THE LAST OF THE KILLIGREWS
LADY JANE, the widow of Sir John Killigrew, sate in one of the windows of Arwenick house, looking out upon the troubled waters of Falmouth Harbour. A severe storm had prevailed for some days, and the Cornish coast was strewn with wrecks. The tempest had abated; the waves were subsiding, though they still beat heavily against the rocks. A light scud was driving over the sky, and a wild and gloomy aspect suffused all things. There was a sudden outcry amongst a group of men, retainers of the Killigrew family, which excited the attention of Lady Jane Killigrew. She was not left long in suspense as to the cause. In a few minutes two Dutch ships were seen coming into the harbour. They had evidently endured the beat of the storm, for they were both considerably disabled; and with the fragments of sail which they carried, they laboured heavily. At length, however, these vessels were brought round within the shelter of Pendennis; their anchors were cast in good anchoring-ground; and they were safe, or at least the crew thought so, in comparatively smooth water.
As was the custom in those days, the boat belonging to the Killigrew family, manned by the group of whom we have already spoken, went off as soon as the ships were anchored and boarded them. They then learnt that they were of the Hanse Towns, laden with valuable merchandise for Spain, and that this was in the charge of two Spanish factors. On the return of the boat's crew, this was reported to Lady Killigrew; and she, being a very wicked and most resolute woman, at once proposed that they should return to the ships, and either rob them of their treasure, or exact from the merchants a large sum of money in compensation. The rude men, to whom wrecking and plundering was but too familiar, were delighted with the prospect of a rare prize; and above all, when Lady Killigrew declared that she would herself accompany them, they were wild with joy.
With great shouting, they gathered together as many men as the largest boat in the harbour would carry, and armed themselves with pikes, swords, and daggers. Lady Jane Killigrew, also armed, placed herself in the stem of the boat after the men had crowded into their places, and with a wild huzzah they left the shore, and were soon alongside of the vessel nearest to the shore. A number of the men immediately crowded up the side and on to the deck of this vessel, and at once seized upon the captain and the factor, threatening them with instant death if they dared to make any outcry. Lady Jane Killigrew was now lifted on to the deck of the vessel, and the boat immediately pushed off, and the remainder of the crew boarded the other ship.
The Dutch crew were overpowered by the numbers of Cornishmen, who were armed far more perfectly than they. Taken unawares as they were, at a moment when they thought their troubles were for a season at an end, the Dutchmen were almost powerless.
The Spaniards were brave men, and resisted the demands made to deliver up their treasure. This resistance was, however, fatal to them. At a signal, it is said by some, given by their leader, Lady Jane Killigrew,--although this was denied afterwards,--they were both murdered by the ruffians into whose hands they had fallen, and their bodies cast overboard into the sea.
These wretches ransacked the ships, and appropriated whatsoever they pleased, while Lady Jane took from them "two hogsheads of Spanish pieces of eight, and converted them to her own use."
As one of the Spanish factors was dying, he lifted his hands to heaven, prayed to the Lord to receive his soul, and turning to the vile woman to whose villainy he owed his death, he said, "My blood will linger with you until my death is avenged upon your own sons."
This dreadful deed was not allowed to pass without notice even in those lawless times. The Spaniards were then friendly with England, and upon the representation made by the Spanish minister to the existing government, the sheriff of Cornwall was ordered to seize and bring to trial Lady Jane Killigrew and her crew of murderers. A considerable number were arrested with her; and that lady and several of her men were tried at Launceston.
Since the Spaniards were proved to be at the time of the murder "foreigners under the Queen's protection," they were all found guilty, and condemned to death.
All the men were executed on the walls of Launceston Castle; but by the interest of Sir John Arundell and Sir Nicholas Hals, Queen Elizabeth was induced to grant a pardon for Lady Jane.
How Lady Jane Killigrew lived, and when she died, are matters on which even tradition, by which the story is preserved, is silent. We know, however, that her immediate descendant, John Killigrew, who married one of the Monks,, and his son William Killigrew, who was made a baronet in 1660 by Charles II., were only known for the dissoluteness of character, and the utter regardless-ness of every feeling of an exalted character which they displayed.. Sir William Killigrew, by his ill conduct and his extravagant habits, wasted all the basely-gotten treasure, and sold the manor and barton of Arwenick to his younger brother, Sir Peter Killigrew. With the son of this Peter the baronetcy became extinct. The last Sir Peter Killigrew, however, improved his fortune by marrying one of the coheirs of Judge Twisden. Sir Peter and his wife, of whom we know nothing, died, leaving one son, George Killigrew, who connected himself with the St Aubyn family by marriage. This man appears to have inherited many of the vices of his family. He was given to low company, and towards the close of his life was remarkable only for his drunken habits.
He was one evening in a tavern in Penryn, surrounded by his usual companions, and with them was one Walter Vincent, a barrister-at-law. The wine flowed freely; songs and locrie conversation were the order of the night. At length all were in a state of great excitement through the extravagance of their libations, and something was said by George Killigrew very insultingly to Walter Vincent.
Walter Vincent does not appear to have been naturally a depraved man, but of violent passions. Irritated by Killidrew, he made some remarks on the great-grandmother being sentenced to be hanged. Swords were instantly drawn by the drunken men. They lunged at each other. Vincent's sword passed directly through Killigrew's body and he fell dead in the midst Of his revelries, at the very moment when he was defending the character of her who had brought dishonour upon them.
This Walter Vincent was tried for the murder of George Killigrew, but acquitted. We are told by the Cornish historian, "Yet this Mr Vincent, through anguish and horror at this accident (as it was said), within two years after, wasted of an extreme atrophy of his flesh and spirits; that, at length, at the table whereby he was sitting, in the Bishop of Exeter's palace, in the presence of divers gentleman, he instantly fell back against the wall and died."
George Killigrew left one daughter; but of her progress in life we know nothing. Thus the Cornish Killigrews ceased to be a name in the land.
Such a tale as this does not, of course, exist without many remarkable additions. Ghosts and devils of various kinds are spoken of as frequenting Arwenick House, and the woods around it.Those spectral and demoniacal visitations have not, however, any special interest. They are only, indeed, repetitions of oft-told tales.