1684: Jane Voss, narrow escapee

1 comment December 19th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1684, Jane Voss was hanged

We pass over for this entry her four companions in death: a couple of forgettable gentleman highwaymen; a murderer fled to the continent; a coiner named D’Coiner.

Each a fellow with an interesting tale of his own, no doubt, but for Jane Voss one notices her perpetual proximity to the gallows. It’s a reminder that for a certain class of person, the omnipresent prospect of a sudden trip to the hanging-tree — intended as a mortal terror — was little but the everyday circumstance of a life nasty, brutish and too often short.

A chapbook of the day’s crop* records that the notorious Jane’s “frequent felonies and often Convictions have made her known to most in and about London, she having been above 12 times in Newgate, and several times Condemned to dye.”

She fortuitously escaped such a fate as an an accessory to Thomas Sadler’s theft of the High Chancellor’s ceremonial mace eight years before.

Not being a principal culprit in that escapade, Voss got off with penal transportation, only returning (at least insofar as the English authorities knew) legally after her transportation term had ended.

Our correspondent alleges that “no less than 7 Persons, whom had passed for her Husbands, have at several times been Executed for Robberies, &c.” Indeed, one notorious highwayman named John Smith (alias Ashburnham) hanged earlier in April 1684 had made a point of asking the Newgate Ordinary to send word to Jane Voss to cool it lest she follow him.

Alas, it was right about this time that Jane snatched her last silver tankard. She’d had too many reprieves to escape this time … save for the mandatory stalling mechanism of pleading her belly.**

* “True account of the behaviour, confessions, and last dying words, of Capt. James Watts, Capt. Peter Barnwell, Daniel D’Coiner alias Walker, Richard Jones, and Jane Voss alias Roberts,” 1684. (via Early English Books Online)

** Here’s Jane Voss’s Old Time Restoration England Pregnancy-Simulating Potion: drink “a Gallon of New Ale and Honey” before examination. Use as needed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1677: Thomas Sadler and William Johnson, mace thieves

2 comments March 16th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Thomas Sadler and William Johnson were hanged at Tyburn for one of the most impudent burglaries in English history.

Thomas Sadler alias Clarke, William Johnson alias Trueman and Thomas Reneger … broke burglariously into the dwelling house of Heneage Lord Finch the Lord Chancellor of the said Lord the King and then and there stole and carried off a silver mace gilt gold worth one hundred pounds and two velvet purses imbroydered with gold and and silver and sett with pearles, worth forty pounds, of the goods and chattels of the said Lord the King.”

That’s right. They robbed the Lord Chancellor of his ceremonial mace while he slept, and a couple of embroidered ceremonial purses. (Representative pictures here.) The only reason they didn’t make off with the Great Seal of the Realm too was that the Chancellor had it under his pillow while he slept, for safekeeping. That’s some security.

The robbers, to their misfortune, were little better conscious of this crucial precaution.

They paraded through the darkened streets with mace poised on shoulder, a glorious revelry of knaves celebrating what they surely anticipated was the signal achievement of their lives — and the knell of their deaths.

Upon return to their lodging-house, and having no particular place to stash this hottest of loot, they just stuck it in a cabinet. There, the landlady ran across it while cleaning, and raised the alarum.

So Sadler and Johnson died for the astounding crime — Reneger, who didn’t, hadn’t been involved in a previous robbery that Sadler and Johnson committed, which might have helped mitigate his guilt — along with three distinctly undercard common criminals whom even the Newgate Ordinary scarcely noticed.

Johnson left a mournful little self-eulogy, many centuries since lost but preserved for us in that Ordinary’s evocative text.

Before his Tryal, having an excellent fancie, and a hand no less happy at Limning, he had drawn most lively on the wall of his Chamber in Newgate, a pair of Scales, and in one balance the Mace, and in the other Tyburn; the last much over weighing the first: But since his Condemnation, he drew in one Scale the Gallows, in the other a Crucifix; the first mounted up by the greater weight of the last, and these lines under-written, as I have been informed.

My Precious Lord, from all Transgressions free, Was pleas’d, in tender pity unto me, To undergo the Ignominious Tree.

I Suffer justly; but his Sacrifice, I trust, shall make my groveling Spirit rise, And from the Gibbet mount the glorious Skies.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Scandal,Theft

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