Bloody newes from Dover

by Nick

AN363033001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

I found this gruesome woodcut from the title page of a 1647 pamphlet while looking for illustrated news pamphlets. Bloody Newes from Dover tells the story of John Champion, a tradesman from Dover, and his wife Mary. After the birth of their child, John wanted to have it christened. Mary disagreed, and when the baby was six or seven weeks old, she took a knife and cut off the child’s head:

And when her husband came in, she called him into a little Parlour, where the poore Infant lay bleeding, uttering these words.

Behold husband, they sweet Babe without a head, now go and baptize it; if you will, you must christen the head without a body: for here they lye separated.

Here is the husband’s shocked reaction:

O thou bloody and inhumane wretch, what haste thou done.

Mary was apprehended for trial at the Assizes, and went on to suffer some kind of post-traumatic shock disorder while in prison awaiting trial:

For, shee can no wayes fixe her eyes upon anything, but presently (she conceives) the poore Babe to appear before her without a head.

This kind of repenting was traditional for early modern murder pamphlets, as was the moral lesson to be drawn from the horrible incident:

Thus may we see, that where division and controversie doth arise, sad effects will suddenly follow: for no sooner can there a beach appear; but presently Sathan is ready to stop it up, by infusing his deluding spirit into their hearts, for the increasing of variance, discord and contention, and when once it had taken possession, it is a hard matter to remove it, but shall lyeth open to the deluding snare of the Divel, being ready to Be entrapped on any occasion.