1. Blackmail, murder, and a trail gone cold
5 December 1730
You are desired to leave 19 pounds in the church yard under the further…tree by one a clock to morrow night if you put any Watsh on [or] Disobey our commande by G-d you and your family shall be outerly Destroyd and your house burnt as Jacks was
From your humble Servant
C: F: Esqre
These words, sent to Thomas Bechier, a Catholic gentleman and merchant of Monmouth, greeted me one sunny morning in Cambridgeshire Archives. Scrawled on a scrap of paper in an untidy hand was the chilling threat of an apparently murderous serial blackmailer. Four days later, Belchier received another note ‘From Your Loveing Friend’, which acknowledged receipt of the money, but stated that it ‘will be of ill consequence for by G-d we will murder you the first opportunity and if possible burn your House…for we are not to be fooled’. Who was this frightening individual? And what had Belchier done to incur his wrath?
The archive’s catalogue entry for both letters reads ‘Charles Floyer, ordering the payment of blackmail money on pain of death’. A search on the National Archives online catalogue revealed that there was in this period one Charles Floyer, gentleman, living in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. But this merely heightens the mystery. Why was this a wealthy gentleman, who had married the first daughter of a family of considerable local influence, apparently involved in such serious crimes? Was “C. F” even Charles Floyer?
Archival trails often go cold. There appears to be no other surviving evidence of such a blackmail, or evidence of a motive. However, this doesn’t mean that such sources are useless. In raising questions about crime and social and economic relationships, the issues this fragmentary evidence raises are as valuable to historians as the story that lies frustratingly out of our reach.
Archival references: Cambridge: Cambridgeshire Archives: 488/C1/BL8a – Charles Floyer, ordering the payment of blackmail money on pain of death, 5 Dec. 1730; 488/C1/BL8b – Charles Floyer, ordering the payment of blackmail money on pain of death, 9 Dec. 1730.
Image: Monmouth Church / drawn by F. Manskirsh : engraved by J. Bluck (1799). Aquatint (tinted), image size 227 x 293 mm., paper size 260 x 305 mm. The National Library of Wales Catalogue Transferred to Commons by Fæ, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24963229