Thursday, March 26, 2009

The interesting career of Lady Theodosia Ivy

After a spell as governor of Madras on behalf of the East India Company (he succeeded the city’s founder, Francis Day, in 1644), Sir Thomas Ivy returned home to England a conspicuously wealthy man. Traveling to meet him, his first wife died on her short journey, and so Sir Thomas’s misfortunes began. After a short spell as a widower, he was “persuaded to address my self to one Mrs. Garret, a Widow, and Daughter of Mr. Stepkins, who was represented unto me to be as beautiful in mind as in person; And though her Husband had left her nothing, yet was I not deterr’d by this to forbear my suit…”

Overcome by desire, Ivy settled a lavish thousand a year jointure on Theodosia Garret. She set about emptying his pockets: “I am confident, (and tis proved by sufficient Witnesses in Chancery) that in eighteen months after our Marriage, she had spent for her Accommodations above £3000 whereof £600 was in Apparel only, £500 in ready money.”

Financially at breaking point, unable to appear in the streets of London for fear of arrest by creditors, Ivy tried to get his wife to join him at estates he owned down in Wiltshire, at Malmesbury. A good bureaucrat, he was able to produce copies of the letters he sent her when he published an account of his ghastly matrimonial misadventures in his desperate last throw, Alimony Arraign'd, OR THE REMONSTRANCE AND HUMBLE APPEAL OF THOMAS IVIE Esq From the High Court of CHANCERY, To His HIGHNES the LORD PROTECTOR of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, &c. WHEREIN Are set forth the unheard-of Practices and Villanies of Lewd and Defamed Women, in Order to separate Man and Wife (1654).

He probably transcribed his version of the letters, because Theodosia seems to have produced her own, discreditable, version of some of his correspondence with her: ruthlessly exploitative, and without any scruple, she seems to have fabricated evidence throughout her career.

Poor Sir Thomas gives a plaintive account of the slights and humiliations he endured, and represents himself as always trying to reestablish the marriage. He probably was besotted with the beautiful Theodosia: one of her major abettors, her aunt “Mrs. Williamson called Mr. Ivie Clown, and Fool; and advised Mrs. Ivie not to go with him into the Country … And that he was an ugly fellow”.

Theodosia set out to annihilate him in the Church court: a maid, Jane Gilbert, was bullied to declare herself pregnant by her master (the maid seems to have refused to play along, and then died mysteriously). She claimed that Sir Thomas had transmitted venereal disease to her (he submits to Cromwell certificates from several doctors declaring him free of any such disease). He had deserted her (this was his effort to escape arrest by going to his Wiltshire estates), denied her maintenance, and she feared his violence. Sir Thomas takes a while to come round to the last point, but eventually spells out a main allegation:

“much fear she pretended (for had it been more than a Pretence, all had been accomplished, and my life lost) lest she should participate of the Sins and Punishments of Sodom and Gomorrah: And as for her body she durst not trust that with me lest (at any time being Morose and Cholerick) I should injure her by Blows; or if kind, I should infect her with unclean diseases … Mrs. Williamson reported that Mr. Ivie had bugger’d his Wife.”

Sir Thomas delivers (to Oliver Cromwell, imagine!) his pained denial of this charge:

“I never had within my breast the least inclination or desire to so vile & abominable a thing; neither did I ever attempt to persuade her by fair Words and Inticements, or to move her by threats, or ever used the least force or struggling with her to compass any such Base or Heathenish Design.”

Meanwhile Theodosia and her cabal are living a very high life in London, and what may be taken to be her next 'easy marks' feature, with their lives also thrown into turmoil:

“immediately after our marriage, she held correspondency with Sir William Killegrew’s Son, under the name of Ornaldo, called her self Callis ….she admitted both Sir William Killigrew and his Son her Corrivals; and that young Killigrew threatened to kill his Father, and her Husband also … Sir William Killigrew chid Mrs. Williamson for suffering his Son to be so familiar with Mrs. Ivie”.

However rackety, Theodosia routed her husband in court, confident enough to laugh at him: “When the Day came, and the Counsel began to speak, my hopes were quickly commanded to vanish, and the Counsel to hold their Peace; for they suddenly declared, ‘That they would not hear the Merits of the Cause. With much pressing, Mr. Lisle read the Petition; And though they took evident notice of it, yet would they not return any Answer to it; or so much as demand of my Wife, (who stood there laughing in their Presence) whether she would return to me, or no…” He was ordered to pay her alimony of £300 a year. It is this that pushed him to his final desperate appeal direct to Cromwell.

Ivy makes a good case for himself in print: that he is still upset that the court failed to ask Theodosia if she was willing to return to her husband shows the amount of humiliation he was willing to bear.

Theodosia went to take refuge at the house of friends, Sir William Salkhill and his wife, in St Martin’s Lane, where she was very soon diddling the family about debts to Sir William she had accrued, and her rent for living there. I cannot at the moment trace Sir Thomas much further. He does not feature much in the printed account of Lady Ivy’s next big adventure. He seems to have been alive, and still falling out with his separated wife, in 1671. But I assume Cromwell did nothing to rescue him, despite Sir Thomas trying to provoke the Lord Protector to protect him with the reflection that alimony was a papist notion: “Alimony is a Thing not known at the Common or Civil Law, but indulged, and brought in by the Pope and his Canons, and very much put in Use by the late High Commission and Prerogative Court of Canterbury.” Theodosia did not (and of course could not) remarry while Sir Thomas was alive.

I would strongly surmise that Lady Ivy would have been very much in the mind of the author of the witless comedy, Lady Alimony, or, The alimony lady an excellent, pleasant, new comedy, duly authorized, daily acted and frequently followed (1659). Perhaps the deficiencies of that play may be explained by the notion that, while it features a parade of women seeking (and getting) alimony on the basis of various male deficiencies, there is no central ‘Lady Alimony’ – was a personal lampoon excised from the text? ‘Witless’ is over severe: as the fashionable ladies get their undeserved alimony, their bad example spreads to a countrywoman, Christabel, who has misheard ‘alimony’ as ‘ale-money’, and is determined to claim her share of that from her husband. In the play, a Duke comes to the rescue, and overturns the court decisions, facing the women with a theatrical choice between nunneries and returning to their inadequate spouses.

Lady Ivy carried on as she always had: the account of her final big adventure opens by describing her as “THE late Lady Ivy, so many Years famous for Wit, Beauty, and Cunning in Law above any…” The two edited texts of Wycherley’s The Plain Dealer which I have looked at make no connection between her and the Widow Blackacre, but she looks likely to me. It seems as though Sir Thomas Ivy had taken leases on land on the south bank of the Thames. Lady Ivy’s attention turned to property, and she seems to have managed to bamboozle her way to a landholdings in the area.

In 1684, Lady Ivy tried her greatest legal coup: using forged title deeds, she attempted to take ownership of a large built-up area of Wapping and Shadwell, lands considered to belong to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s. The case was heard by Justice George Jeffreys, who as ever conducted both the trial, and the cross-examinations.

The deeds by which Lady Ivy sought to prove her right of ownership came rather miraculously into her possession (or, that was her story) when they were found in ‘an old bag of writings’ in 1675. The account of how the deeds were forged is fascinating: Lady Ivy herself specialized in the rather lady-like business of painting the elaborate initial letters. Her main forger was one Duffett, who had previously forged for her letters purportedly written by the wretched Sir Thomas. Lady Ivy had discovered that saffron put in the ink would make it look old. The documents were rubbed on dirty windows, exposed to light rain, dried harshly in direct sunlight, or in front of an open fire, and carried around in pockets, all to age them convincingly.

Lady Ivy was aiming to add to her unjustly acquired portfolio on the south bank a built up area of land larger than the City of London itself. Her claim to ownership was based ultimately on a chain of ownership stemming from a deed which purportedly came from the reign of Mary Tudor.

Poor historical research let her and her cohorts down. The forged deed described marsh lands equipped with a mill, and this mill having an overshot wheel. Judge Jeffreys interrogates locals with memories stretching back to when mills stood on that land, and ‘Grindy’ – for that appears to be his real name - a local miller, to prove this wildly unfeasible:

Grindy “I keep part of a Tide-mill my self, and have done so this Forty Years, and I know the Water must rise at least Ten, Twelve, or Fourteen Foot higher than it needs in a Tide-mill. For we take in our Water as the Tide comes in, and we have a pair of Gates that are hung with Hinges at the Top, which open as the Tide comes in, but the Water as it goeth out, shuts it again, and that keeps the Water to stand three or four Hours in some Mills, and then we have only Gutts that belong to the Wheel, and then we draw up the Gates the Water goes out. We have no Water that comes above the Shaft, which is half the Heighth of the Wheel, which is Sixteen Foot high. To talk of an Over-shot-mill the Water must rise so high as to go over the whole Marsh.

Lord Chief Justice And must drown all the Town and Country too.”

The forged document was proved by George Bradbury to have the wrong styling for the twin monarchs:

Mr Bradbury If your Lordship please to look upon them, the Stile of the King and Queen in both run thus. The one is, This Indenture made the thirteenth day of November, in the Second and Third Years of the Reigns of our Soveraign Lord and Lady Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God King and Queen of England, Spain, France, both Cicilies, Ierusalem, and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Arch Dukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, Millain and Brabant, Counties of Hasburg, Flanders and Tyroll. The other is, This Indenture made the 22th day of December in the same Year. Now in November and December 2 and 3 of Philip and Mary it was impossible for any man in the World to draw a Deed in this Form that those two Writings are ---

Mr. Att. Gen. Is that your Demonstration?

L. C. J. Pray let him go on, methinks it is very ingenious.

Mr. Bradbury. My Lord, I had the hint from my Lord Coke in his first Institutes, not as to this particular Stile, for I know he is mistaken there, but for the detecting of Forgeries in general.

L. C. J. It is very well, pray go on.

Mr. Bradbury. My Lord, at that time King Philip and Queen Mary were among other Stiles, stiled King and Queen of Naples, Princes of Spain and Sicily; they never were called King and Queen of Spain and both the Cicilies then.

(Mr Bradbury tries to repeat the same point a little later, but Judge Jeffreys snaps his head off: “Lord, Sir, you must be cackling too; we told you, your Objection was very ingenious, but that must not make you troublesome, you cannot lay an Egg, but you must be cackling over it.”)

The final error, compounding all the widow Duffett’s account of her late husband’s forgeries: “The document is also found to be dated Livery and Seisin was Endorsed on the back of that Deed the 20th of Nov. in the 5th and 6th year of Philip and Mary, and 'tis notoriously known that Queen Mary died the Seventeenth of that Month, and that Queen Elizabeth was proclaimed the same day.”

The account of this trial, thought at the time – and with some justice – to show Judge Jeffreys at his finest, delivers all this in vivid court dialogue: The famous tryal in B.R. between Thomas Neale, Esq. and the late Lady Theadosia Ivy the 4th of June, 1684, before the Right Honourable the late Lord Jeffreys, lord chief justice of England, for part of Shadwell in the county of Middlesex ... together with a pamphlet heretofore writ ... by Sir Thomas Ivy 1696.

The 1684 case was, unsurprisingly, found against Lady Ivy, and the documents shown to be forged were detained: “a Motion was made by the Plaintiffs Counsel, that several Deeds produced by the Defendant, that were detected of Forgery, might be left in Court in order to have them pursued, and convicted of the Forgery. The Court upon debate of the Matter; and the Plaintiffs Counsel declaring they would prosecute an Information of Forgery, the Deeds of the 13th of November, and the 22th of December, 2 and 3 Phil. and Mar. were ordered to be left with the Clerk of the Crown till further Order.”

Sir Thomas humiliated himself in print (but his account of his catastrophic marriage is mentioned in neither Lawrence Stone’s The Family, Sex and Marriage nor Road to Divorce). Lady Ivy may have inspired both the comedy of ‘Lady Alimony’ and Widow Blackacre. If I cannot prove these things, I have at least a very modest OED antedating: the OED gives the word from 1655, Ivy’s work, Alimony Arraign’d is 1654.

My image is the 1696 chart of the land Lady Ivy so audaciously tried to establish as hers.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

His brains fell entirely whole into the next seat behind him

The schoolmaster, chronicler of Parliamentary victories, and poet-translator John Vicars was a very militant protestant, an associate of William Prynne, and a much-published writer who had great success in getting his works illustrated with woodcuts.

His Prodigies & apparitions, or, England’s warning piece being a seasonable description by lively figures & apt illustration of many remarkable & prodigious fore-runners & apparent predictions of Gods wrath against England (1643) is an unflinching celebration of the anger God justly manifested against Christians who didn’t worship in the way they should, which was exactly like John Vicars.

He especially details cases when “sumptuous and superfluously huge built Churches and Cathedral Minsters, indeed far more like Heathen Temples then Christian Churches” were hit by lightning, which, as the tallest buildings in every parish, they often were (with lightning rods still to be invented in the mid 18th century: and prayer still thought the best preventative)

On Sunday 21st October, 1638, the parish church of Withcomb in Devon (present day Widecombe-in-the-Moor - thanks to Chris Hale!) was hit by lightning during Evensong. The parishioners had brought this on themselves, as the church had just been ‘newly trimmed’.

The effects were catastrophic, as these extracts show:

“in the midst of the performance of which duties, I say, on a sudden there was heard most fearful & heart-damping claps of thunder … upon which, presently followed a most fearful Fog, and almost palpable darkness all over the Church, and a most strong and almost stifling Stygian stink and loathsome smell of brimstone, together with a most boisterous and blustering blast of wind and clap of thunder, which struck in at the North side of the steeple or tower, and tearing through a strong wall came into the Church through the highest window … passing on toward the Pulpit, and in the way took with it the lime and sand from off the wall, grating the wall much and mightily defacing it, it having been but lately new whited and trimmed, as aforesaid. It tore away also most fiercely the side Desk from the Pulpit, colouring the pulpit it self of a black hew, and leaving it as moist as if it had been newly washed over with ink.”

This ‘brimstone’ smell was of course ozone, the lightning strike puts so much power into the church wall that the stone explodes. The human casualties follow, victims of flashover fires and shrapnel:

“In which time there was also a most terrible and heart-astonishing lightning, which did both mightily affright the people, and even scald their skin with the extreme heat thereof; insomuch as the greatest part of them fell prostrate, some on their faces, and some on their knees, and some one upon another, shrieking and crying out in a most pitiful and pathetical manner.

The Ministers wife, there present, had her Ruff and Linen next her body, burnt off, and her body it self grievously scorched. One Mistress Ditford, sitting in the seat with her, had her Gown, two Waist-coats, and her linen next her body also grievously scorched. Another woman frighted with this fearful spectacle, running out of the Church, had her clothes set on fire, her body scorched, her flesh torn on her back in a most grievous manner. One Master Hill, a Gentleman had his head smitten against the wall, and died the very next day of it. Sir Richard Reynolds his Warriner had his head cloven, his skull rent in three pieces, whereof two fell in the next seat, the other fell down in the seat where he sate: his brains fell entirely whole into the next seat behind him, his blood dashed against the wall; some of the skin of his head, flesh and hair, to the quantity of an handful, was carried into the Chancel, his body left in the seat, as though he had been alive, sitting asleep, and leaning on his elbow resting on the desk of his Pew, with the fore-part of his head and face whole.

O most terrible and fearful power of the Lord! A man that sate before him, in the same seat, was scalded and burnt all over on that side next the said Warriner. In the second seat behind the Warriner, a man was in a most grievous manner burnt and scalded all over his body, so as he was all over like raw flesh, and lived in great misery about a week after, and then died.

A Dog near the Chancel door, was fiercely whirled up three times, and the last time fell down dead.

About the number of eight boys sitting about the rails of the Communion Table (here we may observe what a superstitious Church it was, like, almost all the rest of our Churches in these miserable days) were all of them taken up by the violence of this so terrible a storm, and thrown on heaps within the rails, but had no hurt at all.”

In case the presence of altar rails doesn’t prejudice you enough against this congregation, Vicars goes on to give further subversive details about this purportedly Christian building (as he sees it):

“One of the Pinnacles of the Tower was tumbled down into the Church.

A great stone was thrown about an hundred yards from the Church, and sunk into the ground so deep and so fast, that it could hardly be seen afterward. A Bowling-alley also near the Church-yard, was strangely turned into deep pits; and a Wine-Tavern near the Church, had the side thereof next the Church torn up, and the top or covering broken and carried off, and one of the rafters broken into the said house.

… And was not here a most terrible and almost an incredible print and impression of Gods threatened wrath and indignation against both the internal and external vanity and impiety of such profuse and superfluous Church-buildings…?”

I suspect that Vicars would be a little sorry that God inexplicably failed to kill the Minister and his clerk in this building full of vanity in its prophane surroundings, but they escaped with a warning: “A beam was broken in the midst, and fell down between the Minister and his Clerk, but neither of them hurt thereby…”

To say that JohnVicars does not have much time for vicars hardly does justice to his ferocity. He also gleefully compiled two pamphlets expounding the various depravities of the church ministers expelled from their parishes by the puritans for ‘malignancy’. Extracts from A just correction and inlargement of a scandalous bill of the mortality of the malignant clergie of London, and other parts of the kingdome, which have been justly sequestred from their pastorall-charges (1647) give the effect:

Mr. Wilson, of Arlington, in Sussex, sequestered for being a most odious committer of Buggery with many men, upon his own confession; yea, attempted to commit this odious sin with a Mare, blasphemously said, that Christ after the flesh, was a bastard, and for being a notorious Popish Ceremony-monger, a mighty drinker, and desperate malig.

Mr. Westrop, of Much-Totham, in Essex, sequestered for most familiar filthy and profane abusing of the holy ordinance of preaching, by most obscene meddling and dilating on the secrets of women in the Pulpit; abusively and familiarly comparing women to sows, to make the people laugh; calling such women Whores, who refused to hear him thus speak in the Pulpit, together with abundance of such-like most filthy trash, constantly thus delivered by him, and for being a desperate malignant against the Parliament.

Mr. Booth of Buttolphs Aldersgate, London, sequestered for being a most lazy Levite, a Ceremony-monger, an enemy to Gods people, and a desperate Malignant.

My thanks to Chris for this prompt: it is present day Widecombe, and look, they have a tower appeal even now. The 1638 disaster is mentioned on this web page -

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The awful plot against Curate Trat, Somerset, 1623

I have been reading Thomas Gataker’s horrified complaint that the astrologer William Lilly actively fomented the mass murder of clergymen. This made me think of putting ‘minister NEAR murder’ into the EEBO title search box.

Among the pamphlets revealed, I would really like to write about the exactly 400 year old A true relation of the most inhumane and bloody murther, of Master Iames Minister and preacher of the word of God at Rockland in Norfolke Committed by one Lowe his curate, and consented vnto by his wife, who both were executed for this fact this last assises: he being drawne and hanged, and shee burned, who at his death confessed the murther of his owne child, vnlawfully begotten, and buried it him selfe. This seems to have been written by a pamphleteer who had spent plenty of time watching the plays of Shakespeare and Heywood. However, either over-inking of the black letter type, or too much oak gall in the ink burning the paper, has made the EEBO copy so largely illegible, that I could not give any coherent account of it.

But I then remembered this pamphlet, The crying murther Contayning the cruell and most horrible bu[tchery] of Mr. Trat, curate of old Cleaue; who was first mu[rthered] as he trauailed vpon the high way, then was brought home to hi[s house] and there was quartered and imboweld: his quarters and bowels b[eing af]terwards perboyled and salted vp, in a most strange and fearefull manner. For thi[s] the iudgement of my Lord chiefe Baron Tanfield, young Peter Smethwi[cke, An]drew Baker, Cyrill Austen, and Alice Walker, were executed this last sum[mer] Assizes, the 24. of July, at Stone Gallowes, neere Taunton in Summerset-shire (1624).

This really is an extraordinary case. In general, 16th and 17th century murderers come across as poor planners: impulsive, and liable to self-incrimination by word, deed, or failure to dispose of material evidence.

The man who in all likelihood plotted this murder came up with a very elaborate scheme, one which failed because it had too many people in on the secret (and two of them chronically loquacious).

The quarrel between Smethwicke and the curate Trat was started by a third man, one Brigandine, who was the parish’s incumbent, and who has let Trat hold the curacy for him in return for a fee. He finally decided to resign the incumbency completely to his curate. This offended Peter Smethwicke and his son: Brigandine was the senior Smethwicke’s step-father, and they considered him to have promised the gift of the parish to them.

Battle was joined, with real venom: Trat had been unfortunate enough to lose his wife in an accident: ‘His wife (being a feeble, sickly and weak woman) went to gather Limpets, (a kind of shell-fish which sticks upon the Rockes in that Sevearne or midland sea, deviding England from Wales’. She had fallen in and drowned while he fished from the beach some distance away. The Smethwickes accused him of her murder, but he was cleared of this charge, and they were disgraced locally for their accusation.

They had then tried another way to discredit the curate: he was lured out to supper, and while he was from home, someone broke into his house, stole his clerical gown, and went out and did some injury to a country woman: this in the dark, she was meant to accuse Trat, but he again escaped with his reputation intact. Meanwhile, Trat, reported in the pamphlet to have been not the greatest of clerks, but good at thundering out against the vices of his parish, made what response he could with a particular address to the sins of young Peter Smethwicke.

So the Smethwickes decided to murder him. Their plot was baroque in its complexity. First, he was ambushed and killed. His body was then taken back to his own house, and there it was dismembered. I suspect that Alice Walker had been induced to join the conspiracy for known skills at preparing ham. Poor Trat’s head and genitals were removed and burned. His arms and legs were disjointed, and placed, with his viscera, in large earthernware jars, salted. His cadaver was similarly placed in a large tub upstairs.

The plan here was to make the body unidentifiable, and conceal the date of the death.

With the curate vanished, local gossip tended to accuse his chief antagonist of having something to do with it. But the elder Smethwicke had another aspect to his plan, sending his ‘innocent’ and wrongly accused boy off to London, where Peter junior rather overdid the determination to establish an alibi for him (for a certain date), by very specifically asking an acquaintance to note that they were together in London on a particular day.

During this time, another accomplice set off on another impersonation of the missing (and now dead) curate. This accomplice, never named, ‘came to John Foards house of Taunton the Bowyer, a man who had seen Trat, but did scarce know him, or now remember him, and told him that he was M. Trat, the Curate of Old Cleeve.’ From there this accomplice-imposter journeyed to Ilminster, and told the same tale, and at Blanford in Dorset, told the most audacious part of this story. Somehow Smethwicke knew that the incumbent there, Parson Sacheverell, had been at Oxford years before with Trat. The accomplice identified himself as Trat, but refused to get off his horse, saying ‘I have stabd a man in my house where I live, of whose life I am doubtful’. Sacheverell was of course shocked, and urged him to return to Old Cleeve. The impersonator of Trat told the story of having met a man in Dunster who had recently come from Ireland, and this man had begged money from him. This fictitious person had then been given lodgings in Trat’s house, but at breakfast, had crossed himself superstitiously before eating. ‘Trat’ had admonished him for this, they had quarreled, the quarrel had descended to blows, ‘Trat’ had struck the Irishman with a knife, and was now fleeing the scene.

So, what Smethwicke was aiming for was an unidentifiable corpse in Trat’s house, which would be taken to be the victim of a killing carried out by Trat! So detailed was the plan that a suit of green clothes had been left, bloodied, in Trat’s house (no owner was ever found for this suit, which was merely placed there to substantiate this figmentary Irishman). The plot would have to have maintained that Trat had done far more than he had so strangely confessed to down in Blanford, but had both killed and butchered his victim, and made his head disappear completely, before running aimlessly away blabbing to old college acquaintance en route. Smethwicke junior would be in the clear, for the confessions of the imposter would narrow down the date of the murder to a time when he was up in London.

It must have taken a deal of resolution to carry out the processing of the body, and this is where things began to go wrong. Alice Walker was clearly aware that they had made rather hasty work of the preserving job on the body parts. During the fortnight in which the curate had vanished, she had unwisely quipped that ‘if the Parson did not come home the sooner, his powdered Beef would stinke before his coming’.

So it proved. Neighbours could smell putrefaction emanating from the house, the parish officers broke in, and discovered the source of the stench.

Meanwhile, another of the murder party had left the scene to work twelve miles away. When news of the murder reached that parish, he could not resist giving a far better account of the circumstances of the murder than the informant had just given, apparently only pausing in his tale to wipe his face with a bloody napkin. He fled this scene, but was finally apprehended in Wiltshire, where he unwisely bragged of having friends who would pay to help him out of prison, or they would ‘smoke for it’.

Meanwhile the justices were unraveling the story back in Somerset. A particular known mark on one of the fingers had more or less been identified as showing the victim to have been Trat. Justice Cuffe had raked about in the ashes in the hearth at Smethwicke’s house, and found residual bits of skull, neck vertebrae, and teeth. Out in the garden, positioned behind some strong smelling herbs, a pot of stinking blood was found. Andrew Baker, one of the murder party, was ordered to lift the pot out very carefully, but spilt it, with a deliberate intent obvious to those who witnessed it.

The panicky Andrew Baker had anyway been traumatized by what they had so meticulously done to Trat, as he was by this stage reportedly given to crying out in his sleep ‘let us fly Mr Peter, let us away or else we shall be all undone and hanged’.

Smethwicke senior clearly had many strong local connections, and to save his son, arranged a packed jury to sit on the case that was brought. But now Lord Tanfield stepped in, and initially postponed the trial, but with new evidence coming forward, pushed ahead with it, having completely changed the composition of the jury.

The pamphlet ends with all four of the murder party dead, hanged in Taunton, but without any confession. Alice Walker almost confessed, but then failed to do so, though the usual ministers pumped her to clear her conscience. The elder Smethwicke, who had gambled so much for the money remains in prison. Some consider him guilty; others consider none of the accused to have been guilty. The pamphleteer feebly ends with an admonishment that we should all learn to hold our tempers in check.

But what a plot! And its mastermind still alive, if not at large.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Puritan oboed to death, 1660

I came across Henry Jessey, THE LORDS LOUD CALL TO ENGLAND: Being a True Relation of some Late, Various, and Wonderful Judgments, or Handy-works of God, by Earthquake, Lightening, Whirlewind, great multitudes of Toads and Flyes; and also the striking of divers persons with Sudden Death, in several places; for what Causes let the man of wisdome judge, upon his serious perusal of the Book it self (1660)

This is a fairly brief, structurally scrappy work in which the author publishes whatever evidence he can muster for the Lord’s disapproval of the restoration of the monarchy and suppression of that ‘Sion’ (as he terms the lost Puritan ‘Eden’ - he uses that precise term of Puritan-ruled Oxford) which England had been during the interregnum.

Any accident which occurred either during, or during preparation for, public rejoicings at the King’s return, serves Jessey as an example. The effect can be petty and heartless:

“An Ancient poor Woman went from Wapping to London, to buy flowers about the sixth or seventh of May, 1660 to make Garlands for the day of the Kings Proclamation, (that is May 8) to gather the youths together, to dance for the Garland. And when she had bought the flowers, and was going homeward, a Cart went over part of her body and bruised her very sore. Yet she made up her Garland, and gathered youths together, that danced for it, just before the doors of such as she might vex thereby. But since she remains in a great deal of misery, by the bruise she had gotten; and cried out of the Devil, saying; ‘The Devil had owed her a shame, and now thus he had paid her.”

Among the intelligentsia, there was (as ever) a lot of ‘outing’ in Oxford: the expulsion of ‘godly Fellows’ from the colleges. This duly gets reported: “Here is also a great rout in Oxford of the godly people; 19 Heads of Houses and Canons of Christs Church are put out, and this day we think will be outing many godly Fellows.”

But we also learn that dramatic performance was instantly revived at the University: the sad consequences for the misguided performers gratify Jessey:

“Also there was a Play acted by Schollars, wherein one acted the Old Puritan, he that acted that part, came in with a narrow band, short hair, and a broad hat; a Boisterous fellow comes after him, and trips up his heels, calling him Puritan Rogue; at which words, the Old Puritan shook off the dirt of his feet against him. Two of these Actors are also cut off; and he that acted the Old Puritan broke a vein, and vomited so much blood in the place, that they thought he would have died in the room, but he now lieth desperately sick. This is all very true. Also a Woman that joined with them in their Play is also dead.” (Was that a female performer?)

Jessey gets a lot of his evidence for the Lord’s displeasure with what is happening in England from the Cotswolds. At Bourton-on-the-Water, a Puritan sermon on the text, Behold the Lord commeth with ten thousand of his Saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly amongst them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed was interrupted by the former parish incumbent’s wife and daughter, who entered the gathering to revile the congregation. But then, “the hand of the LORD of HOSTS went out against that Daughter as it appeared, for she gave a sudden great Screech, and fell down dead before them all.” The pious congregation made an attempt to revive her with prayer, but the efficacy of these prayers was (Jessey reports) hindered by the daughter’s mother, who was ‘much out of patience’. There was some talk of charging the puritans with having caused her death, but everyone seems to have been too shaken to make much of it.

In Fairford, a gathered church meeting was “much abused by some of that Town, in a rude manner. The Lord of the Manor there stood looking on, and did not in the least suppress the rude multitude, but appeared rather to countenance them.” This cat-calling and jeering seems to have been the work of local boys, who can always be counted on to exploit any chance to behave badly.

The Lord duly sent a quasi-biblical plague:

“In the Evening of that same 24 day, there was seen coming up from the Mill-lane great multitudes of small Toads, they that saw them said, that there might have been taken up many Cowls full of them. And as they were going they divided themselves into two bodies. First, one Body, or Division of them, went to the Lord of the Manor’s house, (which was about one Acers Length, from the place where they were first seen) They come up through his Orchard, and went under his Gate into the inward court, and some did endeavour to prevent their coming into his house, but could not, though they killed many of them. They came into his Kitchen, and Cellar: and the next morning there went an honest man to the house, about business, and did see the servants looking on them, and took notice of them, that they lay thick on the ground, and being small, judged they were many thousands of them.

The Lord of the Manor had barely had time to get over the plague of small toads, when further provocation of the Lord’s displeasure punished him with something like locusts:

“About a Fortnight after in the same Town, these Christians were again sorely abused, and the next Friday fortnight after, there appeared in the Lord of the Manors Orchard, a great swarme of Flyes, about the bigness of Caddus Flies, with long wings; they that saw them said they might have taken up baskets of them, and the same day also, an honest Christian man saw the Lord of the Mannors Garden covered with these Flies, in heaps like unto swarms of Bees.”

Amid the nation-wide bullying and abuse, Jessey has more serious disturbances to report: “The most eminent Cavaliers embittered persecutors in the County, ride about armed with sword and Pistols, pretending to be of a Troop”. Health-drinking became the shibboleth and test of loyalty to the new order: “They Drink the Kings health stoutly, and rage against any that have the face of Godliness some drank a health to the confusion of Zion …They are so rude, that they compel men violently, to drink the Kings Health.

But drunken armed men are dangerous, and ejections from parsonages could be brutal:

“And not only soldiers, but the people who had long obscured their malice to the people of God, are now confident, and act barbarously. Take two late examples. One was of Mr. Warren a minister in the County, who upon the ejection of a Malignant (as then that Denomination was given men) was put into the Parsonage of Rencome: Upon this new encouragement the said ejected Minister (one Mr. Broade) brake in with a Company of rude companions into the Parsonage house; Penned up Mr. Warren and his wife and family into an Upper room; so distressing and afflicting the poor man, night and Day, making a noise with Hoboyes, so that he Died in the place; His blood will cry.”

Poor godly Mr Warren, his own house turned into a detention centre, tortured night and day by oboe music, like some wretched inhabitant of Abu Ghraib. One can imagine that he became very agitated at Cavaliers playing salacious tunes downstairs, and could not go down to rebuke them, Malvolio-style, for their uncivil rule, and he had a heart attack.

Persecution can always (as the contemporary example showed) rebound on itself, though, as Jessey can report from Carmarthen:

“Some of our Brethren were for a month’s space imprisoned in Carmarthen, merely because they would not forgo their Meetings, and join with them again in their Traditional Worship, from whom the Lord had separated them.

They bore their Testimony so full, and their sufferings so patiently and cheerfully, that we have much cause to bless the Lord for his gracious and tender dealings towards them.

Their conversation was such; that made those that threw stones at them, and shouted when they were brought thither, part with them with tears, confessing, they suffered for well doing, and judged them happy therein.”

How curious people are! The old lady getting flowers to weave into garlands for joy, and then deciding her accident stemmed from her having done the devil’s work. The Carmarthen mob bursting into tears...

My image is of woodwind and brass players, taken off the fascinating site