(Margaret) Beddingfield -1763.
Margaret Beddingfield, who went
by the name of Ann, was a Suffolk farmer’s daughter who was born in
1742. She married 24-year-old John Beddingfield, also a farmer, on
Tuesday, July the 3rd 1759 and his wealthy parents gave them a good
farm near the village of Sternfield in Suffolk, some 18 miles from
Ipswich. Initially they seemed to have a happy marriage and Ann bore
him two children, however she soon got bored with the daily routines
Things deteriorated further in
1761 when her husband took on a new farm hand, 19 year old Richard
Ringe. Within three months he and Ann were having a passionate and
very indiscreet affair and they started to devise a plot to kill John
which came to fruition on the 27th of July 1762. Ann persuaded Richard
to join her in the murder by the offer of marriage and half the
The first plan to dispose of John
was by poisoning him. Richard tried to persuade one of the maids to
put poison in John’s drink which she refused to do. Plan B was to
strangle John in his bed while he slept and this was put into effect
by Richard on the night of Tuesday the 27th of July.
Earlier that day John had taken
Richard to help him move some cows he was selling and afterwards they
went for a drink together. John returned home to find Ann in bed with
one of the maids who’s purpose, she claimed, was to act as a bed
warmer! John did not seem over happy with this arrangement and asked
Ann to come to the marital bed which apparently she refused to do.
John then went to bed alone, with his wife and the servant in the next
Later that night Richard entered
his master’s bedroom and strangled him with a cord after a brief
struggle during which they both fell from the bed. Having killed John,
Richard went into Ann’s room and told her (and the maid) that the deed
was done. The maid went to John’s room and found him lying dead on the
The following conversation is
reported to have taken place : Richard : "I have done for him". Ann :
"Then I am easy". The maid cried out: "Master!" - supposing in the
dark that John was alive. Ann told her to be quiet and Richard asked
Ann if anyone else was aware of what had taken place besides her and
the maid. At this the maid asked, “How came you here, Richard?” He
replied, “I was forced to it”.
He now returned to his own room
while Ann swore the maid to secrecy. She then told her to go and call
Richard and when he returned told him to go into John’s bedroom
because she feared he was ill. Richard feigned an inspection and came
back to tell Ann and the maid that John was dead. The second maid had
been woken by the commotion and also went to look at her master. She
found him lying face down and noted that his shirt-collar was torn
off, and that his neck was bruised and swollen.
An inquest was held the next day
but none of the servants were called to give evidence. It amazingly,
after a very short inquiry, bought in a verdict of accidental death -
John had strangled himself with his bedclothes during a nightmare! So
at this point there was no official record of a murder having been
committed and both parties may have thought that they had got away
However the events of the Tuesday
night had begun to sour the relationship between Ann and Richard and
the affair cooled rapidly. It is probable that the realisation had
dawned on Richard of the danger he had been placed in by Ann. He is
quoted as saying that he thought of himself as a dead man from that
fateful Tuesday night.
Arrest and trial
The maid, no doubt troubled by
what she had witnessed, but with a firm eye on her own situation,
waited until she had been paid her quarter’s wages and then reported
the murder, initially to her parents, who then involved the constable.
Ann tried to bribe the maid’s mother but she wouldn’t accept this, not
a piece of evidence that played well later in court.
Ann was arrested two days later,
having tried to escape while Richard was arrested at the Bedingfield
house having made no effort to evade capture. The pair came to trial
at the Ipswich Lent Assizes which opened on the 21st of March 1763.
The original indictments for this Assize are not preserved but it is
reasonable to assume that they were both charged with Petty Treason as
Ann had murdered her husband and Richard his master.
The court heard evidence from the
servants and also from the surgeon who had examined John’s body, who
told the jury that he had noticed the marks of strangulation on the
body. When asked why he had reported a natural death to the coroner
he, amazingly, replied that he “did not think much about it.” (it
is normally very obvious that a person has been strangled from the
ligature marks on the neck, blueness of the lips and ears and petchiae
on the face). Quite why he would have thought John’s injuries were
self inflicted during a nightmare is unclear.
Ann maintained her innocence
during the trial while Richard, after hearing the servants’ evidence,
confessed his guilt. The jury found both guilty of Petty Treason. The
mandatory sentences for this crime were that Ann be drawn to the place
of execution and there burnt at the stake and that Richard be
similarly drawn to the place of execution and there be hanged by the
neck until dead and that afterwards his body be anatomised. The
execution of both was set for Friday the 8th of April 1763. Ann
reportedly made a confession in Ipswich prison on the Wednesday before
On the Friday morning each
prisoner was tied to a sledge in Ipswich prison and then drawn by a
horse to Rushmore, then a village just to the north of Ipswich, where
the gallows stood and a stake had been set up for Ann. Richard
addressed the huge crowd who had come to watch, warning them to avoid
the snares of wicked women and to consider chastity as a virtue. Ann
was meanwhile tied to the stake with an iron chain and a rope halter
placed around her neck, with the free rope passing through a hole
bored in the stake. When all was ready Richard was turned off from
gallows and she was strangled by the hangman. When Ann ceased to show
signs of life, bundles of faggots were piled round her and lit, the
fire reducing her body to ashes. Richard was dissected after death in
accordance with the Murder Act of 1752.
Lust, greed and incredible
stupidity characterise this crime. The love affair was hardly
discreet, the murder even less so. One appreciates that in the 1760’s
it was far more difficult for Ann to simply run away with Richard and
that financially she would have had lost everything by so doing. Only
by John dying would she be able to keep the farm and the house.
Clearly her thinking was that with John dead she could have it all
with Richard as a bonus. As is often the case in this type of murder,
the attraction to the partner in crime wanes very soon after its
Ann had brought suspicion on
herself by being so indiscreet. It was alleged in court that she as
she was dressing herself one morning she said to her maid : "Help me
to put on my ear-rings; but I shall not wear them much longer, for I
shall have new black ones. It will not be long before somebody in the
house dies, and I believe it will be your master." The actual murder
could hardly have been less secret with the maid in bed with Ann while
it was carried out in the next room. One might ask why Ann needed a
“bed warmer” in late July. Not surprisingly the other servants were
extremely suspicious when John was found dead.
Richard’s behaviour was just as
stupid. Everyone in the house, other than John, seemed to know what
was going on between him and Ann and he did nothing to hide it. He is
alleged to have told one of the maids that he would be her constant
friend if she would mix the poison he had bought with some rum and
milk that her master drank in the morning. She refused to do this but
only reported the incident after the murder. Every aspect of their
conduct before, during and after the killing increased the suspicion
and evidence against them. Unless one believes the surgeons original
conclusion that John killed himself, no conclusion other than wilful
murder by Richard and Ann is open to one. There was no evidence of an
intruder or pretence that there had been one and that John had been
murdered in the course of a robbery that had gone wrong.
Tragically three young lives were
ended by this affair - ironically all by strangulation. At the time of
their deaths, Ann was 21 years old, John was 28 and Richard 20.
It is said in some accounts that
Ann Beddingfield was the last woman to be burnt for the murder of her
husband. However this is not the case - that distinction goes to Mary
Bailey who was executed on the 8th of March 1784 at Winchester.
John Beddingfield was a 24-year-old farmer when he
married Ann. They moved to a large farm in Suffolk, which was a
wedding present from his parents. It did not take Ann too long to
become bored with her husband and she started an affair with a
19-year-old servant named Richard Ringe. It might not have been so bad
if the pair had been a little more discreet but the servant would
often visit his mistress in her room at night.
After the affair had been going for three months
Ann decided that it would be better if her compliant husband was
removed from the scene entirely. She persuaded Ringe, with the promise
of half the estate, to join her in her plot. Even now the pair had no
concept of discretion. Instead of them carrying out their plan
themselves, Ann told a servant of the master's imminent demise and
Ringe, who had bought some poison, tried to persuade a kitchen maid to
add it to the master's drink.
When this failed they decided on a course of direct
action. In March 1763 Ringe entered the mans bedroom and strangled
Beddingfield while he slept. He burst into Ann's room and told her I
have done for him. Then I am easy, replied Ann. This was certainly not
the most sensible conversation to be had as Ann had a young servant
girl in bed with her as a bedwarmer. On hearing this news the girl
leapt from the bed and ran to her masters room to discover her master
dead and displaying obvious signs of strangulation.
At the Coroners Court none of the servants gave
evidence and a verdict of 'death by natural causes' was returned. The
jury somehow felt that the man had somehow strangled himself with his
own bedding while having a nightmare. Unbelievable though it sounds it
looked as if the couple were going to get away with it.
Perhaps the murder had somehow soured their
relationship or maybe it had simply run its natural course, anyway
over the next few weeks the relationship between the murdering pair
deteriorated. The servant girl who had been in bed with Ann on the
fateful night waited until she had received her wages and then went to
the authorities and recounted all she knew. The pair were charged and
brought to trial in April 1763. Ann maintained her innocence while
Ringe, after hearing testimony from the servants, confessed his part
in the crime, perhaps he was hoping that if he confessed he would be
shown mercy, he was very wrong.
They were both convicted and sentenced to death. On
8th April 1763 they were both drawn by sledge to Rushmore, near
Ipswich, where Ringe was hanged and Ann was burnt alive at the stake.
ANN BEDDINGFIELD AND RICHARD RINGE
The Newgate Calendar
The Woman burned for the Murder of her Husband, and the Man hanged
for being her Accomplice, near Ipswich, 8th of April, 1763
JOHN BEDDINGFIELD, the husband of the murderess,
was the son of respectable parents, at Sternfield, in Suffolk, and
having married when he was about twenty-four years of age, the young
couple were placed in a good farm, which was carefully attended by
Beddingfield, who bore the character of a man of industry and
integrity. They had two children.
Richard Ringe, a youth of nineteen, was engaged in
the service of Mr Beddingfield; nor had he been long in the house
before his mistress became so enamoured of him that her husband was
the object of her contempt. Her behaviour to Ringe was such that he
could not long doubt of her favourable inclinations; nor had he virtue
to resist the temptation.
At length Mrs Beddingfield, having formed the
horrid design of destroying her husband, communicated her intention to
Ringe, who hesitated on the dreadful proposal, nor did he consent till
she had promised that he should share her fortune as the reward of the
Mrs Beddingfield, blinded by her passion, was now
so much off her guard as to say very indiscreet things to her
servants, which led them to presume she had determined on the most
deliberate wickedness; of which the following is given as one
instance. As she was dressing herself one morning she said to her
maid-servant: "Help me to put on my ear-rings; but I shall not wear
them much longer, for I shall have new black ones. It will not be long
before somebody in the house dies, and I believe it will be your
Extravagant as this declaration was, the behaviour
of Ringe was not at all more prudent. He purchased some poison, and
told one of the servant-maids that he would be her constant friend if
she would mix it with some rum-and-milk that her master drank in the
morning. But the girl declined having any concern in so horrid a
transaction; nor did she take any notice of the proposal that had been
made till after the commission of the murder.
Mr Beddingfield happening to be indisposed, it was
recommended to him to take a vomit, and the water which the
servant-maid brought him to drink proving to be too hot, Ringe was
directed to bring some cold water to mix with it, and he took this
opportunity of putting arsenic into the water; but Beddingfield,
observing a white sediment in the basin, would not drink, though no
suspicion of the liquor being poisoned had occurred to him.
Henceforward the intentional murderers resolved not
to think of having recourse to poison, but devised another scheme of
dispatching the unfortunate object of their vengeance. Mr Beddingfield
having been selling some cattle to another farmer, they drank a
sociable glass together, but not to such a degree as to occasion
intoxication. When Mr Beddingfield came home he found that his wife
was in bed with one of the maid-servants, on which he desired her to
come to his chamber; but this she refused, and mutual recriminations
passed between them. It had been determined by Ringe to commit the
murder on that night, while his master was asleep; whereupon, when he
knew he was in bed, he quitted his own room, passed through that in
which his mistress slept, and went to the bedchamber of his master.
Ringe, observing that Mr Beddingfield was asleep, threw a cord round
his neck to strangle him; but, being hurt by the weight of Ringe lying
across him, he struggled, so that they both fell off the bed together.
However, the horrid deed of murder was soon perpetrated.
Mrs Beddingfield, being asleep in the next room,
was awakened by the noise, and in her fright awakened the servant. At
this instant Ringe entered the room and said: "I have done for him."
To which the wife answered: "Then I am easy." The girl was greatly
alarmed, and cried out: "Master!" -- supposing Mr Beddingfield was
present, for there was no light in the room; but Mrs Beddingfield
commanded her to be silent. Ringe asked the mistress if any one was
acquainted with what had passed besides her and the maid; on which the
girl asked, 'How came you here, Richard?' The villain, terrified by
his guilt, replied, 'I was forced to it.' He now went to his own room,
and laid down; and the mistress and maid getting up, the latter was
charged not to utter a syllable of what had passed.
Mrs Beddingfield now directed the girl to call
Ringe, who seemed offended at being disturbed; but, when he had struck
a light, his mistress told him to go into his master's room, for she
was afraid that he was indisposed. Ringe obeyed; but, on his return,
said, with an air of surprize, that his master was dead.
By this time another maid-servant was got up, and
the girls, going to their master's room, found the deceased lying on
his face, and observed that part of his shirt-collar was torn off, and
that his neck was black and swelled.
A messenger was instantly dispatched to Mr
Beddingfield's parents, who proposed to send for a surgeon; but the
wife insisted that it was unnecessary to send for a doctor, as her
husband was already dead. On the following day the coroner's jury took
an inquisition into the cause of his death; but so superficial was the
inquiry that it lasted only a few minutes, and their determination was
that he died a natural death.
The guilty commerce between the murderers now
became still more evident than before; but so fickle was Mrs
Beddingfield's disposition that in a few weeks she began to despise
the man whom she had excited to the murder of her husband. The
servant-maid now resolved to discover the fact, but postponed the
doing so till she had received the wages for her quarter's service.
When her mistress had paid her, she went to her parents and discovered
all she knew of the matter; on which a warrant was issued for
apprehending the murderers. They had an item of what was going
forward, and therefore attempted to bribe the girl's mother to
secrecy; but she rejected their offers; on which Mrs Beddingfield made
her escape, but was apprehended at the end of two days. Ringe,
however, seemed to disdain to consult his own safety, but remained in
the house; and, after he was committed to prison, he confessed that he
had deemed himself a dead man from the time of his perpetrating the
At the Lent Assizes in 1763 the prisoners were
brought to trial, when the surgeon and coroner were examined as to
what fell within their knowledge. The former confessed that he saw
marks of violence on the body; and being asked how he could depose
before the coroner that Mr Beddingfield had died a natural death, he
replied that he 'did not think much about it.' A strange, and almost
The preceding part of this narrative will lead the
reader to judge of the rest of the evidence that was given on the
trial; and the prisoners, having nothing to allege in extenuation of
their crime, were capitally convicted and sentenced to death.
After conviction, as well as before, Ringe freely
confessed his guilt; but expressed the utmost anxiety at the thought
of being dissected. Mrs Beddingfield refused to make any confession
till the day before her death.
They were placed on one sledge on the morning of
their execution, and conveyed to a place near Ipswich, called
Rushmore, where Ringe made a pathetic address to the surrounding
multitude, advising young people to be warned, by his fate, to avoid
the delusions of wicked women, and to consider chastity as a virtue.
After the fervent exercise of devotion he was
turned off, while the body of Mrs Beddingfield, who had been first
strangled at a stake, was burning to ashes, agreeable to the practice
respecting women who are convicted of the murder of their husbands.
These malefactors suffered at Rushmore on the 8th
of April, 1763.
Ann Beddingfield burnt at the stake.