Hermann Mohll: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with high treason in 1704?

While researching my third novel, The Running Wolf, I made a number of discoveries, including a cache of documents about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers.

While researching the famous Shotley Bridge swordmakers, I discovered some archive documents that shed light on a 300-year-old mystery. My research findings have been published in Northern History, a Taylor & Francis history journal. The link for this article is https://doi.org/10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548, but unless you have an academic library subscription, it can be expensive to access. The journal publisher, Taylor & Francis, has granted permission to share my article on my website, so you may download a copy free of charge. (See the red button at the bottom of this article.)

The Running Wolf by Helen Steadman

Cover for The Running Wolf, with a black background and gold lettering, it shows a sun ray of 9 swords over a Dutch warship. The O of Wolf is molten gold and shows an etched wolf running through it.
The Running Wolf by Helen Steadman

In 1687, around 20 swordmakers defected from Solingen in north west Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge in north east England. My novel focuses on Hermann Mohll, who was imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in December 1703 and released in February 1704.

Mohll was imprisoned for smuggling swords. He was suspected of high treason for working against Queen Anne because he sailed into England with some Scottish and Irish soldiers.  Despite these suspicions, he was released suddenly in February 1704. Several historians have puzzled over Mohll’s release, whether he was a Jacobite agent, and the fate of the smuggled swords.

I have now found the answers among a cache of documents in Queen Anne’s state papers in the National Archives. These thirty documents have never been considered in any of the existing histories about the swordmakers. They show what happened to the swords, why Mohll was released and also the names and regiments of the Scottish and Irish soldiers.

Queen Anne took the swords for herself and Hermann Mohll was released following a direction from her, which left the final decision to the local justice. One of the local justices was Colonel Henry Villiers, Governor of Tynemouth Castle, and I found some suspicious links between Mohll and Villiers. A year after Mohll’s trial, Villiers was found guilty of two acts of smuggling. He was working in cahoots with the Aberdonian, Captain Thomas Gordon, a famous Jacobite, and fined over £500.

I was really excited when I discovered these documents. It was a shock when I realised Colonel Villiers may have pulled the wool over Queen Anne’s eyes to protect Hermann Mohll. It looks like Colonel Villers helped Mohll get away with high treason, which saved my favourite swordmaker from being hanged, drawn and quartered!

If you’re after a copy of The Running Wolf, you can buy one direct for the bargain price of £4.99, with free UK postage. This is a special limited offer for my blog readers.

If you want other formats, or you’re based outside the UK, please click here for links to major bookshops.

The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Northern History, September 2020, http://www.TandFonline.com <doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548>. If using this article, or parts of it, in an article of your own, please cite the following source:

Steadman, Helen, ‘The Shotley Bridge Swordmaker, Hermann Mohll: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with High Treason in 1704?’, Northern History, September 2020, doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548.

Thank you to the publishers, Taylor & Francis, who have kindly permitted me to share this article on my personal website.

About Northern History

Northern History was the first regional historical journal. Produced since 1966 under the auspices of the School of History, University of Leeds, its purpose is to publish scholarly work on the history of the seven historic Northern counties of England: Cheshire, Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire. Since it was launched, it has always been a refereed journal, attracting articles on Northern subjects from historians in many parts of the world. It aims to stimulate and encourage serious research, professional and amateur alike, on the history of all parts of the North, including the Borders, from Roman times to the twentieth century.

Website: https://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=ynhi20

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