, it seems that Phoebe had been separated from her husband for two or three years. Whilst Phoebe lived at this address she was regularly engaged in filing and clipping coins and then using the metal to make new counterfeit coins in sand moulds. Francis Hardy was the person who was later to inform the police of the goings on at No. 19. There was a suggestion, flatly denied by him in court, that Francis Hardy had had a relationship with Phoebe. He did, however, take her teenage daughter in as a servant on the day of her mother’s arrest.

Arrest.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 11th of February 1786, John Clarke (a constable) went to No. 19 in consequence of the information he had received and found Phoebe Harris and Elizabeth Yelland in the first floor room. He and his assistants, George Meecham, Patrick Macmanus, and William Andrews, broke down the locked door and arrested the two female occupants. They then searched the room in which they found some counterfeit coins and the necessary equipment for coining in an adjoining closet.

When John Clarke compared the counterfeit shillings to genuine ones, it was clear that they had been cast from a mould made from a genuine shilling. In all, some 12 counterfeit coins were discovered, both shillings and sixpences. One of the genuine sixpences had a hole in it and this was evident in the counterfeits.

A little later, after the rooms had been searched, Elizabeth’s brother, Joseph Yelland, returned home and was also arrested. All three were taken to Bow Street to appear before a magistrate. They were remanded in custody at Newgate to stand trial at the next Sessions of the Old Bailey.

The trial.

Capital trials at this period took up very little time with a number being conducted during a single day. The April Sessions of the Old Bailey in 1786 were held on Wednesday, the 26th of that month, before Mr. Baron Eyre. Among those indicted were Joseph Yelland, otherwise known as Holman, Phebe Harris (spelling of Phoebe as given in the original indictment) and Elizabeth Yelland, who were jointly charged with two specimen counts, as follows: “for that they, on the 11th of February last, one piece of false, feigned, and counterfeit money and coin, to the likeness and similitude of the good, legal, and silver coin of this realm, called a shilling, falsely, deceitfully, feloniously, and traiterously did counterfeit and coin, against the duty of their allegiance, and against the statute.” There was also a second count of coining a sixpence. The shilling is the equivalent of the current 5p coin, whilst a sixpence is the equivalent of 2.5p. Although in 1786, these two coins had much greater purchasing power they were still coins of small denomination.

The prosecution was opened by Mr. Silvester, assisted by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Garrow led the defence. [Silvester and Garrow were famous combatants at the bar. See this post for another instance. -ed.]

The case was heard before the 2nd Middlesex jury, consisting of twelve men. Both sides were able to call witnesses and cross examine those for the other side. In this case, the Crown called the constables involved in the raid, together with the landlord and his son. They also called Francis Hardy, who gave direct eyewitness evidence of the manufacture and colouring of the counterfeit coins. The coining equipment found in the rooms was produced in court as evidence. Hardy also suggested that the group had bought forged coins from other criminals to pass off as good — also a capital crime then, known as uttering. He stated in his testimony that she continued with the coining business even though she knew that Hardy was fully aware of what she was doing. It appears that there had been some disagreement between Hardy and Phoebe and this may have led to him informing on her.

The defence was principally based upon the testimony of character witnesses for each of the defendants who averred them to be people of good character. Phoebe addressed the court as follows: “My Lord and Gentlemen of the Jury, I am an unhappy woman; I was desired by a young man of the name of John Brown, to take the room, which I did, and he brought the things found in the room; and desired me to secrete them, and I not knowing the nature of them, or for what purpose they were intended, did do so, and so I told the gentleman when they came and took me: as to my sister-in-law, I being very ill, she came to clean the room for me, and the gentleman found her cleaning it on her knees: and my brother-in-law came some time after the gentlemen had been in the room.”

She also called two character witnesses.

The jury took some time in their deliberations before finding Phoebe guilty and, despite Francis Hardy’s evidence against them, acquitting Elizabeth and Joseph Yelland. As was normal sentencing of all those convicted, took place at the end of the Sessions. Nine prisoners were condemned to death, these being: Hannah Mullins, William Smith, Edward Griffiths, James May, George Woodward, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Watts, who were sentenced to be hanged while Phoebe was condemned to be burned at the stake. Many other prisoners were sentenced to transportation or imprisonment. Hannah Mullins and James May were subsequently reprieved to transportation. The condemned were returned to Newgate prison to await their fates.

Execution.

Phoebe Harris was to be the first woman burnt at Newgate, as distinct from Tyburn or Smithfield, and her execution was carried out just after 8.00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 21st of June 1786. A huge crowd, estimated at some 20,000 people, had turned out to watch this gruesome spectacle.

At 7.30 a.m. six men, Edward Griffiths, George Woodward, William Watts, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Smith were brought out through Newgate’s Debtor’s Door and led up onto the “New Drop” gallows. They were prepared in the usual way and the drop reportedly fell around 8.00 a.m.

After they were suspended, Phoebe was led from the Debtor’s Door of Newgate by two sheriff’s officers to a stake that had been erected halfway between the gallows and Newgate Street. The stake was some 11 feet high and had a metal bracket at the top from which a noose dangled. Phoebe was described as, “a well made little woman of something more than thirty years of age, with a pale complexion and not disagreeable features.” She was reported to be terrified and trembling as she was led out. She mounted a stool and the noose was placed around her neck and was allowed a few moments to pray with the Ordinary before her support was removed and she was left suspended. According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book The Hanging Tree she died hard, he reported that she choked noisily to death over several minutes.

After hanging for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails. Two cart loads of faggots were now piled around the stake and then lit. It is reasonable to assume that she would have been quite dead by this time. After a while, the fire burnt through the rope and Phoebe’s body dropped, remaining attached to the stake by the chain. It took over two hours to be completely consumed by the fire, which continued to burn until midday.

Comment.

Only two more women were to suffer Phoebe’s fate. These were Margaret Sullivan on the 25th of June 1788 and Catherine Murphy on the 18th of March 1789, both for coining. At the April Sessions of 1790, Sophia Girton was also convicted of this offence but her execution was delayed until after Parliament had passed an Act (Act 30 Geo. III, c.48) substituting ordinary hanging for coining offences on the 5th of June 1790. In fact, Sophia was ultimately pardoned, on condition of transportation for life to New South Wales, on the 12th of June 1790.

Executions by burning at Newgate were distinctly unpopular with the local residents of what was a respectable business area of the City. They had sent a petition to the Lord Mayor requesting that Phoebe’s execution be carried out elsewhere. This was an early version of “not in my back yard” rather than a protest against the severity of her punishment. It was later reported that some locals became ill from the smoke from her body. There were similar protests over the Sullivan and Murphy executions and a great feeling of relief when Sophia Girton was reprieved, and the whole ghastly business passed into history in 1790.

The Sheriffs were also becoming increasingly unhappy about attending burnings, and it was they who brought forward the Bill to end this practice. Even though by this time the condemned woman was dead before the faggots were lit, it must have still been a gruesome and revolting spectacle and one which conveyed a feeling of injustice. Men convicted of coining offences were hanged in the same way as other condemned males. The Times newspaper took up this theme after Phoebe’s burning and printed the following article: “The execution of a woman for coining on Wednesday morning, reflects a scandal upon the law and was not only inhuman, but shamefully indelicate and shocking. Why should the law in this species of offence inflict a severer punishment upon a woman, than a man. It is not an offence which she can perpetrate alone — in every such case the insistence of a man has been found the operating motive upon the woman; yet the man is but hanged, and the woman burned.” One can only agree with the “Thunderer’s” sentiments as the Times came to be known. Other London newspapers carried similar articles. Again similar outrage was expressed two years later at the burning of Margaret Sullivan, although strangely there was little media interest at the burning of Catherine Murphy.

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1704: Anna Ericksdotter, the last witch executed in Sweden

Add comment June 15th, 2020 Headsman

Sweden conducted its last witch execution — a beheading — on this date in 1704.

Anna Eriksdotter (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) was a local cunning-woman whose talent for healing both men and beasts had seen her dogged with rumors of devilry for many years.

Evidently she leaned into the story or — who knows? — believed it herself. When a man named Nils Jonsson accused her of striking him blind, deaf and dumb, she acknowledged punishing her “disgusting” neighbor, and even claimed that, raised to witchery from her childhood, she had committed various other supernatural offenses against the community: laying a curse on the vicar, and conjuring wolves to prey on livestock.

These “admissions” might have been necessary to actually bring a witch to the block in 18th century Sweden, scorched as consciences were after a particularly notorious witch hunt 28 years before.

Even so, Anna Ericksdotter just barely attained her milestone. Her sentence was approved by the young king Charles XII — a bit preoccupied in that moment getting rinsed on northern Europe’s battlefields by Peter the Great — over the strong pardon recommendation of his magistrates who considered Ericksdotter “full with mad imaginations”.

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