Archive for Burned at the stake

16 July 1546 – Anne Askew

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , on July 16 by Old Sparky

Anne didn\'t find the offer of a toasted muffin amusing

Anne didn't find the offer of a toasted muffin amusing

Old habits die hard. OK, so Henry VIII may have turned his back on the Pope in the 16th century, in order to divorce his first wife, but, intrinsically, he was still a Catholic at heart.

So, when a lady at court started publically spouting her Protestant beliefs and dissing the Catholic mass, Henry felt compelled to put an immediate kibosh on her outspoken views, despite the fact that he was meant to be Protestant too and more importantly heading up the church she was busily bigging up.

First she was jailed at Newgate, but then they hatched a cunning plan – in a bid to take others down with her, they had the unwitting female tortured to make her confess.

Stretching the truth

Off they scooted her to the Tower of London, when Askew was promptly put on the rack. Apparently the torturer refused to operate the equipment, so it was left to the dignitaries to carry out Henry’s command.

The rack was a gruesome bit of kit – your hands and feet were attached with ropes to rollers and when the equipment turned you were stretched out agonisingly. Yet Askew never whimpered according to a book entitled ‘Prisoners of the Tower’ – here are some detail of the session in her own words.

‘They did put me on the rack because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time. And because I did lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands till I was nigh dead…Then the Lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack; incontinently, I swooned and they recovered me again…’

The heat is on

Unable to extract any other names from Askew, she was eventually taken from her jail in Newgate to Smithfields where a nice little pyre had been put together. She was tied to a stake in its midst and slowly spit roasted for her heretical views, aged just 25.

Also on this day

16 July 1907 – William Slack

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21 June 1786 – Phoebe Harris

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , on June 21 by Old Sparky

You’re probably used to us by now – giving you lurid accounts about people being hanged for coining (eg forgery). But did you know women were burned at the stake for it before 1790?

We’re not sure why they got such preferential treatment, but the crime was classed as treason and, as a result, it was punishable by death. Cue Phoebe Harris, AKA Mrs Brown (very ‘Reservoir Dogs’).

According to Richard Clarke, she took up residence in Drury Lane, under the guise of being a captain’s widow with her own income…

A close shave

She had her own income alright. Just none of it was legal. On the quiet, she’d file off shavings from kosher coins and clip bits off, melt it all down and make new coins. It was a very nice little earner, until she got busted.

Based on a tip-off, the law forced its way into her lodgings where her counterfeiting conspiracy was blown wide open.

Harris, alongside two accomplices, was taken in, but her defence was little short of desperate. She blamed the crime on the fictitious ‘John Brown’ – obviously coming up with creative names wasn’t her strong point.

Feeble defence

Harris maintained that she had just stashed the equipment away on ‘his’ orders. She then pleaded ignorance as to the nature of the kit.

Convincing? No, the jury didn’t think so either and Harris ended up bearing the brunt of the blame. The other two got off scott-free, while she was sentenced to be burned.

To add to her infamy, she became the first person to be burned at Newgate – most of the others had taken place in Tyburn or Smithfield up to that point.

But this new venue didn’t go down to well – the neighbours didn’t take kindly to the putrid smell of frying flesh, after all, it was considered a respectable area in those days. Luckily for inhabitants the law was changed four years later, but that didn’t help Harris’ plight. She sizzled for over two hours in front of a gawping crowd of around 20,000 today in 1786.

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30 May 1431 – Joan of Arc

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , on May 30 by Old Sparky

Joan of ArcFrench national treasure, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic despite a prolific career on the battlefield.

Fact was she’d been a visionary leader, quite literally – her actions were governed and dictated by visions from God plus other martyrs. Indeed word got around that a saint was heading up the French army and the people liked the sound of those odds and joined in their droves.

Or maybe it was the thought of 17-year-old eye candy that reeled them in.

But old Joanie was no pushover and if they thought life would be relaxed under her womanly leadership, boy were they wrong. She kicked serious soldier arse, ridding the camps of prostitutes and swearing, barring them from looting and pillaging civilian camps, instead encouraging them to go to church.

Fight back

By all accounts they were in a bit if a state so she came along and drilled them into shape just in time. It was 1428 and they were on the brink of a crucial set-to with England amid the 100 Years’ War, which would have made or broken access to the Loire – their stronghold. And they needed all the help they could get against what had been a pretty successful opposition in the shape of Henry V. But he’d died in 1421 and his son was not as effective, so it was time to fight back.

Cue Joanie, whose appointment really paid off. Her leadership skills were blinding and she managed to give the Valois army the much-needed upper-hand against an increasingly embattled Burgundy. For France was leaderless and there was a power struggle for the throne. Burgundy was batting for the opposition, having teamed up with the Plantagenet Henries from England who were descended from Anjou blood. And in the blue corner was the House of Valois, which claimed pure-bred accession. Joan was for the latter, headed up by Charles of Ponthieu, who was to become Charles VII of France.

Joan proved a real powerhouse on the battlefield and she managed to secure Orleans back from the English. Sadly those round the mediating table were not empowered with the same gumption – they pretty much sold themselves down the river to Burgundy, despite Joan having them on the run.

The end

Well, that was the beginning of the end really. Also they declared a 15-day truce so Charles VII could be crowned. But this just bought Burgundy and the English time to regroup. During September 1429, the demise of Joan’s army was more or less in the bag. They had advanced even as far as Paris when she was injured during battle. The king and his advisors ordered a defensive position and even destroyed a bridge. The army then retreated back to the Loire and they even went as far as to disband.

But Joan didn’t have a bar of it – she wasn’t about to give up so easily, despite the fact that, at Easter, she foresaw her own capture in 1430. And she was right – she and her small band of rallied troops were penned in just outside Compeigne where they were forced to surrender.

Charles offered to pay a ransom and all sorts to try and secure her safe return, but the Duke of Burgundy knew that would be a huge mistake. So she was left to stew for four months before they handed her over to the English, who wasted no time in sending her to trial in Rouen, during February and March of 1431.

Dressed to kill

There they threw all sorts of muck at her including witchcraft, but nothing stuck, so desperate times called for nothing short of ridiculous measures. She was sentenced to death for…cross dressing. Yep, you read right – she was had up on charges of dressing like a man. Indeed they even stripped her of her dress, forcing her to wear men’s clothes to cover her modesty. But that was her undoing, because it is said to have cemented her heretical tendencies.

Strapped to a stake, she was left to slow roast, and despite her saintly demeanour she certainly wasn’t above feeling the acutely excruciating pain and is said to have ‘screamed’ for Jesus. Not that it did her any good – she was burned alive on this day in 1431.


And all this took place in the space of two years and Joan was just 19 when she died.

The 100 Years’ War lasted another 20-odd years, and was finally crushed mainly because a very young and very green Henry VI had taken over where Henry V left off. He didn’t have the experience to see it through and the French won the day. And that was quick compared to Joan’s sainthood, which took virtually five centuries to secure. The Maid of Orleans was finally beatified in 1909.

Joan’s life has been replayed on the big screen on several occasions but our favourites are Milla Jovovich in Joan Of Arc: The Messenger and Jane Wiedlin (you know, her off The Go-Go’s) in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Also on this day

30 May 1922 – Hyram Thompson

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22 May 1538 – John Forrest

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , , on May 22 by Old Sparky

A friar fried today in 1538 for daring to denounce moves to make the king head of the Church.

A vehement opposer to the English Reformation, Forrest and the other monks in the Franciscan Friars Minor overtly rejected plans to split away from Catholicism. Maybe they saw through Henry VIII’s motive – after all, the king only wanted to be able to divorce. He wanted shot of his current wife so he could bed Anne Boleyn legitimately. But ultimately the devout Catholics rejected the whole idea as ungodly.

You see, the Brits were in the throes of a religious overhaul, spurred on by our friends across the water in Europe. A priest by the name of Luther had inadvertently and unwittingly kicked off a whole, new religious faction in Germany – aptly named Lutheranism – which was to morph into Protestantism as we know it today.

Forrest trumped

However, that meant defecting away from Catholicism, but not if Forrest could help it. Forrest had trained as a theologian at Oxford before moving on to become confessor to none other than Catherine of Aragon – the wife Henry VIII was hell-bent on ditching to marry Boleyn.

Needless to say Forrest absolutely refused to accept Henry as head of all things ecclesiastical. But did he really think he could take on the king and win? Who knows, yet the prospect of death certainly didn’t stop him.

In fact, he was so against what he saw as blasphemous nonsense that his antagonism landed him in front of Thomas Cranmer at Lambeth Palace, where he had to answer to charges of treason. There Forrest was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Ash Forrest

It was some stake they found for him. A special statue was shipped in from Wales – one effigy of Darvell Gatheren, which according to legend would be responsible for setting a forest alight. Somehow, we’re pretty certain when the prophecy first came to light, no-one could have ever imagined the Forrest would be human.

The wooden statue was stuck on the pyre, with Friar Forrest attached for all to see, in the middle of Smithfields, in London.

It took two long hours for Forrest’s fire to burn him to a crisp. And to this day it is said that his remains can be found in one corner of St Bart’s Hospital – which sits opposite the gates of the Friars’ monastery. For his pains, Forrest was canonised in 1886 and today is his feast day.

Also on this day

22 May 1793 – Agnes M’callum

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What are the Top 10 Movie Executions?

Posted in Burned at the stake, Crucified, Death penalty, Electric chair, Guillotine, Hanged, Hanged, drawn & quartered, Lethal injection with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 14 by Old Sparky

Evil sinners and Oscar winners…but who does it best?

** Warning: here be spoilers **

Obviously, with the terminal nature of all successful executions, some of what follows could give away the endings (and, in some cases, middles and beginnings) of films you still haven’t seen.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to warn you which ones we’re talking about without actually giving the game away. So, if you’re at all concerned, please click the other stories on the site, where you can be sure someone will be dead at the end of each one you read.

The rules

If, however, you care to join in the discussion, here are some things to bear in mind:

  • we’re only interested in scenes played out by actors, where no-one has actually died in real life. Shaky footage taken on a camcorder or camera phone, which has been punted round the web doesn’t count
  • the film needs to actually include scenes of the execution. So, although it’s a good movie, ‘Monster’ starring Charlize Theron, isn’t admissable, as they gloss over the lethal injection with some text at the end
  • although I don’t specialise solely in films featuring death and execution (I’m more of a James Bond kinda guy) I do know my onions. So think long and hard before you try suggesting the hangings at the start of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 3 : At World’s End or the end of ‘Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves, because they just won’t wash.

The top 10

So, here are the ‘Execution of the Day’ top 10 celluoid executions. If you think you can do better…bring the noise.

10. ‘Schindler’s List – there are plenty of summary executions along the way and there’s no denying Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece has so many memorable scenes, but it’s the short-drop hanging of Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth that sticks in the mind. Evil on a rope.

9. ‘Dead Man Walking – Sean Penn’s character was largely based on the story of one Elmo Sonnier, but while Sonnier met his demise in the electric chair, Sean’s Matthew Poncelet was strapped to a gurney and lethally injected…while Tim Robbins and his missus just looked on smiling and nodding. Those two!!

8. ‘Cromwell – a long time ago in a London square far, far away, Obi Wan gets in some practice at dying. Whether Charles I became more powerful than Oliver Cromwell could ever imagine is debatable, but Sir Alec Guinness does his usual trick of sticking his hands above his head before the fateful blow is struck, just in case.

7. ‘The Name Of The Rose – Connery does Cadfael, in a monk murdering monastry mudbath. But when Sean’s super sleuth bangs heads with the Grand Inquisitor ‘Bernado Gui’, it’s professional uglyman, Ron Perlman’s turn as the hunchback ‘Salvatore’ that gets a roasting, as he’s burned at the stake for heresy.

6. ‘Braveheart – Our first taste of Gibson gore as Mel mashes up the story of William Wallace to produce a decent film…even if it does take a few liberties with the facts. I’m not sure if being tied to a post and having your throat cut is strictly an execution, but it was the only example of hanged, drawn and quartered that I could think of.

5. ‘Sophie Scholl – it’s a pretty gripping film throughout, but when you consider the guillotine used in the final scenes as Julia Jentsch’s Sophie is put to death was the same one that executed the real Sophie back in 1943, it makes it all the more poignant.

4. ‘The Passion of the Christ – if you make it through the torturous 20-minute beating scene during the second act of Mel Gibson’s biblical epic, your stomach is probably strong enough to take the eventual nailing of Jim Caviezel’s Jesus to the cross. As he was rumoured to have coughed up $40 million of his own money, Gibbo decided to save a bit of cash by using his own hands for the close-up of the nails being hammered home.

3. ‘Pierrepoint – so many to choose from here (Ruth Ellis and the luckless Timothy Evans among them), but it has to be the quickfire dispatch of 13 Nazi war criminals – including Irma Grese and the Beast of Belsen, Josef Kramer – that define the film and the efficiency of the man himself.

2. ‘Let Him Have It – the final scenes where Christopher Ecclestone’s Derek Bentley comes face to face with hangman Albert Pierrepoint (via ‘Boon’ star Michael Elphick) are seriously shocking. It’s difficult to comprehend how quick it all happens – it’s enough to shake your shoes off.

And the winner is…

The Green Mile DVD1. ‘The Green Mile – although it’s all pure fiction, the ‘Shawshank Redemption’s’ darker cousin has three electric chair executions to pick from, but the clincher has to be Eduard ‘Del’ Delacroix’s roasting at the hands of the evil Percy. Grim reaping indeed.

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9 May 1726 – Catherine Hayes

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , on May 9 by Old Sparky

Catherine HayesThat a woman would deign to kill was bad enough. But to kill a man was a heinous crime indeed in the 18th century.

For women were considered lesser mortals in that day and age, while men on the other hand were deemed productive and, therefore, more valuable and, as such, if one was killed then it was perceived as detrimental to the income of the country. And, anything that affected the Crown’s coffers was immediately seen as treason.

And so to the story of Catherine Hayes who was burned at the stake for murdering her husband in the early 18th century.

Hayes’s ways

Of course being a weak female, she was unable to act alone. She enlisted the help of two men – Thomases Billings and Wood and together they killed Thomas Hayes. Some even say that Billings may even have been Hayes’s son.

For Hayes had a past apparently – she left home at 15 and got caught up with the militia before she eventually met her husband-to-be, while working for his dad on the family farm. They married on the quiet and she persuaded him to join the army, but Hayes’s dad bought him off the army books and set him up in a house with a modest income.

London bound

Six years of quiet living followed before Hayes became bored and had a hankering to move – she persuaded her husband to set up shop in London, where he opened a lodging house and became a pawnbroker. It was a lucrative life and all may have been fine, but for his wife’s relationship with the neighbours.

According to one source, she’d fall out with the neighbours, or she’d bad mouth her husband – either way, he felt compelled to keep moving on. The couple ironically moved to Tyburn Road (now known as Oxford Street), which was where the little minx met her fiery end.

While her husband was away on business, Hayes really lived it up, so much so, that neighbours decided to inform her husband. A row ensued between the couple and it was this event that was to seal everyone’s fate.

Of course, that’s not how Hayes painted it. By her own account, while she was banged up following the crime, Hayes pleaded that she barely ate, ‘for I have been half starved ever since I was married to him’.

As a result, she was not sorry to have killed her husband – ok, so she said that ‘devilish’ thoughts may have entered her head, but ultimately she branded Thomas Hayes a selfish, abusive man. Hayes was scared of being beaten up – and that was her main motive for murder. She remained unrepentant regarding the crime, only sorry that she’d dragged two men into it too.

Penny for the guy

The accomplices took some persuasion – they bailed two or three times before they eventually succumbed and agreed to help her. Indeed, one night Hayes’s husband got drunk and beat her up – it was that abuse that was to drive Billings to agree to kill him.

Wood chipped in that he’d help for a penny. Hayes reeled him in with other reasons too. But ultimately it was Dutch courage that led to the murder – the trio were completely wasted when they did the deed.

Head first

Hayes’s husband got bladdered one night and they pounced – Billings whacked him twice on the head with a pole axe, then Wood slit his throat. But how were they going to get shot of the body? They decided to chop him up and stash him away in a chest so they could transport him out of the house.

First Wood lopped off his head, then his legs below the knee. But he was still too large for the chest, so they cut his thighs and arms off. But they needn’t have bothered, because the chest was too small for all of Thomas’s bits so they wrapped the sum of his parts up in blankets and chucked most of him in to a pond up by Marylebone, but they couldn’t risk the head being found so they deposited it into the Thames.

Pickled nut

Trouble is the tide was ebbing when they lobbed it into the river, so the head stayed put and was eventually discovered. All the authorities needed was to put a name to the face, so they washed it and stuck it on a pole outside St Margaret’s Church in Westminster. Word got around and the crowds grew but no-one gave a positive ID on the disembodied face. So they pickled it to preserve it in the vain hope that someone would come forward.

The news did provoke friends to begin asking awkward questions about husband Thomas’s whereabouts though. Hayes blagged that he was abroad in Portugal, but people saw through this, mainly because the stories didn’t stack up. She was eventually hauled in for questioning and the whole sorry story emerged.

Road to nowhere

Wood was found guilty, but died in prison of a fatal fever. Billings was also done for murder and the penalty for that was the Tyburn jig, followed by being strung up in chains for all to see. And in a twist of fate, Billings’s lifeless corpse was displayed on the crossroads at Marylebone, close to where he’d dumped Thomas Hayes’s body.

But Hayes’s crime carried an altogether more protracted penalty – if you were found guilty of treason you were burned at the stake. When Hayes heard this she lost it, pleading that she had not actually murdered her husband as she had not struck the blows. But it was too late. She’d been found guilty as charged and so she was put to death, just literally up the road from her house at Tyburn.

She was taken to the place of execution (Marble Arch as it is now known) and there she was chained to her post. Executioners were known to tie ropes round the condemned person’s neck and strangle them to prevent unnecessary suffering, but on this occasion, the executioner let go prematurely as the flames were too close to him. And so Catherine Hayes was burned alive on this day in 1726 and it took a full three hours for her body to finally turn to ash.

Also on this day

9 May 1947 – Willie Francis
9 May 1942 – Rattlesnake James
9 May 2007 – Philip Workman
9 May 2001 – Clay King Smith

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11 April 1612 – Edward Wightman

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , , on April 11 by Old Sparky

Edward WightmanEdward Wightman is famed for being the last man to be burned for heresy. He was executed for his brazen beliefs after he openly awarded the Crown with a petition outlining his religious stance.


Funnily enough he wasn’t Catholic – instead he was puritanical and his Separatist beliefs were so extreme that he was seen as a non-conformist.

What was he thinking? This was a time when Britain was in the firm grip of Protestantism and people loved it. But it hadn’t been established as the basis for the Church of England for long – maybe 50 years or so – therefore, any deviation was seen as heresy.

Needless to say, James I saw his petition as a direct challenge to his Divine right and ordered his arrest, citing Wightman as a ‘diseased sheep out of the flock’ who had ‘stubbornly and perniciously, knowingly and maliciously, and with a hardened heart, published, defended and dispersed’ his beliefs.

At stake

A 16-day trial followed at Westminster and he was sentenced to death by being burned at the stake, scheduled for four months later. Apparently he would have been executed a few weeks before this date, but just as the flames started to take shape around him, he called out. It was taken as a retraction and the flames were doused and he was untied. But retraction was the last thing Wightman was prepared to do and he was cooked again on this day in 1612 at Lichfield.

Just as an aside, some sources state that Wightman’s grandson emigrated to Rhode Island in 1655 or thereabouts and that ‘most’ Wightmans and Whitmans in America can be traced back to Eddie.

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