Elizabeth Boardingham

Burning at the stake. A harsh form of execution reserved for the worst of crimes.

Elizabeth - a trailer for the exhibition at
York Castle Museum

1742AD - 1776AD

20 March 1776: Elizabeth Boardingham was burnt at the stake at Tyburn in York. 

She was the last person to be executed in this way in Yorkshire.  Her story and the method of her execution tell us much about Eighteenth Century England.

Elizabeth and her lover Thomas Aikney were both sentenced to death for the murder of her husband, John.  Thomas Aikney was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

However Elizabeth, by killing her husband, was thought to have broken the ‘natural hierarchy’ which ranked men above women.  Her crime, therefore, was not simply murder but petty treason, which carried the more severe sentence of death at the stake.

John Boardingham himself had been a shady character.  He frequently served prison sentences, leaving Elizabeth to raise their children alone.  Elizabeth became increasingly frustrated with her unreliable husband.  In October 1775 she ran away with Aikney to Lincolnshire, leaving her husband and children.

Although she returned to them three months later, Elizabeth could stand her husband no longer.  She pressured Aikney to kill him.  On the night of 13 February 1776, Aikney came to the Boardingham house and stabbed John twice.  Aikney ran off, leaving the knife stuck in John’s body.  John died the next day.

Elizabeth and Thomas were soon arrested.  In the court at Flamborough, Aikney admitted murdering John Boardingham and accused Elizabeth of repeatedly urging him to do so.  The pair were found guilty and taken to York to die.

Elizabeth Boardingham, portrayed in the newspapers at the time as a broad, tough woman, thus suffered a traitor's death.  Some observers claimed that she shook Aikney’s hand as they parted at Tyburn.  Some said she asked him for a kiss and he refused.


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