Archive for King

31 January 1606 – Guy Fawkes

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged, drawn & quartered with tags , , , , , , , on January 31 by Old Sparky

Guy FawkesWhile 5 November may be more memorable where Guy Fawkes is concerned, today’s the day he paid for his crime. Fawkes was hanged for his treasonous attempts to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

Fawkes was also known as ‘Guido’, or the more mundane John Johnson and was tried at Westminster Hall as a member of a group of militant Roman Catholics. This posse of plotters was accused of trying to kill James I of England and Scotland. The plan was to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5 November 1605, in an attempt to overthrow Protestant rule. Their explosive idea infamously became known as the Gunpowder Plot.

Job lot

Some of the co-conspirators were executed on the previous day. But it was old Guido’s turn on 31 January. Fawkes and the remaining cohorts were dragged to Old Palace Yard in Westminster, where they were to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, one by one.

First to go was Robert Winter’s younger brother, Thomas, followed by Ambrose Rookewood, then Robert Keyes, who, according to a local paper of the day, jumped off the scaffold. He was drawn, disembowelled and quartered nonethless.

Disembowelling knives and Fawkes

Fawkes was the last to go and was seen as the main perpertrator mainy because he would have been to one to set light to the gunpowder. However he was also the weakest, having been tortured and fallen ill. The executioner had to help him up the scaffold and he allegedly broke his neck when he was hanged, so never lived to witness the rude loss of his nether region, nor his quartering.

The hardcore among you may wish to peruse Derek Acorah’s Quest For Guy Fawkes on DVD, but let’s face it, life is too short.

Of course, if you fancy a slice of weird, Guy does features in the (I can’t make my mind up if it’s good or not) film V for Vendetta and as that has Natalie Portman in it it’s got to be worth a look.

Also on this day

31 January 1945 – Eddie Slovik
31 January 1923 – Eligiusz Niewiadomski

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30 January 1649 – Charles I

Posted in Beheaded with tags , , , , on January 30 by Old Sparky

Charles I

Charles I of England Scotland and Ireland lost his head on this day in 1649. He was condemned to death for being ‘a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation’.

Following a battle between Charles I’s supporters – the Cavaliers – and Parliament’s supporters the Roundheads, led by Oliver Cromwell, the king was captured and sent to trial accused of treason for exercising his royal right to rule without the aid of Parliament. Up to that point he had refused to be beholden to his government when he needed money so he’d just got on with it for 11 years.

Tyrannical Rex

But his rule was seen as tyranny. Charles showed a knack for angering entire sections of society. Without a parliament he needed money, so he fined the aristocracy for failing to come to his coronation. He then ressurrected archaic taxes such as ship money, while angering the Scots with his moves to impose the Book of Common Prayer in church.

War looms

Naturally the government didn’t sit back and let him get on with it. They passed laws and, having failed to resist his actions, they formed a New Model Army of Parliamentarians under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. The two factions went head to head. Following a series of civil wars, Charles’s army was defeated and he was captured and imprisoned.

Trial and retribution

Following his trial Charles was found guilty of high treason and sentneced to be executed. But long line of executioners refused to behead their monarch. Finally two people agreed on the proviso that they wore masks to conceal their identities. They were paid the kingly sum of £100 for their efforts.

Proud to the last, Charles was said to have worn a thick cotton shirt – it was January so he wouldn’t be seen to be shivering as he didn’t want the crowd to mistake him as being frightened or weak. It took just one slice of the blade to decapitate the deposed monarch.

Apparently there was a groan as the execution took place. And following his execution, some say the paying public were then permitted to dip their hankies in Charles’s blood as it was believed to be a cure-all for illnesses or wounds.

Alec Guiness donned the dodgy wig to play Charles as he squares up to Richard Harris’ Cromwell in Ken Hughes’ 1970 film “Cromwell” and although its pretty good I don’t like the look on Harris’ face after the execution scene.  I can’t work out if he’s pleased or a little but gutted…but maybe that’s the point.

Also on this day

30 January 1661 – Oliver Cromwell (posthumously)
30 January 1606 – Sir Everard Digby, Robert Winter, John Graunt and Thomas Bates

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30 January 1661 – Oliver Cromwell (posthumously)

Posted in Hanged, drawn & quartered with tags , , , , , on January 30 by Old Sparky

Oliver CromwellIn the ultimate act of vengeance, the dead corpse of Oliver Cromwell was dug up from Westminster Abbey, then hanged, drawn and quartered in 1661.

Cromwell’s body was exhumed so he could be posthumously executed for treason.

OK, so he was dead already, but this was in response for the part he’d played in overthrowing the English Crown, which, in turn, had resulted in the execution of Charles I.

Corpse killer

His decayed remains were strung up in chains a year after the son of the executed monarch was restored to the throne in 1660. Charles II ordered the execution at Tyburn on the anniversary of his father’s death to avenge the Roundhead uprising.

Collector’s item

Cromwell’s skull was then stuck on a spike and exhibited outside Westminster Abbey for the next 24 years. But it didn’t stop there. Cromwell’s head then did the rounds, and, at one point, it was sold to a man in 1814. His head was finally laid to rest in Cambridge as recently as 1960.

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30 January 1606 – Sir Everard Digby, Robert Winter, John Graunt and Thomas Bates

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged, drawn & quartered with tags , , , , , , on January 30 by Old Sparky

Four men were hanged, drawn and quartered for their part in the Gunpowder Plot. This posse of men along with others, including Guy Fawkes, collaborated in a bid to blow up parliament, in the hope of erradicating Protestantism.

Sir Everard Digby, Robert Winter, John Graunt and Thomas Bates were executed at St Paul’s just one day before their colleagues, having been found guilty of treason.

Balls of fire

According to ‘James I, the King’s Book’, they were condemned to ‘be Strangled, being hanged up by the neck between Heaven and Earth, as deemed unworthy of both, or either; as likewise, that the eyes of men may behold, and their hearts contemn him.

‘Then is he to be cut down alive, and to have his Privy parts cut off, and burnt before his face, as being unworthily begotten, and unfit to leave any generation after him. His bowels and inlayed parts taken out and burnt, who inwardly had conceived and harboured in his heart such horrible Treason.

‘After, to have his head cut off, which had imagined the mischief. And lastly, his body to be quartered, and the quarters set up in some high and eminent place, to the view and detestation of men, and to become a prey for the Fouls of the Air.’


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21 January 1793 – Louis XVI

Posted in Guillotine with tags , , , , on January 21 by Old Sparky

Louis XVI

Even royalty was not beyond the law as Louis XVI of France found out in 1793.

The French king was sent to the guillotine for treason, following the insurrection on 10 August 1792. And, with his execution came the end of total monarchy in France.


He was born Louis-Auguste de France and ruled as King until 1792. But in the grip of famine, disease, increasing poverty, spiralling inflation and a growing communist spirit, the French people turned on their monarch for living in apparent luxury. They directed their ire particularly at his Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette, supposedly because she was of foreign birth.

Prison break

The royal family were virtually imprisoned in their palace as the angry mob closed in. Storming the Bastille, they took the two reigning monarchs into custody.

Louis was tried by the National Convention for treason and found guilty. He immediately had his titles stripped from him. Known from then on as citizen Louis Capet, he lost his head in one clean swipe of the blade, aged 38, watched by a jubilant crowd.

His wife, already in the grip of cancer and TB, and the real focus for the mob’s animosity, was to follow 9 months later, following a sham of a trial, in which she was accused of sexually abusing her son.

King Louis was portrayed by Robert Morley in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette and by Jason Schwartzman in Sophia Coppola’s 2006 cleverly titled update Marie Antoinette.

Neither fine performance should be confused with the character of King Louie from The Jungle Book who was a singing cartoon ape.

Also on this day

21 January 1801 – John Fisher

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2 June 1581 – James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , on June 2 by Old Sparky

James Douglas 4th Earl of MortonWho could have seen it? That James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton would be executed by the very contraption he purchased.

Douglas was once a powerful Scot, if not the most powerful, as he was Regent to a very young James VI. The king was way too young for the Scottish throne having been made monarch in infancy, so Douglas literally babysat the throne as the fourth regent for roughly eight years, while James grew up.

Plots sicken

Why not James’s parents you may be thinking? Well his dad, Lord Darnley, was murdered (more of him later) and James’s mum, Mary Queen of Scots had previously been ousted thanks largely to her unpopular marriage choice to the slimy Earl of Bothwell. She was currently languishing in Fotheringhay Castle at Elizabeth’s pleasure – after all, the English queen couldn’t have risked having her cousin at large, as this would have surely encouraged yet another plot to overthrow her.

Thankfully, Douglas was pretty good at his job – not least because he had the backing of Elizabeth I. Yet, as was the order of the day, he made enemies along the way, mainly due to the fact that he was greedy. He managed to annoy the Church, having commandeered lands. And then there was other religious unrest. The Presbyterians were on his back too, but ultimately it was one of James I’s dad’s relatives who really stuck a spanner in proceedings.

Rod to get Stewart’s own back

Esmé Stewart, nephew to the now murdered Lord Darnley, came over from France wanting to get his own back on his uncle’s murderer. He vengefully dredged up Darley’s death and accused Douglas of killing him. That was all the ammunition his enemies needed. They latched on to this unsavoury and salacious supposition that Douglas had killed Lord Darnley and really ran with it.

Douglas admitted that Bothwell had let him in on the plan but he denied any involvement. Needless to say, that was the rod for Douglas’s back – it taken as an admission of guilt and he was sentenced to death.

Chop and change

The penalty was originally to be hanging, drawing and quartering, but a benevolent 14-year-old James VI actually stepped in to ‘reduce’ the sentence to beheading – the sentence reserved for royalty. And so James Douglas found himself beneath the very same, crude contraption he’d actually commissioned from the makers in Halifax and he was able to test-drive his purchase first-hand, when he was detached from his head on this day in 1581.

Also on this day

2 June 1903 – Gustav Rau and Willem Schmidt

Stuff you may have missed over the weekend

Karl Adolf Eichmann
Mary Dyer
Ronald Clark O’Bryan
Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria
Herbert Rowse Armstrong

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31 May 1076 – Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , on May 31 by Last Writes

‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ was never truer than in the case of our next execution. The severed head of Waltheof II is said to have completed the Lord’s Prayer, because his execution was so premature.

Out of the Norms

The fact that this Earl of Northumbria was mentioned in the ‘Domesday Book’ was very apt, for he was the last and only aristo to meet his doom formally during William I’s reign. For Britain was steeped the throes of a new era – out with the Anglo-Saxons and in with the Normans.

That makes Waltheof II one of our earliest English executions. He was famed for being the last remaining Anglo-Saxon noble alive, following their defeat by the Normans headed up by William, in the Conquest of 1066, but not for long.

Just 10 years later, Waltheof II got it in the neck for treason, having gotten off to a promising start at the beginning of Norman rule. Despite being involved in an uprising in York early on, he’d been forgiven and even had his earldom bequeathed back to him. William had him married off to his niece, although maybe that was to keep his would-be enemies close.

Early uprising

Things ticked along, but Waltheof II had made enemies in the north and when he ambushed the family and had the two eldest sons killed, some say he was stitched up in retribution. However, there is very little evidence or information to go on.

For sure, in 1075, there was an earls’ uprising and whether he was involved or not is unclear. Nevertheless he was advised to hotfoot it over to Normandy, where William was, to apologise, so maybe there was something to feel guilty about. William pretended to accept, but actually he had instructed his men to take Waltheof II in as soon as they landed back on English soil.

A head of his time

He stayed in custody for a year before being executed on St Giles Hill in Winchester. He is said to have donated his clothes to the poor before praying ahead of his beheading. As the legend goes the swordsman reckoned Waltheof was taking way too much time, so he drew his blade and took the condemned man’s head off with a clean slice. It was so quick that the head apparently kept praying even after it had been detached, so his last words were ‘…but deliver us from evil. Amen’.

It is also said that he was then chucked in a ditch before finally his body was quietly transferred to Croyland Abbey. Sadly there was a fire and the coffin was removed – and when the coffin was opened, the head had miraculously reattached itself to the rest of the corpse. Nothing short of a miracle, Waltheof II became somewhat of a cult hero in death – a martyr to his cause.

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