Thursday, June 30, 2011

Getting away with murder, and not!

One of the interesting stories to come out of the Stantonbury-Wittewronge connection was that of the third baronet, also Sir John Wittewronge. At the Saracen's Head in Newport Pagnell he murdered a man called Joseph Griffiths. The facts are obscure. Griffiths is described as a mountebank. Mountebanks in the 18th century were variously imposters or swindlers. These days we would call them "con-men".


Elsewhere Griffiths is described as a surgeon and appears to have originated in Kent.


What is not in dispute is that Wittewronge murdered Griffiths. It may have been the outcome of a quarrel or perhaps the unlucky Griffiths had tried to swindle him. At any rate, Wittewronge quickly skipped out of the country to be beyond the reach of the law. he probably went to Flanders where the Wittewronges originated.


Some years later, he returned, probably believing he was safe after the hue and cry had died down - probably about 1727 when he sold Stantonbury and some other properties to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. He seems to have been at liberty for some years but he could not keep his head down  and was cast into the Fleet Prison in London on the original charges. The story does not end happily for Sir John Wittewronge. While in prison he got into a quarrel with another man and was severely beaten. A few days later, on March 28th 1743, he died of his wounds.


The Stantonbury estate descended to his brother, William, who died without issue in 1761.


Sir John Wittewronge's behaviour does suggest that he was of a violent disposition and one may suspect that the mountebank story about Griffiths was put about to mitigate Wittewronge's behaviour. We really don't know, but Wittewronge did get away with murder - almost.

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