Goodcole’s Speedie Hue and Cry

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Goodcole’s Speedie Hue and Cry

Henry Goodcole’s Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent after Lust and Murther, printed over three editions in 1635, is an exemplary murder pamphlet not just for its popularity, titillating details, and gore, but because it shows the development of the real-crime genre and of society’s approach to the causes of criminality.

Lust and Murder

Goodcole’s pamphlet tells the grisly story of how Thomas ‘Country Tom’ Shearwood and Elizabeth ‘Canberry Bess’ Evans murdered three victims. Of how Bess would lure innocent, ‘upstanding’ men with promises of sexual favours to a quiet area and of how Tom would bludgeon the victim to death with a club. It accentuates their shame by providing humanising biographical details of those victims: Rowland Holt was a merchant and citizen of London; Michael Lowe, son of a Lord Mayor and sub-warden of one of London’s lesser prisons, took three months to die of his head wounds; and Thomas Claxton was a gentleman lieutenant whose body was stripped bare after his murder on 1 April 1635. It thrills with details of how the criminals were caught, trying to sell the clothes of their last victim. And it provides information about their backgrounds, their confessions, and, importantly, their deaths on the scaffold.

A godly death?

As well as reporting the lurid details of crimes in ‘tabloid’ style, murder pamphlets in the first half of the seventeenth century were morality tales, aiming to uphold contemporary social hierarchies and Calvinist notions of conversion and acceptance. Thus, Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry is littered with biblical references and moral instruction, and there is something inevitable about how a minor indiscretion in the subjects’ individual backgrounds led directly to the gallows. The climax of the pamphlet, however, is how the felons met their end. Tom performed his part spectacularly: ‘he prayed kneeling’ and ‘expressed true Humility’, playing to the crowd by beseeching them ‘to ioyne with him in harty prayer unto the Almighty … to receive his Soule to mercy.’ He ‘ioyfully embraced’ his death and the crowd approved, ‘speaking to God for him’ asking ‘sweete Jesu forgive his sinnes, and save his Soule.’ Bess died less well: ‘with the feares of Death [she was] very much perplexed and amazed, distractively casting her eyes here, and there’, showing more bitterness than penitence.[1]

The morals of the tale

It is, perhaps, no wonder Bess felt bitter: she came from a good family who had sent her to work in service in the city. There ‘shee grew acquainted with a young man in London, who tempted her unto folly’, resulting in her being cast out of work and society, forcing her to turn to prostitution. But despite the fault of lust and temptation, Goodcole sympathetically lays a portion of blame for Bess’s fate on her family and friends, who left her ‘destitute, and out of all, credit, friends, money, apparrell, and service’. He recognised, as previous writers did not, that social and economic factors could be as important in determining a criminal’s career as morality or predestination. Even his final admonition includes advice to parents to ‘cast not off your Children, neither to leave them to shift in the wilde world in their Youth, knowing how subject Youth is unto temptation, and to be seduced in the times of necessitie, and extreame want’, and to masters, ‘to be good to your earthly Servants’.[2]

It is this that sets Goodcole apart and makes him especially important for social historians: he has a practical view of crime and its causes quite alien from what went before. In the final edition of the pamphlet, he even lists areas that are particularly prone to mischief –Smithfield, London Bridge, Pancras Church, St Antholin’s Church, and a ‘little conduit in Cheapside in the evening’ – and suggests measures the authorities and good citizens can take to minimise risks. He warns gentleman to take care when playing cards, advising them to be aware of their opponent’s clothing and not to be enticed to drink too much (a ‘Pint of Wine’, for example); that they should watch over their ‘purse and person’ to avoid being pick-pocketed; and that they should not follow women into ‘private remote places’ on the promise of sex. This edition thus becomes something of a travellers’ guide to London, either in pointing out areas to avoid or, alternatively, to visit.[3]

Deterrent or entertainment?

But beyond this, Goodcole gives another angle to crime and punishment: he shows that public executions were not always successful in their primary purpose of providing a deterrent. After the execution, Tom’s body was gibbeted (Bess’s corpse ‘was dissected, and her dryed Carkase or Sceleton of Bones and Gristles is reserv’d, in proportion to be seene in Barber Surgeons Hall’) as an example to others. A butcher, seeing the corpse, thought aloud that similar fates should befall all such criminals, and was rewarded by being stripped naked and hung up by some ‘lurking villains’ in a parody of the original. Tom’s story didn’t end there: his body was moved from place to place as residents complained about the flocks of tourists coming to gawp, trampling crops and fields as they did so.[4]

The success of executions and murder pamphlets in providing a deterrent and social and religious instruction was, perhaps, limited. But the success of Goodcole’s pamphlets in entertaining, attracting attention, and changing the way people considered crime was much greater. In addition, they brought him as an individual commercial and professional success. Within a decade of him becoming lecturer at Ludgate Gaol he had almost quadrupled his salary, from £6 8s. to £25, and in 1636 he became vicar of St James’s Church in Clerkenwell, where he remained until his death in 1641.

Written by Debbie Kilroy,

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Further reading

DNB, ‘Goodcole, Henry’ (subscription required)

Randall Martin, ‘Taking a Walk on the Wild Side: Henry Goodcole’s Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent After Lust and Murther (1635) and London Criminal Chorography’, in Early Modern Literary Studies 14 (2009) <>


[1] Henry Goodcole, Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent after Lust and Murther. Manifested upon the suddaine apprehending of Thomas Shearwood, and Elizabeth Evans, whose Manners of Lives, Deaths and Free Confessions, are Heere Expressed…’, 1st edn., (London, 1635)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Henry Goodcole, Heavens Speedie Hue and Cry Sent after Lust and Murther … also some new additions, concerning the man that was tide [sic] to the gibbeit, with a discovery of those places where such kinds of lude people haunt and resort’, 2nd edn., (London, 1635)

[4] Ibid.

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