LIFE under the Tudors was violent and bloody – with your chances of being murdered around five times higher than today.

Now a new book, The Tudor Murder Files, by writer and historian James Moore, brings together all the most shocking killings and puzzling murder mysteries from the 16th century in fascinating detail – including cases from Essex.

This includes the infamous tale of Colcestrian Alice Neate who murdered her sister-in-law while she slept.

Not only did she commit the murder, in January 1577, in the most gruesome way by cutting her victim’s throat - she was convicted on the evidence of her own daughter.

In the book readers find out how Alice, who lived in the new Hythe area of the town with her husband and daughter Abigail, hated her sister-in-law.

After killing her, she wrapped her in a red blanket and dragged the woman’s body outside to the woodyard.

James explains: “At first Abigail defended her mother at the trial where visitors to the house during the day were also brought out to give evidence.

“But the girl, who shared a room with her auntie, eventually broke down under cross examination and it was discovered she had been awake during the murder and had seen what happened.”

Alice was hanged, as often happened in the case of conviction in Tudor times but James discovered there was an even harsher punishment for a wife who murdered her husband.

“They were burnt at the stake, like witches.

“It was considered an even worse crime than murder, because in those days men were considered a woman’s superior.”

It was not his only brush with the idea of witchcraft whilst researching the book - one case he read about in the pamphlets centred on another Essex case.

“I found a case in Hatfield Peverel where a woman was hanged for murdering someone by witchcraft.

“The woman, Agnes Waterhouse was found guilty of murdering William Fynne but I am not sure what she did to him as I was focusing more on murder than witchcraft for this book,” admits James.

James’ book also features the tale of how John Wright and John Graygoose murdered Thomas Chamber in 1595 with a piece of stile.

They were sent to the gallows in Romford after being caught acting suspiciously.

Unsurprisingly Henry VIII features in many of the stories in the book including his devising a new law so a poisoner could boil alive and also in the case of Charles Joseph.

He was one of those strongly suspected of murdering merchant Richard Hunne in 1514 who was on remand on a charge of heresy following a dispute with the church.

The Tudor Murder Files tells of how Joseph sought sanctuary in the village of Good Easter, just outside Chelmsford.

James, who has written four other history titles and is a journalist on a national newspaper, says: “The Tudor age was one where murder was rife and for the first time pamphleteers and chroniclers fed the public with all the grizzly details of the era’s most gruesome crimes.

“It is telling that the chances of being murdered were so high at the time, but actually when we broke down the figures, in Essex it was even higher more like seven times as likely,” adds Richard.

He says while the punishments, death in many cases, should have been enough of a deterrent, detection rates were not high.

“I think what is key to it is the likelihood of people getting caught.

“Detection rates were not very high, there was no police force and in many cases it was the local justices of the peace who did the investigations.

“People like Alice Neate, who was obviously not very bright, got caught because they were careless but in many cases it was very difficult to prove.

“In this case her daughter had seen her do it and although she tried to protect her mother, in the end she broke down and admitted the truth.”

James spent hours pouring over documents at the British Library including historic pamphlets which carried the news at the time.

As a journalist himself, he admits he was impressed with the detail in the pamphlets.

“They were sort of like an early tabloid news paper, documenting everything that went on.

“I was quite impressed really because when I compared them with the Assize Records from the courts they were very accurate representations of what had actually happened.”

His previous books have included one focusing on murders at inns, featuring a number of Essex cases.

The county may also form a strong basis of his next publication - which he hopes will centre on crimes in Roman Britain.

“I am looking at going back a lot further in time for my next history book.

“I would like to find out about murders in Roman times so that might mean looking at events that happened in Colchester,” says James.

  • The Tudor Murder Files is published by Pen & Sword, priced at £14.99.