Trial of Alice Lisle

This being a true Account of the Trial of Lady Alice Lisle, in Winchester on August 27, 1685.

My lord,

What follows is an account of the trial of Alice Lisle in Winchester, given by a witness to the justice offered by a tyrant.

The trial of Lady Lisle does cast a dark shadow on the Justice of this Kingdom. As the poor Lady, of over seventy years, was forced to wait all day through normal mix of murders and other villains, all of which had no part in the late Rebellion. So, it was not until past five in evening, that her case was heard by Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys.

The proceeding started in the normal way, for Alice Lisle was called to the bar and the charge was laid before the Jury that she had aided and assisted Mr Hicks, a known traitor from Monmouth’s Rebellious Army, therefore was guilty of High Treason. To this the noble lady pleaded ‘Not Guilty’. Now the old Lady was very deaf and give the support of Mr Browne to repeat the case to her. Also, her being frail in the frame, the Judges allowed her to be seated for the whole indictment.

The Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys opened by reminding the Jury that the Lady was the widow of Lisle, that murderous regicide and follower of Cromwell. Furthermore, that one Mr Hicks, whom she had sheltered, was a conventicle preacher and one of the most active instruments in bring about the horrid rebellion. Justice Jeffreys stated that Mr Hicks was witnessed by loyal subjects captured after the Keynsham fight to be in Monmouth’s Army. At this juncture the poor Lady stood and declared herself as against the Rebellion but Judge Jeffreys told her to be silent.

There now there followed a long examination of one Mr Dunne by Justice Jeffreys, as to how the traitor did arrive at Lady Lisle house in Ellingham, Hampshire. As to how Mr Dunne had taken a letter to Lady Lisle and then helped the traitors from Warminster to her home Moyle Court, across Salisbury Plain. Justice Jeffreys cross examined the man himself, with some anger and many tirades against dissenters. Justice Jeffreys attempted all-a-while to force the witness to admit that the prisoner knew of the rebellious and treasonous actions of Mr Hicks. With some viciousness Jeffreys did force Mr Dunne to confess that Lady Lisle may have known that Mr Hicks was a non-conformist preacher.

Then Colonel Penruddock, was called to give an account of how the Mr Dunne and the two fugitives, including Mr Hicks, where captured at Moyle Court after an informant had given up the villainous traitors. By now the sun had set and it being a late, warm August evening, Lady Lisle had been asleep for most of the proceedings. Only being awoken to cross examine each witness, which she rarely did or to give her defence. In this, Lady Lisle stated that she only knew Mr Hicks as a non-conformist preacher. That he was looking for a place of safety as a dissenter. She declared that on discovering one of the fugitives was Mr Nelthorpe, a wanted conspirator in the Rye House plot, she sent word to Colonel Penruddock. Finally, she told the court that she had been in London for the whole of the summer and that she was against the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion and a loyal supporter of King James II.

Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys started his summing up of the case indictment against Lady Lisle by attacking dissenters and non-conformists, ‘for they are to blame for the death of King Charles I’. Then pointing to the prisoner stated, ‘I will not say, what hand her husband had in the death of that blessed martyr, she has enough to answer for in her own guilt. I must confess that it ought not be one way or other to make any ingredient in this case, what she was in former times.’ In his final words to the Jury, he assures them the that testimony of Alice Lisle guilt is, ‘as plain a proof can be given and as evident as the sun at noon day.’ They are warned that the neither the prisoner’s age nor her sex is to move them, and they are to consider the verdict.

For all those present, it was clear that the poor Lady knew of Mr Hicks, but not as a fugitive from high treason but one from religious persecution and no evidence was offered to prove that point. Indeed, Mr Hicks had not yet been tried or proven to be a traitor. For before retiring, the Juryman asked Justice Jeffreys if Lady Lisle could be tried of treason when Mr Hicks had not been convicted of treason. To which Jeffrey replied that, ‘it was all the same, that certainly there can be no doubt Mr Hicks committed treason.’ With these words, the Jury was sent off, to come to a verdict.

After quarter of an hour the Jury return and the Jurymen stated that they were in still doubt if Lady Lisle knew Mr Hicks was in the Army and was therefore the verdict was Not Guilty.’ With this Justice Jeffreys flew into a rage shouting ‘There is a full proof, as proof can be; but you are the judges of the proof, for my part I thought there was no difficultly in it.’ He then goes back over all evidence proving her guilt. Then rounding up, once more he says, ‘Come, come gentlemen this is a plain proof of guilt.’ With this he asks the Jury to retire once more, and again they return with the verdict Not Guilty!

With this affront to the King’s Justice, Jeffreys now comes to the truth of matter and states that the Jury shall retire again and ‘if they don’t return with the correct verdict, shall themselves be tried of high treason.’ With this the Jury came back immediately with the verdict of ‘Guilty’.

Now, with this verdict in, the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys said to the court, ‘Gentlemen, I did not think I would have had any occasion to speak after your verdict but finding some hesitancy and doubt about you; I cannot but say I wonder it should come about, for I think in my conscience the evidence was as full and as plain as could be, and if I had been among you and she had been my own mother, I should of found her guilty.’ Then he rose and it now being eleven of the clock, the assize was over for the day.

In my next, I shall give a full account of the sentencing of Lady Alice Lisle.

Your loyal servant in the cause.

William Savage 

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Constant Richard, October 31. 1685
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