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27 May 1541 – Margaret Pole

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , on May 27 by Old Sparky

Margaret PoleAccuracy is all you can hope for when you’re having your head lopped off. Sadly Margaret Pole wasn’t thus blessed with a handy axeman, so several chops later and finally her head was severed on this day within the walls of the Tower of London.

Yorkie barred

For Margaret, of the royal Plantagenet bloodline, was being executed for being perhaps closer to the throne than her young, upstart second cousin Henry VIII. For her lineage was indisputably kosher – she was the very last member of the Plantagenet kings and queens. Her uncles were Edward IV and Richard III, whereas Henry VIII’s dad, AKA Henry VII had actually married into the dynasty.

Henry was descended from the house of Lancaster, which had defeated Richard III’s house of York in the War of the Roses. And while his victorious dad had married Richard’s sister Elizabeth in an apparent bid to bind the two houses, the threat of a York revival was always there. That’s why Henry’s dad had Margaret’s brother executed, plus Edward IV’s two boys, became known as the princes in the Tower, after they mysteriously disappeared.

That left the one remaining Plantagenet and, ok, so she was female and less of a threat, but, as with any royal threat, it was all too dodgy a situation for words. So, Henry did what he did best when he had a woman in the way and that was to take off her head.

Relative safety

To be fair, at first Henry was keen to keep her sweet, reinstating family titles and lands – so Lady Pole morphed into the much grander sounding Countess of Salisbury. After all, she was already a lady-in-waiting and good friend to his first wife and the two women had been getting on famously before Henry had even bagged Catherine. You see, Catherine of Aragon had actually been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur and it was during that time that Margaret had bonded with her.

Everything was fine, all ticked along until Henry’s rovingly rampant radar kicked in and honed in on Anne Boleyn. When she came on the scene, Catherine of Aragon’s stint as queen was so over and Henry appealed to his cousin for support. However, Margaret refused to lend it, naturally staying steadfastly loyal to her mate.

Reggie’s side

It was all change. What with divorce and a new church in the offing, the whole royal household, as well as the religious stance of the country, were in a state of flux. Her son, the critical Cardinal Reginald Pole then stuck his oar in, writing an inflammatory book bigging up the Catholic church from the relative safety of Italy. In it, he criticised the newly formed Church of England – which set Henry as the head of the church as opposed to the Catholic view that the pope was central to proceedings.

Well Henry was incensed. And in 1538, while he couldn’t get to her motor-mouth son, he could definitely get to Margaret and the rest of the family. He heartbreakingly removed her forcibly from her office as governess to his daughter Mary.

Naturally, Margaret was cross with her zealot of an offspring and even branded Reginald a traitor, because the repercussions of his ill-thought words landed the rest of the family in real trouble. Sir Geoffrey Pole, Henry Lord Montague, Sir Edmund Neville, the Marquis of Exeter, and Sir Nicholas Carew all got banged up in the Tower charged with treason and in one fell swoop they lost their heads. Indeed, Margaret was arrested ‘for carrying letters to the pope’ too.

Pole axed

Only then did the Cardinal understand the gravity of his misguided actions. She was taken to the Tower to await her death. Word finally came the morning of 27 May 1541 that she would die within the hour and the 67-year-old was again forcibly taken to the green area within the confines of the Tower to a private beheading reserved only for those of the royal bloodline.

Popular myth says she was chased round the block by an axe-wielding executioner, but that’s rubbish. Alright so she struggled as her neck lay exposed on the block, but who wouldn’t? As a result, the aimless executioner kept missing the mark and had to hack away, hitting her shoulder first. A few blows later and she was dead.

However, it was her final speech that was to leave a lasting influence. ‘Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’ were her departing words and they secured her on the eventual road to martyrdom. For blessed she was – in 1886 the Pope beatified her and she is currently in an orderly queue awaiting cannonisation.

Also on this day

27 May 1610 – François Ravaillac
27 May 1994 – Charles Rodman Campbell

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27 May 1610 – François Ravaillac

Posted in Death penalty, Drawn and quartered with tags , , , , on May 27 by Old Sparky

Francois RavaillacMay’s obviously a popular month to bump off world leaders. And hanging was considered way too quick for today’s candidate – a regicide no less.

For François Ravaillac had assassinated Henry IV, the king of France and a popular man by all accounts.

Vision expressed

He’d had a vision that he had to convince the king to convert Huguenots to Catholicism. Ravaillac tried three times to get an audience with Henry and failed before the next vision kicked in. This time he foresaw that Henry was going to ‘make war with the pope’.

That was it, the zealot couldn’t risk damage to his beloved religion and so he murdered the threat at source – he stabbed Henry as he passed by him in a carriage. The authorities whisked the deranged man off before an angry mob could mobilise, or he would probably have been torn to pieces.

Feeling the heat

And ironically that’s precisely what happened. They dispensed with the hanging in favour of a bout of gruesomely prolonged events that added up to a death reserved only for regicides. Parts of Ravaillac’s flesh were torn off by hot pincers before a variety of hot and boiling substances were anointed from acidic sulphur to the piece de resistance – molten lead. Then blisteringly, bubbling hot oil was poured onto the open wounds. Just to give you an idea of how hot we’re talking, you might like to know that lead melts at 327.5 °C (well over three times the boiling point of water).

So back to the actual execution and the real heavy duty killing – drawing and quartering. But drawing’s not what you’re thinking. OK, so the Brits used blades to disembowel you, but the French had a far more drawn-out method, literally. Each of his four limbs were chained to four horses, which were then encouraged to move off…in four different directions, ultimately tearing the person limb from limb. What was left was then quartered.

In the run-up to his death his bravado knew no bounds, ‘…I have no regrets at all about dying, because I’ve done what I came to do’. Shame Ravaillac hadn’t seen a vision of his own demise – maybe then he would’ve thought twice about carrying out the assassination.

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9 April 1747 – Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , on April 9 by Old Sparky

Simon Fraser, Lord LovatA Scottish toff put his neck on the block in the mid-18th century after being found guilty of treason. Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat was the last person to be executed at Tower Hill after he was sentenced for a string of crimes.

Well he wasn’t called the ‘most devious man in Scotland’ for nothing. Loyalty obviously didn’t even feature on his list of attributes – he was an opportunist, switching his support from the House of Hanover to the Stuarts depending on what was in it for him. Indeed it was in support of the Young Pretender – Charles III – that Lovat was caught.

A right Charlie

Better known as Bonny Prince Charlie, Charles represented the Stuart line and just as his father James had pitted himself against George I as the successor to the throne following the death of Anne in 17141, so Charles put himself up against George II who was struggling amid dissension with his family and in Europe.

As with James, Charles wouldn’t have got a look in because he was a confirmed Catholic, even though he would have probably been the monarch of choice from across the Channel – France, Spain and the Papal states would have all bigged him up, naturally, as fellow Catholics, had they not been wholeheartedly ensconced in the War of the Austrian Succession.

All for one

All very interesting, but what’s all this got to wily old Lovat? Well he was only interested in amassing more wealth and he did whatever he could to consolidate his lineage. He’d laid low up to this point, only interested in clawing back family lands that had been lost over time. First he’d kidnapped the widowed Lady Lovat, who’d been born to the opposing Atholl clan by birth. He then forced her into marriage as a means of cementing his bloodline and claim to the Lovat heritage. He then eventually gained back the 11th Lord Lovat title in 1733.

Georgie’s boy

He kept one step ahead of trouble throughout his life, hotfooting it over to France, then to Scotland and even London at the first sign of trouble. Miraculously though, he managed to ingratiate himself with George I, who even agreed to be godfather to Lovat’s son. But that loyalty certainly didn’t last and he continued to hedge his bets when George II ascended to the throne.

Meanwhile, the Scots were keen to support their heritage over the German House of Hanover any day. So with Europe at war, and England thus diverted, Bonnie Prince Charlie seized the opportunity in 1745.

Of course, Lovat wasn’t stupid, he didn’t steep himself in the uprising. Nevertheless, he was found guilty by association. So when the uprising failed following at battle at Culloden, and the ailing man was found stashed inside a hollow tree, even his gift of the gab couldn’t save him.

He was taken down to London, where his life of duplicity finally caught up with him. Lovat was found guilty of treason at Westminster Hall, on the basis of evidence from a man who legally should not have been able to testify. And, of course, the titles he’d devoted his life to reaping back were stripped away from him.

Lovat’s was the last execution to take place on Tower Hill and the public turned out in their droves to watch the spectacle. They had even put up viewing galleries, one of which, in days before health and safety, collapsed killing 20 spectators. But that didn’t stop events proceeding. Lovat was beheaded at the grand old age of about 70 – he is even said to have tipped the bloke who moments later was to take his head off.

Footnotes

1 As a Protestant country, England was just not interested in returning to the Catholic old days and as Anne was prepared to renounce the Papal faith, she thus became England’s preferred choice. To further establish their Protestant stance, Parliament passed the 1701 Act of Settlement, which stated that if Anne died childless, as was likely, the throne would pass to the House of Hanover. Cue Scotland, who came back with the Act of Security, so if Anne died childless, they could choose their own Scottish successor. For a time, this was the trump card…

That is until England played a blinder – they pulled the Alien Act of 1705 out of the bag, which deemed that England could impose sanctions on Scotland and the Scots would be foreigners and therefore unable to own land in England.

These culminated in England demanding that Scotland renounce the Act of Succession and unite with England. The Scots agreed, however, the situation sat uneasy with them.

They saw their chance in 1714 when Anne passed away childless. James III, Charles’s dad, had tried to gain the throne for himself, leading an uprising in 1715 followed by a pitiful excuse for one in 1719.
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ’45 uprising was aimed at continuing in his father’s footsteps by trying to realise his dad’s dream.

Also on this day

9 April 1918 – Louis Van Der Kerkhove

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18 March 1314 – Jacques de Molay

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , , on March 18 by Old Sparky

Jacques de MolayThe last man to lead the Medieval Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay from Burgundy was cooked slowly from the bottom up today in 1314.

The Frenchman was burned at the stake along with a mate for, well, we’re not really sure what for.

French fancy

Phillip IV, King of France, wanted to stop the inextricable rise of the Church as he fancied raking in all the power for himself, and the only way to do that was to target the Knight Templar.

The organisation was backed by the Catholic Church and they were tasked with guarding the route between Jerusalem and Acre – a port on the Mediterranean. They were also heavily involved with the Crusades where they’d earned enormous respect.

Dumped

But all these deeds in the name of God didn’t go unrewarded. Thanks to their patron, the knights were filthy rich and had some real clout which Phillip wanted a piece of so the scheming monarch saw to it that they were slung in jail.

In 1307, hundreds of the knights were captured and tortured to try and get them to confess to erroneous crimes but of course the Order was loyal to the last. Sadly though, their benefactor wasn’t.

Checkmate

Phillip was also working on Pope Benedict, who ultimately condemned them allowing the king to seize the knights’ assets.

Despite seven years of torture, de Molay stayed loyal and wouldn’t disclose a thing. But his silence as the head of the Templars rendered the organisation defenceless and slowly, the Knights Templar fell apart.

Slow burn

When all else failed he was tried on trumped-up charges and the prosecution engineered a confession complete with his forged signature. Naturally, he denied all knowledge of any wrong doing but was sentenced anyway, along with another knight, (some say it was Guy of Auvergne, while other sources say it was Geoffroy de Charnay) to be burned at the stake.

There was no hanging around either. The execution took place that very day when they were shipped off to the Île de la Cité in Paris where a smouldering stake awaited them. They were strapped back to back and De Molay, aged about 65-ish, even asked that his hands be left free so he could pray.

Cursed

De Molay’s last words were: ‘Let evil swiftly befall those who have wrongly condemned us – God will avenge us.’ And eerily, within a year, King Phillip was dead.

Also on this day

18 March 2003 – Louis Jones Jnr
18 March 1902 – Richard Wigley

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13 February 1542 – Catherine Howard

Posted in Beheaded with tags , , , , on February 13 by Old Sparky

Catherine HowardCatherine Howard was a bit of a goer by all accounts. But did that really mean she should lose her head on this day in 1542?

Howard was Henry VIII’s fifth wife, and it was his consort’s alleged extra-curricular love life that earned her a beheading for treason.

A bit of alright

With his voracious appetite for wives, Henry VIII had originally singled Catherine Howard out as a bit of much longed for eye candy after his arranged marriage to the plain and puritanically unsexy Anne of Cleves was annulled.

Needless to say Howard’s racy reputation failed to die down despite the sanctity of her royal marriage. Her conduct during the marriage and her infamy that preceded it all served to ensure that Henry felt cuckolded.

Off with her head

As a proud man and one not to shy away from doling out death penalties at a drop of an axe, Henry was quick to get Howard beheaded on grounds of treason.

Henry’s penultimate wife of two years was just 21 when she parted company with her head. And with that, fatefully, Catherine met the same end as her cousin…Anne Boleyn, leaving Henry free to bag his next and final spouse.

Also on this day

13 February 1942 – Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan

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