An interesting story in the annuals of Barnstaple’s history is that of Ulalia Page of Plymouth who was sentenced to death for murdering her husband when the Assizes were held in Barnstaple in 1590.
In Sketches of the Literary History of Barnstaple John Roberts Chanter tells Ulalia’s tale using as a guide a diary written by Barnstaple’s town clerk of the time and the Parish Register.
“On a former occasion, I gave the particulars of the Assizes being held here, and Philip Wyot’s remarks thereon. These entries serve to throw light on a disputed point in traditional history, the statement of one our Judges (Judge Glanville) having pronounced sentence of death on his own daughter for murder. The event was one which made a great sensation at the time, and gave rise to a drama, and likewise to a great number of ballads and broadsides, published in all parts of the kingdom. “The lamentable tragedy of Page, of Plymouth.”
“The story runs that Judge Glanville, who resided near Tavistock, had a daughter named Ulalia, who had become attached to a young man of Tavistock, named George Stangwidge, lieutenant of a man of war, whose letters the father, disapproving of the attachment, intercepted. An old miser, of Plymouth, named Page, availed himself of this apparent neglect of the young sailor, and on setting a good jointure, obtained her father’s good graces and her hand. She took with her a maid servant from Tavistock, but the husband was so penurious, that he dismissed all the other servants, and compelled his wife and her maid to do all the work themselves.
“At this time George Strangwidge returned from sea, had an interview with Mrs. Page, at which, after mutual upbraidings, they found the letters had been intercepted. The maid and the mistress then plotted to get rid of the old gentleman, to which Strangwidge with great reluctance consented. Page lived in Woolster Street in Plymouth, and a woman who lived opposite hearing at night some sand thrown against a window, arose, and looking out, saw a young gentleman under Page’s window, and heard him say, “for God’s sake stay your hand.” A female voice replied, “‘Tis too late, the deed is done.” On the following morning it was given out that old Page had died suddenly in the night, and he was buried. On the testimony, however, of the neighbour, the body was disinterred, and it appearing that he had been strangled, his wife, the maid and Strangwidge were arrested, tried and executed; and it has since been commonly said that Judge Glanville, her own father, tried her, and pronounced her sentence. Philip Wyot not only confirms the truth of the legend, but incidentally proves that her father did not try or condemn her. It appears that owing to the plague being that year at Exeter, the assizes were held at Barnstaple, and that but one Judge Lord Anderson came, who tried the prisoners, and he writes, “The gibbett was set up the Castle Green, and XVIII prisoners hanged, whereof III of Plymouth, for murder.” This execution is corroborated by our parish registers, which have entries of the names of “those who died in the assize week,” and among them appear the names “George Strangwith,” “Ulalya Page.””
The story captured the imagination of the people and as a consequence there have been many versions of the story over the centuries. Some more embellished than others. Some accounts say Ulalia seduced a servant to help with the murder, another that she was burnt at the stake for her crime. Although she was a member of the prominent Glanville family, you won’t find her in any of the published family pedigrees, it also seem certain that Judge Glanville, as he became, was at the Assizes but as a serjeant since he was not made a Judge until 1598.
The tale has an interesting end…Ulalia appears in two different parish registers, firstly in the Barnstaple register of Burials with others who were hung alongside her and in the Bishops Tawton Burial register where her body was laid to rest. For some reason she was not buried in the same graveyard as George Strangwidge. Did her family decide to have her buried in a quieter spot out of the limelight in the hopes her infamy would be forgotten or did they not want her final resting place to be in the same churchyard as her lover thus, forever, keeping them apart?
You can read various accounts of Ulalia’s story and other information on her and her family in the following volumes.
Barnstaple and Bishops Tawton parish registers for 1590
John Roberts Chanter: Sketches of the Literary History of Barnstaple: EJ Arnold (Barnstaple, 1866) D900/BAR/CHA
Todd Gray: The Lost Chronicle of Barnstaple1586-1611: The Devonshire Association (Exeter, 1998) D900/BAR/GRA
C.W. Bracken: A History of Plymouth and her Neighbours: Underhill (Plymouth, 1934) D900/PLY/BRA
Henry Francis Whitfeld: Plymouth and Devonport; In Times of War and Peace: E Chapple (Plymouth, 1900) D900/PLY/WHI
Sabine Baring-Gould: Devonshire Characters and Strange Events: John Lane The Bodley Head Limited (London, 1926) D920/BAR
Mrs. Bray: The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy: W. Kent and Co (London, 1879) D910/BRA
John Tuckett: Devonshire Pedigrees: John Russell Smith (London) D929.2/TUC
Frederic Thomas Colby: The Visitation of the County of Devon in the Year 1620: The Harleian Society (London,1872) D929.2/COL
L.J. Vivian: the Visitations of the County of Devon: Henry S. Eland (Exeter, 1895) D929.2/VIV
Leslie Stephen ed.: Dictionary of National Biography; Vol XXI: Smith, Elder & Co (London, 1890)