On this day in history : 14th December 1650 – Domestic servant Anne Greene is hanged for infanticide after concealing a miscarriage…. The next day she is revived by physicians in the dissection room….

Woodcut from ‘Wonder of Wonders’ (1651) showing the hanging of Anne Greene – Public domain

Anne had been born around 1628 in Steeple Barton, Oxfordshire and as a young woman she worked as a scullery maid for Justice of the Peace Sir Thomas Read…. After being seduced by Read’s teenage grandson, Geoffrey, Anne became pregnant – although she was unaware of her ‘condition’…. Then, at around 17 weeks into her pregnancy, she was to suffer a miscarriage…. She made attempts to hide the remains of the foetus but was discovered…. Sir Thomas Read decided to prosecute her, under the Concealment of Birth of Bastards Act of 1624…. It was automatically assumed at the time that if a woman concealed the death of an illegitimate child then she had killed it herself….

Despite a midwife testifying that the foetus was too undeveloped to ever have survived Anne was found guilty at her trial…. She was hanged at Oxford Circus – and as was her wish, her friends pulled on her swinging body to speed up her death…. She was also struck several times by a sympathetic soldier, with the butt of his musket…. After half an hour she was pronounced dead, cut down and passed to physicians Thomas Willis and William Petty of Oxford University – ready for dissection….

Only the following morning, on opening her coffin, they discovered Anne had a faint pulse and was breathing, albeit shallowly…. Willis and Petty quickly enlisted the help of two colleagues, Henry Clerkenwell and Ralph Bathurst – and between them they managed to fully revive her…. She recovered quickly – after 12 hours or so she was able to talk and after 4 days was able to eat…. She had no memory of her attempted execution….

From the book ‘Newes from the Dead’ – Image : Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

Anne was granted a pardon by the authorities – who believed the hand of God had intervened, proving her innocence…. Having died three days after her hanging Sir Thomas Read was not present to contest her pardon…. Anne went on to fully recover, moved to the country, eventually married and had three children…. She died in 1659….

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