Black Will and Loosebag play backgammon

Thomas Arden was a Kentish gentleman and the Mayor of Faversham, who was murdered in 1551 by his wife Alice, described as  “young, tall, well favoured of shape and countenance” and her lover Thomas Mosby.

image found here

“Business-obsessed Arden made a poor husband and Alice sought affection elsewhere. Thomas Mosby may not have had her husband’s background, but he had passion. In time Alice came to loathe Arden and considered disposing of him. She made an early attempt on his life by mixing milk and poison within a porringer, serving it to Thomas for breakfast. She had failed to account for the taste of the poison used. Thomas only took “a spoonful or two” before quitting his breakfast and complaining of its quality.

image found here

Another idea to accomplish the deed was stillborn. Valentine’s Day was approaching and there would be a fair. Moseby would have to pick a fight with Thomas in public and then end the life of his rival in a duel. But with Thomas’ known reluctance to fight, the idea of him accepting a challenge was deemed absurd.

image found here

Several attempts on his life were bungled in London and elsewhere before finally a pair of war veterans, Black Will and Loosebag, killed him in his own home while he was playing a game of backgammon with Mosby. Alice herself stabbed the body seven or eight times. Finishing the task, “the doubly wicked Alice and her companions danced, and played on the virginals, and were merrie.”

virginal found here

All this noise had a purpose. They wanted the neighbours to think that Thomas Arden was still alive and entertaining friends. The corpse dressed in night-clothes would convince them of the hour of its death. Meanwhile, Alice, her daughter Margaret Arden, Mosby’s sister Cicely Pounder and maid Elizabeth Stafford carried the corpse outside the house and into a field adjoining the churchyard, making it seem that Thomas was murdered outside.

image found here

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. 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 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 Ardens, making it plain the body had been transported from the house to its current position.

image found here

The two Arden ladies (mother and daughter), the servant and the maid were immediately arrested and sent to prison. Moseby was found sleeping at the nearby “Flower-de-Luce”. With blood on his stockings and a coin purse in his possession, this conspirator was also arrested. 

image found here

Alice Arden was found guilty of murder and sentenced to burn at the stake. The crime had caused a sensation and her execution was a huge event. It is reported that she met her fate bravely. Her co-conspirators were all rounded up and executed by various means at different locations.

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.”

Published in: on December 31, 2011 at 8:53 am  Comments (43)  
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43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. They didn’t have TV shows like we do these days to plan a crime properly to prevent being found out

    • I don’t think they had a clue

  2. Wow. That’s a lot of people willing to participate in a murder. Black Will and Loosebag were probably paid, but the other five apparently did it because they wanted to.

    • Even if the snow hadn’t given them away, certainly one of those people would not have been able to keep quiet. Too many to get away with murder.

  3. At its founding the United States lost one of its most brilliant and competent minds to a duel: Alexander Hamilton.

    • I’m glad duels are no longer in fashion

  4. I found myself doing a double-take on “Virginal found here”!

    Happy New Year

    The King

    • Ironic considering Alice was anything but…

  5. Damn snow!!

    • Cold, dirty stuff. but it looks pretty.

  6. Why is it that my immediate reactions to your posts always show up in the first comments??? As soon as I read this I thought, “Well, it was 1551, and the murder mystery genre hadn’t really been invented yet so they couldn’t study up on how not to get caught.”

    Interesting how the conspirators persisted in their conspiracies.

    It occurs to me that if you have a lively wife, perhaps being business obsessed is not a good idea.

    • If I were taking a wife I’d look for a quiet one ;-)

  7. why did my breakfast choices show up as “bad”?

    • Don’t panic – do you really know what’s in cornflakes and milk???
      OK, the fags are not good, but the occasional mouthwash? ;-)

  8. I just read the full Wikipedia entry – the daughter would have been thirteen when the crime was committed. You have to suspect the child was coerced into her part of the crime but I doubt that was a defence in those days. Hard times.

    • I don’t think things started to improve until the 19th century. If I ever get my hands on a time machine i’m not going back any further than 1880

  9. I loved this – it appealed to my CSI and Law and Order sensibilities…plus it’s real. Double points.

    • 99% of the stories here are real. People do the craziest things…

  10. What Alice did was not considered murder but petty treason, hence her fate at the stake. (wife killing husband, servant killing master ) There were a lot of crimes where women were burned rather than hanged… except withcraft where hanging was the punishment in England until the early 18th century

    It certainly would make the basis of an epiosed of Cryme Scynne Investigationne: Englande.

    • Petty treason huh? I wonder what the punishment was for serious treason. don’t tell me…. probably that hung, drawn and quartered thing *shudder*

    • Interesting. Witchcraft was seen as crimen lasae maiestatis by the Malleus Maleficarum and in the Carolina, so burning was the choice – if I remember it right that is.

  11. Faversham – or Chaversham as it is better known – is full of strange goings on. Arden’s death inspired the first kitchen sink drama in England: ‘Arden of Faversham’. Written some believe by one, W, Shakespeare, it later became both a ballet and an opera,

    Chaversham is now better known for being the home of Shepherd Neame, a fine English brewery, and of the Great-grandfather of D.K.Lillee, a moderately well-known Australian cricketer.

    • What is the cricket of which you speak?

  12. Idiots.

    • a bunch of jackasses

  13. Happy New Year, Myra, and thank you … you have been something to look forward to every day. xxx

    • you’re welcome Cindy. all the best for 2012

  14. The Christmas stockings of blood were for good little vampires? Yikes what an image!

    • I think they were intended to encourage blood donations

  15. I’d like to add my thanks – I’ve been enjoying your grotesqueries (thank you, sherlock!) for ages… Have an excellent 2012!

    • Thanks Graeme, I love it when a lurker comes out of the woodwork

  16. Hmm. I’m still wondering what a porringer is.

    • Me too. What is a porringer?

      • Oh duh. Wikipedia tells all. Just what it sounds like I guess.

      • Did you read about their association with Paul Revere?

  17. Am I right in judging there are more wife murdering husband stories here than the national average? Hoping to read many more in 2012

    • I keep searching for other topics but I’m mostly discovering old murders at the moment.

  18. Fortunately for all of us, it’s just not that easy to murder someone and get away with it. Nicely told tale nursemyra!

  19. He who turns and runs away will live to duel another day
    (well…sometimes, anyway.)

  20. Yeah… Despite all her thinking this still wasn’t planned very well. :\

  21. Happy New Year, Nurse Myra! All the best for you.

  22. Ah, all these stories are great. I used to have an ashtray for breakfast but never could down whisky first thing. Your blog is full of things I need to know, super.

  23. They all did a rather poor job of covering their tracks.


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