Anne Greene: Back from the Dead
1 April 2021 (Updated 11 November 2021)
Execution by hanging in the 17th Century was often a messy and imprecise business, but rarely so much as in the case of the failed hanging of Anne Greene in 1650.
Anne Greene is tried for infanticide
Anne Greene's case was a sad one. She had been working as a scullery maid for Sir Thomas Read at Duns Tew where she was 'seduced' and impregnated by Read’s teenage grandson. Greene was reportedly not even aware she was pregnant until she miscarried at 6 months.
Alone and afraid, Anne tried to bury the body in a nearby cesspit. However, the body was discovered and her master was informed.
Rather than take pity on the poor girl, her cruel master had Anne arrested and tried for infanticide under the 'Concealment of Birth of Bastards' Act of 1624.
A traumatic hanging
The hanging was an ordeal for all concerned. The 'long drop' technique of hanging designed to break the victim's neck quickly and cleanly did not come into usage until the 19th century. In the 17th century hanging victims would often remain dangling from the noose for quite some time while they slowly suffocated to death.
According to contemporary accounts, Anne Greene kicked and twitched from the gibbet for nearly half an hour, while her friends thumped her chest with the butt of a musket and pulled on her legs in an attempt 'the sooner to despatch her out of her pain.'
Her body was eventually taken down, but she was observed to still be breathing so 'a lusty fellow who stood by' stamped on her chest and stomach as hard as he could 'thinking to do an act of charity in ridding her out of the small relics of a painful life.'
Back from the dead?
Her body was then taken to the Anatomy school to await dissection. The following day physician Dr. William Petty opened Greene's coffin and immediately noticed that the body was still unusually warm, and realised that the spark of life was not yet extinguished.
Petty and his colleagues began treating her injuries and soon Anne Greene regained consciousness. In a few days she was well enough to eat chicken and eventually made a full recovery.
A happy ending for Anne
Dr. Petty and others petitioned the Oxford court to have Anne Greene pardoned of her crimes, arguing that her miraculous recovery was a sign that God had intervened, proving her innocence.
They were successful, likely as a result of the public reaction to Greene's recovery but also because Sir Thomas Read had died shortly after Greene's hanging and so was not able to petition for a second execution.
Anne Greene's story ends happily. She received a reprieve and went on to marry, have children and live to old age.
- 'Bloody Britain' (AA Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 9780749551650)
- 1650: Girl survives being hanged, pulled and stomped (alphahistory.com)
- Anne Green (Wikipedia)