The Woman burned for the Murder of her Husband, and the Man hanged for being her Accomplice, near Ipswich, 8th of April, 1763
Ann Beddingfield burnt at the stake
JOHN BEDDINGFIELD, the husband of the murderess, was the son of respectable parents, at Sternfield, in Suffolk, and having married when he was about twenty-four years of age, the young couple were placed in a good farm, which was carefully attended by Beddingfield, who bore the character of a man of industry and integrity. They had two children.
Richard Ringe, a youth of nineteen, was engaged in the service of Mr Beddingfield; nor had he been long in the house before his mistress became so enamoured of him that her husband was the object of her contempt. Her behaviour to Ringe was such that he could not long doubt of her favourable inclinations; nor had he virtue to resist the temptation.
At length Mrs Beddingfield, having formed the horrid design of destroying her husband, communicated her intention to Ringe, who hesitated on the dreadful proposal, nor did he consent till she had promised that he should share her fortune as the reward of the deed.
Mrs Beddingfield, blinded by her passion, was now so much off her guard as to say very indiscreet things to her servants, which led them to presume she had determined on the most deliberate wickedness; of which the following is given as one instance. As she was dressing herself one morning she said to her maid-servant: "Help me to put on my ear-rings; but I shall not wear them much longer, for I shall have new black ones. It will not be long before somebody in the house dies, and I believe it will be your master."
Extravagant as this declaration was, the behaviour of Ringe was not at all more prudent. He purchased some poison, and told one of the servant-maids that he would be her constant friend if she would mix it with some rum-and-milk that her master drank in the morning. But the girl declined having any concern in so horrid a transaction; nor did she take any notice of the proposal that had been made till after the commission of the murder.
Mr Beddingfield happening to be indisposed, it was recommended to him to take a vomit, and the water which the servant-maid brought him to drink proving to be too hot, Ringe was directed to bring some cold water to mix with it, and he took this opportunity of putting arsenic into the water; but Beddingfield, observing a white sediment in the basin, would not drink, though no suspicion of the liquor being poisoned had occurred to him.
Henceforward the intentional murderers resolved not to think of having recourse to poison, but devised another scheme of dispatching the unfortunate object of their vengeance. Mr Beddingfield having been selling some cattle to another farmer, they drank a sociable glass together, but not to such a degree as to occasion intoxication. When Mr Beddingfield came home he found that his wife was in bed with one of the maid-servants, on which he desired her to come to his chamber; but this she refused, and mutual recriminations passed between them. It had been determined by Ringe to commit the murder on that night, while his master was asleep; whereupon, when he knew he was in bed, he quitted his own room, passed through that in which his mistress slept, and went to the bedchamber of his master. Ringe, observing that Mr Beddingfield was asleep, threw a cord round his neck to strangle him; but, being hurt by the weight of Ringe lying across him, he struggled, so that they both fell off the bed together. However, the horrid deed of murder was soon perpetrated.
Mrs Beddingfield, being asleep in the next room, was awakened by the noise, and in her fright awakened the servant. At this instant Ringe entered the room and said: "I have done for him." To which the wife answered: "Then I am easy." The girl was greatly alarmed, and cried out: "Master!" -- supposing Mr Beddingfield was present, for there was no light in the room; but Mrs Beddingfield commanded her to be silent. Ringe asked the mistress if any one was acquainted with what had passed besides her and the maid; on which the girl asked, 'How came you here, Richard?' The villain, terrified by his guilt, replied, 'I was forced to it.' He now went to his own room, and laid down; and the mistress and maid getting up, the latter was charged not to utter a syllable of what had passed.
Mrs Beddingfield now directed the girl to call Ringe, who seemed offended at being disturbed; but, when he had struck a light, his mistress told him to go into his master's room, for she was afraid that he was indisposed. Ringe obeyed; but, on his return, said, with an air of surprize, that his master was dead.
By this time another maid-servant was got up, and the girls, going to their master's room, found the deceased lying on his face, and observed that part of his shirt-collar was torn off, and that his neck was black and swelled.
A messenger was instantly dispatched to Mr Beddingfield's parents, who proposed to send for a surgeon; but the wife insisted that it was unnecessary to send for a doctor, as her husband was already dead. On the following day the coroner's jury took an inquisition into the cause of his death; but so superficial was the inquiry that it lasted only a few minutes, and their determination was that he died a natural death.
The guilty commerce between the murderers now became still more evident than before; but so fickle was Mrs Beddingfield's disposition that in a few weeks she began to despise the man whom she had excited to the murder of her husband. The servant-maid now resolved to discover the fact, but postponed the doing so till she had received the wages for her quarter's service. When her mistress had paid her, she went to her parents and discovered all she knew of the matter; on which a warrant was issued for apprehending the murderers. They had an item of what was going forward, and therefore attempted to bribe the girl's mother to secrecy; but she rejected their offers; on which Mrs Beddingfield made her escape, but was apprehended at the end of two days. Ringe, however, seemed to disdain to consult his own safety, but remained in the house; and, after he was committed to prison, he confessed that he had deemed himself a dead man from the time of his perpetrating the murder.
At the Lent Assizes in 1763 the prisoners were brought to trial, when the surgeon and coroner were examined as to what fell within their knowledge. The former confessed that he saw marks of violence on the body; and being asked how he could depose before the coroner that Mr Beddingfield had died a natural death, he replied that he 'did not think much about it.' A strange, and almost unaccountable declaration!
The preceding part of this narrative will lead the reader to judge of the rest of the evidence that was given on the trial; and the prisoners, having nothing to allege in extenuation of their crime, were capitally convicted and sentenced to death.
After conviction, as well as before, Ringe freely confessed his guilt; but expressed the utmost anxiety at the thought of being dissected. Mrs Beddingfield refused to make any confession till the day before her death.
They were placed on one sledge on the morning of their execution, and conveyed to a place near Ipswich, called Rushmore, where Ringe made a pathetic address to the surrounding multitude, advising young people to be warned, by his fate, to avoid the delusions of wicked women, and to consider chastity as a virtue.
After the fervent exercise of devotion he was turned off, while the body of Mrs Beddingfield, who had been first strangled at a stake, was burning to ashes, agreeable to the practice respecting women who are convicted of the murder of their husbands.
These malefactors suffered at Rushmore on the 8th of April, 1763.