Posts filed under 'Women'

1645: Fourteen Essex witches

Add comment July 25th, 2020 Headsman

A True Relation of the Arraignment of Thirty Witches at Chensford in Essex, before Judge Coniers, fourteene whereof were hanged on Friday last, July 25 * 1645 * there being at this time a hundred more in severall prisons in Suffolke and Essex. Setting forth the Confessions of the principall of them. Also shewing how the Divell had carnall copulation with Rebecca West, a young maid, daughter to Anne West. And how they bewitched Men, Women, Children, and Cattell to death: with many other strange things, the like was never heard of before. The names of those that were executed. * Mrs. Wayt a Ministers wife * Anne West * Mother Benefield * Mother Goodwin * Jane Browne * Mother Forman * Rachel Flower * Mary Greene * Mary Foster * Jane Brigs * Mother Miller * Mother Clarke * Frances Jones * Mary Rhodes
The Confession of REBECCA WEST, daughter to Anne West of Colchester in ESSEX.

The said Rebecca confessed at the Barre, that about Shrovetide last her mother bad her make haste of her worke, for she must gee along with her before Sunne downe: and as they were going over the fields, her mother gave her a great charge never to speake of what shee should heare or see, and she faithfully promised to keep counsel. When she came to the house of meeting there were five Witches more; the two chiefs were Mother Benefield and Mother Goodwin: this Mother Goodwin pulled out a Booke, and after their manner they prayed out of it, and presently their severall Impes appeared in severall shapes: fix whereof appeared in the shapes of Kitnens [sic] about a weeke old in Mother Benefield’s lap, and after she had kissed them, she said unto Rebecca that those were all her children which she had by as handsome a man as any was in England. Then they commanded their Spirits come to kill such a mans Horse, some a cow, some a Childe, &c. then Mother Benefield called to mother West, and asked if she were sure that her daughter Rebecca would keepe counsel, or else she might seeke all their blood. She answered, Rebecca had promised. They all then replyed, if shee ever did speake of it that shee should suffer more tortures and paines on earth, then the paines of hell. Presently mother Benefield said, for more certainty let her take cur Covenant and Oath as we have already done. Then they taught her what to say, the summe whereof was to deny God and her Saviour Jesus Christ, to renounce all promises of his blessings, and the merits of his bitter death and passion, to beleeve as they did, and to serve and obey as they did. And the said Rebecca confessed that so soone as she had done thus, the Divel in the shape of a little blacke dog leaped into hes lap, & kissed her three times, but she felt them very cold. Shortly after, when she was going to bed, the Divel appeared unto her againe in the shape of a hand some young man, saying that he came to marry her. The manner was thus: he took her by the hand, and leading her about the roome, said, I take thee Rebecca to be my wife, and doe promise to be thy loving husband till death, defending, thee from all harmes; then he told her what shee must say, whereupon she took him by the hand and said, I Rebecca take thee to be my husband, and doe promise to be an obedient wife till death, faithfully to performe and observe all thy commands; the first whereof was that she should deny and renounce as aforesaid. And being asked by the Judge whether she ever had carnall copulation with the Divel, she confessed that she had. And being asked divers questions by a Gentleman that did speake severall times with her before and afterward (giving her godly and comfortable instructions) she affirmed that so soone as one of the said Witches was in prison, she was very desirous to confesse all she knew, which accordingly the did, whereupon the rest were apprehended and sent unto the Gaole. She further affirmed, that when she was going to the Grand Inquest with one mother Miller (indicted for a Witch) she told mother Miller that shee would confesse nothing, if they pulled her to pieces with pincers: and being asked the reason by the Gentleman, she said she sound her selfe in such extremity of torture and amazement, that she would not endure it againe for the world: and when she looked upon the ground shee saw her selfe encompassed in flames of fire: and presently the Grand Inquest called for her, where they admit but one at a time, and so soone as she was thus separated from this mother Miller, the tortures and the flames beganne to cease: whereupon she then confessed all shee ever knew, and said that so soone as her confession was fully ended, she found her conscience so satisfied and disburdened of all her tortures, that she thought her selfe the happiest creature in the world: withall affirming that the Divel can take any shape, and speake plaine English.

Another Witch sent her maid to a neighbours house for a handfull of herbes, who meeting with her sweetheart staid an houre by the way, saying she should bee halfe hanged for staying so long: whereupon he told her that in such a place in their owne garden there grew the same herbes, so it was but going over the pale and her journey was ended; which she did, and pleased her mistris well for her long stay, by bringing those herbes. At night her mistris bade her go up to bed first, which made her mistrust something; where upon she peeked between the boards, and observed her mistris to cut the herbes in small peeces, shrewing them about the roome: the next morning her husband rising betimes found twelve or fourteene great Hogs, being all his owne, dead in the yard, and so for his Sheepe and all his other Cattell, and telling his wife how they were undone, she replyed, Hath the queane served me thus? she shall suffer for it. Then he examined the maid, and both gave evidence. This was at Ipswich in Suffolke.

The evidence of Mr. Long a Minister neere Colchester in Essex.

First, that as he was riding on the way, the shape of a red Dog passed by him, at which his blood did rise: and being passed a small distance, turned his face, his eyes appearing not like the eyes of any creature, his horse presently started, and never left kicking and flinging untill he threw him downe, but had no hurt. An old woman in the Towne called goodwife Clarke being mistrusted and examined before Sir Thomas Boes, confessed that she sent forth this spirit, with command to make the horse throw Mr. Loig and breake his necke: and being demanded by Sir Thomas Boes what was the reason the Spirit did not performe her commands, she answered because the power of God was above the power of the Divel. But the horse did pine to death for his punishment.

The evidence of the said Mr. Long.

He said that one morning as he was walking abroad, a poore woman being of his own Parish spake kindly to him, but his answer was that he had a long time a good opinion of her, although he ever accounted her sister, an ill liver, and little better then those that are accounted Witches, but now he strongly beleeved that her sister had made her as bad as herselfe; this much troubled the old woman, and she would not leave following and perswading of the said Mr. Long to bee of his former good opinion, professing her own innocence in any ill of such nature, or any compact with such evil Spirit whatsoever: but finding him not satisfied with any thing she had said, she assured him she would give him an evidence undenyable, whereupon she lifted up both her hands towards heaven, calling God to witnes, and desired that he would shew a present Iudgement upon her if she were not innocent and cleare: now Mr. Long affirmed upon his oath that these words were no sooner out of her mouth, but she was strucke to the ground upon her back before his face, where she did lye in a most lamentable condition, trembling and crying; be took her up and carried her into an Alehouse hard by, where she did lie in this extremitie two dayes, and that so soone as she came to herselfe he gave her the best comfort he could, shewing how mercifull God had beene to her in sparing her life, giving her time of repentance, the first step whereof must be her confession and contrition, whereupon she confessed that she had done much mischief, and that she had compacted with the Devill, that hee usually sucked her and appeared unto her in the shape of a Squirell. These aforesaid Witches have confessed that they did raise the great windes in March last, and caused a Hoy to be cast away, wherein were many passengers.

When these Witches came first into the Gaole at Colchester, the Gaoler lost his meat often, and mistrusting that the Witches had got it, upon a time bought a good shoulder of Mutton, and said hee would looke to the dressing of it himselfe, but when it was ready the Witches had got it, and all the while the Witches were at supper with it, the Gaoler in stead of Mutton was eating Hogs-wash.

After this the Gaoler desirous to see more of their feats, intreated some of them to shew him a little of their cunning, thinking to make himselfe meny for the losse of his meat, whereupon one of the Witches bid him goe fetch her foure pewter dishes wherein never water came; straightway went the Gaoler to a Pewterer and got 4. new dishes, and afore he brought them to the Witch he wet one of them, contrary to the Witches direction, neverthelesse as soone as the Witch had them, she put her bands and feet into the foure dishes, and upon an instant was lifted into the ayre with three dishes that were dry, the fourth falling off, and by good chance was found in a meadow about halfe a mile off, and brought backe to Prison.
                                            

F I N I S.

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

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1788: Elisabetha Gassner

Add comment July 16th, 2020 Headsman

Thief Elisabetha Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was beheaded in Oberdischingen by executioner Xaver Vollmer on this date in 1788.

Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an industrious laborer who, born a vagrant and soon after losing her father, busted her hump into a home and a small farm of her own while maintaining a large family (seven kids by the time of her beheading, plus an invalid mother).

Nimble fingers made her this nest egg — fingers for knitting stockings, and, more and more, for picking pockets in Biderberg and Württemberg.

With a purported 300+ thefts attributed to her, she acquired outsized reputation as a thief transcendent enough to apotheosize her under the nickname Schwarze Lies (“Black Lisa”) alongside the legendary outlaws of the day.

Her ambition for a foothold in this precarious world made her as bold with the quality of her targets as their quantity: her arrest was for lifting a 1,700 guilder purse from Count Franz Ludwig Schenk von Castell, in the chapel of Ludwigsburg Palace.

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1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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1748: Marretje Arents, for the Pachtersoproer

2 comments June 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1748, three instigators of a riot hanged in an Amsterdam public square, while worse fates befell those who came to see it.

It was only a few days earlier that the Pachtersoproer (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had torn apart the homes of nineteen tax collectors and magnates in the capital. These violent protests against inequitable taxation and oligarchical power had actually begun in Friesland and Groningen, the northernmost provinces of the Low Countries, before spreading to Amsterdam.

Marretje Arents (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), a fishmonger supporting four children while her husband was abroad as a soldier in the East Indies, was seen on that Monday, June 24th, clad in a distinctive red chintz exhorting rioters to wreak revenge on the grandees and helping to ransack at least one house. According to the chronicle (1740-1752) of Abraham Chaim Braatbard, she spat at one agent,

Today we are the boss and tomorrow we will come to you at the town hall. Then we will see what we will do with all of you, gentlemen land-thieves … [then, lifting her skirt] Now you can clean my ass, because that’s all I have left for you.

This bold and public flaunting of an insurrectionary intent was not accompanied by a political achievement more lasting than a couple of days’ looting. When Arents simply turned up on June 27th at her market stall to go about her usual business just as if she hadn’t been trying to overturn it all three days before, she was arrested for sedition. Of course, there must have been hundreds of others who either weren’t identified or weren’t deemed worth making an example of who did go right back to their normal lives, nursing their grievances in customary silence.

Marretje Arents’s voice is heard in the annals, at the cost of her life.

By the next day at noon, she and two other perceived leaders of the disturbance, Mat van der Nieuwendijk [see comments] and Pieter van Dordt, were publicly hanged at the Waag op de Dam.* Over the brattle of drummers charged with drowning her incitements to the crowd, she was still heard to keep out her cries for rebellion until the moment the rope closed her throat.

Revenge, my dear citizens, assist me. For you now let me die so shamefully, while I have not fought for myself. I did it for the whole country, against the tyranny of the tenants, who tormented us citizens and forcibly took our money and good for the lease.

She would not have had to outlive her hanging more than a few minutes to see it. As the next of the riotous “captains” was strung up, a disturbance broke out in the packed square. It’s not certainly recorded whether this was a wave of sympathy responding to Marretje Arents, or the chance surge of a large crowd jostling for position, or something else besides — but suddenly the host of onlookers stampeded, crushing their fellows underfoot and pushing others into the Amstel River. Braatbard guessed that some 200 souls might have lost their lives for the sake of this triple execution … but whether 3 lives or 203, the important thing to the Low Countries’ rulers was that the Pachtersoproer did not re-emerge.

* The Waag, or weigh-house, served the bustling commercial district that grew up around Dam Square at the heart of Amsterdam. It was demolished in 1808 under French occupation.


Painting of Dam Square from the late 1600s, by Dutch master Gerrit Berckheyde. The weigh-house in the middle of the square presents an obviously suitable landmark for an affair like a public execution; just as well, since by this time its original function had been ceded to a new and larger weigh-house which still survives as the city’s venerable Waag. It was in the latter building that the dissection was performed that Rembrandt immortalized in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Netherlands,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Rioting,Women

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1786: Phoebe Harris, coiner

Add comment June 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Up to 1790, women convicted of High Treason and Petty Treason were burned at the stake. Although I am sure you have a perception of what High Treason is, as a crime in those days, it also encompassed several other offences, notably coining. Coining covered several individual offences relating only to gold and silver coins, e.g. clipping coins to provide coin metal for forgeries, colouring coins to make them appear of higher value, making counterfeit coins and having the equipment to do any of the above. Coining was considered treasonable because it directly affected the State and confidence in the currency.

The crime.

Under the name of Mrs. Brown, Phoebe Harris had rented a room from one Joel Sparkes at a house in Drury Lane, London (No. 19, in Swan-yard) before Christmas 1785. A friend of hers, Francis Hardy, had recommended her to Sparkes, describing her as a captain’s widow with a private income. In reality, it seems that Phoebe had been separated from her husband for two or three years. Whilst Phoebe lived at this address she was regularly engaged in filing and clipping coins and then using the metal to make new counterfeit coins in sand moulds. Francis Hardy was the person who was later to inform the police of the goings on at No. 19. There was a suggestion, flatly denied by him in court, that Francis Hardy had had a relationship with Phoebe. He did, however, take her teenage daughter in as a servant on the day of her mother’s arrest.

Arrest.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 11th of February 1786, John Clarke (a constable) went to No. 19 in consequence of the information he had received and found Phoebe Harris and Elizabeth Yelland in the first floor room. He and his assistants, George Meecham, Patrick Macmanus, and William Andrews, broke down the locked door and arrested the two female occupants. They then searched the room in which they found some counterfeit coins and the necessary equipment for coining in an adjoining closet.

When John Clarke compared the counterfeit shillings to genuine ones, it was clear that they had been cast from a mould made from a genuine shilling. In all, some 12 counterfeit coins were discovered, both shillings and sixpences. One of the genuine sixpences had a hole in it and this was evident in the counterfeits.

A little later, after the rooms had been searched, Elizabeth’s brother, Joseph Yelland, returned home and was also arrested. All three were taken to Bow Street to appear before a magistrate. They were remanded in custody at Newgate to stand trial at the next Sessions of the Old Bailey.

The trial.

Capital trials at this period took up very little time with a number being conducted during a single day. The April Sessions of the Old Bailey in 1786 were held on Wednesday, the 26th of that month, before Mr. Baron Eyre. Among those indicted were Joseph Yelland, otherwise known as Holman, Phebe Harris (spelling of Phoebe as given in the original indictment) and Elizabeth Yelland, who were jointly charged with two specimen counts, as follows: “for that they, on the 11th of February last, one piece of false, feigned, and counterfeit money and coin, to the likeness and similitude of the good, legal, and silver coin of this realm, called a shilling, falsely, deceitfully, feloniously, and traiterously did counterfeit and coin, against the duty of their allegiance, and against the statute.” There was also a second count of coining a sixpence. The shilling is the equivalent of the current 5p coin, whilst a sixpence is the equivalent of 2.5p. Although in 1786, these two coins had much greater purchasing power they were still coins of small denomination.

The prosecution was opened by Mr. Silvester, assisted by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Garrow led the defence. [Silvester and Garrow were famous combatants at the bar. See this post for another instance. -ed.]

The case was heard before the 2nd Middlesex jury, consisting of twelve men. Both sides were able to call witnesses and cross examine those for the other side. In this case, the Crown called the constables involved in the raid, together with the landlord and his son. They also called Francis Hardy, who gave direct eyewitness evidence of the manufacture and colouring of the counterfeit coins. The coining equipment found in the rooms was produced in court as evidence. Hardy also suggested that the group had bought forged coins from other criminals to pass off as good — also a capital crime then, known as uttering. He stated in his testimony that she continued with the coining business even though she knew that Hardy was fully aware of what she was doing. It appears that there had been some disagreement between Hardy and Phoebe and this may have led to him informing on her.

The defence was principally based upon the testimony of character witnesses for each of the defendants who averred them to be people of good character. Phoebe addressed the court as follows: “My Lord and Gentlemen of the Jury, I am an unhappy woman; I was desired by a young man of the name of John Brown, to take the room, which I did, and he brought the things found in the room; and desired me to secrete them, and I not knowing the nature of them, or for what purpose they were intended, did do so, and so I told the gentleman when they came and took me: as to my sister-in-law, I being very ill, she came to clean the room for me, and the gentleman found her cleaning it on her knees: and my brother-in-law came some time after the gentlemen had been in the room.”

She also called two character witnesses.

The jury took some time in their deliberations before finding Phoebe guilty and, despite Francis Hardy’s evidence against them, acquitting Elizabeth and Joseph Yelland. As was normal sentencing of all those convicted, took place at the end of the Sessions. Nine prisoners were condemned to death, these being: Hannah Mullins, William Smith, Edward Griffiths, James May, George Woodward, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Watts, who were sentenced to be hanged while Phoebe was condemned to be burned at the stake. Many other prisoners were sentenced to transportation or imprisonment. Hannah Mullins and James May were subsequently reprieved to transportation. The condemned were returned to Newgate prison to await their fates.

Execution.

Phoebe Harris was to be the first woman burnt at Newgate, as distinct from Tyburn or Smithfield, and her execution was carried out just after 8.00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 21st of June 1786. A huge crowd, estimated at some 20,000 people, had turned out to watch this gruesome spectacle.

At 7.30 a.m. six men, Edward Griffiths, George Woodward, William Watts, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Smith were brought out through Newgate’s Debtor’s Door and led up onto the “New Drop” gallows. They were prepared in the usual way and the drop reportedly fell around 8.00 a.m.

After they were suspended, Phoebe was led from the Debtor’s Door of Newgate by two sheriff’s officers to a stake that had been erected halfway between the gallows and Newgate Street. The stake was some 11 feet high and had a metal bracket at the top from which a noose dangled. Phoebe was described as, “a well made little woman of something more than thirty years of age, with a pale complexion and not disagreeable features.” She was reported to be terrified and trembling as she was led out. She mounted a stool and the noose was placed around her neck and was allowed a few moments to pray with the Ordinary before her support was removed and she was left suspended. According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book The Hanging Tree she died hard, he reported that she choked noisily to death over several minutes.

After hanging for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails. Two cart loads of faggots were now piled around the stake and then lit. It is reasonable to assume that she would have been quite dead by this time. After a while, the fire burnt through the rope and Phoebe’s body dropped, remaining attached to the stake by the chain. It took over two hours to be completely consumed by the fire, which continued to burn until midday.

Comment.

Only two more women were to suffer Phoebe’s fate. These were Margaret Sullivan on the 25th of June 1788 and Catherine Murphy on the 18th of March 1789, both for coining. At the April Sessions of 1790, Sophia Girton was also convicted of this offence but her execution was delayed until after Parliament had passed an Act (Act 30 Geo. III, c.48) substituting ordinary hanging for coining offences on the 5th of June 1790. In fact, Sophia was ultimately pardoned, on condition of transportation for life to New South Wales, on the 12th of June 1790.

Executions by burning at Newgate were distinctly unpopular with the local residents of what was a respectable business area of the City. They had sent a petition to the Lord Mayor requesting that Phoebe’s execution be carried out elsewhere. This was an early version of “not in my back yard” rather than a protest against the severity of her punishment. It was later reported that some locals became ill from the smoke from her body. There were similar protests over the Sullivan and Murphy executions and a great feeling of relief when Sophia Girton was reprieved, and the whole ghastly business passed into history in 1790.

The Sheriffs were also becoming increasingly unhappy about attending burnings, and it was they who brought forward the Bill to end this practice. Even though by this time the condemned woman was dead before the faggots were lit, it must have still been a gruesome and revolting spectacle and one which conveyed a feeling of injustice. Men convicted of coining offences were hanged in the same way as other condemned males. The Times newspaper took up this theme after Phoebe’s burning and printed the following article: “The execution of a woman for coining on Wednesday morning, reflects a scandal upon the law and was not only inhuman, but shamefully indelicate and shocking. Why should the law in this species of offence inflict a severer punishment upon a woman, than a man. It is not an offence which she can perpetrate alone — in every such case the insistence of a man has been found the operating motive upon the woman; yet the man is but hanged, and the woman burned.” One can only agree with the “Thunderer’s” sentiments as the Times came to be known. Other London newspapers carried similar articles. Again similar outrage was expressed two years later at the burning of Margaret Sullivan, although strangely there was little media interest at the burning of Catherine Murphy.

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1704: Anna Ericksdotter, the last witch executed in Sweden

Add comment June 15th, 2020 Headsman

Sweden conducted its last witch execution — a beheading — on this date in 1704.

Anna Eriksdotter (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) was a local cunning-woman whose talent for healing both men and beasts had seen her dogged with rumors of devilry for many years.

Evidently she leaned into the story or — who knows? — believed it herself. When a man named Nils Jonsson accused her of striking him blind, deaf and dumb, she acknowledged punishing her “disgusting” neighbor, and even claimed that, raised to witchery from her childhood, she had committed various other supernatural offenses against the community: laying a curse on the vicar, and conjuring wolves to prey on livestock.

These “admissions” might have been necessary to actually bring a witch to the block in 18th century Sweden, scorched as consciences were after a particularly notorious witch hunt 28 years before.

Even so, Anna Ericksdotter just barely attained her milestone. Her sentence was approved by the young king Charles XII — a bit preoccupied in that moment getting rinsed on northern Europe’s battlefields by Peter the Great — over the strong pardon recommendation of his magistrates who considered Ericksdotter “full with mad imaginations”.

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1537: John and Margaret Bulmer, Bigod’s rebels

Add comment May 25th, 2020 Headsman

And on the 25 day of May, being the Friday in Whitsun week, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephen Hamerton, knights, were hanged and headed; Nicholas Tempest, esquire; Doctor Cockerell, priest; Abbot quondam of Fountains; and Doctor Pickering, friar, were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered, and their heads set on London Bridge and divers gates in London.

And the same day Margaret Cheney, ‘other wife to Bulmer called’, was drawn after them from the Tower of London into Smithfield, and there burned according to her judgment, God pardon her soul, being the Friday in Whitsun week; she was a very fair creature, and a beautiful.

Wriothesley’s Chronicle

This date’s prey were casualties of Bigod’s Rebellion, the lesser-known sister rising to the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Pilgrimage, a rising of the northern Commons against Henry VIII’s dissolution of Catholic monasteries, had indeed been settled rather bloodlessly by the end of 1536, with the king hosting its leader, Robert Aske, for Christmas at Greenwich Palace where holiday sweetmeats mingled with insincere concessions.

The naive Aske was probably doomed no matter what for seeking the overthrow of the mighty Thomas Cromwell, but his nearly direct path from the royal apartments to Tyburn was directed by the onset of Bigod’s Rebellion in January 1537. Aske strove in vain to dissuade this rising as ruinous to the arrangement he thought he had negotiated, which indeed it was: Bigod was crushed in a matter of days, and the disturbance furnished Henry with his pretext for arresting Pilgrimage leaders like Aske.

We’re drawn in particular here to a power couple implicated in both risings, Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Bulmer (formerly or also Margaret Cheyne*).

These executions had, on the whole, a settling effect on the country. The reformers [i.e., English Reformation enthusiasts, like Cromwell] were delighted. The large and powerful class who desired peace above everything were reassured. Most of the conservatives were frightened into silence …

Lady Bulmer, or Margaret Cheyne as she was called, was drawn after the other prisoners from the Tower to Smithfield and there burnt. Burning was the ancient penalty for treason in the case of a woman, but it was seldom exacted. The poor women in Somersetshire, for instance, suffered the same fate as the men. The death of Margaret caused some sensation at the time … At Thame in Oxfordshire her fate was discussed on the Sunday before she died. Robert Jons said that it was a pity she should suffer. John Strebilhill, the informer, answered, “It is no pity, if she be a traitor to her prince, but that she should have after her deserving.” This warned Jons to be careful, and he merely replied, “Let us speak no more of this matter, for men may be blamed for speaking the truth.”

Froude says, “Lady Bulmer seems from the depositions to have deserved as serious punishment as any woman for the crime of high treason can be said to have deserved.” The depositions show only that she believed the commons were ready to rebel again, and that the Duke of Norfolk alone could prevent the new rebellion. In addition to this she kept her husband’s secrets and tried to save his life. She committed no overt act of treason; her offences were merely words and silence. The reason for her execution does not lie in the heinous nature of her offence, but Henry was not gratuitously cruel, and her punishment had an object. It was intended as an example to others. There can be no doubt that many women were ardent supporters of the Pilgrimage. Lady Hussey and the dowager Countess of Northumberland were both more guilty than Lady Bulmer. Other names have occurred from time to time, Mistress Stapleton, old Sir Marmaduke Constable’s wife, who sheltered Levening, and young Lady Evers. But these were all ladies of blameless character and of respectable, sometimes powerful, families. Henry knew that in the excited state of public opinion it would be dangerous to meddle with them. His reign was not by any means an age of chivalry, but there still remained a good deal of the old tribal feeling about women, that they were the most valuable possessions of the clan, and that if any stranger, even the King, touched them all the men of the clan were disgraced. An illustration of this occurred in Scotland during the same year (1537). James V brought to trial, condemned, and burnt Lady Glamis on a charge of high treason. She was a lady of great family and James brought upon himself and his descendants a feud which lasted for more than sixty years.

James’ uncle Henry VIII was more politic. He selected as the demonstration of his object-lesson to husbands, which should teach them to distrust their wives, and to wives, which should teach them to dread their husbands’ confidence, a woman of no family and irregular life, dependent on the head of a falling house. This insignificance, which might have saved a man, was in her case an additional danger. She had no avenger but her baby son, and we only hear of one friendly voice raised to pity her death. The King’s object-lesson was most satisfactorily accomplished.

-Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1526-1537, and The Exeter Conspiracy, 1538: Volume 2

* She’d been passed from her first husband, William Cheyne, via a wife sale to John Bulmer. This odd and sub-legal custom was exactly what it sounded like, and while that sounds horrible, in practice wife sales negotiated the effective impossibility of securing a regular divorce. They were often — as it seems to have been true here, given the reported comity of the Bulmer household — an arrangement in which all three parties were willing participants. However, in the context of the post-Bigod crackdown, prosecutors did not fail to bludgeon the Bulmers, especially the wife, with moral turpitude for this illicit remarriage business, and they made sure to call her “Margaret Cheyne” for that reason.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1920: Four denunciators of Laon

Add comment May 15th, 2020 Alphonse Lemonon

(Thanks to Alphonse Lemonon for the guest post, which originally appeared under the title “Civilization’s Thin Veneer: War Shows the Seamy Side of Human Nature” in The Overland Monthly (July 1920). As noted in the foreword paragraph, it’s substantially an English translation of reporting from May 16, 1920 edition of Le Petit Journal. These were the unlucky half of eight people convicted in a trial touching 44 Frenchmen and -women from the northern regions occupied by Germany at some point during the late war, who were accused of collaborating with those Germans and denouncing their patriotic countrymen. There’s much more about this case (in French) including more pictures (in grainy black and white) in this police magazine. -ed.)

[Almost at the moment when Joan of Arc was being canonized with all the clerical ceremonies at Rome [this occurred on May 16, 1920 -ed.], four political prisoners — one a woman — were tied to stakes and shot according to military and civic ceremony near Paris. The tragic and instructive narrative is here told in a translation from the most popular Paris Newspaper — Le Petit Journal, May 16, 1920.]

FOUR of the condemned informers of Laon, of which affair one has not forgotten the dolorous echo, Georges Toque, Moise Lemoine, Leander Herbert and the woman Alice Aubert were shot yesterday morning, at Vincennes, and if it were an affecting execution, it assuredly was to them. Two of them fell while swearing to their innocence and crying “Viva la France!”

The Last Awakening.

All four were awakened at 4 a.m. Some instants before the officers charged with the transfer of the condemned to execution had presented themselves at several prisons; some at the prison de la Sante where Toque and Lemoine were confined, others at Cherchi-Midi where Herbert was detained, and a third group at the prison de Saint-Lazare, where one other, Alice Aubert, condemned of the same affair, was held. She occupied a cell with Helen Favre, who had been reprieved.

The lawyers of the four condemned were on hand to assist their clients until the last moment. Maitres Delmont and Campinchi arrives at the prison La Sante about the same time as lieutenant-colonel Beyle, commissioner of the government. All were shown together to the cells and Toque was called. He was seated and dressing himself. The usual words on such occasions having been pronounced by the commissioner of the government, the condemned man moved towards the foot of his bed and finished his dressing — never ceasing meantime to protest his innocence.

Maitre Delmont handed the prisoner his shoes which he took with a gesture of indifference and while putting them on remarked: “I go to make the journey to eternity and have no need.” Having completed his dressing he wrote two letters, which he intrusted to Maitre Delmont for delivery. One he addressed to his wife, the other to the minister of Justice. It follows:

Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice.

At the moment of dying, I affirm solemnly my innocence and of you demand vengeance.

I swear that i have never belonged to the spy service of Germany. I swear to have never rendered them any service, nor to have informed on anybody. I swear that Waegele has odiously lied.

Georges Toque.

At that moment the prisoner Lemoine who had been awakened about the same time as Toque passed in the corridor of the prison, and seeing his associate, called out to him:

“Let us go Toque, have courage.”

After the formal entry on the prison register, the two condemned men appeared in the court of the prison, their heads bare but their demeanor calm.

They were placed in the same automobile, seated opposite each other, the prison abbe and a gendarme accompanying them. The journey to the execution grounds began for them. Meantime painful scenes were being enacted at the prisons containing the two other doomed persons, Leandre Herbert the soldier and Alice Aubert. The soldier appeared demented. His lawyer could not calm him and called the prisoner’s attention to the automobile in company with two religienotice of the civilian doctor, Socquet, demanding a reprieve.

The doctor refused declaring that the wards Vincennes. prisoner enjoyed all his faculties.

“You are going to shoot an insane man. I leave the responsibility with you” concluded the lawyer.

Herbert was placed in a voiture and arrived at the scene of execution at Vincennes some minutes after Toque and Lemoine.

The three condemned men were subjected to an atrocious delay of three-quarters of an hour till the third voiture containing Alice Aubert appeared.

To allay the mental sufferings of the delay, when minutes seemed hours, it was proposed to the prisoners to alight from the voitures and walk in the court of the donjon at Vincennes, but Lemoine refused, as being too cold.

At Saint-Lazare.

While the three condemned men awaited death at Vincennes, a touching scene took place at the prison Saint-Lazare, where the condemned woman Aubert shared a cell with Helene Favre, condemned at the same time but commuted. The Favre woman thought she was the one about to be taken to execution and fell in a terrible nervous crisis.

On the contrary Alice Aubert had good control of herself, listened to the official orders without evincing any emotion; but her eyes filled and she cried silently some minutes. Then she began to dress herself, a figure sad and resigned. She said to her lawyer who tried to comfort her:

“If I am sad — if I cry — it is not for me, it is for my sister, it is for my child. It is also for the others condemned.”

She put on her yellow silk hose and patent-leather shoes which contrasted with her simple petticoat and mantle, and all the time she repeated: “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven.” These words she used till she alighted at the execution ground at Vincennes.

Before quitting the prison Saint-Lazare the condemned woman wished to hear mass, and it was not until she had received communion that she mounted the automobile in company with two religieuses who assisted her until the last moments. The automobile then sped towards Vincennes.

At La Caponniere.

At five hours and a half (5:30 a.m.) an order rang out upon the ground of la Caponniere: “Garde a vous!” (Attention). The voitures containing the condemned advanced upon the road. The soldiers of the 13th artillery, the 23rd dragoons, and the 26th chasseurs, who formed the square, presented arms; the trumpets sounded “Aux champs!” the firing squads rectified their position before the four stakes placed in line at a distance of ten metres from one another.

Slowly the autos came to a a [sic] stop, and from the one at the head descended Toque and Lemoine, absolutely livid but calm.

The abbe Geispitz embraced the two condemned men and they in turn embraced their lawyers, and then Toque addressed his lawyer:

You have seen my memoranda and you know that I am innocent. Preserve well all the pieces show that I am not culpable. After my death — long time after — when calm will be returned to the consciences, make clear my innocence. Rehabillitate my memory, I pray you.

He directed again the attention of his lawyer to certain leaves of his memoranda that were not in their order, nor did he forget any detail.

And that man who came to die insisted again that in the future he be not misrepresented, that he be not disparagingly spoken of as “Toque the traitor”.

The painful and prolonged scene wore out the patience of Lemoine who tugged impatiently on the lapel of his companion’s overcoat and said “Let us go,” and took a step forward. The two condemned men escorted by the gendarmes then began to direct their steps towards the stakes where they were to stand before the firing squads, but were halted as the other two condemned prisoners, had not yet descended from their automobiles.

Turning about, Toque and Lemoine saw Herbert the soldier wearing his blue uniform, his cap turned the wrong way and advancing with long strides. He continued to speak incoherently: “Me also, I wish to say something — say something”. He did not cease to repeat these words and addressing the gendarmes he said: “Do not hold me — do not hold me — You will see — you will see — Ah! ah!”

Behind him came Alice Aubert, without coiffure like Toque and Lemoine and like those marching with firm step.

One moment where she entered the square, by one gesture instinctive of feminine coquetrie, she drew over her light colored dress her manteau of sombre hue.

Toque and Lemoine, who were advancing towards the stakes, turned again to speak the last word to their lawyers, the hands — a dernier au revoir — accompanied by a sign of the hands. And then the four condemned marched in Indian file traversing the square and directing their steps to the stakes at which the gendarmes tied them.

The Execution.

Toque was at the extreme right. Lemoine was at the second stake. Herbert was attached to the third. The fourth stake on the left propped Alice Aubert.

Lemoine and Toque refused the bandage intended to mask the view of the firing squad. Herbert remained mute and let things proceed.

The clerk of the Council of War at this moment appeared between the two firing squads in the centre and read the sentence of death.

All the official details in full had been finished and in the silence impressive the clear and strong voice of Toque elevated itself once more: “I swear that I am innocent; vive la France!”

Also Lemoine, elevating his right hand took the same oath and also cried: “Vive la France!”

As for Herbert, he articulated again the same phrase: “Me also I wish to say something.”

With hand raised Toque again avowed his innocence, until the soldiers of the front rank knelt to fire. All put their pieces to the shoulder. Again Toque cried: “Vive la France!” The officer lowered his sword and the fusil[l]ade crackled. But a frightful rattle, like an appeal for help escaped from the gorge of Toque. He was not dead. The guns had trembled in the hands of the firers.

Maitre Delmont, the lawyer of Toque, cried to an under-officer: “Dispatch him, dispatch him”! The soldier approached the palpitating body, from which escaped continually the heart-rending cries and discharged his revolver twice in the head of the condemned. The rattle ceased but the man still stirred and a third ball found the brain.

Alice Aubert, with her hands clasped upon her breast, and holding in her fingers a crucifix rested upright against the stake. She too received in her turn the coup de grace. Her head fell. Then she became completely erect and sank for the last time to move no more.

The two others also received their coup de grace; but it was unnecessary for Lemoine who had his skull stove in. It was not so with Herbert whose pulse continued to beat and his lips to move at the moment when a doctor examined him.

The civilian doctor Socquet, declared that he was dead, and the body of which one of the legs had been broken by a bullet was placed in a coffin.

After examining the two other cadavers, the doctor Socquet came to certify the death of Alice Aubert. He wished to examine the heart, but the chemise of the woman obstructed. A soldier, by the aid of a knife, cut the shoulder-strap and the doctor plunged his hand which trembled in the gorge of the woman streaming with blood. He drew forth a photograph equally blood-stained — the picture of the child of Alice Aubert. She had placed the photograph on her heart before going to die. It was piteously replaced upon the breast of the dead.

A sonnerie guerriere, resounded then, and to those notes of the trumpets the troops defiled.

All the assistants were paler than the dead.

Some minutes after two wagons, surrounded by dragoons, quitted the scene of execution and proceeded to the cemetery of Vincennes four kilometers distant. In the wagons were four wooden coffins. They contained the stripped bodies of the four executed prisoners.

The bodies not having been reclaimed they have been, after a mock burial, delivered to the faculty of medicine.

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1630: Stine Teipel and Grete Halman, nine-year-old witches

Add comment May 4th, 2020 Headsman

Horribly, on this date in 1630 nine-year-old “witches” named Christine Teipel and Grete Halman were executed for witchcraft, in either Oberkirchen (where they were from) or Fredeburg (where they were tried).

For unknown reasons — maybe some deep well of trauma, or maybe just being a mischievous small child with no grasp of the consequences — “Stine” Teipel began spouting off in 1628 about being a witch herself, and about all the neighbors she knew who were also witches. The damage was not immediate — likely she wasn’t taken seriously — but the girl’s fabulisms lay around like dry tinder, perfect material in early 17th century Germany for gathering to a pyre.

The next year, a Hexenprozess local maximum brought her charges into the ambit of a judiciary and she

told the court that, after some ointment had been applied under her arm, she had flown to a meeting place of witches, several of whom she had recognized. She had also been on a mountain where the devil had provided everyone with beautiful clothes, as well as beer and wine in barrels of gold. In her mind the sabbath was a sort of dressing-up party in which the villagers acquired higher status and partook in a splendid meal. Belonging herself to one of the poorest families of cotters, the feast represented a kind of Schlaraffenland (Land of Cockayne). The dance had lasted two hours, and her partner had had a ‘thing’ on his body, which he had put in her private parts, but it had not given her any pleasure. (The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft)

Grete Halman was another girl whom she accused, and who corroborated the charges, with their implications of various named adults then echoing in the customary fashion into secondary accusations and cross-confirmations. Both children, along with seven adults, were executed on May 4 — just a fraction of some 61 witches known to be put to death by this court over the span of about a year. Stine Teipell’s stepmother and Grete Halman’s parents were among the other victims.

Visitors to Schmallenberg can take in an exhibit on this particular horror at the local Holthausen museum.

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,History,Public Executions,Sex,Torture,Women

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