Three Murders On Primrose Hill London
Today the top of Primrose Hill is best know for its stunning views of Central London and Hampstead. In 1679 however it became famous for a very different view, that of three innocent men dangling at the end of nooses at its peak.
The men were Catholic labourers, Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill. They had been accused of murder by another suspect, Miles Prance. Prance recanted his accusation three times before finally swearing that Green, Berry and Hill were guilty. The trio were killed before he could recant a fourth.
He later confessed to having lied in court.
The First Murder
The man they were supposed to have killed was Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Godfrey had gone missing from his home on October 12th, 1678. Five days later he was found in a ditch on Primrose Hill, bruised and impaled on his own sword.
Hi household thought it was suicide, the sword suggested as much and he had been acting strangely for weeks. This did little to explain his other injuries however, nor the complete lack of blood around his wound. By the looks of it, he'd been long dead before the sword was thrust through him.
It was murder, no doubt, and there was no shortage of suspects.
A Shadow War
Godfrey's so-called 'strange' behaviour leading up to his death involved him talking fearfully of being 'knocked on the head' and made a martyr. Shortly before his death he'd unwittingly gotten himself involved in Titus Oates' 'Popish Plots'. This was an attempt to stir up anti-Catholic sentiment by inventing a fake plot to assassinate England's King.
Oates had handed his 'evidence' over to Godfrey in the hopes that he'd help it into the right hands, but Godfrey had instead warned the King's Catholic courtier of Oates' schemes. And now he was afraid of being made a martyr, and rightly so.
Upon Godfrey's death, Oates encouraged the idea that he had been killed by Catholic plotters. It was this narrative that ultimately lead to the deaths of Green, Berry and Hill, three innocent Catholic labourers who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Who Really killed Godfrey On Primrose Hill?
To this day the real murderer is still unknown. Did Oates have Godfrey killed to make a martyr of him? Or did Godfrey really fall foul of Catholic plotters? Too much time has passed now to ever find out for sure, but modern commentators do have their theories.
Some suggest he was killed at the request of Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of Pembroke, who he had had prosecuted the April before. Others argue it was suicide after all, and the reason things look otherwise was his brothers tried to make it look like murder so as to avoid public disgrace.
Either way, there is no doubt that Godfrey's death aided Oates in stirring up anti-Catholic sentiment. To this, the executions of Green, Berry and Hill are testament.
And this wasn't the only time Primrose Hill saw religious upheaval.
A Brief History Of Primrose Hill London
In the 1530s, the park was appropriated by Henry VIII during the dissolution of Catholic monasteries. In many ways it was there at the outset of Catholic vs Protestant tensions in England.
It became open to the public in 1842, as the result of an Act of Parliament, and has remained so ever since. In 1792, Unitarian Poet Iolo Morganwg founded the gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards there. It is a Grade II listed site.
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