Kaitlyn here, but today I’m blogging as Kathy Lynn (aka Kate) Emerson
In my other writing identities, I’ve been dealing with murders in Tudor England for some time now. In my Face Down series (written as Kathy Lynn Emerson), in which my sleuth, Susanna, Lady Appleton, is an expert on poisonous herbs, I killed people off in dozens of different ways in the course of ten novels and numerous short stories. In one of the latter, “Encore for a Neck Verse,” I based the crime on a real case. In my story, a murder was faked by an unfaithful wife and her lover so that the husband would be blamed for the lover’s death and executed, after which the lover could be found to be alive and well and could then marry the wealthy widow. In the real case, some partially burned bones were considered adequate evidence of guilt and the accused man was hanged. My version included a few twists and a very different ending.
You have to go some to beat the convoluted murder plots that really took place in sixteenth-century England. My hobby is the compilation of A Who’s Who of Tudor Women (http://www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com/TudorWomenIndex.htm), an online-only opus that currently consists of over 1400 mini-biographies of women who lived during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. In other words, they lived at least a part of their lives between the years 1485 and 1603. Very few of them are murder victims. Far more of them committed murder or persuaded someone else, for love or money, to do the dastardly deed for them. There isn’t room here to talk about them all. Just recently I added entries for Rebecca Chamber, Ann Drury, Margery Freeman, Eulalia Glanfield, Ann Saunders, Anne Welles, and Margery Witherick (the case that inspired “Encore for a Neck Verse”), using a wonderful set of case histories written up by John Bellamy in his Strange Inhuman Deaths: Murder in Tudor England. I’d already included mini-bios of other notorious murderesses: Alice Brigandine, Agnes Cotell, Frances Howard, and Alice Tankerfelde. Those are all birth names, by the way. The Who’s Who is cross referenced for married surnames. Also included are a number of women who were charged with murder by witchcraft . . . but most of them were innocent.
One of the most bizarre cases I’ve come across is that of Alice Tankerfelde. She, her husband (a man named Wolfe), and others conspired to murder two foreign merchants and steal their money. Here is the condensed version. She pretended to be a whore to lure them into a boat. Once out on the Thames, her confederates, hidden under tarps, rose up and killed their victims. They stripped the bodies of all valuables and threw them overboard. Then they robbed the house where the merchants had been living. When the crime was discovered, Alice’s husband escaped to Ireland, but she was arrested and sentenced to be hanged in chains on the pirates’ gallows at Wapping Stairs. This was the punishment for crimes committed on water. She would not die by hanging, but by drowning as the tide came in and washed over her. In an attempt to avoid her punishment, she contrived to escape from the Tower of London using a rope ladder and a key provided to her by one of the guards. She might have gotten clean away had she not dressed in men’s clothing. Made suspicious by this affront to common decency, the watch took her into custody and shortly afterward she was returned to her prison cell. She was executed on March 31, 1534.
Alice wouldn’t have made much of a heroine for a mystery story, but the details of her escape from the Tower of London were exactly what I needed to write a similar scene in one of my Kate Emerson historical novels (Between Two Queens). I’ve also done something with a woman falsely accused of murder, in Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross. This was not a charge you wanted to face if you were female in sixteenth-century England. Women couldn’t use benefit of clergy the way men could (unless they could prove they’d been nuns before all the abbeys and priories were closed down) and if the victim happened to be the husband or master of the accused, the crime wasn’t just murder, it was petty treason. Instead of just hanging you, they burned you at the stake.
I may like writing about Tudor times, but I’m sure glad I live in the present.