Francis Winter’s Last Farewell

In 1691, the lawyers of The Temple, itself a liberty, sought to block up a gate connecting it to Whitefriars. The Alsatians, seeing this as an impediment to their movements in and out of their sanctuary, raised a mob, attacked the builders and demolished the newly-built wall. The Sheriffs of London arrived to restore order, and in the ensuing battle one of their officers, a John Chandlor, was shot in the leg with a blunderbuss. Two days later, having identified his assailant, he died of his injuries, and the leader of the Whitefriars men, Captain Francis Winter, was arrested for murder.

This riot, and Winter’s subsequent execution for his part in it, seems to have become quite renowned. It was an exceptional event for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was not the more common hue and cry against bailiffs seeking to seize a debtor, but a defence of rights of way and freedom of movement – the Alsatians had no wish for their sanctuary to be walled in. Secondly, it escalated from a dispute between two groups of citizens into armed resistance against the legal authorities of London, and so to the law outright. Given the political context of James II’s dethroning and William III’s settlement with parliament, this was not to be taken lightly. Thirdly, at Winter’s trial, the Judge had directed the jury to find him guilty, regardless of whether or not he had fired the fatal shot, on the grounds

“That where any Lawful Authority shall be opposed by any Riot, or Riotous Assembly, this implied Malice in Law, in the Persons so offending, and they were all equally guilty; and consequently, if the Prisoner did not shoot Chandlor, yet he was guilty of Murther, because he did abet, promote, stir up, and maintain such a Rebellious and Unlawful Assembly.” (Source: Old Bailey Online)

Thus it was more for insurrection than murder that Winter was found guilty, and he was hanged on the 17th May 1693, at Fryars Gate, the main entrance to the sanctuary.

There are a number of documents relating to this story, and the first I present is the ballad “Francis Winter’s last Farewel.” It is typical of the execution songs of the seventeenth century: a single sheet cheaply produced (the woodcut looks to be recycled), claiming to be the last words of the condemned, confessing to terrible deeds, solemnly making repentance and warning others not to follow in such evil ways. Verses 5 to 7 give the substance of the case: the narrator admits to heading an armed crew against the sheriff, and by extension “against the wholesome laws of this my native land.” But if he concedes to rebellion, he does not admit to murder: “whether I kill’d the man or no, I cannot justly say.”

The last verse mentions “the thousands that are standing by”, witnessing his death. The Ordinary of Newgate wrote “there were several Thousands of Spectators, who thronged to see him.” (Source: Old Bailey Online) Given that Winter was executed at the very entrance to Whitefriars, we can presume that all Alsatia turned out to pay their last respects.

Illustration from the handbill 'Francis Winter's Last Farewell'

Francis Winter's Last Farewell

Francis Winter’s last Farewel:
OR, THE
White-Fryers Captain’s Confession and Lamentation,
Just before his Execution at the Gate of White-Fryers, on the 17th
of this instant May, 1693. Tune of, Russel’s Farewel.

Behold these sorrows now this day,
you that are standers by,
All former joys are fled away,
now I am brought to die:
My heart is fill’d with fear and dread,
for here is no relief,
Since I a sinful life have led,
I nothing see but Grief.

I spent my days with roaring boys,
and little thought of death,
But where are all those fading joys,
now I must loose my breath:
Now they are clearly fleed from me,
and there is no relief,
Alas! alas! I nothing see,
but bitter clouds of Grief.

Alas! the follies of my youth
comes fresh into my mind;
Had I been guided by the truth,
then had I left behind
A better name then now I shall,
alas!  here’s no relief;
I by the hand of justice fall,
and nothing see but Grief.

Bold Francis Winter is my name,
who seem’d to bear the sway,
But now, alas! in open shame
I do appear this day:
My former joys have taken flight,
for here is no relief;
Grim Death appears this day in sight,
which fills my soul with Grief.

I must acknowledge this is true,
that when in arms we rose,
I was the captain of that crew
which did the sheriff oppose:
‘Tis said a man was slain by me,
therefore here’s no relief,
For I must executed be,
and nothing see but Grief.

Whether I kill’d the man or no,
I cannot justly say
But since in arms we acted so
we seem’d to disobey
The city’s lawful magistrate;
therefore here’s no relief.
And I must here submit to fate,
I nothing see but Grief.

It was against the wholesome laws
of this my native land,
To rise in arms, and be the cause
of that rebellious band,
Who broke through law and justice too,
of which I was the chief,
For which I bid the world adieu;
I nothing see but Grief.

Let my misfortunes teach the rest
obedience to the laws;
Let them not magistrates molest,
for that has been the cause
Of shedding blood, for which I die,
I being there the chief;
The very minute’s drawing night,
I nothing see but Grief.

I oftentimes have wish’d, in vain,
that I had not been there;
Nay, were it to be done again,
I shou’d that deed forbear,
And not myself with such inthral,
tho’ then I was the chief;
But what is past, I can’t recal,
I nothing see but Grief.

The thousands that are standing by,
alas! you little know
My inward grief and misery,
and what I undergo:
O let me have your prayers this day,
my sorrows here condole:
I now have nothing more to say,
but, Lord receive my soul.

Printed for J. Deacon, at the Sign of the Angel in Guiltspur-street.

Plain text in the public domain, taken from English Broadside Ballad Archive, University of California at Santa Barbara, and corrected against that in the Bagford Ballads (p.340) at archive.org. Image in the public domain, again taken from the Bagford Ballads at archive.org. The intro is CC-BY-SA.

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  1. Pingback: The Ordinary of Newgate’s account of Captain Francis Winter « ALSATIA

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