03 September 2023

Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper book cover

A quick check tells me Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper was published in 2008, added to my virtual TBR pile back in 2016, and it has taken me until now to finally get around to requesting it from the library. Thankfully books wait for us no matter how many years it takes, and the premise that caught my attention in 2016 still appeals today.

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper is based on the true story of Anne Green who was hanged for committing the crime of infanticide, and later woke up on the dissecting table at Oxford University.

In 1650, and aged 22, Anne had been concealing her unwanted pregnancy when she went into labour early and gave birth in the privy to a stillborn baby. Anne hastily concealed the body, not wanting to lose her position as a domestic servant. The baby's body was later discovered, and after accusing Sir Thomas's grandson, Master Geoffrey of being the father, Sir Read abused his position as Justice of the Peace and ensured Anne was charged with murder - infanticide - and sentenced to hang.
'Infanticide is a cruel law which only applies to the lower classes,' Wilton continued. 'When was one of the aristocracy last hanged for such a crime? Can you tell me that?' Page 160
Life is often stranger than fiction, and Mary Hooper does a splendid job of taking us into the mind of Anne Green before the pregnancy, during the birth, her subsequent arrest, time in prison and right up to her hanging. The reader is even privy to Anne's thoughts as she waivers between life and death.

In bringing this true story to life, the author also gives us a look at the confusion and uncertainty when scholars preparing to dissect Anne's body in the name of science, notice her eye flicker and are able to detect a faint pulse. She was sentenced to hang, so is her revival a sign from God of her innocence? Or should justice prevail and the sentence carried out a second time?

When considering how best to 'help restore her to the world' a number of remedies are discussed, including:
'Cut pigeons in half and apply them to her feet?' Norreys suggested, but this being a method regarded as rather old-fashioned, all three doctors shook their heads. A powdered burned swallow and the dripping from a roast swan evoked similar responses. Page 183
The remedies discussed were amusing and Hooper confidently brings 17th century England to life. Here a character remarks on the fact it's so cold in Oxford that they can't make notes in the theatre room because the ink is frozen in the bottle.
"There's such a hard frost that the Thames has frozen over and hucksters' tents have been erected on it. The ice was so solid that a coach and six was driven right across it without so much as a creak being heard!" Page 45
I don't know why, but the fact that the Thames river regularly froze over - more than 20 times between 1400 and 1831 - is a favourite history factoid of mine and I love when it pops up in whatever I'm reading. The river was wider and slower then and artworks depicting the Frost Fairs really ignite the imagination.

Having recently finished reading The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes, I couldn't fail to notice the similarity between the protagonist's plight in this book with that of Harriet Monckton; also a true story. It would seem the lack of agency for young women with unwanted pregnancies in 1650 wasn't much improved for Harriet two centuries later in 1843.

Fortunately for Anne, she was eventually given a pardon and went on to marry and have 3 children before dying 9 years after her execution.

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper is a young adult novel and a quick read that will appeal to fans of historical fiction.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. What an amazing life story. I wonder why the executioners thought she was dead.

    1. Thanks Laura, it's a fascinating case, isn't it? Apparently family members tugged on her legs many times and she was left hanging for 30 minutes before being 'cut down'. Apparently a combination of the cold and a poorly tied noose allowed her to continue breathing and survive her own execution. Extraordinary!


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!