On this day in history : 24th March 1684 – English woman Elizabeth Ridgeway is burned at the stake after being convicted of poisoning her husband of just three weeks….
Born Elizabeth Husbands, during the mid 1600s, she had been brought up in the Christian faith on the family farm near to Ibstock, Leicestershire…. She didn’t leave home until she was around 29-years-old….
She married Thomas Ridgeway, a wealthy tailor, on the 1st of February 1684…. However, he owed his sister £20, a debt she called in almost immediately after her brother had married – the newly weds were now virtually bankrupt….
One Sunday morning, just over three weeks after they were married, Thomas went off to Church, whilst his wife stayed at home to prepare his dinner…. When he returned for his meal she served him up a bowl of broth, of which he ate most but left some complaining it was ‘gritty’…. Less than 30 minutes later he was vomiting violently, which continued to around midnight – when he died in agony….
Thomas’s young apprentice told his master’s relatives that he had seen something in the bottom of the bowl as Elizabeth removed it from her husband…. He was convinced it was poison and Thomas’s family reported it to a Justice of Peace, who ordered an inquest…. Thomas’s body was examined and indeed showed evidence of poisoning…. Elizabeth was arrested and taken to Leicester Gaol….
On Friday the 14th of March she was brought to trial before Lord Judge Street – she pleaded ‘not guilty’…. However, after some deliberation the jury returned a ‘guilty’ verdict…. Elizabeth was sentenced to burn…. There were those who claimed the sentence to be too harsh and called for a reprieve – but the Judge was having none of it…. He did, however, ask local clergyman, John Newton, to counsel her…. But Elizabeth had no interest in making her peace with God – in fact on the morning of her execution she had a shocking confession to make….
Not only did she admit to poisoning her husband, with arsenic, it transpired she had quite a catalogue of murders to her name…. Elizabeth had poisoned her own mother, after an argument, the year before she had left the family home to take up work as a servant…. It was whilst in this employment that she fell out with a male, fellow servant – being one to bear a grudge she decided to poison him too….
She then found herself entangled in a romantic liaison with a suitor by the name of John King…. Elizabeth had quite a few suitors – but after having promised too much to King she could not see a way of backing out…. She had her eye on the wealthier prospect of Thomas Ridgeway…. She solved her little problem by getting rid of King with more poison…. Of course after marrying Thomas, only for him to instantly lose his wealth, he was to meet the same fate….
Elizabeth burned at the stake….