Monday, 23 September 2013

66. Former clergyman hanged ' in the Pett... in a Transport of Rage and Fury..'

On Tuesday the 31st of March 1691, following the Assizes at York, Mr. Edmund Robinson, condemned for high treason the previous week, was executed. A married man with a son, he was one of eleven convicted criminals hung that day. Two were executed for murder, two for burglary, three for horse-stealing and one for burning down a barn.

Edmund Robinson, born in Colne Parish in the County of Lancaster, Nicholas Battersby of the City of York, and Robert Cokeson from the Parish of Wakefield in the County of York, were executed for the high treason of counterfeiting the King’s coin. All three denied their guilt.

The day before their execution the Reverend George Halley MA preached a sermon at York Castle before the condemned prisoners. The sermon was published in London later the same year together with an appendix giving Halley’s account of the life and trial of Edmund Robinson, himself a former clergyman. After schooling and some university studies, Robinson had been ordained both Deacon and Priest and spent about eleven years in a curacy at Holmforth, part of the Parish of Kirk-Burton in Yorkshire. He also preached for a year at Haworth in the Parish of Bradford, a place later to become the home of the Bronte family. Edmund Robinson, however, was not an exemplary curate. He forged licences, conducted clandestine marriage celebrations and, according to Halley, was actively ‘impairing and Counterfeiting the King’s Coyn’ when living in the Parish of Kirk-Burton.

At school it seems Robinson had struck up a friendship with a young man called Greggson whose father had a reputation as a ‘Coyner’ and who was himself later executed at Lancaster for coining. Whatever the origins of his criminal predilections, Robinson was able to explain to Halley all the tricks of his ‘Black Art’, ‘what difference there was, as to advantage, in Clipping and Coyning, and how the one was easier, and less troublesome than the other; that he melted down his Clippings, and what sav’d of them in Coyning, he transmitted to the Gold-Smiths, of whom he received very frequently very considerable Sums of Money... Alas! What won’t men do when blinded by interest; when Mammon is their God?’

Suspension and excommunication by the church does not seem to have put a brake on Robinson’s career as a coiner and counterfeiter. At the York Assizes of 4th March 1678, he was acquitted on a charge of coin-clipping but convicted ‘for uttering false Money’ and fined twenty pounds. The following year, at the York Assizes of 17th March 1679, he was ‘again Convicted of Uttering False Money’ and this time fined five hundred pounds. At the York Assizes of 1st August 1685, he was again tried for coining and acquitted. ‘But’, observed Halley, ‘though the Pitcher goes oft to the water, it comes home broken at last’; at York in 1691, Robinson was ‘Try’d for his old Treason in Coyning, found guilty, and deservedly Executed for the same.’

Robinson denied his guilt throughout his trial and used all the legal challenges and extra-legal manoeuvres available to defend himself. ‘Never Man produc’d more Witnesses to invalidate a single Testimony’, observed Halley: ‘some of them did very wonderfully agree together,... their words were the very selfsame, there was not one tittle Difference or Variation, by which and some Cross questions it plainly appear’d that they had conn’d their Lesson Together.’ Mistakenly thinking he would be able to buy himself a reprieve, Robinson, much to Halley’s dismay, remained defiant to the last, neither confessing his crime nor repenting his sins:

            But alas! after he had taken a solemn Leave of his Son... and given him a Charge to be dutiful to his Mother, and the like, when he ascended the Ladder, instead of performing the Religious Duty I press’d him to, instead of imploring the Mercy and Forgiveness of God for his great and manifold Transgressions of the Laws, both Humane and Divine, and particularly for the Scandalous Life he had led, when being taken under the highest obligations to the contrary, as having taken Holy Orders upon him, instead of expressing an Universal Love and a Catholick Charity, he did nothing but bitterly inveigh against the Law, the Judge, the Jury, the Witness, and against the Clerk of the Assize, for producing the records of his former Trials against him. Thus he died in the Pett, thus he expir’d rather in a Transport of Rage and Fury, than with a Christian Temper and Disposition.

Halley, George, 1691. A Sermon Preach’d at the CASTLE of YORK, to the condemned prisoners on Monday the 30th of March, 1691, being the day before their execution. With an Appendix: A Short Account of Mr. Edmund Robinson, who was Condemn’d for High Treason, in Counterfeiting the King’s Coin, on Monday the 23 of March 1691 and Executed on Tuesday the 31st of March, 1691. London.

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