Exhibition of ‘Tools of Torture and Punishment’ and the barbaric execution of the Bishop of Rochester’s Cook – by boiling.
Eastgate House closed as a museum in 2004. For many years previous it housed the City of Rochester’s museum / Dickens Museum. Just as today the museum put on special exhibitions. One that attracted the interest of the Press, back in 1938, was the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ that it curated in the cellar of Eastgate House. The exhibition though was not open to the wider public as admission was restricted to “members of the council and privileged persons”.
Who those ‘privileged persons’ were is unclear, but on gaining admission – which was apparently via a low doorway – they were able to view the implements of torture that had been used in the castle. On display were iron fetters from the old prisons at Chatham and Borstal, that held prisoners to the wall, and a whipping post which from 1596 until the 18th Century stood on the green outside the castle. [This may have been the post that was then relocated to the House of Correction, that was accommodated in the basement of the Six Poor Travellers, and that is now on display in the Guildhall museum – see earlier blog.]
Also on display was piece of the door of the condemned cell that was originally situated in the police station which was located behind the Guildhall. It was made of oak and heavily studded with iron – perhaps not dissimilar to the door to the cell in the House of Correction? Could this have been a bit of architectural recycling?
Other exhibits included:
– a model wooden cage on a revolving platform in which miscreants where placed and forced by the small space to stand; in this cage they were whirled around until they lost consciousness,
– a gibbet in which criminals were hanged and exhibited in some prominent place,
– spiked mantraps for catching poachers and trespassers,
– thumbscrews and ducking stools which were displayed as a reminder of what used to be considered as “minor punishments”.
In another part of the cellar reached through a dark passage, was a reconstruction of the castle dungeon.
The execution of the Bishop of Rochester’s Cook by Boiling.
What was missing from the exhibition – which the curator hoped one day to locate – was the pot in which the cook suspected of poisoning guests of the Bishop of Rochester [John Fisher], was boiled alive. The crime probably did not occur in Rochester but the story is that Richard Roose, cook to the bishop, attempted to poison him. The bishop, as he was not feeling well, decided to forego the meal that had been ‘spiked’, but it was eaten by a number of the bishop’s household; apparently 17 persons were poisoned – two of whom died.
Roose was arrested. Different accounts exist as to whether Roose admitted to the crime under torture or readily confessed. Both accounts though suggest that his intention had not been to kill but to make his victims unwell or in very urgent need of a prolonged visit to the toilet. It has also been suggested that Roose had been bribed by Anne Boleyn or her family, to poison the bishop’s food because of his opposition to Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
Henry VIII on hearing of the crime determined – without the benefit of a trial – that Roose was guilty and that the crime of poisoning should be regarded as High Treason. Further, he passed a new law – implemented retrospectively – that determined that the mode of execution of poisoners should be boiling in public.
Roose was executed by boiling at Smithfield on 5 April 1531. Reports of the execution – which would have been slow, prolonged and agonising – are as horrific and barbaric as one can imagine – perhaps worse as there are reports of people who witnessed the execution being so shocked that they were carried away as if “half-dead”.
The law enabling this form of execution was repealed in 1547- the first year of the reign of Edward VI. Thankfully – to my mind – the pot has not been found – and hopefully it never will!
Recent enquires found there that the only possible ‘remain’ of the exhibition was a ‘block’ in the cellar of Eastgate House that could have been part of an exhibit pertaining to beheadings – but who knows for sure?
Dundee Evening Telegraph – 19 May 1938.
Pall Mall Gazette – 29 June 1877.