The Subject of a foul Conspiracy on the Part of Henry Larrimore and Sir John Croke that failed at Aylesbury Assizes, 11th of March, 1669
A FOUL conspiracy against the life of a clerk in holy orders was laid bare at the assizes at Aylesbury on 11th of March, 1669, when Robert Hawkins, clerk of Chilton, was indicted with breaking into the dwelling-house of Henry Larrimore and stealing his gold rings and other articles.
Larrimore deposed that on Friday, 18th of September, 1668, between twelve and one o'clock at noon, he locked up his doors and went into a hemp-plat, about two furlongs from his house, with all his family, to pull hemp. Coming home an hour and a half before sunset he found his doors open, and ran upstairs to a loft over the chamber where he lay, and, looking through the chinks of the boards, there he saw the prisoner rifling a box, in which, among other goods, was a white holland apron and a purse, in which were two gold rings of the value of ten shillings each, two ten-shilling pieces of gold, and nineteen shillings in silver. The prisoner hearing some noise, the deponent saw him glance by the stair-foot door, and so run out of his house, down the yard, with a great bunch of keys; and the deponent saw the prisoner hide himself in a close where there were some beans and weeds. The next day he procured a warrant from Sir Richard Piggot to search for his rings and money, and with the constable of the place, and some others, he went to search the prisoner's house, who refusing to open his doors, the constable broke them open, and in a basket filled with paper, rags and other trumpery he found one of the rings, and a five-shilling piece of silver, which he positively swore were the same which he had seen the prisoner the day before take out of his purse.
HAWKINS: Why did not Larrimore, when he saw his doors open, which he expected to have found locked, call some of his neighbours to assist in searching the house and securing me, or whoever the person it was that he found robbing him?
To this Larrimore answered he did not then well consider what he did.
HAWKINS: If he saw me commit the robbery in his house, why then did he search other houses for the goods he saw me steal?
LARRIMORE: I had been robbed at several other times.
HAWKINS: How came he not to charge me positively with the felony before Sir Richard Piggot, of whom he had the warrant, if he had been sure I robbed him?
To this Larrimore made no direct answer.
Henry Larrimore, the son, and Joan Beamsley gave evidence as to seeing Hawkins run from the house, where upon Lord Chief Baron Hales said: "Here is evidence enough to hang twenty men."
HAWKINS: I doubt not but to clear myself, notwithstanding this evidence. Pray, Sir Richard Piggot, when Larrimore came for the warrant to search, did he not say he suspected several persons of robbing him of them, and that I was but one of the suspected persons?
Sir Richard Piggot, being upon the bench, acknowledged this to be true.
HAWKINS: And yet Larrimore swears he saw me steal them out of his house on the 18th of September, an hour and a half before sunset, which I desire the Court and the jury would take notice of.
John Chilton was called, and said that Mr Hawkins brought him a pair of boots to put new legs to them, and that he told the prisoner he would lay them in his shop window, and he might take them as he came by, for he should be abroad; which accordingly the prisoner did, and paid him for doing them, at Sir John Croke's; but that when the prisoner came to demand his tithes, and sued for them, then this Larrimore, Mr Dodsworth Croke, Richard Maine the constable, and others, came to the deponent and plagued him night and day to charge the prisoner with felony for stealing the boots; and they would have forced him to fetch a warrant to search for them, and threatened, in case he would not, that Sir John Croke would indict him at the assizes, as accessory to the stealing his own goods; and Larrimore said he would make him swear that Mr Hawkins had stolen his boots, and subpoenaed him to the assizes for that purpose.
LARRIMORE: My Lord, this fellow is hired by Mr Hawkins to swear this.
CHILTON: I am not hired to swear by Mr Hawkins; but Thomas Croxton told me last Monday, if I would swear Mr Hawkins stole my boots, he would bear me out against Mr Hawkins as far as one hundred pounds would go; and if that would not do, as far as five hundred pounds would go; and if I doubted it, he would give me a bond to make good his promise.
HAWKINS: My Lord, this is an easy way for the fanatics to pay their tithes. If they can but hang up the clergy, they may cease their pleas for liberty of conscience. I desire the Court and the jury will observe that this Chilton is one of Larrimore's witnesses, and yet he swears that Croxton and others used their utmost endeavours to persuade him to charge me with felony.
Mr Hawkins added that Larrimore was a notorious Anabaptist, and an enemy to the Church of England and ministry in general, but particularly to himself, he having sued him for tithes, and indicted him for not coming to church or baptizing his children; that Larrimore's malice had sufficiently appeared before this, by dissuading those who owed him money from paying him, and persuading others, whom he owed money to, to arrest him; by dissuading those he had sued for tithes from agreeing with him, and telling them Sir John Croke would force him to run his country, etc. And if the jury doubted of any of these particulars, he was ready to prove them.
Proceeding in his defence, he said it was very unlikely he should commit a robbery in his own parish in the daytime, where everybody that saw him must needs know him; and that if he had been conscious of his guilt he had twenty-four hours 'time to have made his escape; and it was strange he could find no other place to conceal this ring and five-shilling piece but in a little basket that hung up upon a pin; and that if Larrimore had seen him rob him, it was strange he did not tell his neighbours of it, or take any care to secure him till the next day; nor did he declare it to Sir Richard Piggot, from whom, he fetched the warrant to search, as might appear by the contents of it.
Hereupon my Lord Chief Baron ordered the constable to produce the warrant; and it being delivered to my Lord, he observed that it bore date before the robbery was committed. Turning to Larrimore he said: "Thou art very cunning, to be provided with a warrant a day before you were robbed. It seems you knew upon the 17th day that you should be robbed on the 18th, and that this person now at the bar should rob you. But, Mr Hawkins, if you were innocent of this robbery, why did you refuse to open your doors and let your house be searched?" HAWKINS: Most of those persons present were my inveterate enemies. As for Sir John Croke and Larrimore, they had often threatened to pull down my house, and hired people to make a forcible entry upon it; particularly they hired one Jaires to get down the chimney and open my doors when we were all abroad; they had also contracted with one Tyler for the same purpose. Besides, they had an execution against me which Larrimore's son had a few days before executed in part, and he was then present; and, my Lord, I offered at the same time that Mr Sanders, the other constable, who lived but next door, might search as narrowly as he pleased.
These statements having been corroborated, the Lord Chief Baron said the business appeared very foul; and looking towards Sir John Croke asked if that were the Sir John Croke who was concerned in that business.
HAWKINS: I doubt not to make appear to the world that Sir John is deeply concerned in this conspiracy. Mr Brown was called, and said that Sir John Croke and this Larrimore had threatened that if he came down to this assizes to testify what he had heard of this conspiracy they would ruin him and his family, and for that reason he dare not speak; but the Court promising him protection, he gave this evidence:
Being entrusted by Sir John Lentall as keeper to Sir John Croke, who is a prisoner in the King's Bench, on Wednesday, the 16th of September last, as I was in bed at Sir John Croke's house in Chilton, I heard a great noise, and fearing they were contriving Sir John Croke's escape, I started out of bed in my shirt and stood at the dining-room door behind the hangings, and there I heard this Larrimore tell Sir John Croke that he had undone him by causing him to contend with the parson; for that he had entered him in most of the courts of England, and summoned him into the Crown Office and Chancery, and he could not maintain so many suits. Sir John replied: "Is that all? Come, brother Larrimore, be contented; we will have one trick more for Hawkins yet, which shall do his work." Larrimore answered: "You have put me upon too many tricks already —- more than I can manage —- and the parson is too hard for us still." Sir John replied: "If thou wilt but act, I will hatch enough to hang Hawkins. Cannot thou convey some gold or silver into his house, and have a warrant ready to search his house? —- and then our work is done"; and, says he: "Do you but go to Sir John Piggot and inform him you have lost your money and goods, and desire his warrant to search for them; and take Dick Maine the constable, who is one of us, and will do what we desire him, and search the house, and when you find these things, charge him with flat felony, and force him before me, and I will send him to jail without bail, and we will hang him at the next assizes."
On the Sunday morning I went to the ale-house, where they had kept Mr Hawkins all night, and saw them carrying him to jail. I said to Sir John, when I came home, "They have carried the poor parson to jail," and he answered, "Let him go, and the devil go with him, and more shall follow after. Have I not often told you," says he, "if my brother Larrimore and I laid our heads together, nobody could stand against us?" And I replied: "Yes, Sir John, I have often heard you say so, but never believed it till now."
THE LORD CHIEF BARON: Is all this true, which you have related?
BROWN: Yes, my Lord; and there sits Sir John Croke (pointing to him), who knows that every word I have said is true.
Soon after Sir John Croke stole off the bench, without taking leave of the Chief Baron.
LARRIMORE: My Lord, what I have sworn as to Mr Hawkins is true.
THE LORD CHIEF BARON: Larrimore, thou art a very villain; nay, I think thou art a devil. Gentlemen, where is this Sir John Croke?
It was answered he was gone.
THE LORD CHIEF BARON: Gentlemen, I must acquaint you Sir John Croke sent me this morning two sugar loaves, to excuse his absence yesterday, but I sent them back again I did not then so well know what he meant by them as I do now. Surely Sir John does not think the King's justices will take bribes. Somebody may have used his name (here the Chief Baron showed Sir John's letter). Is this his hand?
Some of the justices on the bench said they believed it might be; and it being compared with the mittimus, the hands appeared to be the same.
His Lordship, summing up, said that it appeared upon the evidence, and from all the circumstances, to be a most foul and malicious conspiracy against the life of Mr Hawkins. Then the jury, without stirring from the bar, gave their verdict, that the prisoner was not guilty.
Mr Hawkins moved that he might be discharged without paying his fees, for that he was very poor —- this, and other troubles the prosecutors had brought upon him, having cost him a great deal of money. My Lord Chief Baron answered he could not help it; he could not give away other people's rights: if they would not remit their fees, he must pay them.
As soon as the trial was over, Sir John Croke, Larrimore the prosecutor, and their accomplices in the conspiracy, fled privately out of town.