The Viney Agency


Stephen Bates was born in Berkshire and educated at New College, Oxford, where he took a degree in Modern History. He was a journalist for 36 years until 2012, working for the BBC, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail before joining the Guardian in 1990 where he was subsequently education editor, political correspondent, European Affairs Editor, based in Brussels for five years, and finally the paper’s religious affairs and royal correspondent. He reported from more than 40 countries on everything from wars and elections to royal visits, was named British religion writer of the year in 2005 and 2006 and is the author of three previous books: A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality (Hodder and Stoughton); Asquith (Haus), a biography of the Edwardian prime minister and God’s Own Country: Religion and Politics in the US (Hodder and Stoughton). A regular broadcaster, he has also written for the Spectator, New Statesman, Time magazine, the Tablet, the Church Times and BBC History Magazine and many other British and foreign magazines. He is married, with three children and lives in Kent.

His Two Nations – Britain in 1846 - the history of a pivotal year in our history - was published by Head of Zeus in 2014. Duckworth and Overlook published The Poisoner, his biography of the notorious Victorian serial killer, Dr William Palmer, on both sides of the Atlantic in 2014. His first novel, The Photographer’s Boy was published by Premier Digital in the US in 2013. 1815: Regency Britain in the Year of Waterloo was published by Head of Zeus in 2015. Royalty Inc. about the function of and challenges to the British Royal Family was published to critical acclaim by Aurum in 2015.

Icon will publish his true crime The Poisonous Solicitor in 2022. His A Short History of Kings and Queens will be published by Old Street in 2022.

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A classic 1920s murder mystery.

It’s straight out of an Agatha Christie thriller: a meek-mannered country solicitor poisons his domineering wife, then sets about dosing a rival solicitor over a cream tea with a scone laced with arsenic. The man subsequently falls ill with symptoms similar to the dead wife and tongues begin to wag. The solicitor is found with packets of arsenic in his pockets and more in his desk – bought, he claimed, from a local chemist to poison the dandelions in his lawn. Such is the true tale of Major Herbert Rowse Armstrong, tried for the murder of his wife and executed in 1922 - the only solicitor ever to be hanged in Britain.

Armstrong lived and practised at Hay-on-Wye, now best-known for its annual international literary festival, but then a quiet country village. The office where he practised and was arrested is still a local law firm, as is the office of his rival Oswald Martin, just across the road. Both men were involved in a legal wrangle over the sale of a local estate, with Armstrong unable to hand over the costs because he had probably embezzled the money. Armstrong’s wife Kitty, who had died eight months earlier without any suspicions being aroused, was a harridan, known to humiliate her husband in public. He had found another companion: the mysterious Madame X as she was referred to at the trial: another motive for a poisoning. Kitty’s body was dug up by the police at dead of night so as not to arouse Armstrong’s suspicion and found to be riddled with poison. The case seemed open and shut. But did he do it, or was he framed? Armstrong seemed a devoted husband and no one saw him administering anything to his wife.

The Armstrong case intrigued writers in the golden age of detective novels - Dorothy Sayers incorporated elements of the Armstrong case in two of her books and Georgette Heyer is said to have based a character on the diminutive solicitor. The case - a classic 1920s murder mystery set in 'Midsomer Murders' territory – remains contentious, though it has not been written about in depth for many years and, as the centenary of the trial looms, it deserves re-examination. A whodunit with a twist – that it really happened.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:The Poisonous Solicitor, Icon, 2022; A Short History of Kings and Queens, Old Street, 2022; Royalty Inc., Aurum, 2015; 1815: Regency Britain in the Year of Waterloo, Head of Zeus, 2015; The Photographer's Boy, Premier Digital, 2013.Two Nations – Britain in 1846, Head of Zeus, 2014. The Poisoner- The Life and Times of Victorian England’s Most Notorious Doctor, Duckworth, UK; Overlook, USA, 2014; The Photographer’s Boy  - a novel, Premier Digital/Open Road, 2013; Asquith, Haus, 2008; God’s Own Country: Religion and Politics in the US, Hodder and Stoughton, 2007; A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality , Hodder and Stoughton, 2006.