Published on

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.