‘News from the Dead’: The Execution & Resuscitation of Anne Green

Title page woodcut of the execution and resuscitation of Anne Green, 1651.

It was a cold, blustery day when Anne Green, 22 years old, was led to her place of execution at Cattle Yard in Oxford. Just days before, she had been condemned for murdering her bastard child and hiding its corpse in her employer’s house.

Now Anne faced the ultimate punishment.

As she approached the gallows, she dropped to her knees, ‘humbly desiring of God, that his Divine Majesty would be pleased, to shew some remarkable judgement upon her’. [1] According to witnesses, Anne then rose to her feet and began a slow and agonizing climb up the ladder to her death. Once she had reached the summit, she turned to those eager spectators who had come to see her die, and spoke of ‘the lewdness of the Family wherein she lately lived’. [2] After she had proclaimed her innocence, the executioner secured the noose around her neck. Upon her words, ‘Sweet Jesus receive my soul’,  the hangman ‘turn’d the Ladder’, and left her there to hang before the crowd. [3]

Thirty minutes passed, during which time her friends ‘thump[ed] her on the breast’ and hung ‘with all their weight upon her leggs [sic]… lifting her up and then pulling her downe againe with a suddain [sic] jerke’ in order to quicken her death. [4] Eventually, Anne’s body was cut down from the gallows and placed in a coffin, where it was then taken to Drs. Thomas Willis and William Petty for dissection. But just as Willis and Petty were about to make an incision which would split the body open from the sternum to the pubic bone, a strange sound emanated from the ‘corpse’.

Anne was alive.

Willis and Petty quickly came to her aid, pouring hot cordials into her mouth, rubbing her arms and legs to warm her body, and (of course) bleeding her. Within twelve hours, Anne was able to speak; within a day, she could answer questions. Given her miraculous resuscitation, Anne was granted a reprieve and declared innocent, the assumption being that the baby had been born stillborn. She later married and bore three more children.

Though one must wonder how she slept at night….

1. Anon., A declaration from Oxford, of Anne Green a young woman that was lately, and unjustly hanged in the Castle-yard; but since recovered (London, 1651), p. 2.
2. Richard Watkins, News from the dead (Oxford, 1651), p. 2.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.

11 comments on “‘News from the Dead’: The Execution & Resuscitation of Anne Green

  1. […] Anne Greene was an English domestic servant that worked in Duns Tew in the 17th century. At a young age, Anne got pregnant from a relationship with her master’s grandson. The baby died at birth and Anne was blamed for the death, despite evidence that it was stillborn. Greene was given a death sentence and hung on December 14, 1650, at Oxford. She requested that her friends be allowed to beat her swinging body, in order to make sure she was dead. After being hung for a half hour, Greene was cut down, pronounced dead by the coroner, and given to a group of medical students for dissection. […]

  2. [...] he discovered that the body, freshly arrived from the gallows, was a still-living person who had somehow survived her execution.  Yet he also felt that dissection was the only way to get the knowledge that he [...]

  3. Many many stories of “revived” corpses – mainly because the “short drop” strangled the executionee if they were lucky. The Cruel Mother is a good ballad story of unwed mother killing her children, but they come back to haunt her and tell her she will burn in hell!

  4. [...] Willis plunged the knife into her sternum, Anne miraculously awoke. [For more about Anne Greene, click here]. [...]

  5. [...] Willis plunged the knife into her sternum, Anne miraculously awoke. [For more about Anne Greene, click here]. [...]

  6. [...] Willis plunged the knife into her sternum, Anne miraculously awoke. [For more about Anne Greene, click here]. [...]

  7. [...] Implicit in this statement is the assumption that poor, unmarried mothers were promiscuous, immoral women who, ‘having committed one sin’, were capable of committing an even greater sin—that of infanticide. During the 17th century, numerous publications appeared characterising the unwed mother as a ‘lewd whore’. The 1634 ballad, No Natural Mother but a Monster, traces a young girl’s fall from grace—beginning with premarital sex, followed by the pregnancy and eventual strangulation of her bastard child, and ending with her own execution on the scaffold. [2] [Read about Anne Greene, executed for infanticide, here]. [...]

  8. [...] Even at that, death was not always guaranteed. Although it was rare, there were certainly instances of people being cut down from the gallows, only to miraculously resuscitate on the dissecting table. (Read more here). [...]

  9. The Chirurgeon's Apprentice says:

    The woodcut is brilliant. I understood it as representing various stages of Anne’s life which led her to the gallows: her illicit affair with her employer’s grandson, followed by her dropping to her knees at the base of the ladder, and finally the actual execution with a friend pulling at her feet.

    Interestingly, there is a novel by Mary Hopper on Anne Green’s execution called (unsurprisingly), Newes from the Dead. A summary–which tells me that the novel is indeed fiction because some of the details are incorrect from the start–can be found on Amazon:

    It is 1650 and a baby lies raw and cold, dead before it even drew breath. A young servant girl, terrified and alone, is accused of its murder and sent to the gallows. Protesting her innocence in the chill air of a December morning, Anne Green is hanged. Moments later her lifeless body is lifted down from the scaffold and carried to the College of Physicians for brutal dissection.

    But as Anne’s corpse lies on the table and the doctors assemble, a strange rattle is heard in her throat. Against all the odds, could she still be alive?

  10. Tom says:

    Something similar happens in Iain Pear’s novel ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’, which also happens to be a really excellent novel (although I have now spoiled it for anyone that has not read it).

    Horrible the nasty execution method. Supposedly the hangman is supposed to give enough of a ‘jump’ to break the neck, so friends and wellwishers don’t have to tug and pull to do it.

    The woodcut is nice though. The man thumping her with a musket! And a couple in their bed declaring it to be ‘God’s Providence’!

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