A woman given to looseness and lewdness of life

These snippets come from an early 17th Century account of a murder allegedly committed in London by a wife and brothel owner.

Margaret Ferne-seede, a woman given to all the loosenesse & lewdnesse of life, which either unlawfull lust, or abhominable prostitution could violently cast uppon her, with the greatest infamie, yea, and with such a publique and unrespective unchastitie, that neither beeing chaste nor caught, she regarded not into what eare the loathsomnesse of her life was sounded, or into what bed of lust her lascivious bodie was transported. This more than beastiall lasciviousnes, having consumed the first part of her youth, being then confirmed in some more strength of yeares, she tooke a house neare unto the Iron-gate of the Tower, where she kept a moste abhominable and wilde brothell house, poisoning many young women with that sinne wherewith her owne body long before was filthilie bebotched. From this house at the Iron-gate, she was married unto one Anthony Ferne-seede a Taylor, dwelling in Ducke-lane, but keeping a shop upon Addle-hill neare Carter-lane. This Anthony was amongst his neighbors reputed to be both sober and of very good conversation.

Now it happened that some few monthes agoe in the fieldes of Peckham neare London, there was found a man slaine having his throate cut, a knife in his hand, golde ringes uppon his fingers, and fortie shillings in money in his purse. His woundes [were] of so long continuance that his body was not onely corrupted, but there was also Maggots, or such like filthie wormes ingendered therein, which gave testimony to the beholders that he had not slaine himselfe in that place, as well because the place was free from such a spectacle the day before, as also that such corruption could not proceede from a present slaughter. Againe, what the person slaine no man knewe, both because his phisionomie was altered in his death, and because his acquaintance was little or none in those partes about Peckham. In the end, searching his pockets, and other parts of his apparaile, amongst other notes and reckonings, they found an Indenture wherein a certaine youth which did serve him was bound unto him: this Indenture gave them knowledge both of his name, and of the place of his dwelling, whereupon, certaine discreete persons of Peckham, sent to London to Ducke-lane.

Inquiring for the house of one Anthony Ferne-seede, [they] delivered to his wife the disaster and mischance which had befallen her husband, which her hardoned heart received not as a message of sorrow, but as if it had bene the report of some ordinarie or vulgar newes. She embraced it with an irrespective neglect and carelesness & demanded instantly (before the message would tell her how he dyed) whether his throate were cut, or had he cut his own throate, as either knowing or prophesing how he died. She [then] prepared herself & her Servant in all haste to go to Peckham to behold her husband.

When she & her boy came where the bodie was, where more for awe of the Magistrate than any terror she felt, she made many sower faces, but the drinesse of her braine would suffer no moisture to descend into her eyes: many questions were asked her, to which she answered with such constancie, that no suspition could be grounded against her: then was her boy taken and examined, who delivered the abhomination of her life and that since her mariage with his maister, she had lived in all disquietness, rage, and distemperature, often threatning his life and contryving plots for his destruction. That she had ever since her mariage, in most publique and notorious manner, maintained a yong man, with whom (in his view) she had often committed adultrie: that the same young man since his maisters losse was fled he knew not whither, and that his mistris had even then before the message of his maisters death, sold all his goods (as he supposed) to fly after him whom she loved: all these speeches were not only seconded, but almoste approved by some of her neighbors, which lived neare unto her.

She was taken into a more strict examination, and in the end, by authoritie of Justice she was committed to the White Lyon in Southwarke: during the time of which imprisonment, till her time of tryall, thinking to out face truth with boldnesse, and sin with impudence, she continued out all her examinations taken before severall Justices in her former denialls. She was seldome found to be in charitie with any of her fellow prisoners, nor at any time in quiet with her selfe, rather a provoker then an appeaser of dissentions, given to much swearing, scarce praying but continually scoulding, so that she was as hatefull to all them that dwelt with her in the prison, as shee was to people of honest conversation while she lived abroad. In this uncivill order, spending her houres, the time of tryall comming on, this Margaret Ferneseed was indighted, & arraigned, the purpose of which inditement was to have practised the murther of her late husband Anthony Ferne-seede, who as before was found dead in Peckham field nere Lambeth.

She pleaded not guiltie, putting her cause to God and the Countrie, then were these severall witnesses produced against her, namely of the incontinentness of her life past, her attempt to poyson her husband before this murther, as also to prepare broth for him, and put powder in it, her slight regard of him in his life, and her carelesse sorrow for him after death: with other circumstances as the flight of the fellowe whome she had lived long in adulterie with all, her present sale of her goods uppon her husbands murther, as it may be justly thought, with purpose to flie after him: on which lawfull evidence, she was convicted, & after judgement given her to be burned: and from thence she was conveyed backe to the White Lyon, till the time appointed for her execution.

On Munday being the last of February; she had notice given her, that in the after-noone she must suffer death, and a Preacher commended unto her to instruct her for her soules health, who laboured much with her for the confession of the fact, which she still obstinately denied, but made great showe of repentance for her life past, so that about two of the clocke in the after-noone she was stripped of her ordinary wearing apparell, and uppon her owne smocke put a kirtle of Canvasse [a sort of long tunic] pitched cleane through [painted in tar to speed up the burning process], over which she did weare a white sheet, and so was by the keeper delivered, on each hand a woman leading her, and the Preacher going before her. Being come to the place of execution, both before and after her fastening to the Stake, with godly exhortations hee admonished her that now in that minute she would confesse that fact for which she was now ready to suffer, which she denying, the reeds were planted about, unto which fire being given she was presently dead.

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5 Comments

  • Lucie
    September 28, 2011 - 10:24 pm | Permalink

    She was burnt, rather than hanged, because her crime was considered petty treason (i.e. wife killing husband, or servant killing master). I must say I rather admire her for not giving in and confessing in the face of all that pressure and the horrors to come.

  • September 26, 2011 - 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Poor woman, what a way to go. Imagine wearing clothes soaked in tar and then burned. You think maybe the executioner would have some how killed her, to stop her from suffering? Thought I read somewhere they often did that.

    I think perhaps she was guilty. But burning. Horrific! As usual a great post. Thank you.

  • September 26, 2011 - 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this – I really enjoyed this glimpse of the past. She is certainly a challenging character and it is interesting that the toy boy disappears once her lewd past and unpleasant personality become the focus of interest. She seems to be convicted more on the basis of public & judicial perceptions of her transgressive and anti-social behaviour than any physical evidence. So I find it interesting that you draw parallels with CSI, where (as with so much US crime drama) we are often invited to draw conclusions regarding the suspect’s moral character way before any evidence is analysed.

  • September 26, 2011 - 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know. There seemed to be a preference for burning women, particularly transgressive women, as opposed to hanging them, although of course lots of women were hanged. It might be worth further investigation, – perhaps a look at the figures for executions.

    It seems to me Margaret like many women, was executed largely on circumstantial evidence, although selling her husband’s possessions before he had actually been found dead does seem rather suspicious..

  • September 26, 2011 - 1:46 pm | Permalink

    CSI Tudor London. Another great account. Why was she burnt and not, say, hanged?

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