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1537: John and Margaret Bulmer, Bigod’s rebels

Add comment May 25th, 2020 Headsman

And on the 25 day of May, being the Friday in Whitsun week, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephen Hamerton, knights, were hanged and headed; Nicholas Tempest, esquire; Doctor Cockerell, priest; Abbot quondam of Fountains; and Doctor Pickering, friar, were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered, and their heads set on London Bridge and divers gates in London.

And the same day Margaret Cheney, ‘other wife to Bulmer called’, was drawn after them from the Tower of London into Smithfield, and there burned according to her judgment, God pardon her soul, being the Friday in Whitsun week; she was a very fair creature, and a beautiful.

Wriothesley’s Chronicle

This date’s prey were casualties of Bigod’s Rebellion, the lesser-known sister rising to the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Pilgrimage, a rising of the northern Commons against Henry VIII’s dissolution of Catholic monasteries, had indeed been settled rather bloodlessly by the end of 1536, with the king hosting its leader, Robert Aske, for Christmas at Greenwich Palace where holiday sweetmeats mingled with insincere concessions.

The naive Aske was probably doomed no matter what for seeking the overthrow of the mighty Thomas Cromwell, but his nearly direct path from the royal apartments to Tyburn was directed by the onset of Bigod’s Rebellion in January 1537. Aske strove in vain to dissuade this rising as ruinous to the arrangement he thought he had negotiated, which indeed it was: Bigod was crushed in a matter of days, and the disturbance furnished Henry with his pretext for arresting Pilgrimage leaders like Aske.

We’re drawn in particular here to a power couple implicated in both risings, Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Bulmer (formerly or also Margaret Cheyne*).

These executions had, on the whole, a settling effect on the country. The reformers [i.e., English Reformation enthusiasts, like Cromwell] were delighted. The large and powerful class who desired peace above everything were reassured. Most of the conservatives were frightened into silence …

Lady Bulmer, or Margaret Cheyne as she was called, was drawn after the other prisoners from the Tower to Smithfield and there burnt. Burning was the ancient penalty for treason in the case of a woman, but it was seldom exacted. The poor women in Somersetshire, for instance, suffered the same fate as the men. The death of Margaret caused some sensation at the time … At Thame in Oxfordshire her fate was discussed on the Sunday before she died. Robert Jons said that it was a pity she should suffer. John Strebilhill, the informer, answered, “It is no pity, if she be a traitor to her prince, but that she should have after her deserving.” This warned Jons to be careful, and he merely replied, “Let us speak no more of this matter, for men may be blamed for speaking the truth.”

Froude says, “Lady Bulmer seems from the depositions to have deserved as serious punishment as any woman for the crime of high treason can be said to have deserved.” The depositions show only that she believed the commons were ready to rebel again, and that the Duke of Norfolk alone could prevent the new rebellion. In addition to this she kept her husband’s secrets and tried to save his life. She committed no overt act of treason; her offences were merely words and silence. The reason for her execution does not lie in the heinous nature of her offence, but Henry was not gratuitously cruel, and her punishment had an object. It was intended as an example to others. There can be no doubt that many women were ardent supporters of the Pilgrimage. Lady Hussey and the dowager Countess of Northumberland were both more guilty than Lady Bulmer. Other names have occurred from time to time, Mistress Stapleton, old Sir Marmaduke Constable’s wife, who sheltered Levening, and young Lady Evers. But these were all ladies of blameless character and of respectable, sometimes powerful, families. Henry knew that in the excited state of public opinion it would be dangerous to meddle with them. His reign was not by any means an age of chivalry, but there still remained a good deal of the old tribal feeling about women, that they were the most valuable possessions of the clan, and that if any stranger, even the King, touched them all the men of the clan were disgraced. An illustration of this occurred in Scotland during the same year (1537). James V brought to trial, condemned, and burnt Lady Glamis on a charge of high treason. She was a lady of great family and James brought upon himself and his descendants a feud which lasted for more than sixty years.

James’ uncle Henry VIII was more politic. He selected as the demonstration of his object-lesson to husbands, which should teach them to distrust their wives, and to wives, which should teach them to dread their husbands’ confidence, a woman of no family and irregular life, dependent on the head of a falling house. This insignificance, which might have saved a man, was in her case an additional danger. She had no avenger but her baby son, and we only hear of one friendly voice raised to pity her death. The King’s object-lesson was most satisfactorily accomplished.

-Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1526-1537, and The Exeter Conspiracy, 1538: Volume 2

* She’d been passed from her first husband, William Cheyne, via a wife sale to John Bulmer. This odd and sub-legal custom was exactly what it sounded like, and while that sounds horrible, in practice wife sales negotiated the effective impossibility of securing a regular divorce. They were often — as it seems to have been true here, given the reported comity of the Bulmer household — an arrangement in which all three parties were willing participants. However, in the context of the post-Bigod crackdown, prosecutors did not fail to bludgeon the Bulmers, especially the wife, with moral turpitude for this illicit remarriage business, and they made sure to call her “Margaret Cheyne” for that reason.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1920: Four denunciators of Laon

Add comment May 15th, 2020 Alphonse Lemonon

(Thanks to Alphonse Lemonon for the guest post, which originally appeared under the title “Civilization’s Thin Veneer: War Shows the Seamy Side of Human Nature” in The Overland Monthly (July 1920). As noted in the foreword paragraph, it’s substantially an English translation of reporting from May 16, 1920 edition of Le Petit Journal. These were the unlucky half of eight people convicted in a trial touching 44 Frenchmen and -women from the northern regions occupied by Germany at some point during the late war, who were accused of collaborating with those Germans and denouncing their patriotic countrymen. There’s much more about this case (in French) including more pictures (in grainy black and white) in this police magazine. -ed.)

[Almost at the moment when Joan of Arc was being canonized with all the clerical ceremonies at Rome [this occurred on May 16, 1920 -ed.], four political prisoners — one a woman — were tied to stakes and shot according to military and civic ceremony near Paris. The tragic and instructive narrative is here told in a translation from the most popular Paris Newspaper — Le Petit Journal, May 16, 1920.]

FOUR of the condemned informers of Laon, of which affair one has not forgotten the dolorous echo, Georges Toque, Moise Lemoine, Leander Herbert and the woman Alice Aubert were shot yesterday morning, at Vincennes, and if it were an affecting execution, it assuredly was to them. Two of them fell while swearing to their innocence and crying “Viva la France!”

The Last Awakening.

All four were awakened at 4 a.m. Some instants before the officers charged with the transfer of the condemned to execution had presented themselves at several prisons; some at the prison de la Sante where Toque and Lemoine were confined, others at Cherchi-Midi where Herbert was detained, and a third group at the prison de Saint-Lazare, where one other, Alice Aubert, condemned of the same affair, was held. She occupied a cell with Helen Favre, who had been reprieved.

The lawyers of the four condemned were on hand to assist their clients until the last moment. Maitres Delmont and Campinchi arrives at the prison La Sante about the same time as lieutenant-colonel Beyle, commissioner of the government. All were shown together to the cells and Toque was called. He was seated and dressing himself. The usual words on such occasions having been pronounced by the commissioner of the government, the condemned man moved towards the foot of his bed and finished his dressing — never ceasing meantime to protest his innocence.

Maitre Delmont handed the prisoner his shoes which he took with a gesture of indifference and while putting them on remarked: “I go to make the journey to eternity and have no need.” Having completed his dressing he wrote two letters, which he intrusted to Maitre Delmont for delivery. One he addressed to his wife, the other to the minister of Justice. It follows:

Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice.

At the moment of dying, I affirm solemnly my innocence and of you demand vengeance.

I swear that i have never belonged to the spy service of Germany. I swear to have never rendered them any service, nor to have informed on anybody. I swear that Waegele has odiously lied.

Georges Toque.

At that moment the prisoner Lemoine who had been awakened about the same time as Toque passed in the corridor of the prison, and seeing his associate, called out to him:

“Let us go Toque, have courage.”

After the formal entry on the prison register, the two condemned men appeared in the court of the prison, their heads bare but their demeanor calm.

They were placed in the same automobile, seated opposite each other, the prison abbe and a gendarme accompanying them. The journey to the execution grounds began for them. Meantime painful scenes were being enacted at the prisons containing the two other doomed persons, Leandre Herbert the soldier and Alice Aubert. The soldier appeared demented. His lawyer could not calm him and called the prisoner’s attention to the automobile in company with two religienotice of the civilian doctor, Socquet, demanding a reprieve.

The doctor refused declaring that the wards Vincennes. prisoner enjoyed all his faculties.

“You are going to shoot an insane man. I leave the responsibility with you” concluded the lawyer.

Herbert was placed in a voiture and arrived at the scene of execution at Vincennes some minutes after Toque and Lemoine.

The three condemned men were subjected to an atrocious delay of three-quarters of an hour till the third voiture containing Alice Aubert appeared.

To allay the mental sufferings of the delay, when minutes seemed hours, it was proposed to the prisoners to alight from the voitures and walk in the court of the donjon at Vincennes, but Lemoine refused, as being too cold.

At Saint-Lazare.

While the three condemned men awaited death at Vincennes, a touching scene took place at the prison Saint-Lazare, where the condemned woman Aubert shared a cell with Helene Favre, condemned at the same time but commuted. The Favre woman thought she was the one about to be taken to execution and fell in a terrible nervous crisis.

On the contrary Alice Aubert had good control of herself, listened to the official orders without evincing any emotion; but her eyes filled and she cried silently some minutes. Then she began to dress herself, a figure sad and resigned. She said to her lawyer who tried to comfort her:

“If I am sad — if I cry — it is not for me, it is for my sister, it is for my child. It is also for the others condemned.”

She put on her yellow silk hose and patent-leather shoes which contrasted with her simple petticoat and mantle, and all the time she repeated: “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven.” These words she used till she alighted at the execution ground at Vincennes.

Before quitting the prison Saint-Lazare the condemned woman wished to hear mass, and it was not until she had received communion that she mounted the automobile in company with two religieuses who assisted her until the last moments. The automobile then sped towards Vincennes.

At La Caponniere.

At five hours and a half (5:30 a.m.) an order rang out upon the ground of la Caponniere: “Garde a vous!” (Attention). The voitures containing the condemned advanced upon the road. The soldiers of the 13th artillery, the 23rd dragoons, and the 26th chasseurs, who formed the square, presented arms; the trumpets sounded “Aux champs!” the firing squads rectified their position before the four stakes placed in line at a distance of ten metres from one another.

Slowly the autos came to a a [sic] stop, and from the one at the head descended Toque and Lemoine, absolutely livid but calm.

The abbe Geispitz embraced the two condemned men and they in turn embraced their lawyers, and then Toque addressed his lawyer:

You have seen my memoranda and you know that I am innocent. Preserve well all the pieces show that I am not culpable. After my death — long time after — when calm will be returned to the consciences, make clear my innocence. Rehabillitate my memory, I pray you.

He directed again the attention of his lawyer to certain leaves of his memoranda that were not in their order, nor did he forget any detail.

And that man who came to die insisted again that in the future he be not misrepresented, that he be not disparagingly spoken of as “Toque the traitor”.

The painful and prolonged scene wore out the patience of Lemoine who tugged impatiently on the lapel of his companion’s overcoat and said “Let us go,” and took a step forward. The two condemned men escorted by the gendarmes then began to direct their steps towards the stakes where they were to stand before the firing squads, but were halted as the other two condemned prisoners, had not yet descended from their automobiles.

Turning about, Toque and Lemoine saw Herbert the soldier wearing his blue uniform, his cap turned the wrong way and advancing with long strides. He continued to speak incoherently: “Me also, I wish to say something — say something”. He did not cease to repeat these words and addressing the gendarmes he said: “Do not hold me — do not hold me — You will see — you will see — Ah! ah!”

Behind him came Alice Aubert, without coiffure like Toque and Lemoine and like those marching with firm step.

One moment where she entered the square, by one gesture instinctive of feminine coquetrie, she drew over her light colored dress her manteau of sombre hue.

Toque and Lemoine, who were advancing towards the stakes, turned again to speak the last word to their lawyers, the hands — a dernier au revoir — accompanied by a sign of the hands. And then the four condemned marched in Indian file traversing the square and directing their steps to the stakes at which the gendarmes tied them.

The Execution.

Toque was at the extreme right. Lemoine was at the second stake. Herbert was attached to the third. The fourth stake on the left propped Alice Aubert.

Lemoine and Toque refused the bandage intended to mask the view of the firing squad. Herbert remained mute and let things proceed.

The clerk of the Council of War at this moment appeared between the two firing squads in the centre and read the sentence of death.

All the official details in full had been finished and in the silence impressive the clear and strong voice of Toque elevated itself once more: “I swear that I am innocent; vive la France!”

Also Lemoine, elevating his right hand took the same oath and also cried: “Vive la France!”

As for Herbert, he articulated again the same phrase: “Me also I wish to say something.”

With hand raised Toque again avowed his innocence, until the soldiers of the front rank knelt to fire. All put their pieces to the shoulder. Again Toque cried: “Vive la France!” The officer lowered his sword and the fusil[l]ade crackled. But a frightful rattle, like an appeal for help escaped from the gorge of Toque. He was not dead. The guns had trembled in the hands of the firers.

Maitre Delmont, the lawyer of Toque, cried to an under-officer: “Dispatch him, dispatch him”! The soldier approached the palpitating body, from which escaped continually the heart-rending cries and discharged his revolver twice in the head of the condemned. The rattle ceased but the man still stirred and a third ball found the brain.

Alice Aubert, with her hands clasped upon her breast, and holding in her fingers a crucifix rested upright against the stake. She too received in her turn the coup de grace. Her head fell. Then she became completely erect and sank for the last time to move no more.

The two others also received their coup de grace; but it was unnecessary for Lemoine who had his skull stove in. It was not so with Herbert whose pulse continued to beat and his lips to move at the moment when a doctor examined him.

The civilian doctor Socquet, declared that he was dead, and the body of which one of the legs had been broken by a bullet was placed in a coffin.

After examining the two other cadavers, the doctor Socquet came to certify the death of Alice Aubert. He wished to examine the heart, but the chemise of the woman obstructed. A soldier, by the aid of a knife, cut the shoulder-strap and the doctor plunged his hand which trembled in the gorge of the woman streaming with blood. He drew forth a photograph equally blood-stained — the picture of the child of Alice Aubert. She had placed the photograph on her heart before going to die. It was piteously replaced upon the breast of the dead.

A sonnerie guerriere, resounded then, and to those notes of the trumpets the troops defiled.

All the assistants were paler than the dead.

Some minutes after two wagons, surrounded by dragoons, quitted the scene of execution and proceeded to the cemetery of Vincennes four kilometers distant. In the wagons were four wooden coffins. They contained the stripped bodies of the four executed prisoners.

The bodies not having been reclaimed they have been, after a mock burial, delivered to the faculty of medicine.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Public Executions,Shot,Treason,Women

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1630: Stine Teipel and Grete Halman, nine-year-old witches

Add comment May 4th, 2020 Headsman

Horribly, on this date in 1630 nine-year-old “witches” named Christine Teipel and Grete Halman were executed for witchcraft, in either Oberkirchen (where they were from) or Fredeburg (where they were tried).

For unknown reasons — maybe some deep well of trauma, or maybe just being a mischievous small child with no grasp of the consequences — “Stine” Teipel began spouting off in 1628 about being a witch herself, and about all the neighbors she knew who were also witches. The damage was not immediate — likely she wasn’t taken seriously — but the girl’s fabulisms lay around like dry tinder, perfect material in early 17th century Germany for gathering to a pyre.

The next year, a Hexenprozess local maximum brought her charges into the ambit of a judiciary and she

told the court that, after some ointment had been applied under her arm, she had flown to a meeting place of witches, several of whom she had recognized. She had also been on a mountain where the devil had provided everyone with beautiful clothes, as well as beer and wine in barrels of gold. In her mind the sabbath was a sort of dressing-up party in which the villagers acquired higher status and partook in a splendid meal. Belonging herself to one of the poorest families of cotters, the feast represented a kind of Schlaraffenland (Land of Cockayne). The dance had lasted two hours, and her partner had had a ‘thing’ on his body, which he had put in her private parts, but it had not given her any pleasure. (The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft)

Grete Halman was another girl whom she accused, and who corroborated the charges, with their implications of various named adults then echoing in the customary fashion into secondary accusations and cross-confirmations. Both children, along with seven adults, were executed on May 4 — just a fraction of some 61 witches known to be put to death by this court over the span of about a year. Stine Teipell’s stepmother and Grete Halman’s parents were among the other victims.

Visitors to Schmallenberg can take in an exhibit on this particular horror at the local Holthausen museum.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,History,Public Executions,Sex,Torture,Women

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1849: Sarah Harriet Thomas, the last female juvenile hanged in Great Britain

Add comment April 20th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about under-18 girls executed in the 19th century that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

Sarah’s was to be Bristol‘s final public hanging on the flat roof of the gatehouse of New Gaol in Cumberland Road. She was a house maid to sixty one year old Miss Elizabeth Jefferies, who according to Sarah, did not treat her well and had locked her in the kitchen all night among other perceived abuses. There was almost certain to be conflict between a cranky, elderly spinster and a rebellious young girl and this culminated in Sarah bludgeoning Miss Jefferies to death with a large stone as she slept, on the night of Sunday the 4th of March 1849. Sarah had also killed Miss Jefferies’ dog and thrown its body into the lavatory. She left the house, but not without helping herself to some of her mistresses’ jewellery. Miss Jefferies’ brother was alerted to a possible problem by a neighbour who noticed that the window shutters were still closed and called the local constable to help him investigate. When they forced entry they made the gruesome discoveries. Suspicion immediately fell upon Sarah and she was arrested the next day at her mother’s house in Pensford. Initially she told the police that another girl had committed the killings and that she had only been involved with ransacking the house.

She was tried at Gloucester on the 3rd of April 1849, the public gallery being particularly crowded to hear every gruesome detail. Sarah seemed not to treat the court proceedings seriously until she was convicted and the judge donned the black cap and sentenced her to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. On hearing these words of doom she collapsed and had to be carried from the dock by two warders. A petition was got up to save her but this was to no avail. Sarah made a confession to the prison governor, Mr. J A Gardiner and two female matrons seventeen days before her execution and it was read to her every day in case she wanted to correct it. In the confession she told of the ill treatment that she had endured from Miss Jefferies and spoke of her regret in having committed the killings.

On Thursday the 19th of April the gallows was erected and William Calcraft, the hangman, arrived from London. He was to have George Smith from Dudley to assist him. The following morning a huge number of people had assembled in front of the prison to watch Sarah die.

She was dragged up two flights of stairs by six warders onto the gatehouse roof and then up a few more steps onto the platform. She was held on the trap by two warders whilst Calcraft strapped her legs, placed the white hood over her head and tightened the halter style noose around her neck. As the preparations continued Sarah cried out “I won’t be hanged; take me home!” Calcraft quickly operated the trap and Sarah’s body dropped about eighteen inches through it, quivering for a few moments before becoming still. Everybody present on the gatehouse roof was upset by the distressing scene they had witnessed and the governor of the prison fainted. Sarah’s body was buried in private in an unmarked grave within the prison later in the day.

Even the by now veteran hangman, Calcraft, was greatly affected by this job and said later that Sarah Thomas was “in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most intellectual girls I have met with.”

A crime reporter, one Mr. E. Austin, who attended the execution reported: “Ribald jests were bandied about and after waiting to see the corpse cut down, the crowd dispersed, and the harvest of the taverns in the neighbourhood commenced.” However, some in the crowd felt pity for the poor girl. Sadly for the majority it was probably seen much more as a free, slightly pornographic show put on by the authorities for their voyeuristic pleasure.

Sarah was the last teenage girl to be hanged in Britain. One hundred years earlier she would have suffered a far worse fate as her crime would have been deemed to be Petty Treason and she would have been burnt at the stake for it.

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

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1759: Mary Edmondson

Add comment April 2nd, 2020 Headsman

A sad selection from the Newgate Calendar:

MARY EDMONDSON

Strongly protesting her Innocence, she was executed on Kennington Common, 2nd of April, 1759, for the Murder of her Aunt

This unhappy girl was the daughter of a farmer near Leeds, in Yorkshire, and was sent to reside with her aunt, Mrs Walker, of Rotherhithe, who was a widow lady. With this aunt she lived two years, comporting herself in the most decent manner, and regularly attending the duties of religion.

A lady, named Toucher, having spent the evening with Mrs Walker, Mary Edmondson lighted her across the street on her way home, and soon after her return a woman who cried oysters through the street observed that the door was open and heard the girl cry out “Help! Murder! They have killed my aunt!” Edmondson now ran to the house of Mrs Odell, wringing her hands and bewailing the misfortune, and, the neighbours being by this time alarmed, some gentlemen went from a public-house, where they had spent the evening, determined to inquire into the affair. They found Mrs Walker, with her throat cut, lying on her right side, and her head near a table, which was covered with linen. One of the gentlemen, named Holloway, said: “This is very strange; I know not what to make of it: let us examine the girl.”

Her account of the matter was that four men had entered at the back door, one of whom put his arms round her aunt’s neck, and another, who was a tall man, dressed in black, swore that he would kill her if she spoke a single word.

Mr Holloway, observing that the girl’s arm was cut, asked her how it had happened; to which she replied that one of the men, in attempting to get out, had jammed it with the door. But Holloway, judging from all appearances that no men had been in the house, said he did not believe her, but supposed she was the murderer of her aunt.

On this charge she fell into a fit and, being removed to a neighbour’s house, was bled by a surgeon, and continued there till the following day, when the coroner’s inquest sat on the body, and brought in a verdict of wilful murder; whereupon she was committed to prison, on the coroner’s warrant.

Mrs Walker’s executors, anxious to discover the truth, caused the house to be diligently searched, and found that a variety of things, which Mary Edmondson had said were stolen, were not missing; nor could they discover that anything was lost. Mrs Walker’s watch and some other articles which she said had been carried off by the murderers were found under the floor of the necessary-house.

Being committed to the New Jail, Southwark, she remained there till the next assizes for Surrey, when she was tried at Kingston, and convicted on evidence which, though acknowledged to be circumstantial, was such as, in the general opinion, admitted little doubt of her guilt.

She made a defence indeed; but there was not enough of probability in it to have any weight.

Being condemned on Saturday, to be executed on the Monday following, she was lodged in the prison at Kingston, whence she wrote to her parents, most solemnly avowing her innocence. She likewise begged that the minister of the parish would preach a sermon on the occasion of her death. She asserted her innocence on the Sunday, when she was visited by a clergyman and several other people; yet was her behaviour devout, and apparently sincere.

Being taken out of prison on the Monday morning, she got into a post-chaise with the keeper, and, arriving at the Peacock, in Kennington Lane, about nine o’clock, there drank a glass of wine; and then, being put into a cart, was conveyed to the place of execution, where she behaved devoutly, and made the following address to the surrounding multitude: —

It is now too late to trifle either with God or man. I solemnly declare that I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge. I am very easy in my mind, as I suffer with as much pleasure as if I was going to sleep. I freely forgive my prosecutors, and earnestly beg your prayers for my departing soul.

After execution her body was conveyed to St Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark, and there dissected, agreeably to the laws respecting murderers.

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1572: Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder

Add comment March 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1572, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder were all condemned and burned at Neustadt am Rübenberge, as witches and poisoners.

Although commoners, they were the luckless casualties of misbegotten marital politics in the Holy Roman Empire, and in the words of Tara Nummedal in Anna Zieglerin and the Lion’s Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany, “the entire incident laid bare simultaneously the fear of poison and sorcery and the reluctance to advance witch accusations against women of elite status in the princely courts of central Europe.”

The particular princely court of interest for us is that of Eric(h) II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a Lutheran convert who married a House of Wettin princess called Sidonie of Saxony. It was one of those love-matches by which the bluebloods slip the bonds of arranged dynastic alliances and often, of historical irrelevancy. ‘Tis a likely antechamber to the volumes of Executed Today.

Sidonie was a decade Eric’s senior, leading one wise grandee to predict, “All sorts of things will happen inside this marriage after the kissing month ends.”

Just so. Eric reverted to Catholicism and the childless couple became bitterly estranged — not only over religion, but money, and the want of a child. (Eventually Eric would die without an heir, and pass his realm to a cousin.) So intense would the couple’s antipathy become that they began to suspect one another of seeking an abrupt annulment by the hand of the poisoner.

That hypothesis became self-confirming when Eric fell ill in 1564, and Eric (this is Nummedal again) “initiated an investigation, accusing four women in Neustadt am Rübenberge, close to Hannover, of both trying to poison him and using sorcery to disrupt his marriage, keep him away ‘from his land and people,’ and make Sidonie barren.”

Three of these four women broke under torture and admitted not only poisoning but witchcraft; they were burned in 1568. But the fourth woman, Gesche Role, had the fortitude to withstand her interrogators and was released.

It’s by way of Gesche Role that we arrive at our day’s principals — for in some fresh turn of the diplomatic jockeying between the estranged power couple, Eric renewed his accusation and re-arrested the poor woman upon fresh claims of fiendery. This time she succumbed and confessed — adding, as is the style, a series of charges against five other acquaintances: our three victims, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder; plus, Annecke’s husband Hans Lange, who died under torture; and, a woman named Margarethe Ölse or Ölsin, whose fate was stayed by dint of her pregnancy. Hans Lange had actually been a barber and surgeon who had been in ducal employment, affording some material connection to the “victim’s” plate, but of course all confessions were secured in the usual violent manner.

On the 28th of March, our three victims were condemned at Neustadt and immediately sent to the stake. Several others in the widening witch inquiry shared a like fate later that same year; the overall number of Neustadt “witches” executed from the various procedures initiated by Eric is not known, but might run up towards 60.

The reader will mark that all these souls were merely humble folk destroyed as flies to wanton boys. Witch fires were usually quenched once their flames licked titled estates, and so it was in this case, as the 1572 Hexenprozesse “also implicated a cluster of noblewomen (Anna von Rheden, Katharina Dux, and Margaretha Knigge), and it was not long before Duke Erich’s estranged wife, Sidonie, herself was accused of directing the poison plot against her husband, purportedly because of his relationship with his mistress, Katharina von Weldam. This escalation of the trial as it reached into the nobility proved to be too much, apparently, even for Duke Erich II, who halted the trial before the noblewomen were sentenced,” and after a pause the Holy Roman Emperor reconvened a hearing at which all concerned were exonerated.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Attempted Murder,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1817: Ann Statham, infanticide

Add comment March 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.)

Ann Statham was an unmarried twenty eight year old woman who had lived with her mother near Wichnor (nowadays spelt Wychnor) between Lichfield and Burton on Trent in Staffordshire. Thomas Webster drove the Mail Coach between Birmingham and Derby and had got to know Ann who lived just a few yards from the main road that he traversed each journey. They formed a relationship and she moved to Birmingham to be with him. They had been living together for some ten months at the time of the crime and Ann had quickly become pregnant by him. Unlike some men of the time it seems that Thomas was happy to support Ann and the baby.

In June 1816, the now heavily pregnant Ann moved to Derby where her baby boy was born. She returned to Wichnor aboard Thomas’ coach on the 23rd of July, when the baby was five weeks old. She stopped off at nearby Burton on Trent on the way back and went to visit John Mason who was a constable in the town. John saw that Ann had a baby with her and heard it cry although he was later to tell her trial that he could not identify the baby as he did not see its face which was covered by a shawl. On the following Saturday John took Ann to the Three Tuns public house in Wichnor and noticed that she did not have the baby with her. He enquired after it and was told by Ann that it had died suddenly, she thought from a fit. She said that she was going to bury the baby at Walton and John offered her money to help with the funeral expenses which she told him she didn’t need.

On the evening of Tuesday the 29th of July, Ann was walking along the tow path of the Trent and Mersey canal and was seen with the baby by a bargeman named John Deakin. He testified at her trial that the bank was in poor condition and very muddy.

The wife of the landlord of the Three Tuns, Mrs. Thompson had spoken to Ann on the Tuesday evening and she had told her that she had suffered a fit whilst walking along the tow path and dropped the baby who had fallen into the canal. This surprised Mrs. Thompson, as she had known Ann for some years and had never known her have a fit.

The body was recovered by a another bargeman, Thomas Wooton, on Sunday the 28th of July who spotted a small bundle in a white bed gown and cap floating in the water. He took it to the Three Tuns where it was placed in the store room. First thing on the Sunday morning the body of a baby was viewed by John Mason and it seemed to be about the same age as Ann’s baby. John sent for Charles Nicholls, another constable from Burton and he went to Ann’s mother’s house where she was eating breakfast with her mother and questioned her. When he asked her where her baby was she became agitated and she told him that it was in Derby. He persisted with the questioning, reminding her that she had been seen with the baby near the Three Tuns on the Tuesday evening. Ann simply repeated that the baby was in Derby, an answer that in no way satisfied constable Nicholls who arrested her.

William Challinor, a butcher from Burton, had also seen Ann with the baby when she had visited the town a few days earlier and had been able to see its face so was able to positively identify the dead baby as hers.

Mr. Enoch Hand, the Coroner, who performed the inquest on the corpse, asked Ann if the child had been christened and she told him that it had, as William Statham. Death was found to be due to drowning and it was recorded that there were no marks of violence on the body.

She was taken to Burton and was committed by the magistrates to stand trial at Stafford Assizes, charged with the baby’s murder. Charles Nicholls was in charge of Ann for the journey to Stafford Gaol on Tuesday the 8th of August and told the court that she had said to him “Do you think I shall be hung? … They cannot hang me for nobody saw me.”

Ann had to wait nearly nine months until the Staffordshire Lent Assizes of 1817 for her trial which took place on the Wednesday the 19th of March of that year, before Mr. Justice Park. The prosecution was led by a Mr. Dauncey and the various people mentioned above gave evidence against her. Mr. Justice Park pointed out to the all male jury the various contradictions in Ann’s story and they returned a verdict of guilty.

Before passing sentence the judge told Ann that the crime of murder of an infant was a particularly heinous one, especially as at one moment it appeared that she had been breast feeding the little boy and the next she had had dropped him into the canal and left him to drown. There was no apparent motive for the crime. Thomas Webster, the father, was happy to support them both and all her friends knew about the pregnancy and birth.

He then passed sentence on her, telling her that “she was to be taken to the place from whence she came and that on Friday next she was to be taken from there to the place of execution where she was to be hanged by the neck until she was dead” and that afterwards her body was to be delivered to the surgeons for dissection. Ann would become the first woman to be executed outside Stafford Gaol.

Ann had now just two days left to live in accordance with the provisions of the 1752 Murder Act.

As was customary at many prisons at this time, the gallows was set up over the imposing main entrance of the gaol on the flat roof of the gatehouse, as this location was much easier to guard and afforded the many spectators a good view of the proceedings. In the condemned cell Ann seemed resigned to her fate and had confessed her guilt to the chaplain. The execution was set to take place between eleven o’clock in the morning and noon and a large crowd had assembled in Gaol Square. Soon after eleven o’clock Ann was duly led up onto the gatehouse roof in a procession with the under sheriff, the chaplain and several turnkeys. She ascended the few steps onto the platform of the New Drop style gallows and knelt in prayer with the chaplain. It is reported that the structure collapsed at this point, sending Ann, the chaplain, the hangman and the turnkeys into a heap on the roof below. The gallows was quickly repaired enabling the execution to take place an hour or so later. By this time Ann was, unsurprisingly, in a great state of agitation and had to be supported on the drop by two turnkeys whilst the preparations were made. The bolt was released by the unidentified executioner and Ann paid the ultimate price for her crime. Her body was left to hang for the normal hour, before being taken back into the Gaol. It seems that she was not actually dissected but that her body was symbolically cut several times before it was returned to her friends for burial.

If one accepts the evidence against Ann, which is difficult to question nearly two centuries later, it is clear that there was no recognition of the possibility that she was suffering from post natal depression at the time. Could this explain her actions? As stated earlier it appears that the father was willing to support Ann and the baby and that she was not stigmatised by her friends or in danger of loosing her job as the result of her pregnancy and William’s subsequent birth. In 1817 she was simply seen as evil and a murderess, now she would be viewed quite differently and be examined by psychologists to determine her motives and her responsibility for her actions.

Strangely the Staffordshire Advertiser newspaper makes no mention of the gallows collapse nor does it give any real details of her execution. However Ann was the last prisoner to be hanged on top of the gatehouse Lodge at Stafford. From here on executions were performed on a portable gallows, similar in pattern to the one used at Newgate, drawn out in front of the gatehouse. This arrangement was used for the execution of Edward Campbell for uttering forgery on the 16th of August 1817, who was the only other person was hanged in the county that year. Ann was one of seventeen prisoners condemned at the Lent Assizes but the only one to be executed. Only three more women were executed at Stafford. They were twenty four year old Mary Smith for the murder of her bastard child at Bloxwich, who was hanged on Wednesday the 19th of March 1834, Ann Wycherley, for child murder on the 5th of May 1838 and finally Sarah Westwood for poisoning her husband with arsenic who was executed on Saturday the 13th of January 1844. Male executions continued to be carried out at Stafford until 1914 when part of the prison was turned over to the military during World War I. After which Staffordshire executions took place at Winson Green prison in Birmingham.

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

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1653: Anne Bodenham, “A pox on thee, turn me off”

Add comment March 19th, 2020 Headsman

The old Witch executed was,
this moneth the 19. day,
She ever had a face of Bras
as all the people say,
Insteed of pensivenesse and prayer
She did nought but curse and sware,
You that will goe, &c.

God nothing had to doe with her
she said most desperately
She swore and curst and kept a stur
and desperately did dye.
Let all good people therefore say
[They’ll join the]ir hearts with me and pray,
[You that w]ill goe
[High or low
Resolve upon this doubt.]

Ballad, “a true Relation of one Mistris Bodnam living in Fisherton next house but one to the Gallowes”

We’ve previously noted in these grim annals the 1628 lynching of reputed warlock John Lambe, the occult familiar of hated royal favorite George Villiers.

On this date in 1653, his former assistant Anne Bodenham was hanged as a witch at the village of Fisherton Anger, which has since been absorbed into the city of Salisbury.

A Wiltshire cunning-woman hailed before the Salisbury assize when her everyday services like finding lost objects and warding off sickness became entangled in a running feud between local families. Eventually a maid implicated in a poison plot denounced Bodenham in a clear bid to save her own skin. The imprisoned woman, thought to have been pushing 80 years of age at this point, revealed to a pamphleteer named Edmond Bower her decades-old connection to the infamous Lambe — for, quoth Bodenham,

she had been a Servant to Dr. Lambe, and the occasion she came to live with him, she said was, that she lived with a Lady in London, who was a Patient many times to him, and sent her often in businesse to him, and in particular, she went to know what death King James should die; and the Doctor told her what death, and withall said that none of his Chil?dren should come to a natural death; and she said she then saw so many curious sights, and pleasant things, that she had a minde to be his Servant, and learn some of the art; and Dr. Lambe seeing her very docile, took her to be his Servant; and she reading in some of his Books, with his help learnt her Art, by which she said she had gotten many a penny, and done hundreds of people good, and no body ever gave her an ill word for all her paines, but alwayes called her Mrs. Boddenham, and was never accoun?ted a Witch but by reason of this wicked Maid now in prison, and then fell a cursing of and reviling at the Maid extremely. (“Doctor Lamb revived, or, Witchcraft condemn’d in Anne Bodenham a servant of his, who was arraigned and executed the lent assizes last at Salisbury, before the right honourable the Lord Chief Baron Wild, judge of the assise”)

Whether this tutelage was fact or marketing copy is anyone’s guess but a generation on from Lambe’s destruction Bodenham had allegedly acquired the power to “transform her self into the shape of a Massive Dog, a black Lyon, a white Bear, a Woolf, a Bull, and a Cat; and by her Charms and Spels, send either man or woman 40 miles an hour in the Ayr.” The maid, playing her strongest card, went into fits which she attributed to Bodenham’s influence, and we can add the gift of prophesy to the latter’s arts for she moaned that this accuser “had undone her, for shee should be hanged … Ah Whore! Ah Rascall! I will see her in hell first, I will never see her more, she hath undone me, by raising these reports of mee that am an honest Woman; ’twill break my Husbands heart, he grieves to see me in these Irons.”

The maid’s melodramatic performance formed the lynchpin of a standard witchcraft case against the heretofore harmless magician. (And worked for the maid, too: she walked.) For her part, Anne Bodenham kept her sharp tongue all the way to the gallows, where Bower reports,

she went immediately to goe up the Ladder, but she was pulled back again and restrained: I then pressed her to confesse what she promised me she would, now be?fore she dyed, but she refused to say any thing. Being asked whether she desired the prayers of any of the people, she an?swered, she had as many prayers already as she intended, and desired to have, but cursed those that detained her from her death, and was importunate to goe up the Ladder, but was restrained for a while, to see whether she would confesse any thing, but would not: they then let her goe up the Ladder, and when the rope was about her neck, she went to turn her self off, but the Executioner stayed her, and desired her to forgive him: She replyed, Forgive thee? A pox on thee, turn me off; which were the last words she spake.

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1542: Margaret Davy, poysoner

Add comment March 17th, 2020 Headsman

Seventeenth century Jurist John Brydall‘s “An abridgment of the lawes of England, touching treasons, rebellious murthers, conspiracies, burning of houses, poysonings, and other capital offences (1679):

Whether killing a man by poyson be more detestable, than by any other means?

To kill a man by poyson, sayes Coke, is the most detestable of all, because it is most horrible and fearful to the nature of man, and of all others can be least prevented, either by Manhood, or providence: This offence was so odious, that by Act of Parliament it was made High Treason, and it inflicted a more grievous and lingring death, than the common Law prescribed, viz. That the Offendor shall be boyled to death in hot water: upon which Statute Margaret Davy [or Davie, or Davey -ed.] a young woman was attainted of High Treason for poysoning her Mistress, and some others, was boyled to death in Smithfield the Seventeenth of March in the same year: But this Act was afterwards repealed by 1. E. 6. c. 12. and 1. Mar. c. 1.

This appears to be the last documented execution by boiling alive in English history. (The far better-known boiling of Richard Roose for attempting to poison John Fisher occurred 11 years earlier, during the run-up to Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Boiled,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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