The many headed monster is running an online symposium on the Voices of the People (and see #voxpop2015 on Twitter) which is well worth your attention, and Anna Jenkin posted a number of responses on Twitter, musing on how the themes related to her research on early modern female killers. Between them, I found myself dusting off one of the more extraordinary cases from my PhD research (which I have mentioned here on the blog at least once before).
In March 1686, two women stood trial for murder by poison at the Denbighshire Great Sessions (NLW GS 4/33/3). Jane Foulke was accused of killing her husband; Lettice Lloyd of killing her son-in-law. The two trials were separate but the cases were closely connected, since Lettice had supplied Jane with the arsenic, and the poisonings happened less than two weeks apart.
Jane had considerably more to say for herself than most defendants accused of murder in the Denbighshire files. Not only was she examined twice (once by the coroner [excerpt 1] and once by local JPs ), but there is also a letter from her to the coroner (something I don’t recall seeing in any other 17th- or 18th-century Denbighshire homicide case) . She admitted freely to having adminstered the poison to her husband; her words are mostly employed in exonerating herself (successfully: she was acquitted) and blaming Lettice for her predicament: “being brought into it by ye alurments of a wicked woman”.
Lettice, on the other hand, refused to say much at all. The coroner was so annoyed by her obstinacy that he made a specific note of it (again, extremely unusual): she “would give noe answer but that shee was mutch wrongd and was soe stuborn that she would give me noe other answer” .
We do however have some reports of her words from other witnesses, not least from Jane. “Lettice Lloyd tould [Jane] shee heard yt [Jane’s] husband was an angry cross man & that this [arsenic] would make him a little sick & make him vomitt & in a short tyme after make him better in condicion or better humor’d”. But perhaps the most startling was that of Lettice’s own daughter, Barbara, widow of her victim, creating an image of a monstrous mother-in-law: “[Lettice] said what doe you cry for, you shall have your choise of a husband if he dyes but you shall have noe mother but me, & thou shalt be a widow before a yeare comes about” . Lettice was convicted and hanged.
There is really too much that could be said about this case. But if we’re thinking about ‘voices’ and ‘silences’ in the historical records: Do we really know more about Jane, who so willingly gave her version of events, than we do about Lettice, who ‘stubbornly’ refused to do anything of the sort? Jane portrayed herself as a dutiful wife who had been duped by a ‘wicked woman’ into unwittingly killing her husband; but she had obvious reasons to construct this narrative (and the extremely unusual interventions of the coroner as encouragement). Why did Lettice believe she had been so wronged; and what to make of her mental state of mind? More than a decade after I first encountered it, I still find the case equally fascinating and disconcerting.
(Interested? You can find my transcriptions here. Key excerpts below.)
 Examination of Jane Foulkes before John Mathews (coroner), 20 January 1686
[Jane Foulkes of Wrexham Abbot, widow] sayth that shee knoweth Lettice Lloyd by sight but sayth that shee never had any familiarity with her and that shee did not shee her this twelve month agoe shee saith that shee bought two penworth of poyson at widow Cheeveleys shop in Wrexham and that it is about a month agoe since shee bought one penworth of it and the other penworth shee bought this day fortnight (shee telling me that shee had it in her howse there upon I sent her with one of the constables forth, but shee could not finde it) but sayth that a woeman in the markett this day seven night did imploy her to buy the sayd two penorths of poyson but shee doth not know the woeman neither did the woeman any time after call for the poyson though shee had left two pence for that use with her and shee sayth that shee never bought noe poyson in her life time before shee sayth that the twelveth even her husband came whome from Mr Jones of Havod y Bwlch and comlayned to this examinant that he was not well and that he thougt he had an ague and shee absolutely denyeth to be noe time in company with Lettice Lloyd for a twelvemonth last past, shee sayth that her husband in the time of his sicknes complaint of his head and his syde and about his stomacke and hart…
 Examination of Jane Foulkes before three JPs, 28 January 1686
[Jane Foulks] saith yt on Tuesday night the fift day of January anno domini 1685  her husband Richard Foulks fell sick & so continued untill the Thursday night next following about eight a clock, at which tyme the said Richard dyed & being asked what shee gave him dureing his sicknes, shee confessd yt upon Wednesday morning, shee gave him about halfe three farthings worth of ratts bane (which shee had grinded small betwixt two stones) in a cupp of small beere, which causd him to vomitt, & on Thursday morning shee gave him three halfe peny worth of medridate & yt made him purge; & that night about eight a clock he dyed. Shee further confesseth, yt shee bought ye said three farthings worth of ratt’s bane of widow Cleaveley on Monday ye fourth of January instant & yt shee gave the aforesaaid ratt’s bane to her husband by ye advice of one Lettice Lloyd of Morton Anglicorum, & ye said Lettice Lloyd tould her shee heard yt her husband was an angry cross man & that this would make him a little sick & make him vomitt & in a short tyme after make him better in condicion or better humor’d & on ye said Thursday on which her said husband dyed, the sayd Lettice Lloyd came to her & shee tould ye said Lettice shee had given her husband ye poyson & yt he was very sick & was afrayd yt he would dye & had a minde to buy some sallett oyle for him, but the sayd Lettice Lloyd disswaded her from it; & tould her there was noe danger for it would onely make him purge & vomitt & ye said Jane Foulkes further confesseth yt ye said Lettice Lloyd on ye said seaventh of January did desire her to buy one peny worth of ratts bane for her; being ye day on which her husband dyed, and shee bought a peny worth of ratts bane & gave it to ye said Lettice Lloyd but ye said Lettice did not declare to her what shee intended to doe with it…
 Jane Foulkes to John Mathews, 26 February 1686 [note: Jane signed both her examinations with a mark, so she probably did not write the letter herself]
The bearer heerof telles yt you desir to know what the discourse was beetween Lettis lloyd & mee it was after this maner I mete with hir one Munday in ye chourtch yard & after renewing of our ould aquantanc shee asked mee how my husband did & shee said yt shee was glad yt hee was comen whom [home] if it wear for good for shee hard yt hee was very wicked & rude & I said yt hee was not soe but yt hee was as ceevell as most men but onely when hee had dranke too mutch strong drink & then shee asked mee what colling did hee follow when hee was in london & if hee had brought monies with him whom and I said hee brought noe monie with him but only what had borne his charges home then shee asked mee if hee were in good healath & if hee had noe distemper with in him self & I said hee had none but only hee did comeplain yt hee had mutch paine in his head & in his bones & limbes & could take littel rest in ye night by reason of these paines which hee had got by beeing a feeld keeper & lying out in ye could most nightes but I tould her yt hee was harty & could eat his meat well & shee said yt was nothing & yt hee would grow wors & wors in his distempers unless hee were purdged & vomitted & I said hee would take noe fizike then shee said yt shee had a freind yt had directed hir to a way with out mutch cost & yt it would doe him mutch good & make him more temprat and fare better in health & conditiones & I asked hir what it was shee said it was but a small matter & yt I might buy for one penie as mutch as hee had need of then shee named it & I said I shall not remember yt name & shee bad mee aske for a whit thing which was wont to bee put in yt which thay doe yus to give to rats & I said how can I aske for yt & yt I had noe ocation for any such thing & shee said I might aske it as for some freing in ye countree & I said I ame afraid it will doe my huband harme & shee said yt it would not but would doe him mutch good & yt shee had made triall of it one hir former husband & yt it had done him mutch good as long as hee lived after upon these hir eavell speetches to mee not any way thinking it would doe my husband any harm I thought to have had but half a peniworth of it but thay would not make a haperth of it soe I had three farthinges worth of it I did not yus it all I gave but part of it in some small drink god doth know I did not think it would doe him any harme but good according to hir speetches to mee I gave it to him one ye Wednesday morning & one ye Thirsday morning following hee was very sick wher upon I was mutch afraid I mete with hir yt Thursday in Wrexham & I wept to hir mutch & I said to hir yt I was affraid yt shee had caused mee to give yt to my husband which would doe him mutch harm & shee said was I soe simple to think yt hee must not bee sicke beefore it could worke & cleer his body & shee said hir life for hime it would doe him noe harm but good this is ye justest account yt I can give desiring your help & asistance in this my great trouble & affliction being brought into it by ye alurments of a wicked woman I rest a poor afflicted prisoner Jane Foulkes
 Examination of Lettice Lloyd before John Mathews, 19 January 1686
Lettice Lloyd being extamined to the perticulars that was sworn against her would give noe answer but that shee was mutch wrongd and was soe stuborn that she would give me noe other answer
 Examination of Barbara Morris, widow of Hugh Morris, before a JP, 2 March 1686
[Barbara Morris] sayth yt shee being with her mother Lettice Lloyd alias Lewis in the house at Gevellie about ye eleventh day of November last past, her said mother did discourse her about poyson & did then aske ye said Barbara what kinde of a thing poyson was, & would it swell being taken, ye said Barbara reply’d, shee did not know & asked her said mother why shee putt such questions unto her, ye mother reply’d agayn yt shee thought when poyson was taken by any one yt person would not possibly live, the said Barbara stayd with her mother at yt tyme till her husband came to her who stayed then there with his wife two nights, & on ye third day he went thence with his wife to Llangollen faire which was about ye said eleventh day of November aforesaid & yt morning being up before day his mother in law (called Lettice Lloyd alias Lewis as aforesaid) made him a possett of which hee did eate, leaveing some remaynder, but in ye way as he & his wife were rideing to ye said faire, he complayned to his wife yt he was not well & ye said Barbara sayes yt shee things shee did eate about two spoonfulls of ye remaynder of ye said possett & that shee was very ill after it and ye said Barbara further saith yt to ye best of her rembrance about ye beginning of Christmas last past shee being in her said mothers house, her mother asked her if anybody had tould her, her fortune ye said Barbara replyd (why) ye mother said there was a man yt tould me thy fortune, ye said Barbara answered how could yt be I being absent, ye mother so I tould thy age, & thereby thy fortune was tould me & further her mother asked her doest thou love[?] to be a widow upon yt ye daughter cryed then her mother said what doe you cry for, you shall have your choise of a husband if he dyes but you shall have noe mother but me, & thou shalt be a widow before a yeare comes about & upon ye eighteenth day of January last past the husband of ye said Barbara dyed