On 23 August 1628, at Portsmouth, John Felton stabbed the Duke of Buckingham.
Well… fair enough. Buckingham was by all accounts a disastrous leader of men (“During the course of the duke’s incompetent leadership, Parliament had twice attempted to impeach him.” — Wikipedia), and Felton was long considered a hero and a martyr (for what cause, I’m not quite sure).
But what seems weird to me is just how abjectly apologetic he was in the aftermath. I need to dive into whether this was standard at the time [because torture? Because monarchy? How did Guy Fawkes handle it two decades earlier?], but this is from the letters of John Pory:
About Satturday last his Majesty signif[ied] by a message unto Felton, that he should prepare himselfe to dye and to indure as muche torture as could be putt upon a man, His answere was: I give his Majesty most humble thankes, for doing me this singular grace and favor in forewarning me of my death which I am ready to embrace. And for torture to be inflicted on my body, I am ready to suffer. Being confident, that the tortures of my soule are all appeased in my Saviours merrites.
At the trial he goes into a whole “if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off” thing:
Yesterday Felton was arraigned & condemned at the k. benche barre, there being no jury present, he being convict by his owne confession. The judges understanding he had not received the Communion in 2 yeares space tolde him, it was either Popery or Atheism putt that malice into his hart to committe so barbarous a murther. His answer was he did it not out of malice, but with intention for the good of his countrey. Here is the hand (said hee) that did the deed, and I wish it may be cutt off and then my body disposed at the kinges pleasure. No (answered the judges) you shall have the lawe that is, to be hang’d till you dye & no more, He saide besides he acknowledged it an horrible crime to deface Gods image so by murther, but he had often & earnestly repented him, and doubted not but that as the bloud of his Saviour was sufficient to expiate all his other sinnes, so this also. So the judges condemned him simply to be hanged, referring the time & place to his Majesties pleasure.
I’d expected more of a “…and your little dog too!” vibe from a political assassin, to be honest.
I’ve got a lot to say about Felton’s Disappearing Monument, but I need to figure out how to knock the text into shape (and not all the research is mine). But here’s the bit from John Pory that I was interested in, which is about the disposition of Felton’s body after he was hanged:
But by that time he was cutt downe, there came a countermande post from his Majesty, that his Corps should be returned back to the Gatehouse, from whence on Sunday last it was carried in a Coach towards Portsmouth, there to be hanged up in chains upon the highest Tower. Some say it was intercepted by the way, which I doe not believe.
Felton upon this daye sennight was hanged up in chaines two mile on this side Portsmouth, and so was seen on Monday morning by one that came from Portsmouth, some butts length from the road, and in the same cloathes he wore when he slew the Duke, which was done at the instance of my lady Duchesse.
“sennight” is seven nights, a week. So I interpret “this daye sennight” as 6th Dec 1628. Wikipedia has the murder of the Duke on 23rd Aug 1628 and the hanging of Felton on 29th Nov 1628.
In The Portsmouth Road and Its Tributaries, Charles George Harper gives us a ballpark figure for the journey:
circa 1770), even the quickest stages were no speedier than the vans. For instance, at that time the “Royal Mail” started daily from the “Blue Posts” at two p.m., and only arrived in London at six o’clock the next morning."
The vans were similar to the stage-coaches, but much larger and clumsier, and jogged along at a very easy pace. They took, in fact, from fifteen to sixteen hours to perform the journey under the most favourable circumstances […] One van left Portsmouth at four p.m. every day for the “Eagle,” City Road, London, arriving there at about seven or eight o’clock the next morning, and another left the “Eagle” for Portsmouth at the same time. […] Thirty-five years earlier (
So we can assume that several days were taken up in preparing the body and the gibbet.
It’s very clear (“hanged up in chains upon the highest Tower”, “in the same cloathes he wore when he slew the Duke”) that the intention was to make a spectacle and a warning of the corpse. But the traditional site of Felton’s gibbet, on the beach a little east of the town ramparts [check state of ramparts in 1628, also little morass], is on the way to nowhere in particular. “Two mile on this side [of] Portsmouth” would put the gibbet on the main London-Portsmouth road, maybe somewhere around Hilsea. At that point it would be seen by every person travelling to or from Portsmouth. Any further north and the road splits, and you lose some of your audience.
(Alternative view: The location on the beach, well away from any visual clutter, is visible to ships entering and leaving the port. There would also be a clear view from the Saluting Platform).
[I know I’ve seen references to a (gibbet|stocks|gallows) at Hilsea Green - find]
[Find near-contemporary image of view east from Saluting Platform]