Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lisle, Alice
LISLE, ALICE (1614?–1685), victim of a judicial murder, born about 1614, was daughter and heiress of Sir White Beckenshaw of Moyles Court, Ellingham, near Ringwood, Hampshire. The registers at Ellingham are not extant at the period of her birth, about 1614. In 1630 she became the second wife of John Lisle [q. v.] William Lilly, the astrologer, states in his autobiography (p. 63) that Mrs. Lisle visited him in 1643 to consult him about the illness of her friend Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke. A note states that at the date of Charles I's execution she was reported to have exclaimed that ‘her heart leaped within her to see the tyrant fall;’ but she herself asserted many years later that she ‘shed more tears’ for Charles I ‘than any woman then living did’ (State Trials, xi. 360), and she claimed to have been at the time on intimate terms with the Countess of Monmouth, the Countess of Marlborough, and Edward Hyde, afterwards lord chancellor. She probably shared her husband's fortunes till his death at Lausanne in 1664. Subsequently she lived quietly at Moyles Court, which she inherited from her father, and she showed while there some sympathy with the dissenting ministers in their trials during Charles II's reign. Her husband had been a member of Cromwell's House of Lords, and she was therefore often spoken of as Lady or Lady Alice Lisle. At the time of Monmouth's rebellion in the first week of July 1685 she was in London, but a few days later returned to Moyles Court. On 20 July she received a message from John Hickes [q. v.], the dissenting minister, asking her to shelter him. Hickes had taken part in Monmouth's behalf at the battle of Sedgemoor (6 July) and was flying from justice. But, according to her own account, Mrs. Lisle merely knew him as a prominent dissenting minister, and imagined that a warrant was out against him for illegal preaching or for some offence committed in his ministerial capacity. She readily consented to receive him, and he arrived at ten o'clock at night, a few days later, accompanied by the messenger Dunne, and by one Richard Nelthorp [q. v.], another of Monmouth's supporters, of whom Mrs. Lisle knew nothing. Their arrival was at once disclosed by a spying villager to Colonel Penruddock, who arrived next day (26 July) with a troop of soldiers, and arrested Mrs. Lisle and her guests. Mrs. Lisle gave very confused answers to the colonel, whose father, John Penruddock [q. v.], a well-known royalist, had been sentenced to death by her husband. On 27 Aug. 1685 she was tried by special commission before Judge Jeffreys at Winchester, on the capital charge of harbouring Hickes, a traitor. No evidence respecting Hickes's offences was admitted, and in spite of the brutal browbeating by the judge of the chief witness, Dunne, no proof was adduced either that Mrs. Lisle had any ground to suspect Hickes of disloyalty or that she had displayed any sympathy with Monmouth's insurrection. She made a moderate speech in her own defence. The jury declared themselves reluctant to convict her, but Jeffreys overruled their scruples, and she was ultimately found guilty, and on the morning of the next day (28 Aug.) was sentenced to be burnt alive the same afternoon. Pressure was, however, applied to the judge, and a respite till 2 Sept. was ordered. Lady Lisle petitioned James II (31 Aug.) to grant her a further reprieve of four days, and to order the substitution of beheading for burning. The first request was refused; the latter was granted. Mrs. Lisle was accordingly beheaded in the market-place of Winchester on 2 Sept., and her body was given up to her friends for burial at Ellingham. On the scaffold she gave a paper to the sheriffs denying her guilt, and it was printed, with the ‘Last Words of Colonel Rumbold,’ 1685, and in ‘The Dying Speeches … of several Persons,’ 1689. The first pamphlet was also published in Dutch. The attainder was reversed by a private act of parliament in 1689 at the request of Mrs. Lisle's two married daughters, Triphena Lloyd and Bridget Usher, on the ground that ‘the verdict was injuriously extorted and procured by the menaces and violences and other illegal practices’ of Jeffreys. The daughter Triphena Lloyd married, at a later date, a second husband named Grove, and her daughter became the wife of Lord James Russell, fifth son of William Russell, first duke of Bedford. Bridget Lisle also married twice; her first husband being Leonard Hoar [q. v.], president of Harvard University, and her second Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Massachusetts; a daughter, Bridget Hoar, married the Rev. Thomas Cotton (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 99, 3rd ser. iv. 159).
[Howell's State Trials, xi. 298–382; Luttrell's Brief Relation, i. 357; Macaulay's Hist. vi. 302–4; C. Bruce's Book of Noble English-women (1875), pp. 122–46.]