12 July 1537 – Robert Aske

There have been some prolific executors in history. Take Henry VIII for example. The English king avoided a would-be turbulent reign by bumping off would-be insurgents. As many as 72,000 were prematurely put to death apparently during the Tudor king’s 38-year reign.

One such miscreant was Robert Aske who is said to have played Russian roulette with his death penalty and lost. But more of that later.

Aske no questions

A Yorkshire lawyer by trade, Aske got into politics and was very vocal about his fervent religious opinions. So imagine when a king of England decides to dump the Catholic church in favour of a new church that gave him Almighty powers.

And imagine if that same king was from a bloodline that had just toppled the ruling House of York and grabbed the throne under shady circumstances not two generations before.

Well, the self-respecting Yorkshireman wouldn’t have a bar of it. Aske led from the front in what was termed the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising in 1536. He amassed a small army of around 9,000 men and seized control of York. Soon his support grew to about 40,000.

Henchmen close to the king opened negotiations and they promised a general pardon if Aske got his army to stand down. Amazingly the not-so-wily lawyer believed the promises. And for that, once he’d safely dismissed his army, Aske was captured and promptly had up for treason.

Crimes against the king carried the ultimate penalty – and commoners (as Aske was) would normally have been hanged, drawn and quartered. But some sources claim he opted to be hanged in chains, thinking it would be less painful that being strung up, then having his innards rudely whipped out, before being beheaded and quartered.

But if that’s true, the poor sap overlooked one thing. He’d forfeited a death that was over in less than a half a day for one that was ekeed out over many. For hanging in chains meant slow suffocation, a painstaking death which took days.

Whichever the method he was definitely hanged from the walls of York castle as a lesson to all insurgents and Aske died on this day aged roughly 37.

If you had the unenviable task, which would you choose? Cast your vote in our hypothetical quiz.

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