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Richard Roose (or Rouse; died 1531) was a cook to John Fisher, bishop of Rochester. He was executed for attempting to poison the bishop, whereby he actually poisoned several other members of the household.[1][2] For his crime, a statute was enacted resulting in his public execution by boiling. The first such execution under the English law, which was soon repealed, his case remains notorious.

Richard Roose
Died(1531-04-05)April 5, 1531
Criminal chargeHigh treason
PenaltyDeath by boiling


The crime and the punishmentEdit

According to Richard Hall (one of Fisher's earliest biographers), Richard Roose came into the Bishop's kitchen and put poison into the gruel which was prepared for the bishop's dinner. When the bishop was called in to his dinner, he had no appetite. Instead, his guests and servants ate the poisoned meal. "One Gentleman, named Mr. Bennet Carwen, and an old Widow, died suddenly, and the rest never recovered their healths till their dying day".[3][4]

The bishop having made a complaint, Roose was soon apprehended, and after being severely tortured on the Rack admitted to adding what he believed were laxatives to the meal as a "jest." No one believed him.[5]

Ambassador Eustace Chapuys wrote a slightly different version of the story to his master, Charles V, the nephew of Catherine of Aragon: "They say that the cook, having been immediately arrested... confessed at once that he had actually put into the broth some powders, which he had been given to understand would only make his fellow servants very sick without endangering their lives or doing them any harm. I have not yet been able to understand who it was who gave the cook such advice, nor for what purpose."[6]

Henry VIII decided that Roose should be condemned by attainder without a trial.[7] This was an unusual measure, since attainder was used for criminals who were at large.[8] (Roose had already been arrested.) The Parliament of England passed "An Acte for Poysoning," showing that the king had determined that wilful murder by means of poison should be accounted High Treason "because that in manner no persone can lyve in suertye out of daunger of death by that meane yf practyse therof shulde not be exchued" (even though the victim was not the Crown or its representative). By the authority of parliament the statute decreed that Richard Roose should be "boyled to deathe" as punishment for this crime,[9] an example of ex post facto law.


Roose was boiled to death at Smithfield on April 5, 1531. According to an eyewitness, "He roared mighty loud, and divers women who were big with child did feel sick at the sight of what they saw, and were carried away half dead; and other men and women did not seem frightened by the boiling alive, but would prefer to see the headsman at his work."[10]

This yere was a coke boylyd in a cauderne in Smythfeld for he wolde a powsyned the bishop of Rochester Fycher with dyvers of hys servanttes, and he was lockyd in a chayne and pullyd up and downe with a gybbyt at dyvers tymes tyll he was dede.

Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London, 1531[11]

Rumours circulated that it was the King who had arranged for the poisoning of Fisher, in order to silence Fisher's criticism of the King's attempts to divorce Queen Catherine, and of his attacks on the church.[12] Henry Clifford wrote:

From the time that Queen Catharine was defended so stoutly and learnedly by the Bishop of Rochester [ Anne Boleyn ] did seek by all means his destruction. One Richard Rice, a cook, was suborned to poison him, and he knew no other way to do it than to poison the common pot, which was for the whole household of the bishop. It chanced that that day according to his custom the bishop came not to dine in the parlour, but most of his family that dined there were poisoned and died thereof. Rice the cook being discovered did confess it and was publicly put to death for it.--The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria[13]


The statute was repealed in the first year of King Edward VI (1547) by a new statute "An Acte for the Repeale of certaine Statutes concerninge Treasons, Felonyes, etc." This recognized that many extreme measures had been enacted in King Henry's time which were then deemed necessary, but which were unsuited to the new climate of the present monarch's rule.[14]

In popular cultureEdit

The story of Richard Roose and his fate has many threads, combining as it does the elements of the cook as poisoner, the mystery of the conspiracy leading to the crime, the sensational nature of the punishment, the legal process and precedent, all in the context of the relationship of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and the political environment of the English Reformation. It gave rise to speculation and popular interest in its own time and remains a recurrent theme in serious historical discussion, in popular history and historical fiction, as well as in speculative fiction, historical fantasy, chambers of horrors, ghoulish tours of London and innumerable blogspots.

  • S.J. Weinreich (editor and translator), Pedro de Ribadeneyra’s 'Ecclesiastical History of the Schism of the Kingdom of England': A Spanish Jesuit’s History of the English Reformation (BRILL, 2017), p. 209. (Google)
  • J.A. Paris and J.S.M. Fonblanque, Medical Jurisprudence, 3 Vols (W. Phillips, London 1823), II, p. 128. (Google)
  • A. Bellany, The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603-1660 (Cambridge University Press 2007), p. 144. (Google)

Various recent treatments of the subject include:

  • E.W. Pettifer, Punishments of Former Days, written 1939, (Waterside Press 1992), p. 163. (Google)
  • P. Macinnis, Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox to the Killer Bean of Calabar (Arcade Publishing 2005), p. 155. (Google)
  • G.W. Bernard, The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church (Yale University Press 2007), p. 110. (Google)
  • M. Wilson, Poison's Dark Works in Renaissance England (Bucknell University Press 2013). (Google)
  • R. Hyslop, Tudor Turnabout. Change on Demand (Cuthan Books, 2015). (Google)
  • In the historical television series The Tudors (season 2, episode 1), the poisoning is purported to have been ordered by George Boleyn. Roose begs for his daughters not to be punished before he is boiled alive. He is portrayed by actor Gary Murphy.


  1. ^ S.E. Lehmberg, The Reformation Parliament 1529-1536 (Cambridge University Press 1970), p. 125.
  2. ^ A. Bellany, 'Thinking with poison', in R.M. Smuts (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Age of Shakespeare (O.U.P. 2016), pp. 559-579, at pp. 559-560 (Google, partial preview).
  3. ^ Richard Hall, in T. Bayly, The Life and Death of that Renowned John Fisher, sometimes Bishop of Rochester (London 1655), p. 101. (Umich/EEBO).
  4. ^ N. Bilyeau, The Death of the Bishop's Poisoner, 'English Historical Fiction Authors' blogspot, 2014.
  5. ^ Calendar of State Papers, Venetian Vol. 4: 1527-1533 (HMSO 1871), item 668 (British History Online).
  6. ^ Calendar of State Papers, Spain Vol. 4 Part 2: 1531-1533 (HMSO 1882), item 646 (British History Online).
  7. ^ W.R. Stacey, 'Richard Roose and the use of parliamentary attainder in the reign of Henry VIII', Historical Journal 29 (1986), pp. 11-15.
  8. ^ K.J. Kesselring, 'A Draft of the 1531 ‘Acte for Poysoning’,' The English Historical Review 116, no. 468 (OUP, September 2001), pp. 894-99.
  9. ^ 'Anno 22 Henry VIII Chapter 9 (1530-31)', in The Statutes of the Realm Vol. 3: The Statutes of King Henry VIII, (By Command 1817), Reprint (Dawsons of Pall Mall, London 1963), p. 326 (Hathi Trust).
  10. ^ (S.H. Burke), The Men and Women of the English Reformation (R. Washbourne, London 1870), p. 240 (Google).
  11. ^ J.G. Nichols (ed.), Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London Camden Society Vol. LIII (London 1852), p. 35. (Internet Archive)
  12. ^ G.J. Meyer (23 February 2010). The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty. Random House Publishing Group. pp. 152–. ISBN 978-0-440-33914-4.
  13. ^ J. Stevenson (ed.), The Life of Jane Dormer Duchess of Feria, by Henry Clifford, transcribed by E.E. Estcourt (Burns & Oates, London 1887), pp. 78-79 (Internet Archive).
  14. ^ 'Anno 1 Edward VI Chapter 12 (1547)', in The Statutes of the Realm Vol. 4, Part 1 (By Command 1819), Reprint (Dawsons of Pall Mall, London 1963), pp. 18-22 (Hathi Trust).

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