Category Archives: Crime

Crime Death Execution Marriage Murder

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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Court Crime

Everie Justice of peace may imprison by the space of one year without bayle

Today’s post is on aspects of 17th Century English law, provided by Michael Dalton (1564–1644), a barrister and legal writer born in Linton, Cambridgeshire. In 1618, Dalton published a popular legal treatise for local magistrates and JPs entitled The Countrey Justice. Practising JPs and other local magistrates used Dalton’s book widely and it has now became an important source on English law for both local and legal historians of early modern England. A second edition appeared in 1619, a third in 1630, and a fourth edition (posthumously) in 1655. The work remained in circulation into the eighteenth century, being reprinted in 1666, 1682, 1690, and 1742 and was also widely used in English colonies including the United States. What follows are some of the more interesting entries in The Countrey Justice.


Every Justice of the Peace hearing of any ryot or any intention of a ryot shall goe himself with his servants and other powers of the county to the place where such persons be so assembled, and suppress them; and all such as he shall find riotously assembled and armed, to arrest them and force them to put in suertie for the peace, or for their good behaviour; and if refusing such surety, to imprison them and take away their weapons and armour.


Young children whose parents are dead are to be set on with work, relieved, or maintained at the charge of the towne where they were dwelling at the time of the death of their parents, and are not to be sent to the place of their birth. If any poor not being rogues shall travel with their children through a town and the father or mother dye, that town is not bound to keep their children. If any poore persons of any parish have able bodies to work, if they refuse such work they are to be sent to the house of correction.


Anie person infected or dwelling in a house infected with the plague shall be by any Justice of the peace commanded to keep his house. If he wilfully goe abroad, and converse in company having any infectious sore upon him, it is felony. And if such person shall not have such sore about him he shall be punished as a Vagabond and shall be bound to his good behaviour for one whole year. If any person infected or dwelling in a house infected wilfully attempt to go abroad, then Watchmen may with violence enforce them to keep to their houses.

Night walkers

Everie Justice of the Peace may cause to bee arrested all Night walkers, be they strangers or other persons that be suspected or that be of evill behaviour, and more particularly all such suspected persons as shall sleep in the day time and goe abroad in the nights, and who at night haunt anie house that is suspected for Bawdie, or shall in the night time use other suspicious company or shall commit anie other outrages or misdemeanours. Such night walkers are ominous and such night walkings are unfit for honest men.


Every Justice of the Peace may seize all goods of any outlandish persons calling themselves Egyptians that shall come into this realm.


Everie Justice of the peace may examine all offences for the destroying or taking of Partridges or Fesants in the night time, and for hawking or hunting with Spaniels in any eared corne.

Hue and Cry

Every Justice of peace may cause Hue and cry and search to be made upon any Murder, Robbery, Theft or other Felony committed. Note that all Hue and Cry ought to be made from town to town and from country to country and by horse-men and foot-men otherwise it is not a lawful pursuit.


If any person shall willingly disturb any preacher in the time of his Sermon, or shall be aiding, procuring or abetting thereto, or shall disturb the arresting of any such offender, they shall be brought before any Justice of peace. Within six days one other Justice of the peace must join with the first Justice in the examination of the said offence, and if they two upon their examination shall find the partie accused guilty, then shall they commit him to the Gaole there to remain without baile for three months.


Everie Justice of peace may imprison by the space of one year without bayle such as shall publish anie false prophecies to the intent thereby to make anie rebellion, insurrection, or other disturbance within the King’s dominions.


All and every lewd and meane persons which shall unlawfully cut or take away corne, or rob any Orchards or Gardens, or cut any hedge or dig up or take away any fruit trees shall for the first fault give the wronged party recompense. And if such offender shall be thought not able to doe so, they shall be committed to some Constable to be whipped.

BastardieSuch a bastard childe must be one that is left to the charge of the parish. The mother may bee examined upon Oath concerning the reputed father. Every lewd woman which shall have a Bastard which may be chargeable to the parish shall be committed to the house of correction, there to be punished and set on worke for one year. Such a woman shall not be sent to the house of correction until after the childe is borne and that it is living. Such a bastard childe is not to be sent with the mother to the house of correction, but rather the childe should remain in the towne where it was borne, and there to be relieved by the work of the mother or by the relief from the reputed father

Games unlawful

Everie Justice of the Peace may from time to time enter into any common house or place, where any playing at Dice, Tables, Cards, Bowls, Coyts, Tennis, Football or any unlawful game now invented or hereafter to be invented, and may arrest the keepers of such places and imprison them until they agree to no longer occupy any such house, play, game, alley or place. Also he may arrest and imprison the players there till they bee bound by themselves no more to play at or haunt any of the said places or games.

Rogues and Vagabonds

Any Justice of peace may appoint all Rogues and Vagabonds which shall be taken begging, wandering, or disordering themselves, to be stripped naked from the middle upward and to be whipped till their body be bloody. (Rogues and Vagabonds are defined as ‘All persons above the age of seven years going about begging, all idle persons going about the country, including Fortune tellers, Jugglers, Fencers, Wandering persons, Tinkers, Pedlars, common Players of Enterludes and Minstrels wandering abroad.’)

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Crime Curiosities Death Murder Vice Witchcraft

In his Wolvish shape he would run among them

This curious account of a Werewolf comes from Germany in the 1590s. With a ravenous appetite for lust and murder, Stubbe Peeter eventually meets his own rather gory end.

In the townes of Cperadt and Bedbur neer unto Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evill, and the practising of wicked Artes even from twelve years of age till twentye, and so forwardes till his dying daye, insomuch that surfeiting in the Damnable desire of magick, necromancye, and sorcery, acquainting him selfe with many infernall spirites and fiends. The Devill who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischeefe as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle, which being put about him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy devouring Wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes: And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appeare in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never beene changed.

Stubbe Peeter hearwith was exceedingly well pleased, and the shape fitted his fancye and agreed best with his nature. If any person displeased him, he would incontinent thirst for revenge, and no sooner should they or any of theirs walke abroad in the fields or about the Cittie, but in the shape of a Woolfe he would presentlye encounter them, and never rest till he had pluckt out their throates and teare their joyntes a sunder: And after he had gotten a taste hereof, he tooke such pleasure and delight in shedding of blood, that he would night and day walke the Fields, and work extreme cruelties. And sundry times he would go through the Streetes of Collin, Bedbur, and Cperadt, in comely habit, and very civilly as one well knowen to all the inhabitants therabout, & oftentimes was he saluted of those whose friendes and children he had buchered, though nothing suspected for the same.

It came to passe that as he walked abroad in the fieldes, if he chanced to spye a companye of maydens playing together, or else a milking of their Kine, in his Woolvishe shape he would incontinent runne among them, and while the rest escaped by flight, he would be sure to laye holde of one, and after his filthy lust fulfilled, he would murder her presentlye, beside, if he had liked or knowne any of them, her he would pursue, whether she were before or behinde, and take her from the rest, for such was his swiftnes of foot while he continued a woolf: that he would outrunne the swiftest greyhound in that Countrye: and so muche he had practised this wickednes, that the whole Province was feared by the cruelty of this bloody and devouring Woolfe. Thus continuing his divelishe and damnable deedes within the compass of fewe yeares, he had murdered thirteene young Children, and two goodly young women bigge with Child, tearing the Children out of their wombes, in most bloody and savage sorte, and after eate their hartes panting hotte and rawe, which he accounted dainty morsells & best agreeing to his Appetite.

He had at that time living a faire young Damsell, his Daughter, after whom he also lusted most unnaturallye, and cruellye committed most wicked inceste with her. This daughter he begot when he was not altogether so wickedlye given, who was called by the name of Stubbe Bell, whose beautye and good grace was such as deserved commendations of all those that knewe her: And such was his inordinate lust and filthye desire toward her, that he begat a Childe by her, dayly using her as his Concubine, but as an insaciate and filthy beast, given over to work evil. With greedines he also lay with his owne Sister, frequenting her company long time even according as the wickednes of his hart lead him. Moreover being on a time sent for to a Gossip of his there to make merry and good cheere, ere he thence departed he so won the woman by his faire and flattering speech, and so much prevailed, yet ere he departed the house: he lay by her, and ever after had her companye at his command. This woman was Katherine Trompin, a woman of tall and comely stature of exceeding good favour and one that was well esteemed among her neighbours. But his lewde and inordinate lust being not satisfied with the company of many Concubines, nor his wicked fancye contented with the beauty of any woman, at length the devill sent unto him a wicked spirit in the similitude and likenes of a woman, so faire of face and comelye of personage, that she resembled rather some heavenly creature, so farre her beauty exceeded the chiefest sorte of women, and with her as with his harts delight, he kept company the space of seven yeeres, though in the end she proved and was found indeed no other then a she Devil

Long time he continued this wilde and villanous life, sometime in the likenes of a Woolfe, sometime in the habit of a man, sometime in the Townes and Citties, and sometimes in the Woods and thickettes to them adjoyning. Thus this damnable Stubbe Peeter lived the tearme of five and twenty yeeres, unsuspected to be Author of so many cruell and unnaturall murders, in which time he destroyed and spoyled an unknowen number of Men, Women, and Children, sheepe, Lambes, and Goates: and other Catttell. The inhabitantes of Collin, Bedbur and Cperadt, seeing themselves so greevously endangered, plagued, and molested by this greedy & cruel Woolfe, none durst travell to or from those places without good provision of defence. Oftentimes the inhabitants found the Armes & legges of dead Men, Women, and Children, scattered up and down the fields to their great greefe and vexation of heart, knowing the same to be done by that strange and cruell Woolfe. They daylye continued and sought to intrap him. In the end it pleased God that they should espye him in his woolvishe likeness, and moste circumspectlye set their Dogges upon him. He, seeing no way to escape the imminent danger, presently slipt his girdle from about him, whereby the shape of a Woolfe cleane avoided, he appeared presently in his true shape & likeness, having in his hand a staffe as one walking toward the Cittie. But the hunters came unto him, and brought him to his owne house, and finding him to be the man indeede, and no delusion or phantasticall motion, they had him before the Magistrates to be examined.

Thus being apprehended, he was shortly after put to the racke in the Towne of Bedbur, but fearing the torture, he volluntarilye confessed his whole life, and made knowen the villanies which he had committed for the space of 25 yeares, also he confessed how by Sorcery he procured of the Devill a Girdle, which beeing put on, he forthwith became a Woolfe. After he had some space beene imprisoned, the majestrates found out through due examination of the matter, that his daughter Stubbe Bell and his Gossip Katherine Trompin, were both accessory to divers murders committed, who for the same were arraigned, and with Stubbe Peeter condemned, and their severall Judgementes pronounced the 28 of October 1589· in this manner, that is to saye: Stubbe Peeter as principall mallefactor, was judged first to have his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten several places to have the flesh pulled off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a woodden Hatchet, afterward to have his head strook from his body, then to have his carkasse burned to Ashes.

Also his Daughter and his Gossip were judged to be burned quicke to Ashes, the same time and day with the carkasse of the aforesaid Stubbe Peeter, and on the 31 of the same moneth, they suffered death accordingly in the town of Bedbur in the presence of many peeres & princes of Germany.

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Crime Execution Witchcraft

She did witch unto death Agnes Ratcleife

These fragments come from Henry Goodcole, a chaplain of Newgate prison.  In 1621 he wrote an account of the sensational trial of Elizabeth Sawyer, a poor woman convicted of witchcraft and subsequently hanged.  Her case attracted widespread attention, and in the same year, a play entitled The Witch of Edmonton, written by John Ford, Thomas Dekker, and William Rowley, was performed at the Cockpit Theatre.  In this play Elizabeth is depicted as a victim of vicious abuse by the authorities; echoing writers such as Reginald Scot (Discoverie of Witchcraft,1584) who sought to temper belief in witchcraft and supernatural activity. No formal records of Elizabeth’s trial survive..

A great, and long suspition was held of this person to be a witch, and the eye of Mr Arthur Robinson, a worthy Justice of Peace, was watchfull over her and her ways. Seeing the death of Nurse-children and Cattell strangely and suddenly to happen, and to finde out who should be the author of this mischiefe, an old ridiculous custome was used, which was to plucke the Thatch off her house, and to burne it, and it being so burnd, the author of such mischiefe should presently then come. And it was observed and affirmed to the Court, that Elizabeth Sawyer would presently frequent the house of them that burnt the thatch which they pluckt off her house.

This triall, though it was slight and ridiculous, settled a resolution in those whom it concerned, to finde out by all meanes they could endeavour, her long, and close carried Witchery, to explaine it to the world; and being descried, to pay in the ende such a worker of Iniquity her wages, and that which shee had deserved, (namely, shame and Death). Her face was most pale & ghost-like without any blood at all, and her countenance was still dejected to the ground.  Her body was crooked and deformed, even bending together, which happened but a little before her apprehension. That tongue, which by cursing, swearing, blaspheming, and imprecating, as afterward she confessed, was the occasioning cause of the Divels accesse unto her.

On Saturday, being the fourteenth day of April 1621. this Elizabeth Sawyer late of Edmonton, in the County of Middlesex Spinster, was arraigned, and indited three severall times at Justice Hall in the Old Baily in London. Which Inditements were, viz.

That she, the said Elizabeth Sawyer, not having the feare of God before her eyes, but moved and seduced by the Divell, by Diabolicall helpe, did out of her malicious heart, (because her neighbours where she dwelt would not buy Broomes off her) revenged her selfe on them in this manner, namely, witched to death their Nurse Children and Cattell.

She was also indited that shee the said Elizabeth Sawyer, by Diabolicall helpe, and out of her malice afore-thought, did witch unto death Agnes Ratcleife, a neighbour of hers, dwelling in the towne of Edmonton where shee did likewise dwell, and the cause that urged her thereunto was because that Elizabeth Ratcliefe did strike a Sowe of hers in her sight, for licking up a little Soape where shee had laide it, and for that Elizabeth Sawyer would be revenged of her, and thus threatned Agnes Ratcleife. That evening Agnes Ratcleife fell very sicke, and was extraordinarily vexed, and in a most strange manner in her sicknesse was tormented. Oath whereof was by this Agnes Ratcleifes Husband, given to the Court, the time when shee fell sicke, and the time when shee died, which was within foure dayes after she fell sicke: and further then related, that in the time of her sicknesse his wife Agnes Ratcleife lay foaming at the mouth, and was extraordinarily distempered. The said Agnes Ratcleife lying on her death-bed, these wordes confidently spake: namely, that if shee did die at that time shee would verily take it on her death that Elizabeth Sawyer her neighbour, whose Sowe with a washing-Beetle she had stricken, was the occasion of her death.


 Witch (1592)
Master Arthur Robinson had often & divers times, upon the complaints of the neighbours against this Elizabeth Sawyer, laboriously and carefully examined her, and stil his suspition was strengthened against her that doutlesse shee was a Witch. Information was given unto him by some of her Neighbours, that this Elizabeth Sawyer had a private and strange marke on her body, and he sitting in the Court at that time of her triall, informed the Bench thereof, desiring the Bench to send for women to search her. 
The Bench commanded officers to fetch in three women to search the body of Elizabeth Sawyer, to see if they could finde any such unwonted marke. One of the womens names was Margaret Weaver, that keepes the Sessions House for the City of London, a widow of an honest reputation, and two other grave Matrons, brought in by the Officer out of the streete, passing by there by chance, were joyned with her in this search of the person named, who fearing and perceiving she should by that search of theirs be then discovered, behaved her selfe most sluttishly and loathsomely towards them, intending thereby to prevent their search of her. Nevertheless, nicenesse they laid aside, and according to the request of the Court, they all three searched her, and made their answer unto the Court, being sworne thereunto to deliver the truth.  And they all three said that they, a little above the Fundiment of Elizabeth Sawyer found a thing like a Teate the bignesse of the little finger, and the length of halfe a finger, which was branched at the top like a teate, and seemed as though one had suckt it, and that the bottome thereof was blew, and the top of it was redde. This view of theirs, and answere that she had such a thing about her, which boldly shee denied, gave some insight to the Jury of her.  Who upon their consciences returned the said Elizabeth Sawyer, to be guilty, by dibolicall help, of the death of Agnes Ratcliefe onely, and acquitted her of the other two Inditements.

A Relation what shee said at the place of Execution, which was at Tiborne, on Thursday, the 19. day of Aprill 1621.

This confession which is now read unto me, by Master Henry Goodcoale Minister, with my owne mouth I spake it to him on Tuesday last at Newgate, and I here doe acknowledge, to all the people that are here present, that it is all truth, disiring you all to pray unto Almightie God to forgive me my grievous sinnes.

This was confirmed, in the hearing of many hundreds at her last breath, what formerly she in prison confessed to me. We whose names are heere subscribed, do thereby testifie, that Elizabeth Sawyer late of Edmonton in the Countie of Midds. Spinster, did in our hearings, confesse on Tuesday the 17. of Aprill, in the Gaole of Newgate, to Master Henry Goodcoale Minister of the word of God, the repeated foule crimes, and confirmed it at her death the 19. of Aprill following, to be true.

Deare Christians, lay this to heart, to subvert you· that so you that doe detest her abhominable wordes, and wayes, may never taste of the cup nor wages of shame and destruction, of which she did in this life: from which and from whose power, Lord Jesus save and defend thy little flocke. Amen.

An e-text of The Witch of Edmonton can be found here

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