The 1551 Murder of Thomas Arden - Faversham, Kent, UK.
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member MeerRescue
N 51° 19.132 E 000° 53.693
31U E 353306 N 5687389
Quick Description: The infamous murder of Thomas Arden, by his wife Alice, in Faversham, Kent,in 1551. Immortalised in a play of 1592, believed by William Shakespeare, and is still performed to this day.
Location: South East England, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 4/12/2012 7:48:13 AM
Waymark Code: WME733
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member cache_test_dummies
Views: 1

Long Description:

Arden House, in Abbey Street Faversham, Kent, was the location for the infamous murder of it's owner, Thomas Arden in 1551 by his wife Alice. It is the only residential building left over from the great Faversham Abbey founded in 1147 by King Stephen as his intended resting place, and used by the likes of Cardinal Wolsey when he visited the abbey. It was huge by even today's standards, covering over 32,000 sq ft. It lasted less than 100 years, its end came in 1538 when King Henry VIII dissolved the church and monasteries and demolished the great church sending the stone back to France to reinforce Calais, then in English hands.

Arden House was purchased by Thomas Arden, whilst he worked for the government office that was selling off the monastic property to the highest bidder's. Thomas, a former Mayor and Controller of the Port of Faversham, was a man obsessed with money-making, adding to his property portfolio as he added more and more of the Abbey site to it. Today Thomas would probably be accused of being an insider trader so to speak. So obsessed was he with money-making, he neglected his wife Alice, the daughter of wealthy John Brigantine and Alice Squire. Alice was described as "young, tall and well favoured of shape and countenance". Alice, fed up with Thomas's neglect, began an affair with a tailor, Richard Mosbye, and then plotted to kill her husband Thomas. Although the affair was carried on rather openly, Thomas chose to turn a blind eye, unwilling to sever links with Alice's wealthy family.

In time Alice began to loathe her husband more and more and indeed made an unsuccessful attempt to poison him. Alice found a willing accomplice in a Mr Green, someone with a grievance against Thomas Arden over land he claimed Thomas had stolen from him in one of his 'dodgy' land deals at the former Abbey site. Green and Thomas had even come to blows in public over the matter and Green was more than willing to murder Thomas. Since neither were experienced in murder, they sought out a mercenary, with the help of a local goldsmith, George Bradshaw. They were introduced to a veteran soldier named Black Will, who was apparently getting by as a highwayman locally, and would kill Thomas for the sum of ten pounds.

After numerous failed attempts the murder took place here in Thomas's own house (Arden House) on 14th February 1551. It was reported thus by Holinshed in the Chamber Book of Days;

"The wicked wife then laid a plot for murdering her husband in his own house. She procured the services of Mosbye's sister, Cicely Pounder, and two of Arden's own servants, Michael Saunderson and Elizabeth Stafford. On a particular day selected Sunday, Black Will was hidden in a closet at the end of Arden's parlour. After supper, Arden sat down to play some kind of game with Mosbye; Green stood at Arden's back, holding a candle in his hand, to shadow Black Will, when he should come out and the other conspirators had their clue. At a given signal in the game, Black Will came with a napkyn in his hand came behind Arden's back and thre the said napkyn over his head and face, ad strangled him; and forthwith Mosbye stept to him and strake him with a tailor's great pressing iron upon the scull to the braine, and immediately drew out his dagger, which was groat and broad, and therewith cut the said Arden's throat."

Mosbye and Black Will transferred Arden to his counting house. There Will finished him off. Alice, wishing to make sure he was indeed dead stabbed him seven or eight times herself. She paid Black Will his ten pounds and allowed him to take Thomas's rings and coin purse. Green then provided him with a horse to make good his escape. Alice then had the parlour cleaned and the blood wiped up. The knife and cloth were then discarded. When everything was prepared, guests started arriving foe a delayed supper. They included Mosbye's sister, Cicely. Alice feigned ignorance at the reasons her husband was taking so long to return home. Alice made sure to keep her guests around as long as possible while constantly reminding them of the suspicious absence of her husband. Then she sent most of the servants out to look for their master. Meanwhile Alice, her daughter Margaret Arden, Cicely Pounder and the maid Elizabeth Stafford would transport the corpse of Thomas outside the house. they "carried it out into a field adjoining to the churchyard, and to his own garden wall, through which he went to church". they laid it down "about ten paces from the door of that garden", making it seem as if Thomas was murdered outside.

The Newgate Calendar gives a rather different account. That night, Alice made a show of her supposed worry for her spouse's disappearance. She had her servants search for him late into the night, wept and lamented, alerted the neighbours. At last the local mayor was informed and a town-wide search was contacted. When the corpse was discovered, the people involved with the search started doubting the innocence of Alice. It was a cold winter night and there was fresh snow on the ground. But the body was only dressed in "its night-gown and slippers". Making it unlikely he was going about his business in town when killed. The fresh snow had preserved footprints of several people in the distance between the location of the body and the residence of the Arden's, making it plain the body had been transported from the house to its current position.

Suspicions immediately fell on Alice. She was confronted by the mayor and "very strictly examined" on the murder of her husband. She initially denied any knowledge of the deed. But the people of the town contacted further searches near the house. Discovering hair and blood of the victim, the bloody knife and the cloth. Discarded but poorly hidden. Alice was at length forced to confess to her guilt. Also naming her associates. The two Arden ladies (mother and daughter), the servant and the maid were immediately arrested and sent to prison. Mosbye was not present. He was found sleeping at the "Flower-de-Luce", the house of Adam Fowle which he frequented. With blood found on his stockings and coin purse, this conspirator was also arrested.

A bit more controversial was the arrest of George Bradshaw. He was mentioned in the correspondence between Alice and Green as the man who introduced then to Black Will. The goldsmith was then accused of being the "procurer of Black Will". He was otherwise unconnected to the case. The rest of the accused claimed to have never met the man, much less conversed or conspired with him. His protests of innocence failed to convince the court however.

Alice Arden was found guilty of the crime of murder (Petty Treason) and burnt at the stake in Canterbury. The crime caused a sensation and her execution was a huge event attended by people from many distant towns. It is reported that she went bravely to the stake which had been set up in a field outside the city. The execution took place at one o'clock in the afternoon and was over by three. Alice went out on foot dressed in a black gown and knelt praying for a few minutes in front of the stake. Then she was helped to her feet by a priest and she removed her shoes, her black gown and her petticoat and dressed in a simple black, sleeveless shift she was led to the stake and climbed onto a stool called the trivett that stood in front of it. Chains were fastened around her waist, thighs, knees, ankles and chest to hold her firm, and her wrists were chained together behind the stake. At this point the executioner removed the stool on which Alice was standing and she was left hanging in the chains about three feet above the ground. Wood bundled together in fagots was pushed quickly under her and set alight. At first she remained calm and coughed a little with the smoke but when the flames reached her feet she lost control of herself and cried out piteously while struggling to escape. Alice was not strangled during the execution as was sometimes done in those days and she suffered the full horror of her sentence as small amounts of wood were added to the fire to burn her slowly to death. Reports at the time suggest that she survived at the stake for over and hour before dying. Her co-conspirators were all rounded up and executed by various means and at different locations.

Michael Saunderson was " drawn and hanged, (or hanged in chains) at Feversham".  Elizabeth Stafford, the maid, was burned at the stake in Faversham. She did not meet her end with the composure of her mistress and was dragged howling and screaming to the stake. It took three men to chain her to it although she was a slim girl and only 16 years old. She too was burned alive rather than being strangled during the execution but mercifully seems to have died more quickly than Alice, the execution being over within an hour.  Richard Mosbye and Cicely Pounder, brother and sister, were hanged at Smithfield, George Bradshaw was hanged in chains at Canterbury.

There are two accounts given on the fate of John Green. Holinshed simply mentions that Green was hung at Faversham. The Newgate Calendar has him evading arrest for some years. He was eventually caught and "hanged in chains in the highway between Ospringe and Boughton". Before he died, Green attempted to clear the name of Bradshaw proclaiming the innocence of the long-dead goldsmith.

Black Will ended his life on a scaffold. Holinshed mentions that Will "escaped for many years, but was at length taken, and 'brent on a seaffolde at Flushing'". This could be Flushing in Cornwall, however, The Newgate Calendar agrees on the manner of death but places the execution at Flushing Zeeland (Holland).  Adam Fowle was also implicated and incarcerated for some time at Marshalsea Prison in Southwark London. He alone was found innocent and discharged.


The Chamber Book of Days mentions the event entering local legend. "It was long said that no grass would grow on the spot where Arden’s dead body was found; some, in accordance with the superstitions of the times, attributed this to the murder; while others declared that 'the field he hadde cruelly taken from a widow woman, who had curst him most bitterly, even to his face, wishing that all the world might wonder on him."

In 1592, the events were dramatized in the play "Arden of Faversham", being entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 3rd April 1592, and printed later that year by Edward White. The paternity of the play has been long disputed, with William Shakespeare himself being the most prominent candidate put forward, along with Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe. The play was later adapted by George Lillo, notable as perhaps the earliest surviving example of a "domestic tragedy".  The play is occasionally performed in the gardens of Arden's House, a very rare example of an Elizabethan play which can be performed in it's actual setting.

Date of crime: 2/15/1551

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