The Murder Of David Rizzio

On 9th March 1566, David Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots’ private secretary, was assassinated in front of the heavily pregnant Queen. Many consider it the beginning of the end for Mary. But why? And who was Rizzio? What had he done to deserve such a fate?

David Riccio di Pancalieri was born in 1533 in the duchy of Savoy. The son of a poor musician, Rizzio inherited a strong musical talent and a beautiful singing voice. He was hired by the Duke of Savoy as valet and musician and, in 1561, together with his master’s ambassador, the Marquess of Moretto, went to Scotland. Here, the Marquess encouraged Rizzio to try and land a job at court.

It just so happened that Queen Mary was looking for a bass singer. Rizzio performed for her and the Queen was so impressed, she hired him as a gentleman of the privy chamber. But if Mary was smitten, others were less than impressed. Many at court considered Rizzio ugly, thought him arrogant and conceited, criticized his taste for expensive clothes, and were jealous of the favour the Queen showed him.

Few were pleased when, in 1564 Mary fired her French secretary Raulett, a retainer of the Guise family (her relations on her mother’s side) and gave the job to Rizzio. Rizzio was constantly in the Queen’s presence, carrying out this or that duty. The other courtiers soon learned that the best way to receive a favour from Mary was to bribe Rizzio. Many did, but resented his influence. Mary was aware of this, but she didn’t take their resentment seriously enough. She thought it was unjustified.

The following year, the dashing Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, arrived at the Scottish court. Mary quickly fell in love with him, and wanted to marry him. Rizzio, who, if rumours are to be believed fancied Darnley too (the two men were apparently caught in bed together!), supported the marriage. The wedding was celebrated on 29 July 1565 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. But the Queens’ hopes for a good and peaceful union were soon disappointed.

Any happiness she may have felt at becoming pregnant with the future James VI of Scotland and I of England was marred by her husband’s outrageous behaviour. Shortly after the wedding, Darnley started showing his true colours. He was immature, weak, loved drinking and whoring, and longed to be made king of Scotland. Mary didn’t think he deserved it, which just infuriated Darnley more.

It didn’t take long to the Scots lords to realise they could use his resentment against Mary to their advantage. When Mary had married Darnley, some of the noblemen feared he, together with Rizzio, would change the religion of their country. They had started making trouble, but failed and a few of them, including Mary’s half-brother the Earl of Moray, then fled to England. In the next Parliament, their lands would be confiscated. To avoid it, they hatched a plot:

“If they would agree to grant Darnley the ‘crown matrimonial’ in the next Parliament, and so make him lawfully King of Scots, then Darnley would switch sides, recall the exiles home, pardon them, and forbid the confiscation of their estates. Finally, he would perform the ultimate U-turn and re-establish the religious status quo as it had existed at the time of Mary’s return from France… Darnley would become King with full parliamentary sanction, Moray and his allies would be re-instated as if they had never rebelled, and the Protestant Reformation settlement would be restored.”*

For the plan to work, the Scottish Lords needed a scapegoat. After promising him they would make him king, they convinced Darnley that Rizzio had mislead him, orchestrated the rebellion, and even slept with his wife. They started spreading rumours that the baby the Queen was carrying was Rizzio’s, not Darnley’s. Her husband soon became suspicious of all the time Mary was spending with her secretary. Even when they weren’t working, they were always together, dining and playing cards into the early hours of the morning. Darnley felt ignored, and complained bitterly to Mary. Then, he decided to join the plotters.

As soon as Parliament opened, the conspirators acted. On 9 June, Rizzio was having dinner with the Queen and her half-sister, the countess of Argyll, in a small closet just off her bedchamber in the tower of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Suddenly, Darnley joined them, sitting down next to Mary, embracing her and chatting amiably with her. He was supposed to reassure her, but probably just unnerved her.

Next, the earl of Ruthven, deadly pale and still sick (he had just arisen from his sickbed and was still wearing his nightshirt under his coat of armour), came in too and shouted that Rizzio had offended her honour. Both the Queen and Rizzio suddenly realised the gravity of the situation. Terrified, Rizzio hid behind Mary, clinging to her skirts for protection. But the Queen was helpless. Her attendants tried to get rid of Ruthven, but now the Earl of Morten’s barged in too.

As Andrew Ker of Fawdonside aimed his pistol at the Queen’s pregnant belly, George Douglas, Darnley’s uncle, using his nephew’s dagger, stabbed Rizzio. The victim, still begging Mary for help, was then dragged into Mary’s outer chamber, and stabbed 56 times. His corpse, upon Darnley’s orders, was thrown down the main staircase and taken into the porter’s lodge. Mary was traumatised by the event, but still lucid enough to realise she had been the real target.

She also knew she would now be a prisoner and, so started planning her escape. She managed to see Darnley alone and convinced him the child she was carrying was his. At this point, Darnley had also begun to realise the Scottish Lords had used him and had no intention of ever making him king. Two nights after the murder, the royal couple escaped, through an underground passage, from Holyroodhouse to the fortress of Dunbar Castle. But Mary never forgave Darnley and, when a year later, he was killed, people thought she had something to do with it. She was forced to abdicate. But that’s a story for another post.

Notes:
*My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy

Further reading:
Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
*My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy
The Elizabeth Files
The Freelance History Writer

The Murder Of Lord William Russell

Lord William Russell, a member of Parliament, was murdered in his sleep. His body was found by his maid on 6th April 1840. The initial signs pointed to a robbery, as Viscount Melbourne explained in this short letter to Queen Victoria:

Lord Melbourne presents his humble duty to your Majesty. He has just received this from Lord John Russell—a most shocking event, which your Majesty has probably by this time heard of. The persons who did it came for the purpose of robbing the house; they entered by the back of the house and went out at the front door. The servants in the house, only a man and a maid, never heard anything, and the maid, when she came down to her master’s door in the morning, found the horrid deed perpetrated….

The police was called and soon the investigation pointed in a new direction. The murderer had staged the robbery to cover his tracks. He was a member of the household. Viscount Melbourne updated Victoria on this new twist in the investigation in another letter that same day:

Lord Melbourne presents his humble duty to your Majesty. Since he wrote to your Majesty, he has seen Mr Fox Maule [Under-Secretary for Home Affairs] who had been at the house in Norfolk Street. He says that it is a most mysterious affair. Lord William Russell was found in his bed, quite dead, cold and stiff, showing that the act had been perpetrated some time. The bed was of course deluged with blood, but there were no marks of blood in any other part of the room; so that he had been killed in his bed and by one blow, upon the throat, which had nearly divided his head from his body. The back door of the house was broken open, but there were no traces of persons having approached the door from without. His writing-desk was also broken open and the money taken out, but otherwise little or nothing had been taken away. The police upon duty in the streets had neither heard nor seen anything during the night. In these circumstances strong suspicion lights upon the persons in the house, two maids and a man, the latter a foreigner and who had only been with Lord William about five weeks. These persons are now separately confined, and the Commissioners of Police are actively employed in enquiring into the affair. An inquest will of course be held upon the body without delay.

The murderer was indeed the foreign valet, François Benjamin Courvoisier. Lord Russell had discovered his valet was stealing his silverware and ordered him to resign from the household. Instead, Courvoisier murdered Lord Russell to conceal his thefts. It didn’t work.

The police started suspecting Courvoisier when they found some of the money and gold and silver articles that were supposed to have been stolen during the robbery wrapped in a parcel inside the house. Some were hidden in Courvoisier’s pantry. In addition, a screwdriver found in Courvoisier’s possession was found to match the marks on the pantry door and the silverware drawer. Still, the evidence wasn’t enough to prove his guilt.

Only when his previous thefts had been discovered as well, and some of those items located at a French hotel in Leicester Square, he confessed his guilt to his lawyer, Philips. But he still plead not guilty in court and tried to blame the maid for his crimes. Philips was forced to obey his client’s directives and was fiercely criticized for it.

Courvoisier was found guilty and publicly hanged outside Newgate Prison on 6 July 1840. Apparently, among the audience were writers Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, who later said: “I feel myself shamed and degraded at the brutal curiosity that took me to that spot.”

The Tragic Case Of Beatrice Cenci

Beatrice Cenci was a victim of domestic abuse. When she retailed, she was arrested and executed. She was only 23 years old. The tragedy happened in Renaissance Rome. Born on 6 February 1577, Beatrice was the daughter of Count Francesco Cenci, a horrible and violent man with a terrible temper, which he often took out on his family. He often beat his wife and children (Beatrice had two brothers, one of whom died with her on the scaffold) and humiliated them. There were also rumours, although they were never proven in court, that he sexually abused Beatrice too.

Everyone in Rome knew what was going on, but, as it is too often the case still today, they never tried to help, preferring to turn their heads away and pretend that everything was ok. Not even the authorities, to whom Beatrice had gone asking for help, intervened. His wealth and power made Count Francesco untouchable. Soon after this, the Count moved his family to his country site, the castle of La Rocca. Rumour had it that the real reason for the move was an illegitimate pregnancy. It originated from Beatrice’s will, in which she left 1000 scudi, a considerable sum of money at the time, to a small boy who was being raised by a woman called Catarina de Santis. We’ll never know whether there’s any truth in the gossip, but Beatrice did have a lover, Olimpio Calvetti.

In any case, the family had had enough of the tyrant count. Knowing that no one would ever help them, they felt they had no other option but to murder him. The family sought the help of two loyal servants, including Olimpio, who agreed to kill Francesco. On 8 Semptember 1598, Lucrezia Cenci, Beatrice’s step-mother, had given her husband a sleeping draught so that Francesco wouldn’t oppose any resistance. Unfortunately for them, the effect of the potion ran off before the deed was done. The count fought back forcefully, but in the end, he was pinned down and his head battered. Then, a metal spike was hammered into his skull. Once he was dead, his corpse was thrown out of the window to make it look like an accident. No one was fooled.

By then, the screams and the commotion had alerted the locals, who made their way to the castle to see what was going on. Once there, the saw the count’s corpse, which had landed onto the castle’s rubbish tip. The Cencis were therefore arrested and taken back to Rome. The trial lasted for a year, but the two servants who had done the deed were killed before that. Olimpio had at first managed to escape, but was captured and beheaded by a bounty hunter, while the other died under torture.

The members of the Cency family, despite their aristocratic status were also tortured. Beatrice was said to have remained completely silent, but her elder brother Giacomo wasn’t so stoic and soon accused her of being the one who had devised the plot. The people of Rome, knowing all they had endured at the hands of Count Francesco, pleaded the court for mercy. But they only managed to obtain a postponement. Unfortunately for them, aristocrats were being murdered way too often in Rome at the time, so Pope Clement had no intention of being merciful.

Beatrice, Lucrezia, and Giacomo were therefore sentenced to death. The younger brother, Bernardino, who was spared death probably because of his young age (he was only 12), was however condemned to work on a galley slave for the rest of his life. But, a year later, he was, mercifully, released. The rest of the family wasn’t so lucky. On 11 Septmeber 1599, at dawn, the family was beheaded just outside the Castle St Angelo in front of a big but silent crowd which included Bernardino. Beatrice was said to have faced death with calm and courage. Her remains remained on display in the Piazza St Angelo until night, and were then buried in the church of San Pietro in Montorio.

Further reading:
Beatrice’s Spell Hardcover by Belinda Jack

Book Reviews: Victorian Murderesses, The Marriage Game, & Creating Business Plans

Hello everyone,

I have read and reviewed three more books for you. Enjoy!

Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes by Mary S. Hartman
If you’re interested in gruesome crime tales, where every detail of the murders is minutely and vividly described, this book is not for you. If you’re expecting a light, scandalous, and sensationalist account of each crime, you’ll be disappointed too. Instead, you’ll get something much, much better. In Victorian Murderesses, Hartman uses the stories of 13 British and French ladies accused of murder to take a close look at the role women had in Victorian society, what influence that society had on their lives, how this led to them being accused, something erroneously, of murder, and the impact society’s view on women had on the outcomes of their trials. The result is fascinating and will completely change your views on women’s lives in the 19th century.
The crimes are only briefly described. Instead, the author focuses on the backgrounds of these women to examine what kind of lives they led, and why they felt they had no option but to commit murder or why they were so easily, albeit wrongly, cast in the role of murderesses. The book is divided in six parts, each of which discusses two cases (one involved two women) that have similarities in common. The cases are listed in chronological order, which allows the readers to see how much the situation of women, and the problems they faced, changed throughout the course of the 19th century. This is also useful to understand how different life for women in England, were they began to emancipate themselves much sooner, and France was.
The book is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and extensively noted. It’s a long, scholarly, read, but a very engrossing one too. Yes, it has poison, guns, sex, intrigue, and plots, but these were only small parts of the women’s lives, and, unless they were a huge part of their motives, they remain firmly in the background.
Victorian Murderesses is definitely one of the most compelling books that I have read this year. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the lives of Victorian women as well as crime.
Available: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir
No one ever played the marriage game better than Elizabeth I. Although the Virgin Queen never had any real intentions of getting married, she was great at manipulating all her suitors, be they powerful foreign princes or ambitious English noblemen (including her beloved Robert Dudley), promising them her hand in marriage and then drawing out the negotiations endlessly as a means to secure peace and advantages to England. This is the subject of this book, which starts where The Lady Elizabeth left off, with a young Elizabeth just ascended to the throne.
The first couple of chapters were really boring and slow, with endless discussions about why Elizabeth should get married and very little else. I was almost ready to stop reading, but I’m glad I didn’t. Although her councillors, especially Cecil, attempt till the end of her childbearing years to force her to get married to someone (anyone, really), all the problems and events that occurred during her long reign, such as the many plots to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne, the invincible armada, and Elizabeth’s visit at Dudley’s residence Kenilworth Castle, help speed the plot along and add drama and intrigue to the story.
But the book is also a love story of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, describing the blossoming of the amorous relationship, and its deterioration as Robert’s resentment at Elizabeth’s constant promises and refusals to marry him grew. But throughout their ups and downs, the two never stopped loving each other.
I also loved Elizabeth’s portrayal. She’s capricious, jealous, and selfish, but she’s also loyal to those she loves and to her subjects and is always striving to do her best for them. She’s a clever and skilled diplomat, but also a woman with deep emotional wounds and fears that prevent her from going through with a marriage plan even when it seems the best choice for her and her country. In the end, the choice to remain a Virgin Queen may have been the right one, but it is clear that has cost her a lot.
Although slow at the beginning, the book is well-written. Weir makes Elizabeth, Robert, Cecil, and the Tudor court, with its intrigues and plots, ambitious upstarts and faithful councillors, come to life. A few times, Weir slipped back into her non-fictional style, telling rather than describing what happened during a certain year. But these slips are, luckily, few and short. Weir tends to be quite faithful to the historical record, although, like all novelists, she takes a few liberties. When she did so, she explained her reasons in an appendix at the end of the book.
The Marriage Game isn’t for everyone. If you like fast-paced novels full of plots, secrecy and intrigue, this will likely disappoint you. Instead, this is a novel of Elizabeth’s relationship with Dudley, her endless negotiations with her many suitors, and her deeply-rooted fears of marriage. If you always thought someone should have written a novel about that, you should definitely pick up this book.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Creating Business Plans by Harvard Business Review
If you’re thinking of starting a business or just proposing a new initiative within your organization, then you need a business plans. Without a good, well-crafted one, it’s unlikely that you’ll get much, if any, support. But creating a good business plan is a difficult, even daunting task. Where to start? By picking up a copy of Creative Business Plans. Part of the 20 Minute Manager series, this is a short book that covers all the basics, such as how to present your idea clearly, how to develop a good business plan, how to project rewards as well as risks, and how to anticipate any concerns your audience may have. It briefly but throughout explains what you should put in each section and then shows you an example of a business plan for a made-up company that you can use to model your own business plan on. Each chapter is straight-to-the-point, so you don’t need to navigate through a lot of jibber jabber to find the information you need. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Are you going to pick up any of these?

Disclaimer: I received these books in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

A Remarkable Instance Of A Person Being Tried For Murder On The Pretended Information Of A Ghost

Being the first to “discover” the murder and raising the alarm can sometimes serve the culprit as a distraction to take everyone’s attention away from him. Just don’t embellish your story too much, and don’t drag ghosts into it. It’s a terrible idea, like this killer found out for himself:

A farmer, on his return from the market at Southam in the county of Warwick, was murdered. A man went next morning to his wife, and inquired if her husband came home the evening before: she replied no, and that she was under the utmost anxiety and terror on that account. “Your terror,” said he, “cannot equal mine; for last night as I lay in bed quite awake, the apparition of your husband appeared to me, shewed me several ghastly stabs in his body, told me he had been murdered by such a person, and his carcase thrown into such a marl-pit.”

The alarm was given, the pit searched, the body found, and the wounds answered the description of them. The man whom the ghost had accused was apprehended, and committed on a violent suspicion of murder. His trial came on at Warwick before the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, when the jury would have convicted as rashly as the justice of the peace had committed him, had not the judge checked them. He addressed himself to them in words to this effect: “I think, gentlemen, you seem inclined to lay more stress on the evidence of an apparition than it will bear. I cannot say that I give much credit to these kinds of stories; but, be that as it will, we have no right to follow our own private opinions here: we are now in a court of law, and must determine according to it; and I know not of any law now in being which will admit of the testimony of an apparition; nor yet if it did, doth the ghost appear to give evidence. Crier,” said he, “call the ghost;” which was thrice done to no manner of purpose!

“Gentlemen of the jury,” continued the judge, “the prisoner at the bar, as you have heard by undeniable witnesses, is a man of a most unblemished character; nor hath it appeared in the course of the examination, that there was any manner of quarrel or grudge between him and the party deceased. I do verily believe him to be perfectly innocent, and as there is no evidence against him, either positive or circumstantial, he must be acquitted. But from many circumstances which have arisen during the trial, I do strongly suspect that the gentleman who saw the apparition was himself the murderer; in which case he might easily ascertain the pit, the stabs, &c. without any supernatural assistance; and on such suspicion, I shall think myself justified in committing him to close custody till the matter can be further inquired into.” This was immediately done, and the warrant granted for searching his house, when such strong proofs of guilt appeared against him, that he confessed the murder, and was executed at the next assizes.

Further reading:
Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, 1820

Historical Reads: The Oyster Eater – Brixton’s Hungriest Prisoner

Christopher Impey discusses The Life and Death of Dando, The Celebrated Oyster Glutton:

Indeed it was John Dando’s insatiable appetite that frequently put him in prison. His modus operandi was simple: he feasted on what he couldn’t afford, touring London’s eateries, consuming huge quantities of food then refusing to pay.

He was committed to Brixton for a month in April 1830 charged with devouring, at a coffee shop, ‘3lbs of animal food, a half-quartern loaf, sundry eggs and washing down the whole with upwards of a dozen cups of coffee.’ But old habits died hard and the governor, Mr Green, had him placed in solitary confinement for having robbed other prisoners of bread and beef: ‘in fact so ravenous was his appetite while in [Brixton], that nothing in the shape of food, belong to whom it might, could be left within his reach that he did not devour.’

Oysters, though, were Dando’s weakness.

To read the entire article, click here.

Anglers, Fraters & Other Deceivers

In his book, The Town, Leigh Hunt, describes the various criminals who were infesting London during the reign of Charles II:

“The Ruffler was a wretch who assumed the character of a maimed soldier, and begged from the claims of Naseby, Edgehill, Newbury, and Marston Moor. Those who were stationed in the city of London were generally found in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden; and their prey was people of fashion, whose coaches were attacked boldly; and if denied, their owners were told, ‘Tis a sad thing that an old crippled cavalier should be suffered to beg for a maintenance, and a young cavalier that had never heard the whistle of a bullet should ride in his coach.’

“There were people called Anglers, from the nature of their method of depredating, which was thus.—They had a rod or stick, with an iron hook affixed: this they introduced through a window, or any other aperture, where plunder might be procured, and helped themselves at pleasure; the day was occupied by them in the character of beggars, when they made their observations for the angling of the night.

“Wild Rogues were the offspring of thieves and beggars, who received the rudiments of the art even before they left their mothers’ backs: “To go into churches and great crowds, and to nim golden buttons off men’s cloaks; and being very little are shown how to creep into cellar windows, or other small entrances, and in the night to convey out thereat whatever they can find to the thievish receivers, who wait without for that purpose; and sometimes do open the door to let in such who have designed to rob the house; if taken, the tenderness of their age makes an apology or an excuse for their fault, and so are let alone to be hanged at riper years.’

“Palliards or Clapperdogeons, were those women who sat and reclined in the streets, with their own borrowed or stolen children hanging about them, crying through cold, pinching, or real disease, who begged relief as widows, and, in the name of their fatherless children, gaining by this artifice, ‘a great deal of money, whilst her comrogue lies begging in the fields, with climes or artificial sores.’ The way they commonly take to make them is by sperewort or arsenic, which will draw blisters; or they take unslacked lime and soap, mingled with the rust of old iron: these being well tempered together, and spread thick upon two pieces of leather, they apply to the leg, binding it thereunto very hard, which in a very little time would fret the skin so that the flesh would appear all raw, &c. &c.

“Fraters were impostors who went through the country with forged patents for briefs, and thus diverted charity from its proper direction.

“Abram men were fellows whose occupations seem to have been forgotten. They are described in the ‘Canting Academy’ in these words:—’Abram men are otherwise called Tom of Bedlams; they are very strangely and antickly garbed, with several coloured ribands or tape in their hats, it may be instead of a feather, a fox tail hanging down, a long stick with ribands streaming, and the like; yet for all their seeming madness they have wit enough to steal as they go.’

“The Whip-Jacks have left us a specimen of their fraternity. They were counterfeit mariners, whose conversations were plentifully embellished with sea-terms, and falsehoods of their danger in the exercise of their profession. Instead of securing their arms and legs close to their bodies, and wrapping them in bandages (as the modern whip-jack is in the habit of doing, to excite compassion for the loss of limbs and severe wounds), the ancients merely pretended they had lost their all by shipwreck, and were reduced to beg their way to a sea-port, if in the country; or to some remote one, if in London.

“Mumpers.—The persons thus termed are described as being of both sexes: they were not solicitors for food, but money and cloathes. ‘The male mumper, in the times of the late usurpation, was clothed in an old torn cassock, begirt with a girdle, with a black cap, and a white one peeping out underneath.’ With a formal and studied countenance he stole up to a gentleman, and whispered him softly in the ear, that he was a poor sequestered parson, with a wife and many children. At other times, they would assume the habit of a decayed gentleman, and beg as if they had been ruined by their attachment to the royal cause. Sometimes the mumper appeared with an apron before him, and a cap on his head, and begs in the nature of a broken tradesman, who, having been a long time sick, hath spent all his remaining stock, and so weak he cannot work! The females of this class of miscreants generally attacked the ladies, and in a manner suited to make an impression on their finer feelings.

“Domerars are such as counterfeit themselves dumb, and have a notable art to roll their tongues up into the roof of their mouth, that you would verily believe their tongues were cut out; and, to make you have a stronger belief thereof, they will gape and show you where it was done, clapping in a sharp stick, and, touching the tongue, make it bleed—and then the ignorant dispute it no further.’

“Patricos are the strolling priests: every hedge is their parish, and every wandering rogue their parishioner. The service, he saith, is the marrying of couples, without the Gospel, or Book of Common Prayer, the solemnity whereof is thus: the parties to be married find out a dead horse, or any other beast, and standing the one on the one side and the other on the other, the patrico bids them to live together till death them part; and, so shaking hands, the wedding is ended.'”

Further reading:
The Town by Leigh Hunt

A Singular Way Of Stealing Wigs

I was browsing the Anecdotes of the Manner and Customs of London During the Eighteenth Century book by James Peller Malcolm, when I came across this curious piece of news about a singular method of stealing wigs. The author presented it verbatim from the Weekly Journal of March 30 1717:

“The Thieves have got such a villainous way now of robbing gentlemen, that they cut holes through the backs of Hackney coaches, and take away their wigs, or fine headdresses of gentlewomen; so a gentleman was served last Sunday in Tooley-street, and another but last Tuesday in Fenchurch-street; wherefore, this may serve for a caution to gentlemen or gentlewomen that ride single in the night-time, to sit on the fore-seat, which will prevent that way of robbing.”

Further reading:
Anecdotes of the Manner and Customs of London During the Eighteenth Century

The Devil Scares Thieves Away, And A Goat Sobers A Priest Up

No, I’m not going crazy. These two weird events really happened, in Berkishire and Wales respectively, in 1810. Here’s how La Belle Assemblée magazine reported them:

Some thieves lately entered the gardens of a gentleman near Windsor, and took down a most beautiful and valuable statue of Venus de Medicis, made of copper, which they carried, however, only as far as another place in the garden where stood the statue of the Devil, at which they were so much affrighted, that they dropped the Venus, and made away as fast as they could, without any plunder at all. Thus, for once, the Devil stood the friend of beauty, and rescued her, by a look, out of the hand of her ravishers.

The late Rev. Rice Pritcharch, was for some time after his admission into the church, awfully ensnared by the sin of drunkenness; he was at length recovered from it in the following singular way; – He had a tame goat which was wont to follow him to the alehouse which he frequented; and he one day, by way of frolic, gave the poor animal so much ale that it became intoxicated. What particularly struck Mr. P. was, from that time, though the creature would follow him to the door, he never could get it to enter the house. – Revolving on this circumstance, Mr. P. was led to see how much the sin by which he had been enslaved, had sunk him beneath a beast, and from that time, he not only became a sober man, but an exemplary Christian, and a very eminent minister of the gospel.

Reality really is weirder than fiction sometimes, don’t you think?

Further reading:
La Belle Assemblée, 1810

Liberation From Prison

In the past few months, I have posted a couple of excerpts from Six years in the prisons of England, in which an anonymous merchant described his time in prison, and in its hospital ward. He was so badly cured there that he had to have his leg amputated. At the end of six long years, he was freed. Here’s how he describes his liberation, plus his reflections on the life that awaited an ex con:

On a Friday morning I was unexpectedly called before the governor, and informed that my license had arrived. I was asked certain particulars in reference to my future intentions and address. I was next measured for a shoe, the only decent and honest article of clothing I ever received in prison; tried on a suit of clothes, and had my portrait taken. On the Saturday morning I was weighed and measured, and taken before the chaplain to receive a few formal words of parting advice. On the following Monday I was again taken before the governor to hear my license read. On Tuesday morning I was removed to Millbank Prison, and lodged there for the night, in a cell along with two other prisoners going to liberty like myself. We slept on narrow dirty mattresses, laid on the floor, so close as to be touching each other.

One of my new companions had been nearly four years in the lunatic asylum at Fisherton, and had recovered. The other was a young professional thief, belonging to London, whose mind was just on the verge of insanity, through long confinement in separate cells. To sleep on the floor of a dusty cell, between two such companions, was not quite so comfortable as a bed in the Hotel Meurice, at Paris, where I had spent my last free night. Every moment that divided me from the hour of my liberation now seemed magnified into days. Wednesday morning at last dawned upon me. I was taken out and placed before a regiment of policemen, who each scrutinized me, and that done I received my license. With feelings of inexpressible thankfulness and gratitude to God I heard the heavy prison doors close behind me, and once more I inhaled the sweet free air of Heaven!

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I trudged along the streets, in my shabby clothes and with my deal crutch. I felt a new punishment creeping over me, even whilst the glorious sun of freedom was shedding its welcome rays on my dishonoured head.
With nineteen shillings and threepence in my pocket, but with my reputation lost, my health ruined, alone and a cripple, whom no “Prisoners’ Aid Society” would assist, I was expected to begin anew the battle of life!

While I write these lines the bitterness of my new punishment has already visited me. Repulsed from every door where I seek employment, waiting patiently for the replies to my applications for advertised situations, which never come, the brand of the convict has indeed become the very mark of Cain, and I feel as if my fellowmen shrink from me as they pass. Fortunately I found at the post-office a few pounds sent to me from my brother, which, with slight additions, have enabled me to procure a mechanical leg, and to live till I have completed this narrative. But what is the fate of the many so situated, with no friends to help them, save the workhouse or the prison once again? A dreary life amongst paupers, or a short life of pleasure and crime, and long years of bondage to atone for it. Do you wonder if some choose the latter?…

Further reading:
Six years in the prisons of England by an anonymous merchant