The fortunate unfortunate: James Verbeck 1691, twice pilloried and let off.

Everything in an archive is interesting.  Yesterday at the National Archive I’d ordered records for the first half of a year, and the record I needed was in volume two.  So after I put the right order in, and waited – a rapid thirty five minutes, thanks to all at TNA – I had a look through an earlier volume of  Treasury Warrants Not Relating to Money.

This is every decision made by the Treasury relating to a payment in kind, remission of payment or internal accounting of Crown properties.  Everything from cutting oaks for warships, or mending the Lord Chancellor’s mace to cancelling fines.

I liked this one, written from Whitehall Treasury Chambers 26th January 1691.

Whereas We are informed That one James Verbeck now a Prisoner in Newgate, was some time since convicted of a great misdemeanour, and sentenced to stand twice in the Pillory and to pay a fine of 5l  

And that the first part of the sentence, to wit, standing in the Pillory hath been complyed with but that the Prisoner is utterly unable to satisfye the said Fine  

These are to pray therefore to signifye unto you his Majesties Pleasure  That you cause satisfaccon to be acknowledged upon the Record of the said Fine of 5l and to do all other matters and things as shalbe requisite or necessary for the effectuall discharging Trouble Process or Demand whatsoever or for or by reason thereof  

And, for so doing this shalbe your Warrant.

(The National Archives, Kew T 54/13: Treasury: entry books of Warrants concerning appointments, Crown Leases and other matters not relating to the payment of money 1689 – 1692)

This lucky reprieve is addressed to Sir George Treby the Attorney General. It’s initialled by the Lord Godolphin First Lord of the Treasury, Richard Hampden the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Sir John Lowther Treasury Commissioner.  So is everything else.  You forget how incredibly busy all those Baroque politicians were. This is the thing I like about these early Governmental records.  In those days every transaction is signed off by the minister, even to the Chancellor of the Exchequer checking the arithmetic.  Perhaps it still is of course.

James Verbeck’s great misdemeanour is on the Old Bailey website. (a source familiar to listeners of the BBC’s Tales from the Old Bailey.)

Verbeck and another man, who was acquitted, had paid two Dutch men to apply for passports in the names of two other Dutch men who had to leave the country. They got their passports but they were stopped at the port. Text from Old Bailey Online

James Verbeck , and Peter Prince , were both Indicted for that they the 10th of June last, did procure two Persons to go to the Lord Nottingham’s Office to get a false Pass, for one John Arnoll and William Ottall to go to Holland . The first Evidence was one John Demott , a Dutchman, who said, that Verbeck came to him, and desired him to get a pass for two poor Dutchmen, to go beyond Sea, and bid him take the name of John Arnoll upon him, which he did, and had five Shillings paid him as a Reward, but he returned half of it back again. This Demott went first to the Spanish Embassador, with a Woman who had a good Acquaintance, and got a pass for him; after that went to under Secretary to know if that would be sufficient without another from the Earl of Nottingham, with another Man, one John Mowsal , a Dutchman, who took the name of William Ortall upon him, and had half a Crown paid him by Verbeck for so doing. Arnoll declared in court, that he agreed with Verbeck, to give him 3 Guineas for the Pass, but afterwards he would not part with it under a Luadore more, adding that he could get 10l. for it before Night. Mr. Arnoll and Mr. Ottall went as far as Harwich with the said Pass, but were stopt there by a Messenger, and brought back, they being the wrong persons, and not those who went to Whitehall for the Pass. Verbeck made a long Story in his defence to no purpose, and the Evidence did not so nearly affect Prince, so he was Acquitted , but Verbeck was found Guilty of a Cheat.

It’s a mysterious case.  Why Arnoll and Ottall the ‘two poor Dutchmen’ had to leave the country I don’t know.  Was Verbeck doing them a good turn? I have heard the name ‘Van Bleeck’ pronounced ‘Verbeek’ so he may also have been from the Netherlands. If the passports were in their names, why couldn’t they apply for them in person?  Sentence was given September 9th 1691.

James Verbeck was ordered to be set by the Pillory, once at Charing-Cross, a second time at the May-Pole in the Strand, and to pay 5l. as a Fine, and to stand committed till all be performed.

Many crimes carried the death penalty at this date, from bag-snatching to forgery and clipping coins.  It’s lucky for Verbeck that faking passports, deceiving Lord Nottingham the Secretary of State and involving the Spanish isn’t one of them.  The age of reason still inflicted medieval punishments.  Compared with hanging or (unbelievably and for women only) burning, or whipping and branding, Verbeck’s two stands in the pillory – of unspecified time but usually for an hour each – and a £5 fine sounds quite lenient.  Singing her own satirical song about King William and Queen Mary got dressmaker Bridget Laytus two stands in the pillory in 1693, plus a fine of £200, with maybe less chance of being let off at the King’s Pleasure.*

The pillory is one of the few things about the past that must be exactly as you imagine it. Theoretically, the crowd’s imagination was the limit as far as what they might throw.  Excrement and rotting vegetables aside, it could be a violent business.  In Holland one man died in the pillory.  But when the writer Daniel Defoe was pilloried in 1703 the crowd threw flowers.  So it probably depended on the crowd’s mood, and how worked up they were about the crime in question.  And the pilloree themselves.  There must have been an element of performance to it.  Perhaps James Verbeck told the crowd another ‘long Story in his defence.’  Hopefully it made them laugh.

*I should think, or is that somewhere in the Treasury Bools too?  The Old Bailey records don’t list punishments commuted after sentence. More on Bridget Layton’s case another time.

Featured image: Titus Oates, Perjurer, published Richardson 1810 National Portrait Gallery (c) NPG


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