The Tale Of Lady Dorothy

(Not Actually A Witch)

Bad luck, murder and a bit of witch burning?

You can have the lot with this Warwickshire tale of Lady Dorothy and her unfortunate life.

Originally posted on Twitter on the Thursday 20th June 2019.
Images via @britishlibrary's Flickr collection.


It's the mid-1500s and Sir Walter Smythe, son of wealthy Coventry businessman Sir Henry, is in his eighties with only one, unmarried, son.

Sound the klaxon, the boy Richard needs a wife asap.

Cue Sir Thomas Chetwin who has a young daughter called Dorothy and no son-in-law.

Except Sir Walter was a mucky old sod and took a fancy to the girl himself. Deal done - Dotty's objections be damned - and it was Sir Walter, Lady Dorothy and Richard playing unhappy families in the old manor house at Shireford (now Shelford).

A sketch of a much-altered Tudor Manor House.

Dotty was distinctly not happy, particular when she realised that Sir Walter was inconveniently hale and hearty. She'd much rather spend time with her lover, William Robinson, who happened to be younger, better looking and richer too.

A plan was required and Dotty had one, enlisting her maid and a groom as accomplices. Robinson was too chicken to get involved but didn't stop them.

One night when old Sir Walter fell asleep, Dotty wrapped and twisted a towel around his neck.

She on one end, the maid on the other and the groom holding the old boy down did the job. Then it was just a case of moving the body to another chamber and acting shocked and grief-stricken the next morning.

A drawing of a large, ornately decorated bed chamber.

There couldn't have been much of an investigation but Dotty decamped to London just to be sure. Robinson was left behind, a victim of Dotty's relish in playing the rich widow in London's fashionable society.

Some time later Richard was away on business, the groom with him. The groom found an alehouse, got sloshed and confessed his troubled soul to the now master of the manor.

Richard was not happy. The groom tried to get away but failed.

He and the maid were sentenced to hang but what of the scheming Lady Dorothy?

No mere woman could have hatched such a dastardly (and successful) plan, surely?

Clearly she was a witch. What else could she be?

And it's burning for a witch.

A woodcut of a witch burning.

Dotty was taken to the stake on Wolvey Heath exactly two years after Sir Walter's death. As her body was consumed by the flames a horse galloped up, the rider frantically waving a letter.

It was Lady Dorothy's reprieve from the fire, issued in plenty of time but delayed because the horse lost a shoe on the way.