1388: Sir Simon Burley

Add comment May 5th, 2019 Headsman

Sir Simon Burley lost his head on this date in 1388 to the fury of the Lords Appellant.

The childhood tutor of the young King Richard II, Burley had come up in the world as a bosom friend and comrade in arms to Richard’s uncle, Edward the Black Prince. A few years prior it had been entrusted to Burley to sojourn on the continent and arrange Richard’s wife, Anne of Bohemia — and a good job it was for him too since he was away when his head might have wound up on a pike during the 1381 peasants’ rebellion.

Instead, it would be peers in the court who dished out that treatment.

Over the course of the 1380s, Richard’s relationship with the top nobility progressively worsened and finally came to civil war in 1386-1388. The king’s foes, the Lords Appellant prevailed in that fight and with the young king in their power forced him to seat a parliament at which the Lords Appellant would scourge the king’s former allies. It’s called the Merciless Parliament; the reader may judge the reason.

We have already in these pages met several casualties of this purge; even within the context of the bloody intra-elite purge, Burley’s persecution struck a painful chord; two of the Lords Appellants’ junior affiliates, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke, who in time would depose Richard and seat himself on the throne as King Henry IV, both opposed killing Burley.* The queen, as powerless as her husband, prostrated herself before the implacable senior magnates on behalf of the old man who had escorted her from Bohemia.


Nineteenth century illustration of Queen Anne begging the Earl of Arundel to spare Simon Burley. Arundel refused her entreaties; a decade later, it was he who got no mercy.

All was for naught. Chronicler Jean Froissart, confesses himself “exceedingly vexed” at Burley’s execution, “and personally much grieved; for in my youth I had found him a gentle knight, and, according to my understanding, of great good sense.”

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions

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1494: Joan Boughton, “old cankered heretic”

Add comment April 28th, 2019 Headsman

Lollard heretic Joan Boughton was burned on this date in 1494 — purportedly England’s first female Christian martyr.

Followers of pre-Luther English church reformer John Wyclif(fe) had been thick on the ground in the early 15th century, terrifying the English state into a violent suppression.

But these years of headline repression did not suffice to drive Lollardy into the grave … only underground. The Lollard heresy continued to persist, quietly, its trajectory and dimensions largely undocumented, barely surfacing here and there with the odd arrest. “Between 1450-1517, Lollardy was almost wholly restricted to the rural districts, and little mention is made of it in contemporary records,” notes this history. “How extensively Wyclif’s views continued to be secretly held and his writings read is a matter of conjecture.”

Its adherents still had the stuff of martyrdom, for on this occasion decades on from the heyday of Lollardy and into the reign of Henry VII,

an old cankered heretic, weak-minded for age, named Joan Boughton, widow, and mother unto the wife of Sir John Young — which daughter, as some reported, had a great smell of an heretic after the mother — burnt in Smithfield. This woman was four score years of age or more, and held eight opinions of heresy which I pass over, for the hearing of them is neither pleasant nor fruitful. She was a disciple of Wycliffe, whom she accounted for a saint, and held so fast and firmly eight of his twelve opinions that all the doctors of London could not turn her from one of them. When it was told to her that she should be burnt for her obstinacy and false belief, she set nought at their words but defied them, for she said she was so beloved with God and His holy angels that all the fire in London should not hurt her. But on the morrow a bundle of faggots and a few reeds consumed her in a little while; and while she might cry she spoke often of God and Our Lady, but no man could cause her to name Jesus, and so she died. But it appeared that she left some of her disciples behind her, for the night following, the more part of the ashes of that fire that she was burnt in were had away and kept for a precise relic in an earthen pot.

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1726: Edward Burnworth and his gang, London Lives

Add comment April 12th, 2019 Headsman

Edward Burnworth and his gang — a group of villains who “seem to have risen to notoriety on the downfall of [Jonathan] Wild” by the estimation of the Newgate Calendar — were executed on this date in 1726, and thereafter hung in chains.

We endorse a bio of this coterie of thieves turned murderers on LondonLives.org. This wonderful site “makes available, in a fully digitised and searchable form, a wide range of primary sources about eighteenth-century London, with a particular focus on plebeian Londoners”; it’s in the spirit as the oft-cited-by-Executed Today site Old Bailey Online site, and involves some of the very same principal authors.*

Their zoom-in on Burnworth et al finds the gang slaying one Thomas Hall, a gin shop owner who was attempting to set up as a thief-taker in the vacuum created by the hanging of the aforementioned Jonathan Wild — previously London’s preeminent thief-taker and (simultaneously) crime lord. Burnworth, William Blewitt, Thomas Berry, John Legee, John Higgs, and Emanuel Dickenson all suffered together and were gibbeted in chains thereafter, two apiece at St. George’s Fields, Putney Common and Kennington Common, although the last of these was given over to his friends for burial after just one day of exposure in consideration of his father’s honorable military service.

(Burnworth unsuccessfully attempted to exonerate of theft a man bound for the gallows a month before him, by confessing to the crime.)

* Tim Hitchcock, a historian now at the University of Sussex and a director instrumental to both sites, has previously provided some commentary directly to Executed Today as well, weighing in for example on the controversial identity of “Smugglerius” as well as OldBaileyOnline.org digitization practices. There are several other related “history from below” sites in his orbit: Locating London’s Past, Connected Histories, and The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925.

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1196: William FitzOsbert, medieval rebel

Add comment April 6th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1196, William FitzOsbert was torn from church sanctuary and hanged for one of medieval London’s most famous rebellions.

The setting is an England of King Richard I, meaning an England with an absentee king levying heavy taxes on his putative home realm to bankroll his foreign adventures. In reviewing the period’s Pipe Rolls, Doris Stenton remarked that they “give the impression of a country taxed to the limit.” Certainly the laboring classes believed themselves squeezed past dry, for “more frequently than usual,” in the words of the contemporary chronicler Roger of Hoveden, “aids to no small amount were imposed upon them, and the rich men, sparing their own purses, wanted the poor to pay everything.”

Our man FitzOsbert (or Fitz Osbert) was an educated lawyer who had been on Crusade with the occulted king, a fellow distinguished in appearance by his facial hair — “Longbeard” was his nickname — and in his manner by an evident grant of charisma. A later historian judges him “sharp of wit and some deal lettered; a bold man of speech, and sad of his countenance, and took upon him greater deeds than he could wield.”

As this interesting article on FitzOsbert notes, tax collection was a communal endeavor organized in local neighborhoods and wards, where neighbors assessed one another’s means: they naturally invited class friction. Longbeard apparently had a talent for catalyzing it; according to William of Newburgh — another contemporary, and a far more hostile witness than Roger of Hoveden —

At length, by his secret labors and poisoned whispers, he revealed, in its blackest colors to the common people, the insolence of the rich men and nobles by whom they were unworthily treated; for he inflamed the needy and moderately wealthy with a desire for unbounded liberty and happiness, and allured the many, and held them fascinated, as it were, by certain delusions, so closely bound to his cause, that they depended in all things upon his will, and were prepared unhesitatingly to obey him as their director in all things whatsoever he should command.

A powerful conspiracy was therefore organized in London, by the envy of the poor against the insolence of the powerful, The number of citizens engaged in this plot is reported to have been fifty-two thousand — the names of each being, as it afterwards appeared, written down and in the possession of the originator of this nefarious scheme. A large number of iron tools, for the purpose of breaking the more strongly defended houses, lay stored up in his possession, which being afterwards discovered, furnished proofs of a most malignant conspiracy. Relying on the large number who were implicated by zeal for the poorer classes of the people, while he still kept up the plea of studying the king’s profit, he began to beard the nobles in every public assembly, alleging with powerful eloquence that much loss was occasioned to the revenue through their dishonest practices …

this man, bent upon his object, and surrounded by his rabble, pompously held on his way, convoking public meetings by his own authority, in which he arrogantly proclaimed himself the king or savior of the poor, and in lofty phrase thundered out his intention of speedily curbing the perfidy of the traitors.

The pride of his discourses is plainly shown by what I have learned of a trustworthy man, who asserted that he himself had some days before been present at a meeting convened by him, and had heard him address the people. Having taken his text or theme from the Holy Scriptures, he thus began: “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation” [Isaiah 12:3] — and applying this to himself, he continued, “I am the savior of the poor. Do ye, oh, poor! who have experienced the heaviness of rich men’s hands, drink from my wells the waters of the doctrine of salvation, and ye may do this joyfully; for the time of your visitation is at hand. For I will divide the waters from the waters. The people are the waters. I will divide the humble from the haughty and treacherous. I will separate the elect from the reprobate, as light from darkness.”

As FitzOsbert gained a wide following among commoners, the authorities — in this case led by the Archbishop of Canterbury/Crown Justiciar (same guy) Hubert Walter, since the vagabond king had returned to the continent and his beloved wars — feared an outbreak of civil war and moved to suppress the emerging rebel. When Hubert’s men attempted to arrest FitzOsbert, he escaped with his closest followers to St. Mary-le-Bow church. Fearing the consequences of a prolonged standoff that would permit this tribune of the people to rally an insurrectionary defense, the Archbishop gave no regard to sanctuary and “attacked with fire and smoke” this house of god until FitzOsbert was forced from its precincts. (And the steeple destroyed by fire.)

Yet even his death at Smithfield on April 6th — dragged “through the centre of the city to the elms, his flesh was demolished and spread all over the pavement and, fettered with a chain, he was hanged that same day on the elms with his associates and died” — was not his end, for the popular militant immediately ascended to the ranks of folk sainthood. William of Newburgh, again:

The extent to which this man had by his daring and mighty projects attached the minds of the wicked to himself, and how straitly he had bound the people to his interests as the pious and watchful champion of their cause, appeared even after his demise. For whereas they should have wiped out the disgrace of the conspiracy by the legal punishment of the conspirator, whom they stigmatized as impious and approved of his condemners, they sought by art to obtain for him the name and glory of a martyr. It is reported that a certain priest, his relative, had laid the chain by which be had been bound upon the person of one sick of a fever, and feigned with impudent vanity that a cure was the immediate result. This being spread abroad, the witless multitude believed that the man who had deservedly suffered had in reality died for the cause of justice and piety, and began to reverence him as a martyr: the gibbet upon which he had been hung was furtively removed by night from the place of punishment, in order that it might be honored in secret while the earth beneath it, as if consecrated by the blood of the executed man, was scraped away in handfuls by these infatuated creatures, as something consecrated to healing purposes, to the extent of a tolerably large ditch. And now the fame of this being circulated far and wide, large bands of fools, “whose number,” says Solomon, “is infinite,” and curious persons flocked to the place, to whom, doubtless, were added those who had come up out of the various provinces of England on their own proper business to London.

The idiot rabble, therefore, kept constant watch and ward over the spot; and the more honor they paid to the dead man, so much the greater crime did they impute to him by whom he had been put to death.

Hubert Walter was eventually obliged to set guards at this shrine to chase away its pilgrims and forcibly suppress the emerging cult.

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1752: James Lowry, despotical nautical

Add comment March 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1752 the tyrannous Scottish sea captain James Lowrey or Lowry was hanged at London’s execution dock for beating a crew member to death.

Lowr(e)y came to public notice in 1751 after the return to English shores of his merchantman, the Molly, from a run to Jamaica: ten of his ex-crew subscribed a public advertisement accusing him of murdering their mate on board, to which Lowry replied with advertisements accusing those accusers of mutiny.

Right away the British public knew it had a page-turner on its hands.

The captain had become unreasonably enraged with Kennith Hossack for lagging in his duties as he recovered from an illness, and upon a purported accusation of theft he had the mariner tied up and personally battered him about the head using a doubled-over rope as his cudgel, on Christmas Eve no less. Hossack at last dropped dead, at which point the heartless captain slapped his man and denounced him for “shamming Abraham” (i.e., feigning injury to skip work). Lowry evidently really had it in for Hossack, for the first mate explained that “I don’t know that he ever came upon deck twice in a week without beating him: my heart has bled for him many and many a time.” In the mate’s opinion, these beatings were always for no adequate reason.*

That’s a remark from the Admiralty Trial of Captain Lowry, where his former seamen developed the picture of an intolerably Queeg-like commander liable to take bitter umbrage if his men managed an illicit extra ration of sugar or rum, a guy who carried around a beating-cane with its own name (“the Royal Oak Foremast”) just in case he felt like doling out a disciplinary bludgeon. Three days after Hossack’s death, he came to blows with the second mate; two days after that, a fed-up crew “took the command from him” and ran the ship themselves, although they did not forcibly confine him.

Once the ship put in at Lisbon for repairs on the return journey, Lowry lodged a piracy complaint against his crew, but despite the incredibly serious charges and countercharges, everybody sailed on together for home thereafter, each party perhaps silently calculating the odds that the other would dare to press the case further as against getting on about their lives. Lowry does not appear to have made himself scarce until his former comrades went public with their claims, although once they did so he incriminatingly avoided the thief-takers and the small private reward set upon his capture for a few weeks.

On March 25, 1752, the brute was carried from Newgate Prison to the Execution Dock on the Thames, in a cart surmounted by a silver oar emblematic of the Admiralty. There he was hanged, and his body afterwards put in irons and displayed in infamy down the river at Blackwall.


Lowry pictured as part of a “Scotch Triumvirate” of Caledonian evildoers, along with the Scottish officer William Cranstoun, blamed for seducing Mary Blandy to the gallows, and the more mysterious “Major James MacDonald” whose papers suggest involvement in the South Sea Bubble 32 years prior (?). I’m in good company with my confusion on this MacDonald fellow, as the British Museum can’t identify him either. Check out britishtars.com for a fascinating exposition on the iconographic detail of the Lowry images in this post; we have also featured in this narrative several additional links to that same site’s various posts about the events on the Molly.

We have revisited a few times in these pages the intense commercial bustle among publishers of crime ephemera — in England as well as Ireland. Naturally this headline-grabbing execution excited plenty of competitive hawking.

Two examples appear below; the first of them is by a pair of publishers named Harris and Scott; the second, by Parker and Corbett, who at this time had the deal to publish the Ordinary of Newgate’s accounts. Harris and Scott were first to the market here, in an environment where rapidity counted for a lot; the Ordinary wanted to be sure the public knew that his “official” (according to him) version would be soon forthcoming, so he burdened the pages of London newspapers and even his own Ordinary’s Account of ‘regular’ Tyburn criminals with adverts to that effect.


This image from the London General Advertiser of March 26, 1752, one of several papers to carry the notice. For more on the relationship between publishers and crime in this era, see Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London by Richard Ward

Read on below to enjoy both.

* In fact, one nugget from this case is that an adequate reason for corporal punishment at sea might sit at a much higher threshold than we commonly assume today. Although the Royal Navy was (in)famous for the discipline of the lash, multiple experienced sailors testified at this trial that they never knew floggings or beatings to occur on merchant vessels.

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1696: Charnock, King, and Keyes, frustrated of regicide

Add comment March 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1696, a trio of Jacobite conspirators were hanged for their failed assassination plot against King William.

An exiled loyalist to the deposed King James II, the onetime Oxford don Robert Charnock conceived what the propagandists would call “the late Hellish and Barbarous Plott” along with fellow Stuart loyalist George Barclay. Their mission in murdering William III was to catalyze a general Jacobite rising that would reverse the Glorious Revolution and restore James to the throne: it was a recurring campaign against the Dutch usurper throughout the 1690s.

Ambush was the gambit proposed by the worthies in this case, for William.

was in the habit of going every Saturday from Kensington to hunt in Richmond Park. There was then no bridge over the Thames between London and Kingston. The King therefore went, in a coach escorted by some of his body guards, through Turnham Green to the river. There he took boat, crossed the water, and found another coach and another set of guards ready to receive him on the Surrey side. The first coach and the first set of guards awaited his return on the northern bank. The conspirators ascertained with great precision the whole order of these journeys, and carefully examined the ground on both sides of the Thames. They thought that they should attack the King with more advantage on the Middlesex than on the Surrey bank, and when he was returning than when he was going … The place was to be a narrow and winding lane leading from the landing place on the north of the river to Turnham Green … a quagmire, through which the royal coach was with difficulty tugged at a foot’s pace. The time was to be the afternoon of Saturday the fifteenth of February. (Macaulay)

Some 40 assassins had been marshaled for the purpose of surprising the royal party on that occasion but as they nursed their cups in the vicinity’s public houses they received the disquieting intelligence that the king had skipped the hunt that day.

Although the inclement weather was the reason given out, the truth of the matter was that they were betrayed. In a week’s time, most of the conspirators would be in custody* and the country on a virtual war footing against prospective invasion by France. On March 11, the first three prospective assassins stood at the bar: Charnock, Edward King, and Thomas Keyes. They were plainly guilty and condemned accordingly.

King died firmly; Keyes, in “an agony of terror … [that] moved the pity of some of the spectators”; and Charnock, being repelled in his bid to turn songbird in exchange for his life, went out with a missive bitterly defending his project, for “if an army of twenty thousand men had suddenly landed in England and surprised the usurper, this would have been called legitimate war. Did the difference between war and assassination depend merely on the number of persons engaged?” (both quotes from Macaulay) Several additional conspirators would follow them to the scaffold in the weeks to come.


“The Triumphs of Providence over Hell, France & Rome”: Broadside celebrating and satirizing the deliverance of the realm from the Jacobite plot, via the British Museum.

* George Barclay, however, successfully escaped to the continent.

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1431: Thomas Bagley, Lollard martyr

Add comment March 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1431, an Essex priest named Thomas Bagley — “a valiant disciple and adherent of Wicliffe,” which is to say a Lollard heretic — was put to the torch at St. Paul’s Cross, London, while the Archbishop of Canterbury denounced his heresies.

He was prey to a crackdown on his seditiously egalitarian sect launched in 1428 by the said archbishop, Henry Chicele. That outlawed movement still persisted despite the defeat of its most famous rebellion more than a decade before.

Lollards had a low opinion of both the perquisites and the ritual trappings of the institutional church, so Bagley “was accused of declaring that if in the sacrament a priest made bread into God, he made a God that can be eaten by rats and mice; that the pharisees of the day, the monks, and the nuns, and the friars and all the other privileged persons recognized by the church were limbs of Satan; and that auricular confession to the priest was the will not of God but of the devil. And others [other Lollards] held that any priest who took salary was excommunicate; and that boys could bless the bread as well as priests.”

Pressed by their persecutors, the Lollard movement mounted its last major armed rebellion weeks later, in May of 1431 — storming Abindgon Abbey and Salisbury Cathedral. The attacks came to nothing save the execution of its leadership.

For many years thereafter, until its remnants swept into the Reformation, Lollardy haunted English elites from the shadows and the underground — “a persistent, covert tradition of radical thinking” whose reach in the English population is unknowable. It was never again strong enough to mount a rising in its own name but surfaced martyrs here and there and might have contributed inspiration and simpatico to other challenges that shook the masters in the 15th century, like (speculatively) 1450’s Jack Cade rebellion out of Lollard-rich Kent.

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1679: Four at Tyburn

Add comment March 7th, 2019 Headsman

One of the oldest extant publications of the Newgate Ordinary gives us

THE Behaviour, last Speeches, Confessions, AND EXECUTION Of the Prisoners that Suffered at TYBURN On Fryday the 7th of March 1678/9

VIZ.

Thomas Coxe, and Charles Smith, Who were drawn thither on a Hurdle, for TREASON.

Mary Augur,For Murther.

AND

Anne Atkins, For a Burglary, her Husband being hang’d for the like Offence but the very last Sessions before.

With a true Account of their Carriage, and Discourses to Mr. Ordinary and others, both in Prison and at the place of Execution.

AT the last Sessions there were in all Nine persons received sentence of Death; Three men and Six women. (Not Six men and Three women, as a false and surreptitious Pamphlet, printed with the Letters D.M. did lately mention; which also said, there was Fourteen to be Transported: and several other notorious Untruths almost in every Line.) Of these unhappy Criminals one was respited for the present from Execution, being found by a Jury of Matrons to be quick with Childe: three other women and one man, the nature of whose Offences and Conversation had rendred them fitter Objects of Royal Mercy, obtain’d the favour of his Majesties gratious Reprieve after Judgment.

The other Four came now to suffer; their Names and Crimes being as follows.

Thomas Coxe and Charles Smith, each of them found guilty of Treason on several Indictments, both for Coyning and Counterfeiting, and also for Clipping of Money.

Mary Augur, for Murthering her Bastard Child; and Anne Atkins, for a Burglary, whose Husband, for the like Offence, was Executed, but the very last Sessions, and she then turn’d out of Newgate on the account of her Poverty, having several Children; but was no sooner at liberty, but she sell to her told wickedness; and ’tis believ’d seduc’d a person, now Condemn’d with her, but Reprieved, into this Burglary, for which she suffered. So difficult it is for people, when they are once come to make a Trade of sin, to forsake, it though they have the saddest and most near related Warnings in the world to reclaim them.

Coxe, in the hearing of the Ordinary, prayed very pathetically for himself; and being askt concerning what hopes he had of a future happy Estate, he declared, That the fear of Death was much abated, and as he trusted on a sound and firm foundation, because his sorrow for sin was more for offending God, and grieving his Holy Spirit, than for the dread either of that momentary Punishment he was justly to suffer here, or even for the fear of Hell and wrath to come. Adding, that if he were to live, he resolv’d and hopes in God’s strength that he should never run into such Extravagances as he had formerly been guilty of. For he did not onely freely acknowledge the Crime for which he was Condemned, but said, there was scarce any Immorality or Sin (except Murther) which in the debauch’d Course of his Life he had not stain’d and polluted his Soul with.

The Ordinary urg’d, that his Coyning counterfeit Money, was not onely a great Crime against the Kings Majesty, but an abuse to the whole Nation, especially the poor, whose wants could not be supplyed if they offered such bad Money in buying; so that the ill influence and consequences of his sin in this kind, would survive when he was dead, and the fraud he had knowingly put upon others, must needs in the loss or deceit, circulate to the prejudice of many innocent people. He replyed, that for that very consideration, his penitent grief was so much the greater; and being told, that he could not repent sincerely, if he made not restitution to his power, to such whom he had defrauded, He professed he would do all he could possibly on that account. by making distribution as far as able to the poor, because he knew not whom he had wronged in particular, nor now to send to any such. He expressed much grief, that he had omitted to observe the Lords day, and that he went not to the publick Worship, as also, that he neglected to pray Morning and Evening, for which remisness, he conceived the Lord justly left him to the temptations of bad Company, and in particular to be acquainted with a person, who drew him to the crime of Coyning, which he closed with, on a lwed principle, not being content with an honest Trade, viz. a Gun-smith , which he well subsisted by, being a single Man, but made hast to snatch at unlawful gain, that he might be at higher expences to gratifie his Lusts, which he the rather acknowledged, that it might be a warning to all others.

Smith, the other Coyner of false Money, was well educated, and it grieved him that he had not answered those good Instructions which his Parents gave him. He was put forth in Apprentiship to a Chandler , after he came to his own disposal, he lost the government of himself, for he profan’d the Lords day, which he said was occasioned by neglecting to repair to Gods publick Service, because he thought out of the pride of his heart, that his cloaths were not fine enough, so natural it is for one sin to beget another.

He bewail’d himself as a great sinner, and in particular very much lamented the Crime for which he was Condemned, which he said he ingaged in, out of a covetous disposition, but made not so much gain by it as some others; and that he had a resolution to desist from that wicked practise, not because it answered not his expectation of profit, but rather for the regret and trouble which he had in his Conscience concerning proceeding in it. He said that bad acquaintance first inticed him into it, and that he was justly by God left to the temptation, since he had neglected daily to guard himself by Prayer. He wisht had took the meanest lawful imployments, rather than so hainously transgresed against the Kings Majesty, and the Law of the Nation. But the Lord he said was righteous, in discovering his Crime, because he had lived securely in committing other sins; for had he not been apprehended as he was, there was provided for him an honest and creditable imployment. But (said he) the Lord in just in cutting me off in the prime of my years, that I might not proceed in a course of Iniquity; and if his Divine Majesty shall be gratiously pleased to sanctifie this stroke of death on my body, to bring me thereby to Repentance, I shall not dread to drink of that bitter cup, as believing the Lord will order it to my eternal happiness. He praid for himself very well in the Ordinaries hearing, and being questioned what hopes he had of Salvation, and on what foundation the same were grounded, he made such judicious answers, in a distinct difference of true Faith and Repentance from the false, as the Ordinary was well satisfied with the same, and doth verily believe, that his endeavours with him were blessed, to bring him as a Convert to God.

As for Mary Augur, she was very weak in body, not able to come on the Lords day in the afternoon into the Chappel; but the Ordinary several times attended her in her Chamber, and gave her many serious Exhortations: but her condition Etc. very much obstructed the good effects he hoped for from such his pains, so that we can give little farther account of her.

The other Woman wept bitterly, and very often, and seemed to be penitent for her sins, not denying the Crime for which he suffered, but seemed to have been bred up in a loose course of life, and very ignorant of the Mysteries of Religion, but the Ordinary took considerable, pains to instruct her therein, and it is charitably hoped God might bless his endeavours towards her.

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1663: William Dillon, anatomized and diarized

Add comment February 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1663, a very pious William Dillon lost his life for a murder during a brawl on London’s Long Acre. Whether he gained, as he anticipated, his eternal soul, surpasseth the understanding of this site. But he achieved, at least, a small measure of literary immortality.

Good People, I stand here a Spectacle to God, Angels and Men, sad and deplorable (I believe) to you, but in my inward Reflections on my Regenerate Estate, in my dear and blessed Saviour Jesus, full of Spiritual Hopes and Comfort.

I declare my self to you all a true and constant Christian, an Apostolical Romane Catholick, and on that account, I am particularly obliged to protest that my hopes are totally and solely placed in the Al-sufficient [sic] Merits of my glorious Redeemer, from whose Merits, the Merits of Man receive their total supernatural condignity and worth. To help the compleating of the Sufferings of his own Body, in his mystical, I am come here to participate of his beloved Crosse, sanctified and dignified by his own most pretious blood.

I give thanks to those deserving and charitable Persons, who desired and endeavoured my longer Life, for my better Repentance and amendment. But although they have failed in their Merciful Intercessions for me, there is an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the Just, whose Power is infinite, to save to the uttermost.

As I infold my self in the Arms of his rich and embracing Mercy, so I would be joyned with you all in his Divine, as I am in my own derived charity.

I wish you all good, as I should have done that very person, if known to me, for whose Death I am condemned. God Omniscient knoweth my Innocency in that particular, being in my Conscience so clear and free from that guilt, that to my knowledge I never touched the Man. May they have the benefit of the blood of Christ, who have occasioned the losse of mine; and God forgive me in His, as I do them for my own.

After his execution, Dillon was anatomized: it is thanks to this posthumous punishment that we meet him, or at any rate his cold kidneys and ureters and heart and lungs, two days after death through the pen of London diarist Samuel Pepys — a man we’ve run into several times before. Here in its chatty entirety is Pepys’s entry for February 27, 1663:

Up and to my office, whither several persons came to me about office business. About 11 o’clock, Commissioner Pett and I walked to Chyrurgeon’s Hall (we being all invited thither, and promised to dine there); where we were led into the Theatre; and by and by comes the reader, Dr. Tearne, with the Master and Company, in a very handsome manner: and all being settled, he begun his lecture, this being the second upon the kidneys, ureters, &c., which was very fine; and his discourse being ended, we walked into the Hall, and there being great store of company, we had a fine dinner and good learned company, many Doctors of Phisique, and we used with extraordinary great respect.

Among other observables we drank the King’s health out of a gilt cup given by King Henry VIII. to this Company, with bells hanging at it, which every man is to ring by shaking after he hath drunk up the whole cup. There is also a very excellent piece of the King, done by Holbein, stands up in the Hall, with the officers of the Company kneeling to him to receive their Charter.

After dinner Dr. Scarborough took some of his friends, and I went along with them, to see the body alone, which we did, which was a lusty fellow, a seaman, that was hanged for a robbery. I did touch the dead body with my bare hand: it felt cold, but methought it was a very unpleasant sight.

It seems one Dillon, of a great family, was, after much endeavours to have saved him, hanged with a silken halter this Sessions (of his own preparing), not for honour only, but it seems, it being soft and sleek, it do slip close and kills, that is, strangles presently: whereas, a stiff one do not come so close together, and so the party may live the longer before killed. But all the Doctors at table conclude, that there is no pain at all in hanging, for that it do stop the circulation of the blood; and so stops all sense and motion in an instant.

Thence we went into a private room, where I perceive they prepare the bodies, and there were the kidneys, ureters [&c.], upon which he read to-day, and Dr. Scarborough upon my desire and the company’s did show very clearly the manner of the disease of the stone and the cutting and all other questions that I could think of … how the water [comes] into the bladder through the three skins or coats just as poor Dr. Jolly has heretofore told me.

Thence with great satisfaction to me back to the Company, where I heard good discourse, and so to the afternoon Lecture upon the heart and lungs, &c., and that being done we broke up, took leave, and back to the office, we two, Sir W. Batten, who dined here also, being gone before.

Here late, and to Sir W. Batten’s to speak upon some business, where I found Sir J. Minnes pretty well fuddled I thought: he took me aside to tell me how being at my Lord Chancellor‘s to-day, my Lord told him that there was a Great Seal passing for Sir W. Pen, through the impossibility of the Comptroller’s duty to be performed by one man; to be as it were joynt-comptroller with him, at which he is stark mad; and swears he will give up his place, and do rail at Sir W. Pen the cruellest; he I made shift to encourage as much as I could, but it pleased me heartily to hear him rail against him, so that I do see thoroughly that they are not like to be great friends, for he cries out against him for his house and yard and God knows what. For my part, I do hope, when all is done, that my following my business will keep me secure against all their envys. But to see how the old man do strut, and swear that he understands all his duty as easily as crack a nut, and easier, he told my Lord Chancellor, for his teeth are gone; and that he understands it as well as any man in England; and that he will never leave to record that he should be said to be unable to do his duty alone; though, God knows, he cannot do it more than a child. All this I am glad to see fall out between them and myself safe, and yet I hope the King’s service well done for all this, for I would not that should be hindered by any of our private differences.

So to my office, and then home to supper and to bed.

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1595: Robert Southwell

Add comment February 21st, 2019 Headsman

February 2O, 1594-5, [Father Robert] Southwell, a Jesuit, that long time had lain prisoner in the Tower of London, was arraigned at the King’s-bench bar. He was condemned, and on the next morning drawn from Newgate to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered.

-Chronicle of John Stow

Youngest child in a gentry household of Catholic-leaning Norfolk, Robert Southwell was for holy orders and martyr’s laurels from the jump; in 1576 at the tender age of 15, he made for Douai and its English seminary, noted for training missionary priests who would return secretly to Elizabethan England to court torture and death for the Word. Within a decade he was a prefect at the English College in Rome and a fully armed and operational member of the Society of Jesus.

In 1586, Southwell sailed for his homeland with fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet, who would one day go to the gallows for Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot.

For Southwell, the pen was mightier than such detonations.

“St. Peter’s Complaint” (Excerpt)
by Robert Southwell

Ah! life, sweet drop, drown’d in a sea of sours,
A flying good, posting to doubtful end;
Still losing months and years to gain new hours,
Fain times to have and spare, yet forced to spend;
Thy growth, decrease; a moment all thou hast.
That gone ere known; the rest, to come, or past.

Ah! life, the maze of countless straying ways,
Open to erring steps and strew’d with baits.
To bind weak senses into endless strays,
Aloof from Virtue’s rough, unbeaten straits
A flower, a play, a blast, a shade, a dream,
A living death, a never-turning stream.

Quietly nestled in as the house confessor to Catholic noblewoman Anne Howard, Southwell scratched out page after page to fortify the hearts of the beleaguered Old Faith — standard stuff like martyrology testimony concerning his brother priests, overt manifestos like An humble supplication to Her Maiestie, and literary bestsellers admired by Protestant countrymen like Mary Magdalene’s Funeral Tears and his verse collection St. Peter’s Complaint, and Other Poems.*

This last appeared posthumously. After three years’ imprisonment — “I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times,” the imminent martyr said of his handling by notorious Catholic-hunter Richard Topcliffe; “I had rather have endured ten executions” — Southwell was brought to the bar on February 20, 1595, to answer as a traitor and put to the traitor’s death the very next day.

Though less widely familiar now, his literary output was well-known and highly regarded long after he died, and perhaps influenced many other writers including Shakespeare. The Catholic Church elevated Southwell to sainthood in 1970.

* A couple of Southwell’s epistles are preserved in the 1741 volume Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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