28 February 1658 – Major George Strangwayes

Money-grabbing greed or just sheer jealously may have prompted Major George Strangwayes to kill his sister’s husband in the mid-17th century.

Strangwayes murdered his brother-in-law for fear of losing his inheritance and was executed for his actions on this day in 1658.

Family fortunes

Dorset born and bred, Strangwayes had been willed the family farm on the death of his father and his sister had been appointed as executor.

Magnanimously, he’d allowed his sister to rent the farm off him, as well as take out a small fortune by way of a £350 bond, which was used to buy supplies and stock for the farm.

So far, things were good. But Strangwayes was a wily old dog. The Major earned his title in the service of King Charles I as a Cavalier soldier, but sadly his honourable activities didn’t permeate into his private life.

Lock, stock

Strangwayes knew that he could lose his inheritance because the new Cromwell government could commandeer his land and holdings for parliamentarian activity.

Indeed loads of men had lost their fortunes following the Roundhead victory in the Civil War in this way. So how did Strangwayes get round it?

Having been convinced that his sister, Mabellah Strangwayes, would die an old maid, he entrusted her with all the documentation.

And for a while things were fine. That is, until she became friendly with a Mr Fussel, a lawyer, and as the relationship developed, so Strangwayes looked on with horror, until the fateful day came when she said she was keen to marry.

At first Strangwayes was belligerent, saying over his dead body, which drove an irreparable divide between the siblings. It soon became clear how besotted she really was when the couple finally married.

Hell bent on keeping the family fortune for himself, Strangwayes was damned if he was going to let his brother-in-law usurp his rights. So it occurred to Strangwayes that maybe, rather than his, there should be another a dead body instead.

Two smoking barrels

Strangwayes managed to bump his brother-in-law off who was in London on business, simply by firing two bullets into his head and mouth.

At first the authorities were at a loss to find the suspect. That is until Fussel’s son mentioned the arguments regarding the estate between his father and his uncle. That put Strangwayes sharply in the frame. Couple this with the fact that he had borrowed a short barrelled rifle which originated from a gun shop on The Strand, so he could shoot deer in the centre of London, and things weren’t looking too good for our Major.

A pressing matter

They finally caught up with Strangwayes on 24 February 1658, and he was promptly sent to trial at the Old Bailey. There was no messing. He was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death in the most painful and drawn out manner.

He was condemned thus: ‘That the prisoner be sent back to the place from whence he came, and there put into a mean room, where no light can enter; that he be laid upon his back, with his body bare, save something to cover his privy parts; that his arms be stretched forth with a cord, one to one side of the prison, and the other to the other side of the prison, and in like manner his legs shall be used; that upon his body be laid as much iron and stone as he can bear, and more; that the first day he shall have three morsels of barley bread, and the next day he shall drink thrice of the water in the next channel to the prison door, but no spring or fountain water; and this shall be his punishment till he dies.’

Stone cladding

Three days later, as his legs and arms were being stretched out, so his humility deserted him and he likened himself to Jesus on the cross.

‘Lord Jesus receive my soul,’ were Strangwayes last words before stones were heaped upon him. Luckily for him, he had as humane a set of executioners as he could have hoped for. When it transpired that the stones weren’t heavy enough to crush the life out of the man, so they climbed on top of him too, to speed up the death.

Apparently Strangwayes died 10 minutes later. His body was then put on public display, and apart from profuse bruising to his body, the only clue to his suffering was his face, which was a bloodied mess from all the ruptured blood vessels in his face and eyes.

The Major’s broken body was finally laid to rest at Christ Church.

Also on this day

28 February 1905 – Edward Harrison

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