5 April 1531 – The cook who was boiled to death

Richard Roose boiled to deathOn 5th April 1531, Richard Roose (or Rouse), the cook in the household of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was boiled to death after being attainted of high treason.

It was claimed that Roose had poisoned a porridge (or pottage* served to Fisher and his guests on 18th February 1531. All who ate the porridge became ill, and two people died.

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15 thoughts on “5 April 1531 – The cook who was boiled to death”
  1. I would imagine the conditions in kitchens back then could arouse unintentional food poisoning mistaken for intentional poisoning. Even in modern day we still see food poisoning occurring due to mishandling of uncooked food. I am thinking a cook had a risky job back in those days.

  2. Even if Roose was a poisoner, having been corrupted to kill senior royal officials and public figures, which seems likely, the punishment seems OTT, but then in those days death sentences were horrible in any case. Even a hanging could take a long time to strangle to death. This was certainly meant as a terrible warning. I bet those who hired him got away with the crime, as usual.

    1. Many phobias by then about poisonings.
      I remeber the fate of the Drummond sisters in Scotland who all died after a meal taken in common .
      One was the royal mistress, another the mother of Archibald Douglas (Margaret Tudor’s second husband).
      And one or two other if I remember well.
      Of course by the same time, a remembrance about the Borgias (even if these rather proved their military capacities, even if commiting violent crimes; as long as I know, only Lucrezia’s second husband the very young prince of Naples was having been poisoned).
      I will not add that “cooking a cook” is a strange idea about cooking in general – even for English

      1. Yes, poisoning was the most feared method of death; especially amongst public servants, royalty and the nobility. People were definately killed that way,possibly more than have been detected, as we did not have a way of positively identifying poison until the late 19th century. Even with a personal food taster there could be no guarantee that something would not sneak through and some historians believe that tasters became immune to poison by taking small doses and building up a resistance. The King kept his own personal cook who cooked in his own personal kitchen, seperate from the main kitchens; which we have very good examples of if you ever visit Hampton Court, who took a personal oath to the King in person, so he would definately be first suspect on the list if the king died from his food. It was the shere horror of this crime; especially that two people not on the dinner guest list died, that it appeared aimed at public figures and churchmen who are known to have controversial views on the divorce, which really did have people worried. If Bishop Fisher could be targeted for poison, who was safe? Henry must have been under some pressure to do something about this, to either start an investigation or to enact a harsh punishment. It was a terrible death; but in the context of the time and the situation; it was probably something that was expected.

        Roose is a curious figure and if he was involved in the poisoning on the orders of someone of influence; say the Boleyn faction, for which there is no evidence, only gossip; then he certainly kept quiet. I mean, you are not just going to execute the guy without asking a few questions, using some tough interrogation, milder torture methods to get him to speak, are you? Did he get paid to remain silent and take the full blame? One of those historical mysteries and Henry knew that the Boleyn family would be blamed if he did not act harshly. In one statement that I cannot find the source for, he is believed to have said that people will blame the Lady Anne for everything, if it rains, if it does not rain, if the crops fail, and so on; so why not blame her for this? But you are right, though, there were several high profile cases in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Kings and nobles were paranoid most of the time; if it was not poisoning, it was witchcraft or a dagger that they feared, which is why somebody always slept at the side of their bed or even under it. Both Mary I and Elizabeth I wore armour under their clothing in later life. The idea of boiling the cook is a strange one; but that was probably meant as part of the irony of the punishment. Still it was a terrible and very painful way to die. In the Tudors he also was killed in private inside the Tower, but the execution was actually a very public one, at Smithfield I think.

        1. Hi Banditqueen and thank you again for these accurate informations.
          Your own enquiries – even on an humble cook like Roose – are high-level I guess .
          If KH did say so about his mistress (yes, I caught the lesson : in a non-sexual meaning) as soon as in 1531, he was then already aware of how hard it would be to make her a queen .
          In this sense, you might be right in assuming his temper changed by then or about – after so many obstacles, being married to a woman unable to bear male-children !
          I still (stubborn as I am) suspect him of having been fully sure that she was actually not guilty of the many crimes he managed to rise about her, some years after.
          She seems to have been sth like the most hatred woman in England …
          Personal food tasters can be traced through ages (far before the Tudors).
          Yes it was and still is a crime of “relatives” (or kins-men or -women).
          No need to rise forces, just to have a touch (personally or helps) with the victim.
          When you think how poor the medical knowledge by then (all the more with taboos about inside of bodies and so on) – but it can also mean that TOO MANY DEATHS have been attributed to poisoning …
          I quoted the daughters of the Laird Drummond because dying in the same time and after having had the same food is nothing ambiguous.
          But in France the young mistress of king Henry VIII Gabrielle of Estrées’ death was seen caused by poisoning (that drove to the fall of Lavarenne-Fouquet, hosting her by then) and it has been found that this death was due to an eclampsia-crisis .
          Not the case for another royal mistress, Agnès Sorel who did die poisoned as was proved few years ago – but it was because of the comb she used containing some lead (it seems in the idea it would make her hair golden), by the time of her death it was attributed to the delphin Louis (he was just the kind you’d love to find guilty I admit).
          The evidence of uses of poisons at the french court was of couse the famous “Affaire des Poisons” .
          As the not less famous Madame de Brinvilliers caught my attention recently, I
          ‘d rather say all that buzz was raised around her.
          Nicolas-de-La-Reynie did not find much about high-rank ladies.
          Only the marchioness was fully guilty (she murdered her father and two brothers in less than one year; afterwards she tried killing her sister her husband and her own daughter, a teenager but her vindictive newly widowed young sister-in-law was connected with powerful families and was quick to get her accused; her lover having died in the same time, his letters froms her were soon discovered and they brought the whole light on the matter).
          The other “Grandes Dames” were not – not guilty of murders, I mean – but it was then reported (by the same evidence and some torture of course 😉 ) that they went at the same “dealer” (a woman “la Monvoisin”) to practice “black masses” (if it means sth in english) in order to keep being young (botox was not known by then – if official portraits are faithful) and be provided of exciting substances for their lovers.
          All that is rather ridiculous.
          But the last royal mistress had died at a very young age (less than 20) – she was “marchioness Angélique de Fontanges” it seems she never recovered of giving birt to a still-born child).
          And – might be worse in the king’s eye (all the more when he is “Le Roi-Soleil” in person) – the lady caught in this affair was the past mistress Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, marchioness of Montespan and if there was nothing against her in her young rival’s sudden death, some evidence showed she had had provided her royal lover with some drugs to wake her vigor.
          Such a public insult could not be left unpunished.
          So la Monvoisin and her friends were burnt at the stake after la Brinvilliers.
          In the same time, some ladies of the highest-rank were banned from the court.
          Among them the countess of Soissons (sister of both Hortense, who was noticed by Charles II at the english court and Marie, past fiancee of the french king).
          And of course Madame de Montespan.
          An enormous scandal by french people – willing to short-cut all these trials, Louis XIV had failed to weed out emotions raised – indignations spread instead and it was believed that the french court was haunted by poisoners, it horrified so many people that it is said that this general view on the court and the courtiers could well have contributed to hast the fall of the Bourbons
          That long story to say that I keep being careful in seeing in the crime of poisoning something very common _ while it was clearly as you stress it out in public opinion, not to say in anyone’s mind.
          To “build a resistance” against poison (in France at least we speak of “mithridatisation” but I won’t write it twice 😉 ) of course depends on what poison is used .
          Because some substances, on the contrary, entail slow but irreversible damages.
          It is a bit like alcohol – when you drink a lot, the effects are less obvious than what happens to non-alcoholists.
          But inside I simply won’t tell
          Best wishes

        2. Hello Bruno, thank you for your wonderful stories of many cases, very interesting and knowledgeable collection of examples of people accused of murder by poison. The Romans certainly liked to use this accent technique and in two famous cases, during the Claudian era as the family of Augustus was called, personal tasters, all the security, the precautions did not save them as the culprit was their wife. Augustus grew his own fruit and picked this himself, allowing only one person to handle and cook them, but his wife, Livia paid a gardener to paint poison on the fruit on the tree. As Augustus alone ate the fruit it was guaranteed to get him and nobody else. He ingested the poison over several weeks, it looked like stomach problems, but the woman who prepared the poison confessed to the crime years later, but was given a pardon in exchange for the information.

          The other case was the poisoning of Claudius by his final wife, the mother of Nero. She heard he was afraid that he was being poisoned and trusted nobody but some Greek cook and doctor. He was partial to mushrooms, so she persuaded him to allow her to cook some and planted one poisoned one among them. She shared the same dish so he was not suspicious. She removed some to her plate and ate one, then fed Claudius the poisoned one. He died later in terrible agony. Some Ancient writers said that Claudius suspected Aggrippina of trying to kill him but accepted the fate as he was so old he had had enough.

          What is amazing is that in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century how easy to obtain arsnic was. It was one of many poisons in household use, it was present in cleaners, it was a rat poison, you got it over the pharmaceutical counter, just signed for it, it had many genuine uses, so arsenic was a great way to poison somebody as you could get it easily. It can be given slowly over several days or weeks, in tea it is tasteless, the symptoms could be mistaken for a stomach flue, it was easy to get, the method to defect it was specifically designed as it was such a common weapon in murder, especially domestic murder cases. Although controversial and contested, hair follicle tests done on Napoleon are believed to prove that he was poisoned.

          An interesting collection of cases, thank you.

        3. Thanks TO YOU Banditqueen !
          I had never heard of these imperial deaths.
          Yes you are right, in antique times, killing by poisoning was much common indeed.
          And Claudius was known very submitted to his last wife Agrippina – this one, I won’t even try to save her fame, I can tell !
          You call her FINAL wife for some reason, I guess
          So it was sure too easy for a woman as deprived of scruples as she actually was.
          Her son took much after her – he is known to have forbidden any mention of his father’s name during his reign – he was so proud of his maternal side instead…
          Sister of Caligula is a title indeed …
          And now I breathe before answering to a dangerous point between English and French : that is Napoleon’s death (I guess next time, we’d talk about Joan of Arc …).
          I clearly see you are very aware of technical conditions surrounding his post mortem examination.
          So I feel like I won’t escape by a diplomatic way and I try to be sincere in answering.
          Some circumstances are disturbing ; soon after the death, English and French agreed (yes it can happen sometimes in history)on official causes.
          Napoleon’s sister Elisa had just died one year before of the same disease as their father that is pylorus cancer.
          So it was decided to name this as an explanation of Napoleon’s death – as if it resorted of genetic predispositions.
          Might be it was a relief – I don’t know – for both the Bourbons and Napoleon’s gaolers .
          As a matter of fact, some poison indeed was found in the corpse of the prisoner.
          But the presence of arsenic can have many explanations.
          Some other chemicals found …
          It is rather said on another hand that Napoleon, since he was in exile had serious depressive tendancies and had developped an ddiction to medicines.
          So maybe you are not wrong : English DID poison “our emperor”.
          But it was on his own orders (O’Meara and the final, Arnott, were his doctors).
          They provided him in calomel (mercury is one of its basis).
          The state of the bowels is not incompatible with high takes of calomel.
          But it would (I keep being cautious on the matter) not be a unique cause of death.
          On this island a lot of inhabitants fell dangerously ill.
          And Hudson Lowe refused the idea (of O’Meara) to transfer the prisoner.
          This one after his foresaid doctor’s (forced) departure fell languishingly ill.
          He seems to have already by then been under influence with his drugs .
          When other took the succession of O’Meara, he asked for more doses.
          He was sort of constantly overdosed with medicines.
          His general weakness and these heavy absorptions surely lead to the final act.
          So regardless to the climate on the island, if I had to name responsible for his death, I would of course accuse Lowe’s temper (rather than his supposed malevolence) and overall Napoleon himself.
          Even if the Bourbons had some reasons to fear a return (but such an attempt had already once failed), because they were themselves rather incompetent and in any case still unpopular, I guess they would not have taken the risk to add a crime at their own defects.
          Hudson Lowe – admit it or not – was not the open-minded guy you would befriend with, but in his military sense of duty would not intend to deliberately the man he was responsible for.
          Some other technical details miss.
          So you might be right as well
          Matter of (another?) discussion indeed

  3. Boiling some one alive sounds to me worse than burning at the stake, but then death by poison is dreadful and in those days before they could rush you to hospital and pump your stomach out the victim just died a slow horrible death, usually vomiting up blood and enduring the most awful agony, therefore they must have thought the punishment should fit the crime, in fact in Victorian times there were cases in England where it was easy to buy arsenic over the counter at the chemist as they were used to kill rats which were an unwelcome visitor in the home of that period, often it was used to pop in to a hated husband or wife’s morning tea, after several days or weeks of lingering illness according to how much poison they were given, the symptoms which were nausea vomiting and blood in the stools the victim just died, they were often found out though and had the bodies exhumed, there was a case called the Overbury Affair when in the reign of King James Francis Howard who was married to the Kings favourite the Earl Of Somerset was indicted for murdering Thomas Overbury a friend of her husbands who was in the Tower at the time and sent him tarts which contained poison, her husband denied all knowledge but nonetheless they went to trial but lucky for them, they escaped the noose but was banished from court and the erring Frances died quite young, possibly bought on by depression, but it always has been a dreadful crime for the intention is nearly always murder and usually does end in death.

    1. Hi Christine, all you write sounds very well (like it always does)
      My own comment lacked these qualities.
      I made some mistakes about the case of the noble ladies Drummond.
      Three of them indeed died poisoned :
      the eldest, Lady Fleming; another, mistress of the Stewart king; the youngest of all, still a maid
      So Lady Angus outlived the event (even if she did not die long after)
      For Lucrezia Borgia’s young husband, he might have been poisoned but finished his brief life by being stabbed by Cesare’s men under the eye of his own wife, nursing him by then.
      When reading “Madame Bovary”, we can see how easy in the 19th century to get poison indeed .
      Frances Howard’s fame is dubious however.
      It seems the pair of lovers (Robert Kerr and Frances) was seized by a kind of frantic feelings against anyone who would oppose them.
      That was the case for Frances’ 1st husband, whose wedding to her was annuled on grounds of him being impotent (while I guess his second wedding produced children).
      By then she was already taken by Robert (Kerr or Carr), royal favourite indeed.
      And as Overbury tried to show his long-time friend how wrong he was to be linked with somebody wearing the name of Howard (ok it sounds a bit dramaticbut I don’t know how to explain the fact : Overbury was the “thinking head” and, being not only a poet, but a political intriguer in his own right, he expected much of Robert’s favour and directed his tool for his own sake, it seems).
      Frances might have suppressed an obstacle to her “happiness”, but Robert himself was being rid of an embarrassing witness .
      When they were tried, it seems the king James adviced the young and handsome earl of Somerset (a title and honor he had given to his favourite) to let his wife being accused of the crime – besotted as she seems to have accepted the deal.
      She did not live long enough to see the good marriage of their only child .
      This one became a very respectable duchess of Bedford .
      Now to answer as french to your point about the crime of poisoning, I can say what follows :
      in France the status of the poisoner is very particular in our penal system;
      some eminent people (“doctrinaires”) even proposed a special (very harsh) qualification.
      As you indicate about the intention (of killing – and even if I disagree on the point that poisoning usually ends in death; I’d rather tend to think that poisoning attempts often fail), the very first “preparatory act” (excuse me to inflict such a bad english I am not sure it means anything at all, I translate it directly from what I learnt as law-student, in french) would be treated as the “crime consumated” itself.
      It is difficult to translate but quite easy to understand in its principles.
      When you use a tool (or even when you start strangling and so on …), if this muder attempt fails, all that was intention not “final act” .
      But when you let a poisoned drink to be consumated and whatever happens next it is too late for you (your crime is accomplished, consumated, with the only fact of poisoning this drink)
      But this view was seen as too marked by the general despise about poisoning (coward’s crime) rather than a wise analysis and – even if still discussed now and then – was rejected by legislators

      1. Hi Bruno thank you for your kind words and your own comments do not lack qualities either, I have never heard of the Drummond sisters and I must admit I don’t really want to get in a discussion about the law as in English it is such a vast subject that not even a judge knows it all, at least that’s what I read when I bought a copy of the Encyclopaedia Of Law, therefore maybe it’s the same in France but as a law student you do have the upper hand here, Lucretia Borgia has been called many names down the centuries but was she really guilty of all the crimes she is alleged to have done, her brother Cesare was a vicious man and maybe she was being controlled by him and her father, maybe as in the case of Jane Seymour, as we know women had to obey the male species and were not allowed to have any opinion I’d like to think that Lucretia was just the victim of her bloodthirsty family, but that is another matter, incidentally if you ever get the chance it is worth reading Jean Plaidys book, Madonna Of The Seven Hills which is about the Borgias, it really is an engrossing book and fully captures 15th c Italy, take care.

        1. Oh thank you I USED TO BE a law student rather.
          So what I tried – so painful to read I guess – to recall was an old class’ subject
          All the more that I just hated penal right …
          While all my highschoolmates by then became lawyers, I worked in associations
          You are fully right when saying nobody – even “people of law” – really knows all in law.
          Even if the legal system in France is of course very different from the british one it certainly needs the same reactions from users.
          And right again by saying a word for Lucretia – she was just in the merciless lhands of her father and brother and it is almost incredible that she gained such a bad reputation through ages .
          After having been married first as a teenager to a man twice her age (young widow with two children, who very soon asked for an annulment, when discovering his new family-in-law it seems), then to a young prince she was much in love with (their wedding lasted few months and produced a child who himself died very soon), she ended her married life with a duke of Este with whom she was very happy according to all commentators by then (her father having died in 1503, her brother in 1507, it could not be sth else than a relief for her).
          The Borgias (father and second son, the elder, as u can know or guess died in strange circumstances …) really terrified Italians by then
          You probably want to get rid of me for some time with advising me to read such a big book (being too talkative I can understand 😉 ) but I’ll try to catch it indeed .
          Thank you for guiding me me in this jungle of books …

  4. Ha ha not at all Bruno it is a very absorbing book and highlights the strange relationship Lucretia had with her father and brother which some thought was incestuous, the second book which detailed the last years of her life is called Light On Lucretia, at the moment I’m reading Katherine by Anya Seton a classic among historical fiction which is about the love story between John Of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford who incidentally were both direct ancestors of the Tudor Kings. Yes Cesare Borgia and his father the Pope ruled Italy with a reign of terror, and Cesare was particularly depraved he was said to have delighted in torture and spent his days drinking raping and killing, in fact the Borgia’s make the Tudors look like a family of Parsons.

    1. Up to me to laugh (about your comparisons 😉 )
      Katherine Roelt the third wife (and past mistress) of John of Gaunt .
      Yes you are right their illegitimate (at the time they were born) children were ancestors of many chief characters .
      Their daughter married to a Neville was grandmother ( by Cicely her youngest daughter if I am not ill-informed) of the famous shakespearian kings.
      This Cicely indeed was a grandmother to Elizabeth of York, KH’s mother
      And Isabel Neville who deprived by a crime of her betroth who was seduced by his murderer (well according to Shakespeare, but it is such a poignant moment one can hardly dare put it in question) another descendant
      They also were grandparents of Joan who wedded the prince-heir of Scotland – it is said while he was a prisoner by singing stirring songs. Her natural beauty did the rest when they finally met – might be legend but the fact that an english princess fell in love with a foreign prince in english gaols is not.
      Italy was made of little countries; every princelet there had to fear the Borgias’ ambitions.
      I “might be” ( 😉 ) too prolix but it is a fact that, KH’s matrimonial issues or not – the popes by then were made of strange stuff (Pierre, that is stone, rock on which church was built had been much altered through ages).
      Hard job to gain some credit among people after such abuses

      1. I forgot to name this Joan of course she was Joan Beaufort.
        Sister to the Beaufort of Somerset (an illegitimate descendant wore the name Somerset of Beaufort instead, if I remember well this lovely portrait by … Gainsborough ? Isabel, duchess of Beaufort) .
        Again, I might be mistaken ?…

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