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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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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