1714: Eleven at Tyburn, amid recidivism

Add comment July 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1714, the Tyburn gallows groaned with eleven felons … luckless small-timers, most of them (as we shall see) repeat offenders, whom Executed Today retrieves here in its repeatedly offending eleventh year.

As we sometimes do, we’ll be channeling the words of the Newgate Ordinary, friend of the site Paul Lorrain. His “ACCOUNT OF The Behaviour, Confessions, and Last Speeches of the Malefactors that were Executed at Tyburn, on Friday the 16th of July, 1714” can be enjoyed in full here.

Lorrain begins by noting that “Nineteen Persons, viz. Fifteen Men, and Four Women,” caught death sentences at the most recent sitting of the grim blackrobes, but “Seven of the Men, and One of the Women, having obtain’d HER MAJESTY‘s Reprieve (which I pray GOD they may have Grace duly to improve) Eleven of ’em are now order’d for Execution.”

Those fortunate eight, consider ’em the reserve army for future hangmen. Many of the remaining eleven had in their own time been recipients of such a reprieve and had failed to duly improve, as Lorrain notes repeatedly in his summations below (we’ve linked their antecedent crimes where we could find them in the invaluable Old Bailey Online.)

1. Ann Edwards, condemn’d for two Burglaries; viz. First, for breaking open and robbing the Lodgings of Mr. James Moody; and, Secondly, for doing the like in those of Mr. Emmanuel Francisco; taking out of the former a Pewter Dish, and 3 Plates; and out of the latter several Goods of Value; both which Facts she committed at the same time, and in the same House, on the 30th of May last. She said, she was 36 Years of Age, born at Preston in Lancashire; That she had, for these 15 Years past, liv’d in the Parish of St. James Westminster, and other Neighbouring Parishes, and there serv’d in the Capacity of a Cook (and sometimes in that of a House-keeper) in several good Families; That (besides the Facts she was now condemn’d for) she had done many ill things in her Life-time, and was about two Years ago burnt in the Hand, and order’d to the Work-house, where she remain’d a Twelvemonth, according to the Order of the Court; and being afterwards Discharg’d, but not Reform’d, she soon return’d to her former evil Course, and thereby brought her self to this Untimely and Shameful Death. She said, she heartily repented of all the Sins she ever committed, and desir’d me to pray to GOD for her poor Soul, overwhelm’d with Grief. This I promis’d her I would do, and withal instructed her to pray for her self, and pacify the Wrath of GOD, and obtain His Mercy; which (upon her true Repentance) she would certainly find, through the Merits and Mediation of the Saviour of all Men, especially of them that believe, as the Apostle tells us, 1 Tim. 4.10.

2. William Dyer, who pleaded to a Pardon at the Old-baily on the 12th of August, 1713, was now brought again under Condemnation for two new Facts by him committed, viz. First, for breaking open the House of Mr. John Palmer of Edmonton in Middlesex, taking thence a Gown and Petticoat, with other Goods, on the 13th of June last; and, Secondly, for doing the like in the House of Mr. John Blunt of the same Place, on the 23d of the same Month. He said, he was born in that Parish of Edmonton, and had been a Domestick Servant in several good Families thereabouts, and in London. He confess’d, he had robb’d some of his Masters, both while he liv’d with them, and afterwards; and that particularly since he had obtain’d his Pardon, instead of answering the easy Condition of it, which was, That he should transport himself out of the QUEEN’s Dominions in Europe,* within 6 Months after (which he had 2 or 3 times fair Opportunity to have done) he return’d to his wicked Practice of robbing Houses in his Neighbourhood, and elsewhere; so that, tho’ he pretended he would honestly apply himself to his Business of Carpentry (a Trade he had formerly serv’d part of his Apprentiship to) yet his chief Employment, ever since his Discharge out of Newgate in August last, had been Robbing and Stealing, and doing suchlike Mischiefs, to the great Prejudice of the Publick: And herein his Wickedness and Impiety advanc’d so far, as not to spare even the Curate of his own Parish, whose House he broke open and robb’d in January last, about which time also, he said, he stole a black Mare out of the Grounds of Mr. John Allen in that Parish, for which One William Huggins was try’d at the Old-baily in February following. This William Dyer could read well, and had been carefully instructed in the Principles of the Christian Religion, by those worthy Persons he had serv’d; but yet, for all that, he prov’d desperately Wicked, and was like to have committed Murder, in attempting to shoot the Man that apprehended him. He seem’d, in all his Carriage under this Condemnation, to be unsincere and obstinate; and I must needs say this of him, That he gave me very little Signs of true Repentance for a great while; for when I examin’d him in private, he refus’d to make a free Confession of the many ill things he had done, the discovery whereof might have been of Use and Satisfaction to those honest Persons he had so basely wrong’d; but instead of clearing his Conscience by such a Confession; he said, He had declar’d too much already, and would say no more. Being ask’d how Old he was, he answer’d me, That he could not exactly tell, but thought he might be about 28 Years of Age. As I was discoursing him in private, shewing him the Necessity of doing what I advis’d him to, in order to avoid the severe and terrible Judgments of GOD, and obtain his Mercy, and the Pardon of his Sins, I observ’d him to fleer and snigger, mixing Tears and Laughter together; wherein (as indeed in his whole Deportment) he discover’d both a great Weakness, and Indisposition of Mind; but at last his Confession to me seem’d to be sincere, and Repentance true.

NB. That the Facts for which this William Dyer was formerly condemn’d were, viz. the breaking open and robbing the House of Mrs. Elizabeth Wiser, taking thence a Silver Mugg, and a Spoon, on the 15th of February, 1711-12: And likewise for stealing Ribbons and other Goods out of the House of Mr. Charles King, on the 27th of June, 1712. Of both which Facts he was convicted at the Sessions held at the Old-baily in July following.

3. Margaret Stevenson alias Sarah Williams, alias Susan Rogers, alias Susan Lambeth, which last was her right Name; Condemn’d for Stealing a Piece of green Persian Silk of the value of 3 l. out of the Shop of Mr. John Johnson, on the 25th of May last. She said, she was near 28 Years of age, born at Hamersmith in Middlesex; That she coming to London young, was bound to a Seamstress in Chick-lane, with whom she serv’d the full time of her Apprentiship, viz. 7 years; That she afterwards work’d for her self, and for a great while together liv’d an honest Life; but at last falling into bad Company, was thereby corrupted, and enticed into the commission of several Things, which at first were very much against her Conscience, tho’ (thro’ Custom) became easie to it at last; but she now found by her woful Experience, that, soon or late, Sin brings always along with it unspeakable Sorrow and Misery. She own’d that she was justly condemn’d; and, that she had been so before, and receiv’d Mercy (which, to her great Grief now, she had taken no care to make good use of); for, she having formerly obtain’d the QUEEN’s Free Pardon, which she pleaded at the Old baily on the 12th of August last, under the Name of Sarah Williams, she did soon after return to her evil Course of Life, changing her Name indeed, but not her Manners. NB. The Fact for which she was formerly Condemn’d and Pardon’d, was, the Stealing 60 Yards of Persian Silk out of the Shop of Mr. William Ball, on the 8th of June, 1713.

4. Robert Cook, alias Hedgley, which was his right Name, Condemn’d for Breaking the House of Mrs. Mary Mellers, and stealing thence 8 Pewter-Dishes, 40 Plates, and other Goods, on the 13th of May last. He said, he was about 24 Years of age, born at Hoddesdon in Hartfordshire; and, That while in the Country, he was employ’d in Husbandry: Afterwards he came to London, and being prest to Sea, serv’d above 7 Years on board the Lenox, the Boyne, the Monmouth, and other Men of War. He confess’d, he had been a great Offender; That in May last was Twelve-month he was whipt for a Felony he had committed about that time; and, That the Sentence now pass’d upon him was very just, and he readily submitted to it, praying GOD to fit him for his great Change. He likewise confess’d, That he committed a Robbery in a House at Islington, about 9 months ago, taking thence some Pewter, a Coat, a Hat, &c.

5. Thomas Davis, Condemn’d for being concern’d in the same Fact with Robert Cook, last mention’d. He said, he was 23 Years of age, born at Shrewsbury: That he came up to London about 8 Years ago, and was bound Apprentice to a Waterman for 7 Years, which Time he serv’d faithfully; and being out of it about 6 months since, ply’d for himself. He confess’d the Fact for which he was condemn’d, but said it was his first; and I could not disprove it, but told him, ‘Twas pity he ever enter’d upon such a Course as this, which seldom fails of ending in Destruction.

6. George Horn, Condemn’d for a Robbery committed jointly by him and Thomas Perkins, on the Person of Mr. Thomas Gamball, from whom they took a Coat, a Hat, and a Shirt, with 11 s. and other Goods, upon the QUEEN’ Highway, between Clerkenwell and Islington, on the 25th of May last. He said, he was 23 Years of age, born in the Parish of Allhallows in Thames-street, London; and by his Trade was a Lighterman, that us’d to carry Corn, Wood, &c. He confess’d, That once he was burnt in the Hand for a Felony which he committed about 2 Years ago, and afterwards went to Sea , where he serv’d sometimes on board several Men of War, and at other times in Merchantmen. I found him of a very harden’d Disposition, that could not be brought, but with much difficulty, to a sense of his great Duty and Spiritual Interest, being at first regardless of his present miserable state, and of the Means of preventing his falling into that which is infinitely worse, viz. the State of the Damned. I did what I could to rouze him up to a due Consideration of the Danger he was in; to awaken in him a just Fear, and excite him to a sincere Love of GOD.

7. Thomas Perkins just before-mention’d, as being concern’d with the said George Horn in the Robbery committed on Mr. Gamball. He said, he was about 20 Years of Age, born in the Parish of St. James Clerkenwell: That he went to Sea, and was a Servant to a Commander of one of HER MAJESTY’s Men of War; and afterwards returning home, was bound for 7 years Apprentice to his own Father, a Smith; That his Father dying when he had but three Years to serve, he left off that Occupation, and went to Sea again; and there being employ’d for about 2 Years, he at last return’d to his Trade of Smithery, working Journey-work with One that had formerly serv’d his Father: That falling into bad Company, he (when in Drink) was perswaded to assist George Horn in the Commission of this Robbery he is now to die for: And tho’ he confest he had been an ill Liver, yet he said, he never was Guilty of any such Fact before.

8. James Powell, alias Ashwood, alias Bowen, alias Neale, which last was his right Name. This Malefactor had formerly receiv’d Sentence of Death, being then try’d by the Name of James Ashwood, and obtain’d a Pardon on condition he should (which he did not) transport himself out of the QUEEN’s Dominions in Europe, and pleaded to it accordingly on the 12th of August, 1713; and now was Condemn’d again for a Burglary, viz. for breaking open the House of Mr. Tho. Hulls, and taking from thence Two Guinea’s, and Thirty Shillings in Silver, on the 15th of May last. He said, he was about 20 Years of Age, born in the Parish of St. Martin in the Fields, and was bound Apprentice to a Perriwig-maker in that Parish; but his Master dying, and so being left to himself, presently fell into ill Courses, which he was now sensible he could not well have left off (so far he was engag’d in them) if this Death had not put a stop to his wicked Career.

9. Charles Goodall, alias Goodale. This Malefactor likewise had formerly receiv’d Sentence of Death, for stealing a Silver Cup and other Goods out of the House of Mr. John Beale, on the 6th of November, 1711, and obtain’d a Pardon on condition he should (but like the abovesaid James Powell did not) transport himself out of the QUEEN’s Dominions in Europe: Which Pardon he pleaded on the 6th of June, 1712; as he did to another (and that a Free one) on the 12th of August, 1713; and now was Condemn’d again for breaking open the House of Mr. Albion Thompson, and taking thence a Coat, and several other Goods of Value, on the 17th of May, 1714. He said, he was about 19 Years of Age, born in the Parish of St. Giles in the Fields; but, when very young, his Parents remov’d to that of St. Clement-Danes, and there he liv’d with them, and by them was brought up to School very carefully; but did not improve his Time as he might have done; for he betook himself to ill Courses, and so Corrupt he was, that tho’ after his Pardon he had resolv’d to lead a better Life, (which for a time he did, at his Father’s House) yet it was not long before he return’d again to his wicked Ways, that brought him to this his Untimely End: A Matter which, upon reflection, was a great Grief to him, and ought to be an effectual Warning to other loose Livers, as he had (and confest himself to have) been; for which he earnestly implor’d GOD’s Mercy, and the Pardon of all whom he had any ways offended.

10. Mary Billingsby, alias Brown, Condemn’d for trepanning Judith Favero, an Infant, into a By-place near Hoxton, and there stripping her, and putting her in fear of her Life. She said, she was about 18 Years of Age, born at Norwich, and had liv’d 3 Years in George-yard in Shoreditch, and was there imploy’d in Doubling of Worsted . At first she deny’d the Fact, but afterwards confest it, saying, That Poverty had driven her to it: Upon which I told her, This was a very bad Excuse; and, That if she had been an honest and diligent Person, she might have supply’d her Wants otherwise than by such unlawful Means, and such too as were most base and cruel. I found her very ignorant, not being able so much as to Read, nor give an Account of any Thoughts she had of the World to come, and what would become of her there; till she was taught, That by the Merits of CHRIST, embrac’d by Faith and Repentance, (which I particularly explain’d to her) she might be sav’d.

11. Robert Porter, alias Sandey, Condemn’d for breaking open the House of Mr. James Deluce, and taking thence a Wastcoat, two Wigs, and three lac’d Hats, on the 2d instant. He said, he was 16 Years of Age, born in the Parish of Stepney, and for some small time serv’d a Weaver there; but leaving his Master’s Service, went a pilfering. I found him very obstinate and untractable, unwilling to confess any ill thing he had done; yet when I told him, That he had formerly been convicted of a Felony, and for it order’d to the Work-house, out of which he made his Escape, he own’d all this to be true, but would say no more; nor at first receive such proper Instructions and Admonitions, as were given him, in order to bring him to Repentance and Salvation: But at last finding himself in the Death-Warrant, and so having no further Hope of Life here, he appear’d more concern’d for his Soul than before: I was not wanting in making Use of this Opportunity to bring him (if possible) to a thorough Sence of his past sinful Life, his present sad Condition, and his future Eternal State, from which he was not far off, and which would be a State either of Happiness or Misery to him, according as he did or did not sincerely repent of his Sins. This (with several pressing Exhortations I us’d to this purpose) seem’d to make some kind of Impression upon his obdurate Heart: But whether they melted it indeed into that true Repentance, which alone is available to Salvation, I shall not take it upon me here to determine: but advise them, who walk in the same wicked Paths, to repent sooner and better.

As was his wont (except perhaps with Catholic convicts who tended to give him a cold shoulder) the chaplain exercised his office all the way to Tyburn

to which they were this Day carried from Newgate in 4 Carts, [where] I attended them for the last time, and endeavour’d to perswade them throughly to clear their Consciences, and strive more and more to obtain GOD’s Grace, that they might make a good End in this World, and be receiv’d into that State of Bliss and Glory in the next, which shall have no End. To this purpose I earnestly spoke to them, and pray’d for them: Then I made them rehearse the Apostles Creed, and sing some Penitential Psalms; and finally recommending their Souls to the boundless Mercy of our Good and Gracious GOD, I withdrew from them, leaving them to their private Devotions, for which (and for their speaking to the People to take Warning by them) they had some little Time allow’d them: After this the Cart drew away, and they were turn’d off, calling all the while upon GOD, to have Mercy on their departing Souls.

Note, That William Dyer did particularly confess, That he had committed the following Robberies, viz. 1st, he robb’d a House and a Shop at Tottenham, 2dly, the Reverend Mr. Butto’s House; 3dly, Mr. Allen of a Mare at Edmonton in Middlesex; 4thly, Mr. Coward’s House at Waltham-stow; 5thly, Mr. Huvet’s House; and 6thly, Mr. King’s in the Parish of Greenstead; 7thly & lastly, the House of Mr. Reynolds at Stanford-rivers in Essex. These he said, were (as far as he could remember) all the Houses he had broken and robb’d, &c. (besides those he stood Condemn’d for) since his Discharge out of Newgate in August last; and, That he never robb’d on the Highways, nor ever committed Murder.

This is all the Account I here can give of these Malefactors; Four of of whom, together with Five others mention’d in my former Papers, make up Nine out of Fifty-four that pleaded the QUEEN’s Pardon in August last, who (by new-repeated Offences) brought themselves to this shameful End: Which I pray GOD may be such a Warning to those that remain, that they never return again to their Sins and Follies, but lead such a Course of Life as may be comfortable to them in this World, and (through Mercy) advance them to unspeakable Joys and Comforts in the World to come.

PAUL LORRAIN, Ordinary .

Friday, July 16. 1714.

* At the time, this was still a generic sentence of exile (note that the onus is on the prisoner to “transport himself” out of Great Britain). Our hanging-date, however, arrives barely three years distant from the opening of organized mass convict transportation to the Americas, which would continue until the American Revolution. This era is covered in detail by Early American Crime author and occasional Executed Today guest-blogger Anthony Vaver, author of Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America.

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1450: Jack Cade posthumously quartered

Add comment July 16th, 2017 Headsman

On or around this date in 1450 the body of the rebel Jack Cade was posthumously beheaded and quartered.

He’s one of England’s first names in rebellion, and Cade’s Kentish rising indexed England’s catastrophic breakdown under the weak king Henry VI, a milepost between the waning Hundred Years’ War and the onrushing Wars of the Roses.


Panel of a 1964-1965 ceramic mural in Peckham, by Polish artist Adam Kossowski. (cc) image from Peter Gasston.

And for all of these, Cade included, Henry was the chaos-making variable.

He had just about finished squandering the entire French patrimony so gloriously won for him by the sword-arm of his doughty father Henry V, and defeated troops fleeing French advances in Normandy compounded, as they tramped up the southeast beaten and looting, the general fury at the king’s unpopular marriage to the French princess Margaret of Anjou. With shambolic governance allied to a slumping economy, corrupt taxation, and mounting public debt, things were coming unglued.

Like many kings, Henry benefited from the instinct to target overt blame away from the sovereign himself and towards the aides and counselors who surround him. One of the very most hated of those counselors was the man who had negotiated that French marriage — giving away to the French crown the hard-won provinces of Anjou and Maine as its price. William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was so near to being attainted or lynched around London that King Henry exiled him for his own safety to France. But Suffolk didn’t make there: instead, he was captured at sea and murdered.

When his body washed up in Kent, rumors seem to have anticipated a royal reprisal against that region and in favor of the late hated favorite, perhaps the trigger for the events in this post.

Nevertheless, the “rebels” did not conceive themselves engaged in a seditious enterprise; this is apparent from the manifesto of grievances it issued, with moderating tones and language echoing complaints that the Commons was raising to no avail in Parliament.

Item. The law serves of nought else in these days but for to do wrong, for nothing is spread almost but false matters by colour of the law for reward, dread and favour and so no remedy is had in the Court of Equity in any way.

Item. We say our sovereign lord may understand that his false council has lost his law, his merchandise is lost, his common people is destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, the king himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat nor drink, and he owes more than ever any King of England ought, for daily his traitors about him where anything should come to him by his laws, anon they take it from him.

Item. We will that all men know we blame not all the lords, nor all those that are about the king’s person, nor all gentlemen nor yeomen, nor all men of law, nor all bishops, nor all priests, but all such as may be found guilty by just and true inquiry and by the law.

Item. We will that it be known we will not rob, nor plunder, nor steal, but that these defaults be amended, and then we will go home …

The man at the forefront is a cipher: he went by the potent alias of “John Mortimer”, the surname unmistakably linking his cause to the rival royal claimants over at the the House of York, but neither the name of “Jack Cade” by which history recalls his movement nor the antecedent experiences that thrust him into leadership can be attested with any confidence.

He appears by the half-glimpses we catch of him in the period’s chronicles to be a vigorous and intelligent character. He shied away from battle with a royal army, wisely avoiding the taint of treason that would come with entering the field against the king’s own person; but, it was an organized withdrawal that left his forces capable of ambushing and destroying the detachment from that army that the king had sent to pursue them, a testament to Cade/Mortimer’s adroit command.

Panicked when the news of this reversal resulted in his own forces taking up the rebels’ call to punish traitorous lords, King Henry beat feet for the safety of Kenilworth Castle and abandoned the stage of London to this mysterious new character.

The rebel militia seized it on the third of July that year, visiting its promised popular justice in the process upon several of those “false counsellors” detested among the populace — including the Bishop of Salisbury, the Baron Saye and Sele, and the former sheriff of Kent, William Cromer; Shakespeare gives us a bloody-minded* Cade bantering with his prey Saye and Sele in Henry VI, Part 2 — “Ye shall have a hempen caudle, then, and the help of hatchet … Go, take him away, I say, and strike off his head presently; and then break into his son-in-law’s house, Sir James [sic] Cromer, and strike off his head, and bring them both upon two poles hither.”


Charles Lucy, “Lord Saye and Sele brought before Jack Cade 4th July 1450”

Peasant risings like these are made for eventual failure, but it the unusually high water mark achieved by Cade’s rebellion before receding makes another measure of the crown’s weakness. After ceding the Kentishmen the run of London for several days, it took a desperate nighttime battle on London Bridge to finally push them out.

A general amnesty went abroad to induce the rebels to disperse, but it was not for Cade — who fled to Sussex where he was taken, and mortally wounded in the process, by the new sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden. (A road called Cade Street now runs in the vicinity; there is a monument to his capture in Heathfield.) It was Cade’s good fortune to succumb to his injuries on the journey back to London but the pains of justice were inflicted upon his remains just the same.

Cade died on Sunday, July 12. The precise date for his posthumous disgrace is not certain from the sources available to us. Many writers report July 15, seemingly based on John Benet’s chronicle, which is a strong source and asserts the 15th unambiguously. I’m here guardedly preferring the 16th based on Gregory’s Chronicle, whose authors were clearly Londoners, and who narrated the progress of the week following Cade’s death with specificity.

And that day was that fals traytoure the Captayne of Kentte i-take and slayne in the Welde in the countre of Sowsex, and uppon the morowe he was brought in a carre alle nakyd, and at the Herte in Sowetheworke there the carre was made stonde stylle, the wyffe of the howse myght se hym yf hyt were the same man or no that was namyd the Captayne of Kente, for he was loggyd whythe yn hyr howse in hys pevys tyme of hys mys rewylle and rysynge. And thenne he was hadde in to the Kyngys Bynche, and there he lay from Monday at evyn [i.e., Monday, July 13] unto the Thursseday nexte folowynge at evyn [Thursday, July 16]; and whythe yn the Kynges Benche the sayde captayne was be-heddyde and quarteryde; and the same day i-d[r]awe a-pon a hyrdylle in pecys whythe the hedde by-twyne hys breste from the Kyngys Benche thoroughe owte Sowthewerke, and thenne ovyr Londyn Brygge, and thenne thoroughe London unto Newegate, and thenne hys hedde was takyn and sette uppon London Brygge.

Cade’s is the rebellion that gets the ink, but several other uprisings in the South of England followed in the months ahead … ill omen for the king who would soon experience the ruin of his reign and family.

The History of England podcast covers Jack Cade’s rebellion in Episode 161.

* It is one of Cade’s subalterns in this play who supplies posterity with the immortal quip, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

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1950: The Chaplain-Medic Massacre

Add comment July 16th, 2016 Headsman

One of the noteworthy atrocities to decorate the chaotic early weeks of the Korean War took place on this date in 1950: the Chaplain-Medic Massacre.

Named by the Joe McCarthy-led Senate committee that in 1953 set out to catalogue (pdf) “a series of war crimes against American and United Nations personnel which constituted one of the most heinous and barbaric epochs of recorded history,” the Chaplain-Medic affair stars a chaplain and (wait for it) a medic.

During the Battle of Taejon in mid-January as the North Korean army swept down the peninsula, it committed a number of war crimes against American POWs.

In this instance, the North Korean 3rd Division came upon some 20 to 30 injured Americans of the 19th Infantry in the hills outside the village of Tuman. They had been left during a withdrawal in difficult terrain by their comrades who could no longer carry them, in hopes that another American detachment would pass through who could escort them back to friendly lines.

With them were two uninjured and unarmed non-combatants who had voluntarily remained behind to succor the stricken men: Catholic chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter, and medic Linton J. Buttrey.

As the North Korean patrol approached, Buttrey was able to flee. (He would later testify to McCarthy’s committee.) Felhoelter, remaining, knelt to issue extreme unction to his comrades and was executed mid-prayer … followed by all the wounded men in his care.

Buttrey earned the Silver Star for remaining to treat the wounded men. Felhoelter was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; his name appears on Arlington National Cemetery’s Chaplain’s Hill monument to slain military clergy.

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1517: Cardinal Alfonso Petrucci, plotter

1 comment July 16th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1517, the Italian cardinal Alfonso Petrucci was put to death for a conspiracy to murder Pope Leo X.

Leo had been acclaimed pope in 1513 at a conclave noted for nearly electing the worst possible pontiff when cardinals hedging their first-ballot votes while they took the temperature of the room all happened to vote alike for the feeblest candidate on the expectation that nobody else was voting for that guy.

Chastened by the near-miss, the leading candidate Giovanni de’ Medici promptly cut a deal with his chief legitimate rival for St. Peter’s seat, Raffaele Riario.*

This arrangement boosted to St. Peter’s throne the first of four popes from the Medici, intriguingly done with the acquiescence of Riario, who was kin to one of the prime movers of the anti-Medici Pazzi Conspiracy from many years before. Both Giovanni de’ Medici and Raffaele Riario were too young to have played a part in those events, but the lingering familial animosity might well bear on what transpired in the papacy of Giovanni de’ Medici — or rather, as we shall know him henceforth, Pope Leo X.

Leo was an entirely worldly character, whose enthusiasm for the peninsular politics that shaped his native habitat would help lead a German cleric to nail 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg later this same year of 1517. “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of Saint Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” Martin Luther demanded (thesis 86) of Leo’s increasingly shameless indulgences racket.

Acting more the Medici than the Vicar of Christ, Leo in 1516 deposed the tyrant of Florence’s neighbor and rival, Siena. The declining Sienese Republic was a prime target of Florence’s expansionist ambitions, and indeed it would be gobbled up in the mid-16th century by the Florence-based and Medici-led Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

In Leo’s time, his coup shattered Siena’s ruling Petrucci family** to the injury of one of Leo’s fellow churchmen, Cardinal Alfonso Petrucci English Wikipedia entry | the much more detailed Italian). Alfonso now had cause to use his office for the agenda of his family and his city, and sought a countervailing anti-Medici arrangement with the condottiero Francesco Maria I della Rovere, whom Leo was even then fighting a war against.

The arrangement came to nothing and Leo assured Alfonso of safe conduct for his return to Rome. It was just a lot of scheming Italian oligarchs doing what they always did, some of them while wearing cassocks.

Except upon Alfonso’s return, Leo had the Petrucci cardinal and another cardinal friendly to him clapped in prison for an alleged plot to poison the pontiff.

Cossetted court cardinals suddenly found themselves accused papicides under the threat (and, for some, the reality) of torture. Hard-to-credit “confessions” duly ensued with Leo enlivening the spring and summer of 1517 with preposterous security theatrics.

On June 8 they assembled in Consistory, when the Pope burst out into complaints. He had evidence, he said, that two other Cardinals whom he had trusted had joined in the conspiracy against him; if they would but come forward and confess he would pardon them freely; if they refused to confess he would have them carried to prison and would treat them like the other [accused]. The Cardinals gazed on one another in alarm, and no one moved. The Pope asked them to speak, and each in turn denied … Leo X’s dramatic stroke was a failure; he could not succeed in his unworthy attempt to induce some unsuspected person to criminate himself. (Source)

It’s hardly past thinking that rival factions would poison off a pope, and there’s been some latter-day research suggesting that something really was afoot. For that matter, Leo’s actual death in 1521 has often been suspected of being aided by an apothecary’s philter.

But outside the dramatics, Leo scarcely handled his prisoners in 1517 as if he were much in genuine fear for his life.

Instead, the practical pontifex maximus used it as a shakedown opportunity against anyone who could be denounced a confederate of the hotheaded young Petrucci. The Genoese Cardinal Sauli, arrested together with his friend Petrucci, was forced to buy his liberty for 50,000 ducats; Cardinal Riario, Leo’s old opposite number from the 1513 conclave, was implicated by Petrucci and Sauli as knowing himself the prospective beneficiary of the plot, and Riario was forced to retire to Naples upon payment of an exit tariff of 150,000 ducats plus his Roman palace. (It remains papal property to this day as the Palazzo della Cancelleria.) Further downmarket, Cardinals Soderini and Adrian fled Rome in despair of discharging the 25,000-ducat fines affixed upon each of them.

Money, however, would not suffice for Cardinal Petrucci, the active center of whatever conspiracy existed. Petrucci probably did murmur something one could construct as treason against his Holy Father, if one regarded them in their ecclesiastical rather than their dynastic positions, and he evidently engaged the Pope’s surgeon Giovanni Battista da Vercelli as an instrument of the proposed assassination or at least made loose talk to that effect.

While the doctor, along with Petrucci’s private secretary, were hauled through the streets to a demonstrative gibbeting, Petrucci was strangled privately in his cell on July 16, 1517. It was done by a Moor out of consideration for the impropriety of a Christian slaying a father of the Holy Church.

Beyond the rent-seeking and the rival-eradicating, Leo leveraged the purported plot to appoint 31 new cardinals in July 1517, basically doubling the College of Cardinals at one stroke while stocking the ranks with men who could offer him political support or timely bribes.

* Riario’s legacy can still be seen around the Vatican to this day: he’s the guy who brought Michelangelo to Rome.

** Leo’s coup deposed one Petrucci and raised up a different, more compliant Petrucci.

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1793: Joseph Chalier, Jacobin martyr

3 comments July 16th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Joseph Chalier was guillotined in Lyon(s).

Chalier (English Wikipedia entry | French*), a knockabout silk merchants’ agent from Lyon, oddly became that city’s exemplary Jacobin fire-eater and the leading spirit in its Jacobin clubs. He was elected to the Lyon municipal council in 1792, and while in Paris even took part in the August 10, 1792 insurrection deposing Louis XVI.

Lyon, France’s “second city” and the hub of a considerable silk-weaving industry, was not nearly so amenable as Paris to the French Revolution’s radicals: indeed, the wartime anathema most of Europe had laid upon regicidal France devastated the weaving trade, and the particular grievances of established silk weaver artisans were here advanced but there complicated by the advent of the Revolution.**

Consequently, liberal Girondins, merchant elites, some craftsmen, and even outright royalists made a formidable coalition checking radical Jacobins in municipal politics. (Chalier even warned the National Assembly of this dynamic.)

Jacobins could never quite get political control of the city, until political crisis toppled the Lyon government in March 1793 and finally put Chalier et al in the saddle. (They immediately erected a public guillotine, of course.)

Their brief ascendancy expired 80 days later, when a municipal revolt put Chalier and his allies in chains, and reasserted more moderate control — just as the moderate Gironde was being expelled from the National Convention. After terse negotiations between Lyon and Paris hit a quick impasse, Lyon guillotined Chalier. “My death will cost this city dear,” Chalier warned his tribunal.

The next month, it lay under a terrible siege by the central government.

In the aftermath of that conquest, the Committee of Public Safety ruthlessly suppressed the seditious Lyonnaise, even going so far as to decree (without effect) the forfeit of the city’s very name — henceforward to be known as Ville-Affranchie, the Liberated City.

Hastening to the city and then hastening back to make political hay of the bloodbath, Committee of Public Safety member Collot d’Herbois “sent to Paris — over and against Robespierre‘s religion — quite another god, a horrible fetish, the head of Chalier, thrice crushed by the Girondin blade.”† This ghastly relic was then paraded in triumph in Paris for Collot d’Herbois’s heroic homecoming, its former owner apotheosized into the Revolution’s martyrs’ pantheon alongside Marat.

As a result, one can still today see porcelain busts of Chalier, of the type widely manufactured in early 1794 for posturing in churches, homes, civic clubs, and anywhere else a display of conspicuous patriotic sentiment might be advisable.


Chalier’s bust. By David Monniaux (self photo) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

* One of the best biographical resources on Chalier is an 1887 French scholarly article available (for free) from JSTOR.

** See David Longfellow, “Silk Weavers and the Social Struggle in Lyon during the French Revolution, 1789-1794” in French Historical Studies, Spring 1981. Despite the title, this article also explicates the background of labor dynamics in the Lyon silk industry and its history of class conflict going back to the 17th century.

Jules Michelet, quoted by Chantal Thomas and David F. Bell in “Terror in Lyon”, SubStance, Vol. 27, No. 2, Issue 86: Special Issue: Reading Violence (1998).

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1936: Mary Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate

2 comments July 16th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1936, onetime lovers Everett C. Applegate (referred to in some accounts as “Edward” or “Earl”) and Mary Frances Creighton, who went by her middle name, were electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison for the murder of Ada Applegate, Everett’s wife.


Mary Frances Creighton (top) and Everett Applegate.

Newspapers of the time referred to Frances as the Long Island Borgia. The murder came about as a result of, depending on your point of view, a Jerry Springer-type sensation or horrific child sexual abuse or both: In 1934, Frances and her husband and their two children were living with the Applegates and their daughter in Nassau County, New York.

By January 1935, Everett Applegate was having an affair with Frances. He was also interested in the Creightons’ blooming teenage daughter, Ruth. By June of that year the thirty-something man was sleeping with her also, with the knowledge of — and in at least one case, in sight of — Ada, whose obesity kept her mostly confined to bed.

Ruth was delighted with her new boyfriend, who drove her anyplace she wanted to go, gave her money and and bought her clothes and other gifts. But when Frances found out about the relationship in July, she was furious and humiliated.

Not only was Everett in the arms of another, but he was making her, Frances, look like a bad mother. Ruth was going to school dressed like a harlot, even wearing lipstick. Suppose she became pregnant? This would bring terrible shame upon the family.

In mid-September, Ada Applegate became violently sick, with diarrhea and bilious vomit. She spent a few days in the hospital and was discharged, without a diagnosis but feeling much better.

Immediately after she got home, however, her symptoms returned, and she died two days later, on September 27. The cause of death was listed as “coronary occlusion” — in other words, a heart attack.

Frances was a bit of a hard case and no stranger to murder. She and her husband John were living with his parents, as well as her teenage brother, Raymond Avery, in New Jersey in 1920 when Anna and Walter Creighton suddenly sickened and died, one after the other.

In 1923, Raymond too became ill with the same symptoms and rapidly expired, and his sister and brother-in-law collected his $1,000 life insurance policy. Frances and John were charged with his murder after the autopsy, held in spite of their objections, found arsenic in young Raymond’s body.

After the autopsy, deeply suspicious investigators exhumed the elder Creightons’ bodies while their son and daughter-in-law were in jail. No arsenic could be found in Walter’s system, but Anna’s contained a lethal dose, and Frances (but not John this time) was charged with murder even before she came to trial for her brother’s death. She’d never gotten along with her in-laws or they with her, and just before Anna became ill, Frances had made ominous statements that the old woman would shortly “destroy herself.”

The Creightons’ four-day trial for Raymond’s murder resulted in acquittal for both defendants. John went home and Frances remained in custody for another two weeks until she faced her next trial, for the death of Anna Creighton. The prosecution was unable to prove she had personally purchased any poison, and the 24-year-old defendant, an attractive nursing mother who was keeping her infant son in her cell with her, presented a sympathetic picture. Once again, she heard a jury announce a murder acquittal.

But she didn’t take warning from her two near escapes.

Twelve years later, Ada Applegate became the third person close to Frances Creighton who died of arsenic poisoning. Goodness knows how many more she might have ventured.

The police knew about Frances’s relatives’ proclivities for mysterious deaths, and were deeply suspicious. An autopsy revealed three times the lethal dose of arsenic in Ada’s corpse, and it didn’t take long for Frances to crack under questioning.

She admitted to poisoning Ada, but also implicated Everett, saying he’d known about the crime all along and had helped her. She also claimed he used his knowledge of her past to blackmail her into having sex with him.

Frances killed Ada, Frances said, so Everett would have a chance to make an honest woman out of Ruth, and because Ada had been gossiping in the neighborhood about her husband’s affair with the girl.

Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate found themselves arrested. Only then did a bewildered John find out about the sexual improprieties that had been going on for months right under his nose. Remarkably, he stood by Frances and said he believed her to be innocent of murder.

He was the only one.

A look into Frances’s past revealed some very additional suspicious incidents apart from the deaths in her family. Relatives of a neighbor she quarreled with got extremely ill after having tea with Frances, and although they pulled through, later on, the neighbor’s house burned down.

The fire was arson and Frances had been the prime suspect, but there was insufficient evidence to arrest her.

As for Everett Applegate, the case against him was far less persuasive.

Frances made three statements: in the first, as told above, she implicated her erstwhile lover. In the second, she said she’d done the murder all on her own and Everett was not involved. The third time she went back to blaming him: he had mixed the poison, and she had given it to his wife.

To this shaky accusation add the ill feeling engendered by Everett’s caddish mores, and it was enough for an indictment. (Everett was also charged with criminally assaulting Ruth. At his arraignment he attempted to plead guilty to this, saying, “I want to marry this girl.” The judge refused to accept the plea.)

By the time of the trial, Frances had gone all-in on blaming Everett. She claimed the lothario had “made” her poison Ada. Her defense portrayed her as a weak woman who had been lead astray by an evil, domineering male. But Everett’s lawyer made sure the jury heard about the deaths of her brother and parents-in-law in New Jersey, and her conviction was a foregone conclusion.

The main evidence against Everett was Frances’s testimony, the fact that he was known to have purchased the rat poison that wound up in Ada’s eggnog, and his despoiling the teenage daughter of his paramour. Everett’s defense attorney agreed their client was a scumbag and a pervert, but denied that he was a murderer.

In his concluding arguments, the attorney asked the jury to acquit Everett of killing his wife and convict him instead of the rape of Ruth. It didn’t work: the jury convicted him on both counts.

While the two condemned awaited their fate, Ruth, who had been sent to a girls’ reform school, would later write a letter to the authorities. She said her mother was innocent and she had heard Everett say he wanted to do away with Ada so he could marry her. No one believed her story.

On the day of their executions, Frances was given the first slot in hopes that she might make a final statement exonerating Everett. Alas, she was in no condition to give any statement at all; suffering from hysterical paralysis, she had to be taken to the chamber on a wheelchair, and some reports state that she was completely unconscious when they strapped her into it. She was the first executee at Sing Sing in 45 years who was unable to walk on their own to their death.

Everett, still protesting his innocence, followed her ten minutes later.

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2011: Three in Shiraz

2 comments April 16th, 2012 Headsman

A year ago this date, three young men identified as Abolfazl Faraei, Reza Roshanfekr and Seyed Rokneddin Karimi were executed by hanging from cranes in Shiraz, Iran, on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, and murder.

Disturbing images of the public hangings follow; click on any save the last to zoom to a larger disturbing.

Update: Shiraz marked the anniversary date by hanging eight more the day this post was published, April 16, 2012.

Another man was reported hanged the same date for murder in nearby Takhteh Kenar.

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1937: Pavel Vasiliev, peasant poet

Add comment July 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Elena Aleksandrovna Vasilieva arrived to Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison to visit her husband, “peasant poet” Pavel Vasiliev.

“He’s been transferred to another place,” she was told.

He had been: six feet under, that very day.

Vasiliev hailed from a Cossack family in Kazakhstan, and he would fight his short life’s literary battles with a pugnacity reflecting his youthful work as a sailor and gold miner in Siberia. He was renowned for his boozing and carousing.

The early 20th century “peasant” literary movement was just the place for him.

While the Futurists waxed eloquent over the wonders of the new machine age, the peasant writers and poets were moved by a strong revulsion for industrialization … [and glorified the village and longed to return to the simple life of rural Russia. At the same time the futility of their dream was evident even to them, and their writings are often of a tragic bent.

And bents tended towards tragedy in the 1930s.

A little too outspoken for his own good, Vasiliev openly defended Nikolay Bukharin (arrested in February 1937) as “the conscience of peasant Russia,” and characterized the politically expedient denunciations made by fellow scribblers as “pornographic scrawls on the margins of Russian literature.”

It’s a remark that would age a lot better than the man who uttered it.

The admiration of many contemporaries — Pasternak considered Vasiliev brilliant (see this Russian biography; most of the information about Vasiliev online is in Russian) — could hardly aid a man coming under official fire for “kulak bohemian ideology.” Vasiliev did prison stints (Russian again) in the early 1930s for counter-revolutionary writing, and then for “malicious hooliganism” after whaling on a former friend who had denounced him in print.

I accept the title of a rumbler,
If the brattle of gusli is thunder.**

Pavel scorned the warning, leaving his widowed Elena to husband his many unpublished verses until they could finally be published (and the poet rehabilitated) in the 1950s, after Stalin died.

* The most famous poet of this school was Sergei Yesenin, whose death at the end of a hangman’s rope at age 30 is unfortunately not eligible for this site … since Yesenin put up the rope himself. Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.

** Thanks to Sonechka for the translation assist.

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1676: Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers

2 comments July 16th, 2010 Headsman

This date’s story is amply but succinctly conveyed by the public-domain entry in the 19th century tome Biography, or Third Division of the “English Encyclopedia”.

(Paragraph breaks have been added for readability.)


Brinvilliers, Marie Marguerite, Marquise de (English Wikipedia entry | French) who obtained infamy as a poisoner in the time of Louis XIV, was a daughter of the Dreux d’Aubrai, a lieutenant civil, or judge having a certain limited jurisdiction, at whose hands she received a careful education.

In 1651, whilst still very young, she became the wife of the Marquis de Brinvilliers, with whom she resided at her father’s house, in Paris. Her husband, who was the colonel of the Regiment de Normandie, entertained at his house a young officer of cavalry of the Regiment de Tracy, named Gaudin de Sainte-Croix, a native of Montauban, and the illegitimate member of an illustrious family. He was unprincipled enough to encourage the unlawful passion which the marchioness conceived for him; and her father, in consequence, procured in 1663 a lettre de cachet against Sainte-Croix, who underwent a year’s incarceration in the Bastille.

During his confinement he learned from a fellow-prisoner, an Italian named Exili, the art of preparing subtle poisons; a secret which, upon his enlargement, he communicated to his mistress, who determined to poison her father and the other members of her family. Having first wantonly essayed her art upon the patients of the Hotel-Dieu, she proceeded, with the aid of a servant named Jean Amelin, or La Chaussee, to take the lives of her father, her two brothers, and her sister.

This feat she accomplished gradually between the years 1666 and 1670. More than once she poisoned her husband; but Sainte-Croix, whose prudence shrank from the obligation of marrying the terrible widow, each time preserved the life of the Marquis by the administration of an antidote.

Sainte-Croix died suddenly in July, 1672, in the act, it is said, of compounding a subtle poison, against the effects of which he was left unprotected by the accidental fracture of a glass mask which he wore as a defence against the fumes of his deadly drugs.*

As no relative came forward to claim his property, it was taken possession of by the public authorities, who, instead of complying with the written instructions of Sainte-Croix,** dated May 25th, 1672, that a particular casket should be delivered to Madame de Brinvilliers, examined it, together with above thirty letters which he had received from her. There was also found a promise on her part to pay Sainte-Croix a sum of 30,000 libres, bearing the date of June 20th, 1670, eight days after the poisoning of the “lieutenant civil,” her father. The casket proved to be full of packets of various poisons, to each of which was affixed a label indicating the peculiar effects it was calculated to produce.

The Marchioness, fatally compromised by these and other circumstances, sought safety in flight, repairing first to England, then to Germany, and finally to Liege, where she was apprehended.

Being taken to Paris, she denied her guilt; but after her condemnation made a confession, in which, and in a kind of autobiography, she charged herself with more and greater horrors than had seemed possible to rumour or suspicion.


The Marquise de Brinvilliers, shortly before her execution, by Charles LeBrun

She was executed at seven o’clock on the evening of the 16th of July, 1676, being first beheaded and afterwards burnt. As her application and use of poison, which went by the name of poudre de succession, seemed to be growing prevalent, Louis XIV instituted a special court for the investigation and punishment of this species of crime.


This tale, uniting the attractions of bodice-ripper, true crime, and costume drama, has been adapted to stage and literature numerous times.

Alexandre Dumas pere, a true aficionado of historical crime and scandal, turned it into a much lengthier piece, from which we morbidly excerpt his description of the water torture the criminal endured prior to beheading — beginning with the sentence of the court.


“That by the finding of the court, d’Aubray de Brinvilliers is convicted of causing the death by poison of Maitre Dreux d’Aubray, her father, and of the two Maitres d’Aubray, her brothers, one a civil lieutenant, the other a councillor to the Parliament, also of attempting the life of Therese d’Aubray, her sister; in punishment whereof the court has condemned and does condemn the said d’Aubray de Brinvilliers to make the rightful atonement before the great gate of the church of Paris, whither she shall be conveyed in a tumbril, barefoot, a rope on her neck, holding in her hands a burning torch two pounds in weight; and there on her knees she shall say and declare that maliciously, with desire for revenge and seeking their goods, she did poison her father, cause to be poisoned her two brothers, and attempt the life of her sister, whereof she doth repent, asking pardon of God, of the king, and of the judges; and when this is done, she shall be conveyed and carried in the same tumbril to the Place de Greve of this town, there to have her head cut off on a scaffold to be set up for the purpose at that place; afterwards her body to be burnt and the ashes scattered; and first she is to be subjected to the question ordinary and extraordinary, that she may reveal the names of her accomplices. She is declared to be deprived of all successions from her said father, brothers, and sister, from the date of the several crimes; and all her goods are confiscated to the proper persons; and the sum of 4000 livres shall be paid out of her estate to the king, and 400 livres to the Church for prayers to be said on behalf of the poisoned persons; and all the costs shall be paid, including those of Amelin called Lachaussee. In Parliament, 16th July 1676.

The marquise heard her sentence without showing any sign of fear or weakness. When it was finished, she said to the registrar, “Will you, sir, be so kind as to read it again? I had not expected the tumbril, and I was so much struck by that that I lost the thread of what followed.”

The registrar read the sentence again. From that moment she was the property of the executioner, who approached her. She knew him by the cord he held in his hands, and extended her own, looking him over coolly from head to foot without a word. The judges then filed out, disclosing as they did so the various apparatus of the question. The marquise firmly gazed upon the racks and ghastly rings, on which so many had been stretched crying and screaming. She noticed the three buckets of water prepared for her, and turned to the registrar — for she would not address the executioner — saying, with a smile, “No doubt all this water is to drown me in? I hope you don’t suppose that a person of my size could swallow it all.” The executioner said not a word, but began taking off her cloak and all her other garments, until she was completely naked. He then led her up to the wall and made her sit on the rack of the ordinary question, two feet from the ground. There she was again asked to give the names of her accomplices, the composition of the poison and its antidote; but she made the same reply as to the doctor [namely, that she had no accomplices besides Sainte-Croix and did not know how to make the poison or its antidote], only adding, “If you do not believe me, you have my body in your hands, and you can torture me.”

The registrar signed to the executioner to do his duty. He first fastened the feet of the marquise to two rings close together fixed to a board; then making her lie down, he fastened her wrists to two other rings in the wall, distant about three feet from each other. The head was at the same height as the feet, and the body, held up on a trestle, described a half-curve, as though lying over a wheel. To increase the stretch of the limbs, the man gave two turns to a crank, which pushed the feet, at first about twelve inches from the rings, to a distance of six inches. And here we may leave our narrative to reproduce the official report.

“On the small trestle, while she was being stretched, she said several times, ‘My God! you are killing me! And I only spoke the truth.’

“The water was given: she turned and twisted, saying, ‘You are killing me!’


The torture of the Marquise de Brinvilliers. (Click for a larger image.)

“The water was again given.

“Admonished to name her accomplices, she said there was only one man, who had asked her for poison to get rid of his wife, but he was dead.

“The water was given; she moved a little, but would not say anything.

“Admonished to say why, if she had no accomplice, she had written from the Conciergerie to Penautier, begging him to do all he could for her, and to remember that his interests in this matter were the same as her own, she said that she never knew Penautier had had any understanding with Sainte-Croix about the poisons, and it would be a lie to say otherwise; but when a paper was found in Sainte-Croix’s box that concerned Penautier, she remembered how often she had seen him at the house, and thought it possible that the friendship might have included some business about the poisons; that, being in doubt on the point, she risked writing a letter as though she were sure, for by doing so she was not prejudicing her own case; for either Penautier was an accomplice of Sainte-Croix or he was not. If he was, he would suppose the marquise knew enough to accuse him, and would accordingly do his best to save her; if he was not, the letter was a letter wasted, and that was all.

“The water was again given; she turned and twisted much, but said that on this subject she had said all she possibly could; if she said anything else, it would be untrue.”

* According to Anne Somerset in The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV, this story of Sainte-Croix’s death by accidental exposure to his own toxins is “a myth” that developed in view of subsequent events.

“In fact,” writes Somerset, “his end was far more prosaic. He died after a long illness, having received the last rites and performed his final devotions with terrible piety.”

** Because Sainte-Croix died in debt, and his possessions were inventoried for his creditors.

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1546: Anne Askew, the only woman tortured in the Tower

7 comments July 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1546, Protestant martyr Anne Askew was martyred for her Protestantism.

One of the more intriguing religious martyrs of Tudor England, Askew was a gentlewoman forced to take her older sister’s place in an arranged betrothal when said sister (as was the style in the 16th century) dropped dead young.

Askew’s adherence to Protestantism put her at loggerheads with her Catholic husband, a domestic prefiguring of the factional political dispute that would see her to a Smithfield stake: the Reformation that rent England was itself contested within, with more aggressively reformist Protestant types resisted by the more conservative Catholic-without-Rome faction. Taking the wrong line at the wrong time was taking your life in your hands, and in the treacherous Tudor court, religion became the stalking-horse of deadly politics.

A like conflict played out in townships and households throughout the realm.

Askew and her husband separated (but were not granted divorce) over her conversion to Protestantism; she moved to London and started preaching doctrines anathema to the doctrinaire. As a noblewoman herself, she was absorbed into social circles reaching Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.

Askew’s outspoken heterodoxy soon brought her into conflict with anti-Protestants, and when the “send her back to hubbie” strategy didn’t take, they had her clapped in the Tower.

Here she evidently became a pawn in courtly politics; with the obese and aging king liable to drop dead any moment, religious and political authority during the succession was at stake.

Askew was therefore racked in the Tower in an effort to extract evidence against powerful women of known Protestant inclinations, possibly up to and including the queen herself.

Then came Rich and one of the council, charging me upon my obedience, to show unto them, if I knew any man or woman of my sect. My answer was, that I knew none. Then they asked me of my Lady of Suffolk, my Lady of Sussex, my Lady of Hertford, my Lady Denny, and my Lady Fitzwilliam. To whom I answered, if I should pronounce any thing against them, that I were not able to prove it. Then said they unto me, that the king was informed that I could name, if I would, a great number of my sect. I answered, that the king was as well deceived in that behalf, as dissembled with in other matters.

Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still, and did not cry, my lord chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead.

Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack. Incontinently I swooned, and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours reasoning with my lord chancellor upon the bare floor; where he, with many flattering words, persuaded me to leave my opinion.

Askew didn’t talk, and the act of torturing a woman shocked contemporaries so much that it has never been officially repeated. She was burned to death with three fellow-heretics in Smithfield, so crippled by torture that she had to be carried in a chair to the pyre.


Anne Askew’s executed, together with John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian. Preaching in the pulpit is Nicholas Shaxton, who avoided the fagots with a timely recantation.

Askew survives to us as a particularly consequential Protestant martyr not only for her what-might-have-been proximity to a court plot that might have altered the course of English history, but because she left her own testimony to the ordeal.

Her Examinations — firsthand accounts of her interrogations — were reportedly smuggled out of England where they were published by John Bale. Still, we come by Anne’s own voice in the mediated form of other (male) publishers with their own agendas.

One reading of Bale’s editions that has now become conventional envisions Askew’s narrative as an embattled text: an authentic narrative, the autobiography of a learned and valiant woman, onto which Bale has imposed an insensitive, misogynistic misreading.

Specifically, Bale has been dinged for shoehorning source material that reveals a contentious and tough-minded critic into the vanilla pattern of the meek woman suffering for the faith — a cardboard cutout martyr shorn of less consumer-friendly unfeminine behavior.

While both Bale and Protestant martyrologist John Foxe, who also published versions of the Examinations, stand in that sense between us and the “real” Anne Askew, their polemical needs are precisely the reason we are able to descry the woman standing behind the martyr-archetype.

while her body was consumed by the flames, her identity remains at least partially preserved. The Henrician Anglo-Catholics made Askew famous through the process of her trial and public execution. The Protestant reformers rhetorically retrieved Askew’s broken, tortured, criminalized body from the stake and restyled it as a saint and symbol of their cause. Her identity thus paradoxically emerges in a variety of ways from the tensions … that we find in all the scraps of surviving archival material relating to her. (Theresa D. Kemp, “Translating (Anne) Askew: The Textual Remains of a Sixteenth-Century Heretic and Saint,” Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Winter, 1999))

Part of the Themed Set: The Feminine Mystique.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Nobility,Political Expedience,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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