ExecutedToday.com with its daily digest of victims of capital punishment over the centuries might seem a somewhat ‘niche’ site to link to. To some it may just appear a grim and sometimes grisly topic. However it is much more than that, full of stories of human cruelty and wickedness, of human folly and naivety, of terrible tragedies and just retributions, and of those victims with whom one sympathises and those with whom one does not. It also illuminates many curious corners of history which one never knew existed.
One such story I came across last week and caught my eye because it took place in my home county, in York in 1634. It is also a story with a happy ending, unlike most on the site. I have copied and pasted it, as indeed have the website editors, and added a comment of my own at the end
Thanks to Sabine Baring-Gould for (another) guest post. This report in Baring-Gould’s Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events ( Methven, 1890) glosses a rhyming Latin squib of Richard Brathwait‘s Drunken Barnaby’s Four Journeys to the North of England, several versions of which survive.
In the reign of King Charles I a strolling musician, a poor piper, named John Bartendale, was brought, in 1634, before the Assizes, and was convicted of felony.
He received sentence, and on March 27th was hung on the gallows, outside Micklegate Bar, York. There were no houses there at that time -- it was open country. After he had remained swinging for three-quarters of an hour, and was to all appearance dead, he was cut down, and buried near the place of execution. The officers of justice had accomplished their work carelessly in both particulars, as it afterwards transpired, for he had been neither properly hung nor properly buried.
Earth has a peculiarly invigorating and restorative effect, as has been recently discovered; and patients suffering from debility are by some medical men now-a-days placed in earth baths with the most salutary effects. In the case of gangrened wounds a little earth has been found efficacious in promoting healthy action of the skin. John Bartendale was now to experience the advantages of an earth-bath.
That same day, in the afternoon, a gentleman, one of the Vavasours of Hazlewood, was riding by, when he observed the earth moving in a certain place. He ordered his servant to alight; he himself descended from his horse; and together they threw off the mould, and discovered the unfortunate piper alive. He opened his eyes, sat up, and asked where he was, and how he came there. Mr. Vavasour and his servant helped him out of his grave, and seated him on the side. The man was sent for water and other restoratives, and before long the news had spread about down Micklegate that the poor piper was come to life again. A swarm of wondering and sympathising people poured out to congratulate John the Piper on his resurrection, and to offer their assistance. A conveyance was obtained, and as soon as Bartendale was in a sufficient condition to be moved he was placed in it covered with Mr. Vavasour’s cloak, -- for he had been stripped by the executioner before he was laid in the earth -- and was removed again to York Castle.
It was rather hard that the poor fellow, after he had obtained his release, should have been returned to his prison; but there was no help for it. The resurrection of the piper was no secret; otherwise Mr. Vavasour would doubtless have removed him privately to a place of security till he was recovered, and then have sent him into another part of the country.
At the following Assizes, Bartendale was brought up again. It was a nice point of law whether the man could be sentenced to execution again after the Sheriff had signed his affidavit that the man had been hung till he was dead. Mr. Vavasour was naturally reluctant to supply the one link in the chain of evidence which established the identity of the prisoner with the piper who had been hung and buried for felony; he made earnest intercession that the poor fellow might be reprieved, popular sympathy was on his side, the judge was disposed to mercy, and Bartendale was accorded a full and free pardon; the judge remarking that the case was one in which the Almighty seemed to have interfered in mercy to frustrate the ends of human justice, and that therefore he was not disposed to reverse the decree of Providence according to the piper a prolongation of his days on earth.
Drunken Barnaby in his "Book of Travels" alludes to Bartendale, when he stops at York:
Here a piper apprehended,
Was found guilty and suspended;
Being led to t’fatal gallows,
Boys did cry, "Where is thy bellows?
Ever must thou cease thy tuning,"
Answered he, "For all your cunning,
You may fail in your prediction."
Which did happen without fiction;
For cut down, and quick interred,
Earth rejected what was buried;
Half alive or dead he rises,
Got a pardon next Assizes,
And in York continued blowing --
Yet a sense of goodness showing.
After his wonderful deliverance the poor fellow turned hostler, and lived very honestly afterwards.
The Clever Boy would add that the York Tyburn gallows was on the Knavesmire and its site is marked by a stone opposite York Racecourse by the side of the main road from the city towards Tadcaster and ultimately London. Mr Vavasour was a member of a famous recusant family and he may perhaps have been riding slowly past the gallows as a sign of respect because that was where so many Yorkshire Martyrs of the Elizabethan era had suffered.