Category Archives: Execution

Crime Execution Highway Robbery

Dick Turpin

Dick Turpin (1705-1739) was born in September 1705 at the Blue Bell Inn, Hempstead, in Essex. He had a basic education before becoming a butcher and marrying Betty Mollington, a maid, in 1725. From 1730, they lived at Buckhurst Hill in Essex, but Turpin soon fell in with a gang of deer-rustlers operating in Epping forest.

Turpin acted as a fence for the stolen deer, and the gang’s activities continued quite successfully until a large reward was offered for their capture, and the gang leader, Samuel Gregory, was caught and pilloried in 1734. Gregory was subsequently sprung from gaol by Turpin and the others, and the gang then turned its attention to burglary. For a while they attacked remote farm houses on the outskirts of London, but it wasn’t long before some of the gang were caught, and by the end of 1735, only Dick Turpin and Thomas Rowden, a pewterer, were at large. It was at this point in his career that Turpin turned to highway robbery, hijacking carriages south of the river Thames. A year later, in May 1736, Turpin’s partner Rowden was captured and convicted of counterfeiting, and Turpin disappeared.

In 1737, the authorities learned of Turpin’s whereabouts and set an ambush for him in Hertfordshire. He evaded capture, but his wife and her friends were sent to Hereford gaol on suspicion of highway robbery. They were subsequently released. Turpin then joined forces with a Matthew King in 1737, stealing a racehorse named Whitestockings from a stable behind the Red Lion Inn, Whitechapel. In May of that same year King was shot by the authorities, and Turpin prudently fled to Yorkshire. The following description of him was circulated by the authorities: ‘a brown complexion…his cheek bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom, his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders.’


 Turpin, based on contemporaneous descriptions, by Adrian Teal


During the following year, Turpin concentrated on horse rustling, and in July, returned to his father’s house in Hempstead with a stolen horse. John Turpin was subsequently charged with receiving stolen goods and spent the winter in Chelmsford gaol. In October, Turpin, using the name John Parmen (recorded as ‘Palmer’) was arrested for disturbing the peace, and he spent the night at a prison in Beverley, Yorkshire. When it eventually emerged he was in fact the wanted Turpin, he was sent to York Castle where he was charged with horse rustling. At the end of March 1739, Turpin was tried and convicted. He was executed on 7th April.


Turpin’s cell in the Castle Museum, York


Little was heard of Turpin’s activities until the 1800s, when his supposedly famous ride from London to York, previously attributed to the highwayman Willian Nevison, began to appear in chapbooks. In 1834, Martin Colnaghi depicted Turpin’s dramatic life in six high-quality prints, and these prints ensured Turpin’s immortalisation as the dashing highwayman.

Turpin is supposedly buried in St George’s churchyard, York. His grave is unusually wide, and there are many local rumours as to why. One tells of how Turpin was buried with his legendary horse, Black Bess. Another more intriguing story reports that after Turpin’s execution and burial, a group of Turpin’s associates dug him up and took him to the Red Lion pub in Merchantgate in order to give him a proper send off.  The authorities, discovering the dead Turpin propped in a corner of the bar, immediately ordered his reburial, pouring quick lime into the grave to prevent him from being re-exhumed.


Source for Turpin’s life: Dereck Barlow, DNB

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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

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

Death Execution Monarchy

Signs there were of sorrow

John Foxe’s The Book of Martyrs was published in 1563. Although it contains hundreds of martyrologies, it was primarily written in memory of the more than three hundred Protestants burned under Mary I. The book was widely read in Elizabethan England. Containing famous illustrations, copies of the book were chained to churches, schools, and guildhalls, making it accessible to all.

One of the most moving of all the accounts is the description of the execution of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in 1555. Former bishops of Worcester and London respectively, they had exerted much influence during the reign of Edward VI, but their radical religious convictions made them enemies to the Catholic Mary 1. Condemned to death as heretics, they were taken to a stake beside Balliol College, Oxford, and burned alive. Their testaments to faith and refusal to recant made them figures of awe and admiration.

Dr. Ridley, the night before execution, was very facetious, [he] had himself shaved, and called his supper a marriage feast; he remarked upon seeing Mrs. Irish (the keeper’s wife) weep, ‘Though my breakfast will be somewhat sharp, my supper will be more pleasant and sweet.’

The place of death was on the northside of the town, opposite Balliol College. Dr. Ridley was dressed in a black gown furred, and Mr. Latimer had a long shroud on, hanging down to his feet. Dr. Ridley, as he passed Bocardo, looked up to see Dr. Cranmer, but the latter was then engaged in disputation with a friar. When they came to the stake, Mr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bid him: ‘Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it.’ He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation. Dr. Smith then preached a short sermon against the martyrs, who would have answered him, but were prevented by Dr. Marshal, the vice-chancellor. Dr. Ridley then took off his gown and tippet, and gave them to his brother-in-law, Mr. Shipside. He gave away also many trifles to his weeping friends, and the populace were anxious to get even a fragment of his garments. Mr. Latimer gave nothing, and from the poverty of his garb, was soon stripped to his shroud, and stood venerable and erect, fearless of death.

Dr. Ridley being unclothed to his shirt, the smith placed an iron chain about their waists, and Dr. Ridley bid him fasten it securely; his brother having tied a bag of gunpowder about his neck, gave some also to Mr. Latimer.

Dr. Ridley then requested of Lord Williams, to advocate with the Queen the cause of some poor men to whom he had, when bishop, granted leases, but which the present bishop refused to confirm. A lighted faggot was now laid at Dr. Ridley’s feet, which caused Mr. Latimer to say: ‘Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out.’

When Dr. Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried with a wonderful loud voice, ‘Lord, Lord, receive my spirit.’ Master Latimer, crying as vehemently on the other side, ‘O Father of heaven, receive my soul!’ received the flame as it were embracing of it. After that he had stroked his face with his hands, and as it were, bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died (as it appeareth) with very little pain or none.

But Master Ridley, by reason of the evil making of the fire unto him, because the wooden faggots were laid above the gorse and over-high built, the fire burned first beneath, being kept down by the wood. Which when he felt, he desired them for Christ’s sake to let the fire come unto him. Which when his brother-in-law heard, but not well understood, intending to rid him out of his pain, heaped faggots upon him, so that he clean covered him, which made the fire more vehement beneath, that it burned clean all his nether parts before it once touched the upper, and that made him leap up and down under the faggots and often desire them to let the fire come unto him, saying ‘I cannot burn’. For after his legs were consumed by reason of his struggling through the pain he showed that side turned toward us clean, shirt and all untouched with flame. Yet in all this torment he forgot not to call unto God still, having in his mouth, ‘Lord have mercy upon me’, intermeddling this cry, ‘Let the fire come unto me, I cannot burn.’ In which pains he laboured until one of the standers-by with his bill [pickaxe] pulled off the faggots above, and where he saw the fire flame up, he wrested himself unto that side. And when the flame touched the gunpowder he was seen [to] stir no more, but burneth on the other side, falling down at Master Latimer’s feet.

Some say that before he was like to fall from the stake, he desired them to hold him to it with their bills. Howsoever it was, surely it moved hundreds to tears beholding the horrible sight.  For I think there was none that had not clean exiled all humanity and mercy which would not have lamented to behold the fury of the fire so to rage upon their bodies. Signs there were of sorrow on every side.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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