1st June 1555
A priest is accused of infanticide
Richard Averty was a loyal Catholic priest with a terrible secret: as well as being a father of the church, he was the father of a biological child. Men in his position were supposed to refrain from sex and, should the secret be revealed, he’d be ruined. So, he took the most drastic course of action available to him: he killed the child in the hope that nobody would discover his indiscretion.
Arrest and trial
Unfortunately for Averty, who had criticised married priests for having taken a wife, he was found out, arrested and tried for murder. In the words of the London Evening Standard, which recounted the tale three centuries later, “he was a great persecutor of the married clergy, but at the same time lived incontinently and, in order to hide his shame, murdered his infant child, unknown to its mother”.
Whether this was indeed done without its mother’s knowledge is a disputed point. Other accounts state that the mother was employed in his household, and he’d helped her to give birth before baptising the child, then strangling it and burying it beneath his hearth.
Averty is hanged
In An Account of the Island of Jersey, published in 1734 and republished several times later, Philip Falle writes of “one Richard Averty, a Popish Priest in this Island, [who] was hanged for Murder by Sentence of the Royal Court. He was a great Enemy and Persecutor of Married Clergy, but at the same time kept a Whore, who being brought to bed, the Wretch to conceal his shame, murdered the Infant unknown to the mother. Whereupon he was apprehended, and in spite of all the opposition made by Paulet, the Popish Dean (who would have had him concerned before the Bishop of Coutance as his proper Judge) suffered the Death he deserved. This must seem an Act of great courage and resolution in the Court, to any who considers the Power and Credit of the Popish Clergy in that Reign [of Queen Mary].”
In a later (1817) book, also called An Account of the Island of Jersey, W Plees notes that Poulet was the “last popish dean” of Jersey. Poulet had denied that the lay court had the power to make a judgement where the Averty matter was concerned but, nonetheless, remained in his role for a further ten years, after which there was an interval of 55 years before another man was appointed to the same position.
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