The Bloody Assizes
The History of England from the Accession of James II
In Hampshire Alice Lisle was the only victim: but, on the day following her execution, Jeffreys reached Dorchester, the principal town of the county in which Monmouth had landed; and the judicial massacre began. The court was hung, by order of the Chief Justice, with scarlet; and this innovation seemed to the multitude to indicate a bloody purpose. It was also rumoured that, when the clergyman who preached the assize sermon enforced the duty of mercy, the ferocious mouth of the Judge was distorted by an ominous grin. These things made men augur ill of what was to follow.(1) More than three hundred prisoners were to be tried. The work seemed heavy; but Jeffreys had a contrivance for making it light. He let it be understood that the only chance of obtaining pardon or respite was to plead guilty. Twenty-nine persons, who put themselves on their country and were convicted, were ordered to be tied up without delay. The remaining prisoners pleaded guilty by scores. Two hundred and ninety-two received sentence of death. The whole number hanged in Dorsetshire amounted to seventy-four.
From Dorchester Jeffreys proceeded to Exeter. The civil war had barely grazed the frontier of Devonshire. Here, therefore, comparatively few persons were capitally punished. Somersetshire, the chief seat of the rebellion, had been reserved for the last and most fearful vengeance. In this county two hundred and thirty-three prisoners were in a few days hanged, drawn, and quartered. At every spot where two roads met, on every marketplace, on the green of every large village which had furnished Monmouth with soldiers, ironed corpses clattering in the wind, or heads and quarters stuck on poles, poisoned the air, and made the traveller sick with horror. In many parishes the peasantry could not assemble in the house of God without seeing the ghastly face of a neighbour grinning at them over the porch. The Chief Justice was all himself. His spirits rose higher and higher as the work went on. He laughed, shouted, joked, and swore in such a way that many thought him drunk from morning to night. But in him it was not easy to distinguish the madness produced by evil passions from the madness produced by brandy. A prisoner affirmed that the witnesses who appeared against him were not entitled to credit. One of them, he said, was a Papist, and another a prostitute. "Thou impudent rebel," exclaimed the Judge, "to reflect on the King's evidence! I see thee, villain, I see thee already with the halter round thy neck." Another produced testimony that he was a good Protestant. "Protestant! " said Jeffreys; "you mean Presbyterian. I'll hold you a wager of it. I can smell a Presbyterian forty miles." One wretched man moved the pity even of bitter Tories. "My Lord," they said, "this poor creature is on the parish." "Do not trouble yourselves," said the Judge, "I will ease the parish of the burden." It was not only against the prisoners that his fury broke forth. Gentlemen and noblemen of high consideration and stainless loyalty, who ventured to bring to his notice any extenuating circumstance, were almost sure to receive what he called, in the coarse dialect which he had learned in the pothouses of Whitechapel, a lick with the rough side of his tongue. Lord Stawell, a Tory peer, who could not conceal his horror at the remorseless manner in which his poor neighbours were butchered, was punished by having a corpse suspended in chains at his park gate.(2) In such spectacles originated many tales of terror, which were long told over the cider by the Christmas fires of the farmers of Somersetshire. Within the last forty years, peasants, in some districts, well knew the accursed spots, and passed them unwillingly after sunset.(3) Jeffreys boasted that he had hanged more traitors than all his predecessors together since the Conquest. It is certain that the number of persons whom he put to death in one month, and in one shire, very much exceeded the number of all the political offenders who have been put to death in our island since the Revolution. The rebellions of 1715 and 1745 were of longer duration, of wider extent, and of more formidable aspect than that which was put down at Sedgemoor. It has not been generally thought that, either after the rebellion of 1715, or after the rebellion of 1745, the House of Hanover erred on the side of clemency. Yet all the executions of 1715 and 1745 added together will appear to have been few indeed when compared with those which disgraced the Bloody Assizes. The number of the rebels whom Jeffreys hanged on this circuit was three hundred and twenty. (4)
Such havoc must have excited disgust even if the sufferers had been generally odious. But they were, for the most part, men of blameless life, and of high religious profession. They were regarded by themselves, and by a large proportion of their neighbours, not as wrongdoers, but as martyrs who sealed with blood the truth of the Protestant religion. Very few of the convicts professed any repentance for what they had done. Many, animated by the old Puritan spirit, met death, not merely with fortitude, but with exultation. It was in vain that the ministers of the Established Church lectured them on the guilt of rebellion and on the importance of priestly absolution. The claim of the King to unbounded authority in things temporal, and the claim of the clergy to the spiritual power of binding and loosing, moved the bitter scorn of the intrepid sectaries. Some of them composed hymns in the dungeon, and chaunted them on the fatal sledge. Christ, they sang while they were undressing for the butchery, would soon come to rescue Zion and to make war on Babylon, would set up his standard, would blow his trumpet, and would requite his foes tenfold for all the evil which had been inflicted on his servants. The dying words of these men were noted down: their farewell letters were kept as treasures; and, in this way, with the help of some invention and exaggeration, was formed a copious supplement to the Marian martyrology.(5)
A few cases deserve special mention. Abraham Holmes, a retired officer of the parliamentary army, and one of those zealots who would own no king but King Jesus, had been taken at Sedgemoor. His arm had been frightfully mangled and shattered in the battle; and, as no surgeon was at hand, the stout old soldier amputated it himself. He was carried up to London, and examined by the King in Council, but would make no submission. "I am an aged man," he said, "and what remains to me of life is not worth a falsehood or a baseness. I have always been a republican; and I am so still." He was sent back to the West and hanged. The people remarked with awe and wonder that the beasts which were to drag him to the gallows became restive and went back. Holmes himself doubted not that the Angel of the Lord, as in the old time, stood in the way sword in hand, invisible to human eyes, but visible to the inferior animals. "Stop, gentlemen," he cried: "let me go on foot. There is more in this than you think. Remember how the ass saw him whom the prophet could not see." He walked manfully to the gallows, harangued the people with a smile, prayed fervently that God would hasten the downfall of Antichrist and the deliverance of England, and went up the ladder with an apology for mounting so awkwardly. "You see," he said, "I have but one arm."(6)
Not less courageously died Christopher Balttiscombe, a young Templar of good family and fortune, who, at Dorchester, an agreeable provincial town proud of its taste and refinement, was regarded by all as the model of a fine gentleman. Great interest was made to save him. It was believed through the West of England that he was engaged to a young lady of gentle blood, the sister of the Sheriff, that she threw herself at the feet of Jeffreys to beg for mercy, and that Jeffreys drove her from him with a jest so hideous that to repeat it would be an offence against decency and humanity. Her lover suffered at Lyme piously and courageously.(7)
A still deeper interest was excited by the fate of two gallant brothers, William and Benjamin Hewling. They were young, handsome, accomplished, and well connected. Their maternal grandfather was named Kiffin. He was one of the first merchants in London, and was generally considered as the head of the Baptists. The Chief Justice behaved to William Hewling on the trial with characteristic brutality. "You have a grandfather," he said, "who deserves to be hanged as richly as you." The poor lad, who was only nineteen, suffered death with so much meekness and fortitude, that an officer of the army who attended the execution, and who had made himself remarkable by rudeness and severity, was strangely melted, and said, "I do not believe that my Lord Chief Justice himself could be proof against this." Hopes were entertained that Benjamin would be pardoned. One victim of tender years was surely enough for one house to furnish. Even Jeffreys was, or pretended to be, inclined to lenity. The truth was that one of his kinsmen, from whom he had large expectations, and whom, therefore, he could not treat as he generally treated intercessors. pleaded strongly for the afflicted family. Time was allowed for a reference to London. The sister of the prisoner went to Whitehall with a petition. Many courtiers wished her success; and Churchill, among whose numerous faults cruelty had no place, obtained admittance for her. "I wish well to your suit with all my heart," he said, as they stood together in the antechamber; "but do not flatter yourself with hopes. This marble," -- and he laid his hand on the chimneypiece, -- "is not harder than the King." The prediction proved true. James was inexorable. Benjamin Hewling died with dauntless courage, amidst lamentations in which the soldiers who kept guard round the gallows could not refrain from joining.(8)
Punishment of Tutchin
Yet those rebels who were doomed to death were less to be pitied than some of the survivors. Several prisoners to whom Jeffreys was unable to bring home the charge of high treason were convicted of misdemeanours, and were sentenced to scourging not less terrible than that which Oates had undergone. A woman for some idle words, such as had been uttered by half the women in the districts where the war had raged, was condemned to be whipped through all the market towns in the county of Dorset. She suffered part of her punishment before Jeffreys returned to London; but, when he was no longer in the West, the gaolers, with the humane connivance of the magistrates, took on themselves the responsibility of sparing her any further torture. A still more frightful sentence was passed on a lad named Tutchin, who was tried for seditious words. He was, as usual, interrupted in his defence by ribaldry and scurrility from the judgment seat. "You are a rebel; and all your family have been rebels since Adam. They tell me that you are a poet. I'll cap verses with you." The sentence was that the boy should be imprisoned seven years, and should, during that period, be flogged through every market town in Dorsetshire every year. The women in the galleries burst into tears. The clerk of the arraigns stood up in great disorder. "My Lord," said he, "the prisoner is very young. There are many market towns in our county. The sentence amounts to whipping once a fortnight for seven years." "If he is a young man," said Jeffreys, "he is an old rogue. Ladies, you do not know the villain as well as I do. The punishment is not half bad enough for him. All the interest in England shall not alter it." Tutchin in his despair petitioned, and probably with sincerity, that he might be hanged. Fortunately for him he was, just at this conjuncture, taken ill of the smallpox and given over. As it seemed highly improbable that the sentence would ever be executed, the Chief Justice consented to remit it, in return for a bribe which reduced the prisoner to poverty. The temper of Tutchin, not originally very mild, was exasperated to madness by what he had undergone. He lived to be known as one of the most acrimonious and pertinacious enemies of the House of Stuart and of the Tory party.(9)
The number of prisoners whom Jeffreys transported was eight hundred and forty-one. These men, more wretched than their associates who suffered death, were distributed into gangs, and bestowed on persons who enjoyed favour at court. The conditions of the gift were that the convicts should be carried beyond sea as slaves, that they should not be emancipated for ten years, and that the place of their banishment should be some West Indian island. This last article was studiously framed for the purpose of aggravating the misery of the exiles. In New England or New Jersey they would have found a population kindly disposed to them and a climate not unfavourable to their health and vigour. It was therefore determined that they should be sent to colonies where a Puritan could hope to inspire little sympathy, and where a labourer born in the temperate zone could hope to enjoy little health. Such was the state of the slave market that these bondmen, long as was the passage, and sickly as they were likely to prove, were still very valuable. It was estimated by Jeffreys that, on an average, each of them, after all charges were paid, would be worth from ten to fifteen pounds. There was therefore much angry competition for grants. Some Tories in the West conceived that they had, by their exertions and sufferings during the insurrection, earned a right to share in the profits which had been eagerly snatched up by the sycophants of Whitehall. The courtiers, however, were victorious.(10)The misery of the exiles fully equalled that of the negroes who are now carried from Congo to Brazil. It appears from the best information which is at present accessible that more than one fifth of those who were shipped were flung to the sharks before the end of the voyage. The human cargoes were stowed close in the holds of small vessels. So little space was allowed that the wretches, many of whom were still tormented by unhealed wounds, could not all lie down at once without lying on one another. They were never suffered to go on deck. The hatchway was constantly watched by sentinels armed with hangers and blunderbusses. In the dungeon below all was darkness, stench, lamentation, disease and death. Of ninety-nine convicts who were carried out in one vessel, twenty-two died before they reached Jamaica, although the voyage was performed with unusual speed. The survivors when they arrived at their house of bondage were mere skeletons. During some weeks coarse biscuit and fetid water had been doled out to them in such scanty measure that any one of them could easily have consumed the ration which was assigned to five. They were, therefore, in such a state that the merchant to whom they had been consigned found it expedient to fatten them before selling them.(11)
Confiscation and Extortion
Meanwhile the property both of the rebels who had suffered death, and of those more unfortunate men who were withering under the tropical sun, was fought for and torn in pieces by a crowd of greedy informers. By law a subject attainted of treason forfeits all his substance; and this law was enforced after the Bloody Assizes with a rigour at once cruel and ludicrous. The brokenhearted widows and destitute orphans of the labouring men whose corpses hung at the cross roads were called upon by the agents of the Treasury to explain what had become of a basket, of a goose, of a flitch of bacon, of a keg of cider, of a sack of beans, of a truss of hay.(12) While the humbler retainers of the government were pillaging the families of the slaughtered peasants, the Chief Justice was fast accumulating a fortune out of the plunder of a higher class of Whigs. He traded largely in pardons. His most lucrative transaction of this kind was with a gentleman named Edmund Prideaux. It is certain that Prideaux had not been in arms against the government; and it is probable that his only crime was the wealth which he had inherited from his father, an eminent lawyer who had been high in office under the Protector. No exertions were spared to make out a case for the crown. Mercy was offered to some prisoners on condition that they would bear evidence against Prideaux. The unfortunate man lay long in gaol and at length, overcome by fear of the gallows, consented to pay fifteen thousand pounds for his liberation. This great sum was received by Jeffreys. He bought with it an estate, to which the people gave the name of Aceldama, from that accursed field which was purchased with the price of innocent blood.(13) He was ably assisted in the work of extortion by the crew of parasites who were in the habit of drinking and laughing with him. The office of these men was to drive hard bargains with convicts under the strong terrors of death, and with parents trembling for the lives of children. A portion of the spoil was abandoned by Jeffreys to his agents. To one of his boon companions, it is said. he tossed a pardon for a rich traitor across the table during a revel. It was not safe to have recourse to any intercession except that of his creatures, for he guarded his profitable monopoly of mercy with jealous care. It was even suspected that he sent some persons to the gibbet solely because they had applied for the royal clemency through channels independent of him.(14)
Rapacity of the Queen and of her Ladies
Some courtiers nevertheless contrived to obtain a small share of this traffic. The ladies of the Queen's household distinguished themselves preeminently by rapacity and hardheartedness. Part of the disgrace which they incurred falls on their mistress: for it was solely on account of the relation in which they stood to her that they were able to enrich themselves by so odious a trade; and there can be no question that she might with a word or a look have restrained them. But in truth she encouraged them by her evil example, if not by her express approbation. She seems to have been one of that large class of persons who bear adversity better than prosperity. While her husband was a subject and an exile, shut out from public employment, and in imminent danger of being deprived of his birthright, the suavity and humility of her manners conciliated the kindness even of those who most abhorred her religion. But when her good fortune came her good nature disappeared. The meek and affable Duchess turned out an ungracious and haughty Queen.(15) The misfortunes which she subsequently endured have made her an object of some interest; but that interest would be not a little heightened if it could be shown that, in the season of her greatness, she saved, or even tried to save, one single victim from the most frightful proscription that England has ever seen. Unhappily the only request that she is known to have preferred touching the rebels was that a hundred of those who were sentenced to transportation might be given to her.(16) The profit which she cleared on the cargo, after making large allowance for those who died of hunger and fever during the passage, cannot be estimated at less than a thousand guineas. We cannot wonder that her attendants should have imitated her unprincely greediness and her unwomanly cruelty. They exacted a thousand pounds from Roger Hoare, a merchant of Bridgewater; who had contributed to the military chest of the rebel army. But the prey on which they pounced most eagerly was one which it might have been thought that even the most ungentle natures would have spared. Already some of the girls who had presented the standard to Monmouth at Taunton had cruelly expiated their offence. One of them had been thrown into prison where an infectious malady was raging. She had sickened and died there. Another had presented herself at the bar before Jeffreys to beg for mercy. "Take her, gaoler," vociferated the Judge, with one of those frowns which had often struck terror into stouter hearts than hers. She burst into tears, drew her hood over her face, followed the gaoler out of the court, fell ill of fright, and in a few hours was a corpse. Most of the young ladies, however, who had walked in the procession were still alive. Some of them were under ten years of age. All had acted under the orders of their schoolmistress, without knowing that they were committing a crime. The Queen's maids of honour asked the royal permission to wring money out of the parents of the poor children; and the permission was granted. An order was sent down to Taunton that all these little girls should be seized and imprisoned. Sir Francis Warre of Hestercombe, the Tory member for Bridgewater, was requested to undertake the office of exacting the ransom. He was charged to declare in strong language that the maids of honour would not endure delay, that they were determined to prosecute to outlawry, unless a reasonable sum were forthcoming, and that by a reasonable sum was meant seven thousand pounds. Warre excused himself from taking any part in a transaction so scandalous. The maids of honour then requested William Penn to act for them; and Penn accepted the commission. Yet it should seem that a little of the pertinacious scrupulosity which he had often shown about taking off his hat would not have been altogether out of place on this occasion. He probably silenced the remonstrances of his conscience by repeating to himself that none of the money which he extorted would go into his own pocket; that if he refused to be the agent of the ladies they would find agents less humane; that by complying he should increase his influence at the court, and that his influence at the court had already enabled him, and still might enable him, to render great services to his oppressed brethren. The maids of honour were at last forced to content themselves with less than a third part of what they had demanded.(17)
Case of Grey, Cochrane, Storey, Wade, Goodenough, and Ferguson
No English sovereign has ever given stronger proof of a cruel nature than James the Second. Yet his cruelty was not more odious than his mercy. Or perhaps it may be more correct to say that his mercy and his cruelty were such that each reflects infamy on the other. Our horror at the fate of the simple clowns, the young lads, the delicate women, to whom he was inexorably severe, is increased when we find to whom and for what considerations he granted his pardon. The rule by which a prince ought, after a rebellion, to be guided in selecting rebels for punishment is perfectly obvious. The ringleaders, the men of rank, fortune, and education, whose power and whose artifices have led the multitude into error, are the proper objects of severity. The deluded populace, when once the slaughter on the field of battle is over, can scarcely be treated too leniently. This rule, so evidently agreeable to justice and humanity, was not only not observed: it was inverted. While those who ought to have been spared were slaughtered by hundreds, the few who might with propriety have been left to the utmost rigour of the law were spared. This eccentric clemency has perplexed some writers, and has drawn forth ludicrous eulogies from others. It was neither at all mysterious nor at all praiseworthy. It may be distinctly traced in every case either to a sordid or to a malignant motive, either to thirst for money or to thirst for blood. In the case of Grey there was no mitigating circumstance. His parts and knowledge, the rank which he had inherited in the state, and the high command which he had borne in the rebel army, would have pointed him out to a just government as a much fitter object of punishment than Alice Lisle, than William Hewling, than any of the hundreds of ignorant peasants whose skulls and quarters were exposed in Somersetshire. But Grey's estate was large and was strictly entailed. He had only a life interest in his property; and he could forfeit no more interest than he had. If he died, his lands at once devolved on the next heir. If he were pardoned, he would be able to pay a large ransom. He was therefore suffered to redeem himself by giving a bond for forty thousand pounds to the Lord Treasurer, and smaller sums to other courtiers.(18)
Sir John Cochrane had held among the Scotch rebels the same rank which had been held by Grey in the West of England. That Cochrane should be forgiven by a prince vindictive beyond all example, seemed incredible. But Cochrane was the younger son of a rich family; it was therefore only by sparing him that money could be made out of him. His father, Lord Dundonald, offered a bribe of five thousand pounds to the priests of the royal household; and a pardon was granted.(19) Samuel Storey, a noted sower of sedition, who had been Commissary to the rebel army, and who had inflamed the ignorant populace of Somersetshire by vehement harangues in which James had been described as an incendiary and a poisoner, was admitted to mercy. For Storey was able to give important assistance to Jeffreys in wringing fifteen thousand pounds out of Prideaux. (20) None of the traitors had less right to expect favour than Wade, Goodenough, and Ferguson. These three chiefs of the rebellion had fled together from the field of Sedgemoor, and had reached the coast in safety. But they had found a frigate cruising near the spot where they had hoped to embark. They had then separated. Wade and Goodenough were soon discovered and brought up to London. Deeply as they had been implicated in the Rye House plot, conspicuous as they had been among the chiefs of the Western insurrection, they were suffered to live, because they had it in their power to give information which enabled the King to slaughter and plunder some persons whom he hated, but to whom he had never yet been able to bring home any crime. (21)
How Ferguson escaped was, and still is, a mystery. Of all the enemies of the government he was, without doubt, the most deeply criminal. He was the original author of the plot for assassinating the royal brothers. He had written that Declaration which, for insolence, malignity, and mendacity, stands unrivalled even among the libels of those stormy times. He had instigated Monmouth first to invade the kingdom, and then to usurp the crown. It was reasonable to expect that a strict search would be made for the archtraitor, as he was often called; and such a search a man of so singular an aspect and dialect could scarcely have eluded. It was confidently reported in the coffee houses of London that Ferguson was taken, and this report found credit with men who had excellent opportunities of knowing the truth. The next thing that was heard of him was that he was safe on the Continent. It was strongly suspected that he had been in constant communication with the government against which he was constantly plotting, that he had, while urging his associates to every excess of rashness sent to Whitehall just so much information about their proceedings as might suffice to save his own neck, and that therefore orders had been given to let him escape. (22)
Jeffreys made Lord Chancellor
And now Jeffreys had done his work, and returned to claim his reward. He arrived at Windsor from the West, leaving carnage, mourning, and terror behind him. The hatred with which he was regarded by the people of Somersetshire has no parallel in our history. It was not to be quenched by time or by political changes, was long transmitted from generation to generation, and raged fiercely against his innocent progeny. When he had been many years dead, when his name and title were extinct, his granddaughter, the Countess of Pomfret, travelling along the western road, was insulted by the populace, and found that she could not safely venture herself among the descendants of those who had witnessed the Bloody Assizes.(23) But at the Court Jeffreys was cordially welcomed. He was a judge after his master's own heart. James had watched the circuit with interest and delight. In his drawingroom and at his table he had frequently talked of the havoc which was making among his disaffected subjects with a glee at which the foreign ministers stood aghast. With his own hand he had penned accounts of what he facetiously called his Lord Chief Justice's campaign in the West. Some hundreds of rebels, His Majesty wrote to the Hague, had been condemned. Some of them had been hanged: more should be hanged: and the rest should be sent to the plantations. It was to no purpose that Ken wrote to implore mercy for the misguided people, and described with pathetic eloquence the frightful state of his diocese. He complained that it was impossible to walk along the highways without seeing some terrible spectacle, and that the whole air of Somersetshire was tainted with death. The King read, and remained, according to the saying of Churchill, hard as the marble chimneypieces of Whitehall. At Windsor the great seal of England was put into the hands of Jeffreys and in the next London Gazette it was solemnly notified that this honour was the reward of the many eminent and faithful services which he had rendered to the crown.(24) At a later period, when all men of all parties spoke with horror of the Bloody Assizes, the wicked Judge and the wicked King attempted to vindicate themselves by throwing the blame on each other. Jeffreys, in the Tower, protested that, in his utmost cruelty, he had not gone beyond his master's express orders, nay, that he had fallen short of them. James, at Saint Germain's would willingly have had it believed that his own inclinations had been on the side of clemency, and that unmerited obloquy had been brought on him by the violence of his minister. But neither of these hardhearted men must be absolved at the expense of the other. The plea set up for James can be proved under his own hand to be false in fact. The plea of Jeffreys, even if it be true in fact, is utterly worthless.
Trial and Execution of Cornish
The slaughter in the West was over. The slaughter in London was about to begin. The government was peculiarly desirous to find victims among the great Whig merchants of the City. They had, in the last reign, been a formidable part of the strength of the opposition. They were wealthy; and their wealth was not, like that of many noblemen and country gentlemen, protected by entail against forfeiture. In the case of Grey and of men situated like him, it was impossible to gratify cruelty and rapacity at once; but a rich trader might be both hanged and plundered. The commercial grandees, however, though in general hostile to Popery and to arbitrary power, had yet been too scrupulous or too timid to incur the guilt of high treason. One of the most considerable among them was Henry Cornish. He had been an Alderman under the old charter of the City, and had filled the office of Sheriff when the question of the Exclusion Bill occupied the public mind. In politics he was a Whig: his religious opinions leaned towards Presbyterianism: but his temper was cautious and moderate. It is not proved by trustworthy evidence that he ever approached the verge of treason. He had, indeed, when Sheriff, been very unwilling to employ as his deputy a man so violent and unprincipled as Goodenough. When the Rye House plot was discovered, great hopes were entertained at Whitehall that Cornish would appear to have been concerned: but these hopes were disappointed. One of the conspirators, indeed, John Rumsey, was ready to swear anything: but a single witness was not sufficient; and no second witness could be found. More than two years had since elapsed. Cornish thought himself safe; but the eye of the tyrant was upon him. Goodenough, terrified by the near prospect of death, and still harbouring malice on account of the unfavourable opinion which had always been entertained of him by his old master, consented to supply the testimony which had hitherto been wanting. Cornish was arrested while transacting business on the Exchange, was hurried to gaol, was kept there some days in solitary confinement, and was brought altogether unprepared to the bar of the Old Bailey. The case against him rested wholly on the evidence of Rumsey and Goodenough. Both were, by their own confession accomplices in the plot with which they charged the prisoner. Both were impelled by the strongest pressure of hope end fear to criminate him. Evidence was produced which proved that Goodenough was also under the influence of personal enmity. Rumsey's story was inconsistent with the story which he had told when he appeared as a witness against Lord Russell. But these things were urged in vain. On the bench sate three judges who had been with Jeffreys in the West; and it was remarked by those who watched their deportment that they had come back from the carnage of Taunton in a fierce and excited state. It is indeed but too true that the taste for blood is a taste which even men not naturally cruel may, by habit, speedily acquire. The bar and the bench united to browbeat the unfortunate Whig. The jury, named by a courtly Sheriff, readily found a verdict of Guilty; and, in spite of the indignant murmurs of the public, Cornish suffered death within ten days after he had been arrested. That no circumstance of degradation might be wanting, the gibbet was set up where King Street meets Cheapside, in sight of the house where he had long lived in general respect, of the Exchange where his credit had always stood high, and of the Guildhall where he had distinguished himself as a popular leader. He died with courage and with many pious expressions, but showed, by look and gesture, such strong resentment at the barbarity and injustice with which he had been treated, that his enemies spread a calumnious report concerning him. He was drunk, they said, or out of his mind, when he was turned off. William Penn, however, who stood near the gallows, and whose prejudice were all on the side of the government, afterwards said that he could see in Cornish's deportment nothing but the natural indignation of an innocent man slain under the forms of law. The head of the murdered magistrate was placed over the Guildhall.(25)
Trials and Executions of Fernley and Elizabeth Gaunt
Black as this case was, it was not the blackest which disgraced the sessions of that autumn at the Old Bailey. Among the persons concerned in the Rye House plot was a man named James Burton. By his own confession he had been present when the design of assassination was discussed by his accomplices. When the conspiracy was detected, a reward was offered for his apprehension. He was saved from death by an ancient matron of the Baptist persuasion, named Elizabeth Gaunt. This woman, with the peculiar manners and phraseology which then distinguished her sect, had a large charity. Her life was passed in relieving the unhappy of all religious denominations, and she was well known as a constant visitor of the gaols. Her political and theological opinions, as well as her compassionate disposition, led her to do everything in her power for Burton. She procured a boat which took him to Gravesend, where he got on board of a ship bound for Amsterdam. At the moment of parting she put into his hand a sum of money which, for her means, was very large. Burton, after living some time in exile, returned to England with Monmouth, fought at Sedgemoor, fled to London, and took refuge in the house of John Fernley, a barber in Whitechapel. Fernley was very poor. He was besieged by creditors. He knew that a reward of a hundred pounds had been offered by the government for the apprehension of Burton. But the honest man was incapable of betraying one who, in extreme peril, had come under the shadow of his roof. Unhappily it was soon noised abroad that the anger of James was more strongly excited against those who harboured rebels than against the rebels themselves. He had publicly declared that of all forms of treason the hiding of traitors from his vengeance was the most unpardonable. Burton knew this. He delivered himself up to the government; and he gave information against Fernley and Elizabeth Gaunt. They were brought to trial. The villain whose life they had preserved had the heart and the forehead to appear as the principal witness against them. They were convicted. Fernley was sentenced to the gallows, Elizabeth Gaunt to the stake. Even after all the horrors of that year, many thought it impossible that these judgments should be carried into execution. But the King was without pity. Fernley was hanged. Elizabeth Gaunt was burned alive at Tyburn on the same day on which Cornish suffered death in Cheapside. She left a paper written, indeed, in no graceful style, yet such as was read by many thousands with compassion and horror. "My fault," she said, "was one which a prince might well have forgiven. I did but relieve a poor family; and lo! I must die for it." She complained of the insolence of the judges, of the ferocity of the gaoler, and of the tyranny of him, the great one of all, to whose pleasure she and so many other victims had been sacrificed. In so far as they had injured herself, she forgave them: but, in that they were implacable enemies of that good cause which would yet revive and flourish, she left them to the judgment of the King of Kings. To the last she preserved a tranquil courage, which reminded the spectators of the most heroic deaths of which they had read in Fox. William Penn, for whom exhibitions which humane men generally avoid seem to have had a strong attraction, hastened from Cheapside, where he had seen Cornish hanged, to Tyburn, in order to see Elizabeth Gaunt burned. He afterwards related that, when she calmly disposed the straw about her in such a manner as to shorten her sufferings, all the bystanders burst into tears. It was much noticed that, while the foulest judicial murder which had disgraced even those times was perpetrating, a tempest burst forth, such as had not been known since that great hurricane which had raged round the deathbed of Oliver. The oppressed Puritans reckoned up, not without a gloomy satisfaction the houses which had been blown down, and the ships which had been cast away, and derived some consolation from thinking that heaven was bearing awful testimony against the iniquity which afflicted the earth. Since that terrible day no woman has suffered death in England for any political offence.(26)
Trial and Execution of Bateman
It was not thought that Goodenough had yet earned his pardon. The government was bent on destroying a victim of no high rank, a surgeon in the City, named Bateman. He had attended Shaftesbury professionally, and had been a zealous Exclusionist. He may possibly have been privy to the Whig plot; but it is certain that he had not been one of the leading conspirators; for, in the great mass of depositions published by the government, his name occurs only once, and then not in connection with any crime bordering on high treason. From his indictment, and from the scanty account which remains of his trial, it seems clear that he was not even accused of participating in the design of murdering the royal brothers. The malignity with which so obscure a man, guilty of so slight an offence, was hunted down, while traitors far more criminal and far more eminent were allowed to ransom themselves by giving evidence against him, seemed to require explanation; and a disgraceful explanation was found. When Oates, after his scourging, was carried into Newgate insensible, and, as all thought, in the last agony, he had been bled and his wounds had been dressed by Bateman. This was an offence not to be forgiven. Bateman was arrested and indicted. The witnesses against him were men of infamous character, men, too, who were swearing for their own lives. None of them had yet got his pardon; and it was a popular saying, that they fished for prey, like tame cormorants, with ropes round their necks. The prisoner, stupefied by illness, was unable to articulate, or to understand what passed. His son and daughter stood by him at the bar. They read as well as they could some notes which he had set down, and examined his witnesses. It was to little purpose. He was convicted, hanged, and quartered.(27)
Cruel Persecution of the Protestant Dissenters
Never, not even under the tyranny of Laud, had the condition of the Puritans been so deplorable as at that time. Never had spies been so actively employed in detecting congregations. Never had magistrates, grand jurors, rectors and churchwardens been so much on the alert. Many Dissenters were cited before the ecclesiastical courts. Others found it necessary to purchase the connivance of the agents of the government by presents of hogsheads of wine, and of gloves stuffed with guineas. It was impossible for the separatists to pray together without precautions such as are employed by coiners and receivers of stolen goods. The places of meeting were frequently changed. Worship was performed sometimes just before break of day and sometimes at dead of night. Round the building where the little flock was gathered sentinels were posted to give the alarm if a stranger drew near. The minister in disguise was introduced through the garden and the back yard. In some houses there were trap doors through which, in case of danger, he might descend. Where Nonconformists lived next door to each other, the walls were often broken open, and secret passages were made from dwelling to dwelling. No psalm was sung; and many contrivances were used to prevent the voice of the preacher, in his moments of fervour, from being heard beyond the walls. Yet, with all this care, it was often found impossible to elude the vigilance of informers. In the suburbs of London, especially, the law was enforced with the utmost rigour. Several opulent gentlemen were accused of holding conventicles. Their houses were strictly searched, and distresses were levied to the amount of many thousands of pounds. The fiercer and bolder sectaries, thus driven from the shelter of roofs, met in the open air, and determined to repel force by force. A Middlesex justice who had learned that a nightly prayer meeting was held in a gravel pit about two miles from London, took with him a strong body of constables, broke in upon the assembly, and seized the preacher. But the congregation, which consisted of about two hundred men, soon rescued their pastor. and put the magistrate and his officers to flight.(28) This, however, was no ordinary occurrence. In general the Puritan spirit seemed to be more effectually cowed at this conjuncture than at any moment before or since. The Tory pamphleteers boasted that not one fanatic dared to move tongue or pen in defence of his religious opinions. Dissenting ministers, however blameless in life, however eminent for learning and abilities, could not venture to walk the streets for fear of outrages, which were not only not repressed, but encouraged, by those whose duty it was to preserve the peace. Some divines of great fame were in prison. Among these was Richard Baxter. Others, who had, during a quarter of a century, borne up against oppression, now lost heart, and quitted the kingdom. Among these was John Howe. Great numbers of persons who had been accustomed to frequent conventicles repaired to the parish churches. It was remarked that the schismatics who had been terrified into this show of conformity might easily be distinguished by the difficulty which they had in finding out the collect, and by the awkward manner in which they bowed at the name of Jesus.(29) Through many years the autumn of 1685 was remembered by the Nonconformists as a time of misery and terror. Yet in that autumn might be discerned the first faint indications of a great turn of fortune; and before eighteen months had elapsed, the intolerant King and the intolerant Church were eagerly bidding against each other for the support of the party which both had so deeply injured.
- finis -
1 Bloody Assizes.
2Locke's Western Rebellion.
3 This I can attest from my own childish recollections.
4 Lord Lonsdale says seven hundred; Burnet six hundred. I have followed the list which the Judges sent to the Treasury, and which may still be seen there in the letter book of 1685. See the Bloody Assizes, Locke's Western Rebellion; the Panegyric on Lord Jeffreys; Burnet, i. 648; Eachard, iii. 775; Oldmixon, 705.
5Some of the prayers, exhortations, and hymns of the sufferers will be found in the Bloody Assizes.
6 Bloody Assizes; Locke's Western Rebellion; Lord Lonsdale's Memoirs; Account of the Battle of Sedgemoor in the Hardwicke Papers. The story in the Life of James the Second, ii. 43; is not taken from the King's manuscripts, and sufficiently refutes itself.
7 Bloody Assizes; Locke's Western Rebellion, Humble Petition of Widows and Fatherless Children in the West of England; Panegyric on Lord Jeffreys.
8 As to the Hewlings, I have followed Kiffin's Memoirs, and Mr. Hewling Luson's narrative, which will be found in the second edition of the Hughes Correspondence, vol. ii. Appendix. The accounts in Locke's Western Rebellion and in the Panegyric on Jeffreys are full of errors. Great part of the account in the Bloody Assizes was written by Kiffin, and agrees word for word with his Memoirs.
9See Tutchin's account of his own case in the Bloody Assizes.
10 Sunderland to Jeffreys, Sept. 14, 1685; Jeffreys to the King, Sept. 19, 1685, in the State Paper Office.
11 The best account of the sufferings of those rebels who were sentenced to transportation is to be found in a very curious narrative written by John Coad, an honest, Godfearing carpenter who joined Monmouth, was badly wounded at Philip's Norton, was tried by Jeffreys, and was sent to Jamaica. The original manuscript was kindly lent to me by Mr. Phippard, to whom it belongs.
12 In the Treasury records of the autumn of 1685 are several letters directing search to be made for trifles of this sort.
13 Commons' Journals, Oct. 9, Nov. 10, Dec 26, 1690; Oldmixon, 706. Panegyric on Jeffreys.
14 Life and Death of Lord Jeffreys; Panegyric on Jeffreys; Kiffin's Memoirs.
15 Burnet, i 368; Evelyn's Diary, Feb. 4, 1684-5, July 13, 1686. In one of the satires of that time are these lines: "When Duchess, she was gentle, mild, and civil; When Queen, she proved a raging furious devil."
16 Sunderland to Jeffreys, Sept. 14, 1685.
17 Locke's Western Rebellion; Toulmin's History of Taunton, edited by Savage, Letter of the Duke of Somerset to Sir F. Warre; Letter of Sunderland to Penn, Feb. 13, 1685-6, from the State Paper Office, in the Mackintosh Collection. (1848.)
The letter of Sunderland is as follows:- "Whitehall, Feb. 13, 1685-6. "Mr. Penne, "Her Majesty's Maids of Honour having acquainted me that they design to employ you and Mr. Walden in making a composition with the Relations of the Maids of Taunton for the high Misdemeanour they have been guilty of, I do at their request hereby let you know that His Majesty has been pleased to give their Fines to the said Maids of Honour, and therefore recommend it to Mr. Walden and you to make the most advantageous composition you can in their behalf. "I am, Sir, "Your humble servant, "SUNDERLAND." That the person to whom this letter was addressed was William Penn the Quaker was not doubted by Sir James Mackintosh who first brought it to light, or, as far as I am aware, by any other person, till after the publication of the first part of this History. It has since been confidently asserted that the letter was addressed to a certain George Penne, who appears from an old accountbook lately discovered to have been concerned in a negotiation for the ransom of one of Monmouth's followers, named Azariah Pinney. If I thought that I had committed an error, I should, I hope, have the honesty to acknowledge it. But, after full consideration, I am satisfied that Sunderland's letter was addressed to William Penn. Much has been said about the way in which the name is spelt. The Quaker, we are told, was not Mr. Penne, but Mr. Penn. I feel assured that no person conversant with the books and manuscripts of the seventeenth century will attach any importance to this argument. It is notorious that a proper name was then thought to be well spelt if the sound were preserved. To go no further than the persons, who, in Penn's time, held the Great Seal, one of them is sometimes Hyde and sometimes Hide: another is Jefferies, Jeffries, Jeffereys, and Jeffreys: a third is Somers, Sommers, and Summers: a fourth is Wright and Wrighte; and a fifth is Cowper and Cooper. The Quaker's name was spelt in three ways. He, and his father the Admiral before him, invariably, as far as I have observed, spelt it Penn; but most people spelt it Pen; and there were some who adhered to the ancient form, Penne. For example. William the father is Penne in a letter from Disbrowe to Thurloe, dated on the 7th of December, 1654; and William the son is Penne in a newsletter of the 22nd of September, 1688, printed in the Ellis Correspondence. In Richard Ward's Life and Letters of Henry More, printed in 1710, the name of the Quaker will be found spelt in all the three ways, Penn in the index, Pen in page 197, and Penne in page 311. The name is Penne in the Commission which the Admiral carried out with him on his expedition to the West Indies. Burchett, who became Secretary to the Admiralty soon after the Revolution, and remained in office long after the accession of the House of Hannover, always, in his Naval History, wrote the name Penne. Surely it cannot be thought strange that an old-fashioned spelling, in which the Secretary of the Admiralty persisted so late as 1720, should have been used at the office of the Secretary of State in 1686. I am quite confident that, if the letter which we are considering had been of a different kind, if Mr. Penne had been informed that, in consequence of his earnest intercession, the King had been graciously pleased to grant a free pardon to the Taunton girls, and if I had attempted to deprive the Quaker of the credit of that intercession on the ground that his name was not Penne, the very persons who now complain so bitterly that I am unjust to his memory would have complained quite as bitterly, and, I must say, with much more reason. I think myself, therefore perfectly justified in considering the names, Penn and Penne, as the same. To which, then, of the two persons who bore that name George or William, is it probable that the letter of the Secretary of State was addressed? George was evidently an adventurer of a very low class. All that we learn about him from the papers of the Pinney family is that he was employed in the purchase of a pardon for the younger son of a dissenting minister. The whole sum which appears to have passed through George's hands on this occasion was sixty-five pounds. His commission on the transaction must therefore have been small. The only other information which we have about him, is that he, some time later, applied to the government for a favour which was very far from being an honour. In England the Groom Porter of the Palace had a jurisdiction over games of chance, and made some very dirty gain by issuing lottery tickets and licensing hazard tables. George appears to have petitioned for a similar privilege in the American colonies.
William Penn was, during the reign of James the Second, the most active and powerful solicitor about the Court. I will quote the words of his admirer Crose. "Quum autem Pennus tanta gratia plurinum apud regem valeret, et per id perplures sibi amicos acquireret, illum omnes, etiam qui modo aliqua notitia erant conjuncti, quoties aliquid a rege postulandum agendumve apud regem esset, adire, ambire, orare, ut eos apud regem adjuvaret." He was overwhelmed by business of this kind, "obrutus negotiationibus curationibusque." His house and the approaches to it were every day blocked up by crowds of persons who came to request his good offices; "domus ac vestibula quotidie referta clientium et suppliccantium." From the Fountainhall papers it appears that his influence was felt even in the highlands of Scotland. We learn from himself that, at this time, he was always toiling for others, that he was a daily suitor at Whitehall, and that, if he had chosen to sell his influence, he could, in little more than three, years, have put twenty thousand pounds into his pocket, and obtained a hundred thousand more for the improvement of the colony of which he was proprietor. Such was the position of these two men. Which of them, then, was the more likely to be employed in the matter to which Sunderland's letter related? Was it George or William, an agent of the lowest or of the highest class? The persons interested were ladies of rank and fashion, resident at the palace. where George would hardly have been admitted into an outer room, but where William was every day in the presence chamber and was frequently called into the closet. The greatest nobles in the kingdom were zealous and active in the cause of their fair friends, nobles with whom William lived in habits of familiar intercourse, but who would hardly have thought George fit company for their grooms. The sum in question was seven thousand pounds, a sum not large when compared with the masses of wealth with which William had constantly to deal, but more than a hundred times as large as the only ransom which is known to have passed through the hands of George. These considerations would suffice to raise a strong presumption that Sunderland's letter was addressed to William, and not to George: but there is a still stronger argument behind. It is most important to observe that the person to whom this letter was addressed was not the first person whom the Maids of Honour had requested to act for them. They applied to him because another person to whom they had previously applied, had, after some correspondence, declined the office. From their first application we learn with certainty what sort of person they wished to employ. If their first application had been made to some obscure pettifogger or needy gambler, we should be warranted in believing that the Penne to whom their second application was made was George. If, on the other hand, their first application was made to a gentleman of the highest consideration, we can hardly be wrong in saying that the Penne to whom their second application was made must have been William. To whom, then, was their first application made? It was to Sir Francis Warre of Hestercombe, a Baronet and a Member of Parliament. The letters are still extant in which the Duke of Somerset, the proud Duke, not a man very likely to have corresponded with George Penne, pressed Sir Francis to undertake the commission. The latest of those letters is dated about three weeks before Sunderland's letter to Mr. Penne. Somerset tells Sir Francis that the town clerk of Bridgewater, whose name, I may remark in passing, is spelt sometimes Bird and sometimes Birde, had offered his services, but that those services had been declined. It is clear, therefore, that the Maids of Honour were desirous to have an agent of high station and character. And they were right. For the sum which they demanded was so large that no ordinary jobber could safely be entrusted with the care of their interests. As Sir Francis Warre excused himself from undertaking the negotiation, it became necessary for the Maids of Honour and their advisers to choose somebody who might supply his place; and they chose Penne. Which of the two Pennes, then, must have been their choice, George, a petty broker to whom a percentage on sixty-five pounds was an object, and whose highest ambition was to derive an infamous livelihood from cards and dice, or William, not inferior in social position to any commoner in the kingdom? Is it possible to believe that the ladies, who, in January, employed the Duke of Somerset to procure for them an agent in the first rank of the English gentry, and who did not think an attorney, though occupying a respectable post in a respectable corporation, good enough for their purpose, would, in February, have resolved to trust everything to a fellow who was as much below Bird as Bird was below Warre? But, it is said, Sunderland's letter is dry and distant; and he never would have written in such a style to William Penn with whom he was on friendly terms. Can it be necessary for me to reply that the official communications which a Minister of State makes to his dearest friends and nearest relations are as cold and formal as those which he makes to strangers? Will it be contended that the General Wellesley to whom the Marquis Wellesley, when Governor of India, addressed so many letters beginning with "Sir," and ending with "I have the honour to be your obedient servant," cannot possibly have been his Lordship's brother Arthur? But, it is said, Oldmixon tells a different story. According to him, a Popish lawyer named Brent, and a subordinate jobber, named Crane, were the agents in the matter of the Taunton girls. Now it is notorious that of all our historians Oldmixon is the least trustworthy. His most positive assertion would be of no value when opposed to such evidence as is furnished by Sunderland's letter, But Oldmixon asserts nothing positively. Not only does he not assert positively that Brent and Crane acted for the Maids of Honour; but he does not even assert positively that the Maids of Honour were at all concerned. He goes no further than "It was said," and "It was reported." It is plain, therefore, that he was very imperfectly informed. I do not think it impossible, however, that there may have been some foundation for the rumour which he mentions. We have seen that one busy lawyer, named Bird, volunteered to look after the interest of the Maids of Honour, and that they were forced to tell him that they did not want his services. Other persons, and among them the two whom Oldmixon names, may have tried to thrust themselves into so lucrative a job, and may, by pretending to interest at Court, have succeeded in obtaining a little money from terrified families. But nothing can be more clear than that the authorised agent of the Maids of Honour was the Mr. Penne, to whom the Secretary of State wrote; and I firmly believe that Mr. Penne to have been William the Quaker. If it be said that it is incredible that so good a man would have been concerned in so bad an affair, I can only answer that this affair was very far indeed from being the worst in which he was concerned. For those reasons I leave the text, and shall leave it exactly as it originally stood. (1857.)
18 Burnet, i. 646, and Speaker Onslow's note; Clarendon to Rochester, May 8, 1686.
19 Burnet, i. 634.
20 Calamy's Memoirs; Commons' Journals, December 26,1690; Sunderland to Jeffreys, September 14, 1685; Privy Council Book, February 26, 1685-6.
21 Lansdowne MS. 1152; Harl. MS. 6845; London Gazette, July 20, 1685.
22 Many writers have asserted, without the slightest foundation, that a pardon was granted to Ferguson by James. Some have been so absurd as to cite this imaginary pardon, which, if it were real would prove only that Ferguson was a court spy, in proof of the magnanimity and benignity of the prince who beheaded Alice Lisle and burned Elizabeth Gaunt. Ferguson was not only not specially pardoned, but was excluded by name from the general pardon published in the following spring. (London Gazette, March 15, 1685-6.) If, as the public suspected and as seems probable, indulgence was shown to him; it was indulgence of which James was, not without reason, ashamed, and which was, as far as possible, kept secret. The reports which were current in London at the time are mentioned in the Observator, Aug. 1,1685. Sir John Reresby, who ought to have been well informed, positively affirms that Ferguson was taken three days after the battle of Sedgemoor. But Sir John was certainly wrong as to the date, and may therefore have been wrong as to the whole story. From the London Gazette, and from Goodenough's confession (Lansdowne MS. 1152), it is clear that, a fortnight after the battle, Ferguson had not been caught, and was supposed to be still lurking in England.
23 Granger's Biographical History.
24 Burnet, i. 648; James to the Prince of Orange, Sept. 10, and 24, 1685; Lord Lonadale's Memoirs; London Gazette, Oct. 1, 1685.
25 Trial of Cornish in the Collection of State Trials, Sir J. Hawles's Remarks on Mr. Cornish's Trial; Burnet, i. 651; Bloody Assizes; Stat. 1 Gul. and Mar.
26 Trials of Fernley and Elizabeth Gaunt, in the Collection of State Trials Burnet, i. 649; Bloody Assizes; Sir J. Bramston's Memoirs; Luttrell's Diary, Oct. 23, 1685.
27 Bateman's Trial in the Collection of State Trials; Sir John Hawles's Remarks. It is worth while to compare Thomas Lee's evidence on this occasion with his confession previously published by authority.
28 Van Citters, Oct. 13-23, 1685.
29 Neal's History of the Puritans, Calamy's Account of the ejected Ministers and the Nonconformists' Memorial contain abundant proofs of the severity of this persecution. Howe's farewell letter to his flock will be found in the interesting life of that great man, by Mr. Rogers. Howe complains that he could not venture to show himself in the streets of London, and that his health had suffered from want of air and exercise. But the most vivid picture of the distress of the Nonconformists is furnished by their deadly enemy, Lestrange, in the Observators of September and October, 1685.
First published 1849.
This publication dated 6th Edition; 1850. Published Longman, Brown, Green and Longman. 2 vols. Vol I. Ch. V. pp.638 et seq..
Contributed by Robert Clark.