Category Archives: Execution

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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Woodcut: Newgate

I stumbled upon this earlier today, a lovely 17th Century woodcut of Newgate Prison. It’s depicts two people making a break for it! Click on the image to open a larger version.  
Death Execution

Having a fig in her hand

As a native of the fair city of York I have often walked down The Shambles, one of the most famous streets in England. A narrow medieval thoroughfare overhung with Elizabethan houses, The Shambles was originally a street of butchers. Nowadays it’s home to tired souvenir shops and cafes, but in the mid 16th century, the street was home to the saint and martyr Margaret Clitherow.

The Shambles, York

Known as ‘the Pearl of York’, Margaret Clitherow (1556?-86?), a Catholic convert, was married to the butcher John Clitherow. Their home became a refuge for Catholic priests seeking shelter during a time when Catholicism was being driven underground, and Margaret herself became a leader of the recusant community in York. Indicted for harbouring priests, she refused to stand trial, and was sentenced to peine forte et dure, pressing to death by stones. Today’s post is an account of her death, originally published in 1619.

After her examination she was put into a secret place under ground, and her husband into another, but about seven of the clock at night she was conveyed into the castle and there committed close prisoner, and her husband also about some hour after. Four days she remained there before she came to trial, during which time she never spake with her husband but once, and that in the presence of the jailer, after which time she could never be admitted to see him or speak to him.

During her imprisonment in the Castle she gave herself unto more strictness in abstinence and prayer. It being reported to her that the boy had accused her of harbouring and maintaining divers priests, and that according to a law newly in force, she was to suffer death for the same, she was much pleased with the news, and, smiling, thanked the messenger, wishing she had some good thing to give him, but, wanting better means, having a fig in her hand, she gave him that for a reward.

From the time that this holy martyr was committed to prison unto her death, which was some nine or ten days, she never wore any linen next unto her skin and her diet was water-pottage, rye bread, and small ale, the which she took once in the day but in little quantity. And from that time that she had certain notice that she should die she took no food at all.

The night before her death she spake unto the man’s wife that had the custody of her to have some women watch with her that night. ‘Not that I fear death,’ quoth she, ‘for that is comfort; but the flesh is frail.’ The woman told her that the jailer had locked the door and was gone to bed and, therefore, none could be had. But the woman herself, being ready to go to bed, put on her clothes again and sat by her until towards midnight. At this time the martyr rose up from her prayers, put off her apparel, and put on a linen habit. Without any other garment, she betook herself again unto her prayers on her knees until three of the clock, at which time she came unto the fireside and laid herself flat upon the stones where she lay until six in the morning.

At eight of the clock the sheriff came, and she went barefoot and bare-legged, and her gown loose about her, but her headgear was decently put on, and so she went cheerfully. The place of execution was the toll-booth some twenty foot distant from the prison. The street was full of people; insomuch as she could hardly pass. Yet as she went, she dealt her alms. The sheriff hastened her to come away, to whom she answered merrily, ‘Good Master Sheriff, let me deal my poor alms before I go. I have but a short time in this world.’

There were admitted into the room where she suffered death no more but the two sheriffs, one gentleman, one minister, four women, and those the sergeants had hired to to the execution. The martyr, coming into the room, kneeled and prayed unto herself. The officers and standers-by bid her pray with them and they would pray with her, which she denied, saying she would not so much as say ‘Amen’ unto their prayers. Then they willed her to pray for the queen whereupon she said, ‘I do pray for the Catholic Church, for the Pope’s holiness, for all such as have care of souls, and for all the Christian princes in the world.’ At which words the officers interrupted her, and commanded her not to put the Queen’s Majesty amongst that company. Yet she proceeded, ‘And for Elizabeth, Queen of England. And I humbly beseech God to turn her to the Catholic faith’. One of the sheriff’s, called Gibson, moved with compassion for her, withdrew himself unto the door and stood weeping. The other, nameth Fawcett, commanded her to put off her apparel, saying she must die naked.

She fell down on her knees, and the rest of the women with her, requesting him, for the honour of womankind, that she might not be seen naked, but be suffered to die in her smock, which he would not grant. Then she requested that the women might unclothe her, and they would turn their faces from her during the time of her unclothing, which was granted. And the women put upon her the long linen habit which she had brought with her, and so was quickly laid down on the ground, a sharp stone being laid unto her back. Her face was covered with a handkerchief, her secret parts with the linen habit, and all the rest of her body naked.

When the boards that were joined together in the fashion of a broad door were laid on her to bear the weight, she raised up her hands towards her face and joined them together. The sheriff commanded two of the sergeants to part them and to tie them unto two posts set there for that purposed, which was done, and so her arms extended and her body made a perfect cross. After this they laid weight on her, which when she felt, she cried out, ‘Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me!’, which were the last words that were heard to come from her. She was dying about one quarter of an hour. They laid on her about seven or eight hundred weight, which did not only break her ribs but caused them to break through her skin. And this was the end of this virtuous and glorious martyr, the day of her death the 25th of March.

Margaret’s death

Upon hearing Margaret’s sentence, her husband John reportedly wept until blood came from his nose and exclaimed, ‘Alas! Will they kill my wife?’

    The plaque outside Margaret’s former home on The Shambles
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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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