Executed with her lover Mosbie and Others in the Year 1551 for the Murder of her Husband
THOMAS ARDEN was but a private gentleman, living at Feversham, in the county of Kent; yet the circumstance of his murder, the detection of it, and the punishment of the offenders were so exceeding remarkable, that they may very well be inserted in this place. He was a tall and comely person, and married a gentlewoman who was young, well shaped, and every way handsome; who having unhappily contracted an unlawful familiarity with one Mosbie, a black swarthy fellow, servant to Lord North, it happened by some means or other that they fell out, and so continued at variance for some time: but she being desirous of a reconciliation, and to use her former familiarity with him, sent him a pair of silver dice by the hands of one Adam Fowle, living at the Flower-de-Luce, in Feversham, for a present.
This brought them together again, so that Mosbie lay often in Arden's house, and in a short time the intercourse between them was so open that Mr Arden could not but perceive it; although common report says that he winked at it, for fear of disobliging her relations, from whom he had some great expectations. Having continued their lewd practices for a considerable time, the woman doted more and more upon Mosbie, and began to loathe her husband extremely; insomuch that she would have been glad to have found out a way to get rid of him. There was a painter at Feversham who was reported to be versed in the art of poisoning; to him she applied herself, and asked him whether he had any skill in that or not. The man seeming to own it, she told him she would have such a dose prepared as would make a quick dispatch. "That I can do," said he. So he presently went to work, and gave it her, with directions to put it into the bottom of a porringer and so to pour milk upon it; but the woman, forgetting the direction, put in the milk first, and then the poison. Now her husband designing that day to take his horse and ride to Canterbury, his wife brought him his breakfast, which was usually milk and butter. Having taken a spoonful or two of the milk, and liking neither the taste nor colour of it, he said: "Mrs Alice, what sort of milk is it you gave me?" Upon which she threw down the dish and said: "I find nothing can please you." Upon which he went away for Canterbury, and by the way vomited extremely, so that he escaped for that time.
Arden's wife became afterwards acquainted with one Green, of Feversham, a servant of Sir Anthony Agers; from which Green, Arden had wrested a piece of ground lying on the back side of the abbey of Feversham; about which some blows and many menacing expressions had passed between them; and therefore the woman knowing that Green hated her husband, she began to concert with him how to make away with Arden. The agreement at last was thus: that if they could procure anyone to murder her husband, he should have ten pounds for his wicked pains. Now Green having some business to be transacted at London for his master Sir Anthony, set out for that city, where his master then was, and having a charge of money about him, he desired one Bradshaw, a goldsmith of Feversham and his neighbour, to go with him as far as Gravesend, and he would satisfy him for his trouble. When they had got as far as Rainhan Down they saw some gentlemen coming; Bradshaw discerned a man coming up the hill from Rochester, armed with a sword and buckler, and another with a huge staff upon his shoulder, and thereupon said to Green: "It is well that there is some company coming after us, for there is coming up against us as murdering a villain as any in England; and were it not for the other people we should scarce be able to come off without the loss of our lives and money." Green, as he afterwards confessed, imagining that such a one was fit for his purpose, asked the other "Which is he?" "That's he," quoth Bradshaw, "who has the sword and buckler; his name is Black Will." "How do you know that?" said Green. Bradshaw answered: "I knew him at Boulogne, where he was a soldier and I was Sir Richard Cavendish's man, and there he committed several robberies and horrid murders between the passes of that town and France." By this time the company having overtaken them, they advanced all together and met Black Will and his companion. Some of the strangers, knowing Black Will, asked him how he did, and whither he was going. He answered by his blood, for he accented almost every word with an oath, "I know not, neither do I care; I'll set up my stick and go as it falls." Then said they to him, "If you will go back with us to Gravesend we will give you a supper." "By my blood," said he, "I care not, I'll go along with you." As they travelled on, Black Will claimed an acquaintance with Bradshaw, saying, "Friend Bradshaw, how dost thou do?" Bradshaw having no mind to renew his acquaintance, or to have anything to do with such a horrid fellow, replied: "Why, do you know me?" "Yes, that I do," said he; "did we not serve together at Boulogne?" "I beg your pardon," said Bradshaw, "I had forgot you."
Then Green entered into discourse with Black Will and said: "When you have supped, come to my quarters at such a sign, and I will give you some sack and sugar." "By my blood," said he, "I thank you." Thither he went, according to his promise, and was well treated. Then Green and he went and talked together, aside from Bradshaw, and the former proposing to give the other ten pounds to kill Mr Arden, he answered, with a great oath, he would if he could but know him. "I'll show him to you to-morrow in St Paul's," said Green. When they had done talking, Green bade him go home to his quarters; and then, sitting down, he wrote a letter to Mrs Arden, wherein, among others, he made use of these expressions: "We have got a man for our purpose; we may thank my brother Bradshaw for it." Bradshaw, knowing nothing of the matter, took the letter, and went the next morning and delivered it to Mrs Arden, while Green and Black Will bent their course to London.
Green, at the time appointed, showed Black Will Mr Arden walking in St Paul's; upon which Black Will asked him: "Who is he that follows him?" "Marry," said Green, "one of his men." "By my blood," quoth Will, "I'll kill them both." "Nay," said Green, "do not do that, for he is in the secret." "By my blood, I care not for that, I will kill them both," replied he. "By no means," said Green. Then Black Will proposed to murder Mr Arden in Paul's Churchyard, but there were so many gentlemen with him that he could not affect it. Green imparted the whole discourse to Arden's man, whose name was Michael, and who ever after was afraid lest Black Will should kill him. The reason why Michael conspired with the rest against his master was because he should marry a kinswoman of Mosbie's.
Mr Arden taking up his lodgings in a certain parsonage-house which he had in London, Michael and Green agreed that Black Will should go thither in the night-time, where he should find the doors left open for him to go in and murder Mr Arden. Michael having put his master to bed, left the doors open according to agreement, though Mr Arden, after he was in bed, asked him if he had made them all fast, to which he answered Yes. But afterwards growing afraid when he had got to bed, lest Black Will should kill him as well as his master, he rose, shut the doors, and bolted them very fast; insomuch that when Black Will came thither, and could find no entrance, he returned in great fury that he should be so disappointed, and in that mood he went next day to Green, swearing and staring like a madman, and with many horrible oaths and execrations threatened to kill Arden's man first, wherever he met him. "Nay," said Green, "pray forbear that; let me first know the reason why the doors were shut." Green having found out Arden's man, and expostulated the matter with him about his not leaving the doors open, according to his promise, Michael, who had framed his answer before, said: "Marry, I will tell you the reason: my master last night did that which I never found him to do before; for, after I was in bed, he got up himself and shut the doors, and chid me severely in the morning for my carelessness in leaving them open." This pacified Green and Black Will.
Now Arden having done his business in London, and being ready to return home, his man went to Green and informed him his master would go down that night. Upon this they agreed that Black Will should kill him on Rainham Down. When Mr Arden had got to Rochester, his man growing apprehensive that Black Will would murder him as well as his master, he pricked his horse on purpose, and made him go lame, that so he might protract the time and stay behind. His master observing the lameness of his horse, and asking him the reason of it, Michael said he did not know. "Well," quoth his master, "when we come to the smith's forge, which is between Rochester and the foot of the hill over against Chatham, let him take off his shoe and search, and then come after me." So that his master rode on; but before he came to the place where Black Will lay in wait for him he was overtaken by several gentlemen of his acquaintance, so that the assassin failed here also to accomplish his bloody design.
After Mr Arden had got home he sent his man to the Isle of Sheppey, to Sir Thomas Cheney, then Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, about some business; by whom Sir Thomas sent a letter back to his master. But when he came home, his good mistress took and concealed the letter, and ordered the fellow to tell his master that he had a letter for him from Sir Thomas Cheney, but that he had unfortunately lost it; and added withal, that he thought it would be his best way to go in the morning himself to Sir Thomas's, because he knew nothing of the contents of it. Having resolved to do so, he ordered his man to be up betimes in the morning. In the meanwhile Black Will and one George Shakebag, his companion, were, by Green's appointment, concealed in a storehouse of Sir Anthony Agers, at Preston, to which place Mrs Arden went to see him, who brought and sent him victuals and drink several times. He was charged very strictly to be up early in the morning to waylay Mr Arden in a broom-close between Feversham and the Ferry, and there to murder him. Now Black Will was up in the morning betimes, but, missing his way, he tarried in a wrong place.
Arden and his man, early in the morning, riding towards Shoreham, where Sir Thomas Cheney lay, when they were come near the broom-close, Michael, who was ever afraid that Black Will would murder him with his master, pretended he had lost his money purse. "Why," said his master," thou foolish fellow, couldst thou take no more care of thy purse? How much was there in it?" "Three Pounds,'' said he. "Go back, you fool," quoth his master, "and look for it! it is so early that there is nobody yet stirring; thou mayst be sure to find it, and so make haste and over take me at the ferry." But Arden nevertheless escaped this time by reason of the mistake of Black Will, who thought he was sure of him in his return home. But whether some of the lord warden's servants attended him back to Feversham, or that he considered it was too late for him to go through the broom-close and so took another way, Black Will once more failed to execute his murdering designs. St Valentine's Day being near, the villainous crew thought it a proper time to perpetrate their wicked devices. Mosbie intended to pick some quarrel or other with Arden at the fair, and so fight with him, saying he could not find in his heart to murder a gentleman in such a manner as his wife would have it; though they had made mutual promises to each other to be altogether as man and wife, and had there upon received the sacrament at London openly together. But this project of quarrelling with Mr Arden would not do, for though he had been often before and was then also highly provoked by Mosbie, he would not fight. Mosbie had a sister who lived in a tenement of Arden's near his house in Feversham, so that Black Will, on the eve of the fair, was sent for to come thither. Green was the man who brought him, and met Mrs Arden, accompanied with Michael her man and one of her maids; there were also present Mosbie and George Shakebag, and here the plot was laid to murder Arden in the manner they afterwards perpetrated the horrid fact.
Mosbie indeed at first would not consent to so base and cowardly an act, but flung away in a fury, and went up Abbey Street towards the Flower-de-Luce, the house of Adam Fowle, whither he often resorted; but before he got thither he was overtaken by a messenger sent after him by Mrs Arden, importuning him by all means to return, which he did accordingly; and then she fell down upon her knees before him, and pressed him to go through with the business if he had any manner of love for her, and as she had several times told him, he might be assured there was nobody that would be concerned at his death, or make any search after them that dispatched him.
The importunity of the wicked woman at length prevailing, he was brought to a compliance with the accursed project, and thereupon Black Will was conveyed into Mr Arden's house, and hid in a closet at the end of the parlour, before which they had sent all the servants out upon some pretence or other, except those who were privy and consenting to the villainous design. Mosbie went and stood at the door in a silk night-gown tied about him, between the hours of six and seven at night; soon after which Arden, who had been at a neighbour's house called Dunding, and had cleared some accounts that were between them, went home, and finding Mosbie at the door, asked him if it was not supper-time. "I think not," said he; "I believe it is not yet ready." "Then," quoth Mr Arden, "let us in the meantime go and play a game at tables"; and so going directly into the parlour through the hall where his wife was walking, Mr Arden said to her: "How now, Mrs Alice?" but she made him little or no answer. In the meantime the wicket door of the entry was chained by somebody, and when they had got into the parlour Mosbie sat down on the bench, facing the closet wherein Black Will was hid; Michael, Arden's man, stood behind his master, with a candle in his hand to shadow Black Will, that his master might by no means perceive him come out of the closet. In their play Mosbie said (and that was the signal for Black Will to come out): "Now, sir, I can take you if I please." "Take me!" said Arden. "Which way?" With that Black Will rushed out of the closet and threw a towel about his neck to stop his breath and strangle him; then Mosbie having a pressing iron, weighing fourteen pounds, at his girdle, struck him so on the head with it that he knocked him down, upon which he gave a loud groan, which made them believe he was killed. From the parlour they carried him into the counting-house, where, as they were about to lay him down, the pangs of death came upon him, and groaning in a most grievous manner, he extended himself, and Black Will, giving him a terrible gash in the face, slew him outright; then he laid him along, took his money out of his pocket and the rings off his fingers, and coming out of the counting-house said: "The business is over, give me my money." Upon which Mrs Arden gave him ten pounds, and then he went to Green's, borrowed a horse of him, and rode away. After Black Will was gone, Mrs Arden went into the counting-house and with a knife stuck the corpse seven or eight times in the breast; then they cleaned the parlour, wiped away the blood with a cloth, and strewed the rushes which had been disordered during the struggle. The cloth and the bloody knife wherewith she had wounded her husband they threw into a tub by the well's side, where they were afterwards both found. This done, she sent for two Londoners then at Feversham to come to supper, to which they had been invited before the horrid murder was committed. They were grocers by trade, and their names were Prune and Cole. When they came she said: "I wonder where Mr Arden is? He will not stay long. Come, let us sit down, he will be quickly with us." Then Mosbie's sister was sent for, and sat down with them, and they were all very merry. When supper was over, Mrs Arden made her daughter play on the virginals, and they danced, and she amongst them, frequently saying, "I wonder Mr Arden stays so long; come, let us sit down, he will surely soon be with us; let us play a game at tables." But the Londoners said they must go to their lodgings, or else they should be locked out and so took their leave of the company and departed. As soon as they were gone, the servants who were not privy to the murder were sent into the towns some to look for their master, and others upon other errands; then Michael, a maid, Mosbie's sister, and one of Mrs Arden's own daughters took the dead body, and carried it out into a field adjoining to the churchyard, and to his own garden wall, through which he went to church. In the meantime it began to snow, and when they came to the garden door they had forgot the key, so that one of them was sent to fetch it. It was brought at last, and the door being unlocked, they conveyed the corpse into the field, about ten paces from the door of that garden, and laid it down on its back, in its night-gown and slippers, between one of which and the foot stuck a long rush or two.
Having by this management effectually secured themselves, as they imagined, from all manner of discovery, they returned the same way into the house; the doors were opened, and the servants, who had been sent into the town, being come back, it was by this time grown very late. However, the wicked woman sent her people out again in search for their master, directing them to go to such places where he mostly frequented, but they could hear no manner of tidings of him; then she began to exclaim, and wept like a crocodile. This brought some of her neighbours in, who found her very sorrowful, and lamenting her case, that she could not find out what was become of her husband. At last the mayor of the town and others went upon the search for him. Here we are to observe that the fair was wont to be kept partly in the town and partly in the abbey, but Arden procured it to be wholly kept in the abbey ground, of which he had made a purchase; and by this means, being like to have all the benefit of it, to the prejudice of the town and inhabitants, he was bitterly cursed for it. After they had searched other places up and down, they came at length to the ground where the dead body was laid; where Prune, the London grocer above mentioned, happening to spy it first, called to the rest of the company, who, narrowly viewing the same, found it to be the corpse of Arden, and how it was wounded. They found the rushes sticking in his slippers, and found some footsteps of people in the snow between the place where he lay and the garden door. This causing suspicion, the mayor ordered everybody to stand still, and then appointed some of the company to go about to the other side of the house and get in that way, and so through into the garden, towards the place; where, finding the prints of people's feet all along before them in the snow, it appeared very plain that he was conveyed that way, through the garden into the place where they had laid him.
The mayor and the company hereupon went into the house, and being no strangers to the ill conduct of Mrs Arden, they very strictly examined her about her husband's murder. She defied them and said: "I would have you to know I am no such woman"; but they having found some of his hair and blood near the house, in the way he was carried out, as also the bloody knife she had thrust into his body, and the cloth wherewith the murderers had wiped off the blood spilt in the parlour —- these things were so urged home, that she confessed the murder, and upon beholding her husband's blood, cried out: ''Oh! the blood of God help me, for this blood have I shed." She then discovered her guilty associates.
Mrs Arden, her daughter, Michael, and the maid were seized and sent to prison; then the mayor and the rest that attended him went to the Flower-de-Luce, where they found Mosbie in bed. They soon discovered some of the murdered person's blood upon his stockings and purse, and when he asked them what they meant by coming in that manner, they said, "You may easily see the reason"; and showing him the blood on his purse and hose, "these are our evidences." He thereupon confessed the horrid fact, and was committed to prison, as well as all the rest of the bloody crew, except Green, Black Will, and the painter, which last was never heard of after.
Some time after, the assizes were held at Feversham, where all the prisoners were arraigned and condemned. There are no parts extant that we can possibly meet with of the formality of their trials; the confession they had made of the cruel fact could not admit much of it; only there was one unhappy circumstance which attended it —- that an innocent man should suffer with the guilty; for Mrs Arden accused Bradshaw, upon the account of the letter sent by Green from Gravesend about Black Will, as before related. All the business was, that by the description Bradshaw gave of Black Will's qualities, he judged him to be a proper instrument for the perpetration of the intended murder; to which, as Green some years after at his death declared, he was no way privy. Nevertheless the man, upon Mrs Arden's accusation, was presently taken up and indicted as a procurer of Black Will to murder Mr Arden. The man made all the defence he could for his life, and desiring to see the condemned persons, he asked if they knew him, or ever had any conversation with him, and they all said No. Then the letter was produced and read. Here the prisoner told the Court the very truth of the matter, and upon what occasion he had told Green what he said of Black Will, but it availed him nothing; condemned he was, and suffered death for a murder he had no manner of knowledge of, and which he denied to the last.
As for the real bloody criminals, they were executed in several places; for Michael, Mr Arden's man, was hanged in chains at Feversham, and one of the maid servants was burned there, most bitterly lamenting her condition, and loudly exclaiming against her mistress, who had brought her to that deplorable end, for which she would never forgive her. Mosbie and his sister were hanged in Smithfield, at London. As for Mrs Arden, the founder of all the mischief, she was burnt at Canterbury. Green returned some years after, was apprehended, tried, condemned, and hanged in chains in the highway between Ospringe and Boughton, over against Feversham; but before his death he proclaimed the innocence of Bradshaw, though it was then too late. Black Will was burnt on a scaffold at Flushing, in Zeeland. Adam Fowle, who lived at the Flower-de-Luce, in Feversham, was brought into trouble about this unhappy affair; he was carried up to London with his legs tied under the horse's belly, and committed to the Marshalsea. The chief ground for this was Mosbie's saying is that had it not been for Adam Fowle, he had not been brought into that trouble -meaning the silver dice he had brought for a token from Mrs Arden to him; but when the matter was thoroughly searched into, and Mosbie had cleared him of any manner of privity to the murder, he was at length discharged.