“Some few Days after, being brought to the Place of their Execution, which was on Broadway-Hill, within Sight of Campden, the Mother (being reputed a Witch, and to have so bewitched her Sons, they could confess nothing while she lived) was first executed: After which, Richard [Perry] being upon the Ladder, professed, as he had done all along, That he was wholly innocent of the Fact for which he was then to die; and that he knew nothing of Mr. Harrison's Death, nor what was become of him; and did, with great Earnestness, beg and beseech his Brother [John Perry] (for the Satisfaction of the whole World, and his own Conscience) to declare what he knew concerning him; but he, with a dogged and surly Carriage, told the People, he was not obliged to confess to them; yet, immediately before his Death, said, He knew nothing of his Master's Death, nor what was become of him, but they might hereafter (possibly) hear.”
~ This is 1660: and still it can be credited that a witch might prevent her sons disclosing their knowledge of the crimes she has shared with them. So she was hanged first, in the belief that the power of her spell will dissipate with her death. It doesn’t work, of course.
The last, enigmatic words of John Perry signaled the exit from the world of a disturbing and enigmatic man. In this, the first of two linked postings, I will look at the primary pamphlet source about this mysterious happening, which was assembled by Sir Thomas Overbury (nephew to the more famous knight of the same name). In my next post, I will go on to discuss the secondary materials from the period, which are already web-posted at a site about’ the Campden wonder’, collected, transcribed and introduced at http://www.campdenwonder.plus.com/index.htm by a Mr. Peter Clifford, local historian (and currently writing a book about this case).
To retell the story from my own reading, on
As his imprisonment continued, Perry asserted that his master had been murdered: first, he said, by a tinker, then it was by the servant of a local gentleman, then, finally, and sensationally, he accused his own brother and mother of having carried out the killing.
This they vehemently denied, but Perry stuck to his story. Ever since he had got his job with the steward, they had (he alleged) nagged him to save them from poverty by letting them know when his master was in possession of rents, or was out collecting them, so that
The Perry family were probably capable of the robbery.
With no body found, the Perry family were not hanged for the murder, but were, after various legal twists and turns, sentenced to death for the two robberies. At one point John tried to withdraw his confession, saying that he was mad when he said what he did. The three died together on Broadway Hill, with Edward Harrison standing at the foot of the ladder. He caused John Perry’s body to be hanged in chains;
About two years later, William Harrison reappeared in Campden.
All we know about
“MANY question the Truth of this Account Mr. Harrison gives of himself, and his Transportation, believing he was never out of England: But there is no Question of Perry’s telling a formal false Story to hang himself, his Mother, and his Brother” (says the 17th century editor).
Two elaborate stories, both told by men with (it seems) nothing to gain in telling them. One of them proved (posthumously) false: the other was doubted, but apparently remained untested.
Perry and the Perry family were perhaps guilty of the first robbery at
The question of who benefited did strike the 17th century inquirers: “Some therefore have had hard Thoughts of his [Harrison’s] eldest Son, not knowing whom else to suspect; and believe the Hopes of the Stewardship, which he afterwards (by the Lord Campden’s Favour) enjoyed, might induce him to contrive his Father’s Removal; and this they are the more confirmed in from his Misbehaviour in it: But, on the other Side, 'tis hard to think the Son should be knowing of his Father’s Transportation; and, consequently, of these unhappy Persons’ Innocency, as to the Murder of him, and yet prosecute them to Death, as he did.”
Nobody sought to corroborate any part of
I deduce that the Harrison’s, father and son, were acting together. The earlier robbery was being paid back on the Perry family, whose bungled conspiracies played into Edward Harrison’s hands. Edward also bullied his father into (in effect) handing over the job: it was difficult to refuse the reversion to the son of the man presumed murdered.
It isn’t ‘The Return of Martin Guerre’. But it was written up 14 years after