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.

On this day..

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

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1628: John Lambe murdered

3 comments June 13th, 2014 Headsman

Here Dr Lambe, the conjurer lyes,
Against his will untimely dies
The Divell did show himselfe a Glutton
In taking this Lambe before he was mutton
The Divell in Hell will rost him there
Whome the Prentises basted here.
In Hell they wondred when he came
To see among the Goats a Lambe.

Libel (one of many) on John Lambe’s murder

Friday the 13th of June in 1628 bore foul luck for John Lambe, an aged astrologer, magician, and folk healer so hated of Londoners that a mob fell on him as he returned from theater this evening and butchered him in the street.

While we hope to justify Lambe’s presence in these pages under our going interest in lynchings, his curious homicide transgresses the boundaries of Executed Today as surely as did Lambe transgress those of Stuart London.

North of 80 at the time of his death — although still vigorous enough at that age to defend himself with a sword — Lambe came to misfortunate public notoriety in the 1620s. These were crisis years when the crown sowed the dragon’s teeth that would in later years devour Charles I. Lambe’s slaughter was a little taste of worse to come.

Sources from the period view Lambe as both a shameless fraud and a vile wizard, with no consistency between the propositions save for their vitriol. Lambe seems like he got the worst of both perceptions at once: he faced a 1619 complaint to the Royal College of Physicians that he was a “mountebank and impostor.” [sic] Three years after that, he was in the dock for witchcraft

What Lambe did do was beat two charges in as many years that could easily have hanged him: the aforementioned witchcraft case in 1622, and a rape charge in 1624. Evidence in either case was underwhelming, but the charges themselves were incendiary; Lambe’s knack for slithering out of the hangman’s grasp must have suggested for the man on the street a channel to sinister higher powers.

Commoners bestirred themselves about this time against the realm’s own higher powers — the politically ham-fisted new king Charles and his grapples with Parliament to secure sufficient tax revenue for his inept war with France and Spain.

In all this mess, the Duke of Buckingham — royal favorite and possible lover of Charles’s father — was the number two man in the kingdom, and the number one object of hate.

In the mid-1620s, Lambe became conjoined in the public eye with Buckingham — as Buckingham’s demon-summoning henchman, say. Was it the Duke’s pull that spared his familiar the noose? Was it Lambe’s necromancy that captured the king in the thrall of his detested aide?

Did it even matter?

From the distance of centuries the particulars of the supposed affiliation between the two seems difficult to establish,* but it sufficed for Lambe’s death (and Buckingham’s too) that they were analogues for one another, that their respective villainies could be multiplied one atop the other.

Despite all that tinder lying around, we don’t know the exact spark for Lambe’s murder on June 13, 1628. A few months before, Buckingham had fled a humiliating military defeat in France; Parliament and King were at loggerheads that June, forcing the reluctant Charles to accede to a Petition of Right on June 7 that remains to this day a bedrock document of Britons’ liberties.

On the 13th, Lambe was recognized by “the boyes of the towne, and other unruly people” attending a play at the Fortune Playhouse.

As he left it, some began to follow him. Maybe it was just one insult too tartly answered that multiplied these hooligans, or maybe there was a ready rabble that immediately took to his heels. The frightened Lambe picked his way to the city walls menaced all the way by his lynch mob, hired a few soldiers as an ad hoc bodyguard, and by the dark of night tried desperately to find some sort of shelter from the crowd growing in both number and hostility. Under the mob’s threat, a tavern put him out, and a barrister likewise; his guards fled their posts; and someone at last laid his hands on John Lambe. By the time the frenzy had passed, Lambe’s “skull was broken, one of his eyes hung out of his head, and all parties of his body bruised and wounded so much, that no part was left to receive a wound.” Many contemporaries must have understood it as the just punishment that courts could not manage to exact.


Woodcut of the assault on Lambe outside the Windmill Tavern, from the title page of A Briefe Description of the Notorious Life of Iohn Lambe (1628)

The libels now rejoiced openly in Lambe’s summary justice — nobody was ever prosecuted for his murder — and anticipated another one to follow it.

“Who rules the Kingdome? The King. Who rules the King? The Duke. Who rules the Duke? The Devill,” one menacing placard announced. “And that the libellers there professe, Lett the Duke look to it; for they intend shortly to use him worse then they did his Doctor, and if thinges be not shortly reformed, they will work a reformation themselves.”

Their thirst for “reformation” was not long delayed.

Ten weeks after Lambe’s murder, a disaffected army officer named John Felton at last enacted the swelling popular sentiment and assassinated Buckingham.

“The Shepheards struck, The sheepe are fledd,” one unsympathetic doggerel taunted, recalling the dead wizard whose supernatural exertions could no longer protect his wicked patron. “For want of Lambe the Wolfe is dead.”

The History of Witchcraft podcast has an excellent episode on Dr. Lambe here.

* So says Alastair Bellany, whose “The Murder of John Lambe: Crowd Violence, Court Scandal and Popular Politics in Early Seventeenth-Century England” in Past and Present, vol. 200, no. 1 is a principal source for this post. (It’s here, but behind academic paywalls.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",England,History,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Rape,Summary Executions,Witchcraft

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