November 12, 2007

the mystery of greenberry hill & sir edmond berry's murder

sir edmond berry godfrey was an english magistrate in the 17th century; In 1678 he became involved in a clash between catholics and anglicans caused by the claims of two corrupt english clergymen named titus oates and israel tonge.

the pair announced that they had uncovered a "popish plot" to murder king charles II of england and replace him with james, his roman catholic brother. in fact the "plot" was a part of a conspiracy to discredit catholics in england.

oates and tonge appeared before godfrey and asked him to take their oath that the papers they presented as evidence were based on truth. godfrey demanded first to know the contents of the papers and then took their depositions on september 28th after receiving a copy. he probably warned one of his catholic acquaintances, edward coleman, of the content of the accusations.

oates's accusations became shortly known and the public concerned. godfrey has been supposed that he might be one of the victims of the scare. he disappeared on october the 12th 1678 and then was found dead on 17 october in a ditch on primrose hill, he was lying face down impaled with his own sword.

investigations didn't arrive to satisfying conclusions, statements about godfrey's whereabouts before the murder where contradictory; there was no evidence of struggle and godfrey still had his money and rings. the body was covered with bruises and a circular mark around godfrey's neck revealed that he had been strangled; and since the sword wound had not bled, it had been concluded that godfrey was already dead when he was impaled, probably for four or five days.

later captain william bedloe (a "reformed" catholic plotter as he named himself), related a few contradictory stories, in some of them he claimed that he had been taken on the night of 14 october to a house in which he saw the body of godfrey & that he saw two men, including samuel atkins who managed to prove that he had been on a yacht at greenwich at that time. bedloe claimed that catholic plotters had killed godfrey in order to steal his papers about the depositions (what would be pointless since the witnesses whose words had been recorded were still alive).

the second man bedloe claimed he had recognized was miles prance, catholic servant-in-ordinary, on 21 december, this last was arrested and imprisoned. his lodger (who was in debt to him), john wren, testified that he had been away for the four nights before godfrey's body was discovered.

prance announced that he had had a part in the murder but that the main instigators were some catholic priests. three of them would have witnessed the murder in the courtyard of the house where godfrey had been lured. godfrey would have been strangled and body taken to hampstead. prance named: robert green, henry berry and lawrence hill. coincidentally, the place in which godfrey was murdered was known at the time as "greenberry hill"!

prance later recanted his confession but as he was thrown back to prison he recanted his recantation causing the death of the three men who were hanged (ironic again) at greenberry hill.

it became manifest later that green, berry & hill were executed on false evidence and prance pleaded guilty to perjury & the case remains officially unsolved. there have been many theories: godfrey might either have been murdered by catholics, afraid that he knew some of their real secrets; by the anti-catholics because of his contacts to catholics and / or because he knew oates was lying and / or because his death could easily and usefully be blamed on the catholics; some even claimed suicide either because godfrey was in a quandary between catholics and anglicans or just because of his melancholy nature; l'estrange (1687) claimed that his brothers would have concealed the evidence of his suicide lest his estate had been forfeit.

modern analysts john dickson carr (1936) and hugh ross williamson (1955) analyzed the mentioned theories and their weak points and deduced that godfrey was murdered by philip herbert, 7th earl of pembroke who took his revenge for having been prosecuted for murder some time earlier by godfrey. the earl had been found guilty but a pardon from the house of lords prevented him from an execution.


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