Category Archives: Murder

Books Curiosities Death Murder Playwrights Poison

‘Thou’rt poisoned with that book’

I wanted to share this fascinating object which I stumbled upon on Friday. It is a bible dating to 1600 which contains a secret arsenal of poison. Given its nature, one might assume it was used by travelling assassins, or kept hidden in the library of a large house to dispatch unwanted guests. It was for auction at the Hermann Historica auction house in Germany, and is described, in translation, as follows:

Original book cover in 1600 with finely embossed parchment-related covers. Close book intact, the pages glued to a solid block, and cut out rectangular. Inside, finely crafted device with eleven different sized drawers and an open compartment. The individual drawers with colored paper glued on, the front frame and knobs flame strips of silver and ebonised wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names for various poisonous plants (like Rhicinus, datura, belladonna, valerian, etc.). The greenish glass bottle labeled “est. Statutum hominibus semel mori” (It is given to man to die). In the book cover [is] glued old engraving depicting a standing skeleton, dated “1682″. Dimensions of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm.

John Webster, in his play The Duchess of Malfi, has the Cardinal kill Julia with a poisoned bible, and it’s fascinating to speculate that rather than coming from his imagination, Webster had instead either seen or heard of an object similar to the one above.

I originally found the image here and the auction house details are here

Crime Monarchy Murder Witchcraft

They should kiss the Devil’s buttocks

 

Today’s post comes from a contemporaneous account of the North Berwick Witch Trials, which took place in Scotland in 1591-2. The case was an overnight sensation since it featured the attempted murder of King James VI (later James I of England) by witchcraft.

 

Agnis Sampson, which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliriud house before the Kings Maiestie and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the persuasions which the Kings maiestie used to her with the rest of his counsell, might not provoke or induce her to confesse any thing, but [she] stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge. Whereupon they caused her to be conveied awaye to prison, there to receive such torture as hath been lately provided for witches in that country.

By due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Devill doth generally marke them with a privie marke. The Witches have confessed themselves that the Divell doth lick them with his tung in some privy part of their bodie before he doth receive them to be his servants, which marke commonly is given them under the haire in some part of their bodye, whereby it may not easily be found out or seene, although they be searched. Generally, so long as the marke is not seene by those which search them, the parties that hath the marke will never confesse any thing. By special commandment this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shaven off in eache parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen [twisted] with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, being a paine most greevous, which she continued almost an hour, during which time she would not confesse any thing untill the Divels marke was found upon her privities, Then she immediately confessed whatsoever was demanded of her, and justifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches.

The saide Agnis Tompson was after brought againe before the Kings Maiestie and his Counsell, and being examined of the meetings and detestable dealings of those witches, she confessed that upon the night of Allhallows Eve last, she was accompanied as well with the persons aforesaide, as also with a great many other witches, to the number of two hundred. And that all they together went by Sea each one in a Riddle or Cive, and went in the same very substantially with Flaggons of wine, making merrie and drinking to the kerke of North Barrick in Lowthian, and that after they had landed, tooke handes on the land and danced this reill or short dance, singing all with one voice

Commer goe ye before, commer goe ye,
Gif ye will not goe before, commer let me

Agnis Tompson confessed that the Divell being then at North Barrick Kerke attending their comming in the habit or likenes of a man, and seeing that they tarried over-long, he at their comming enjoyned them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his Buttockes, in signe of duetye to him: which being put over the Pulpit barre, everye one did as he had enjoyned them: and having made his ungodly exhortations, wherein he did greatlye enveighe against the King of Scotlond, he received their oathes for their good and true service towards him, and departed: which done, they returned to Sea, and so home againe.

The witches demanded of the Divel why he did beare such hatred to the King, who answered, by reason the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the worlde: all which their confessions and depositions are still extant upon record. Agnis Sampson confessed before the Kings Maiestie sundrye thinges which were so miraculous and strange that his Maiestie saide they were all extreame lyars, wherat she answered, she would not wishe his Maiestie to suppose her words to be false, but rather to beleeve them. And thereupon, taking his Maiestie a little aside, she declared unto him the verye wordes which passed betweene the Kings Maiestie and his Queene at Upslo in Norway the first night of their mariage. Where at the Kinges Maiestie wondered greatlye, and swore by the living God, that he believed that all the Divels in hell could not have discovered the same: acknowledging her words to be most true, and therefore gave the more credit to the rest.

Agnis Tompson, by the Divels persuasion should have intended and put in execution the Kings Maiesties death in this manner: She confessed that she tooke a blacke Toade, and did hang the same up by the heeles, three daies, and collected and gathered the venome as it dropped and fell in an Oister shell, and kept the same venome close covered, until she should obtaine any parte or peece of linen cloth, that had appertained to the Kings Maiestie, and shirt, handkercher, napkin or any other thing which she practised to obtaine. And the said Agnis Tompson by her depositions since her apprehension saith, that if she had obtained any one peece of linen cloth which the King had worne and fouled, she had bewitched him to death, and put him to such extraordinary paines, as if he had beene lying upon sharp thornes and endes of Needles.

Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Maiestie was in Denmarke, she tooke a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each parte of the Cat, the cheefest partes of a dead man, and severall joyntes of his body, and that in the night following the saide Cat was conveyed into the midst of the sea by all these witches sayling in their riddles or Cives as is aforesaide, and so left the saide Cat right before the Towne of Lieth in Scotland. This done, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater hath not beene seene: which tempest was the cause of the perrishing of a Boate or vessell comming over from the towne of Brunt Island to the towne of Lieth, wherein was sundrye jewelles and riche giftes, which should have been presented to the now Queen of Scotland.

Againe it is confessed that the said christened Cat was the cause that the Kinges Maiesties Ship at his coming forth of Denmarke had a contrary winde to the rest of his Ships, which thing was most strange and true, as the Kings Maiestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the Shippes had a faire and good winde, then was the winde contrarye and altogether against his Maiestie: and further the saide witche declared, that his Maiestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their intentions.

As is clear from the account, Agnes Sampson was tortured in prison prior to her confession. She was probably forced to wear a scold’s bridle – an iron device which was fitted over the head and had sharp clamps which crushed the tongue, and sometimes spikes which poked into the face. She was also deprived of sleep, chained to the wall of her cell, and abused. It was only after extreme torture that Agnes confessed to witchcraft. She was eventually strangled and burned alive for her supposed crimes. Estimates suggest that up to four thousand people in Scotland were executed for witchcraft through the late sixteenth and seventeenth century.


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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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Crime Curiosities Death Murder Vice Witchcraft

In his Wolvish shape he would run among them

This curious account of a Werewolf comes from Germany in the 1590s. With a ravenous appetite for lust and murder, Stubbe Peeter eventually meets his own rather gory end.

In the townes of Cperadt and Bedbur neer unto Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evill, and the practising of wicked Artes even from twelve years of age till twentye, and so forwardes till his dying daye, insomuch that surfeiting in the Damnable desire of magick, necromancye, and sorcery, acquainting him selfe with many infernall spirites and fiends. The Devill who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischeefe as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle, which being put about him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy devouring Wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes: And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appeare in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never beene changed.

Stubbe Peeter hearwith was exceedingly well pleased, and the shape fitted his fancye and agreed best with his nature. If any person displeased him, he would incontinent thirst for revenge, and no sooner should they or any of theirs walke abroad in the fields or about the Cittie, but in the shape of a Woolfe he would presentlye encounter them, and never rest till he had pluckt out their throates and teare their joyntes a sunder: And after he had gotten a taste hereof, he tooke such pleasure and delight in shedding of blood, that he would night and day walke the Fields, and work extreme cruelties. And sundry times he would go through the Streetes of Collin, Bedbur, and Cperadt, in comely habit, and very civilly as one well knowen to all the inhabitants therabout, & oftentimes was he saluted of those whose friendes and children he had buchered, though nothing suspected for the same.

It came to passe that as he walked abroad in the fieldes, if he chanced to spye a companye of maydens playing together, or else a milking of their Kine, in his Woolvishe shape he would incontinent runne among them, and while the rest escaped by flight, he would be sure to laye holde of one, and after his filthy lust fulfilled, he would murder her presentlye, beside, if he had liked or knowne any of them, her he would pursue, whether she were before or behinde, and take her from the rest, for such was his swiftnes of foot while he continued a woolf: that he would outrunne the swiftest greyhound in that Countrye: and so muche he had practised this wickednes, that the whole Province was feared by the cruelty of this bloody and devouring Woolfe. Thus continuing his divelishe and damnable deedes within the compass of fewe yeares, he had murdered thirteene young Children, and two goodly young women bigge with Child, tearing the Children out of their wombes, in most bloody and savage sorte, and after eate their hartes panting hotte and rawe, which he accounted dainty morsells & best agreeing to his Appetite.

He had at that time living a faire young Damsell, his Daughter, after whom he also lusted most unnaturallye, and cruellye committed most wicked inceste with her. This daughter he begot when he was not altogether so wickedlye given, who was called by the name of Stubbe Bell, whose beautye and good grace was such as deserved commendations of all those that knewe her: And such was his inordinate lust and filthye desire toward her, that he begat a Childe by her, dayly using her as his Concubine, but as an insaciate and filthy beast, given over to work evil. With greedines he also lay with his owne Sister, frequenting her company long time even according as the wickednes of his hart lead him. Moreover being on a time sent for to a Gossip of his there to make merry and good cheere, ere he thence departed he so won the woman by his faire and flattering speech, and so much prevailed, yet ere he departed the house: he lay by her, and ever after had her companye at his command. This woman was Katherine Trompin, a woman of tall and comely stature of exceeding good favour and one that was well esteemed among her neighbours. But his lewde and inordinate lust being not satisfied with the company of many Concubines, nor his wicked fancye contented with the beauty of any woman, at length the devill sent unto him a wicked spirit in the similitude and likenes of a woman, so faire of face and comelye of personage, that she resembled rather some heavenly creature, so farre her beauty exceeded the chiefest sorte of women, and with her as with his harts delight, he kept company the space of seven yeeres, though in the end she proved and was found indeed no other then a she Devil

Long time he continued this wilde and villanous life, sometime in the likenes of a Woolfe, sometime in the habit of a man, sometime in the Townes and Citties, and sometimes in the Woods and thickettes to them adjoyning. Thus this damnable Stubbe Peeter lived the tearme of five and twenty yeeres, unsuspected to be Author of so many cruell and unnaturall murders, in which time he destroyed and spoyled an unknowen number of Men, Women, and Children, sheepe, Lambes, and Goates: and other Catttell. The inhabitantes of Collin, Bedbur and Cperadt, seeing themselves so greevously endangered, plagued, and molested by this greedy & cruel Woolfe, none durst travell to or from those places without good provision of defence. Oftentimes the inhabitants found the Armes & legges of dead Men, Women, and Children, scattered up and down the fields to their great greefe and vexation of heart, knowing the same to be done by that strange and cruell Woolfe. They daylye continued and sought to intrap him. In the end it pleased God that they should espye him in his woolvishe likeness, and moste circumspectlye set their Dogges upon him. He, seeing no way to escape the imminent danger, presently slipt his girdle from about him, whereby the shape of a Woolfe cleane avoided, he appeared presently in his true shape & likeness, having in his hand a staffe as one walking toward the Cittie. But the hunters came unto him, and brought him to his owne house, and finding him to be the man indeede, and no delusion or phantasticall motion, they had him before the Magistrates to be examined.

Thus being apprehended, he was shortly after put to the racke in the Towne of Bedbur, but fearing the torture, he volluntarilye confessed his whole life, and made knowen the villanies which he had committed for the space of 25 yeares, also he confessed how by Sorcery he procured of the Devill a Girdle, which beeing put on, he forthwith became a Woolfe. After he had some space beene imprisoned, the majestrates found out through due examination of the matter, that his daughter Stubbe Bell and his Gossip Katherine Trompin, were both accessory to divers murders committed, who for the same were arraigned, and with Stubbe Peeter condemned, and their severall Judgementes pronounced the 28 of October 1589· in this manner, that is to saye: Stubbe Peeter as principall mallefactor, was judged first to have his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten several places to have the flesh pulled off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a woodden Hatchet, afterward to have his head strook from his body, then to have his carkasse burned to Ashes.

Also his Daughter and his Gossip were judged to be burned quicke to Ashes, the same time and day with the carkasse of the aforesaid Stubbe Peeter, and on the 31 of the same moneth, they suffered death accordingly in the town of Bedbur in the presence of many peeres & princes of Germany.

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