“A deep measure of Repentance, a greater proportion of Sorrow is certainly required of Consecrated persons…”
Following on from my interest in Nathanial Butler, I here pursue another ‘dying penitent’ whose story came to be bracketed with his in publications like William Turner’s A compleat history of the most remarkable providences both of judgment and mercy (1697) and George Meriton’s Immorality, debauchery, and profaneness, exposed to the reproof of Scripture (1698). This was the appalling case of Robert Foulkes, minister of Stanton Lacy in Shropshire. Foulkes’ story has been told repeatedly, both in contemporary pamphlets and slightly later 18th century publications, by David Turner (who also wrote the brief ODNB life) in English Masculinities, 1660-1800, in Peter Klein’s The Temptation & Downfall of the Vicar of Stanton Lacy, and by Elizabeth Round, aka the blogger ‘History Geek’ https://historygeek.co.uk/2016/05/19/the-penitential-sermon-of-robert-foulkes/ .
Foulkes was a Restoration era clergyman, arriving in Stanton Lacy in 1660. There, he seems to have litigated aggressively for prompt and full tithe payments, been excessively given to drink (he would later claim that his sessions at taverns at least began with necessary meetings with parties to his litigation), and he fornicated round his parish as opportunity offered, while (it was said) beating his wife on suspicion that she had acted on a personal conclusion that what was sauce for the gander was also sauce for the goose.
Fatally, his Anglican predecessor in the parish, Thomas Atkinson, had in 1657 left his unmarried daughter Anne in some kind of guardianship to his successor as minister. So in 1660 she came under Foulkes’ control. Foulkes said with some disingenuousness that “Her Father was a Gentleman whom I never saw, or had the least Intercourse with”. This was probably in a narrow sense true, but it omits the fact that the victim of his seduction was herself a daughter of the parish’s previous minister.
Foulkes later wrote this about the daughter of the Reverend Atkinson: “The Devil had prepared for me a sad companion and partner in my debaucheries; she was easily tempted by me, and proved afterward a constant temptation to me, and has been the great occasion of this dismal conclusion of our wretched course of life.” It seems then that part of Foulkes’ successful efforts towards a posthumous rehabilitation involved putting the blame on the young woman.
From a different point of view, the author of A true and perfect relation of the tryal and condemnation, execution and last speech of that unfortunate gentleman Mr. Robert Foulks late minister of a parish near Ludlow in Shropshire (anonymous, but by style and type of reference probably by the Patrick Kilborne who wrote The execution of Mr. Rob. Foulks, late minister of Stanton-Lacy in Shropshire with some account of his most penitent behaviour, confession, last speech &c.) had this to say about the seduction of Anne:
“it was prov’d that Mr Foulks was left Guardian to the Gentlewoman Arraign’d with him, and making use of some Authority might be challenged from that trust, he with that, and urgent intreaties, gaind so far on her, as at last to debauch her to his bed, and had used that familiarity so often that at last she prov’d with Child.”
Foulkes vehemently denied that he had attempted to ‘vitiate’ Anne when she was just nine. But he does not indicate what age she was when their relationship began. Maybe Anne was nine when her father died, twelve when Foulkes became her guardian in 1660.
The extra-marital affair was notorious by 1673, and continued even though the Bishop of Hereford intervened in 1676 to try to forbid Foulkes from spending any time alone with Anne Atkinson. But, as Foulkes said of himself, he was “a very slave to my lust, and in absolute vassalage to my flesh.” Attempts to prove that she had already given birth to a child by Foulkes, the baby farmed out to somewhere in Wales, could not be proven, with the embattled cleric denying the charges. Foulkes rather believably asserts that with his reputation under such strain, he actually became a far better clergyman – he had previously been negligent in the official part of his duties, now he tried to face down his critics by a display of proper clerical behaviour (yes, as he admits, apart from the continued adultery):
“to palliate and hide my sin the more, I studied to be more elaborate and zealous in my Preaching, to the great satisfaction of my Hearers; only I seldom medled with, or but very tenderly touched my own beloved sin; I went about all the parts of my Ministerial duty so carefully, and discharged them with such approbation, that the judgments of many charitable and well-meaning persons not only acquitted me of the vices I stood charged with, but I deluded their good opinion into some thoughts of my innocency and virtue.”
By 1678 Anne was pregnant (possibly for the second time). As she approached term, Foulkes took her to London. He would admit that he was seeking a late abortion. Anne came to term, however. Foulkes refused to let her have any midwife’s help. She delivered a baby daughter. Foulkes cut the baby’s throat, and disposed of the body in the ‘house of office’, shoving it down the privy apparently in the belief that the drain would carry the corpse away into the nearby river. Foulkes then returned to Shropshire. According to Kilborne (if he is the author of A true and perfect relation), Anne had to confess to an attendant of her that she had given birth to a child, and one is left to presume that questions as to the baby’s whereabouts led to her confessing what Foulkes had done.
We cannot know to what extent he acted on his own initiative, or what level of consent she gave. Foulkes had vehemently denied the relationship, which he had always tried to keep as “an Arcanum between my partner and myself”. The baby was evidence that he could not allow to exist. In a perverse way, preserving the reputation of the cloth perhaps helped steel him to his brutality. Later, he would award himself repentance points for grieving that he had killed an unbaptised child, noting that nobody else had pointed this out. I would not like to try to imagine more despicable conduct. Foulkes and Atkinson had clearly engaged in a long-lasting affair, and nothing could keep them apart. But he took her new-born baby and murdered it.
Foulkes himself can account for what happened by facile and predictable recourse to a discourse of Satan and the sinner hardening in sin: “Having by many former repeated acts, arrived at last to a habit in sinning, my Conscience became so seared and past feeling … [the murder of the baby] required a conscience of full proof in Satans service to attempt it.”
Kilborne’s account (if it is him) of their exposure, trial and judgement is succinct:
“the indisposition of the green woman, gave her attendant sufficient evidence she had been Delivered of a Child, which at last she confest; and it being thus positively prov’d against him, he was Condemned, and she not in the least consenting to the murder, was both pittied and acquitted.”
‘Green woman’ is not in the OED in this sense, but it was a 17th century idiom for a woman who had recently given birth.
Foulkes, though strenuously repentant, and accepted as penitent, was in fact rancorous to the end. He would assert that Anne was party to the ‘Fact’, the murder, and exploited the courtroom’s propriety to get herself freed:
“There is some offence taken, as I hear, at my Charging her with what she denied at our Trial, she did indeed say, That she knew Nothing of the Fact, for which we were Questioned, which she demonstrated by Arguments that could not modestly be spoken in that place, without such unsavoury and noisom demonstrations: I affirm, Upon the word of a dying Man, That both her Eyes did see, and her Hands did Act in all that was done: I am dead in Law, and I know my sayings are no Evidence against her; but the next time we meet at the Bar, which we shall infallibly do, and two thousand Witnesses shall be produced against us, that is, Her Conscience and Mine, these things will be found to be true; and as such I assert them, as I shall suddenly answer it before the All-seeing and Heart-searching God.”
So, the man who cut the throat of the baby and shoved the body down a privy objects that she maintained her innocence (convincing the court) by “unsavoury and noisom demonstrations” and “Arguments that could not modestly be spoken in that place”.
Anne went back to Stanton Lacy after this shattering experience. The ODNB life explains that the Church of England finally found a way to punish her: “She was eventually excommunicated in 1682 after William Lloyd, now bishop of St Asaph, wrote to Archbishop William Sancroft to complain that her evasion of punishment stood as a disgrace to the church.”
I should hope or imagine that Anne did not distress herself too much about excommunication from an institution that had brought such disaster to her life.
But William Lloyd was the interesting figure in Foulkes’ last days. Gilbert Burnet was also involved in this intense process - Burnet was going to be busier with John Wilmot, Lord Rochester’s death bed conversion (or madness, or mockery) in 1679-80.
For Lloyd, Foulkes was a public relations disaster for the Church of England. How could the Church reprehend what Foulkes terms “the too too fashionable sin of Uncleanness” in court libertines, scoffers and atheists, when a clergyman has committed depravities beyond the worst rake in a Wycherley play? Fornication, infanticide, rumours that the cleric had argued Anne into bed with him using instances of Old Testament polygamy, hard drinking – and all this in a minister who had litigated ferociously for payment of tithes. Foulkes had to be (as we would say), ‘spun’, and who better to do the spinning than Foulkes himself?
After his sentence, Foulkes had just a few days before stepping onto the gallows, so influence was exerted to get him a nine day stay of execution, and during this time Foulkes had to repent, floridly. I am sure that repentance was in Foulkes too, but this was a self-interested man, bullying, devious and self-pitying. He does not seem to have realised until told by Dr Lloyd that his mission was to exonerate the church. The church, in return, would forgive his sins, and send him off to face judgement with a reasonable hope of joining King David (the chosen biblical model) in heaven:
“Thus ended this unfortunate Gentleman, who by the temptations of Satan was brought like Holy David into the horrid sin of Adultery, but as his sin resembled his so did his Repentance, and we hope they are both now singing Hallelujahs in the glorious Region of Eternal joy” - even Kilborne (if it is him writing a pamphlet that is relatively sympathetic to Anne Atkinson) ends with this thought.
By any normal view, Foulkes should have kept quiet till death, annihilated by his own hypocrisy, exposure and ignominy. There was nothing he could say for himself. But Lloyd pushed him in a direction he was all too willing to go, towards an attempt to exonerate the church and, at a personal level, manifest the required exemplary penitence. Foulkes obliged by fasting, and trying to forgo sleeping – so as to make the fullest use of his repentance time. What was predictable, and something his clerical advisers seem to have given encouragement to, was that Foulkes would palliate his own crimes by blaming Anne.
Foulkes had acquired a team of minders, who would keep him ‘on message’, managing both his oral and written confessions (different versions of what he said on the gallows appear in different pamphlets, it is very obvious that material was scripted as appropriate to him). They kept on the job too, eminent clergymen riding in a coach with him to the gallows, and presiding over the burial his body - nocturnally - after it was over.
Foulkes’ repellent pamphlet is the main production. An alarme for sinners containing the confession, prayers, letters, and last words of Robert Foulkes, late minister of Stanton-Lacy in the County of Salop, who was tryed, convicted and sentenced at the sessions in the Old Bayly, London, January 16th, 1678/9, and executed the 31st following: with an account of his life / published from the original written with his own hand, during his reprieve, and sent by him at his death to Doctor Lloyd. He is minded to, or has been prompted to apologise to everyone except the person on whom he’d inflicted most damage, Anne Atkinson. The Bishop of London, his successor in the parish, his wife, his children, his parishioners (he forgives them!).
Foulkes makes a bold appeal to God: he hopes the Almighty will be happy to have so penitent a true believer in heaven. He also seems to insinuate that God will want to assure Foulkes of his salvation by way of helping the Church of England clear itself of disgrace:
“I humbly submit to thy Justice in my Death; but I most Earnestly pray that I may be delivered from Eternal Death and Everlasting Burnings; and when my Soul is departed from this vile Body, Let it be brought into thy Presence, that I may Bless and Glorifie thy Name Eternally; for the Riches of thy Grace and Mercy which has so Abounded towards me. And for thy Names sake role away the Reproach from thine Heritage, and thine own Tribe, which I have brought upon it.”
Anne is right in his firing line. He pretends to some reluctance, but says that he has been encouraged to believe that it is right to give his response to things that were said in court, so giving “Satisfaction to those who were at my Tryal, and may have their belief warpt to uncharitableness, by the Confidence of my fellow Criminal’s Accusations, and the Moderation of My Answers.”
He impugns Anne without shame or check; and when he turns to his readership to generalise, his facile warnings about whores and whoredom are just too obvious instances of blame-shuffling:
“Open your eyes therefore, and not only look, but contemplate upon these dreadful and tragick instances, oh Adulterers and Adulteresses, and be not ensnared with a Whores charms”
Men must all “avoid the Snares of a whorish woman”.
He feels entitled by his repentance to address his eldest daughter:
“Betty, remember Modesty and Chastity are great Ornaments of a Woman, I charge thee on my blessing to preserve them; Thou art old enough to observe what ruine and destruction Whoredom makes in the world”.
As I mentioned, he addresses his former parishioners, arguing quite openly that if they had paid their tithes when due, there would not have been so much bad blood in the parish, and he might not have come to such disgrace. He asks their forgiveness, and magnanimously gives them his own:
“I hope to obtain my pardon of God, and I believe you will not deny me yours, as I do freely and heartily grant you mine.”
The abhorrent cynicism, the manipulation, the victim-blaming in this stage-managed repentance seem not to have been noticed. The Church acquired a notable penitent, and excommunicated his primary victim. Nobody argued that Foulkes might be in a state of attrition rather than contrition. Foulkes exploited fully a rhetoric that was left unexamined and unchallenged: “Let the Circumstances of my Condition add weight to my Words; Dying men have no Temptation to warp them from Sincerity”.
He’d had every inducement and encouragement:
“I was indeed at a great Contest with my Self, whether I should by my Silence submit, and so Consent to some untrue Reflections that were cast upon me in a Place so Publick, in a Concern so Great, and to my Prejudice so Fatal; about this I had great tossings in my thoughts for three or four days since my Sentence. Loth I was to lye under a greater Load of Ignominy than belonged to me; my Burden was big Enough of it Self without any such Additions. Whilst I was thus Irresolute I received the Credit as well as the Comfort of a Visit from a Reverend Person: to him I Communicated my doubts, and from him receiv'd this Resolution, that I may Lawfully Acquit myself of any unjust Aspersions.”
All this was predicated on Foulkes’ willingness to die, having said the right things. Two versions of his scaffold speech exist: he is made to say what his clerical minders wanted him to say. Those who accompanied him in the coach were keeping up the pressure; I suppose they did not trust him, if left alone in a cart, not to backslide into tears, denials, mutenessor resistance.
This is the account of Foulkes’ speech on the scaffold in A true and perfect relation of the tryal and condemnation, execution and last speech of that unfortunate gentleman Mr. Robert Foulks late minister of a parish near Ludlow in Shropshire, who received sentence of death in London, for murder and adultery.
The EEBO copy of this pamphlet is a faint grey one, and this page in particular almost impossible to read accurately. I did my best with it:
“My Friends and Brethren
I am deservedly brought hither this day to suffer Death for a crime which deserves that Punishment by the Law, and I thank my great God I am too conscious of my own guilt in the least to deny but that both by the Laws of God and man, I have thereby forfeited that Life which I am now going to lay down the horrid sin that I was sentenced for was its true very great in itself, but yet is much aggravated being done by one of my Function or Calling, and it is one of the greatest fears I have now left me in the world, least my Example should contract any contemplation the Renowned Clergy-men of England. Ah, Sirs, it was not the Church, but one of her unworthy members that committed this heinous offence; and therefore whatsoever you think me, for God’s sake let her remain pure and unblemisht, as indeed she is, in your hearts and minds: Had I followed the wholesome Principles she enjoyns, both me and all men too, I had not been in this place upon this occasion; but here are several Learned and pious Ministers that can in part manifest my cordial and unfeigned sorrow, for having thus shamefully offended both God and her; and I hope the great God, whose face I trust I shall in a few minutes behold, doth both see my contrition, and will through the benefits of the blood of Jesus accept me for it. O therefore I beseech you, if my ill Example has disrepresented her, let my late Penitence and dying hatred and abhorrency of so black a sin recommend her again to your practice and obedience, without which you must never expect to be happy.
His speech was much longer, but the greatness of the crowd hindered us from hearing all, but the substance we have here related. After he had done he pray’d very earnestly, and then freely submitted to the execution of the Sentence.
His corps was privately brought back in a Coach that Evening and decently buried at St Giles in the Fields.”
During his trial, Foulkes had lapsed into his old ways. He mentions a particular rebuke, and in the shock of its acuity, goes some way to admitting its justice. But he then tries to cover his behaviour with a flimsy excuse: “The day after my Sentence there came to visit the Prisoners one Mr. Smith the Ordinary of Newgate. He was pleased to tell me (but in Private) that he observed me at my Tryal Gazing about the Court and the Galleries, where Sate several Gentlewomen. I confess I was formerly too apt to delight in such sights, and let in abundance of Sin at those windows of my Soul; but at that time I had other thoughts and Apprehensions: the cause of that diversion was to spy out some Witnesses I thought Material.”
A party of strong-minded women should have been allowed to tumble Foulkes’ body into a shallow grave at a remote crossroads.