John Felton (assassin)

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This article is about the assassin of the Duke of Buckingham. For the English Catholic martyr, see John Felton (martyr).
John Felton (assassin)
Born John Felton
c. 1595
Died 29 November 1628
Tyburn, London
Cause of death
Hanging
Occupation Army officer
Criminal charge
Murder of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Criminal penalty
Death

John Felton (c. 1595 – 29 November 1628) was a lieutenant in the English army who stabbed George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham to death in the Greyhound Pub of Portsmouth on 23 August 1628.

Background[edit]

Felton had been wounded in the Duke's disastrously managed military expedition of 1627 against the French at La Rochelle and he held a personal grudge against the Duke who, he believed, had corruptly withheld some of his pay and deprived him of advancement.

Buckingham was hugely unpopular in the land for the national disgrace of defeat by the French although, with the help of the king, Charles I, he had avoided legal moves against him by Parliament for corruption and incompetence. Shortly after the murder Felton presented himself before the crowd that had gathered and, expecting to be well received, announced his guilt. He was immediately arrested and taken before magistrates, who sent him to London for interrogation.

The privy council attempted to have Felton questioned under torture on the rack, but the judges resisted, unanimously declaring its use to be contrary to the laws of England.[1] While awaiting trial his actions were widely celebrated in poems and pamphlets, but the process of law took its course and he was hanged at Tyburn on 29 November 1628.[2] In a miscalculation by authorities, his body was sent back to Portsmouth for exhibition where, rather than becoming a lesson in disgrace, it was made an object of veneration.

A large number of poems celebrating Felton and justifying his action were published. One by the Oxford scholar and cleric Zouche Townley claimed that Felton had saved England and King Charles from the corruption of Buckingham's politicking.[3] An anonymous poem, Upon the Duke's Death, begins

The Duke is dead, and we are rid of strife

by Felton's hand that took away his life

The poem goes on at length with an argument that claims Buckingham's assassination was not even a crime, arguing that the Duke himself had been a criminal who had placed himself above the law.[4]

A rotten member, that can have no cure,

Must be cut off to save the body sure

Fictionalizations[edit]

Felton's assassination of the Duke was fictionalized in Alexandre Dumas, père's The Three Musketeers. In Dumas' novel, Felton serves under Lord de Winter who entrusts him to guard the fictional Milady de Winter. Milady's master, Cardinal Richelieu, has ordered her to have Buckingham murdered so that he will not aid the Huguenot cause in the city of La Rochelle. As they question each other she puts on a façade of sorrow and broken innocence, even pretending to be a Puritan like Felton, and inventing a story of being drugged and raped by the Duke. Milady manages to seduce Felton in a matter of days. They finally escape together and Felton is sent to stab Buckingham, which he then justifies on the grounds of his lack of promotion in order to protect Milady. However, Felton realizes that he has been deceived when Milady sails away without him and he is left to be hanged for his crime.

In the 1973 film The Three Musketeers and its 1974 sequel The Four Musketeers, Felton is played by Michael Gothard. Felton appears briefly in the first film as a servant of the Duke of Buckingham[5] (Lord de Winter does not appear in the films). The second film portrays his gradual seduction by Milady at some length, and then his assassination of Buckingham.

The Duke's assassination features in Philippa Gregory's novel Earthly Joys. In Ronald Blythe's novel "The Assassin" Felton is depicted as a complex character whose motives for the assassination are altruistic.

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Jardine, David (1837). A Reading on the Use of Torture in the Criminal Law of England. London: Baldwin and Cradock. pp. 10–12. 
  2. ^ Bellany (2004)
  3. ^ Hammond (1990) p.60
  4. ^ Hammond (1990) p.61
  5. ^ The Three Musketeers. 1973. Event occurs at 67min. 
Bibliography
  • Bellany, Alastair (2004). "Felton, John (d. 1628), assassin". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9273.  The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  "Felton, John (1595?-1628)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  • —— "Libel in Action: Ritual, Subversion and the English Literary Underground, 1603-1642" in Tim Harris, The Politics of the Excluded, c. 1500-1800 (2001), contains a section about public responses to the assassination.
  • Hammond, Gerald (1990). Fleeting Things: English Poets and Poems, 1616-1660. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674306252. 

External links[edit]

Attribution

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.