Today in 1076 William Waltheof of Huntingdon and Northumbria was beheaded on St Giles’s Hill, Winchester, notable for being the last Anglo-Saxon earl, and the only aristocrat to be executed by the Conqueror.
The execution resulted from the last great resistance in 1075 against William the Conqueror known as the ‘Revolt of the Earls’, which involved, apart from Waltheof, Ralph, Earl of East Anglia and Roger of Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford.
Trouble started when William, refused in his absence in Normandy since 1073, to sanction the marriage between Emma daughter of the late William Fitzobern (FitzOsbern) 1st earl of Hereford and Ralph de Guader in 1075. Ralph and his brother in law Roger de Breteuil and Waltheof revolted in the so-called ’Bridal of Norwich’.
However they were effectively defeated by the mace-wielding warrior bishops: the English 2nd bishop of Worcester, Wulfstan II, who organised the Worcestershire fyrd and forces led by Odo, bishop of Bayeux (half brother of the Conqueror), and earl of Kent from 1067, and Geoffrey de Montbray. Eventually Ralph was deprived of all lands and titles.
Roger was tried by the Great Council and deprived of titles and lands and condemned to perpetual imprisonment until released with a lot of ‘political prisoners’ on the death of William. Why Waltheof, son of Siward Earl of Northumbria, was singled out for execution is a mystery, though it might have been because he was not of Norman descent.
Waltheof although died to the ruling Normans the estates remained in his wife’s possession, then granted to her daughter Matilda (Maud).
Waltheof in 1070 had married well in Countess Judith, who happened to be a niece of the Conqueror, being the daughter of his sister Adelaide of Normandy. (1)
After Waltheof was involved in the ‘Revolt of the Earls’ against the Conqueror, Judith betrayed him and after his execution she was betrothed to Simon I de Liz, who it appears had a limp and she fled the country and her estates were temporarily confiscated. Simon eventually married Judith’s eldest daughter Maud c 1090.
On Simon’s death Maud married in 1113 as her second husband David I of Scotland. Thus did the Earldom of Huntingdon, prized possession of the English pass to Scottish monarchs.
Waltheof was later regarded as a martyr by the English and miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb at Crowland Abbey, Lincolnshire.
His wife Judith owned extensive estates and in the old county of Huntingdon there is the Parish of Sawtry Judith named after her.
(1) Judith died in 1086.
Domesday records Waltheof as holding land within the Manor of Tottenham which lies on Ermine Street between London and York the site of present-day Seven Sisters.
Domesday mentions Waltheof (Walleff) in Hallam (Halun) [now Sheffield], with one manor with its sixteen hamlets there are twenty-nine coruscates to be taxed. There earl Waltheof had an Aule (hall or court). This land Roger de Busli holds of the Countess Judith.
Many prisoners have carved their names and diagrams into the walls of the Tower of London, one being Hew Draper a 16thc Bristol innkeeper sent there for sorcery. He claimed he had been interested in magic, as the engraving shows, but had burnt all his books on the occult.
He carved a large astrological sphere with Zodiacal signs and numbers with the inscription: ‘Hew Draper of Brystow made this sphere the 30 day of Maye anno 1561′. No other record exists for him.
Early royalty was particularly susceptible to sorcery as revealed on 13th June 1483, as part of his campaign to seize the crown, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Protector of the two Princes), later Richard III, appeared before the Council in the Tower and accused the Queen (Elizabeth Woodville), of Edward IV, and the late King’s mistress, Jane Shore of attempting to murder him by witchcraft. (1)
The Protector, ’ye shall see in what wise that sorceress, and that other witch of her counsel, Shore’s wife, with their affinity, have by their sorcery and witchcraft wasted my body. And therewith he plucked up his doublet-sleeve to his elbow, upon his left arm, where he shewed a withered arm and small, as it was never other’.
Joanna of Navarre who was the second wife of Henry IV was accused of witchcraft and arrested in 1419, and as the Parliament Roll for that year stated: ‘Johanne queen of England had compassed and imagined the death and destruction of our said lord the king’ [Henry V].
Eleanor Cobham wife of the Duke of Gloucester vying for power over the weak Henry VI was accused of the ‘black arts’ by allegedly making a wax figure of Henry, which wasted away after heat. Declared guilty she was made to wear penitential garb and walk barefoot for three days through London and condemned to perpetual imprisonment. (2)
No evidence was ever offered and she wasn’t brought to trial, but imprisoned for three years she was deprived of her personal possessions and forced to wear the coarse cloth of a penitent. In 1422 she was released and most of her possessions were returned and died on July 9th in 1439.
One of the more bizarre aspects of sorcery was in the 16thc and related to Robert Mantell (Bloise) who escaped from Colchester Castle having been charged with being an impostor affecting to be Edward VI. However his accomplices were accused of: ‘lewde practises of sorceries and conjuracion’(sic) and executed at the Hilary Assizes 1581.(3)
Black magic was still an issue in 1944 when spiritualist Helen Duncan was convicted under the Witchcraft Act for fear she would reveal secrets of the war.
(1) The two Princes were sons of Edward IV and later to disappear.
Account taken from Sir Thomas More’s Richard III of 1515-16 which was first published in 1557.
(2) In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Joan of Arc is portrayed as a witch when she bids fiends to come to her aid against the English, and from Macbeth we see how witchcraft was intensely feared.
(3) Final group of PC Letters 1580-1. PRO Ass 35/23/ H m 48 49.
The first execution at London’s Newgate prison was in 1783; previously there had been a carnival atmosphere as prisoners were transported to Tyburn, but this had ceased as it had provoked too much disorder.
Today in 1868 the Capital Punishment Amendment Act received the Royal Assent after much public pressure including that of Robert Peel and author Charles Dickens. It was an Act to provide for carrying out of capital punishments within, as opposed to outside, prisons.(1)
Dickens had attended many public executions, but after that at Newgate in 1840 before 40,000, of Francois Courvoisier, a valet who had killed his Master Lord Russell in 1840 to hide a burglary, he wrote: ’I came away with a distaste for murder, but it was in what I saw done’.(2)
He was later to write to the Times about an execution which he had attended, commenting on the wickedness and levity of the mob.
Public hanging was a great public spectacle and viewed by all manner of people including a young 16 year old, later author, Thomas Hardy, with a friend up a tree, when Martha Brown(e) was executed by William Calcraft at Dorchester on a Saturday in August 1856.(3)
Calcraft had an assistant in George Smith of Rowley Regis, Staffordshire who was paid £5 per job plus expenses. Calcraft was a bit of a showman before the 30,000 crowds, dressing for the part, and frequently hanging onto victims to complete his task.(4)
Calcraft’s first hangings were Thomas Lister, a burglar and George Wingfield a highwayman in 1829; his first female was Esther Hibner (‘The Evil Monster’), for starving her apprentice. His last public hanging was the Fenian Thomas Barret.
Calcraft was present at the first hanging under the new law in 1868, when a railway porter Thomas Wells was hanged for killing the station-master Edward Walsh(e). It appears he had been rebuked. He wore his uniform on the gallows at Maidstone.
Before Calcraft, William Marwood (a cobbler), was the first to be paid by fee as hangman and the first to go to Scotland where a victim included grave-robber William Burke at Edinburgh in 1828. Marwood also hanged those responsible for the infamous Phoenix Park murders in Ireland.
It is a sobering though that the Author’s Great-Grandfather was born in an age when public executions were the norm and not to end until 26th May 1868 at Newgate, an event to be seen by Jimmy Perry’s (Dad’s Army writer), paternal granddad.
(1) It was replaced by The Murder Abolition of Death Penalty Act. 1965. (Northern Ireland 1973).
(2) In November1867 there was triple hanging of three Fenians who had murdered policeman, outside Salford Gaol.
In April 1868 the last women to be hanged publicly was Frances Kidder at Maidstone for the murder of 12 year-old Louise Kidder-Staple.
(3) After the 1957 Act she might have been reprieved on diminished responsibility and it is said she was the inspiration for Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, similarly to meet a tragic end.
(4) Calcraft officiated at the last public execution and the first private. His victims included Marie a Swiss maid, and Frederick Manning and wife, the first husband and wife since 1700, both of whom had been involved in the ‘Bermondsey Horror’. They were hanged outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol in 1849.
Mrs.Manning wore a black satin dress at the execution which style became unpopular afterwards.
Dickens based Lady Deadlock’s maid Hortense on Marie, in Bleak House.
Wilkie Collin in the Woman in White (1860) has one of the heroines refer to the devious, corpulent Count Fosco as ‘that Mr and Mrs murderess Manning who were pretty fat too’.
‘O worthy man of English blood’, as the 16th century chronicler Holinshed called William of Cassingham who Today in 1241 was appointed by Henry III as Sergeant of the Peace,(1)
Squire of Cassingham Kent, now Kensham, at the time of the 1st Baron’s War, William, one of the few supporters of King John, raised a guerrilla force of archers, determined to rid the occupation of south-east England by Prince Louis of France.
The French invasion of 1216 was the culmination of a struggle between the Plantagenet King of England, ruler of great swathes of France, and Philip II.
It was also a time of civil war between the hated King John and the barons, two thirds of which supported Louis’ claim to the English throne.
However on the death of John and accession of Henry III in October 1216 much of the English support fell away and Louis was forced to look for French reinforcements.
Louis didn’t reckon with William Cassingham who ambushed his forces at Lewes and routed him at Winchelsea, only for him to return to renew the siege of Dover Castle.
The monkish writer Roger of Wendover recorded: ‘a certain youth, William by name a fighter and loyalist [to King John]…gathered a vast number of archers in the forest and waste spaces [of Kent and Sussex]…as a result 1000.s of Frenchmen were slain’, [the latter probably an exaggeration].
William (Willikin of the Weald), like most guerrilla leaders would have used mercenaries and local huntsmen who knew intimately the vast Weald Forest and significantly backed by the power of the longbow.
William was granted a pension by the Crown and made Warden of The Weald, along with being appointed Sergeant of the Peace, akin to modern military Provost Marshall, and, ‘deserves to be named [with his contemporaries], Hubert de Burgh, Philip of Aubigny and William Marshal, as a bulwark of national defence’. (2)
One can’t read Cassingham’s life, as a man of the forest, without thinking of Robin Hood, but whereas Hood has no documentary evidence, Cassingham is mentioned in official records of three kings of England.(3)
(1) William died in 1257. Holinshed was the source of many of Shakespeare’s plays.
(2) G.R. Stephen. vide.
(3) Medieval historians wrote for the reputation of nobles, kings and churchmen as patrons of the privileged; Cassingham thus is largely forgotten.
Freelance History Writer/Pic.
Richard of Wendover. Flores Historianum. 182.Rolls Series London 1987.
G.R. Stephen Note of William of Cassingham. Vol 16. No 2. April 1941. 216-33.
Kent Archaeological Soc. Newsletter. No 2007/8. Issue 75. Winter. P 17.
Today in 1628 the Petition of Rights was approved by the House of Commons a day after the Lords and was the culmination of three weeks of debate in both chambers.(1)
However its approval didn’t exactly please King Charles I who forbid parliament, ‘to meddle with affairs of state’, but with both Houses demanding acceptance, despite the protest, it was duly passed on the 7th of June.
The prime mover and author of the Petition was the great jurist Sir Edward Coke, further shaped by ‘Common Law’ experts in the Commons. The effect was to place a limit on military law; all taxes should be levied by Parliament, along with martial law restrictions and Habeus Corpus.(2)
Charles badly needed cash and agreed to some restrictions of power, but failed to give ground on the ‘Ship Money’ tax, a great bone of contention against Kings past and present, which had resulted in the trial and conviction of the wealthy landowner, John Hampden, after refusing to pay the tax.
Coke born on 1st February 1552 was called to the Bar on April 20th 1578 and in 1606 became Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Having been a servant of the Crown and Parliament; now he had the power to make law himself by precedent in Common Law cases.
But the King reserved to himself the power to over-rule or hamper cases which he felt were dangerous to his prerogative.
Thus Coke was forced to attempt to define the limits of the King’s power against the procedure of the law and in 1610 gave the opinion that the King could not by proclamation change the law. His main blow was struck against the Court of Chancery always held to be the seat of the King’s power.
In the Case of Proclamation of 1611, English Common Law judges asserted the right to determine the limits of the Royal Prerogative and Lord Coke said the Crown had prerogative to change Common Law or Statute.
Since the ‘Glorious Revolution’ 1688 this concept hasn’t been challenged by the Crown and stressed the separation of the Judiciary distinct from both Crown and Executive.
However In 1616 Coke went too far and challenged the Crown’s award of pluralities in church benefices and in November he was dismissed.
In the last years of the reign of James I (VI) Parliament was gathering for a concerted attack on the Crown and Coke was a leading figure in drafting the ‘Protestation’ of December 1621 which claimed that the, ‘liberties, franchises, privileges and jurisdictions of Parliament are the ancient and undoubted birthright of the subjects of England’.
James in pique dissolved parliament and had Coke imprisoned, but released after seven months in the Tower.
‘The Petition of Right was a unique parliamentary act and interpreted in different ways by different people. There is no absolute criteria by which the true nature can be determined’.(3)
(1) ‘Be ye ever so high, the Law is above you’, reflects Coke’s championship of the Common Law, previously applied to the Monarch; in 1610 he ruled it now applied to Parliament as determined in Bonham’s Case 1610 when Coke asserted the supremacy of the Common Law as he thought the prerogative of Parliament in Acts was circumscribed by precedent. When an Act is against the common right or reason, was repugnant or impossible to be performed, the Common Law would control it or make it void.
(2) One unforeseen later effect was to prevent William III from disciplining rebellious troops, and it required the Mutiny Act of 1689 to rectify.
(3) Stephen White. Sir Edward Coke and Grievances of the Commonwealth. N. Carolina Uni. Press. 1979.
The first aeroplane attack in World War I was on the south-east when Folkestone was bombed Today at 6.22 pm in May 1917. It wasn’t reported in the Times until the following Monday under the headline: ‘Daylight Air Raid 76 killed and 74 injured by 17 enemy aeroplanes at a locality in the south-east of England’.
The vagueness in reporting was due to restrictions under Defence of the Realm Act (Dora) 1914, which aimed to limit exact places as liable to cause alarm and despondency which was punishable.
Two days later it said: ‘We are now permitted to announce that the town is Folkestone. The neighbouring army camp at Shornecliffe was also hit causing many casualties’.
So Ironically Folkestone, on the Kent coast was not bombarded from the sea despite the heavy guns across the Channel being heard, but from the air. The town, in fact, was taken by surprise, not having any air-raid warning nor anti-aircraft guns.
The Gotha bombers had initially targeted London, but discovered it shrouded in cloud. So they turned their attention south towards Kent where bombs were shed near Maidstone and Ashford where the first casualties resulted.
The aerodrome at Lympne was attacked then Hythe received 20 bombs with 2 deaths, but it was the Shorncliffe Camp which had a major hit with 18 fatalities.
Over Sandgate and Cheriton the bombers droned to Folkestone which saw the the biggest horror with 40 bombs dropped. No doubt by now the pilots saw it as the last chance to be rid of their deadly cargo before the open sea.
On that sunny Friday afternoon, before the Bank Holiday, it was Tontine Street, Folkestone, which the Gothas reserved for their final act, and where the biggest disaster occurred as it was crowded with people shopping.
One queue had formed outside Stokes Brothers greengrocers which happened to have had received a consignment of scarce potatoes; opposite was Gosnold Brothers, drapers. It took one bomb outside the shops to kill 63 including 25 children.
The Zeppelins had shown the power of aerial bombing, but the future was, as the Gothas had shown, with the aeroplane, which was to prove its deadly power in a later war.
kentonline.co.uk.24.5.2017. Matt Leclere.