Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crofts, Elizabeth

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CROFTS or CROFT, ELIZABETH (fl. 1554), was the chief actor in an eccentric imposture, contrived early in 1554, on the part of the protestants to excite an open demonstration in London against the projected marriage of Queen Mary with Philip of Spain. The girl, who was only about eighteen years old, appears to have concealed herself within a wide crevice in the thick wall of a house in Aldersgate Street. The wall faced the street, and by means of a whistle or trumpet her voice assumed so strange a sound as to arrest the attention of all passers-by. Large crowds constantly assembled, and confederates scattered among the people interpreted her words as divinely inspired denunciations of King Philip, Queen Mary, and the Roman catholic religion. The device deceived the Londoners for many months, and the mysterious voice was variously named ‘the white bird,’ ‘the byrde that spoke in the wall,’ and ‘the spirit in the wall.’ Before July 1554 the imposture was discovered; Elizabeth was sent to Newgate and afterwards to a prison in Bread Street, and there confessed the truth. She said that one Drake, Sir Anthony Knyvett's servant, had given her the whistle, and that her confederates included a player, a weaver of Redcross Street, and a clergyman, attached either to St. Botolph's Church in Aldersgate Street or (according to another account) to St. Leonard's Church in Foster Lane. On Sunday 15 July she was set upon a scaffold by St. Paul's Cross while John Wymunsly, archdeacon of Middlesex, read her confession. ‘After her confession read she kneeled downe and asked God forgivenes and the Queen's Maiestie, desyringe the people to praye for her and to beware of heresies. The sermon done she went to prison agayne in Bred Street. … And after Dr. Scorye resorted to her divers tymes to examin her; and after this she was released’ (Wriiothesley, Chronicle, ii. 118). On 18 July one of her accomplices stood in the pillory ‘with a paper and a scripter on his hed.’ No other proceedings appear to have been taken, although seven persons were said to have taken part in the foolish business. The imposture resembles that contrived with more effect twenty-two years earlier by Elizabeth Barton [q. v.], the maid of Kent.

[Stowe's Annals, s.a. 1554; Chronicle of the Grey Friars (Camd. Soc.), p. 90; Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camd. Soc.), ii. 117–18; Machyn's Diary (Camd. Soc.), p. 66; Burnet's Reformation, ed. Pocock, ii. 439, v. 611; Strype's Memorials, iii. i. 214; Chronicle of Lady Jane and Queen Mary (Camd. Soc.)]

S. L. L.