Trump’s Deadly Legacy-the tragic life and pointless death of Lisa Montgomery.

Barring another hopelessly inept coup attempt, this afternoon the forty-sixth President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden Jr will assume the reigns of power. His election came as a huge relief to millions of people around the world, myself included. The outgoing President Trump has presided over four years of turmoil, myriad shady dealings and ended in a deadly invasion of the Capitol by his supporters, gleefully encouraged by Trump, his family and his sycophantic allies. Under him, America has become a far more divided nation and its standing on the world stage has been greatly diminished. Trump’s final legacy remains unclear, and its pages in future history books will be written by those far more learned than I. However, at least one thing is known. The Trump administration announced in July 2019 it would resume executing federal inmates after a twenty-year hiatus. Thirteen of those inmates were executed between July 2020 and the present day. Each case raised extremely troubling questions on an individual basis and collectively they represent a dread-inducing killing spree ordered by a man devoid of both humanity and decency. Whilst researching this piece, I came across a photo of a gurney in an execution chamber. An odd quirk of the human mind is that when faced with a sight representing such horror, it will often focus on a  seemingly minor detail. I noticed the pillow-a bizarre concession to human dignity and comfort, obscenely incongruous with an often-torturous, always premeditated, death at the hands of the government. It was on a pillow like this that Lisa Montgomery rested her head when she was put to death on January 13th, and for me her case is the most concerning of them all.

On January 16th 2004 Bobbie Jo Stinnet was found murdered in her home in Skidmore, Missouri. She was eight months pregnant at the time; she had been strangled and her unborn daughter cut from her womb with a knife. Stinnet had been married for just over a year and ran a dog-breeding business, ‘Happy Haven Rat Terriers’ from home with her husband Zeb. She had met Lisa Montgomery at various local dog shows and the pair had also interacted online via a terrier-specific chatroom, ‘Ratter Chatter.’ Montgomery had told Stinnet that she too was pregnant and the two women exchanged emails.

On the day of the murder, Stinnet was expecting a buyer, ‘Darlene Fischer,’ for one of  her dogs. She was found an hour after her death lying in a pool of blood by her mother, Becky Harper, who immediately contacted authorities, telling them her daughter looked like ‘her stomach had exploded.’ Paramedics were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts to revive Stinnet, who was pronounced dead at St Francis Hospital, Maryville. The following day, police arrested  Montgomery at her  home in Melvern, Kansas. She claimed the newborn found in her arms was hers, although this was soon established to be false and baby Victoria Jo Stinnet  was returned to her father, Zeb. Montgomery’s quick capture, and the safe return of little Victoria, was credited to forensic  computer investigation and an AMBER alert, the first time such an alert was put out for an unborn baby. Montgomery confessed to the murder and kidnapping almost  immediately. She was  charged with ‘kidnapping resulting in death,’ a crime established by the Federal Kidnapping Act 1932, making her eligible for the death penalty.

She was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 2007. Her defense was led by one Frederick Duchardt, an attorney with a chequered record to say the very least. Out of seven federal death trials in which he’d acted for the defense, four of his clients were given the death penalty, two were given life sentences and one was acquitted following a retrial. This resulted in  Duchardt having the dubious honor of having more client in receipt of the death penalty in federal court than any other lawyer in America. Lisa Montgomery never stood a  chance. 

Death penalty trials in the USA are often split into two phases; the ‘guilt phase’ during which the jury decides whether or not to convict the defendant, and the ‘penalty phase,’ when the jury  decides on punishment. Often, in capital cases where the jury is inclined to show mercy,  it is because that during the penalty phase lawyers have shown that their clients either suffered an especially abusive childhood or they had a mental illness or intellectual impairment. Montgomery squarely  checked all three boxes. The Supreme Court has set binding precedents dictating that under those circumstances, mercy should be shown. This is often achieved by employing ‘mitigation specialists;’ people whose sole job it is to interview people close to the defendant to establish whether such a history might exist, then sourcing any documentation required to substantiate those claims. Americas National Judicial Conference proclaimed  in 1998 that all capital defense teams should employ  such specialists, and this was followed in 2003 by the American Bar Association who made it mandatory to include them. Duchardt chose not to when defending Montgomery.

Instead he decided to focus on obtaining a ‘not guilty’ verdict at trial. He visited Montgomery only three times prior to court, and when he established she had a deep mistrust of men he sent his wife Ryland in his stead to ‘build a rapport.’ Ryland, it should be noted, had no relevant legal experience whatsoever. Duchardt’s first approach was to suggest that it was in fact Montgomery’s brother Tommy who had murdered Stinnet before handing the baby to his sister. He discovered this was unviable just a week before the trial when it became apparent Tommy had an unimpeachable alibi; he was with his probation officer  at the time of the murder. He hurt Montgomery’s cause by going down this route. It led to her family, who might otherwise have been an excellent source of mitigation, becoming uncooperative as they felt Montgomery had attempted to throw her brother under the bus. Next, Duchardt attempted to achieve a ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdict. He posited that Montgomery suffered from pseudocyesis, in which a woman falsely believes she is pregnant, often displaying physical symptoms associated with pregnancy. The prosecution succeeded in barring this line of defense from being heard by the jury on the grounds that it had no scientific basis. Montgomery never stood a chance.

Neither the  defense nor the prosecution bothered to investigate Montgomery’s childhood or psychiatric record prior to trial. If they had, it may have taken a very different  course. As part of the appeals process, her new (and infinitely more competent) lawyers undertook an exhaustive examination of Montgomery’s  social history. They discovered an appalling catalogue of abuse, torture and gross dereliction of duty by the numerous authorities who were well aware of what Montgomery was suffering. This suffering  began when Montgomery  was still in  the womb. Her mother (and rarely was a woman more undeserving of that moniker) Judy Shaughnessy drank heavily  during her pregnancy. Numerous specialists have since confirmed that Montgomery probably suffered from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her stepfather was a violent alcoholic who constructed a shed for the specific purpose of giving him and his friends a place in which to beat, sodomise and rape Montgomery. They would finish the abuse by urinating on her. Whenever she refused to comply, he would smash her head against the concrete floor so hard she suffered repeated traumatic brain injuries. He also built a room on the side of the trailer where they lived in which he could further perpetrate  his abuse of Montgomery. He drilled a hole  in the closet door and  would constantly observe her through it. Eventually she found a tiny section of the room where she could be free from his gaze and spent  hours curled up there. Shaughnessy trafficked her daughter, allowing tradesmen to abuse her in exchange for  free work on their home.

Then the lawyers detailed the long line of people in positions of authority who knew what Montgomery was experiencing yet did nothing to help her. During her teens, she informed her police officer cousin of the abuse. Rather than helping her as he should have done, he drove her straight back home  to her abusers. Then there was the judge who presided over her mother’s divorce. Both Shaughnessy and Montgomery gave testimony regarding the rapes. Whilst the judge chided Shaughnessy for not reporting  the abuse, he himself did nothing to stop it. Nor did the child welfare officer whom Shaughnessy  told about the rapes. Nor did the doctor who examined Montgomery. And nor did the social workers, who visited the family once during Montgomery’s childhood, informing  the parents of their attendance beforehand.

Like many victims  of child abuse, Montgomery was desperate to escape using any means necessary. At the age of eighteen, she married her stepbrother. Tragically, life with him was little better than it had been with her  parents. They had four children in five years, and he too had an unpleasant, aggressive nature. Montgomery’s brother recalled finding a home movie of this first husband beating and raping her. In due course they divorced and Montgomery married Kevin Montgomery. During this period, she repeatedly claimed to be pregnant despite the fact that she had been permanently sterilized following the birth of her fourth child. It appears she feared that her ex-husband, described as harassing and cruel, would expose her lies in a bid to obtain custody of their children. Unsurprisingly, this litany ofunspeakable abuse and cruelty at the hands of people who should have loved and protected her left Montgomery with a lengthy list of psychological and neurological problems. Asides from the aforementioned Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and traumatic brain injuries, Montgomery has also been diagnosed with CPTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis, depression, memory loss and disassociation.

This is the woman a lame-duck, single-term, twice-impeached president was so desperate to execute. Her lawyers implored  Trump to grant her clemency. He declined, instead preferring to pardon war criminals and his cronies. With Trump, everything is about his ego. He insists he is a president of ‘law and order,’ yet there is no credible evidence whatsoever that applying the death penalty makes society any safer. There are indeed many effective methods proven to reduce crime, such as stricter alcohol policies, eliminating blighted housing, raising the age or grade required to drop out of school and community policing, but none of those things allow Trump to engage in his beloved metaphorical dick-waving. He’s also motivated by spite. No one can say he took his loss of the 2020  election with good grace, and he is fully aware that Biden wants to abolish the death penalty at both federal and  state levels. Commenting on the spate of executions, supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor said ‘To put that in historical context, the federal government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades. There can be no ‘justice on the fly’ in matters of life and death. Yet the court has allowed the United States to execute 13 people in six months under a statutory scheme and regulatory protocol that have received inadequate scrutiny, without resolving the serious claims the condemned individuals raised.’

None of this is to say that Lisa Montgomery’s  crime was not horrific; it was, and Bobbie Jo Stinnet should be here today, enjoying the family she was so excited to have and the business that brought her so much joy. But, trite as it is, executing Lisa has not brought Bobbie back. It has just left those who did care for her bereft. No one was suggesting she should be set free, but that she should have spent her days in prison receiving the psychiatric treatment she should have, and could have, been given long before that dreadful day in 2004. There were many, many  opportunities to save Lisa, and the powers-that-be who failed to do so are just as culpable in the murder of Bobbie Jo as Lisa is, if not more so. Crimes such as this one hold up a mirror to society, and in this case America looks very ugly indeed.

Bleach, Bullshit and Autism-The Dangers of Quackery and the Importance of Putting Children First.

I don’t know about you, but I’m greatly looking forward to the day when my future grandchildren ask me about the coronavirus pandemic. I can’t wait to see the expression on their little faces when I inform them that on Thursday 23rd April 2020 the actual President of the actual United States stood before the world’s media and suggested that it would be an excellent idea to inject people with disinfectant in order to cure COVID-19. Apparently President Trump had seen a report demonstrating that when disinfectant was sprayed on various surfaces it kills viruses within minutes so according to his logic it would have the same effect if injected into the human body, because that’s how science works. Naturally the overwhelming response was shock and derision. A million memes appeared overnight and the media went wild. Trump backtracked almost immediately, claiming his remarks were ‘sarcastic’ and he was merely baiting the media. This is clearly utter horseshit, I firmly believe Trump was deadly serious and even if he weren’t, one might think that perhaps in the midst of a global pandemic the ‘Leader of the Free World’ should be offering reassurance and sensible advice rather than trolling the press in the manner of a bored teenager playing the edgelord on Reddit.
But was it truly a report on the well-known virus killing capabilities of Dettol that inspired Trump’s remarks, or are there more insidious forces at work? In the very same week those remarks were made a letter was sent to Trump by a certain Mark Grenon of the Genesis II church, extolling the benefits of Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS) along with a sample of said product. According to Grenon, MMS is ‘a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of pathogens in the body’ and ‘can rid the body of COVID-19.’ 30 of Grenon’s supporters sent similar letters. Whether or not this influenced Trump’s statements is unclear; The Guardian contacted the White House for clarification but received no response.
And what is MMS, this hitherto unknown cure that could save us from the invisible enemy? In a word; bleach. It’s fucking bleach. Also referred to as Miracle Mineral Solution and CD protocol it is an industrial bleach, chlorine dioxide’ made by mixing sodium chloride with an acid. Its proponents hail it as a panacea, claiming it cures a huge array of health problems including HIV, malaria, cancer and autism. Yup, autism. Parents give this shit to their autistic kids in a variety of ways including orally, topically and worst of all rectally, in the form of bleach enemas. We’ll explore this in more depth in due course. You do not need to be a doctor to realise that this is extremely dangerous. The effects of consuming MMS include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, the shedding of the internal mucous membranes of the intestines and in high quantities, kidney failure Those who sell it claim these side effects are in fact proof it is working, and often advertise it as a water purifier in order to avoid prosecution. It is banned in Canada and both the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FCA) and the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued public warnings strongly advising against its consumption.
The largest proponent of MMS is the Geneis II church, founded by Jim Humble and Mark Grenon in the mid-1990s. Humble claims to have discovered the healing power of the ‘sacrament’ MMS in 1996. He also claims he cured his own broken neck using magnets and that he’s a billion year old god from the Andromeda Galaxy, so make of that what you will. According to the church’s website’ becoming a member of the church, which is ‘non religious’ and whose purpose is to ‘serve mankind’ will bring benefits such as ‘protection against vaccinations, unwanted x-rays, scan or health insurance mandated by human authority,’ the ‘ability to purchase health product of all kinds and in any quantity’ (apparently the church has plans to open its own health stores in its buildings) and a membership card bearing the notice ‘anyone violating these right will be prosecuted by the church.’ And all these incredible advantages can be yours at the bargain price of $35 for the first year per adult, $20 per subsequent year and kids under 12 get it half price. What a fucking steal. The church also held a meeting in Washington in April 2019, whose attendees were required to ‘donate’ $450 each ($800 for couples) in order to attend and receive a package of MMS. There’s clearly a great deal of money to be made in the amoral peddling of pseudo scientific, bullshit ‘miracle cures.’ Humble left the church in 2017 to focus on ‘research and writing’ but is still selling his numerous books advising the proper way to ingest bleach so I imagine he’s retained a healthy bank balance.
Just to demonstrate the absolute audacity of these utter bastards, Grenon sent his letter to Trump despite him and other Genesis II ‘bishops’ being currently under investigation by the US Attorney’s Office in Miami. This is as a result of them selling MMS as a cure for COVID-19 in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act with ‘false and misleading labels and without adequate instructions for its use.’ The FDA wrote to Grenon on April 8th warning him his activities were illegal and demanding a response within 48 hours outlining the steps the church intended to take in order to correct the issue. Grenon’s response oozed arrogance, amongst other things, he said there would be ‘no corrective action on our part…you have no authority over us.’ Unfortunately for Grenon, the FDA very much do have authority over Genesis II as demonstrated on April 17th when US District Judge Kathleen M Williams granted a temporary injunction preventing them from selling MMS. There is a hearing scheduled to extend the injunction on May 1st and I sincerely hope the extention is granted.
Egregious as Grenon and Humble are, it is former Chicago real estate agent Kerri Rivera we have to thank for popularizing the use of MMS amongst the parents of autistic children. She discovered MMS whilst seeking a cure for her autistic son, having already tried methods including hyperbaric chambers and heavy metal antidotes. She outlined her ‘CD protocol’ in her 2013 book ‘Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism’ which she promoted on her website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Rivera believes autism is caused by parasites or ‘rope worms’ which are actually long, thin pieces of intestinal lining shed as a result of the bleach enemas she encourages people to subject their children to. Now I’m not one to judge people on appearances but I’ve seen a photo of Rivera and frankly she’s fucking terrifying. It’s not hard to imagine her telling people to increase the amount of MMS they’re giving their kids when they tell her about the hideous side effects they’re suffering, which is exactly what she regularly does.
Like Grenon and Humble, Rivera has made a great deal of money. Along with her book, she has created a line of supplements and offers Skype consultations. She’s been ‘received as a saviour’ on the ‘autism cure circuit’ where she makes (paid) appearances at anti-vaccination and autism conferences and is currently operating a clinic in Mexico offering her CD protocol which she claims has ‘cured’ over 500 autistic children. She was approached by NBC news, who asked her to comment on her activities’ and responded with the statement ‘This is a medical issue. I have a degree in homeopathy and work with MDs and PhD scientists’ although tellingly (in my view) she refused to say where she obtained her degree or who these doctors are. NBC also obtained data from the American Association of Poison Control Centres that showed 2500 children have been treated by PCCs after ingesting MMS in the past five years.
However, there are people fighting the likes of Rivera. Good, decent people who enter MMS groups as ‘moles’ and who make reports to Child Protective Services when they obtain proof of children being harmed by MMS and who petition social media giants to take action. Happily, they’ve had some successes. In 2018 Facebook closed several of Rivera’s pages and groups and in 2019 they removed her public profile, a page for her book with 3600 followers and a ‘secret’ group with 550 members. Her book was banned from Amazon in March 2019 and days later YouTube deleted many of her channels and videos, followed by Yahoo cancelling her email account in April 2019. These are small victories; other groups and videos quickly popped up, but it shows people are fighting and that sometimes, they win.
And what of the parents giving their children MMS? I am both an Aspie and a mother. We do not know exactly what causes autism but we know it’s not fucking parasites and many of us in the autistic community do not want a cure. We want to be accepted for who we are and to live our lives in a way that works for us, not the way neurotypicals think we should live. As a mother, I do not have the right to do as I see fit with my chid, I have an obligation to protect him from harm and to make informed decisions about his health under the guidance of appropriately qualified professionals, rather than take the advice of avaricious quacks and Internet randoms. I have every sympathy for the parents of disabled children, the overwhelming majority of whom are doing the very best by their kids under incredibly difficult circumstances. My sympathy does not extend to ‘autism moms’ who wear their child’s diagnosis like a fashion accessory, making themselves both martyrs and heroes and who publicly flaunt puzzle pieces and their love for ABA, arrogantly refusing education from us in the autistic community on why these things cause such harm. Like with the anti-vax movement, MMS is embraced by middle class yummy mummies because it’s trendy. It gives them clout in their Facebook groups and allows them to demonstrate their disdain for ‘mainstream medicine.’ The gullible and the desperate often fall victim to quacks, and they deserve our kindness and sympathy. Better education is vital and media outlets in all their forms have a duty to ensure they are not giving a platform to harmful pseudoscience. And parents, all parents, have a fundamental duty to place their child’s wellbeing above their own vanity.

Tom Harry Cope-The Last Soldier Of Skipton

An article written in 2018 to commemorate the signing of the 1918 Armistice that ended World War One.

This article was originally written in 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that brought about the end of World War 1, one of the bloodiest and most catastrophic conflicts humanity has ever seen. It tells the story of Tom Harry ‘Percy’ Cope, the last soldier from Skipton, my home town, to be killed in action.

Tom was born 1st January to Sam and Mary Cope who resided at 11 Brook Street, Skipton. His father owned and ran a grocer’s shop and would later go into business as a boot and shoe maker, a trade that Tom would himself enter upon completing his education. He studied at Ermysted’s Grammar School between May 1896 and July 1898 where he was taught English and Science alongside the more vocational subjects of book-keeping and arithmetic. Such an education was typical for the sons of the tradesmen who made up the lower middle classes of the time, with a view to preparing them for a career in commerce. After graduating Tom served as an apprentice to Freeman, Hardy and Willis, an established chain of boot makers and retailers before taking up the position of manager of the Public Benefit Boot Company. He married Mary Ellen Cope (nee Metcalfe) in1911, the couple would go on to have three children.

World War 1 began 28th July 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria with the Allies (Britain, France, Ireland, Russia and later the USA) fighting against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). At first the war enjoyed highly favourable public opinion and when the army advertised for volunteers to fight in France they were inundated with eager recruits, within the space of two months nearly 500,000 men enlisted. This included 250,000 underage boys who lied about their date of birth, often with the full knowledge of army recruiters. ‘Pals Battalions’ were also established; groups of men who knew one another professionally or socially joined up together and fought side by side. However by 1916 the army was short of new recruits, not least because of the huge number of casualties the country had suffered and conscription was introduced. By April 1918 it was expanded to include all able bodied men under the age of 50.

Tom was conscripted in 1916, joining the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment. Alongside his contemporaries he would have endured the unimaginable horrors of trench warfare. Men lived in filthy conditions, in close proximity to the buried corpses of their fallen comrades, frequently forced to wallow in sewage when the latrines flooded the trenches and existing alongside millions of rats. Many would develop ‘shell shock,’ a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that drew little understanding or sympathy from those in power, psychiatry being very much in its infancy at this point. 306 British men who froze or fled in the face of conflict were court-martialled and shot for cowardice, including at least three boys under the age of 18. Chemical weaponry, in the form of mustard gas, was used for the first time during the war. Letters sent home from soldiers stationed at the Front were heavily censored and the public fed a constant stream of propaganda, ‘Tommies’ were frequently to be seen grinning and waving from the cinema screens; the authorities being well aware that popular support for the war would fade rapidly if people knew of the true hell they had sent their sons, brothers and husbands to. It should be noted that both sides experienced such conditions, and indeed that when soldiers met their opponents in person they found there was far more to bind than to divide them. An unofficial truce was declared over Christmas 1914 and both sides met in the No-Man’s Land between the trenches, exchanging gifts, singing carols, talking and playing football.

Tom Harry Cope died on 6th November 1918, a mere five days before the guns of World War 1 finally fell silent. Peace was officially made with the signing of the Armistice at 11AM on 11th November 1918, ending a conflict that had taken 10 million lives worldwide. It was to be ‘The War To End All Wars,’ but as we now know, sadly an even deadlier conflict was to break out a mere 21 years later and there have been many others since. At a time when populism is again rising, when bigotry and intolerance finds new audiences through technology and world leaders face off with fingers poised above nuclear buttons, we would do well to remember Tom Harry Cope and those who fell beside him and to act with wisdom and compassion, both to respect his sacrifice and to ensure it was not in vain.

This article is dedicated to all those whose lives were lost between 1914-1918. With thanks to Chris Foster and Karen McKenzie for their invaluable help in researching this piece. For further information about Tom and many others from Skipton who contributed to the war effort, please visit

A Tudor Tragedy-The Mysterious Death Of Amy Dudley

On a pleasant autumn afternoon on 8th September 1560, the body of a young noblewoman was discovered lying at the foot of a staircase in a manor house in the village of Cumnor, Berkshire by her friends upon their return from a nearby fair. The sudden and mysterious death of the seemingly innocuous Lady Amy Dudley would create an international scandal that went to the very heart of the British establishment; Queen Elizabeth I herself. For Lady Amy was the neglected wife of Elizabeth’s favourite and rumoured King-Consort-In-Waiting, Lord Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester). The forbidden and ultimately doomed love of Elizabeth and Robert has inspired many works of fiction over the past 500 years, and the true nature of their relationship is still, in many respects, a mystery. But what of Amy, the inconvenient wife? Who was she, and was her death really the tragic accident it appeared to be?
Amy was born Amy Robsart on June 7th 1532 in Norfolk, the only child and heiress of Sir John Robsart, a gentleman of considerable means. Amy’s early life was typical of girls belonging to her class at the time and she was well-educated and considered beautiful. Some time in 1549, probably at the court of King Edward VI, she met her future husband Robert Dudley, the son of the immensely powerful Duke of Northumberland who served as Lord Protector for the young Edward. The two married on June 4th 1550 at the royal palace of Sheen with the King in attendance, and unusually for the time their union was widely believed to be a love match. As Amy was unable to inherit her parent’s estate until their deaths, the young couple were largely reliant on handouts from Robert’s father and had no establishment of their own, staying in the homes of various friends when they were not in attendance at court.
Sadly, life took an unpleasant turn for Amy and Robert upon the death of Edward VI in 1553. Shortly before his death, the Protestant king had nominated his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor in attempt to override the will of his father Henry VIII who had named Edward’s staunchly Catholic sister Mary (followed by Elizabeth) as heir in the event of Edward dying childless. Rather conveniently, the Duke of Northumberland had recently arranged for Jane to marry Robert’s brother Guildford, thus making himself father-in-law to the Queen. However, Jane ruled for only nine days before Mary rode triumphantly into London, taking the throne herself with the overwhelming support of the population. Those who had taken part in the coup were rounded up and thrown into the Tower of London, including Robert who had been sentenced to death. He remained in prison between July 1553 and October 1554, receiving occasional visits from Amy and sharing his imprisonment with Elizabeth, who had also been arrested on suspicion of also plotting against Mary during the ill-fated Wyatt’s Rebellion. During this time, Amy lived in the home of William Hyder in Throcking, Hertfordshire.
On 17th November 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth took the throne. Mary’s reign, which had begun with such popular acclaim, ended in widespread discontent. Her marriage to Philip II of Spain was wildly unpopular, she had lost Calais (England’s last French territory) and her brutal persecution of Protestants had cast the country into a state of terror. The accession of the young, attractive, liberal Elizabeth was an occasion for great hope and by her side was Robert Dudley. He was immediately appointed Elizabeth’s Master of Horse, a position of huge power which granted him a peerage and membership of the Privy Council. By April of 1559 it was clear that Elizabeth and Robert were in love. Rumours swirled around the couple and it was widely reported that Amy was suffering a malady of the breast and was dying, making it only a matter of time before Elizabeth married Robert. The Queen was a famously jealous woman, preferring to forget about Amy’s existence altogether and keeping Robert permanently close Indeed he was only to see his wife twice before she died, visiting her briefly over Easter in 1559 before Amy attended court for a month in May.
By the autumn of 1559 Elizabeth was under huge pressure to marry. The only way the succession could be assured and future conflict avoided was by the production of heirs. Foreign princes vied for her hand, and Robert made many enemies. Foreign ambassadors were infuriated by Elizabeth’s refusal to take their master’s suits seriously and the English nobility blamed Robert for her refusal to consent to a betrothal. Once more rumours surfaced, it was said that Elizabeth and Robert were poisoning Amy who spent her days writing melancholy letters to friends grieving over her husband’s absence, and that the marriage negotiations were a mere charade to keep the country and Robert’s enemies distracted until Amy died.
However, Amy’s death was not as a result of poison. Robert was informed that his wife had died the day after the event whilst he was at Windsor with the Queen and he immediately dispatched his steward, Thomas Blount, to Cumnor in order to investigate the death and order an inquest. Blount interviewed Amy’s friends and ascertained that on the day of Amy’s death a fair was taking place in nearby Abingdon. Amy had insisted that everyone bar herself attend the fair, and had become agitated when one of her friends had expressed reluctance to go. Ultimately Amy got her way, and was alone until the rest of the household returned to find her dead at the bottom of the stairs with two head wounds and a broken neck. Blount also spoke with Amy’s maid Mrs Pincto who acknowledged that Amy seemed depressed and was behaving strangely, but also emphasized her mistress’s many virtues, including a devotion to religion that made suicide impossible and who ultimately believed Amy’s death to be an accident.
An inquest was quickly arranged, with the coronor being assisted in his investigations by a jury of fifteen local gentleman. Blount wrote to Robert to assure him that no stone was being left unturned in the quest to discover the truth, and the jury foreman also sent a letter telling Robert no evidence was found to suggest Amy’s death was anything other than a tragic accident. This was officially confirmed on August 1st 1561 when the coronor ruled Amy’s death an accident. She was buried at St Mary’s, Oxford in an extravagant funeral and Robert retired to his house In Kew, wearing mourning clothes for six months.
However, Robert’s absence did little to dampen the flames of scandal erupting court. William Cecil, the Queen’s Principal Secretary and no fan of Robert’s was aware of Amy’s death before it was officially announced and lost no time in telling the Spanish Ambassador that Robert and Elizabeth has poisoned Amy whilst claiming she was ill in order to marry. Similarly, the English Ambassador to France Nicholas Throckmorton encouraged rumours in the French court that Amy’s death was no accident. Privately, neither Cecil nor Throckmorton believed Robert had killed Amy, but both would see their influence curtailed greatly if he were to become King, and therefore had every reason to promote suspicion of Robert. They were successful Robert returned to court in October and whilst they remained as close as ever with the Queen publicly affirming Robert’s innocence, the scandal surrounding Amy’s death was of such magnitude that there could be no possibility of them ever marrying.
There are four basic theories regarding Amy’s death. The first and most widely circulated at the time is that Elizabeth and Robert ordered Amy’s murder in order to marry. The first published account of the ‘murder’ appeared in 1563 in the libellous propaganda piece ‘Leicester’s Commonwealth’ written by British Catholics in exile. In this narrative Robert’s retainer Sir Richard Verney attends Cumnor Place, ordering the inhabitants to attend the fair before breaking Amy’s neck and placing her at the bottom of the stairs. He is accompanied by a servant who is also murdered on Robert’s orders and the jury in fact returns a verdict of murder (presumably covered up) with Amy being buried at Cumnor Parish church then secretly disinterred and reburied in Oxford. Walter Scott’s nineteenth century novel expounds on this idea. However, this theory does not hold up to scrutiny. Both Robert and Elizabeth were highly intelligent and had a firm grasp on politics. They would have known that murdering Amy would have made their marriage impossible, and whilst a divorce was still difficult to obtain at that time, it would have been a far more viable option than murder. Furthermore, after the initial inquest was concluded Robert in fact proposed that a second be held, with jurors including Amy’s friends and half-brothers, although it is unclear why this never took place. It seems unlikely that a guilty man would invite further scrutiny after being absolved of any blame, and letters written by Robert during the immediate aftermath of Amy’s death clearly demonstrate his agitated bewilderment.
Another theory blames William Cecil for Amy’s death. Arguably he had the most to gain; he was a wily and astute politician who knew that implicating Robert in the death of his wife would prevent him ever becoming king, an eventuality he was desperate to avoid. In an era where people were expendable in the eyes of those either seeking to gain power or consolidate that which they already had, the murder of innocents was rarely balked at by those at the top, particularly given they didn’t need to get their own hands dirty. However, whilst Cecil was undoubtedly ruthless, he was also fiercely loyal to Elizabeth and would have known that she too would suffer as a consequence of such scandal.
Others believe Amy committed suicide. Letters written shortly before her death certainly suggest her spirits were low. Essentially abandoned by the husband she adored and with no permanent home, she was almost certainly lonely and may well have felt like a burden as she passed from household to household, eternally dependent on the kindness of her husband’s friends. She was also unwell, possibly with breast cancer, which may well have furthered her despondency and her adamancy that everyone attend the fair without her on the day she died is most peculiar That being said, throwing oneself down the stairs is hardly the most likely of suicide methods given that there is no guarantee of death and Amy was a deeply religious woman. Suicide was a mortal sin in the eyes of the church, with victims buried outside of hallowed ground and barred from entering heaven.
The final, and in my opinion most likely theory, is that Amy’s death was a tragic accident. In 1956 Professor of medicine Ian Aird put forward the idea that Amy was suffering from breast cancer, which caused metastatic cancerous deposits in her spine. This means her neck could break with the application of very little force, including a short fall or even simply walking down the stairs. It seems plausible to me that given the circumstances surrounding Amy, especially her husband’s relationship with the Queen, her death was turned into a far bigger mystery than it really was. Regardless of the truth, the death of a lonely, entirely innocent young woman who deserved far better from life was exploited by the unscrupulous for political gain and the tragedy of what befell her forgotten. Five hundred years later, we still see what should be the private tragedies of the innocent exploited in the same way. We should remember Amy Dudley and those like her, and firmly stand against the use of innocents as political pawns.

Not Up For Debate- The Arguments I Won’t Get Into.

I spend hours engaged in online discussion, but there are certain topics I avoid. Here’s why.

There are few things in this world I enjoy more than rigorous discussion of the many topics that interest me. As an Aspie, I’m fascinated by a range of topics; anything from true crime to politics, from history to science and when something catches my attention I’ll often spend many hours lost in research and boring my family to death with lengthy monologues. Like many others on the autism spectrum, I struggle socially but I come alive on the Internet. I’m the member of a ton of Facebook groups and have met amazing people from all around the globe with whom I spend many happy hours setting the world to rights.

That being said, I think it’s fair to note that the Internet and rational debate do not always go hand in hand. Even a conversation about the most innocuous of subjects can quickly descend into scathing personal attacks and the discussion of weightier matters frequently descends into outright abuse. If, in a moment of tedium (which many of us are experiencing regularly in the present circumstances) one ventures into the comment section of any news article posted on social media, you’re likely to find numerous misspelled rants peppered with four letter words that demonstrate the commenter’s tenuous grasp on reality. Unedifying of course, but entertaining nonetheless.

I like to think of myself as a good debater. I can articulate my thoughts and feelings with skill, and I can always support any argument I make with credible sources. However, there are certain topics I simply will not entertain. I have strong feelings regarding these topics, and my views have solidified over the years. I’ve heard the arguments of my opponents many, many times and frankly have no desire to hear them again. Below, I shall outline my views on two of those topics, and some of my frustrations with the other side.

I am vehemently pro-choice. Without bodily autonomy, people assigned female at birth (AFAB) cannot be considered free. Reproductive rights are human rights, end of. But not according to the ‘pro-life’ brigade, who I simply refer to as ‘forced birthers.’ This is because, despite their protests to the contrary, these people do not really care about life. They care about controlling women’s bodies and wish to punish those whose sexual behaviour they disapprove of by forcing them to carry and give birth to unwanted babies. Such people will wave placards smeared with fake blood outside abortion clinics and scream ‘murderer’ in the face of innocent women who are simply exercising their right to access healthcare. They have welcomed Jake Eakin into their folds with open arms; a man who at the age of twelve brutally murdered a disabled thirteen year old named Craig Sorger. Here lies the hypocrisy of forced-birthers, some of whom call for women who have abortions to be executed. They are often virulently rightwing, opposing things such as the welfare state, universal healthcare and a living wage. Obviously without such support systems, the children they so desperately want to be born are frequently condemned to live in poverty but apparently that is of no concern to them. To conclude; fuck misogynistic, hypocritical, logically-impaired forced birthers.

There are absolutely no excuses for hitting children. It is morally repugnant to strike a person who is much smaller and weaker than you, and is reliant on you for their every need. There is a wealth of research on the effects corporal punishment has on children, and the scientific consensus is that such punishment is both psychologically damaging and ultimately ineffective. That should be enough for any parent to commit to raising their child without violence. Please note I’m a parent myself, I have a wonderful four year old son. He’s boisterous and cheeky, as all children are, and naturally he’s a handful at times. I’ve never raised a hand to him, in fact the mere idea of doing so horrifies me. There is nothing that distresses me more than seeing my little boy experience pain or fear, and the thought of causing him to feel either of those things myself is completely alien to me. Yet even now, in 2020, parents hit their children. They insist that without violence, children grow into wild, ungovernable reprobates and that they themselves were hit as children with no ill effects. Personally I’d argue being ideologically welded to striking vulnerable humans is hardly indicative of a healthy psyche, but that’s just me. However, I firmly believe they must recognise, at least at some level, that they’re wrong simply because of their reaction to the word ‘hit.’ Ask them why they believe hitting children is acceptable, and they will respond with utter outrage. They will tell you that they do not hit their children, they simply ‘smack,’ ‘spank’ or ‘pop’ them and that these actions are completely different to ‘hitting.’ They are deluding themselves, their child’s brain registers the same hurt and fear regardless of what word is used, and quibbling over semantics is a mere sop to the parent’s conscious. We use euphemisms for a reason, and if you find it necessary to employ one in order to justify your treatment of your child you’re doing something wrong.

There are other subjects I avoid, but I decided I’d rather cover two in depth than write a few lines about several. As an aside, I don’t believe that you should shy away from debate with people who hold different views. The civilised exchange of ideas and opinions is natural and healthy; indeed it is how we progress as a society. Yet there are only so many times I can both hear and repeat the same arguments around certain topics without losing my mind and when I reach that point I struggle to remain civil. I don’t have to be part of every conversation and I can think of more pleasant diversions than pointless arguing with strangers when neither side is likely to change their mind. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but we’re not always oblige to exchange them.


In the face of an unprecedented crisis, it’s easy for the Left to say ‘we told you so.’ But compassion must come first.

Recently, as I sat chatting with my mum over coffee, the conversation inevitably turned to the current COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, we discussed the response of our government to the crisis. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, we are an ardent anti-Tory family. As a student in the 1980s, my mum protested against the Conservative government of the day. My grandma would only tolerate profanity in her house when Margaret Thatcher appeared on the TV. One of my clearest childhood memories is of my father coming into my bedroom the morning following Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory and gleefully informing my bemused 6 year old self that ‘we’ve smashed the Tories into the ground!’ During my own time as a student, I voted for the first time in the 2010 election; like many of my peers I was (naively) seduced by Nick Clegg’s promises of free tuition and a brave new liberal Britain. It was a brutal lesson in the duplicitous nature of politicians and I can still remember, nearly a decade on, the sinking feelings of fury and betrayal as I watched Clegg shake the hand of David Cameron the day the formation of the coalition was announced. As an autistic single mother reliant on benefits, I have suffered personally as a result of that same government callously slashing the public sector, and have shed tears for the millions of my compatriots who have faced far greater hardships than I. And I will always despise the selfish hubris of Cameron, a man who tore the country apart attempting to consolidate his power by appeasing the radical Eurosceptics in his party with the 2016 EU refurendum. In case it wasn’t entirely clear, I’d rather shag a cactus than vote Tory.

Yet, as I sat with my mum watching my beloved 4 year old son play on the floor, we could not bring ourselves to partake in the cheering pastime of bashing the government. We agreed that it is hard to imagine how Boris Johnson could have handled the situation much better. I have no doubt that the response to coronavirus is imperfect, but given the unprecedented suddeness and seriousness of the crisis, I do not believe anyone else would have done much better. We also both expressed our belief that now is not the time to become embroiled in politics. As families struggle to survive and many are mourning their loved ones, the thought of using this titanic tragedy for political capital feels distasteful to the point of obscenity.

And make no mistake, it would be easy to score points, and a few of my fellow lefties are doing just that. Don’t get me wrong, the arguments are perfectly valid. The economy is being kept afloat by massive government spending, and many of us have said for the past 10 years that yo cannot cut your way to economic growth. We have argued that the economy is best served by investment. It also proves that despite protests to the contrary, the Exchequer can fund public services, house the homeless and provide the unemployed with sufficient resources to live above the poverty line. Many members of the middle class have, for the first time, been exposed to the harsh realities of attempting to navigate a punitive and cruel benefits system and the crippling anxiety of desperately trying to feed their children when food is scarce. The NHS is under enormous strain, made far worse by ten years of spending cuts. Ironically, after a decade of politics edging ever further towards the right, it is the rapid implementation of socialist policies that is preventing the UK from collapsing.

All of this is true, and when we emerge from this bizarre, apocalyptic world into calmer times, the people will remember it. I firmly believe there will be clamour for change and a fairer, kinder society in which the vulnerable are protected and public services receive the respect and funding they so richly deserve. But this is not the conversation we can, or should, be attempting to start now. Now is the time for asking each other ‘what can I do for you?’ and ‘how can I help?’ We rarely convert people to our way of thinking by telling them ‘I told you so’ and the anxious and grieving deserve compassion and kindness. The time for reckoning will come, but that time is not now. Let us be gracious, and value our shared humanity over our political convictions.