Anne Greene, The Accused Baby Killer Who Refused to Die
Anne Greene was a woman who lived in England during the 17th century. She is notable for having survived her own execution. This was hailed as an act of God and Anne was pardoned. After her failed execution, Anne went on living for another 15 years, before dying in childbirth.
Anne Greene’s Story
Little is known about the early life of Anne Greene, except that she was born in 1628 in Oxfordshire. At some point of time, Anne was employed as a maid by Sir Thomas Reade, whose residence was at Duns Tew, Oxfordshire. It was during this time that Anne’s extraordinary story began.
One of Sir Thomas’ grandsons was Jeffrey Reade, who seduced Anne with promises and enticements. Eventually, Anne consented to having sexual intercourse with the teenage boy and became pregnant at the age of 22. Six months later, Anne went into labor while stirring a vat of malt and gave birth prematurely while in the outhouse. Terrified of what had happened, the servant buried the stillborn child near a cesspit. This, however, was soon discovered and Anne’s actions were reported to Sir Thomas.
Anne Greene gave birth prematurely while in the outhouse. (ehrlif / Adobe)
Anne Greene’s Trial
In December 1650, Anne was put on trial in Oxford for infanticide. The medical evidence showed that the child was stillborn, but the court decided that Anne had murdered her child and therefore condemned her to death. She was sent into Oxford Gaol and was to be executed by hanging on the 14th of December.
On the day of the execution, Anne was taken to the gallows and hanged. Hangings during that time did not always go well and a criminal may be left hanging for an extended period of time before expiring. Therefore, Anne requested that her friends hasten her death by beating on her chest and by applying their weight on her legs. An illustration of the scene is depicted on a woodcarving in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
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Woodcut from ‘A Wonder of Wonder’s depicting the hanging of Anne Greene. (GRuban / Public Domain)
In any case, Anne hung for about half an hour, after which, the executioner thinking that she had died cut her down. She was placed in a coffin and delivered to William Petty, a surgeon and anatomical researcher at Oxford. Anne’s body was to be dissected for medical science. This, however, did not happen as the surgeon realized that Anne was still breathing, albeit faintly. Therefore, the surgeon, along with another colleague, Thomas Willis, attempted to revive Anne.
The Revival of Anne Greene
First, they poured ‘hot and cordial spirits’ into Anne’s mouth, causing her to cough. Then, they opened her stiffened bent fingers and had bystanders rub her limbs for about a quarter of an hour. More spirits were administered, and a feather was used to tickle Anne’s throat. The woman opened her eyes briefly and blood was drawn from her body. The surgeons then tried to raise Anne’s body temperature by placing her in a well-warmed bed, applying soothing oils and spirits on her head, neck, and soles, placing a heating plaster onto her chest, administering an enema, and having another woman lie with her in bed and to gently rub her.
The efforts of Petty and Willis paid off, and Anne was revived. In a short time, she made a full recovery and was allowed to go home. She took with her the coffin she was placed in as a souvenir of this ordeal. Sometime later, Anne returned to the room where she was revived, and crowds came to see her. Petty and Willis saw this as an opportunity to raise some money, which was used to pay for Anne’s food and lodging as well as for her medical bill. In addition, they helped Anne apply for a pardon which was successful. Anne got married, had three children and died during childbirth in 1665.
Title page of book ‘A Scholler in Oxford' by R. Watkins about Anne Greene’s revival. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Top image: Anne Greene was condemned to death by hanging. Photo source: Wawritto / Adobe.
By Wu Mingren
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