The 'eternal triangle' again. The
players this time in this eighteenth-century story were Elizabeth
Broadingham, her husband John, who had served time for smuggling, and
a younger man, Thomas Aikney whose company she had enjoyed during her
husband's incarceration. Thomas resisted the pressure from Elizabeth
to dispose of John but, after daily pestering from the woman, finally
Elizabeth slapped her husband
awake on 13th February 1776 and told him that there was someone
knocking at the door of their York home. He went and opened the front
door. Aikney rushed in, slashing at Broadingham with a knife. He cut
John's leg and plunged the knife into the man's stomach before rushing
off down the street.
Broadingham tottered after Aikney
shouting "Murder! Murder!" One account tells of neighbours coming to
his assistance finding 'in one hand the bloody instrument that he had
just drawn out of his body, and the other supporting his bowels, which
were dropping to the ground.' He died the following day.
Aikney was arrested after the
knife was traced to him. He confessed. Elizabeth was promptly arrested
and both were tried and condemned. Aikney was hanged on 20th March
1776 and Elizabeth was burnt at the stake, after having first been
BROADINGHAM, Elizabeth (England)
advantage of her husband John’s temporary imprisonment in York Castle,
Elizabeth enjoyed an intimate relationship with a younger man, Thomas
Aikney, and when John was released, she, having tasted the fruits of
illicit love, left him and went off to set up house with Thomas. Why
she did not just leave matters as they were is not known; perhaps she
wanted marriage, rather than just cohabitation with Thomas.
Whatever the reason, over the next few weeks she slyly suggested to
Thomas that John be removed – permanently. The man vehemently refused
to have anything to do with the idea, but Elizabeth was nothing if not
determined to get her way, and one night she plied her lover with
liquor before turning on the pressure again. Intoxicated both with the
drink and her, he finally agreed to help her.
Elizabeth’s next move was to ingratiate herself with her husband, a
simple and decent man who longed for his wife to return to their
family home. Within days she had moved back in with him, and then
tried to persuade her to abandon the murderous scheme, to elope with
him, but without success, and on the night of 8 February 1776 she woke
her husband up and told him that someone was knocking at the door.
Half asleep, John made his way downstairs and opened the door – to be
attacked by Thomas, who proceeded to stab him in the thighs and body,
finally leaving the knife inserted in the husband’s stomach before
fleeing. The badly wounded man staggered out into the street, calling
for help, and the neighbours who rushed out ‘found him holding the
bloody knife in one hand and the other supporting his bowels, which
were dropping to the ground’. He died the next day.
was captured, Elizabeth arrested, both confessing their guilt. On 20
March 1776 Thomas Aikney was hanged at York, his body subsequently
being sent to the Leeds Infirmary as a surgical specimen to be used in
the training of students.
treason having been committed by Elizabeth by instigating the murder
of her husband, she was tied to the stake, and after the executioner
had strangled her she was burned, her ashes being collected by some of
the onlookers as souvenirs (in eggtimers, perhaps?).
Howard, the famous prison reformer, visited gaols across the Continent
in the 1770s. In his report on prisons in Stockholm, he noted that
Swedish executions are by the axe, and that women are decapitated on a
scaffold, that structure afterwards being set alight at its four
corners and consumed by the flames, together with the victim’s body.
True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott