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Serial Monogamist and Murderer
Born ? Died 1523

Although she was known during the final years of her life as the Lady Hungerford, it is no longer known when Agnes was born, who her parents were, or anything at all regarding her background and upbringing. As it happened there were good reasons why it was that her contemporaries may have decided to forget about all about her.

What is known of Agnes is that she was married to a certain John Cotell, and that during the summer of 1518 the couple were staying in the household of an Edward Hungerford of Heytesbury, a prominent Wiltshire landowner, which is where John Cotell died on the 26th July 1518. Shortly after the death of her first husband, Agnes then married the aforementioned Edward Hungerford, who was himself a widower since the death of his first wife Jane, the daughter of the 7th Baron Zouche of Haryngworth. How soon the wedding took place after Cotell's demise isn't known, but certainly by the 28th December of that year, both she and her two servants were all in permanent residence at the Hungerford family home of Farleigh Castle.

Agnes and Edward had no children together, although Agnes would have been stepmother to her husband's son and heir from his first marriage, Walter who was around fifteen at the time of his father's second marriage. They were presumably happy enough together, as when Edward Hungerford later died on the 24th January 1522 after which, in accordance with his will made earlier on the 14th December 1521 and later proved in London on the 29th January 1522, Agnes became both his sole executor and indeed his sole beneficiary, as he had bequeathed to her "the residue of all" his "goodes, detts, catalls, juells, plate, harnesse, and all other moveables whatsover they be", and omitted any mention of his son whatsoever. However it was fairly soon afterwards that it was alleged that Agnes's first husband John Coteel had not died a natural death. Indeed it was said that John Coteel had in fact been strangled with a neckerchief by two "yeomen of Heytesbury" named William Mathewe and William Ignes at Farleigh Castle "by the procurement and abetting of Agnes Hungerford" (whose servants they were), and after which Coteel's body had been burnt in the castle's kitchen furnace.

Together with her servants Mathewe and Ignes, Agnes was indicted for murder on the 25th August 1522 and brought to trial on the 27th November. In January 1523 Mathewe was found guilty of murder, whilst Agnes was convicted of inciting and abetting the murder, and both were subsequently hanged at Tyburn on the 20th February 1523, after which Agnes was buried at Grey Friars Church in London. As far as William Ignes was concerned he initially avoided punishment by claiming benefit of clergy. This was however later disallowed when it was established that he was guilty of bigamy and so he was later hanged as well.

In the circumstances it seems most likely that Agnes procured the death of her first husband in order to marry the second. Indeed given the manner in which the body was disposed of, and the fact that no charges were brought against her during the lifetime of her second husband, it also seems likely that he was involved in some way in the killing. (It was hardly normal practice at the time to cremate the body of a guest in the kitchen fire, and one has to presume that Edward Hungerford was aware that something was amiss and at the very least protected his new wife from investigation during his own lifetime.)

As a convicted felon, Agnes's goods and property were all forfeit to the crown and in July 1523 her manors and estates were duly seized. These were soon however restored to her stepson Walter Hungerford on the 15th July, with the exception of Heytesbury itself. It is not known what Walter thought about his stepmother, but it is not difficult to imagine that he was unhappy about the fact that his father left Agnes his entire personal estate without mentioning him at all, and subsequently decided to spill the beans on the family secret.


SOURCES

  • James Daybell, ‘Hungerford , Agnes, Lady Hungerford (d. 1523)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • Farleigh Hungerford Castle: Information For Teachers www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/farleigh_hungerford_castle.pdf

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