Ann (Margaret) Beddingfield -1763.



Margaret Beddingfield, who went by the name of Ann, was a Suffolk farmer’s daughter who was born in 1742. She married 24 year old John Beddingfield, also a farmer, on Tuesday, July the 3rd, 1759 and his wealthy parents gave them a good farm near the village of Sternfield in Suffolk, some 18 miles from Ipswich. Initially they seemed to have a happy marriage and Ann bore him two children, however, she soon got bored with the daily routines of life. Things deteriorated further in 1761 when her husband took on a new farm hand, 19 year old Richard Ringe. Within three months, he and Ann were having a passionate and very indiscreet affair and they started to devise a plot to kill John which came to fruition on the 27th of July 1762. Ann persuaded Richard to join her in the murder by the offer of marriage and half the estate.


The murder.

The first plan to dispose of John was by poisoning him. Richard tried to persuade one of the maids to put poison in John’s drink which she refused to do. Plan B was to strangle John in his bed while he slept and this was put into effect by Richard on the night of Tuesday the 27th of July. Earlier that day, John had taken Richard to help him move some cows he was selling and afterwards they went for a drink together. John returned home to find Ann in bed with one of the maids whose purpose, she claimed, was to act as a bed warmer! John did not seem over happy with this arrangement and asked Ann to come to the marital bed which apparently she refused to do. John then went to bed alone, with his wife and the servant in the next door bedroom.

Later that night Richard entered his master’s bedroom and strangled him with a cord after a brief struggle during which they both fell from the bed. Having killed John, Richard went into Ann’s room and told her (and the maid) that the deed was done. The maid went to John’s room and found him lying dead on the floor. The following conversation is reported to have taken place : Richard : "I have done for him". Ann : "Then I am easy". The maid cried out: "Master!" - supposing in the dark that John was alive. Ann told her to be quiet and Richard asked Ann if anyone else was aware of what had taken place besides her and the maid. At this the maid asked, “How came you here, Richard?” He replied, “I was forced to it”.  He now returned to his own room while Ann swore the maid to secrecy. She then told her to go and call Richard and when he returned, told him to go into John’s bedroom because she feared he was ill. Richard feigned an inspection and came back to tell Ann and the maid that John was dead. The second maid had been woken by the commotion and also went to look at her master. She found him lying face down and noted that his shirt collar was torn off, and that his neck was bruised and swollen.


An inquest was held the next day but none of the servants were called to give evidence. It amazingly, after a very short inquiry, bought in a verdict of accidental death - John had strangled himself with his bedclothes during a nightmare! So at this point, there was no official record of a murder having been committed and both parties may have thought that they had got away with it. However, the events of the Tuesday night had begun to sour the relationship between Ann and Richard and the affair cooled rapidly. It is probable that the realisation had dawned on Richard of the danger he had been placed in by Ann. He is quoted as saying that he thought of himself as a dead man from that fateful Tuesday night.


Arrest and trial.

The maid, no doubt troubled by what she had witnessed but with a firm eye on her own situation, waited until she had been paid her quarter’s wages and then reported the murder, initially to her parents, who then involved the constable. Ann tried to bribe the maid’s mother but she wouldn’t accept this, not a piece of evidence that played well later in court. Ann was arrested two days later, having tried to escape while Richard was arrested at the Bedingfield house having made no effort to evade capture. The pair came to trial at the Ipswich Lent Assizes which opened on the 21st of March 1763. The original indictments for this Assize are not preserved but it is reasonable to assume that they were both charged with Petty Treason as Ann had murdered her husband and Richard his master.

The court heard evidence from the servants and also from the surgeon who had examined John’s body, who told the jury that he had noticed the marks of strangulation on the body. When asked why he had reported a natural death to the coroner he, amazingly, replied that he “did not think much about it.” (it is normally very obvious that a person has been strangled from the ligature marks on the neck, blueness of the lips and ears and petchiae on the face). Quite why he would have thought John’s injuries were self inflicted during a nightmare is unclear.


Ann maintained her innocence during the trial while Richard, after hearing the servants’ evidence, confessed his guilt. The jury found both guilty of Petty Treason. The mandatory sentences for this crime were that Ann be drawn to the place of execution and there burnt at the stake, and that Richard be similarly drawn to the place of execution and there be hanged by the neck until dead and that afterwards his body be anatomised. The execution of both was set for Friday the 8th of April 1763. Ann reportedly made a confession in Ipswich prison on the Wednesday before her death.



On the Friday morning each prisoner was tied to a sledge in Ipswich prison and then drawn by a horse to Rushmore, then a village just to the north of Ipswich, where the gallows stood and a stake had been set up for Ann. Richard addressed the huge crowd who had come to watch, warning them to avoid the snares of wicked women and to consider chastity as a virtue. Ann was meanwhile tied to the stake with an iron chain and a rope halter placed around her neck, with the free rope passing through a hole bored in the stake. When all was ready, Richard was turned off from the gallows and Ann was strangled by the hangman. When Ann ceased to show signs of life, bundles of faggots were piled round her and lit, the fire reducing her body to ashes. Richard was dissected after death in accordance with the Murder Act of 1752.



Lust, greed and incredible stupidity characterise this crime. The love affair was hardly discreet, the murder even less so. One appreciates that in the 1760’s it was far more difficult for Ann to simply run away with Richard and that financially she would have had lost everything by so doing. Only by John dying would she be able to keep the farm and the house. Clearly her thinking was that with John dead she could have it all with Richard as a bonus. As is often the case in this type of murder, the attraction to the partner in crime wanes very soon after its commission.


Ann had brought suspicion on herself by being so indiscreet. It was alleged in court that as she was dressing herself one morning, she said to her maid, : "Help me to put on my ear-rings; but I shall not wear them much longer, for I shall have new black ones. It will not be long before somebody in the house dies, and I believe it will be your master." The actual murder could hardly have been less secret with the maid in bed with Ann while it was carried out in the next room. One might ask why Ann needed a “bed warmer” in late July. Not surprisingly, the other servants were extremely suspicious when John was found dead.

Richard’s behaviour was just as stupid. Everyone in the house, other than John, seemed to know what was going on between him and Ann and he did nothing to hide it. He is alleged to have told one of the maids that he would be her constant friend if she would mix the poison he had bought with some rum and milk that her master drank in the morning. She refused to do this but only reported the incident after the murder. Every aspect of their conduct before, during and after the killing increased the suspicion and evidence against them. Unless one believes the surgeons original conclusion that John killed himself, no conclusion other than wilful murder by Richard and Ann is open to one. There was no evidence of an intruder or pretence that there had been one and that John had been murdered in the course of a robbery that had gone wrong.


Tragically three young lives were ended by this affair - ironically all by strangulation. At the time of their deaths, Ann was 21 years old, John was 28 and Richard 20.

It is said in some accounts, that Ann Beddingfield was the last woman to be burnt for the murder of her husband. However, this is not the case - that distinction goes to Mary Bailey who was executed on the 8th of March 1784 at Winchester.


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