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Medieval monks often lacked all trace of holiness….

It is a fact that the medieval Church was ruthless in its acts and ambitions. We all know of particular popes, cardinals and archbishops who would stop at nothing to achieve their own personal and political ends, but it came as a surprise to me to discover just how brutal the Church could be on a purely local level.

Bury St Edmunds Abbey Church

Here are two anecdotes about the ‘holiness’ of medieval monks. Firstly, the Benedictines:-

“….On Sunday, 18th October, 1327, the monks of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds ended their prayers, filed out through the abbey’s crenelated gate and proceeded to the parish church, which was full of men, women and children. The monks then threw off their habits—revealing that some of them wore armour under their robes—and burst into the church. They seized a number of citizens by force and dragged them back to the abbey as prisoners….

“….Sometime later the townsfolk assembled at the abbey to demand the prisoners’ release. The monks replied with a hail of missiles, killing a large number of people. Later in the day the town bells summoned a larger party of armed men including aldermen, burgesses, a parson and 28 chaplains, who all took a solemn oath to live or die together. They then set fire to the gates and stormed the abbey….”

Why the monks wanted prisoners is not explained

Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire

Next, the Cistercians:-

“….Walter [Map] was an itinerant justice, and he always exempted Cistercians from his oath to do justice to all men since, he said, ‘It was absurd to do justice to those who are just to none’. This was not a joke; Map’s reports of Cistercian atrocities are extraordinary. For example, he says that the monks of Byland once wanted land belonging to a knight who would not give it up to them. One night they entered his house, ‘muffled up and armed with swords and spears’, and murdered him and his family. A relative, hearing of the death, arrived three days later to find that all the buildings and enclosures had disappeared and in their place was a well-ploughed field.*”

* From Edward Coleman, ‘Nasty Habits – Satire and the Medieval Monk’, History Today, volume 43, issue 6, June 1993, pp 36-42.

These shocking incidents are hardly compatible with a devout life of worship, contemplation and doing good, and certainly cast the entire Church in a shabby light. If there is a problem at the top, there is usually a problem at the bottom as well.

I think we can largely forget the fat, jovial monk of popular belief!

 

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A list of unsolved historical mysteries…yes, including the boys in the Tower….

Would YOU trust youthful rivals for the throne to THIS man?

Here is another list of unsolved mysteries from the past. Yes, Richard and his nephews crop up again. Did he? Didn’t he? Well, it’s suggested that Henry VII was the more likely culprit. Hooray! I mean, look at the fellow. I wouldn’t believe a word he said! And he certainly had more reason than Richard III to dispose of those inconvenient boys.

Other, more recent, cases include Jack the Ripper, Amelia Earhart and “Dr.” Hawley Crippen

A fleeting trick of the eye….

Forensics - collage

Occasionally, an image glimpsed quickly on TV appears to be something it is not. This happened to me when I first saw the TV trailer for the series Catching History’s Criminals: the Forensics Story on the Yesterday channel.

Being inured to the old, old propaganda that Richard III was the first criminal in all Creation, predating Satan himself, the black-and-white image I glimpsed—very briefly, and then only in close-up—appeared to be the one that went the rounds when Richard’s skull was used to re-create his true appearance. The one where the skull had his NPG portrait superimposed. So, I watched the programme, fully expecting another biased item that condemned him for the boys in the Tower, etc. etc.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be nothing of the sort. It wasn’t even about Richard! It was about a woman, Isabella Ruxton, who was murdered in the 1930s. The picture shown was, like the one of Richard, her skull superimposed on her photograph. The pose was the same as Richard’s, but the thing that spooked me initially, was the left eye. It seemed so like Richard’s left eye in the NPG portrait that I really was convinced Isabella was Richard.

Forensics - Richard III and Isabella Ruxton

Maybe it does not seem so evident to you but, to me, that fleeting out-of-the-blue glimpse on a TV screen was very convincing.

 

Murder and mayhem in medieval London…

IMG_5516.jpgHere is a link to an interesting map and article on the murder hotspots of medieval London.  Click on a dot and details pop up of that particular murder.

Most of the culprits either just simply disappeared pronto or skedaddled into sanctuary and  frustratingly the outcomes are not shown.  The vast majority of the victims were male,  sadly one a small  child,  John de Burgh, aged 5 years old who died after being ‘cuffed’ after he stole a small amount of wool which he had hidden under his hat.    One of the more audacious was the murder of the gatekeeper of Newgate Gaol, Nicholas at Mill, who was stabbed to death by two men who broke into Newgate to do so.

Its seems you were quite vulnerable if you were a clerk in holy orders, several of them being bumped off.  Although priests seemed to be susceptible to ending up as murder victims  they could actually give as good as they got with one priest, Alan de Hacford murdering Walter de Anne, the man he shared his lover, Alice de York with,  after finding Walter and Alice sitting together.  For reasons unknown Alice aided and abetted Alan, the pair of them fleeing afterwards.

IMG_5517.jpg

Loud music then as now could lead to altercations with fatal results.   In May 1324, Thomas Somer,  a minstrel.   incensed Thomas of Lynn, by playing outside his home after dusk.  The householder Thomas chased Somer intending to bash him with a door-bar.  After Thomas caught Somer and struck him, the musician pulled out a knife and fatally injured Thomas.

IMG_5518 2.jpg 

In this picture its the turn of musician to get it…

A few of the culprits were female including a fishmonger stabbed to death by his mistress.  Surprisingly she didn’t batter him to death  with a piece of cod!… joking.. .. while another woman, a prostitute by the name of Agnes ‘Houdy Doudy’ killed another woman, Lucy,  the pregnant wife of Richard de Barstaple, by ‘striking her on the belly with fists and knees’.  Yet another woman, a beggar known as Nicola from Cardiff,  drowned her 3 month old baby,  Alice,  while ‘surreptitiously pretending to wash the child’ in a ditch.

Reasons for people getting murdered varied quite a bit from a suicidal man, John Pentyn,  bashing his would be rescuer over the head  with an iron stave to Roger Styward,  who as a result of throwing eel skins in the street,  received a fatal kicking.  Servants died protecting their masters belongings.  A violent altercation about a horse led to a murder while a planned gang rape ended in complete and utter mayhem.

Royalty was not exempt from the fallout of murder – John Gremet a groom of the kitchen of Queen Philippa – was murdered by another royal servant, Peter Tremenel.

A total of 142 murders are detailed sourced from the Coroners’ Rolls and credit and thanks to Prof Eisner at the Institute of Criminonology, University of Cambridge.   Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

My, my, some families really do not change their spots….!

Arms of Sir John Stanley I

While researching fourteenth-century Northamptonshire, I happened upon Sir John Stanley (1350-1414). “Stanley’s father was Master-Forester of the Forest of Wirral, notorious for his repressive activities. Both Stanley and his older brother, William (who succeeded their father as Master-Forester), were involved in criminal cases which charged them with a forced entry in 1369 and in the murder of Thomas Clotton in 1376.” Nice guys, right?

Stanley was found guilty, and outlawed. But because he was proving himself as a military fighter, he was pardoned—helped in this by Sir Thomas Trivet, who had a habit of getting scoundrels off the hook. He did the same for Sir John Cornwall, Senior, who was definitely a bad lot, but that’s another story.

Well, although Sir John Stanley was a younger son, in 1385 he made a very fortunate marriage. In the teeth of strong opposition from John of Gaunt, he wed Isabel Lathom, who was heir to swathes of land in Lancashire. Stanley was on the up!

He did well under Richard II, becoming the deputy in Ireland of Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland. Richard II chose Stanley as justiciar of Ireland, and he was very much part of Richard’s successful first expedition to that land. Next, Stanley was prominent in soothing trouble in Cheshire, and took part in Richard’s second, ill-advised expedition to Ireland. This expedition came to an abrupt end when Henry of Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s heir as Duke of Lancaster, who had been exiled by Richard, invaded England to take the throne as Henry IV. Returning to England, “Stanley, who had long proved adept at political manoeuvring, turned his back on Richard and submitted to Henry IV.” Richard was imprisoned and soon died under mysterious circumstances.

So, the Stanleys were at it in 1399/1400 as well. Political jiggery-pokery, deserting their rightful King Richard, and smarming up to the wrongful King Henry. But this one did well, becoming King of Man, a privilege he and his descendants enjoyed until the 18th century.

Spots? Never change?

Stanley is granted the Isle of Man

http://www.cheshirenow.co.uk/stanley_family.html and http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/people/lords/stanleys.htm. And see this list of offices held by Sir John Stanley.

 

 

 

 

Conspiracy theories, Elizabeth I and Shakespeare….?

 

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes on a bonfire in Kent. Photo: Rex.

If you go to here you will find examples of those intriguing possibilities, conspiracy theories. Well, some of them are too outlandish, but others…well, maybe…? Anyway, take a look and decide for yourself whether, for example, the Gunpowder Plot was really a put-up job by the Earl of Salisbury. Or whether Elizabeth the First might—just might—have been the real Shakespeare!

Medieval murder at Richard’s Red Tower in York….

The Red Tower

Here is a tale of how a 15th-century trade dispute in York got out of hand, and for once Richard isn’t getting the blame!

The following extract is from here:

“A building in York, which was once the scene of a medieval murder over a trade dispute during its construction 500 years ago, is set to be transformed into a brand new café and community hub.

“Croft Farm Construction is carrying out the refurbishment of the Grade-I Listed, The Red Tower, near Navigation Road, York.

“The building was part-funded by King Richard III, before his death at Bosworth Field in 1485, and later completed by his successor as the only section of the city’s medieval walls built from brick rather than magnesian limestone.”

Aha, and therein lies the murderous rub, as becomes clear here :

“The construction of the original building was part-funded by King Richard III before his death at Bosworth Field in 1485, and later completed by his successor Henry VII. As the only section of the city’s walls built from brick rather than magnesian limestone, the brick tower did not please local stonemasons, [who were] unhappy that tilers were asked to build the property.

“The tilers sought protection from the city council to stop masons threatening them and breaking their tools. In 1491, a tiler, John Patrik was murdered. Two masons, York’s Master Mason, William Hindley, and an accomplice, Christopher Homer, were charged with murder but later acquitted.”

So it appears that the Red Tower’s red bricks caused a mini-war between tilers and stonemasons in York. Oh dear, at least these days disputes seldom, if ever, reach the point of murder!

I hope the Red Tower approves of its future as a café and community hub. Only if the conversion is spot-on, I imagine. Nothing garish and too bright will do in such surroundings.

 

 

 

Another royal murder mystery….!

King_James_I_of_Scotland_jpg-e1487678242974-536x372

King James I of Scotland

Well, it has to be said that Leicester has benefited immensely from the discovery and burial of Richard III, and his supposed “murder” of the boys in the Tower. Of which he was NOT guilty.

Anyway, maybe Perth can benefit too, because it has its own royal mystery. James I of Scotland died a very bloody, grubby death, his body being found with 28 knife wounds in a stinking tunnel. In 1437, he too was buried in a house of God, which was subsequently destroyed. Is he, like Richard, still waiting to be discovered?

If he’s found and reburied, I hope Perth will reap some reward. Maybe too, the truth of how he died, and who killed him, will be discovered as well.

Serial bigamy and murder again – the Henry VIII of Chicago?

On the left is Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes, an American serial killer executed in May 1896 whilst a few days short of his thirty-fifth birthday. On the right is the “murder castle”,

H._H._Holmes_Castle

220px-H._H._Holmes

replete with trapdoors, sealed rooms and poison gas, he built in Chicago for the 1893 “World’s Fair” and from which at least nine people failed to emerge alive. Mudgett, a serial fraudster even before the disappearances began, confessed at one stage to killing far more people but later to just two murders. Unlike Henry VIII, George Joseph Smith and Crippen, he didn’t kill any real or imagined wives. The “murder castle” concept was later adapted in France by Marcel Petiot, who was also medically qualified.

Just like Smith, Mudgett made one proper marriage and it was never dissolved despite his abandonment of Clara Loveridge and several subsequent “marriage” ceremonies. As a result, she became his widow when he was hanged, although two other women imagined themselves to have that status. The castle was demolished and its grounds now abut a post office at Englewood.

The neighbourhood surrounding the area has since become one of the worst in Chicago.   Englewood sadly has one of the highest crime rates in said fair city.   (Ahem).   Perhaps Homes ghost is roaming as some say Henry’s is…

 

The ten worst Britons in history?

This is a very entertaining and well-illustrated 2006 article, choosing one arch-villain for each century from the eleventh to the twentieth. The all-male list includes just one King but two Archbishops of Canterbury.

So what do you think?

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