Category Archives: Crime

Crime Execution

She fell down shrieking

These snippets come from a little pamphlet documenting the murder of a maid by a sixteen-year-old apprentice named Thomas Savage.

Thomas Savage born of honest parents in the parish of St Giles in the Fields, was put to Apprentice to a Vitner at Ratcliffe, where he lived about one Year and three Quarters.  In which time he appeared to all that knew him to be a Monster in Sin, giving himself up to all sensual pleasures and never so much as delighted to hear one Sermon. He spent the Sabbath usually at an Ale-house with that Strumpet, H Blay. He came acquainted with her by a young Man who afterwards went to Sea, and after that he often used to bring her Bottles of Wine, which satisfied not her Base desire. She told him he must bring money with him; he said he had none but what was his Masters, but she enticed him to bring it.  He replied he could not for the Maid was always at home with him. ‘Hang her, Jade,’ says this impudent Slut.  ‘Knock her on the head and I will receive this money.’ And that day when he committed the Murder, she made him Drunk with burnt Brandy.

He going home about one of the Clock, his Master standing at the Street door, he did not dare to go in that way, but climbed over a back door and came into the Room where his fellow Servants were at Dinner. ‘Oh,’ sayd the Maid, ‘you have now been at this Lewd House, you will never leave till you are turned.’ He was much concerned at her Words, and while he sat at Dinner the Devil and Passion entered so strongly into him that he resolved to kill her. So when his Master with his Family was gone to Church, he steps to the Bar and reaches a Hammer, and goes to the fire-side and taking the Bellows in his hand, sits down and knocks the Bellows with the Hammer. The Maid said ‘Sure the Boy is mad, what do you make this noise for?’ He said nothing but went to the Window making the same noise there, and on a sudden, he threw the Hammer with great force at the Maid’s head, so that she fell down shrieking out. Then he took the Hammer and striketh her many blows with all the force he could, rejoycing that he had finished the Murder. This done, he goes to his masters Chamber, and taking a bag of money under his Clothes, goes out at a back door. The Strumpet, seeing what he had done, wanted her money, but he, refusing, gave her half a Crown and so departed.

The account continues for several pages, outlining Thomas’s eventual capture, and and sorrowful prayers upon the scaffold.  It ends with the following:

After he had hung the usual time the Sheriff commanded him to be cut down and his Body was received by some of his Friends, who carryed it to a Neighbouring House, where being laid upon a Table, he was discerned to stir and breath, so that they immediately put him into a warm Bed, which recovered him so that he opened his Eyes and moved his Body and Hands, but could not attain his Speech. The News was soon abroad, so that Officers came and conveyed him to the former place of Execution and hung him up again until he was quite dead, and never came to himself again. He was buried at Islington where he sleeps in the Bed of his Grave.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Crime Curiosities Love Marriage

Stealing Mrs Rawlins

The fragments come from The last Dying words and Confession of Haagen Swendsen, who was Convicted and Executed for stealing Mrs Rawlins an Heiress (1702).

That I had a Design to have Mrs Rawlins for my Wife is most true. I was told of her by a Neighbour and Friend of hers and then made a further enquiry, and found her Quality such as I might, without any exceptions, her Father being the Son of a Tradesman, the next was how to get into her Acquaintance, and not knowing how to be introduced, I prevailed with, and persuaded Mrs Bainton to take a Lodging in the same House with Mrs Rawlins, by which means I found easie Access to my wishes, and was as welcome to the Family as if I had been one of themselves.

By degrees I possess’d my self of Mrs Rawlins Attention so far that she seem’d uneasie without me, and frequently importun’d for my speedy return, and oblig’d me to sit next to her at Table, saying that if I did not she would not eat, and treated me with many private caresses, by which Lovers who have not frequent Opportunity of speaking do by signs and tokens express themselves. I do declare that I had as good Reception as a Lover could wish for, and all the Encouragement imaginable; Insomuch that nothing seem’d disagreeable to my intentions, but all things did promise to facilitate my Design with Success, she herself having told me that she was at her own disposal and would Marry to please herself.

My familiarity with Mrs Rawlins before my Marriage was so great that there was no room left for me to practise Violence upon her. Without any force or violence [my wife] declar’d to the Minister that she was at her own disposal, and free to marry me, which the Minister declar’d in open Court at my Tryal. After [the wedding] we had been in Bed [when] in comes one Mr Bennet a Constable, with some of Mrs Rawlins Relations, who requir’d me to go with them before a justice of the Peace. I refused to give Obedience to their Commands, which created some dispute. My Wife, hearing the Noise came out of the Bed-Chamber, desir’d me to be quiet, and let her speak to them, which accordingly she did in these express words: Cousin, I have Married this Gentleman with my own free Consent, he is my Husband, and this is my Wedding Ring, shewing the Ring on her Finger. Then said they, if it be so then God bless you both together, and drank a Flask of Wine or two with me, then departed.

They were no sooner gone but I ask’d her whether she would be willing to appeare and declare what she had said to her Friends to a Justice of Peace, and she said she would with all her Heart, then we went to Mr Justice Baber and declar’d the same to him. The next Day about 11 of the Clock, there came a Constable with a Warrant who said unto my Wife, Alas child, they made you Drunk and you did not know what you did.  To which she answered that there were a great many there present [at the wedding] that knew her Life and Conversation, that knew she did not use to be Drunk. He then ordered me to be pull’d away by force from her, at which she fell a weeping; and after I was Committed to Newgate.

In my Tryal Mr Justice Baber shewed himself coldly in giving his Testimony, and said that my Wife did confess before him that she was Married by her own Consent but at the same time he added that she seemed very much disorder’d. It is to be noted that my Wife did not deny in open Court that she had made the Declaration aforesaid to Mr Bennet the Constable, but said she did not know what she did when she said so, and many other things she positively upon Oath denied at my Trial. Among my many Misfortunes I was represented by my Wife’s Friends to the Court to be a Sharper and a Bully, but I called in and produced several Gentlemen of Repute to give account of my Life and Conversation, who have all accordingly attested the Honesty of my Principles by my Practise.

My Jury disagreed about the Verdict, there was one Mr Johnson who did declare that none of the Evidence did Prove or Swear that I used any Force or Violence to the Gentlewoman.  I am now going to suffer an ignominious Death for a Crime which my own Conscience doth not accuse me of, but the rigour of the Law has made it my unpardonable Crime. And as I forgive all Mankind, so I beg forgiveness of those whom thro’Inadvertency or otherwise I have injured or offended, beseeching God of his great Mercy to vouchsafe them forgiveness whensoever they shall ask it.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Assassination Crime Execution

The Lamentable Death of William of Nassau Prince of Orange

William I, Prince of Orange (1533-1584), also known as William the Silent, was the first head of state to be assassinated with a hand gun. Born into a noble family, William became the main leader in the Dutch revolt against the Spanish, which contributed to the start of the Eighty Years’ War. His assassination by a French Catholic had serious political consequences and was a major blow to the Protestant cause in the Netherlands. Elizabeth I, William’s closest political ally, was devastated by his death, and it wasn’t long before the English parliament enacted legislation making it a criminal offence to possess a hand gun anywhere near a royal palace. What follows are snippets from the contemporary account of William’s assassination, entitled: The True Report of the Lamentable Death of William of Nassau Prince of Orange; who was traitorously slain with a Dag in his own Court, by Balthazar Serack a Burgundian, the first of July 1584. Those of a nervous disposition may not wish to read the gruesome account of the subsequent death of William’s assassin.

Upon the 12th day of June last past 1584, there came to the Prince of Orange a base born Gentleman of Burgundy, who brought certain letters from the States of France, concerning matters of news, which the Prince in most thankful manner did receive. This messenger (in whom there remained nothing but subtlety and secret mischief) did show unto the Prince, how he could at any time bring him or his soldiers into the Prince of Parma’s garrison, which caused the Prince to repose a great trust and confidence in him, so that he remained in the court without suspicion of any treachery. But behold what followed, on the 1st day of July last past. This Traitor, seeing a small Pistoll or Dag in the hands of one of the Prince’s servants, did demand what it might cost him, saying: ‘I have occasion to ride a journey shortly, and that dag would be a good defence for me upon the highway.’ The Prince’s servant, thinking nothing of that which happened afterward, did sell it to him for the sum of ten shillings of English money.

The Prince being then in his Court at Delft, who being gone to dinner, and the Guard attendant about his person, this Traitor seeing it a meet time to compass his pretended mischief, went into his Chamber, and charged the Pistol with powder, and put three bullets in the same. That done he placed it privily in his pocket, and went down to dinner. After he had dined, hearing that the Prince would anon go to his privy chamber, devised in his mind where he might best plant himself for the finishing of his wicked deed, who finding a privy corner upon the stairs, placed himself until the Prince’s coming.

The Prince, going up the stairs no sooner came directly against this villainous traitor, but he presently discharged his Pistol, wherein (as before mentioned) he having put 3 bullets, two of those bullets went through the Prince’s body, and the third remained in his belly, through which wicked stroke, the Prince fell down suddenly, crying out, saying ‘Lord have mercy upon me, and remember thy little flock.’

The assassin was captured after attempting to escape the guards, and the account of William’s death concludes with an additional account of the gruesome fate which met his murderer:

He had the 1st day the Strappado, openly in the Market.

The strappardo was a form of torture in which the victim, hands tied behind the back, was suspended from ropes attached to his/her wrists. Often leading to dislocation of the arms, weights could also be attached to increase the severity of pain.


The second day whipped and salted, and his right hand cut off. The third day, his breasts cut out and salt thrown in, and then his left hand cut off. The last day of his torment, which was the 10th of July, he was bound to 2 stakes, standing upright, in such order that he could not stir any way. Thus standing naked, there was a great fire placed some small distance from him, wherein were heated pincers of Iron, with which pincers, two men appointed for the same, did punch and pull his flesh in small pieces from his bones throughout most parts of his body. Then was he unbound from the stakes and laid upon the earth, and again fastened to four posts, namely by his feet and arms; they ripped up his belly at which time he had life and perfect memory, he had his bowels burned before his face, and his body cut in four several quarters. During the whole time of his execution, he remained impenitent and obstinate, rejoicing that he had slain the Prince.

Further reading on William’s assassination, and the subsequent political turmoil, can be found in Lisa Jardine’s The Awful End of Prince William the Silent, Harper Collins (2005).

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Crime Execution Torture

Hanged alive in chains

Punishment in early modern England was famously brutal and today’s fragments form a brief outline of some of the more serious types of crimes and punishments prevalent in Elizabethan London.

Catholic priests were subjected to several different types of torture in the Tower of London:  The Pit – a dark hole 20 feet deep; Little Ease – a tiny room too small to stand upright in; The Rack which ‘by means of rollers and other machinery tears a man’s limbs asunder’; The Scavenger’s Daughter – an iron band which compressed the head and feet into a circle, while further iron gaunlets crushed the hands, arms and legs.  Needling – pushing needles under nails; a secondary torture method used at the discretion of the examiner.

Capital punishment such as murder was usually punishable with hanging. A butcher often acted as executioner. The criminal was seated in a cart with one end of a length of rope around his neck, the other tied to the gallows. The cart would then be jolted out from underfoot and he or she would be left to hang.  Often well-meaning relatives would yank on the criminals legs to speed up the process. Some murderers were ‘hanged alive in chains’ until their ‘bones consume to nothing.’ The more serious crime of treason was punishable with hanging, drawing and quartering – see Beware the Executioner.

Convicted pirates were hung at Wapping

at the low water mark, there to remain until three tides had overflown them.

Poisoners were burned at the stake, or

boiled to death in water or lead, although the party died not of the practise.

Heretics were burned alive although occasionally they were deported. Suicide was a punishable offence, but since the offender was already dead, it was left to the authorities to inflict punishment on the body alone – in 1588 a coroner ordered that a suicide’s body should be:

carried from her house to some cross way near the town’s end and have a stake driven through her breast and so be buried with the stake to be seen, for a memorial that others going by, seeing the same, might take heed.

Criminal trials were fast and not always fair. However there were certain circumstances the criminal could cite which might reduce a sentence. A woman could ‘plead her belly’ and assert she was pregnant. It was not lawful to kill her unborn child, so a sentence such as hanging might be deferred until she was no longer pregnant; the hope being she would be reprieved or released in the interim. A man might be able to claim benefit of clergy – he did not necessarily have to be a clergyman, he just needed the ability to read. This rule had survived the Reformation, when illiteracy rates were incredibly high. After proving  benefit of clergy by reading one verse of a psalm, the offender was usually branded on the thumb, as in the case of the playwright Ben Jonson.

A sentence of Peine forte et dure (crushing or pressing) did have the benefit of ensuring that the offender’s goods could not be seized by the Crown. For this reason many men who wanted to save their families from starvation after their death, chose in their trials to remain silent, neither pleading innocent or guilty. The result was an agonisingly slow and painful death beneath huge stones; allowed only a little stale bread and a few sips of foul water until death overtook them.


© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
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