The following is an interesting case of how a struggle over religious beliefs can distort facts; then through the media enter into folk lore. Such is the case of Sir Robert Pye Esquire of the ‘Mynde’ in Herefordshire, the second son of Sir Walter Pye the younger, and his neighbour, John Bodenham.
There were a number of articles printed in the press of the times which claimed that John Bodenham struck Sir Robert Pye, a Justice of the Peace, a blow to the head whilst Pye was attempting to arrest him, which led to his death. However, a later letter disputes the sensationalised claim stating the Mr. Pye died from a fever some days after the altercation. A quick search of the internet shows me that it is the more exciting claim of ‘murder’ that is the story that has survived as fact. I will present both sides of the story below. Both authors’ of the articles write from the view of their own prejudiced religious affiliations.
Sandy Pye-Smith gives a background of this Pye family (of which I am not related) on her website, which explains that animosity between the neighbours.
“Sir Walter Pye, the younger was a staunch royalist. At the start of the Civil War in 1641, he managed to raise troops for the king, and put a garrison in Kilpeck Castle. At the commencement of hostilities, he was one of nine noblemen who led an attack by Royalist troops on Brampton Bryan. The Castle of Kilpeck was stoutly defended during the Civil War, but fell to the forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1645, and was demolished.
Sir Walter Pye’s support of the Royalist cause, and his other commitments at the time, greatly diminished the value of the family estate. The religious strife that lay at the root of the English Civil War did not dissipate easily. After the execution of Charles 1st, and the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Roman Catholics in England were commonly persecuted by their Protestant neighbours.
In the autumn of 1680, James Brydges and the Lord of Chandos, both devout Protestants, were successful in obtaining a Royal Proclamation that required all Roman Catholics to take an oath of Abjuration and Allegiance before the magistrate of the Quarter Sessions in Hereford. John Bodenham, an equally devout Roman Catholic, refused to attend, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. John Bodenham was a neighbor of Robert Pye of the Mynde, an ardent Protestant unlike his forbears, and one of the Justices of the Peace, who was determined to serve the warrant. One day (January 12, 1681), on the road from the Mynde to Wormelow, the two men met accidentally, and came to blows. John Bodenham hit Robert over the head with his hedge bill, injuring Robert so badly as to cause his death 18 days later, on January 30. A black marble slab in the Church at Much Dewchurch marks Robert’s grave. Some local residents have claimed that “the shadowy forms of Pye and Bodenham may be seen struggling by moonlight under the walnut tree” where the murder supposedly occurred.”
This following article was sent to me as a photocopy from a book. No details of the name of the book, the author or the date were provided.
“…on the 12th of January last, it was Mr. Pye’s misfortune to spye his unruly Neighbour Bodnam, walking in his own grounds; whereupon, having at the same time an Order of Sessions with himself, that his Oath and the Duty of his Place, in Honour oblig’d him to apprehend an Offender who had so often offended; he went to him and commanded him to surrender himself as a Prisoner of the Law. Mr Bodnam, having a Hedg-Bill in his hand, replied according to the usual Language of his Popish Litany, “Damn me: Stand off, or I’ll cleave you down.” The Justice made answer, “Mr. Bodnam, You know I am too much a Man to fear you.” For it seems he had formerly hand-to-hand taken him Prisoner, and let him go upon his parole, which he afterwards perfidiously and dishonourably broke; and for his justification sent him word, “That no Faith was to be kept with Hereticks.” Mr. Pye, having therefore given him to understand, as before, that he did not fear him, told him further in these words, “I came not now as a single person to fight you, but as a Magistrate according to Law, to apprehend you, therefore I require you to surrender yourself peaceably.” Which Mr. Bodnam refusing to do, Mr. Pye, bravely and vigorously press’d in upon him, which this same Papistical Butcher perceiving, flopp’d back, and in good earnest let fly at his head with his Hedg-Bill (no had Argument for the truth of the Black Bills prepared for the Papists to Ireland) and having stunned the Valiant Magistrate with the first, with the second blow fell’d him to the ground; presently company coming in prevented the immediate Murther of the Gentleman and seized upon the Criminal Bodnam. The Wounded Mr. Pye recovered his senses sometime after, but it was only to increase his paine for after he had continued for about Eighteen days in a lingering condition, upon the 30th of January last he departed this life, the Sacrifice of Papistical Disobedience and Rebellion; not only to the unspeakable Grief of his Family and Relations, but of all who had the Honour to be acquainted with him. Nor is he less lamented by all the true Protestants, as well in the same, as in the Adjacent Counties. ‘Tis true the Murtherer will be doubtless hang’d; but here is the severity of the Exchange. We have lost an Industrious and Valiant Magistrate, the Papist only a loose base Butcherly Villian.
This is now the Second Prank that has been play’d in Herefordshire, erby men of that County, the worst of Contagions, should it from thence spread any farther. Here are fair warnings and fair discoveries of the very bottoms of the Papists hearts, but they cost too dear. Here is a petty Kingdom, that is to say a whole Family, put into a fatal Confusion at two blows, to shew their Designs were real against the Great Master of the Universal Family of the Nation. And these are the barbarous Effects of Popish Zeal from which Good Lord deliver us.
Now ‘tis a hundred to one, but that as soon as this same C— shall be hang’d, the Papists will deny that ever there were any such Persons as Mr. Pye or Bodnam, and perhaps that there is any such County of Hereford. But such Blots in their Scutcheons as there will not be so easily wiped away. But they will find the English Inquisition after Blood, to be as resolute as their own Spanish Inquisition after Heresy and therefore his Holyness would do well to admonish his Creatures to proceed with less passion, and to be more Submissive to the Commands and Orders of their Temporal Princes. FINIS.”
From the Domestic State Papers – Charles II. February 9th 1681, Pages 157/8.
“Herbert Aubrey to [Sir Leoline Jenkins]. I see by the printed papers concerning Mr. Robert Pye’s death there are pia mendacia as well as pice frauds, but such gross falsities will bring the truth of the late horrid plot into question. Before the print came down, the two common newsletters had the same false account, but I will give you a faithful state of the whole business. Last Easter sessions Mr. Pye, Mr. Edward Jones and Mr. John Scudamore were ordered to tender the oaths of allegiance and supremacy accordingly issued out warrants. The constables made return that they were threatened and sued. Before Allhollantide last, Mr. Pye met Mr. Bodenham near his own house at the Mynd and told him of his refusal to take the oaths and of the abuses done to the officers and of the obligation on himself to make the order obeyed and pressed him to give security to appear at the next Sessions, which he refusing, Mr. Pye said he would not let him go, and charged two persons of Mr. Bodenham’s company to assist him to apprehend him, but they rather interposed to prevent Mr. Bodenham being taken. Mr. Pye, nevertheless, though he had nothing in his hand but a walking stick, persisted in endeavouring to take him, but he went back and, Mr. Pye eagerly pursuing, struck at him with a bill and hit him on the arm and broke his coat. Mr. Pye fell, but confessed he had no great hurt. After this Mr. Bodenham promised Mr. Pye to appear at a certain day, but did not come, and sent him word he was not obliged to keep his word with him. As Mr. Pye since informed me, Mr. Bodenham left the country on it and never saw Mr. Pye alive from that time till his death. The manner of Mr. Pye’s death was this. On Saturday, 22 Jan., he came in the morning to Hereford. He was very well and cheerful. He was pretty late with some of his friends and rode home in a very cold night and sickened in a day or two. Three doctors attended him, but his fever increasing put an end to his life on the 30th. He was buried on Candlemas Day and the very person said to murder him was one of his bearers. Two of the doctors agreed that he died of a malignant fever, of which Sir William Powell, Mr. Richard Marriott and Mr. Paine of Caple died, not being four or five days sick. Dr. Fielding said his lungs were immersed in blood. This is as true an account as I can give till I send his deposition, but what relates to his sickness, death and burial is certain. This you may impart as you see cause and further that, whereas the print affirms another justice to be stabbed by a Jesuit in the same county, it is notoriously false and such unreasonable gross lies will do great harm, even to the truth of their ill actions, which are treacherous enough. [S.P. Dom. Car. II. 415, No 32.] Annexed.