1780: Elizabeth Butchill, Trinity College Cambridge bedding-girl

2 comments March 17th, 2019 Headsman

A Cambridge University servant was hanged on this date in 1780 for infanticide.

Elizabeth Butchill made her way turning down the beds for the boys attending Trinity College, work she had secured via her aunt who held the same position. She somehow got pregnant, an event which does not appear to have inordinately exercised her eventual judges perhaps by virtue of its very obviousness; as Frank McLynn wryly observes, “It does not need the imagination of a novelist to reconstruct the events that led her to the gallows.”

She was surely desperate to avoid social opprobrium and unemployment, so we find from the Newgate Calendar that “she confessed that she was delivered of a female child on Thursday morning [January 6, 1780], about half past six o’clock, by herself; that the child cried some little time after its birth; and that, in about twenty minutes after, she herself threw the said infant down one of the holes of the necessary into the river, and buried the placenta, &c. in the dunghill near the house.”

“Modest, patient, and penitent” during her confinement awaiting the noose, Butchill died

firm, resigned, and exemplary. She joined with the minister in prayer, and sung the lamentation of a sinner with marks of a sincere penitent, declaring she had made her peace with God, and was reconciled to her fate. Desiring her example might be a warning to all thoughtless young women, and calling on Jesus Christ for mercy, she was launched into eternity amidst thousands of commiserating spectators, who, though they abhorred the crime, shed tears of pity for the unhappy criminal.

Whether the nameless infant’s nameless father shared those tears is a matter for the novelist’s imagination.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Women

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1209: The Oxford clerks

Add comment December 6th, 2010 Headsman

On an uncertain date speculatively identified with December 6, in either 1208 or (more usually attributed) 1209, the near-riotous townspeople of Oxford hanged two or three student “clerks” at that settlement’s famous university.

About this time, a certain clerk engaged in the liberal arts at Oxford killed a certain woman by accident and when he found that she was dead he decided to flee.

But when the mayor of the city and many others who had gathered found the dead woman they began to search for the killer in his house which he had rented together with three of his fellow clerks.

Not finding the man accused of the deed they seized his three fellow clerks who said they were wholly ignorant of the murder and threw them into prison; then a few days later they were, by order of the King of the English, in contempt of the rights of the church, taken outside the city and hanged.

When the deed had been done, both masters and pupils, to the number of three thousand clerks, left Oxford so that not one remained out of the whole university; they left Oxford empty, some engaging in liberal studies at Cambridge and some at Reading.

The Flowers of History, as translated for the Beeb

This ugly affair rooted in the ancient conflict between university and town caused much of the ancient academy‘s student population to flee town — some proceeding to found Oxford’s rival institution Cambridge. (This pdf short story on the Cambridge site dramatizes events.)


(cc) image from James Gibson.

The conflict between the town and university at Oxford over this bloodletting persisted until 1214 when a Papal legate settled the dispute in favor of the university.

The authors of the hanging were required to carry the bodies to an honorable resting place, and the town was required to host a dinner for poor students once every year — on St. Nicholas‘s day, Dec. 6, which on that basis has become associated with the otherwise never-specified date of the unfortunate clerks’ demise.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Known But To God,Murder,Notably Survived By,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates,Wrongful Executions

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