Category Archives: Execution

Crime Execution Stage Women

A fine wit, a charming Tongue, and a humour brisk and gay


These snippets form an overview of the exploits of Mary Carleton (1634-73), one of the most fascinating women of the 17th century.  Fraudster, thief, and multiple bigamist, Mary’s life reads like a Hollywood film. Her quick wit and sheer audacity demonstrate that not all early modern women were models of convention and respectability.

Little is known of Mary’s early life.  As a young woman she married a shoemaker from Canterbury, and had two children who died.  Unhappy in her marriage, she charmed a ship’s mate into allowing her to join a voyage to Barbados, but at the last minute her plans were discovered by her husband and she was forced to abandon her travels.  Thwarted in her attempts to escape, Mary retaliated by simply marrying someone else, in fact a surgeon from Dover.  Indicted for bigamy, the case was dropped when Mary managed to convince the authorities she had at the time believed her first husband to be dead.

Following this brush with the law, Mary travelled to the continent, and quickly acquired a knowledge of several European languages. Establishing herself as Maria de Wolway, she returned to London with a flash new wardrobe and an array of fine jewels. She also carried several fake letters which attested to her ownership of rich estates and land.  Passing herself off as a wealthy eligible woman, she soon attracted the attention of several men, including an inn keeper called King.  He told his father-in-law, Carlton, of Mary’s wealth and it wasn’t long before Carleton’s son John, a lawyer’s clerk aged eighteen, had acquired some posh clothes of his own, and charmed Mary into marriage. However, once it became apparent that Mary wasn’t all she seemed, the Carletons had her dragged off to prison, where she became something of a celebrity.  She was even visited by Pepys on 29th May 1663.  Her subsequent trial was something of a farce.  The Carletons could only produce one witness, and Mary insisted on her noble status, claiming the Carletons had invented her vast wealth themselves.  She was acquitted on all charges, to the great delight of the general public.  A play about her, A Witty Combat, was soon in production, and she even appeared on stage, playing herself at the Duke’s Theatre in 1664.  Pepys records in his diary ‘saw The German Princess acted—by the woman herself … the whole play … is very simple, unless here and there a witty sprankle or two’ (15 April 1664; Pepys, Diary, 5.124).

For the next seven years Mary exploited her celebrity status and acquired a string of lovers, deceiving and defrauding them  all. In addition she created several new identities supported by more false papers. In 1670 she was caught stealing a silver tankard and sentenced to hanging, which was eventually commuted to transportation to Jamaica in 1671.  However she somehow managed to return to England, having adopted yet another identity, and she went on an audacious crime spree, committing a spectacular fraud, which gained her over £600 in cash and goods (roughly £50,000).  Mary was eventually apprehended for stealing a piece of plate, and when the turnkey from Newgate recognised her as The German Princess, she was once more incarcerated.

She appeared at her trial dressed in an Indian gown, a silk petticoat, and white shoes tied with green laces. Her hair had been crimped according to the latest style.  Having confessed her sins, Mary was hanged at Tyburn on 22nd January 1673.  Her story was told repeatedly in the years following her death, and she was the inspiration for more pamphlets than any other domestic criminal of the age. One author declared her to be ‘a Looking-glass, wherein we may see the Vices of this Age Epitomized’.

Her epitaph reads as follows:

Under this Cannopy of Stone,
Who lies? if you would have it known,
‘Tis German Princess, no worse Body,
Come now to her last Hole, at Noddy:
She was a Woman Great and High-born,
But late advanc’d higher at Tyborn:
Where by the Hangman, and the Carter,
She was Instaul’d Lady o’th Garter:
She came a Lass, as far as Bantam,
And now she sups with Margret Trantam.

Sources: Janet Todd – DNB; Memories of the life of famous Madam Charlton (1673)


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Death Execution Monarchy

An example of terror

Today’s fragments come from both an account of the murder of Henry IV of France in Paris in 1610, and from an account of the terrible execution which subsequently met his assassin.  The torture of Ravaillac is described in graphic detail and shouldn’t be read by anyone squeamish, or about to eat lunch.

Henry King of France and Navarre, beeing at Paris about three of the clocke in the after noone, intended to goe to his Arsenall: tooke his Caroch, and as a Prince which lived without feare or suspition of his people, passed through the City, accompanied with fewe of his Nobilitie; without taking for his better assurance, either Archers, or any of his usuall Gard.  But mischiefe, or rather our sinnes procured, that an accursed and execrable assassin named Francis Ravaillac, borne in Angouleme, approached his person, not farre from S.Innocents; where seeing his Majesties Caroche stayed by a Cart, which met and stopped their passage, taking opportunity, assaulted with most hellish fury this good King, with a long knife, made of purpose; with which hee gave him two wounds in the left side, the first was given nigh the shoulder, which entered not farre, but onely rased the skinne: the second was mortall, the blowe entering betwixt the first and sixt rib, cut asunder the veine leading to the heart; and the wound was so deepe, that it reached into the Cava Vena, which was pierced with the point of the knife. The Prince finding himself wounded to death, lost upon the instant his speech, by reason of the aboundance of bloud, which issued out of his mouth, therefore they turned the caroch to the Louv’re, where he was no sooner arrived but hee rendred his soule into the hands of Almighty God, testifying with his eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, that hee died a true Christian and good Catholique.’

Upon Friday 25. of May, Francois Raviallac was brought out of the prison for the palace with a lighted Torch in one hand, and the knife (wherewith he killed the King) chained to the other hand, to openly be seene.  After this he was placed standing upright in a dung-cart, and so from thence conducted to the Capitall church in Paris, and after this to the place of execution, a spatious streete about the middle of Paris, where there was builded a very substantial scaffold. This here following was the manner of his death: an example of terror made knowne to the world to convert all bloody-minded Traytors from the like enterprise.

The hand with the knife chained to it and halfe the arme was put into a flaming furnace, wherein the knife, his right hande, and halfe the arme was in a most terrible manner consumed. After this, with Tongues and Iron Pincers, made extreme hot in the furnace, the Executioners pinched and seared his breasts, arms, thighs and calves and other fleshy partes, cutting out Collopes of flesh and burning them before his face. They poured scalding Oyle, Pitch, and Brimstone onto his wounds. They put upon his navel a rundle of clay with a hole in the middle and into the same hole they poured moulten lead till he cryed out with most horrible roares. Then they caused foure strong horses to be brought to teare his body in pieces and to separate his limbs into four quarters. But so strong was his flesh and joints that of a long time these four horses could not dismember him. At last they were constrained to cut the flesh under his armes and thighes with a sharp razor by which meanes his body was at last torn to pieces. The rage of the people grew so violent that they snatched the dismembered carcasse out of the executioners hands. Some beate it, others cut it in pieces with knives, until there was nothing left but bones, which were brought to the place of execution and there burned to cinders. The ashes wereof were scattered into the wind, as being thought unworthie of the earths buriall.

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The Witch of Wapping

Witchcraft trials were common in early modern England, but voices speaking in protest against them appear less often. The following comes from a mid 17th century pamphlet, and provides details of the trial and execution of the so-called Witch of Wapping. The case centres around the supposed murder of Lady Powell, a woman with a large estate and fortune.  The prosecution argues that Lady Powell was bewitched and subsequently killed by one Joan Peterson. The defence contests that Joan Peterson is an innocent, god-fearing woman, falsely accused by a group of people hoping to benefit from the death of Lady Powell, and that Lady Powell did in fact die of natural causes. The detail surrounding Joan’s treatment and execution highlight the disturbing way in which women suspected of witchcraft were often treated.

On the 7th of March last, the said confederates [plotters] came to Wapping, and got a warrant from one Mr. Waterton a Justice of the Peace, to apprehend the said Peterson’s person, and to search her house for Images of Clay, Hair, & Nails, which accordingly they did; but upon strict search and diligent inquiry could find no such thing; whereupon the said confederates carried her before the said Justice, to have her examined Whereunto the said Joan Peterson replied, that she never knew, nor heard of the said Lady Powell.

Then they caused her (contrary to Law) to be searched againe in a most unnaturall & Barbarous manner, by four women whom they themselves for that purpose had brought along with them. One of which told the Justice that there was a Teat upon the flesh in her secret parts more than other women usually had, whereupon the said Justice committed her first to New-prison and from thence to Newgate, where she was left to the mercy of one Brooks, a Keeper there, and an Agent of the said confederates.

On the 7th of April she was tried; at which triall the said confederates (who before had spent three weeks time at Wapping in procuring witnesses) were present, with three Councellors to prosecute the said Peterson. Then the Court proceeded upon the first indictment, for bewitching the Lady Powell to death; whereupon many women persons of mean degree (and of ill fame and reputation) were produced against her, and interrogated by the said Councel, according to the Briefs delivered unto them, wherein were all the witnesses testimonies, written before hand. And being asked what she had to say for her self (upon her knees) she took God to witnesse that she never knew the Lady Powell nor the house where she dwelt, nor was any wise guilty of her death, and delivered a paper of such witnesses as she had to defend her, desiring that they might be called, whereupon Dr. Bates, and Dr. Colledon  Physitians, together with Mr. Stamford, and Mr. Page  Chyrurgians, and divers other persons of good quality, testified the disease, manner of sickness, and the cause of the said Ladies death, which were the Dropsie, the Scurvey, and the yellow Jaundies, and that they wondred how she was able to live so long, having most of those diseases growing on her for many years before.

Then the Court proceeded to the other Indictment, which was for bewitching one Christopher Wilson (who doth not himself complain of any such thing) and the only materiall evidence that then was against her, was one Margaret Austin (who had formerly been a wandering person, but was in charity taken up, relieved, and kept, by the said Joan Peterson, until she perceived that Austin had purloined some of her goods out of her house) and two Witnesses more; the substance of whose Testimony was as followeth. That the said Wilson, having been a long time sick, and hearing that Joan Peterson had done good to many, sent for her to come to him, who accordingly did and administred meanes for his Recovery, which at first was conceived to do him good. But he afterwards relapsed, and the reason that was urged to induce the Court and Jury to believe that he was Bewitched, was, that during his sickness, she sent to him for monyes for her Phisick; to whom Answer was returned that he could then send her none. Whereupon it was then deposed that she did reply, that he had better have sent her monies, for he should be two times worse than ever was. And that afterwards he became very ill again, and remained languishing.  Many other witnesses were produced, but could only swear to generallities, hear-says, and most absurd and ridiculous impertinences.  Whereupon the Jury went forth, and brought in their verdicts, that the said Peterson was not guilty upon the first Indictment of bewiching the Lady Powell to death. But found her guilty upon the second, for which she was then cast, and the next day condemned to dye as a witch

On the 12th day the said Joan Peterson (being brought to the place of Execution) was by the Ordinary nine or ten times earnestly pressed to confesse something. Whereupon the Executioner told the Ordinary, he might be ashamed to trouble a dying woman so much, to which he replyed, he was commanded so to do, and durst do no otherwise.  And afterwards the said Ordinary still insisting in his discourse, and very often pressing the said Peterson to confesse and discharge her conscience before God and the world; she answered that she had already confessed before the Bench all she had to confesse; that she had made her peace with God; and therefore desired to die in quiet; that she died Innocently, and was in no wise guilty of what was laid to her charge, and that she hoped he would freely forgive her all her sins, and to this effect she still replyed to his frequent importunities. And having gone to prayers, she shewed her selfe very attentive and penitent, and after Prayer called to sing the 25th Psalm, which she performed very Christianly and cheerfully, and so died, &c.

Other posts on witchcraft can be found here

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Execution Monarchy

Drawn upon the Fatal Hurdle

These fragments from 1660 come from the account of the execution of the nine men found guilty of the regicide of Charles 1 in 1649.

Maj. Gen. Harrison was drawn upon a Hurdle from Newgate to the Round, or railed Place neer Charing Crosse, where a Gibbet was set, upon which he was Hanged. Many of his acquaintance did seem to triumph to see him die so Confidently; whiles numbers of true Christians did grieve in earnest to see him die so impenitently. We have been told, that when he took his leave of his wife, he comforted her, and told her that he would come again in three days; but we hear nothing as yet of his Resurrection. When he was half hanged, he was cut down and quartered, his bowels burned, and his head severed from his body to be disposed at his Majesties pleasure.

John Carew who being condemned on Saturday, was on Monday, Octob. 15. drawn upon the Hurdle to Execution some hours before his departure out of the Dungeon of Newgate, was heard in his prayer (which he spake loud enough to show either his blind zeal, or bold Rebellion) to expresse these words. Take the Scepter out of the hands of earthly Kings, and rout their Armies. One thing is observable, that this Traytor, who had so red a hand in the taking away the life of the King, did contribute also to the taking away of the life of his own Brother, who some years before was Executed on Tower-hill, for endeavouring to assist the Cause of the King.

On Tuseday October 16. Mr Cooke was drawed on a Hurdle from Newgate to Charing Crosse, to suffer the pains of Death for his Execrable Treason; he shewed much contrition of spirit, and taking notice that Hugh Peters was there and to be Executed next after, he heartily wished that he might be reprieved, being as he conceived, not prepared to Dye. He came to the Ladder unwillingly, and by degrees was drawn up higher, and higher. Certainly he had many Executioners within him; he leaned upon the Ladder being unwilling to part from it, but being turned off, the spectators gave a great shout, as they did when his Head was cut off, and held up a loft upon the point of a Spear. The very Souldiers themselves whom heretofore he did animate to slaughter, and a thorough Execution of their Enemies were now ashamed of him, and upon the point of their Spears shewed that guilty head which made them guilty of so much blood.

On Wednesday Octob. 17. Tho. Scot, Greg. Clement, Adrian Scroop, and John Iones,  were drawn on severall hurdles to the aforesasd place of Charing Crosse. Mr. Scot did seeme to have wept abundantly, for his eyes were Red with penitence; but comming to the place of Execution, he seemed to take new Courage, and for the same cause to dye with the same confidence as heretofore hath been practised and prescribed by the Jesuites of Rome. Gregory Clement,  seemed to expresse much sorrow and much repentance, acknowledging that his Judges had done nothing but according to the Law, and that he most justly suffered both by God and Man.

Adrian Scroop, dyed full of the confession of his enormous fault, and desired the prayers of all good people. He prayed to God to forgive his Accusers.

Col. John Jones, all along as he was upon the Sledge desired the prayers of all beheld him; being come to the place of execution, he confessed that if he were in his Majesties condition he should do no lesse then his Majesty did. Dying he prayed for his Majesty, and the happinesse of his Kingdome.

On Friday Octob. 19. Col. Hacker heretofore of Horse, and Col. Axtell of Foot were drawn upon the Fatall Hurdle from Newgate to Tyburn, Col. Hacker did speak but little, that which he said was to excuse himself, and to lay open the errour of his Judgement, he had a paper in his hand (intended as it seems to speak for him, weakly declaring that he was an Officer in the Army, in which too peremtorily he endeavoured to discharge his Trust.

Col. Axtell said that he was drawn to this War very unwillingly, First in the time of the Earl of Essex, and afterward under the command of the L. Fairfax, under both which Authority he was a Commissionated Officer, yet notwithstanding he did nothing of himself, but was advised to what he did by a Minister, who told him it was the cause of God, and upon which account he endeavoured to doe his work. Col. Hacker was only Hanged, but Col. Axtell being cut down was Quartered.

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