Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






AMONG the many crimes for which offenders have been committed to the Tower, none were of a more savage character, nor more indicative of the loose administration of law at a distance from the capital in the early periods of our history, than the barbarous and deliberate murder in Somersetshire of a neighbouring country gentleman and his son by Lord Stourton, during the reign of Queen Mary, whose determined resolution to bring the murderer to justice, as soon as the facts became known to her, is one of the few acts which reflect credit on her reign.

It appears that this nobleman, who had large estates and considerable influence in Wiltshire and Somersetshire, took violent umbrage at the kind and prudent advice given by a Mr. Hartgill to his mother, Lady Stourton, while she was a guest at his country-seat near Kilmington. Lord Stourton wished to obtain from her a bond that she would not re-marry, and desired Hartgill to assist in persuading her to sign it, but he, being a man of honour and respectability, advised her to do nothing of the


sort, unless Lord Stourton would first assign her a fixed income, proportionate to her rank in life. This threw Lord Stourton into a violent fury, and, collecting a party of his tenantry and servants, he repaired to Kilmington, the seat of the Hartgills, one Sunday, while the family were at church in the adjoining village, and began to plunder and spoil the mansion.

The younger Hartgill, being told what was going on by a servant who ran to him in the church, desired his father and mother to remain for safety in the churchtower, while he, running across the churchyard to the mansion, hard by, got safe within the gates, though Lord Stourton's people shot several arrows at him as he passed. He now strung his bow, with which he was an expert marksman, and shot so fast and well at Lord Stourton's party, that, after wounding several, he presently beat them off. The unwarrantable attack on his house was naturally complained of by Hartgill in the proper quarter, and the Lords of the Council directed the sheriff of the county to arrest Lord Stourton,.who was committed to prison, from whence he was not released till he had been bound over in due form to keep the peace towards the Hartgills for a year. This lenient treatment, however, did not deter Lord Stourton from taking every occasion to avenge himself on the Hartgills, destroying their crops, driving their cattle, and annoying them by every sort of petty persecution. About this time, the Queen making a journey to Basingend, in Hampshire, the Hartgills took advantage of this visit for a personal appeal to her Majesty, who caused Lord Stourton to be summoned before the Council.


He promptly obeyed the summons, affected deep regret for his conduct, and declared that, if the Hartgills would come to his house and be reconciled to him, he would make full restitution for all the harm he had done them.

Trusting to this assurance, the father and son, accompanied by a friend, proceeded, after the departure of the Queen from Basing-end, to Lord Stourton's house; but their perfidious enemy had placed six ruffians in ambush, in a narrow lane, and, before young Hartgill could draw his sword, they attacked, and so wounded him, that he was left for dead on the ground. Again the Queen was appealed to, and the Star Chamber, causing Lord Stourton to be seized aud brought prisoner before them in London, committed him to the Fleet Prison, and sentenced him to pay a considerable fine to the Hartgills. He contrived, however, by fair promises, to be again liberated on giving a bond for 2000L. to appear for trial at the next term, and returned home with his mind fully bent on the destruction of the unfortunate Hartgills at all hazards. In pursuance of his scheme, he sent a messenger to invite them to meet him and receive the fine awarded them by the Star Chamber, at Kilmington Church. This appeared so fair a proposal, that the father and son did not hesitate to repair to the place at the time appointed, but finding that Lord Stourton had already arrived, and was attended by a number of his servants and dependants, the elder Hartgill declared that they would not approach nearer to Lord Stourton's party, nor have communication with him, except in the church itself. As if to show his good faith, Lord


Stourton produced a large purse of gold, and began to discuss the amount of the payment due, but, having gradually approached and got them within reach, he suddenly cried out, "I arrest you both of felony," and, as he was a magistrate of the county, his followers did not hesitate to seize and bind the Hartgills hand and foot, supposing that he had legal warrant for his proceeding.

The Hartgills were then confined in the parsonagehouse, and the majority of Lord Stourton's tenants and followers dispersed. In the middle of that night the prisoners were removed, and not without some rough usage on the road, to Bonham, a house near Stourton Caundell; and the next day Lord Stourton induced two justices of the peace to go to Bonham and examine them, on the understanding that they should afterwards be committed direct to the county gaol, and charges substantiated against them. These magistrates, finding that there was no case, but afraid of offending Lord Stourton, contented themselves with ordering the removal of their bonds, and left them, as they supposed, to be sent next day to prison.

No sooner, however, had the two magistrates withdrawn, than Lord Stourton commanded four ruffians, whom he had placed in charge of the Hartgills, again to bind them hand and foot, and at ten o'clock that night they were dragged to the garden of Stourton Caundell, where they were thrown to the ground, and their brains beat out by these villains, while their master stood, with a taper in his hand, at a back door of the house, to witness the completion of this bloody act. The bodies were then


carried through the back door, into a gallery, at the end of which was a small vestibule, opening into Lord Stourton's own apartment. Here, the old man's life not being quite extinct, he uttered a deep groan, when Lord Stourton, holding the candle, caused his throat to be cut, for fear, as was afterwards deposed by one of the murderers, that a French priest, who lay in a chamber near, should hear his moans.

In order to the concealment of the bodies of these unfortunate gentlemen, they were buried very deep in a sort of cellar beneath the mansion, and then laid over with a double pavement, upon which a quantity of shavings and sawdust was spread, to hide the spot. But Sir Anthony Hungerford, the Sheriff of Wiltshire, who already knew the malignity of Lord Stourton towards the Hartgills, on being informed of the visit of the two magistrates, and that, instead of the Hartgills being lodged next day in the gaol on the charge of felony, they had mysteriously disappeared, instantly set on foot a strict search and inquiry. Their removal was soon traced to Stourton Caundell, and one of the villains, concerned in the murder, having betrayed his employer, the corpses of the unfortunate Hartgills were discovered and disinterred. Sir Anthony instantly caused Lord Stourton to be apprehended, and on his reporting the facts to the Council, an order came down to send him to London, and lodge him in the Tower. He was shortly after arraigned in the Tower, before a Special Commission, consisting of the Lord Chief Justice, with some of the other judges, the Lord Steward, and


the Lord Chamberlain. The four servants who had been his instruments in this barbarous murder were sent for trial to Salisbury.

Lord Stourton had shown, at various times, great zeal for the Catholic interests; and the Hartgills being Protestants, it was rather apprehended that the Queen might favour him; but Mary fully shared the public indignation, at the barbarity of the crime, and rejected all intercession in favour of the murderer.

Lord Stourton was treated with great severity, for he was carried to Salisbury on horseback, with his arms pinioned, and his legs tied under the horse; the first day to Hounslow; the second to Staines; the third to Basing; and the fourth to Salisbury, where he was hanged in the Market Place. His execution is the first instance, where any record appears of the privilege claimed by Peers, of being hanged with a rope of silk, a privilege, be it observed, which was not altogether an empty distinction, for there can be no doubt that a much slenderer cord of silk will bear the weight of a man's body without risk of breaking, than any cord made of hemp, and the smaller the rope, the more sudden and complete is the strangulation, especially as the smoother material causes the noose to close more effectually upon the windpipe.

Lord Stourton's servants were hanged near the scene of the murder, and their bodies were afterwards suspended there in chains. Hanging in chains has been for so many years discontinued, that the manner of it is no longer generally known, and many might imagine that a chain was really used for the execution of the criminal, instead


of a rope. But this was not so; the man was in the first instance hanged in the ordinary way, with a hempen cord, and, after he was dead and cut down from the gibbet, a stout canvas dress was put on the body, well saturated with tar; the face, hands, and feet were likewise daubed with it, and then a light frame of hoop- iron was fitted round the legs, body, and arms, with the object of causing the ghastly remains to hang together as long as possible. At the top of this framework, was an iron loop, which went over the head, and 'to this was secured the chain, by which the corpse was finally suspended to a lofty gibbet made of oak, and studded with tenterhooks, to prevent any one from climbing up to remove the body. The last of these hideous spectacles might be seen, as recently as the year 1816, on the point, formed by the curve of the river Thames, a mile below Greenwich, where the wasted corpses of four lascars, hanged for mutiny and the murder of the captain and most of the crew of an Indiaman, were still hanging in chains from a lofty gibbet.