Category Archives: Family

Crime Execution Family Murder

A most unnatural father

These fragments come from an account of a murder committed by John Rowse in 1621. The killing of children was, as ever, regarded with abject horror, but what I find interesting about this particular account is the genuine sympathy extended to Mr Rowse, perhaps marking a move in this period towards attempts to understand mitigating circumstances and psychological torment in certain criminal cases.

This John Rowse being a Fishmonger in London, gave over his trade, and lived altogether in the Towne of Ewell, neere Nonesuch, in the County of Surry, ten miles from London, where he had Land of his owne for himselfe and his heires for ever to the value of fifty pounds a yeere, with which hee lived in good and honest fashion, being well reputed of all his neighbours, and in good estimation with Gentlemen and others that dwelt in the adjoyning Villages.

Untill at the last he married a very honest and comely woman, with whom hee lived quietly and in good fashion some six months, till the Divell sent an instrument of his, to disturbe their Matrimoniall happinesse: for they wanting a Maidservant, did entertain into their house a Wench, whose name was Jane Blundell, who in short time was better acquainted with her Masters bed than honesty required, which in time was found out and knowne by her Mistris, and brake the peace, in such sort, betweene the said Rowse and his Wife, that in the end, after two yeeres continuance, it brake the poore womans heart, that she dyed & left her Husband a widdower, where he and his Whore were the more free to use their cursed contentments, and ungodly embracements.

Yet that estate of being unmarried was displeasing to him, so that he tooke to wife another woman, who for her outward feature, and inward qualities was every way fit for a very honest man, although it were her hard fortune to match otherwise.

With this last Wife of his he lived much discontented, by reason of his keeping his lewd Trollop in his house, so that by his dayly Riot, excessive drinking, & unproportionable spending, his estate began to be much impoverished, much of his Land morgag’d and forfeited, himselfe above two hundred pounds indebted, and in processe of time to be (as a lewd liver) of all his honest neighbours rejected and contemned.

His estate and credit being almost past recoverie wasted and impaired, he forsooke his Wife, came up to London with his Wench, where he fell in league with a corrupted friend; who (as he said) did most courteously coozen him of all that ever he had, & whom at this time I forbeare to name; because it was John Rowse his request before his execution, that he should not be named in any Booke or Ballad. This false friend of his (as he said) did perswade him to leave his Wife for altogether, and did lodge and boord him and his paramore certaine weekes in his house, and afterward caused him and her to be lodged (having chang’d his name) as Man and Wife in an honest mans house neere Bishopsgate, at Bevis Marks, where they continued so long, till his money was gone, (as indeede he never had much, but now and then small petty summes from his secret friend aforesaid) and he being fearefull to bee smoak’d out by his Creditors, was counselled to leave his Country, and depart for Ireland; and before his going over-Sea, his friend wrought so, that all his Land was made ouer in trust to him, and Bonds, Covenants, and Leases made, as fully bought and sold for a summe of two hundred and threescore pounds.

In Ireland he stayd not long, but came over againe, and was by his friend perswaded to goe into the Low Countries: which he did, never minding his Wife and two small Children which he had by her, having likewise a brace of bastards by his Whore (as some say) but he said that but one of them was of his begetting. He came over againe into England to his too deare friend, demanding of him his Bonds and Leases of his Land which hee had put him in trust withall.  But then his friend did manifest himselfe what he was, and told him plainly, that he had no writings, not any Land of his, but what hee had dearely bought and paid for. All which (Rowse replyed unto him) was false, as his owne Conscience knew.

These (or the like) words, in effect passed betwixt Rowse and his Friend (Trusty Roger) which entring at his eares, pierced his heart like Daggers; and beeing out of money and Credit, a man much infamous for his bad life, indebted beyond all possible meanes of paiment; a perjured wretch to coozen himselfe, having no place or meanes to feede or lodge, and fearefull of being arrested, having so much abused his Wife, and so little regarded his Children, being now brought to the pits brim of desperation, not knowing amongst these calamities which way to turne himselfe, hee resolved at last to goe home to Ewell againe to his much wronged Wife, for his last refuge in extremitie.

The poore Woman received him with joy, and his Children with all gladnesse welcomed home the prodigall Father, with whom he remained in much discontentment and perplexitie of minde: the Divell still tempting him to mischiefe and despaire; putting him in minde of his better estate, comparing pleasures past with present miseries, and hee resolving that hee had beene a man in that Townem had beene a Gentlemans companion, of good Reputation and Calling, that hee had Friends, Lands, Money, Apparell, and Credit, with meanes sufficient to have left for the maintenance of his Family, and that now he had nothing left him but poverty and beggery, and that his two Children were like to be left to go from doore to doore for their living.

Being thus tormented and tost with restlesse imaginations; hee seeing dayly to his further griefe, the poore case of his children, and fearing that worse would befall them hereafter, hee resolved to worke some meanes to take away their languishing lies, by a speedy & untimely death, the which practise of his (by the Divels instigation and assistance) he effected as followeth.

To bee sure that no body should stop or prevent his divellish enterprise; hee sent his Wife to London in a frivolous errand, for a riding Coate: and she being gone somewhat timely, and too soone in the morning, both her Children being in bed and fast asleepe, beeing two very pretty Girles, one of the age of sixe yeeres, and the other foure yeeres old, none being in the house but themselves, their unfortunate Father, and his ghostly Counsellor, the dores being fast locked, hee having an excellent Spring of water in the Cellar of his house in which hee purposed to drowne his poore innocent children sleeping: for he going into the Chamber where they lay, took the yongest of them named Elizabeth forth of her bed, and carried her down the Stayres into his Cellar, and there put her in the Spring of Water, holding downe her head under that pure Element with his hands, till at last the poore harmelesse soule and body parted one from another.

Which first Act of this his inhumane Tragedy being ended, hee carried the dead corps up three payre of stayres, and laying it downe on the floore, left it, and went down into the Chamber where his other Daughter, named Mary, was in bed; being newly awaked, and seeing her father, demanded of him where her Sister was? To whom he made answer that he would bring her where she was. So taking her in his armes, hee carried her downe towards the Cellar: and as hee was on the Cellar stayres, shee asked him what he would doe, and whither he would carry her? Feare nothing, my Child (quoth hee) I will bring thee up againe presently: and being come to the Spring, as before hee had done with the other, so hee performed his last unfatherly deed upon her, & to be as good as his word, carried her up the stayres & laid her by her sister; that done, he laid them out, and covered them both with a sheete, walking up and downe his house, weeping and lamenting his owne misery.

The miserable Mother of the murdered Children said that her heart throbbed all day, as fore-boading some heavy mischance to come: and having done her businesse that shee came about to London, as soone as shee came home, she asked for her Children, to whom her Husband answered that they were at a neighbours house in the Towne. Then said she, I will goe thither to fetch them home. No quoth he, I will goe my selfe presently for them. Then said his wife, let the poore woman that is heere goe and bring them home. Then her Husband told her that hee had sent them to a Kinsmans of his at a Village called Sutton, foure miles from Ewell, and that hee had provided well for them, and prayd her to bee contented and feare nothing, for they were well. These double tales of his, made her to doubt somwhat was amisse: therefore shee intreated him for Gods sake to tell her truely where they were. Whereupon he said, If you will needs know where they are, goe but up the staires into such a Chamber, and there you shall finde them. But in what a lamentable perplexity of mind the poore woman was when shee perceived how and which way they lost their lives, any Christian that hath an heart of flesh may imagine.

Presently the Constable was sent for, who tooke him into his custody, who amongst other talke, demanded of him why and how hee could commit so unnaturall a fact, as to murder his Children? To whom he answered, that he did it, because he was not able to keepe them, and that hee was loth they should goe about the Towne a begging: and moreover, that they were his owne, and being so, that hee might doe what hee would with them, and that they had their lives from him, and therefore he had taken their lives from them, and was contented to lose his life for them: for he was sure that their miseries were past, and for his part, he had an assured hope to goe to them, though they could not come to him.

So being had before a Justice, his Examination was very briefe; for he confest all the whole circumstances of the matter freely; so that he was sent to the common Prison of Surry, cal’d the White Lyon, where hee remained fourteene or fifteene weekes a wonderfull penitent Prisoner, never, or very seldome, being without a Bible or some other good booke meditating upon; and when any one did but mention his Children, he would fetch a deep sigh, and weepe, desiring every one to pray for him and upon his owne earnest request, he was praide for at Pauls Crosse, and at most of the Churches in London, and at many in the Country, and at the Sessions holden at Croydon, the latter end of June last, he made such free confession at the Barre, declaring the manner of his life, his odious Drinking, his abominable Whoring, his cruell Murther, and the false dealing of his deceitfull friend, which was the cause of his finall wracke: with which Relations of his pronounced, with such vehemency and protestations, he moved all that heard him to commiseration and pitie.

So, according to Law and Justice, he was there condemned and judged (for the murthering of his two Children) to be hang’d; which Judgement was executed on him at the common Gallowes at Croydon, on Munday the second day of June.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Custom Dining Family Household

The Elizabethan House

 Little Moreton, Cheshire

In response to several requests, today’s snippets are on Elizabethan & Jacobean homes. Having blogged  for the past six months or so now, what has struck me repeatedly is the fascination people have with the more mundane aspects of early modern life. Poetry and art certainly have their place, but it appears people equally enjoy early modern sausages or a whirlwind history of the chamber pot. I spend most of my waking life immersed in the intricacies of 17th century drama and politics, so a delve into a 16th century recipe book, or the inner workings of a flushing cistern, usually comes as welcome relief.

A brief word about building materials. Timber was a major building material in the Elizabethan period but as time progressed more and more homes were constructed of brick, particularly in London, which did something to a certain extent at least, to limit the great fire of 1666.  Of all the timber used, the preference was usually for oak, which was both waterproof and durable.

Just as today, homes in the late 16th and early 17th centuries differed according to the wealth and status of their owners or tenants, but they shared a basic commonality when it came to function. And like today, cash bought space and luxuries. And chimneys. Great Elizabethan houses could incorporate multiple chimneys thanks to the advances in coal mining. And chimneys meant warmth and an end to smoky medieval halls where families huddled around just the one fire. These multiple chimneys in turn led to a new division of space, with rooms assigned to particular activities, such as dining or sleeping. In addition, windows underwent a redesign. In the past, windows had been necessarily small for two very good reasons; glass was extremely costly, and small windows offered a better defence against invading hordes.  But thanks to the imports of foreign glass and the skill of stone masons, windows could finally begin to let in the light. This increase in light and space really opened houses up. Huge ornate wooden staircases replaced the tight windy stone steps of older homes, and a long sun-filled gallery was de rigueur; whether to show off the family portraits, stroll about on a rainy day, or pass the time playing skittles. Ceilings were now plastered, and wainscots were introduced, which brought an end to cold plastered walls and dangling moth-eaten tapestries. Now rooms were enveloped in panels of warm wood.



Floors were usually constructed of timber, and where they might once have been strewn with rushes and herbs, they were now covered with woven mats, or rugs, if money were no object. The number of rooms in a house depended on its size and function. It was traditional for a house to have a dining chamber and a bed chamber, in addition there might be a little ‘house of easement’ or water closet for the very rich, or an outside privy for those of more modest means (see my post In the privy that annoys you for more on this aspect of early modern life). Baths were taken by the fire. The following image depicts the typical rooms in a house belonging to a well-to-do family. It’s worth noting that this is a representative diagram, and the layout would not have followed this plan (the kitchen, for example, would not be upstairs!).


From top right to bottom left: 

Bedroom, study, dining room, kitchen, buttery, well, privy, stables, cellar, chamber 

Samuel Pepys, in his diary, lists the number of rooms in his lodgings as follows: A study for himself, A parlour, A ‘little room’ taken over from his neighbour, A nursery, Elizabeth’s bed chamber, A dining room, A ‘matted chamber’, A new dining room in the roof extension, Elizabeth’s closet, A study for Samuel’s secretary, The ‘red chamber’, The ‘green chamber’, A new closet for Elizabeth in the roof extension, The upper best chamber or music room, The ‘dancing room’, A ‘new closet’, An old closet now ‘my little dining room’, The ‘great chamber’, A ‘long chamber where the girl lies’, The ‘blue chamber’, A dressing room, and a room ‘for Elizabeth’s woman’. This is all in addition to a kitchen and various pantries. Of course Pepys was reasonably  wealthy, and the rooms he lists may all have been quite small, but he does provide a fascinating glimpse into the function and nature of early modern homes.


Furniture and furnishings were evolving too. It’s hard to imagine, but at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, many people were content to sleep on straw pallets with a ‘good round log’ for a pillow. It was a sign of great prosperity if a man could afford a feather bed. However four-poster beds were soon all the rage, with soft mattresses, fancy drapes and ornate hangings. The Great Bed of Ware (above, dated 1590), now in the V & A, is a good example of a luxurious item of bedroom furniture from the period, although by early modern standards it was enormous. The inventory of a 16th century landowner’s house sheds some light on the sort of furnishings in use in bedchambers at the time: Twelve bedsteads, two truckle beds, a dozen sheets (four linen, the rest probably hemp), six blankets, three bolsters, two valances, two coverlets and four cushions.

The family meals would be taken in the dining chamber. The table (or ‘bord’) had evolved from the simple trestle of earlier times, and often had leaves which could be used to extend it. The head of the household would sit in a chair with a back and arm rests, and around the table would be a collection of stools or benches for the rest of the family to sit on.



A cupboard (or cup boards as they were known) was a vital addition to any dining chamber. In essence it was a wooden shelf, or set of shelves, upon which the household valuables could be displayed – often pieces of silver or pewter, and fancy glassware. Dining chambers also had a buffet – another shelf on which the wine or beer was kept during meals. A drink would be dispensed from the buffet in a glass or tankard, and once consumed, the empty vessel would then be whipped away and swilled in a tub of clean water.  Venetian glass was imported into England and favoured by the wealthy, since English glass-blowing techniques had not yet become sufficiently refined. Knives were manufactured in Sheffield and widely available, and it was often the case that a dining guest would bring his or her own knife. A pitcher or bowl of water on the table was provided, so diners could sluice their cutlery and their hands between courses.  Forks were still a rarity – see my post on Jacobean dining for more.



In addition to the dining chamber, other rooms in the house would have cupboards, and these were known as ‘presses’, ‘court cupboards’, ‘livery cupboards’, or ‘aumbries’. Mirrors hung in various rooms, especially in bedrooms; known as ‘glasses’ they were often made from polished steel. Typical homes were lit with either candles or tapers. Tapers were thin, cheap, lightweight candles; more expensive candles were reserved for special occasions.

Most homes of a decent size would have had a garden. This was more than just an outside space. It provided essential supplies for both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. In a future post I will explore the importance and delights of the Elizabethan garden.


In addition to my own research into primary sources, I’ve referred to both A H Dodd’s Elizabethan England, & Liza Picard’s Restoration London & Elizabeth’s London

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Booze Custom Dining Etiquette Family Household School

If spitting chance to move thee

These fragments, on etiquette and manners, come from a little book entitled The School of Vertue (1619). Intended primarily to be read by children, it also contains wise child-rearing advice for parents.


Laying the cloth, and making ready the table:

Be sure to be ready, the bord to prepare
at times: as accustom’d with diligent care:
the table cloth first see fairely spread.
faire trenchers, cleane napkins, the salt & the bread,
let glasses be scoured, in country guise,
with salt and faire water, and ever devise
the place most convenient, where they may stand,
the safest from breaking and neerest at hand.

The Nose:
Not imitate with Socrates,
to wipe thy snivelled nose
upon thy cap, as he would do,
nor yet upon thy clothes.
But keepe it cleane with handkerchiefe
provided for the same,
not with thy fingers or thy sleeve
therein thou art to blame.
Blow not allowd as thou shalt stand
for that is most absurd,
Sniffing like a broken winded horse
is to be abhorred.
Nor practise snufflingly to speake,
for that doth imitate
the brutish Stork and Elephant
yea and the wailing cat.
If thou of force do chance to sneeze
then backwards turne away
from presence of the company
wherein thou art to stay.

To laugh at all things thou shalt heare,
is neither good nor fit,
it shewes the property and forme
of one with little wit.

If spitting chance to move thee so
thou canst it not forebeare,
remember do it modestly,
consider who is there.
If filthinesse, or ordure thou
upon the floore do cast,
tread out, and cleanse it with thy foot,
let that be done with haste.

If thou to vomit be constrain’d
avoyd from company:
so shall it better be excus’d
if not through gluttony.

Privy members:
Let not thy privy members be
layd open to be viewed,
it is most shameful and abhord,
detestable and rude.

Urine or wind:
Retaine not urine nor the winde,
which doth thy body vex,
so it be done with secrecie
let that not thee perplex.

And in thy sitting use a meane
as may become thee well,
not straddling, no nor tottering,
and dangling like a bell.

Observe in curtsie to take
a rule of decent kinde,
bend not thy body too far forth,
nor backe thy leg behind.

How to order a childe in his diet for [alcoholic] drinke:
For a childe to make the beginning of his dinner drinke is a good way to breed him up to drunkenesse. Especially if he take it for wanton custome, and not for necessity of thirst. It is dishonest to be suffered and anoysome to the body of a childe. Let not a childe drinke after he hath supt hot broth, immediately upon it; much lesse if he hath been fed with milke. Let not a childe drinke above twice or thrice at the most at one meale, and that gently, and not without reason: who bestoweth wine and beere on his childe beyond reason, defameth and abuseth him more by dishonouring his reason and provoking him to an unreasonable diet.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Family Love Marriage Women

A true way of Taming a Shrew


These fragments come from A Caution for SCOLDS: OR, A True way of Taming a SHREWTo the Tune of Why are my Eyes still flowing (c.1685).

A Noble Man he Marry’d with a cruel Scold,
Who in her humours would ne’r be control’d,
So that he was almost aweary of his Life,
By the cross humours of his forward Wife:
Although he show’d himself exceeding kind,
Yet she was still of a turbulent mind;
Husband and Servants her Fury must feel,
For in their Ears she would Ring them a Peal.

When any Friend approach’d the presence of her Lord,
By this vile Shrew they were strangely abhord;
With cruel Frowns and Railings she would them salute
Though they were Persons of worthy Repute,
All was a case, for she would have her Will.
And the whole House with Confusion she’d fill;
So that for fear of the heat of her Pray,
They have been forc’d to run packing away.

It was his chance to make a worthy noble Feast,
Inviting full forty couple at least,
Both Lords & Earls with vertuous Ladies of high fame,
Who in true Friendship accordingly came:
All sorts of Dainties he then did prepare,
No cost nor charge in the least did he spare;
But ere they could to their Banquetting fall,
Sirs, you shall hear how she welcom’d them all.

When she beheld the costly Dishes of rich Meat,
This Shrew had not any Stomach to Eat,
But did cry out, I shall be Ruin’d at this rate,
This is enough to consume an Estate:
Before she any more words did reply·
She made both Bottles and Dishes to flye;
Both Friends and Husband she then did abuse,
Asking him how he dare be so profuse?

Like the Thunder loud, her voice the straight began to raise,
Which made the Guest to stand all in amaze,
Who never saw the like in all their lives before,
Dishes of Meat they lay strow’d on the floor:
Thus in disorder they all went their way,
Each one was glad they were out of the fray:
Then said her Husband, did ever Man know,
Any poor Mortal so plagu’d with a Shrow.

Now the next day he to a Skilful Doctor went,
Promising that he would give him content,
If he could cure the cause of a Distracted Wife,
Which almost made him aweary of Life:
Yes, quoth the Doctor, I’ll do it ne’r fear,
Bring her, for now ’tis the Spring of the Year;
I’ll take the Lunacy out of her Brains,
Or else I won’t have a Groat for my pains.

Then home he went, and sent her thither out of hand,
Now when the Shrow she did well understand.
All their intent, she call’d the Doctor sneaking knave,
Now when he see she began for to Rave;
Straightways the Doctor did bind her in Bed,
Leting her Blood, likewise Shaving her Head:
Sirrah, said she, I would have you to know,
That you shall suffer for serving me so.

Madam, said he, I know you are beside your Wits,
But I will soon bring you out of those Fits;
I’ll cut your Tongue, and when a Gallon you have bled
‘Twill Cure that violent Noise in your Head:
Pray Sir, said she, don’t afflict me so sore,
I’ll ne’r offend my sweet Husband no more:
Thus by sharp Vsage and Keeping her low,
He had the fortune to Conquer the Shrow.

After some time, he came to see his Wife at last,
Where she begg’d pardon for all that was past;
Saying, her Fits for evermore she would refrain,
If he’d be pleas’d to retrive her again;
My former Follies I pray now forgive,
I’ll ne’r oftend you no more while I live:
Then in much love they both homeward did go,
Thus has he made a sweet Wife of a Shrow.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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