Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Coleman Anecdote 17b Baxter and Jeffreys

At the time of Baxter's trial and imprisonment, Matthew Henry was in London pursuing his studies .-at Gray's Inn. Whether he witnessed the public obloquy of his father's ancient and beloved friend does not appear; but he went to visit him in his prison, and in giving an account of this visit in a letter to his father, he says: "I found him in pretty comfortable circumstances, though a prisoner, in a private house near the prison, attended on by his own man and maid. He is in as good health as one can expect, and methinks looks better and speaks heartier than when I saw him last. The token you sent he would by no means be persuaded to accept of, and was almost angry when I pressed it from one outed (»'. e., cast out of the Church) as well as himself. He said he did not use to receive ; and I understand since his need is not great. We sat with him about an hour. . . . He gave us some good counsel to prepare for trials; and said the best preparation for them was a life of faith, and a constant course of self-denial. He thought it harder constantly to deny temptations to sensual lusts and pleasures, than to resist one single temptation to deny Christ for fear of suffering; the former requiring such constant watchfulness—however, after the former, the latter will be easier. He said, we who are young are apt to count upon great things, but we must not look for it; and much more to the same purpose. He said he thought dying by sickness usually much more painful and dreadful than dying a violent death: especially considering the extraordinary supports which those have who suffer for righteousness' sake." It is gratifying to find on record such a testimony to the comfort of the suffering saint in his confinement. I would now conduct our readers to another court, and lead them to behold another case, yet more affecting than that of Baxter, for here he will be called to see one of England's highly esteemed matrons, who had been connected with the Nonconformists, and who had now sheltered one of their ministers, called to stand before the same judge, and by him consigned to death.
Alice Lisle, Her Trial and Execution. In Hampshire, John Hickes, a Nonconformist divine, and Richard Nelthorpe, a lawyer, who had been outlawed for his share in the Eye House Plot, had sought refuge at the house of Alice, widow of John Lisle. John Lisle had sat in the Long Parliament, and in the High Court of Justice; had been a Commissioner of the Great Seal, in the days of the Commonwealth; and had been created a Lord by Cromwell. The titles given by the Protector had not been recognised by any Government which had ruled England since the downfall of his house; but they appear to have been often used in conversation, even by Royalists. John Lisle's widow was, therefore, commonly known as the Lady Alice. She was related to many respectable, and to some noble families; and she was generally esteemed, even by the other gentry of her county, for it was well known to them that she had deeply regretted some violent acts in which her husband had borne a part; that she had shed bitter tears for Charles I.; and that she protected and relieved many Cavaliers in their distress. The same womanly kindness which had led her to befriend the Royalists in their time of trouble, would not suffer her to refuse a meal and a hiding-place to the wretched men who now entreated her to protect them. She took them into her house; set meat and drink before them, and showed them where they might take rest. The next morning her dwelling was surrounded by soldiers. Strict search was made; Hickes was found concealed in a malt-house, and Nelthorpe in a chimney. If Lady Alice knew her guests to have been concerned in the insurrection in the west, she was undoubtedly guilty of what, in strictness, is a capital crime; "for the law of principal and accessory then was, |) and is to this day," remarks Macaulay, "in a state disgraceful to English jurisprudence." Odious as the law was, it was strained for the purpose of destroying Alice Lisle. She could not, according to the doctrine laid down by the highest authority, be convicted till after the conviction of the rebels whom she had harboured. She was, however, set to the bar before either Hickes or Nelthorpe had been tried. It was no easy matter in such a case to obtain a verdict for the Crown. The witnesses prevaricated. The jury, consisting of the principal gentlemen of Hampshire, shrank from the thought of sending a fellow-creature to the stake for conduct which seemed rather deserving of praise than of blame. Jeffreys was beside himself with fury. This was the first case of treason on the circuit, and there seemed to be a strong probability that his prey would escape him. He stormed, cursed, and swore, in language which no well-bred man would have used at a. race or a cock-fight. One witness, named Dunne, partly from concern for Lady Alice, and partly from fright at the threats and maledictions of the Chief Justice, entirely lost his head, and at last stood silent. "Oh how hard the truth is," said Jeffreys, "to come -out of a lying Presbyterian knave!" The witness, after a pause of some minutes, stammered a few unmeaning words.
"Was there ever," exclaimed the judge, with an oath, "was there ever such a villain on the face of the -earth r1 Dost thou believe there is a God? Dost thou believe in hell fire? Of all the witnesses I ever met with, I never saw thy fellow." Still the poor man, scared out of his senses, remained mute. And again Jeffreys burst forth :— "I hope, gentlemen of the jury, that you take notice of the horrible carriage of this fellow. How can one help abhorring these men and their religion? A Turk is a saint to such a fellow as this. A Pagan would be ashamed of such villainy. O blessed Jesus! what a generation of vipers do we live among." "I cannot tell what to say, my lord," faltered Dunne. The judge again broke forth into a volley of oaths. "Was there ever," he cried, "such an impudent rascal? Hold a candle to him, that we may see his brazen face. You, gentlemen, that are counsel for the Crown, see that an information for perjury be preferred against this fellow." After the witnesses had been thus handled, the Lady Alice was called on for her defence. She began by saying, "That though she knew Hickes to be in trouble when she took him in, she did not know or suspect that he had been concerned in the rebellion. He was a divine, a man of peace. It had, therefore, never occurred to her that he could have borne arms against the Government; and she had supposed that he wished to conceal himself because warrants were out against him for field preaching." The Chief Justice began to storm. "There is not one of these lying, snivelling, canting Presbyterians, but, one way or another, have a hand in rebellion. Presbytery has all manner of villainy in it. Nothing but Presbytery could have made Dunne such a rogue. Show me a Presbyterian, and I'll show you a lying knave." He summed up in the same style, declaiming during an hour against Whigs and Dissenters, and reminding the jury that the prisoner's husband had borne a part in the death of Charles I., a fact which was not proved by any testimony, and which, if it had been proved, would have been utterly irrelevant to the issue. The jury retired, and remained long in consultation. The judge grew impatient. He could not conceive how, in so plain a case, they should ever have left the box. He sent a messenger to tell them, that if they did not instantly return, he would adjourn the court and lock them up all night. Thus put to the torture, they came, but came to say "that they doubted whether the charge had been made out." Jeffreys expostulated with them vehemently, and after another consultation, they gave a reluctant verdict of guilty. Our historians give different statements in reference to the conduct of the jury. Rapin says, "They found her not guilty three times." Burnet says, "They brought her in the second time not guilty, but, overcome with fear, they brought her in the third time guilty;" while Macaulay only gives the one statement of not guilty, or, "That they doubted whether the charge had been made out." On the following morning sentence was pronounced. Jeffreys gave directions that Alice Lisle should be burned alive that afternoon! This excess of barbarity moved the pity and indignation of that class which was most devoted to the Crown. The clergy of Winchester Cathedral remonstrated with the Chief Justice, who, brutal as he was, was not mad enough to risk a quarrel on such a subject, with a body so much respected by the Tory party. He consented to put off the execution five days. During that time the friends of the prisoner besought James to show her mercy. Ladies of high rank interceded for her. Feversham, whose recent victory had increased his influence at Court, and who, it is said, had been bribed to take the compassionate side, spoke in her favour. Clarendon, the king's brother-in-law, pleaded her cause; but all was in vain. The utmost that could be obtained was, that her sentence should 'be commuted from burning to beheading. She was put to death on the scaffold in the market-place of Winchester, and she passed through it with serene courage. She was a woman of fine understanding, as well as exalted devotion and benevolence, and she behaved in the most heroic manner at the place of execution. The speech which, notwithstanding her advanced age, she delivered on the scaffold, is said to have commenced with a religious exordium, expressive of the patience and submission of her soul to the Divine will.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Very many thanks for organising the study day recently: I found it really valuable and enlightening. Pleased to visit the new library for the first time: the air conditioning was very welcome, especially for staying awake after lunch.

I have done a little work to prepare a bibliographical note, augmenting some of your reading suggestions on the blog. Would you like me to send it? (about 4 pages)