Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hiring a Magical Hitman

The year was 1324. King Edward II of England was making a mess of things with his apathetic and arbitrary approach to ruling the kingdom. He handed a lot of authority to the powerful Despensers, Hugh the Younger and Hugh the Elder.

(Prop wax doll from the movie
The Witches of Eastwick
In Coventry, a group of citizens were very unhappy with their local Prior, who had the authority of the Dispensers behind him as he taxed the citizenry at exorbitant rates. Twenty-eight citizens of Coventry decided to do something about this situation. They lacked any military or governmental power, so they had to find an alternate solution. They found it in John of Nottingham.

John of Nottingham had a reputation as a magician. He was asked if he could eliminate the causes of their misery. John agreed to bring about the deaths of the Prior of Coventry, King Edward II, Hugh Despenser the Elder, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and (for good measure) the Prior's caterer and the Prior's steward. To do so, he and his assistant, Robert Marshall, used seven pounds of wax and two yards of cloth to fashion wax effigies of the targets.

This took time, and it wasn't until 1325 that he was ready to test his method by experimenting on a certain Richard de Lowe, a Coventry citizen who was apparently expendable. The experiment worked, according to later reports: the wax effigy of Richard de Lowe was stuck with lead pins in the head and heart, and Richard died shortly thereafter.

Unfortunately, when the hypothetical experiment became real, Robert Marshall lost his nerve and turned his boss in to the authorities—or maybe he turned against John for other reasons. The case came before the King's Bench (the English superior court) that year, with John of Nottingham and all 28 citizens as defendants for the murder of Richard de Lowe. The King's bench would not, however, rule that the evidence for magical murder was sufficient to convict, and John of Nottingham was declared innocent.

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