Colloquium by Kitty Elton
Friday, December 2nd, 3:30pm - Tilley Hall Room 104
The Strange & Miraculous Case of Anne Green
How She Survived Her Own Hanging and Became a Seventeenth-Century Icon
"Whilst thus her Innocence Fate justifies"
The survival of twenty-two-year-old Anne Green after her public hanging in the yard of Oxford Castle in December 1650 is significant enough that the young servant girl’s biography is catalogued alongside those of monarchs and poets in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Anne Green had been charged by Sir Thomas Reid with the crime of infanticide after she spontaneously miscarried a non-viable foetus. In Anne’s case, Sir Thomas was simultaneously her master, her prosecutor, and the great-grandfather of the ill-conceived foetus. In spite of Sir Thomas’s efforts to remove the embarrassment of a servant girl impregnated by his grandson, Anne Green not only survived her hanging, but also “became a greater wonder, being revived, to the satisfaction of multitudes that flocked thither daily to see her” (Bathurst 6).
Anne became a seventeenth-century celebrity—saved by God’s grace acting on behalf of a victim of political oppression. It was almost inevitable that her miraculous salvation would be interpreted as a case of divine intervention, especially with the symbolically retributive twist to the tale that Sir Thomas himself choked to death “within three daies after her Execution” (7). With divine irony, the hand of God had intervened to save the innocent Anne and choke the guilty Sir Thomas. Few stories are so satisfying in the vindication of a perceived victim of subjugation and the implied punishment of her oppressor.
Whether the mystery of Anne Green’s survival was divine justice or astounding luck, her bizarre story received great attention in the burgeoning pamphlet literature of the time. Those early writings reveal the dynamics of a political system undergoing dramatic changes while they also provide forensic clues that help explain Anne’s miraculous survival through modern medical knowledge. The precarious balancing of authority and power in the significant and symbolic events surrounding early-modern public executions are brought into critical focus in the Anne Green affair; her story illuminates the broader instability of the social power hierarchies of the new Commonwealth (1649-1653) when various factions were vying for control of a kingdom that had quite literally removed its head of state.