Sir John Fitz
1570 - 1605
An episode in Twickenham in August, 1605 leading to the death of an innkeeper at the hands of a Devonshire knight provoked sufficient interest for the publication of a book describing the events. The Bloudie Booke, its title page illustrated here was published in blackletter type and couched in typically dramatic language. It has been used as the principal source of the following narrative.
Sir John Fitz was the only son of John (1529-90) and Mary, of Fitzford House near Tavistock in Devon, a family settled there from the 15th century. His father, a retired lawyer, died in 1590 and he inherited extensive estates and considerable wealth. He married Bridget, the 6th daughter of Sir William Courtenay, 3rd Earl of Devon (de jure) and there was a daughter of the union, Mary, born in August, 1596.
Although enjoying “comelinese of personage increasing with his yeares”, he appears to have undergone some sort of personality change following marriage, so gaining a reputation for drunken violence. In 1599, following a disagreement, he killed his friend Nicholas Slanning of Bickleigh and fled to France in order to escape arrest. He returned to England some months later, having obtained a pardon from Queen Elizabeth, with the help of his wife’s family.
Resuming life in Tavistock, he turned his wife and children out of the house and embarked on various riotous escapades in the company of a number of violent associates, terrorising the inhabitants of the town.
However, on the accession of James I in 1603, John was knighted, apparently on account of his social standing and wealth rather than for any particular service to his new Monarch.
called to London
In the summer of 1605 he was summoned to London to account for his behaviour to his family and to answer renewed charges for the unlawful killing of Nicholas Slanning. Towards the end of July he travelled towards London with a servant, apparently in a state of growing psychotic paranoia, perhaps induced by alcohol abuse, believing that he was being pursued by members of his wife's and Slanning's family, intent on revenge.
Arriving at Kingston upon Thames he put up at an inn but on retiring to bed was unable to sleep. He left the inn and the servant who had accompanied him, and crossed the bridge to Hampton Wick. Continuing towards Twickenham he lost his way, wandered about on Hounslow Heath, and sought entry to a large, unnamed, house. He was turned away and, continuing his journey, came on the Anchor Inn. This was a modest tavern kept by Daniel Alley. Alley shared the house with his wife, three children, a maid and a lodger named Robert Goddard.
At the Anchor Inn
It was now about 2.00am; Sir John'servant had caught up with him, and between them they managed to raise Daniel who, after some conversation, let him in, vacated his and his wife's bed, changed the sheets and, his wife having gone next door to the children, sat with him until he fell into a restless sleep. He sent his servant on to Brentford where apparently he found lodging.
“The Bloudie Booke” relates that:
“Sir John, his gelding set up, the doores shut in, himselfe gone to bed, his footman departed with money for his expence and all things (as it seemed) well, but that the host and his wife observed a certaine wilde and stearne looke in his countenance, at last being in bedde, called and knocked for the hoaste of the house to come unto him, who being come into the chamber (for the good man himselfe had no place to go to bedde in) Sir John said unto him, I pray thee mine hoaste sit by me a while: I will, said the goodman, and so fetching his cloake to wrappe about him, returned and sat downs by his bedde side.”
There wasn't much rest for the household and, about 5.00 in the morning, Daniel prepared to start his day's work: in a field, with Goddard where they were to cut hay. Sir John woke, disturbed and, his delusions having multiplied, attacked Daniel, running him through with his sword. Goddard made good his escape but Daniel's wife, Agnes was not so fortunate and was wounded in her arm. Brought somewhat to his senses by what he had done, he set the hilt of his sword against a wall and impaled himself, twice. Daniel died, but Sir John lingered for 48 hours before finally expiring. At the Coroner's Inquest on the following Thursday, 4 August, he was still alive.
Daniel was buried, probably in St Mary's churchyard, on 6 August. As to Sir John, the Earl of Northumberland intervened, sending a friend “to put him in mind what he had done how grievously hee had offended his maker in committing so detestable murders, as also in laying violent handes upon himselfe, and withal persuading him to repent…” He agreed to give £100 to Mrs Alley and so, being of gentle birth, and presumably with the agreement of the Rev Thomas Goose, the Vicar, he was buried beneath the chancel of St Mary's church on 10 August. There is no record of the service and one wonders if his family or relatives from Tavistock or Plymouth actually knew of what had happened, in time to make the journey to Twickenham.
Little is known about Daniel Alley and his wife Agnes (Anys Langly), save that they married at Kingston upon Thames on 6 November 1597. Two of their three children were born and baptised at St Mary's; Thomas on 31 May 1601 and Agnes on 22 February 1603. Thomas was buried on 3 April 1607.
On 8 September 1606, Agnes married again, George Clarke. The £100 would have kept her and perhaps her second husband in reasonable comfort. No further record of their life, nor that of Robert Goddard, has been found. However, Daniel may have had a brother, Thomas, living with his own family in Twickenham at this time.
Devon Perspectives (http://www.devonperspectives.co.uk/johnfitz.html)
The Bloudie Booke, or, The Tragical and Desperate end of Sir John Fites (alias) Fitz), published by J Roberts for F Burton, 2nd impression, 1606. A copy of this book can be seen at Richmond Local Studies Library
(Thomas Pavier published his own version in 1605: The Lamentable Murthers of Sir John Fitz )
Sabine Baring-Gould, Devonshire Characters and Strange Events Vol.1, Plymouth, 1908.