Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

HOW AN EARL WAS HANGED.

ting his brows. He was fond of his divided between his fifteen sons and twelve mother, and anxious to be good to her, daughters, the abundant progeny of two but she was apt to try his patience before wives. The first earl's titles fell to his strangers.

second son, but he dying without issue, Why do you go roving about the hills they passed to the next surviving brother, like a gipsy, mother ?” he said, deprecat- the ninth son, and he never marrying, they ingly, as she leaned on his shoulder, and came eventually to the tenth son, the father heaved herself slowly to the ground. of the unfortunate earl who ended his mis

"Why?" she said, turning upon him with spent life at Tyburn. meek wrath. “To keep you from harm if I This unhappy nobleman—a man of can. But it seems I might as well stay at violent passions—had a clear intellect and home."

acknowledged abilities, when his brain was Quite as well,” said Christopher, with not sodden with wine and brandy. Then he angry eyes, and then laughed foolishly, and became a madman, whom wealth and power told his mother to go in and dress; that she only rendered more dangerous. In 1752 was a dear old goose, and made great he married Mary, the daughter of Amos mistakes.

Melville, Esquire. (This lady afterwards

marrieda brother of the Dukeof Argyll.) ToOLD STORIES RE-TOLD.

wards his wife the earl behaved with insane barbarity. A single instance of his ground

less cruelty and ferocity will suffice. Lord In the year 1758 the tongues of Lei. Ferrers's brother and his wife were paying cestershire gossips were busy with the wild a visit at Staunton-Harold, and some disdoings and extraordinary behaviour of pute arose between the two gentlemen. Laurence Shirley, the fourth Earl Ferrers, | One day, the countess being absent from who lived at Staunton-Harold, near Ashby- the room, the earl rushed up-stairs with a de-la-Zouch, on the Staffordshire borders large clasp-knife in his hand, and asked a of Leicestershire.

servant whom he met where his lady was. The house of Ferrers boasted the bluest The man replied, “In her own room,' blood in Leicestershire, however much it upon which Lord' Ferrers ordered him to had corrupted in the person of the turbu- load a brace of pistols and follow him. The lent and savage-tempered master of Staun- man obeyed the order, but, apprehensive ton. The family, sprung from the royal of mischief, put no priming to the pistols. Plantagenets, had fought and governed Lord Ferrers discovering this, swore at him, in England for generations. One sturdy and taking the powder primed the pistols ancestor, struck down beside the king's himself. He then threatened that if the standard at the great battle of Shrews- man did not immediately go and shoot his bury, in the early part of the reign of brother, the captain, he would blow his Henry the Fourth, has been immortalised brains out. The servant naturally hesiby Shakespeare. The second baronet of the tating to obey this order, the earl pulled family, Sir Henry Shirley, married one of the trigger of one of the pistols, but the daughters of the last favourite of Eliza-luckily it missed fire. The countess, beth, the Earl of Essex. The son of Henry, coming in at this juncture, threw herself Sir Robert Shirley, was kept close in the on her knees, and begged him to restrain Tower by Cromwell for his obstinate ad his passion. The earl, brandishing the herence to the cause of Charles the First. other pistol, sullenly swore at her, and Sir Robert's second son was summoned to threatened to blow her brains out if she parliament by Charles the Second, in re continued to vex and thwart him. The ward for his father's loyalty, by the title servant, taking advantage of this lull to of Lord Ferrers, of Chartley, as the de-escape from the room, and running pale scendant of one of the coheiresses of and scared to the captain's bedroom, reRobert, Earl of Essex, the title having ported to him all that had passed. Upon been in abeyance since the head of Essex which the captain very wisely made his fell on the Tower Hill scaffold, and the wife get up and dress herself

, and they precedency having been suspended since the both left the house instantly, though it was reign of Edward the First. In 1711, Queen then only two o'clock in the morning. Anne created Robert Lord Ferrers, Vis- On all occasions when annoyed the earl count Tamworth, and Earl Ferrers. This flew into tremendous rages with his sernobleman had ruled over vast domains, but vants, and cuffed and beat them as if they they were much reduced by being sub- had been slaves or convicts. On one oe

ran

casion, some oysters sent from London more beyond his control. Whatever his arriving tainted, the earl ordered one of his fury suggested as such times, he at once men to swear before the magistrates that endeavoured to effect. Taking lodgings at the carrier had confessed to changing the Muswell Hill, he one Sunday, in a momen. barrels. The servant respectfully declining tary caprice, sent off a mounted messenger to take any such oath, the earl burst into post-baste for a favourite mare which he one of his whirlwinds of passion, flew at had intrusted to the care of the landlord of the man, stabbed him in the breast with a a neighbouring inn. The messenger found knife, cut his head with a silver candlestick, the family absent; and, moreover, as the and kicked him so terribly that he suffered boy who kept the keys was also at church, for several years afterwards.

the stable where the mare was could not In 1756, the earl's temper was again at be entered. On hearing this, the earl blood heat. At the Derby races he cruelly blazed up into madness, snatched up a

a mare (then in foal) against the swordstick, and, arming two of his ser. horse of a Captain M. for fifty pounds, vants with guns and sledge-hammers, and won.

In the evening over the wine, hurried away to the inn. There meeting the captain, laughing about the earl's mare, the landlord, the earl wounded him with offered to run his horse against her again his sword-cane, knocked down the frightat the end of seven months. Lord Ferrers, ened landlady, broke down the stable-doors, enraged at what his wild temper at once and carried off the mare in maniacal trisuspected to be a prearranged insult, in- umph. Yet in this same inn the earl fre. stantly, though it was three o'clock in the quently lodged, revelling with the village morning, left Derby, and posted to his seat topers, alternately threatening and treating at Staunton-Harold. The next morning, them; drinking scalding coffee out of the as soon as he awoke, he tore at his bed spout of a coffee-pot; breaking rows of room bell, and called for his groom. He glasses, and often threatening to smash the asked how Captain M. came to be told that landlord's bureau and throttle the landthe mare that ran at Derby was in foal. lady. In calmer moments he was despon. The groom denied that he had ever told dent, lamented his fits of rage, and begged any 'one about the mare. The next day people not to be offended with his ways. the earl waited in vain for the captain and In 1760, the trustees under the act of the rest of his Derby friends, whom he had separation proposed Mr. Johnson, the earl's insulted, and who naturally refused to ex. steward, as the receiver of rents for the pose themselves to fresh annoyances. Lord countess's use. This Mr. Johuson had been Ferrers, enraged at finding that no one bred up in the family from his youth, and came, fell on his footmen, and, rushing was distinguished for his regularity in acamong them furious as Herod among the counts, for his general respectability and innocents, kicked and horsewhipped them tried fidelity. With an instinctive presenti. all round, and threw everything at them ment of evil, Johnson at first declined the that he could lift.

trust, till specially urged to take it by his The natural end of the earl's mad rages master, for at this time Johnson stood very was the divorce sued for and obtained by high in the earl's opinion. They soon, howhis long-suffering wife in 1758. Horace ever, became the deadliest of enemies, for Walpole, writing to his crony and gossip, Johnson refusing to in any way falsify the Sir Horace Mann, then at Florence, dilates accounts, the earl swore at him for having of course upon the earl's divorce, and men- been a witness for the countess at the trial tions some particulars of the earl's extra- for divorce, and for having lent his unordinary conduct on the occasion, when he happy wife in her need fifty pounds. dared not throw boot-jacks at the counsel, The earl soon began to accuse Johnson or decanters at the judges. He did not of treachery, especially of having combined attend the trial, in fact, at all, but, probably with the trustees to disappoint him of a to affect a contemptuous indifference, rode contract for certain coal mines ; he also atthe same day to Hertford assizes, to prose- tempted with might and main to turn him cute Page, a well-known highwayman, who out of an advantageous farm, half a mile had recently robbed him.

from Staunton - Harold, which he held The disgrace and vexation attending the under his lordship, but the trustees renew. divorce seem to have pushed the earl just ing the lease, the earl was baffled. This that step further which tumbled him over repulse raised the madman's passions to the precipice of madness. His paroxysms the last degree. Fired with drink, he now of passion grew more frequent and still bent himself to murder. With all the canning of insanity the earl behaved to

“Down on your other knee,” roared the the faithful steward with great affability, earl, so loud as to be heard in the kitchen. and transacted business with him without “Down, and declare what you have done reproaches or angry remonstrances. The against Lord Ferrers. Your time is come. family at Staunton-Harold, during this You must die.” fatal lull, consisted of Mrs. Clifford, the Then he fired. The pistol-ball entered the earl's mistress, her four daughters, three steward's body just under the last false rib, men-servants, an old man, a boy, and three and penetrated the bowels. Johnson did not maids. On Sunday, January the 13th, fall, but, pale and suffering, staggered to a 1760, the earl rode up quietly to the door seat, uttering groans and appeals for mercy, of Johnson, who lived about half a mile Lord Ferrers drew out a second loaded from the hall, and, with his usual brusque pistol, still shouting to the dying man to voice and manner, desired him to come to sign the paper, but did not fire again. In Staunton between three and four o'clock about twenty minutes or so he grew calm in the afternoon of the following Friday. enough to unlock the door, go into the On the day named, just after the two passage and call out, " Who is there?” o'clock dinner of the family, Lord Ferrers to the frightened women who had huddled went into the still-house, a semi-detached together for safety in the wash-house. On building, where Mrs. Clifford and the chil- the boldest and most compassionate of them dren lodged, and sent her for a walk to coming to where the wounded man satz. her father's house, two miles off. He then pressing his side and groaning, he sent her sent all the men-servants away on some at once for some one to help in getting fool's errand or other. Mrs. Clifford and the steward up-stairs to bed. Lord Ferrers, the children were not to return till half- who, wonderful to relate, was perfectly past five. He had a clear field in which to sober, now despatched a mounted mescarry out his no doubt long-matured pur senger for Mr. Kirkland, a surgeon of pose. The three maids could not stay his Ashby-de-la-Zouch, two miles distant, and arm, and would be too frightened even to then went himself up to the wounded spread an alarm in the outbuildings. man, whom the maid was tending, and

At the appointed hour the unconscious asked him how he found himself. The steward arrived at the house prepared for steward faintly replied that he was dying, his slaughter. Elizabeth Burgham, the and begged his murderer to send for his maid, smilingly let him in, and showed him children. Lord Ferrers at once sent for the to the door of his lordship's room.

steward's daughter. On her arrival Lord Lord Ferrers sallenly came to the door, Ferrers sent one of the maids up with her and ordered the steward to go and wait in to her father's room, and soon after followed the still-house. In about ten minutes Lord himself, in great perturbation, being now Ferrers came out, called the steward into fully conscious of the danger. Johnson keing bis room, and at once, to his surprise, nearly insensible, Lord Ferrers pulled down locked the door, and took out the key. the clothes and sponged the orifice of the Hitherto Johnson had felt no alarm; but wound with arquebusade water. Then he now he saw the earl's face darken, and his went down-stairs, and drank himself drunk brow knit, as the earl turned on him with great draughts of beer.

The mesangrily, ordering him at once to pay cer senger soon after returned with the surtain disputed sums, and, after curses and geon, to whom Lord Ferrers frankly conthreats, producing a prepared paper, "a con- fessed his violence, but said he thought fession of villany,” as he called it, which Johnson was more frightened than hurt. he insisted on Johnson then and there sign- "I intended,” he said, “ to have shot ing. The steward refused to sign any such him dead, for he was a villain, and deserved document, and, half angry, half alarmed, to die; but now I have spared his life, I. expostulated and declared his innocence desire you to do what you can for him.” of any evil intention against his lordship. He also declared that no one should lay But the madness of revenge had entire bands on him, and that he would shoot

over that infirm and fierce dead whoever attempted it. Mr. Kirkland, nature. The earl, snatching a loaded pistol knowing the man's fiery temper, and seefrom the deep side-pocket of his square-cut ing that he was partly drunk, assured him laced coat, cocked it and presented it, that there was no danger, and that no shouting, "Kneel down."

violence would be offered him. On the The astonished man, afraid to refuse, surgeon probing the wound, Lord Ferrers. knelt on one knee.

produced the pistol, described the direc

role now

[ocr errors]

tion in which he had held it, and ex- alarmed Springthorpe, who knew the man, pressed surprise that the bullet should and as he stepped back among his friends, have lodged at all, as only a few days the earl ran again into the house, bolted before a ball from the same pistol had gone all the doors, and apparently prepared for through an inch-and-a-half plank. The a desperate resistance. The angry crowd surgeon then went down-stairs to prepare blockaded his house, but no one appeared. dressings, and the earl went back again to About two hours after, however, the earl his beer jug. As he got more and more thrust his wild face out of a garret win. drunk, fits of compassion alternated with dow, and called out, “How is Johnson ?” storms of rage and pangs of fear, till his Springthorpe shouted up the terrible words, reason seemed almost tottering. He la “ He is dead.” The earl replied, “ You're mented his rage, then trembled for himself, a liar, d- you. I'll believe nobody but and the next moment was rushing up-stairs Kirkland.” to Johnson's room to rouse the dying man, On being solemnly assured that the to pull his legs, to try to tear off the bed- stoward was dead, the earl at last desired the clothes, and to threaten to shoot “the people to disperse, and he would surrender. villain” through the head, all the while at The next moment, with all a madman's deintervals promising to maintain Johnson's sultoriness, lie asked some one to bring him daughter and the whole family if they would some meat and wine. Then cursing every promise not to prosecute. Mrs. Clifford, one in a sudden rage, he said he would not who had returned, alarmed at the earl's be taken at all, and, slamming the window, violence, and afraid of further ill conse- disappeared. quences, suggested that poor Johnson Two hours later the earl was seen strutshould be removed to his own house, but ting about his bowling-green, probably that set Lord Ferrers again raging, and he quite drunk by this time, and armed with screamed: “He shall not be moved. I a huge bell-mouthed blunderbuss, two or will keep him here to plague the villain !" three pistols, and a dagger. They closed in

Between eleven and twelve the murderer upon him, however, and Austin, a collier, went gloomily to bed, entreating the sur- resolutely ran in at him and seized him, geon to make things all right, and, above without even a shot being fired, or any all, to prevent his being seized, especially scuffle taking place. The moment his hands leaving word to see him in the morning, were tied he began to glory in the fact of however early he left. In the night the having, as he said, killed a villain. He doctor began to foresee new dangers with was taken to Ashby-de-la-Zouch and locked the next daylight. In fresh ravings the up in a public-house till the coroner's jury earl might shoot Johnson as he lay in brought in a verdict of “wilful murder," bed, or, what was even worse (from his when the earl was driven off to Leicester the doctor's point of view), he might, if the Jail. A fortnight later Lord Ferrers was steward died at the hall, shoot him (the taken to London in his own landau, dressed doctor) for having let the man die. So, in like a jockey, in a close riding-frock, jockey the darkness, Kirkland stole off to the boots, cap, and a plush shirt. steward's house, and rigged up an easy

The House of Peers committed the mur. chair, with side poles, as a sedan. About derer to the Tower. He was placed in a two o'clock in the morning Johnson was round building near the drawbridge, and quietly removed. The poor fellow lingered strietly guarded. Two warders constantly till nine in the morning, and then expired. attended in his room: a third waited at the

The news of the crime and its results door. At the bottom of the stairs, two aroused the neighbours, who armed them- soldiers stood with fixed bayonets, and one selves and bore down on the hall. As they sentinel paced at the door of the tower. crowded murmuring into the court-yard, The great gates were shut an hour before the earl, half dressed, his stockings down, the usual time while this miserable criminal and carrying his garters in his hand, passed remained a prisoner. Mrs. Clifford and her towards the stable as if to take horse and children came up to town and lodged in fly, the news of the steward's death having Tower-street, but the interchanged mesno doubt already reached him. A bold sages became at last so troublesome to the Leicestershire man, named Springthorpe, warders that they had to be restricted to at once pushed to the front, and presenting one letter a day. His children were occaa pistol, summoned the madman to sur- sionally allowed to see him. The earl lived render. The earl, however, putting his hand regularly, and drank his quart of wine a in his pocket as if to pull out å pistol, | day. His behaviour in general was reasonable, but at times, when denouncing mind to a rational balance, or soften his the murdered steward, his passion broke bull-dog heart. He told the chaplain frankly all bounds.

that he was

a deist, and could not beThe trial of Lord Ferrers took place at lieve in justification by faith. He boasted Westminster Hall on the 16th of April, that he had never led the faith of any one 1760, Lord Henley (afterwards Earl of astray. He thought all persons who asNorthington), the Chancellor, presiding as sailed the religion of a country enemies high steward over the one hundred and of society, and he blamed Lord Bolingforty peers present. The criminal, “bad broke for disseminating sceptical theories. and villanous in figure,” as Horace Walpole As for Johnson, he said the affair was says, pleaded insanity, against his own in- under peculiar circumstances, and he had clination, to please his family. The earl's met with so many crosses and vexations two brothers attended to prove lunacy in that he scarcely knew what he did, but he the blood.

was graciously pleased to say that he bore The plea of madness not holding, the no malice against the unfortunate man. worthless earl was found guilty by the The chaplain finally hinted something unanimous voice of his peers, and was sen- about the world requiring satisfaction. tenced to be duly hung, like any low-bred “Sir," replied the earl, with allowable cut-throat, and afterwards to be anato- impatience, and more good sense than mised, on the 21st of April. He was after- usual, “ sir, what have 1 to do now with wards respited till the 5th of May. While the world ? I am going to pay a forfeit awaiting his sentence, Lord Ferrers did life. What do I care what the world the little he could to atone for his crime thinks of me?" by leaving thirteen hundred pounds in The morning of the execution he began India bonds to the children of Mr. John- the following lines, when the warders, son: a just legacy, that nevertheless re- coming to tell him his carriage was ready, mained long unpaid. He also left sixty interrupted the composition: pounds a year to Mrs. Clifford, and one

In doubt I live, in doubt I die, thousand pounds to each of his natural

Yet undismayed the vast abyss I'll try; daughters. He petitioned very hard to And plunge into eternity be beheaded in private on Tower Green ;

Through rugged paths. but with this request King George very

The next earl who is hung may perhaps properly refused to comply. His legacies carry on the poem. About nine A.m. the were, however, permitted to be held as procession left the Tower-gate. First came legal.

à body of constables to clear a passage In prison the earl now drank as much as through the dense crowd, patrols of horse he could get, and continued to act in a way and foot guards followed; then came the that bordered as nearly as possible on mad- sheriff's carriage, the horses decorated with ness. The very night that sentence was ribbons. Last of all came Lord Ferrers in passed, he played at piquet, for money, his own landau, drawn by six horses, his with the warders, and would have remained old coachman crying all the way, and almost all night over the cards had they not re- unable to drive. The earl was dressed in fused to play after midnight. On the his wedding suit of white silk, richly emgovernor lessening his rather excessive broidered with silver-a costume, as he allowance of wine, the earl artfully con- said bitterly, “as fit for one day as the sented to an interview with one of his other.” When he saw the vast crowd brothers, bis only object being to get his jostling all the way up Holborn and the brother to intercede for more claret. The Oxford-road, he remarked calmly: “Ah! moment this request was granted, the earl I suppose they never saw a lord hanged said coolly to his brother: “ Now is as before.” good a time as any to take leave of you, At the Tower-gate Mr. Sheriff Vaillant, adieu !"

a French bookseller, with many apologies, So the door closed upon the brother for took his seat in the landau. “It was very ever, and the mad earl shuffled the cards, disagreeable to him," he said, with perfect eat for a new deal, and went gaily on with good manners, “ to wait on his lordship on his piquet.

so awful an occasion, but he would enThe earl's aunt, that excellent woman the deavour to render his situation as agreeCountess of Huntingdon, the great patroness able as possible.” Earl Ferrers asked the of Whitfield, frequently visited the prisoner polite sheriff if he had ever seen such a in the Tower, but nothing could restore his crowd before. The sheriff had not. The

« AnteriorContinua »