Category Archives: Women

Crime Execution Murder Women

The Last Speech and Confession of Sarah Elestone

These fragments come from the last speech and confession of Sarah Elestone who was burned to death for killing her husband in 1678.

‘In Three-Faulken-Court, over against St. Margarets-hill, in Southwark, lately lived one Sarah Elestone, the late Wife of Thomas Elestone, a Felt-maker: a man very laborious in his calling, aged about forty years, and his Wife forty-six years old.  They lived many years very contentedly, she assisting him in his calling in what she was able, till such time as falling into the acquaintance of some lewd women, she was drawn to commit that filthy sin of drunkenness, which after a little practising of it, she became harden’d in it, and learn’d to swear by her Maker and to prophain the Lords Day, and hate good men.  Such an alteration there was perceived in her, that several of her Husbands acquaintance desired him to do all that he could to reclaim her, telling him also that it was his duty, to which he answered That he hoped God would turn her from these evil courses, but he for his part could do no good with her, for she was so obstinate, that the more he said to her the worse she was.  So that seeing he could not prevail by fair means, he sought some other way, as keeping her bare of money, but then she ran him in debt, and took up money at the Tally-shops, he having notice of it, told them if they trusted her any more he would not pay them: upon which she resolved of another way, which was to sell her goods, which she did by degrees, till they had scarce a Chair to sit on, or a bed to lye on.  This so perplexed her Husband, that he resolved to beat her out of this wicked course, and to that end did sometimes chastize her with blows, which she was not wanting to repay. So much was their fury sometimes, that their neighbours hath been forced to part them at all hours in the night.

In this like manner they lived for some years, which so troubled and disturbed the patience of the man; that oft he hath been heard to wish himself dead, or that he had been buried alive that day he was married to her, and she wicked and graceless soul would many times in cold blood threaten him, that at one time or other she would kill him; which proved to be too true, for she having been out with her Gossips, and having got a cup too much as it was thought, comes and finds her husband at work. She demands some money of him, and withall tells him That if he will not give her some presently she would be the Death of him. He seeing her in that condition, took her and thrust her down stairs, and shuts the door, and to work again.  Within a little time after when he thought her heat was over, he goes down in his shift as he was at work, intending to drink. She meets him at the stairs foot, and with one side of a pair of sheers gave him a mortal wound on the breast, of which he immediately dyed, upon which she presently fled. Her Husband being quickly found, Hue and Cry was made after her, and that night about twelve a clock she was taken by the Old-street Watch, to whom she confessed the fact, she had her Tryal at the Marshalses at the Assizes, beginning on the 22 day of March, last past, where she was condemned by Law to be burn’d to ashes for this horrid and bloody crime.

After sentence was past, she begged some time to sit and prepare her self, which was granted, as also to two other Malefactors. During her imprisonment she hath had several Ministers to visit her who laid open the haniousness of her sins, especially that of Murther.  She for the most part seemed but little concerned, many times talking of other things when they prayed for her, but a day or two before her Execution it pleased God to awaken her and to discover her sins unto her, and the need she stood in of an interest in the Lord Jesus. Which made her the willinger to dye, finding that it was according both to the Law of God and Man: and hoping that the Lord Jesus would have mercy on her poor sinful Soul. Now she loved good men, good discourse, and often cryed out what should she do to be saved: when she came to the place of Execution and beheld the Fagots, she cryed, O Lord for Jesus sake let this be my last burning. O that God would give me an assurance of the pardon of my sins, and blot out the black lines of my sins with the Red lines of Christs blood. Her last words were to exhort all good people to fear God, to keep the Sabbath-day, to refrain idle company, to have a care how they take the Name of the Lord in vain.  Thus with a few Ejaculatory Prayers, she concluded with that saying Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.  Having thus said, the Executioner doing his Office, stopped the Atropos of her Speech, and her body was consumed to ashes in the Flames.’

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

London Prostitution Sex Underworld Vice Women

The Wandering Whore

Today’s snippets come from a very popular early modern text on prostitution, but in order to give it some context, here is a little overview of the history of brothels in London from John Stowe, whose survey of London in 1598 describes the history of Bankside stews:

Next on this bank was sometime the Bordello, or Stewes, a place so called of certain stew-houses privileged there, for the repair of incontinent men to the like women.

Under Henry II parliament ordained certain rules for the maintenance of these brothels:

That no stew-holder or his wife should let or stay any single woman, to go and come freely at all times
No stew-holder to keep any woman to board, but she to board abroad at her pleasure.
To take no more for the woman’s chamber in the week than fourteen pence.
Not to keep open his doors upon the holidays.
No single woman to be kept against her will that would leave.
No stew-holder to receive any woman of religion, or any man’s wife.
No single woman to take money to lie with any man, but she lie with him all night till the morrow.
The constables, bailiff, and others, every week to search each stew-house.

These brothels were subsequently closed down by the authorities under Henry VIII, but were once again legalised under Edward VI. By the reign of James I, Bankside in Southwark was an area known area for its vice and crime. The theatres had been established here since it was outside the jurisdiction of the City Fathers, and brothels and stew-houses flourished alongside the bear-pits and numerous taverns. Whorehouses were also prominent in other areas of London, most notably Westminster, Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Whitefriars.

A popular text which was translated from the Italian in the 1570s, and had been in heavy circulation ever since was Arentino’s The Wandering Whore. Pornographic and entertaining, it takes the form of a dialogue between a pimp and a whore, and sheds light on the practise of prostitution in early modern London:

Betty Lawrence… will serve the Cure [for the ‘standing ague’]; suffering you to whip the skin off her buttocks, onely paying her Crowns apiece for her patience and punishment.

A list of ‘Common Whores’ includes the names:

Green Moll, alias Joan Godfrey, Toothless Betty, Shards wife in Dunning Alley, Long-haired Mrs Spencer in Spittle-fields, Taylor the Prigg, Dutch Whore, Wilkins a weaver’s Wife at Smack Ally End.

Male names feature too, including: Little Taffy, Dick Steckwel, Ned Brooks, Green by Newgate, Frank Ashburn, and the alluringly-named ‘Ralph Asbington, alias Shitten-arse.

The young Gallant in the text discusses this list of names, claiming ‘I’ll visit their Quarters one after another, though I’m clappt three times over with the Pox.’ He enquires about a prostitute in Moorgate, ‘a teasing Girl with Silver-lace upon her Petticoat a Quarters bredth, with Lemmon-colour’d Ribbons a-la-mode-france, with Pendants in her eares, neck-lace of counterfeit pearl, and dres’t with a Caul in her hair.’

There is a description of a prostitute who ‘stood upon her head with naked breech & belly whilst four Cully-rumpers chuckt fifteen Half-crowns into her Commodity.’

Prostitutes are advised to be clean. They need to ‘paint, powder, and perfume their clothes and carkasses’ and have ‘fine clean Holland-smocks’. Descriptions of typical acts between prostitute and client include kissing with their mouths open, putting their tongues into his mouth, and putting their ‘left hand in his Cod-piece, the right hand in his Pocket.’

But perhaps the most moving aspect of Aretino’s tract is the description of the fate of many children born as a result of prostitution:

what children are got in Bastardy amongst us, are educated, if you are but minded to go to a certain stately building, where there is a grate, and one continually there placed to receive it [the baby], the Priests have a place peculiar to themselves, for what Brats they get are carried, where on the outside of the wall hangs a rope with a basket at the end on’t, where they are drawn up in a basket if you ring the bell which hangs close by.

For more on seventeenth century brothels see here or search the tag Prostitution.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Dining Household Women

Delights for Ladies

These tips come from a little book of household maintenance for women, entitled Delights for Ladies. 

How to hang your candles in the aire without candlestickes:
This will make a strange shewe to the beholders that knowe not the conceite. Let a fine Virginall wier (wire) of some length be fastened to the postes in the roofe of your house, and fasten it to the Candle. If the roome be any thing high roofed it will be hardly discerned, and the flame though it consume the tallow, yet it will not melt the wier.

A ball to take out staines from linnen:
Take four ounces of white hard Soape, beate it in a mortar with two small Lemmons sliced, and as much roche allome as a hazel Nut; roll it up in a ball, rub the staine therewith, and after fetch it out with warme water if neede be.

A white beauty for the face:
The jaw bones of a Hogge or Sow well burnt, beaten and sieved, and after ground upon a serpentine stone is an excellent beauty, being laid on with the oyle of white poppey

Skinne kept white and cleare:
Wash the face and body of a sucking child with breast milke, or Cowe mille, or mixed with water, everie night, and the childes skinne will wax faire and cleare, and resist sunburning.

How to take away any pimple from the face:
Brimstone ground with the oyl of Turpentine, and applied to any pimple one houre, maketh the flesh to rise spungeous, which being annointed with the thicke oyl of butter that ariseth in the morning from new milke sodden a little over night, will heale and scale away in a fewe daies, leaving a faire skinne behinde.

How to barrell up Oysters:
Open your oysters, take the licor off them, and mixe a reasonable proportion of the best white wine vinegar you can get, a little salt and some pepper, barrell the fish up in a small caske, covering all the Oysters in this pickle; they will last a long time; this is an excellent meeans to convery Oysters unto drie townes, or to carie them in long voyages.

The true bottling of beere:
When your Beere is tenne or twelve dayes old, whereby it is growne reasonable cleare, then bottle it, making your corkes verie fitte for the bottles, and stop them close, but drink not of this beere till they beginne to worke again and mantle, and then you shall finde the same most excellent and sprightly drink; and this is the reason why bottle ale is both so windie and muddy, because it is commonly bottled the same day that it is laid into the Cellar, whereby his yeast being an exceeding windie substance, doth incorporate with the drinke, and maketh it also verie windie, and this is all the lime and gunpowder wherewith bottle Ale hath been a long time so wrongfully charged.

© 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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