The Miraculous Resurrection of Anne Greene

Nov 21, 2022 0 comments

Anne Greene is one of the reasons why some people used to have a morbid fear of premature burial. In December 1650, Anne Green, an English servant girl, was hanged for the infanticide of her unborn child. Because she was a convicted criminal, Greene’s body was not buried but sent to the University of Oxford for dissection where physicians discovered that she was not dead. A day later she was revived. Greene’s remarkable recovery was made even more incredible by the court’s decision to exonerate her and let Greene live.

A woodcut from 1651 depicting the hanging of Anne Greene.

Anne Greene was a maid employed in the house of Sir Thomas Read, a justice of the peace who lived in the village of Duns Tew in Oxfordshire. She was born at Steeple Barton and, at the time of this incident, was 22 years of age. Greene claimed that Sir Thomas's grandson, Geoffrey Read, who was 16 or 17 years old, often seduced her by solicitating “faire promises and other amorous enticements.” Greene became pregnant and subsequently gave birth to a premature stillborn child. The poor girl tried to conceal the remains of the fetus, but was discovered and was suspected of infanticide.

In those times, unmarried mothers who lost their child at birth were presumed guilty of murder unless they could provide a witness that the child died of natural causes. Several servants who worked with Greene came in support of her, testifying that she had issues before she miscarried, and that she had worked too hard at the skreening of malt which caused her to miscarry. A midwife also testified that the fetus was too underdeveloped to have ever been alive. In spite of the testimonies, Greene was found guilty of murder, and under the Infanticide Act of 1624, she was sentenced to death.

On 14 December 1650, Greene was taken to the Oxford Castle and executed by hanging. Some of her friends pulled her swinging body down to hasten her death and “dispatch her out of her pain.” After half an hour, the sheriff cut her down, placed her body in a coffin and carried it to the private house where was lodged the Oxford physicians William Petty and Thomas Willis.

The following day when the coffin was opened, the physicians discovered that she was breathing and had a faint pulse. Abandoning all preparations for dissection, the doctors proceeded to revive her. First, they wrenched her teeth open and poured hot cordial down her throat, which caused her a coughing fit. Then they rubbed and chafed her fingers, hands, arms, and feet, and after a quarter of an hour more cordial was poured into her mouth, followed by some ticking of her throat with a feather. At this point, she opened her eyes momentarily. More rituals followed including blood-letting, ligatures on her arms and legs, heating plasters on her chest and enema. Then they placed her in a warm bed, and instructed another woman to lie with her to give her warmth.

After 12 hours, Greene began to speak and 24 hours later, she was answering questions. Four days later, she was eating solid food, and one month after the event she was fully recovered except she had no recollection of her hanging and the subsequent resuscitation.

As Greene recovered, the authorities decided that the hand of God had preserved her and they should co-operate with divine providence and grant her a reprieve from execution. Greene’s resurrection and pardon gained a lot of attention, and many people in Oxford came to see her. Her father saw an opportunity and charged an admission fee from her visitors. This collection helped the family pay their bills.

After her full recovery, Greene went to stay with friends in the country, taking the coffin where she had lain with her. There, she married and bore three children, and lived for 15 years after her famous execution and resuscitation.

# J. Trevor Hughes, "Miraculous Deliverance Of Anne Green: An Oxford Case Of Resuscitation In The Seventeenth Century", British Medical Journal.


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