1685: Elizabeth Gaunt, for refuge

Add comment October 23rd, 2018 Thomas Babington Macaulay

(Thanks to Thomas Babington Macaulay for the guest post on “the blackest [case] which disgraced the sessions” prosecuting the Rye House Plot to kidnap and murder King Charles II and his Catholic brother soon-to-be-heir James. It originally appeared in Macaulay’s History of England. -ed.)

Among the persons concerned in the Rye House plot was a man named James Burton. By his own confession he had been present when the design of assassination was discussed by his accomplices.

When the conspiracy was detected, a reward was offered for his apprehension. He was saved from death by an ancient matron of the Baptist persuasion, named Elizabeth Gaunt.

This woman, with the peculiar manners and phraseology which then distinguished her sect, had a large charity. Her life was passed in relieving the unhappy of all religious denominations, and she was well known as a constant visitor of the gaols.

Her political and theological opinions, as well as her compassionate disposition, led her to do everything in her power for Burton. She procured a boat which took him to Gravesend, where he got on board of a ship bound for Amsterdam. At the moment of parting she put into his hand a sum of money which, for her means, was very large.

Burton, after living some time in exile, returned to England with Monmouth, fought at Sedgemoor, fled to London, and took refuge in the house of John Fernley, a barber in Whitechapel.

Fernley was very poor. He was besieged by creditors. He knew that a reward of a hundred pounds had been offered by the government for the apprehension of Burton. But the honest man was incapable of betraying one who, in extreme peril, had come under the shadow of his roof.

Unhappily it was soon noised abroad that the anger of James was more strongly excited against those who harboured rebels than against the rebels themselves. He had publicly declared that of all forms of treason the hiding of traitors from his vengeance was the most unpardonable. Burton knew this. He delivered himself up to the government; and he gave information against Fernley and Elizabeth Gaunt.

They were brought to trial. The villain whose life they had preserved had the heart and the forehead to appear as the principal witness against them.

They were convicted. Fernley was sentenced to the gallows, Elizabeth Gaunt to the stake. Even after all the horrors of that year, many thought it impossible that these judgments should be carried into execution. But the King was without pity. Fernley was hanged. Elizabeth Gaunt was burned alive at Tyburn on the same day on which Cornish suffered death in Cheapside.

She left a paper written, indeed, in no graceful style, yet such as was read by many thousands with compassion and horror. “My fault,” she said, “was one which a prince might well have forgiven. I did but relieve a poor family; and lo! I must die for it.”

She complained of the insolence of the judges, of the ferocity of the gaoler, and of the tyranny of him, the great one of all, to whose pleasure she and so many other victims had been sacrificed. In so far as they had injured herself, she forgave them: but, in that they were implacable enemies of that good cause which would yet revive and flourish, she left them to the judgment of the King of Kings.

To the last she preserved a tranquil courage, which reminded the spectators of the most heroic deaths of which they had read in Fox. William Penn, for whom exhibitions which humane men generally avoid seem to have had a strong attraction, hastened from Cheapside, where he had seen Cornish hanged, to Tyburn, in order to see Elizabeth Gaunt burned. He afterwards related that, when she calmly disposed the straw about her in such a manner as to shorten her sufferings, all the bystanders burst into tears.

It was much noticed that, while the foulest judicial murder which had disgraced even those times was perpetrating, a tempest burst forth, such as had not been known since that great hurricane which had raged round the deathbed of Oliver. The oppressed Puritans reckoned up, not without a gloomy satisfaction the houses which had been blown down, and the ships which had been cast away, and derived some consolation from thinking that heaven was bearing awful testimony against the iniquity which afflicted the earth. Since that terrible day no woman has suffered death in England for any political offence.


Newgate, 22d of Octob. 1685.

Mrs. Gaunt’s Speech, written the Day before her Sufferings.

Not knowing whether I should be suffered or able, because of Weaknesses that are upon me through my hard and close Imprisonment, to speak at the Place of Execution; I writ these few Lines to signifie, That I am well reconciled to the Way of my God towards me, though it be in Ways I looked not for; and by Terrible Things, yet in Righteousness; having given me Life, he ought to have the disposing of it, when and how he pleases to call for it; and I desire to offer up my AH to him, it being but my reasonable Service; and also the first Terms that Jesus Christ offers, that he that will be his Disciple, must forsake all, and follow all; and therefore let none think hard, or be discouraged at what hath happened at me; for he doth nothing without Cause, in all he hath done to us, he being holy in all his Ways, and righteous in all his Works; and ’tis but my Lot in common with poor desolate Sion at this Day.

Neither do I find in my Heart the least Regret for what I have done in the Service of my Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in succouring and securing any of his poor Sufferers, that have shewed Favour to his righteous Cause: Which Cause, though now it be fallen and trampled upon, as if it had not been anointed, yet it shall revive, and God will plead it at another Rate than ever he hath done yet, and reckon with all its Opposers and malicious Haters; and therefore let all that love and fear him, not omit the least Duty that comes to Hand, or lyes before them, knowing that now it hath need of them, and expects they shall serve him.

And I desire to bless his holy Name, that he hath made me useful in my Generation to the Comfort and Relief of many Desolate Ones, and the Blessing of those that are ready to perish has come upon me, and being helpt to make the Heart of the Widow to sing. And I bless his holy Name, that in all this, together with what I was charged with, I can approve my Heart to him, that I have done His Will; tho’ it does cross Man’s Will, and the Scriptures that satisfie me are. Isaiah 16. 4, Hide the Outcasts, betray not him that wandereth. And Obad. 13 14, Thou shouldst not have.given up those of his that did escape in the Day of his Distress.

But man says, You shall give them up, or you shall die for it. Now who to obey, judge ye.

So that I have Cause to rejoyce and be exceeding glad, in that I suffer for Righteousness Sake, and that I am accounted worthy to suffer for Well-doing, and that God has accepted any Service from me, which has been done in Sincerity, tho’ mixed with manifold Infirmities, which he hath been pleased for Christ’s Sake to cover and forgive.

And now as concerning my Fact, as it is called, alas it was but a little one, and might well become a Prince to forgive; but he that shews no Mercy, shall find none: And I may say of it in the Language of Jonathan, I did but taste a little Honey, and lo I must die for it. I did but relieve an unworthy, poor, distressed Family, and lo I must die for it.

Well, I desire in the Lamb-like Gospel Spirit to forgive all that are concerned, and to say, Lord, lay it not to their Charge; but I fear he will not: Nay, I believe when he comes to make Inquisition for Blood, it will be found at the Door of the furious Judge; who, because I could not remember Things through my Dauntedness at Burton’s Wife’s and Daughter’s Vileness, and my Ignorance, took Advantage thereat, and would not hear me, when I had called to Mind that which I am sure would have invalidated their Evidence; tho’ he granted something of the same Nature to another, yet denied it to me.

My Blood will also be found at the Door of the unrighteous Jury, who found me Guilty upon the single Oath of an Out-lawed Man; for there was none but his Oath about the Money, who is no legal Witness, though he be pardoned, his Out-lawry not being’ recalled; and also the Law requires two Witnesses in Point of Life: And then about my going with him to the Place mentioned, ’twas by his own Words, before he was Out-lawed, for ’twas two Months after his absconding; and tho’ in a Proclamation, yet not High Treason, as I have heard; so that I am clearly murdered by you.

And also Bloody Mr. A. who has so insatiably hunted after my Life; and though it is no Profit to him, through the ill Will he bore me, left no Stone unturned, as I have Ground to believe, till he brought it to this; and shewed Favour to Burton, who ought to have died for his own Fault, and not bought his own Life with mine; and Capt. R. who is cruel and severe to all under my Circumstances, and did at that Time, without all mercy or Pity, hasten my Sentence, and held up my Hand, that it might be given; all which, together with the Great One of all, by whose Power all these, and a Multitude more of Cruelties are done, I do heartily and freely forgive, as against me; but as it is done in an implacable Mind against the Lord Christ, and his righteous Cause and Followers, I leave it to him who is the Avenger of all such Wrongs, who will tread upon Princes as upon Mortar, and be terrible to the Kings of the Earth: And know this also, that though ye are seemingly fixt, and because of the Power in your Hand, are writing out your Violence, and dealing with a despiteful Hand, because of the old and new Hatred; by impoverishing and every Way distressing of those you have got under you; yet unless you can secure Jesus Christ, and all his Holy Angels, you shall never do your Business, nor your Hands accomplish your Enterprizes; for he will be upon you ere you are aware; and therefore, O that you would be wise, instructed and learn, is the Desire of her that finds no Mercy from you,

Elizabeth Gaunt.

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1685: Richard Rumbold, owner of the Rye House

Add comment June 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1685, Roundhead militant Richard Rumbold — known affectionately to his comrades from the English Civil War as “Hannibal”, since he shared with the great Carthaginian general the distinction of an eye lost on campaign — was beheaded at Edinburgh‘s Mercat Cross.


J.M.W. Turner watercolor of the Rye House circa 1793.

Rumbold was the owner of the Rye House in Hertfordshire, the manor which in the 1680s would become famous as a regicidal adjective: the titular epicenter of the Rye House Plot. Hannibal Rumbold had intended to station a force of armed men on his grounds with the intent to kidnap/assassinate King Charles II and his Catholic brother and heir presumptive, James as they returned to London from horse races at Newmarket. When fire struck Newmarket, the royal party’s plans changed and the plot never came off … but it was discovered some weeks later and yielded an ample harvest of heads. Rumbold escaped to the continent for a time but was none repentant about it when taken, saying “he did not neither durst repent for it, but on the contrair that if all the hair of his head were men, he would venture them all for the cause.”

In this instance, it also yielded some edifying scaffold oratory, and this man’s parting sentiment that “this is a deluded generation, veiled with ignorance … for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him” was of interest to British Whigs and American revolutionaries a century later. It plays much better lo these many years later with ellipsis in place of the “popery” stuff which occurs between, but judge for thyself: here follow Rumbold’s erudite owns in context via an open source volume which has the address titled “Against Booted and Spurred Privilege”

Gentlemen and Brethren: —

It is for all men that come into the world once to die; and after death the judgment! And since death is a debt that all of us must pay, it is but a matter of small moment what way it be done. Seeing the Lord is pleased in this manner to take me to himself, I confess, something hard to flesh and blood, yet blessed be his name, who hath made me not only willing, but thankful for his honoring me to lay down the life he gave, for his name; in which, were every hair in this head and beard of mine a life, I should joyfully sacrifice them for it, as I do this. Providence having brought me hither, I think it most necessary to clear myself of some aspersions laid on my name; and, first, that I should have had so horrid an intention of destroying the King and his brother … It was also laid to my charge that I was antimonarchical. It was ever my thoughts that kingly government was the best of all where justly executed; I mean, such as it was by our ancient laws; — that is, a King, and a legal, free-chosen Parliament, — the King having, as I conceive, power enough to make him great; the people also as much property as to make them happy; they being, as it were, contracted to one another! And who will deny me that this was not the justly-constituted government of our nation? How absurd is it, then, for men of sense to maintain that though the one party of his contract breaketh all conditions, the other should be obliged to perform their part? No; this error is contrary to the law of God, the law of nations, and the law of reason. But as pride hath been the bait the devil hath caught most by ever since the creation, so it continues to this day with us. Pride caused our first parents to fall from the blessed state wherein they were created, — they aiming to be higher and wiser than God allowed, which brought an everlasting curse on them and their posterity. It was pride caused God to drown the old world. And it was Nimrod‘s pride in building Babel that caused that heavy curse of division of tongues to be spread among us, as it is at this day, one of the greatest afflictions the Church of God groaneth under, that there should be so many divisions during their pilgrimage here; but this is their comfort that the day draweth near where, as there is but one shepherd, there shall be but one sheepfold. It was, therefore, in the defense of this party, in their just rights and liberties, against popery and slavery —

[Being here interrupted by drum beating, he said that they need not trouble themselves, for he should say no more of his mind on that subject, since they were so disingenuous as to interrupt a dying man. He then continued: –]

I die this day in the defense of the ancient laws and liberties of these nations; and though God, for reasons best known to himself, hath not seen it fit to honor us, as to make us the instruments for the deliverance of his people, yet as I have lived, so I die in the faith that he will speedily arise for the deliverance of his Church and people. And I desire of all you to prepare for this with speed. I may say this is a deluded generation, veiled with ignorance, that though popery and slavery be riding in upon them, do not perceive it; though I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him; not but that I am well satisfied that God hath wisely ordered different stations for men in the world, as I have already said; kings having as much power as to make them great and the people as much property as to make them happy. And to conclude, I shall only add my wishes for the salvation of all men who were created for that end.

After hanging, they quartered his parts and pinned them up as a warning.

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1684: Sir Thomas Armstrong, Whig plotter

Add comment June 20th, 2017 Headsman

Whig knight Sir Thomas Armstrong was hanged, drawn, and quartered on this date in 1684, for adhering to Lord Russell‘s treasonable Rye House Plot.

Armstrong had been tempting the executioner for some years: he fell foul of the Cromwell protectorate for shuttling funds to the exiled Charles II, and in 1675 he slew a Mr. Scroope at a theater brawl. Both times he kept his head.

He would not be so lucky when conniving to kidnap the king.

Armstrong was shut out of the leadership clique of the Rye House Plot but he was active scheming with Monmouth and others about “how to surprize the Kings Guards” to get at the royal person, with Armstrong observing that “the Guards were very remiss in their places, and not like Souldiers, and the thing was feasible if they had strength to do it.”*

Briefly escaped to the Low Countries along with a number of other fellow-travelers,** Armstrong was arrested in Leiden and repatriated to face royal justice.


Detail view (click for a larger image) of the dismembering of Thomas Armstrong. Condemned to drawing and quartering, Armstrong was hanged to death and only “after such time the Sufferer had hung about half an Hour, and the Executioner had divested him of his Aparrel, he was cut down according to his Sentence; his Privy Members dissected from his Body, and Burnt; his Head cut off, and shewed to the People as that of a Traytor; his Heart and Bowels taken out, and committed to the Flames; and his Body Quartered into four Parts, which, with his Head, was conveyed back to Newgate, to be disposed of according to his Majesties Pleasure, and Order.” (

In an era of bitter factional politics spiced by burgeoning print culture, Armstrong’s delayed handling gave Tory squibs ample space to gleefully taunt the Whigs through him, and savor in doggerel (via repeat reference to executioner Jack Ketch) the inevitable rending of flesh that ensued.

The Bully WHIG: OR, The Poor Whores Lamentation for the Apprehending OF Sir THOMAS ARMSTRONG.

To the Tune of, Ah! Cruel Bloody Fate! &c.

I.

AH! Cruel Bloody Tom!
What canst thou hope for more,
Than to receive the Doom
Of all thy Crimes before?
For all thy bold Conspiracies
Thy Head must pay the score;
Thy Cheats and Lies,
Thy Box and Dice,
Will serve thy turn no more.

II.

Ungrateful thankless Wretch!
How could’st thou hope in vain
(Without the reach of Ketch)
Thy Treasons to maintain?
For Murders long since done and past,
Thou Pardons hast had store,
And yet would’st still
Stab on, and kill,
As if thou hop’dst for more.

III.

Yet Tom, e’r he would starve,
More Blood resolv’d to’ve spilt;
Thy flight did only serve
To justifie thy Guilt:
While They whose harmless Innocence
Submit to Chains at home,
Are each day freed,
While Traytors bleed,
And suffer in their room.

IV.

When Whigs a PLOT did Vote,
What Peer Justice fled?
In the FANATICK PLOT
Tom durst not shew his head.
Now Sacred Justice rules above,
The Guiltless are set free,
And the Napper’s napt,
And Clapper clapt
In his CONSPIRACY.

V.

Like Cain, thou hast a Mark
Of Murder on thy Brow;
Remote, and in the dark,
Black Guilt did still pursue:
Nor England, Holland, France, or Spain,
The Traytor can defend;
He will be found
In Fetters bound,
To pay for’t in the end.

VI.

Tom might about the Town
Have bully’d, huff’d and roar’d,
By every Venus known,
Been for a Mars ador’d:
By friendly Pimping and false Dice
Thou might’st have longer liv’d,
Hector’d and shamm’d,
And swore and gam’d,
Hadst thou no Plots contriv’d.

VII.

Tom once was Cock-a-hoop
Of all the Huffs in Town;
But now his Pride must stoop,
His Courage is pull’d down:
So long his Spurs are grown, poor Tom
Can neither fly nor fight;
Ah Cruel Fate!
That at this rate
The ‘Squire shou’d foil the Knight!

VIII.

But now no remedy,
It being his just Reward;
In his own Trap, you see,
The Tygre is ensnar’d:
So may all Traytors fare, till all
Who for their Guilt did fly,
With Bully Tom
By timely Doom
Like him, unpity’d die.


Sr. Thomas Armstrongs Last Farewell to the WORLD: He being Condemned for HIGH-TREASON, and Conspiring the Death of the KING and the DUKE, and subverting the Government of these three Kingdoms A SONG.

To the Tune STATE and AMBITION [no embeddable sound file, alas, but for the arrangement see here and here]

A Due to the pleasure of murther and whoring,
Of plotting conspiring the death of a King:
Confound the temptation of Bastard Adoring,
For which I confess I deserve for to Swing.
Poor Monmouth may Curse me, ’twas I over Ruled
In all his Intreagues by Tony’s black spell,
His timerous contrivance I constantly Schooled;
And told him how safe it was then to rebell.
I shew’d him the glimps of a Crown and a Scepter,
The strength of the Crow’d, and applause of the Town
Till glory did dazle his Soul in a Rapture;
That all things inferior appear’d but a Crown:
Then I was in hopes to be second Assistant;
Therefore to unKing him our party would bring:
But now as the Devil wou’d have it I mist on’t,
For which I before the damn’d Doctor must swing.
The Doctor confused three parts of the Nation;
He murthered thirty; I murthered but two,
With long sword and Codpiss I made it the fashion
Rogues Whores to advance, and the Kingdom subdue:
Brave Monmouth I shew’d him all ways of debauching,
And ne’r let him want procurer nor Whore;
Some Aldermens Wives they were proud to approach him,
I often as Grey have stood Pimp at the door.
Nay, many were sure, that their souls would be sainted
Had they but one hour his sweet grace to enjoy
How oft in my Arms they have sighed and panted,
Untill I conveyed ’em to their Princely Boy
But now all those pleasures are faded with glory,
His Grace in Disgrace and Tom is Condemn’d;
Jack Ketch now looks sharp for to shorten my story,
And leaves me no time to murder or mend.
Yet I must confess, I was oft Monmouths taster,
For fear, least some fire-ship might blow up her Prince,
Which caused our party to flock in much faster,
All Officers from the Plot Office advance.
Old Tony took Care too, that nothing was wanting,
In Wapping, the Square, and Algers-gate-street,
I brought in Bess Mackrel, to help out the taping,
And Tony swore damn him, theres nothing so sweet.
Sweet Betty farewell, ’twas for thee I abjured,
My Lady and Children, this fourteen long years;
They always were kind, but I still was obdured,
Seeking the Destruction of King, Church, & Peers
Had I Grey and Mellvin now here to condole with
And their Recommendations to’th’ Cabals below –,
I might have Commissions in Hell to controle with
But sure I shall find some Friends where I go.


The WHIGS laid open, OR, An Honest Ballad of these sad Times.

To a Mery Tune, called Old Symon the King.

Now the Plotters & Plots are confounded,
And all their Designs are made known
Which smellt so strong of the Round-head,
And Treason of Forty One.
And all the Pious Intentions
For Property, Liberty, Laws,
Are found to be only Inventions,
To bring in their Good Old Cause.
And all the Pious, &c.

II.

By their delicate Bill of Exclusion,
So hotly pursu’d by the Rabble;
They hop’d to have made such Confusion,
As never was seen at Old Babel.
The Shaftsbury’s brave City Boys,
And M—ths Countrey Relations,
Were ready to second the Noise,
And send it throughout the 3 Nations.
Then Shaftsbury’s, &c.

III.

No more of the 5th of November,
That Dangerous Desperate Plot;
But ever with horruor remember
Old Tony, Armstrong, and Scot.
For Tony shou’d ne’re be forgotten,
Nor Ferguson’s Popular Rules;
Nor M—th, or G—y, when they’re rotten,
For Popular, Politick Fools.
For Tony shou’d, &c.

IV.

The Murder of Father and King,
And Extinguishing all the right Line,
Was a Good and a Godly thing;
And worthy the Whigs Design:
The Hanging of Prelate, and Peer,
And putting the Guards to the Sword,
And Fleying, and Slashing Lord Mayors,
Was to do the Work o’the Lord.
The Hanging of, &c.

V.

But I hope they will have their Desert,
And the Gallows will have its due,
And Jack Ketch will be more Expert,
And in time be as Rich as a Jew,
Whilst now in the Tavern we Sing,
All Joy to great York and his Right,
A Glorious long Reign to our King;
But when They’ve occasion we’ll Fight.
Whilst now in the Tavern, &c.

VI.

The name of a Whig and a Tory,
No more shall Disquiet the Nation;
We’ll Fight for the Church and her Glory,
And Pray for this Reformation.
That ev’ry Factious Professor,
And ev’ry Zealous Pretender
May humble ’em, to the Successor
Of Charles, our Nations Defender.
That every Faction &c.


An Elegie On the never to be forgotten Sir Thomas Armstrong Knight; Executed for Conspiring the Death of His most Sacred Majesty, and Royal Brother, June 20. 1684. With some Satyrical Reflections on the whole Faction.

Stand forth ye damn’d deluding Priests of Baal,
And found from out each Trumpet Mouth a Call
Let it be loud and shrill, that ev’ry Man
May hear the noise, from Beersheba to Dan;
To summon all the Faction, that they may
In doleful Hums and Haws, bewail this day,
And to their Just Confusion howl and roar,
For the great Bully of their Cause, is now no more.

But now methinks I hear the Faction cry,
Ohone! Where’s all thy Pomp and Gallantry?
Thy Great Commands, thy Interest and thy State?
The many Crouds which did upon thee wait?

When thou like Atlas on thy shoulders bore,
That mighty World which we so much adore
(That Pageant Heroe, Off-spring of a Whore.)

Behold ye stubborn Crew, the certain Fate
That waits upon the hardened Reprobate.
See; the effects of Treason’s Terrible,
In this life Infamy, and i’th’ next a Hell,
While Heav’n attends on Kings with special Care,
The Traitor to himself becomes a snare:
Drove out like Cain, to wander through the World,
By his own thoughts into Distraction hurl’d,
Despis’d by all, perplext with hourly fear,
And by his Friends push’t like the hunted Deer,
Like a mad Dog, still houted as he ran,
A just Reward for th’ base Rebellious man.

How often has kind Heaven preserv’d the Crown,
And tumbled the Audacious Rebel down?
How many Warnings have they had of late?
How often read their own impending Fate?
That still they dare their wicked Acts pursue,
And know what Heaven has ordain’d their due?
That man who cou’d not reas’nably desire
To raise his Fortunes, and his Glories higher,
Who did enjoy, unto a wish, such store,
That all his Ancestors scarce heard of more,
Shou’d by his own procuring fall so low,
As if he’d study’d his own overthrow,
Looks like a story yet without a Name,
And may be stil’d the first Novel in Fame?
So the fam’d Angels, Turbulent as Great,
Who always waited ’bout the Mercy-Seat,
Desiring to be something yet unknown,
Blunder’d at all, and would have graspt the Crown,
Till Heaven’s Great Monarch, saw they wou’d Rebel,
Then dasht their Hopes, and damn’d them down to Hell.

And now methinks I see to th’fatal place
A Troop of Whiggs with Faction in each Face,
And Red-swoln Eyes, moving with mournful pace,

Pitying the Mighty Sampson of their Cause,
Curse their Fates, and Railing at the Laws.
The Sisters too appear, with sniveling Cryes
To celebrate their Stallions Obsequies;
From th’ Play-house and from Change, how they resort,
From Country, City, nay, there’s some from Court,
From the Old C—ss wither’d and decay’d,
To a Whigg Brewers Youthful Lovely Maid.
Gods! What a Troop is here? sure Hercules
Had found enough so many Whores to please.

Repent, ye Factious Rout, Repent and be
Forewarn’d by this bold Traytors Destiny.
Go home ye Factious Dogs, and mend your Lives;
Be Loyal, and make honest all your Wives.
You keep from Conventicles first, and then
Keep all your Wives from Conventicling Men.
Leave off your Railing ‘gainst the King and State,
Your foolish Prating, and more foolish Hate.
Obey the Laws, and bravely act your parts,
And to the Church unite in Tongues and Hearts;
Be sudden too, before it proves too late,
Lest you partake of this bold Traytors Fate.

And if the Faction thinks it worth the Cost,
(To keep this Bully’s Name from being lost)
To raise a Pillar, to perpetuate
His Wond’rous Actions, and Ignoble Fate,
Let’em about it streight, and when ’tis done,
I’le Crown the Work with this Inscription.

Bold Fame thou Ly’st! Read here all you
That wou’d this Mighty Mortal know;
First, he was one of low degree,
But rose to an Hyperbole.
Famous t’ excess in ev’ry thing,
But duty to his God, and King;
In Oaths as Great as any He,
That ever Grac’d the Tripple Tree;
So Absolute, when Drencht in Wine,
He might have been the God o’th’ Vine.
His Brutal Lust was still so strong,
He never spar’d, or old, or young;
In Cards and Dice he was well known,
T’ out-cheat the Cheaters of the Town.

These were his Virtues, if you’d know
His Vices too pray read below.

Not wholly Whig, nor Atheist neither,
But something form’d of both together,
Famous in horrid Blasphemies,
Practic’d in base Adulteries.
In Murders vers’d as black, and foul
As his Degenerated Soul.
In’s Maxims too, as great a Beast,
As those his honest Father drest. [his father was a groom -ed.]
The Factions Bully, Sisters Stallion:
Now Hang’d, and Damn’d, for his Rebellion.

* Per “An impartial and full account of the life & death of the late unhappy William Lord Russel eldest son and heir of the present Earl of Bedford, who was executed for high treason July 21, 1683, in Lincolns-Inn-Fields: together with the original and rise of the earls of Bedford, giving a brief account of each of them.” (1684)

** Notably joining Armstrong in continental refuge — and narrowly escaping recapture with him — were fellow plotters Lord Thomas Grey and Robert Ferguson. Both these worthies returned in power with the rest of the Whig party come the Glorious Revolution … an event for which Ferguson, a prolific pamphleteer, wrote the definitive justification.

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1683: Algernon Sidney, republican philosopher

Add comment December 7th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1683 the English politician and philosopher Algernon Sidney (or Sydney) was beheaded to uphold (so he conceived it) “the common rights of mankind, the laws of this land, and the true Protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power, and Popery.”

He was one of the 17th century’s great philosophers of republicanism, and his Discourses Concerning Government was more influential in his lifetime than the work of his contemporary (and fellow-Whig*) John Locke.

Although the pen might be mightier than the sword, Sydney himself did not eschew the more literal form of combat and entered a triumphant battlefield for the Roundheads at Marston Moor. But despite penning a strong defense of assassinating despots,** Sidney’s disapproval of the proceedings against King Charles I — a trial at which Sidney, now a parliamentarian, sat as a commissioner — kept him free of the whiff of regicide.

The Republic that prevailed after King Charles’s scaffold, and in which he continued as an MP, was the closest thing Sidney would experience to the political order his writings expounded. When Parliament was forcibly disbanded in 1653 to give over to Cromwell’s rule, Sidney (like his friend and mentor Henry Vane) would not quit the legislature until General Harrison physically seized him. He sorely provoked the interregnum state thereafter by staging a pointed performance of that tyrannicidal play, Julius Caesar … starring himself as Brutus.

Away on the continent when the monarchy was restored in 1660, Sidney would not lay eyes on native soil again until 1677, when he secured a royal mulligan that also spared him the fruits of various plots he had cogitated while in exile to re-depose the Stuarts with the aid of France or the Netherlands. But he returned as one of the leading men of a Whig faction that increasingly courted the ire of the crown and from whose machinations the arch-republican was in no way dissuaded.

Sidney’s prosecution as a party to the Rye House Plot to murder King Charles II helped to earn the new Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys his reputation as a notorious hanging judge: promoted to the post weeks earlier as a reward for his prosecution of Sidney’s alleged conspirator Lord Russell, Jeffreys stacked the trial against the defendant leading Sidney to issue from the scaffold a lengthy disquisition on the iniquities of the court. (Notably, Jeffreys circumvented a standard requiring two witnesses to prove treason by ruling that Jeffreys’ own writings made their author a “second witness”.)

Algernon Sidney is the namesake, along with English parliamentarian John Hampden, of Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College, reflecting Sidney’s importance to the next century’s American revolutionaries. Archive.org has a lengthy public domain compendium (including his discourses on government), The Works of Algernon Sydney.

* Locke had no appetite for the noble martyrdom act pulled by the likes of Sidney and Lord Russell. He fled to the Netherlands during the Rye House Plot crackdown, only returning to England with the Glorious Revolution.

** For example:

Honour and riches are justly heaped upon the heads of those who rightly perform their duty [of tyrannicide], because the difficulty as well as the excellency of the work is great. It requires courage, experience, industry, fidelity, and wisdom. “The good shepherd,” says our Saviour, “lays down his life for his sheep.” The hireling, who flies in time of danger, is represented under an ill character; but he that sets himself to destroy his flock, is a wolf. His authority is incompatible with their subsistence. And whoever disapproves tumults, seditions, or war, by which he may be removed from it, if gentler means are ineffectual, subverts the foundation of all law, exalts the fury of one man to the destruction of a nation, and giving an irresistible power to the most abominable iniquity, exposes all that are good to be destroyed, and virtue to be utterly extinguished.

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1683: Lord Russell, Whig martyr

2 comments July 21st, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1683 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London the great Whig parliamentarian William, Lord Russell was beheaded with a legendary want of dexterity by Jack Ketch.

The third son of the Earl (later Duke) of Bedford, Lord Russell emerged from a decade of comfortable obscurity in the Parliament’s back benches to become a leading exponent of the nascent Whigs* opposed to royal absolutism and to Catholicism — two heads of the same coin, for the Whigs, given that the heir presumptive James had controversially converted to Catholicism.

The national freakout from 1678 over an alleged “Popish Plot” to undo Old Blighty gave Russell his cause; his leadership of the resulting parliamentary bid to exclude James from royal succession made the gregarious Russell “the governing man in the House of Commons”.

Lord Russell was a man of great candour, and of general reputation; universally beloved and trusted; of a generous and obliging temper,” his friend Gilbert Burnet recorded of our man. “He had given such proofs of an undaunted courage and of an unshaken firmness, that I never knew any man have so entire a credit in the nation as he had.”

Russell was, Burnet allowed, “a slow man, and of little discourse, but he had a true judgment, when he considered things at his own leisure: his understanding was not defective; but his virtues were so eminent, that they would have more than balanced real defects, if any had been found in the other.”

Chief among those virtues was his wholehearted sincerity for his cause — a passion the source of both his renown, and his destruction. Russell was heard to espouse the view that James ought not merely be excluded from succession, but executed like his father.

Matters never quite approached that point, but the crisis provoked by the Exclusion Bill firebrands led King Charles II to dissolve parliament in 1681, depriving the Whigs of their legal perch. In the ensuing years politics played out not as legislation but conspiracy, and the crown’s rather more successful harassment of same: many of the chief Whig actors were driven offstage to scaffolds, dungeons, or continental exile.

The half-dozen most eminent Whigs remaining — to whom, besides Lord Russell, we number the king’s illegitimate son Monmouth, the Earl of Essex, Baron Howard of Escrick,** Algernon Sidney, and John Hampden† — formed a sort of informal Council of Six who met secretly to consider the bad options available to the fractured Whig movement. Some section of the wider Whig network in which this Council operated turned eventually to considering the most desperate of measures.

Their Rye House Plot schemed to waylay and assassinate the royal person near a fortified manor handily on the king’s route back to London from the Newmarket races. It was owned then by a radical former soldier of Cromwell‘s New Model Army.

It has been long debated to what extent any of the top Whigs knew of or actively participated in this Guy Fawkesian plot, or its complement, a projected armed rising of the sort that Monmouth would indeed mount in 1685. One school of thought is that the Tories seized it as an expedient to eviscerate the remaining Whig leadership by conflating the entire movement with a regicidal scheme; another is that the Whig insistence upon its martyrs’ innocence — and Lord Russell is the chief man in this pantheon — has amounted to a fantastic propaganda coup.‡

In June 1683, a salter who was in on the Rye House planning got a cold sweat and informed on the Whigs. This backstab earned a royal pardon for himself, and started a familiar policing sequence of incriminated conspirators turning crown’s evidence and informing in their turn on the next part of the network.

Many of the Whigs fled to the Netherlands, received there by the House of Orange which would seat itself on the English throne inside of six years.

Lord Russell, however, refused to fly. He landed in the Tower of London by the end of the month, to face trial as a traitor on the evidence of his association with other Whigs and his entertaining the plan of raising an armed revolt. (He would have been joined in the dock by Essex, but that worthy cut his own throat in the Tower.) The judge’s summation to the jury even underscored that “You have not Evidence in the Case as there was [in other Rye House cases] against the Conspirators to kill the King at the Rye. There was a direct Evidence of a Consult to kill the King, that is not given you in this Case: This is an Act of contriving Rebellion, and an Insurrection within the Kingdom, and to seize his Guards, which is urged an Evidence, and surely is in itself an Evidence, to seize and destroy the King.”

Lord Russell’s case shifted around the fringes of actual innocence — those plans for Insurrection within the Kingdom, he said, occurred sometimes at meetings he happened to attend but only off on the side, or without Lord Russell’s own involvement or support. (Speaking from the scaffold, he would several times insist that his acts were at worst misprision of treason, which was no longer a capital crime at this point.)

Against this the crown produced Lord Howard, a cravenly interested party to be sure, who saved his own skin by testifying that the six-headed cabal was down to planning the specifics of the places where a rebellion might best be stirred up, the procurements of arms and bankroll that would be necessary to same, and how to draw Scotland into the fray as an ally. “Every one knows my Lord Russell is a Person of great Judgment, and not very lavish in Discourse,” Howard allowed on the point of Russell’s active assent to the plans. “We did not put it to the Vote, but it went without Contradiction, and I took it that all there gave their Consent.”

David Hume would observe in his History of Great Britain that Russell’s “present but not part of it” parsing didn’t make for a very compelling story. “Russell’s crime fell plainly under the statute … his defence was very feeble.”


Detail view (click for the full image) of an 1825 painting of Lord Russell’s trial, commissioned of George Hayter by Lord Russell’s admiring kinsman John Russell, Duke of Bedford. John Russell also wrote a biography of his famous ancestor. The unbroken succession of Dukes of Bedford from William Russell’s father continues to the present day; the current Duke of Bedford, 15th of that line, is one of Britain’s richest men.

Conscious of the great pulpit his scaffold would offer, Lord Russell drafted with the aid of his wife a last statement vindicating his own person and the Whig cause that flew into print before the onlookers at Lincoln’s Inn Fields were dipping their handkerchiefs into his martyrs’ blood.

Nor did I ever pretend to a great readiness in speaking: I wish those gentlemen of the law who have it, would make more conscience int he use of it, and not run men down by strains and fetches, impose on easy and willing juries, to the ruin of innocent men: For to kill by forms and subtilties of law, is the worst sort of murder …

I never had any design against the king’s life, or the life of any man whatsoever; so I never was in any contrivance of altering the government. What the heats, wickedness, passions, and vanities of other men have occasioned, I ought not to be answerable for; nor could I repress them, though I now suffer for them.

These notices drew furious confutations from Tory pamphleteers aghast at the face these traitors had to forswear their malice against King Charles; a battle of broadsides to control the historical narrative ensued, and was resolved in the Whigs’ favor by the imminent conquest of power by the aforementioned House of Orange. The Whig-aligned William and Mary reversed Lord Russell’s attainder in 1689 — but that’s never stood in the way of historians’ debates.

In a much lower historical register, Lord Russell’s execution was egregiously bungled by the London headsman Jack Ketch, who had to bash repeatedly at the man’s neck before he could remove it from the shoulders. It is largely from this event that Ketch derives his lasting reputation as an incompetent and/or sadistic butcher, mutually reinforcing with Russell’s martyr status.

Ketch would later claim in a published “Apologie” issued against “those grievous Obloquies and Invectives that have been thrown upon me for not Severing my Lords Head from his Body at one blow” that his prey

died with more Galantry than Discresion, and did not dispose him for receiving of the fatal Stroke in such a posture as was most suitable, for whereas he should have put his hands before his Breast, or else behind him, he spread them out before him, nor would he be persuaded to give any Signal or pull his Cap over his eyes, which might possibly be the Occasion that discovering the Blow, he somewhat heav’d his Body

and besides that Ketch “receav’d some Interruption just as I was taking Aim, and going to give the Blow.” How would you like it if someone came to your workplace and did that?

The damage to Ketch’s reputation was already done. Two years later, en route to the block for a subsequent failed bid to topple the Stuarts, the Duke of Monmouth tipped Ketch with the scornful charge not to “hack me as you did my Lord Russell.” When Ketch botched that execution too, he was nearly lynched — but escaped the scaffold to live on in Punch and Judy and in the English tongue as the definitive lowlife executioner.

* Short for “Whiggamores”, who were Covenanter rebels in the 1640s. “Tories”, by contrast, took their name from Irish Catholic outlaws: each party became known by the slur its foes attached to it.

** Yes, another one of those Howards: this Howard’s great-grandfather lost his head for the Ridolfi intrigue.

† Hampden survived the suppression of Whig intrigues long enough to coin the term “Glorious Revolution” when the Stuarts were finally overthrownJournal of British Studies, January 1985 for a skeptical-of-Russell reading of the evidence. “The government did not concoct the plot; it was frightened by the revelations, whatever use it made of them. There is no doubt that proposals for an insurrection of some kind were discussed; Russell’s impetuosity and extremism make it more likely than not that he was an active party to these discussions. What is in doubt, since nothing came of the discussions, is how far the parties had gone in developing a concrete plan for a rising.”

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1684: Baillie of Jerviswood

Add comment December 24th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1684, the Scottish patriot Baillie of Jerviswood was convicted of treason and immediately executed, for his part in the Rye House Plot against the Stuart King Charles II.

Baillie was a lesser player in the Protestant scheme — whose nature and extent, or even existence, are matters of historical debate — supposedly to do away with the Catholic-leaning ruler and his outright catechumen brother and heir James. Baillie was implicated under torture, and while disowning any part of a conspiracy declined — “with striking truthfulness” — to deny a design on Scottish rebellion.

His summary hanging would enter the pantheon of English depravities in the north country, but he achieved another sort of immortality as well.

During an earlier stint in prison, a proscribed fellow patriot’s 12-year-old daughter had smuggled him messages — becoming acquainted with Baillie’s own son, whom she would eventually wed. The girl gained fame in adulthood as Lady Grizel (or Grisel, or Griselle) Baillie.

“Werena my Heart’s licht I wad dee”
-Lady Baillie

THERE ance was a may, and she lo’ed na men;
She biggit her bonnie bow’r doun in yon glen;
But now she cries, Dool and a well-a-day!
Come doun the green gait and come here away!

When bonnie young Johnnie cam owre the sea,
He said he saw naething sae lovely as me;
He hecht me baith rings and mony braw things—
And werena my heart’s licht, I wad dee.

The legendary tableau of intrigue between Baillie and his future daughter-in-law was itself fruit for literature, given time enough to ripen into legend. Kinswoman Joanna Baillie, one of the great litterateurs of the early 19th century, made use of the episode to open a lengthy ballad to Lady Grizel in Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters:

I.
Within a prison’s hateful cell,
Where, from the lofty window fell,
Thro’ grated bars, the sloping beam,
Defin’d, but faint, on couch of stone,
There sat a pris’ner sad and lone,
Like the dim tenant of a dismal dream.
Deep in the shade, by low-arch’d door,
With iron nails thick studded o’er,
Whose threshold black is cross’d by those
Who here their earthly being close,
Or issue to the light again
A scaffold with their blood to stain,–
Moved something softly. Wistful ears
Are quick of sense, and from his book
The pris’ner rais’d his eyes with eager look,–
“Is it a real form that thro’ the gloom appears?”

II
It was indeed of flesh and blood,
The form that quickly by him stood;
Of stature low, of figure light,
In motion like some happy sprite;
Yet meaning eyes and varying cheek,
Now red, now pale, seem’d to bespeak
Of riper years the cares and feeling
Which with a gentle heart were dealing.
“Such sense in eyes so simply mild!
“Is it a woman or a child?
“Who art thou, damsel sweet? are not mine eyes beguiled?”

III
“No; from the Redbraes’ tower I come;
“My father is Sir Patrick Hume;
“And he has sent me for thy good,
“His dearly honour’d Jerviswood.
“Long have I round these walls been straying,
“As if with other children playing;
“Long near the gate have kept my watch
“The sentry’s changing-time to catch.
“With stealthy steps I gain’d the shade
“By the close-winding staircase made,
“And when the surly turnkey enter’d,
“But little dreaming in his mind
“Who follow’d him so close behind,
“Into this darken’d cell, with beating heart, I ventured.”

IV
Then from the simple vest that braced
Her gentle breast, a letter traced
With well-known characters, she took,
And with an eager, joyful look,
Her eyes up to his visage cast,
His changing countenance to scan,
As o’er the lines his keen glance past.
She saw a faint glow tinge the sicky wan;
She saw his eyes thro’ tear-drops raise
To heaven their look of silent praise,
And hope’s fresh touch undoing lines of care
Which stress of evil times had deeply graven there.
Meanwhile, the joy of sympathy to trace
Upon her innocent and lovely face
Had to the sternest, darkest sceptic given
Some love of human kind, some faith in righteous Heaven.

V
What blessings on her youthful head
Were by the grateful patriot shed,
(For such he was, good and devoted,
And had at risk of life promoted
His country’s freedom and her faith,
Nor reck’ning made of worldly skathe)
How warm, confiding, and sincere,
He gave to her attentive ear
The answer which her cautious sire
Did to his secret note require;–
How after this with ‘quiries kind,
He ask’d for all she left behind
In Redbraes’ tower, her native dwelling,
And set her artless tongue a-telling,
Which urchin dear had tallest grown,
And which the greatest learning shown,
Of lesson, sermon, psalm, and note,
And Sabbath questions learnt by rote,
And merry tricks and gambols play’d
By ev’ning fire, and forfeits paid,–
I will not here rehears, nor will I say,
How, on that bless’d and long-remember’d day,
The pris’ner’s son, deserving such a sire,
First saw the tiny maid, and did admire,
That one so young and wise and good and fair
Should be an earthly thing that breath’d this nether air.

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