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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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1653: Felim O’Neill

Add comment March 10th, 2020 Headsman

Irish rebel Felim (or Phelim) O’Neill of Kinard was executed on this date in 1653.

“A well-bred gentleman, three years at court, as free and generous as could be desired, and very complaisant; stout in his person, but, not being bred anything of a soldier, wanted the main art, that is, policy in war and good conduct” by a contemporary assessment, O’Neill numbered among the leaders of the 1641 Irish Rebellion against English governance. He issued a noteworthy manifesto of the affair known as the Proclamation of Dungannon.

The attempted coup helped to launch the English Civil War,* whose local-to-Ireland theater was known as the Irish Confederate Wars — Irish Catholics versus Protestant English and Scottish colonists. Felim O’Neill passed these years as a parliamentarian of the rebel (to English eyes) Confederate Ireland whose destruction required the bloody intervention of Oliver Cromwell.

O’Neill officered troops in this conflict, to no stirring victories. Although far from Confederate Ireland’s most important player, he was significant enough to merit an exception to the 1652 Act for the Settlement of Ireland — which made him an outlaw with a price on his head. He was captured in February 1653 and tried for treason in Dublin, refusing the court’s blandishments to abate the horrible drawing-and-quartering sentence by shifting any blame for the rising to the lately beheaded King Charles I.

* Or for a somewhat broader periodization, the rebellion fit into the Britain-wide breakdown that delivered the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason

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1653: Sakura Sogoro, righteous peasant

Add comment September 3rd, 2017 Headsman

Perhaps on this date in 1653 — it is, at any rate, the date saluted by a festival that honors him — the peasant Sakura Sogoro was crucified for protesting the oppressive taxation of his local lord.

Sogoro — familiarly known as Sogo-sama — was a village head man who dared to take his complaints about his daimyo‘s heavy hand right to the shogun himself. As punishment for this effrontery, the daimyo had the peasant executed (which punishment the sacrificial Sogoro anticipated in making his appeal) along with his wife and sons (which was an outrage).

As classically described, Sogoro from the cross damns the cruelty of the punishment and promises to revenge himself as a ghost, destroying the daimyo‘s house within three years. A century or so after his death, a shrine was erected to his memory which attracted pilgrims throughout the realm and made Sakura Sogoro “the patron saint of protest” (Anne Walthall, whom we shall hear more from later.) The tale has earned popular staging in Japanese culture from the kabuki stage to television.


The great 19th century kabuki actor Ichikawa Kodanji as the avenging specter of “Asakura Togo”, the Kabuki character based on Sakura Sogoro. Image from this gorgeous collection.

As one might infer from the sketchy account here, the story’s historicity is shaky despite its popularity down the centuries in Japan. According to an academic paper by Walthall,*

The archetype of the peasant martyr, a man who deliberately sacrificed himself on behalf of his community.”

More has been written about Sakura Sogoro than about any other peasant hero, but the evidence of his existence is extremely circumstantial. Written accounts of him remain fragmentary until the 1770s …

The first mention of the Sogoro legend appears in Sakura fudoki (a record of provincial lore on Sakura), compiled by a Sakura domain bureaucrat, Isobe Shogen. He recounts how an old man had told him that Sogoro’s vengeful spirit caused the downfall of a seventeenth-century lord. This emphasis on revenge after death is common to many Japanese folktales. Its constant recurrence as a theme in Japanese history reflects a widely held belief in the power of strong emotions to wreak havoc after a person has died. At this point Sogoro was hardly a martyr for the peasants — they remembered not his own deeds, if any, but what had happened to the lord.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, the story gains more detail. After the death of the just lord, Hotta Masamori, his retainers take control of domanial administration, treat the peasants unjustly, and increase the land tax. To save the people, Sogoro makes a direct appeal to the shogun … becom[ing] an exemplar of righteous action, a man who placed community welfare above individual self-interest …

In narratives from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the plot becomes still more elaborate. Sogoro is described as a man of scholarship, deeply religious, respectful of his superiors, mindful of his subordinates, esteemed by his neighbors. “He was intelligent, tactful, and did not look like he was peasant born. Everyone said he must be the descendant of a warrior” … As the savior of his village, he represented the peasants’ aspirations; as an angry spirit, he reflected their resentment of those in authority.

The most modern version of the legend omits all reference to revenge by angry spirits. Now the story depicts the courage of Sogoro and his supporters among the peasants and his heartrending renunciation of his family when he resolves to sacrifice himself for the community. He still puts his appeal directly in the hands of the shogun, even though modern historians have long argued that a meeting with the shogun was impossible for a peasant. In contrast to the “good king,” (the shogun Ietsuna) the villain, Hotta Masanobu, executes not merely Sogoro, but his four children. Even the cruelty of this command has become further elaborated. To evade the bakufu prohibition on the execution of women, officials pretend that Sogoro’s three daughters are actually sons and cut off their heads. In short, today people know only a lachrymose tale of tyranny and heroism.

English speakers can grab a couple renderings of this story in the public domain:

* Walthall, “Narratives of Peasant Uprisings in Japan,” The Journal of Asian Studies, May 1983.

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1653: Six beheaded and one hanged for the Swiss Peasant War

5 comments July 24th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1653, seven ringleaders of Switzerland’s greatest peasant revolt were executed in Basel.


Six were decapitated (like the foreground) and one hanged (find the triangular gallows in the background).

Not widely known now outside of Switzerland, the peasant war of 1653 shook the Swiss city-states so profoundly that it was described in its own time as a revolution.

Like most peasant rebellions, it was triggered by the economy; a recovery of peacable harvests after the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 had staggered Swiss peasants who had grown accustomed to selling their produce abroad at a premium. When they were pressed even harder by taxes and currency devaluations inflicted by city-states with their own budget problems, they found their breaking-point.

In February 1653, peasants of the Entlebuch Valley gathered in an illegal assembly and decided to stop tax payments to Lucern until they got some concessions.

To the chagrin of urban grandees, Entlebuch’s refusal soon began garnering sympathetic imitations among its neighbors and peasant resistance spread across the whole north, spanning the put-upon rural dominions of four cities: Lucern, Bern, Basel, and Solothurn.


(cc) image by Lupo.

Tense negotiations continued into April, but Lucern’s concessions were undone by its refusal to offer a blanket amnesty that would also cover the rebellion’s leaders. That May, with the cities still powerless to control affairs, the disaffected peasants throughout the region united in the League of Huttwil — named for the little town where they met. In this cross-confessional compact, Catholic and Protestant peasants made common purpose and declared themselves a sovereignty apart from the cantons. Then, the army they had raised from their number marched on both Lucern and Bern simultaneously, the threatened sieges respectively led by Christian Schybi and Niklaus Leuenberger. Bern was so unprepared for this turn of events that it had to capitulate to the peasantry’s demands, which arrangement led Lucern also to conclude a truce.

In so doing the cities had to capitulate to the peasantry’s economic demands. Had this state of affairs somehow stood, it would have forced a rewrite in the relationship between city and country throughout the Swiss confederation.

And for just that reason, the affected cities as well as nearby Zurich were raising armies to undo the nascent revolution. Within days, troops from Zurich had dealt the peasant force a crushing defeat at the Battle of Wohlenschwil, then united with a Bernese column to conclusively shatter the rebellion. Before June was out, all of Entlebuch Valley stood pacified and the rebellion’s leaders lay in dungeons. To the peasantry’s economic burdens was added a bitter levy to fund the war that had smashed them.

Several dozen peasants were executed in the ensuing weeks, most aggressively by the canton of Bern — whence derives today’s illustration.

Notwithstandng such vengeance, The Swiss were wise enough to wield the carrot along with the stick. Even as the cities re-established their political control of the countryside, they took care in the coming years to use a lighter touch in governing the peasantry for fear of stoking new disturbances; arguably, the memory and the threat of the peasant war might have checked the potential development of absolutism in Switzerland.

How’s your German? Two academic books on the Swiss Peasant War

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Switzerland,Treason

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1653: Jasper Hanebuth, robber and murderer

Add comment February 4th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1653, the German bandit Jasper Hanebuth was broken on the wheel in Hanover.

An illiterate farmer’s son from Groß-Buchholz, Hanebuth came of age during the calamitous Thirty Years’ War and thereby made his bread for a time as one of the numberless strong arms enlisted to let out one another’s blood.

Hanebuth is the titular villain in the German historical fiction novel The Murderer’s Concubine.

In a time of crisscrossing armies with conflicting loyalties and uncertain pay, it was a fine line between soldiers and thieves — sometimes just the hour of the day. What matter to a rural family or a vulnerable traveler if the gang of armed men who dispossessed him did so under the banner of God or that of opportunism? And given means and opportunity, what matter to the armed gang itself? Victims in such a chaotic environment, either actual or potential, were liable in their own turn to resort to brigandage as the only viable option, paying the devastation forward.

“It defies the pen to recount all the miseries and horrors” from those years of pillage and rapine, wrote August Jugler in his history of Hanover.

True to the template, Hanebuth parlayed wartime soldiery into an alarmingly bold career of opportunistic robbery in the still-extant Eilenriede. A purported “Hanebuth’s Block” in the vicinity of the present-day zoo there long preserved the association; there’s still a street in the forest known as Hanebuthwinkel.

He was reputed an especially vicious outlaw, who would raid singly as well as jointly with other farmers and decommissioned warriors, and would as readily for sport or pleasure shoot a convenient target dead before bothering to approach and find out if the business end of the felony was even worth the murder. He ultimately confessed to 19 homicides.

But it was still the pecuniary motive that drove things. Hanebuth approached crime-lord status with secret smuggling tunnels allegedly set up to move his ill-gotten gains and regular traffic with Hanover merchants. Hanebuth also set up as a horse-trader, exploiting his predilection for violence to obtain stock by force. One trader who refused a shakedown simply had his horses outright stolen the next night, and this man at last reported Hanebuth, resulting in his arrest, torture, and execution on the wheel.

He remains one of Hanover’s most iconic historical criminals.


Jacques Collot’s 1633 cycle “The Miseries of War” might have foretold Hanebuth’s fate: here, a soldier of the Thirty Years’ War who has turned to robbery is punished, as Hanebuth would be, on the wheel. The caption explains:

The ever-watching eye of the divine Astrée [Justice]
Banishes entirely the mourning from the country
When holding the sword and scales in her hands
She judges and punishes the inhuman thief
Who awaits passersby, hurts them, and plays with them
[And] then becomes himself the plaything of a wheel.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Murder,Outlaws,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,Torture

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