In March 1622, Richard Turner, a gentleman and town councillor from Thaxted in Essex, was seen thrashing his teenage daughter, Anne. According to Turner “she had given just cause of grief and offence” and he was delivering “such correction… as to reform some errors in her”. News of this event soon reached the working classes of Thaxted. Turner, who was unpopular to begin with, quickly became known as ‘Whip-Her-Arse’ Dick. This derogatory nickname was apparently derived from a bawdy song:
“Hurry thee home Anne
Hurry thee home Anne
Whip Her Arse Dick
Whip Her Arse Dick
All those that love puddings
Come unto Parke Street
And learn the song
Of Whip Her Arse Dick.”
There were other verses, including one that compared Turner to an Essex man hanged for murdering his child. According to witness testimony, the lyrics to ‘Whip Her Arse Dick’:
“…become public, common and notorious in the eyes, ears and tongues of Thaxted. [It had been] reported and sung, published and divulged… in diverse inns, alehouses and other places of the said town of Thaxted and the county of Essex. [It had been] taught and instructed to young children to sing the same, to wrong and provoke him.”
Facing the loss of his good name, Turner sued several individuals for libel. The case was heard in 1623 but Turner was unsuccessful. According to anecdotal evidence, ‘Whip-Her-Arse’ Dick was popular with locals for several years. The humiliated Turner became reclusive and suffered financially after neglecting his businesses.
In 1690, the chancellor’s court at Oxford University heard a defamation dispute between two Exeter College students: John Colmer and John Crabbe. According to the plaintiff Colmer and his witnesses, Crabbe had been telling malicious and dishonest stories about Colmer for several weeks.
Colmer produced witnesses to support his claims, including the respected scholar and future Bishop of Peterborough, White Kennett. According to their testimony, most of Crabbe’s “slanderous tales” told of Colmer’s alleged promiscuity and “brutish lust”. One story spread by Crabbe was that Colmer had been present at:
“…a supper with the Earl of Warwick [where] he represented to his Lordship the obscene parts of a woman, by the cutting of such a figure from the flesh of a roasted fowl.”
Crabbe also produced witnesses in his defence, though most were exposed as homeless prostitutes. Unsurprisingly, the chancellor’s court ruled in Colmer’s favour.
Source: Oxford University archives, Chancellor’s Court papers, folio 56, 1690.
In late 1640, magistrates in Kent heard a charge of defamation submitted by Mr William Culpepper, a “gentleman of good quality and of an ancient family”. According to Culpepper, he had been accosted by Richard Head, who had assailed him with:
“…diverse unmannerly and lewd speeches, calling him rogue and rascal and bidding him kiss his arse, with other saucy and unseemly terms.”
The magistrates found in Culpepper’s favour. Richard Head was fined and ordered to apologise.
The archives in Durham contain witness testimonies of a confrontation between two Newcastle women in 1608. Elizabeth Waister and Alice Fetherstone were both married, both from Ryton and consequently known to each other.
While standing at a bread stall at Newcastle market, Alice accused Elizabeth of jumping the queue and purchasing the last of the “good white bread”. This accusation unleashed a torrent of invective, which included Elizabeth’s claim that Alice was:
“…a slut that did shit in her cooking pot…”
Alice fired back with an even more poisonous barb, referring to a stillborn child Elizabeth had delivered years earlier:
“Thou art a poisoned, jaded whore… God had sent [you] one example [of your whoredom] and perhaps he might send another.”
Elizabeth subsequently sued Alice for defamation but the outcome of this case is not recorded.
While visiting the Italian city of Genoa, English chronicler John Evelyn observes a wild argument between two local businessmen. After Evelyn had hailed a boat to cross the harbour, another boatman “interposed his boat before him and took us in”. This was apparently too much for the first boatman, who with “sudden and devilish passion” threatened the second:
“Tears gushing out of his eyes, he put his finger in his mouth and almost bit it off by the joint, showing it to his antagonist as an assurance to him of some bloody revenge, if he ever came near that part of the harbour again.”
Evelyn claims that such acts are common-place in Genoa, a “beautiful city more stained with horrid acts of revenge and murders than any one place in Europe, maybe the world”.