It’s true: Geoffrey Abbott’s Amazing True Stories of Female Executions contains some of the best collected tales of martyrs, murderesses and madwomen you’ll ever read.
It’s also pretty grisly stuff.
There’s the Reading Baby-farmer, who tied ribbons around the necks of her young victims and dumped them in the Thames, and the Yorkshire Witch, who sold potions for good health that turned out, incidentally, to be fatal.
Almost worse than the crimes themselves, are the punishments devised for the guilty. A description of thumbscrews explains the process of screws cutting into the wicks of the victim’s fingernails, concluding:
In some parts, Scotland in particular, thumbscrews were also known as pilliwinks, pilniwinks, penny-winks or pyrowinks: whatever their name, the result was pain.
Indeed. And then there are the witches’ bridles – the less said on that topic the better. And poor Margaret Clitheroe, a martyr whose hand was taken from her corpse and preserved in a reliquary. It appears that particular hand is lost, but here‘s St James’s, which I’m sure looks much the same, ie gross.
The problem with all this, is that I just. can’t. stop. reading.