1685: Archibald Campbell

Add comment June 30th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1685, the 9th Earl of Argyll went the same way as the 8th.

We’ve addressed in these pages the travails borne by Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, whose once considerable power was overwhelmed by the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and came to an end under the blade of the Edinburgh maiden.

While imprisoned awaiting the chop, the 8th Earl composed for his much-reduced heir, also named Archibald Campbell, composed a volume titled Instructions to a son with a variety of foreshadowing maxims.

You have a great task to do, you must from the bottome climb up to the mount of Honour, a very abrupt and difficult ascent; which yet, nevertheless by observing the sure footings of some of your progenitors, and the slips of others, particu?larly those recent slidings of mine own, (for other they are not) you may at last attain the top, and by your own merit and your Princes favour, your House may be Culminant again.

If it shall so happen … have a care then of that Precipice; let no revenge or ambition blind you into destruction; you may poise your self with your wings of Honour and Greatness, but venture not, nor presume to fly.

Covet not with immoderate hast Lands, Riches, Honour, for it is seldom that men whose rash desires and designs are laid out that way, compass their full content, and for the most part meet with a destiny far other then they expected; and when they are once so disappointed, Fortune or rather Providence so much amazeth the judgment even of wise men, as in time of danger they know not what resolution is best to be taken. You will not be necessitated through the want of these three, so as to reach at them unlawfully, and endanger what you have in possession, and your self together

‘Tis folly to complain of life, more to be troubled at the end of it, by the reason we ought more to complain of our birth, that made and produced us mortal, then of our death, which will render us immortal.
To be long or short lived is no more then this, we come either sooner or later (no great choice) to our grave. He is very desirous of life, who is un?willing to dye when all the world is weary of him.

The kid did his late dad proud in the 1660s, regaining the attainted earldom and re-establishing the rank and wealth of their house. Argyll — and by this name henceforth we refer to Argyll fils — nurtured Presbyterian sympathies which told strongly against him when a failed Presbyterian rebellion touched off the fruitful-for-this-site era of the Killing Time.

From this point his position speedily eroded and his evasion of an oath of loyalty to Protestantism — when he finally took it he added his own unauthorized disclaimer, “only in as far as it is consistent with itself” — got him arrested, and a dubious charge of libeling the king was questionably stretched to compass a death sentence. That was around the end of 1681; on December 20 of that year, his daughter Sophia Lindsay visited him, accompanied by their page. When secluded in the dungeon, the page and the doomed man swapped clothes, and Argyll clattered away in servants’ livery to hiding in London safehouses and continental refuges.

Having already been taken for a traitor, this Argyll on the lam went all-in for unambiguous sedition. Ciphered communications of his were among the papers seized from Baillie of Jerviswood after the exposure of the Rye House Plot.

With the passing of King Charles II in 1685 and the long-feared succession of his Catholic brother James II, Scots in Holland mounted an invasion of their home country in an attempt to topple the government. Our man lent it both leadership and title: it’s known as Argyll’s Rising and was intended to complement/support the English Whig rising under the Duke of Monmouth.

Argyll’s expedition turned up in Scotland in May 1685 and instantly went sideways. Amid leadership conflicts and lukewarm recruitment, the rebellion collapsed. Argyll was captured by a militia who “would fain have concealed his rank, as they durst not release him; but he was recognised by their officer. He was led to Edinburgh, where he was treated with the same indignities as had formerly been the lot of Montrose. As the king had ordered him if taken to be put to death within three days, he was executed on his former iniquitous sentence (30th). He met his fate with piety and fortitude; embracing the instrument of death, he called it (in allusion to its name) the sweetest maiden he had ever kissed.”


The Last Sleep of Argyle (1860s) by Edward Matthew Ward: the man was reported to have slept so serenely on his last night on earth that he had to be awakened for execution.

The next generation of Campbell chiefs finally got the political calibration right, supporting the invasion of William and Mary to overthrow James II which elevated the Argylls to the dukedom which their heirs maintain to this day.

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1683: John Nisbet the Younger

Add comment April 14th, 2019 Headsman


Marker located at the entrance to the Burns Mall from Kilmarnock Cross. (cc) image from @mafleen.

John Nisbet was hanged on this date in 1683 for having participated four years prior in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge that shattered the Covenanter rebellion.

“Here lies John Nisbet, who was taken by Major Balfour’s party, and suffered at Kilmarnock, 14th April, 1683, for adhering to the word of God and our Covenants,” reads his grave.

Come, reader, see here pleasant Nisbet lies,
His blood doth pierce the high and lofty skies;
Kilmarnock did his latter hour perceive,
And Christ his soul to heaven did receive.
Yet bloody Torrence did his body raise,
And buried it in another place;
Saying, ‘Shall rebels lye in graves with me?
We’ll bury him where evil-doers be.’

Nisbet, we learn from Robert Wodrow, “sang the 16th Psalm, from the 5th verse to the close, with a great deal of affection and joy; and then read the 8th chapter to the Romans, and prayed again.”

When he had delivered his bible to his uncle, he made himself ready for the executioner, not expecting to get leave to say any thing to the specattors; but essaying to speak, and not being interrupted, he continued a good while in an extemporary discourse, pressing them to godliness, and recommending religion to them, from his own feeling and experience. He notices, that this is the first execution of this kind at that place, and is of the opinion, it is not like to be the last; he tells them, death is before them all, and if it were staring them in the face, as nearly as it was him at present, he doubts not there would be many awakened consciences among them; but as for himself, though death be naturally terrible, and a violent death yet more terrible, yet the sting of it is taken away, and he can say, he reckons every step of the ladder to be a step nearer heaven.

He’s not to be confused with his more famous uncle, John Nisbet of Hardhill, who suffered as a Covenanter martyr in 1685. (He surely cannot be the uncle referenced by Wodrow.) The Nesbitt Nisbet Society has more on this family’s role in the Covenanter movement.

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1685: James Algie and John Park, Paisley Covenanters

Add comment February 3rd, 2019 Headsman

From The Covenanter, vol. 5. The footnote appears in the original.


Paisley — Its Antiquities, Manufactories, Martyrs, Theological Seminary, Social and Religious Condition.

Paisley, which I visited on the 28th of September — having left Kilmarnock the day before — was once a flourishing place, and notwithstanding its adversities, still holds an important place among the manufacturing towns of Britain. It occupies the site of an old Roman camp — a ridge some two or three hundred feet high, some half-mile in length, and half as much in breadth, lying nearly north and south, steep on its western side and northern end, less so on the east, where, and on the south, with the plains at their foot, lies the body of the town, and tapering off towards the south until it is lost in the beautiful valley, extending far to the south-west: the western side still retaining its precipitate outline. From the summit of the hill — a vacant green, once the actual site of the Roman encampment — the vision ranges over a wide and varied scene, in every direction, except on the east, where it is soon arrested by spurs shot out by the great central plateau. On the west and south lie the rich plains of Renfrew and Ayr; in the far distance are seen the bare and lofty peaks of the high mountain summits of Arran, often capped with clouds: on the north and north-east, the mountains of Bute and Argyle, with the Gowrie hills. In all, eleven counties are represented in this panorama, which the venerable Professor, whose dwelling is but a few steps distant, takes great delight in exhibiting to the inquiring stranger.


Panorama of Paisley, as seen from Barshaw Park. (cc) image from the city’s community website.

Paisley is not without its objects of interest. I have already mentioned, in a previous letter, the Wallace oak and mansion, two miles distant on the south, in the quiet vale of Ellerslie. There is no doubt of their identity. The tree is, however, in the last stages of decay. The dwelling still remains — a substantial stone edifice, some forty feet in length, two stories high, with projecting wings of equal length: evidently built in times when every man’s house was literally his castle. Part of it is still inhabited. In the town itself, near the banks of the Cart, is an ancient abbey, erected, probably, in the 14th century, but most of it still in excellent preservation — indeed, a portion of it, the southern extremity of the old, double church, is still used as a place of worship; the northern portion being the only part of the abbey building that has gone entirely into ruins, enough only remaining to show its original extent and form. The other portions of the abbey, consist of ranges of high buildings, enclosing a square, these in the olden time having been occupied as the residence of the monks and their retainers — on some occasions, furnishing a temporary place of sojourn to the Kings of Scotland. In the Sounding Aisle, so called from its prolonged and rolling echoes, is a tomb, said to be of Margory Bruce, the ancestor of the fated house of Stuart. And, in the church itself, as in many of the ancient chapels and all the cathedrals, are any number of tombs and tablets, and slabs, marking the last resting-place of the great, in their day. What a mockery do most of the inscriptions appear. 1. A name — some title — and, then, “here they lie!” The oldest of these that I noticed was 1433.


Paisley Abbey. (cc) image from @ArchHist.

Leaving the abbey, we passed over to the factories. Of these, we visited but one — Kerr’s — where sewing cotton is spun and prepared for the market. It is a large establishment, employing, in all, nearly three hundred hands, two hundred and fifty of whom are females, who, when working by the day, earned about 6s. and 8d. sterling ($1,64) per week; working by the piece about 8s. and 6d. or 9d. sterling ($2,16) per week: out of this, of course, meeting all their expenses. The work is not, now, oppressive, the law having limited the time employed in factory work to, I think, twelve hours. Those that we saw appeared to be generally healthy. They were dressed very much alike, in dark dresses, sufficiently neat and comfortable, and manifested no want of cheerfulness. I made inquiry, however, and found that spitting of blood was not at all uncommon, and do not doubt that in many instances close confinement, in a heated atmosphere — many of them, moreover, sitting at their work — is followed by the very worst consequences as to health.*

Paisley had its martyrs. James Algie and John Park, I quote from Dr. Symington,

who were executed at the market cross, Feb. 3d, 1685; and were ignominiously buried in the Gallow-green. On the enlargement of the town some fifty years ago, their remains were exhumed, and transferred, most respectfully, to a new burying ground in West Broomlands, which had recently been laid off in the view of erecting a new parish and a parish church to accommodate the increasing population. The scheme of a new erection was not carried into effect, and, after a few interments, the ground was abandoned as a place of burial, went into neglect, and became nearly obscured by surrounding buildings. The inscription on the slab at the graves had become, by time and weather, nearly illegible. A few friends, sympathizing with similar movements in other parts of the country, suggested the erection of a simple and durable monument; and the suggestion was promptly and liberally responded to, and funds realized for carrying it into effect. A chaste and elegant obelisk is now erected on the spot where the ashes of the Martyrs repose. On the east side of the pedestal is engraved the original epitaph:

Here lie the corpses of James Algie and John Park, who suffered at the cross of Paisley, for refusing the oath of Abjuration.

February 3d, 1685.

Stay, passenger, as thou go’st by,
And take a look where these do lie,
Who for the love they bare to truth,
Were deprived of their life and youth;
Tho’ laws made then caus’d many die,
Judges and ‘sizers were not free,
He that to them did these delate,
The greater count he hath to make,
Yet no excuse to them can be;
At Ten condemned, at Two to die,
So cruel did their rage become,
To stop their mouth caus’d beat the drum;
This may a standing witness be
‘Twixt Presbyt’ry and Prelacy.

On the north side of the pedestal is an inscription stating the time and circumstances of the removal of the remains from the Gallowgreen.

The stone containing the Epitaph, transcribed on this monument, was erected over the grave in the Gallow-green, the place of common execution; and on occasion of the grounds being built upon, it was removed near to this spot along with the remains of the Martyrs, by order of the Magistrates,

JOHN STORIE, JOHN PATISON, and JOHN COCHRANE.
MDCCLXXIX

On the south side is the following inscription:

ERECTED

By the contributions of Christians of different denominations in and about Paisley, to renew and perpetuate a memorial of the respect and gratitude with which posterity still cherish the memory of the Martyrs of Scotland.

MDCCCXXXV

And on the west side are inscribed the following truthful and beautiful lines from Cowper:

Their blood is shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim,
Our claim to feed upon immortal truth,
To walk with God, to be divinely free,
To soar and to anticipate the skies.
Yet few remember them. They lived unknown,
Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chas’d them up to heaven.

The sequel is remarkable. We again use the Dr.’s language:

During the recent movements in the extension of church accommodation an elegant structure was erected, in the immediate vicinity of the tomb, having a burying-ground attached to it, and appropriately designated Martyr’s Church. The graves of the two martyrs, though adjacent, were not within the boundaries of the church-yard, and the obelisk stood outside of the wall. The plan, however, of enclosing extensive grounds in the neighbourhood for a new and spacious cemetery was formed, and the ground where the obelisk stood came in course to be included, and the remains, formerly buried in ignominy, now lie in one of the finest burying-places in the country; the erection now marking the spot forming one of its most interesting objects.

* Paisley is not now in a flourishing state. There has been a gradual decline, I was told, for twenty-five years past.

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1685: Elizabeth Gaunt, for refuge

Add comment October 23rd, 2018 Thomas Babington Macaulay

(Thanks to Thomas Babington Macaulay for the guest post on “the blackest [case] which disgraced the sessions” prosecuting the Rye House Plot to kidnap and murder King Charles II and his Catholic brother soon-to-be-heir James. It originally appeared in Macaulay’s History of England. -ed.)

Among the persons concerned in the Rye House plot was a man named James Burton. By his own confession he had been present when the design of assassination was discussed by his accomplices.

When the conspiracy was detected, a reward was offered for his apprehension. He was saved from death by an ancient matron of the Baptist persuasion, named Elizabeth Gaunt.

This woman, with the peculiar manners and phraseology which then distinguished her sect, had a large charity. Her life was passed in relieving the unhappy of all religious denominations, and she was well known as a constant visitor of the gaols.

Her political and theological opinions, as well as her compassionate disposition, led her to do everything in her power for Burton. She procured a boat which took him to Gravesend, where he got on board of a ship bound for Amsterdam. At the moment of parting she put into his hand a sum of money which, for her means, was very large.

Burton, after living some time in exile, returned to England with Monmouth, fought at Sedgemoor, fled to London, and took refuge in the house of John Fernley, a barber in Whitechapel.

Fernley was very poor. He was besieged by creditors. He knew that a reward of a hundred pounds had been offered by the government for the apprehension of Burton. But the honest man was incapable of betraying one who, in extreme peril, had come under the shadow of his roof.

Unhappily it was soon noised abroad that the anger of James was more strongly excited against those who harboured rebels than against the rebels themselves. He had publicly declared that of all forms of treason the hiding of traitors from his vengeance was the most unpardonable. Burton knew this. He delivered himself up to the government; and he gave information against Fernley and Elizabeth Gaunt.

They were brought to trial. The villain whose life they had preserved had the heart and the forehead to appear as the principal witness against them.

They were convicted. Fernley was sentenced to the gallows, Elizabeth Gaunt to the stake. Even after all the horrors of that year, many thought it impossible that these judgments should be carried into execution. But the King was without pity. Fernley was hanged. Elizabeth Gaunt was burned alive at Tyburn on the same day on which Cornish suffered death in Cheapside.

She left a paper written, indeed, in no graceful style, yet such as was read by many thousands with compassion and horror. “My fault,” she said, “was one which a prince might well have forgiven. I did but relieve a poor family; and lo! I must die for it.”

She complained of the insolence of the judges, of the ferocity of the gaoler, and of the tyranny of him, the great one of all, to whose pleasure she and so many other victims had been sacrificed. In so far as they had injured herself, she forgave them: but, in that they were implacable enemies of that good cause which would yet revive and flourish, she left them to the judgment of the King of Kings.

To the last she preserved a tranquil courage, which reminded the spectators of the most heroic deaths of which they had read in Fox. William Penn, for whom exhibitions which humane men generally avoid seem to have had a strong attraction, hastened from Cheapside, where he had seen Cornish hanged, to Tyburn, in order to see Elizabeth Gaunt burned. He afterwards related that, when she calmly disposed the straw about her in such a manner as to shorten her sufferings, all the bystanders burst into tears.

It was much noticed that, while the foulest judicial murder which had disgraced even those times was perpetrating, a tempest burst forth, such as had not been known since that great hurricane which had raged round the deathbed of Oliver. The oppressed Puritans reckoned up, not without a gloomy satisfaction the houses which had been blown down, and the ships which had been cast away, and derived some consolation from thinking that heaven was bearing awful testimony against the iniquity which afflicted the earth. Since that terrible day no woman has suffered death in England for any political offence.


Newgate, 22d of Octob. 1685.

Mrs. Gaunt’s Speech, written the Day before her Sufferings.

Not knowing whether I should be suffered or able, because of Weaknesses that are upon me through my hard and close Imprisonment, to speak at the Place of Execution; I writ these few Lines to signifie, That I am well reconciled to the Way of my God towards me, though it be in Ways I looked not for; and by Terrible Things, yet in Righteousness; having given me Life, he ought to have the disposing of it, when and how he pleases to call for it; and I desire to offer up my AH to him, it being but my reasonable Service; and also the first Terms that Jesus Christ offers, that he that will be his Disciple, must forsake all, and follow all; and therefore let none think hard, or be discouraged at what hath happened at me; for he doth nothing without Cause, in all he hath done to us, he being holy in all his Ways, and righteous in all his Works; and ’tis but my Lot in common with poor desolate Sion at this Day.

Neither do I find in my Heart the least Regret for what I have done in the Service of my Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in succouring and securing any of his poor Sufferers, that have shewed Favour to his righteous Cause: Which Cause, though now it be fallen and trampled upon, as if it had not been anointed, yet it shall revive, and God will plead it at another Rate than ever he hath done yet, and reckon with all its Opposers and malicious Haters; and therefore let all that love and fear him, not omit the least Duty that comes to Hand, or lyes before them, knowing that now it hath need of them, and expects they shall serve him.

And I desire to bless his holy Name, that he hath made me useful in my Generation to the Comfort and Relief of many Desolate Ones, and the Blessing of those that are ready to perish has come upon me, and being helpt to make the Heart of the Widow to sing. And I bless his holy Name, that in all this, together with what I was charged with, I can approve my Heart to him, that I have done His Will; tho’ it does cross Man’s Will, and the Scriptures that satisfie me are. Isaiah 16. 4, Hide the Outcasts, betray not him that wandereth. And Obad. 13 14, Thou shouldst not have.given up those of his that did escape in the Day of his Distress.

But man says, You shall give them up, or you shall die for it. Now who to obey, judge ye.

So that I have Cause to rejoyce and be exceeding glad, in that I suffer for Righteousness Sake, and that I am accounted worthy to suffer for Well-doing, and that God has accepted any Service from me, which has been done in Sincerity, tho’ mixed with manifold Infirmities, which he hath been pleased for Christ’s Sake to cover and forgive.

And now as concerning my Fact, as it is called, alas it was but a little one, and might well become a Prince to forgive; but he that shews no Mercy, shall find none: And I may say of it in the Language of Jonathan, I did but taste a little Honey, and lo I must die for it. I did but relieve an unworthy, poor, distressed Family, and lo I must die for it.

Well, I desire in the Lamb-like Gospel Spirit to forgive all that are concerned, and to say, Lord, lay it not to their Charge; but I fear he will not: Nay, I believe when he comes to make Inquisition for Blood, it will be found at the Door of the furious Judge; who, because I could not remember Things through my Dauntedness at Burton’s Wife’s and Daughter’s Vileness, and my Ignorance, took Advantage thereat, and would not hear me, when I had called to Mind that which I am sure would have invalidated their Evidence; tho’ he granted something of the same Nature to another, yet denied it to me.

My Blood will also be found at the Door of the unrighteous Jury, who found me Guilty upon the single Oath of an Out-lawed Man; for there was none but his Oath about the Money, who is no legal Witness, though he be pardoned, his Out-lawry not being’ recalled; and also the Law requires two Witnesses in Point of Life: And then about my going with him to the Place mentioned, ’twas by his own Words, before he was Out-lawed, for ’twas two Months after his absconding; and tho’ in a Proclamation, yet not High Treason, as I have heard; so that I am clearly murdered by you.

And also Bloody Mr. A. who has so insatiably hunted after my Life; and though it is no Profit to him, through the ill Will he bore me, left no Stone unturned, as I have Ground to believe, till he brought it to this; and shewed Favour to Burton, who ought to have died for his own Fault, and not bought his own Life with mine; and Capt. R. who is cruel and severe to all under my Circumstances, and did at that Time, without all mercy or Pity, hasten my Sentence, and held up my Hand, that it might be given; all which, together with the Great One of all, by whose Power all these, and a Multitude more of Cruelties are done, I do heartily and freely forgive, as against me; but as it is done in an implacable Mind against the Lord Christ, and his righteous Cause and Followers, I leave it to him who is the Avenger of all such Wrongs, who will tread upon Princes as upon Mortar, and be terrible to the Kings of the Earth: And know this also, that though ye are seemingly fixt, and because of the Power in your Hand, are writing out your Violence, and dealing with a despiteful Hand, because of the old and new Hatred; by impoverishing and every Way distressing of those you have got under you; yet unless you can secure Jesus Christ, and all his Holy Angels, you shall never do your Business, nor your Hands accomplish your Enterprizes; for he will be upon you ere you are aware; and therefore, O that you would be wise, instructed and learn, is the Desire of her that finds no Mercy from you,

Elizabeth Gaunt.

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1682: Ivan Khovansky

Add comment September 17th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1682, the boyar Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky went from being the power behind the throne to one of the skulls under it.

A veteran military commander, Khovansky (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) became a key figure in the months after the death of Tsar Feodor III of Russia. This perilous political moment left the throne in the hands of two underage half-brothers overseen by a female regent.

With benefit of hindsight we know that 10-year-old (in 1682) Peter will emerge from this troika to become the mighty Tsar Peter the Great. In 1682, it was anybody’s guess whether any of these dubious prospective autocrats might survive at all.

Peter in particular had cause to fear for his life in May 1682 when the Streltsy, a hereditary guard of Moscow musketeers, bloodily rebelled in favor of his co-heir’s privileges and against his own, rampaging through the Kremlin murdering princes in Peter’s circle. And at the head of these furies stood Khovansky.

Many years later, Peter would revenge himself upon the Streltsy for this horror but in the moment it carried the day, incidentally also carrying Khovansky to a preeminent position in the state.

But he was pitted almost immediately against his erstwhile patron and ally, the regent Sophia Alekseyevna.

Even though the Streltsy rebellion had been conducted on Sophia’s behalf, she could see as well as the next tsar the perils of embracing these latter-day praetorians‘ authority to remake the government by force … and the Streltsy made sure to remind her of it almost immediately when the “Old Believer” movement that predominated among its ranks started raising complaints about Sophia’s religious accommodations.*

Fearing an overmighty nobleman at the head of a treasonable host — and Khovansky has been suspected by both his contemporaries and posterity of coveting the regency for himself — Sophia and the young co-tsars briefly fled Moscow “because we could not tolerate the many offences, unlawful and gross actions and violations committed by criminals and traitors.” Meanwhile she maneuvered adroitly to isolate him politically and had the boyar Duma vote his attainder.

His fate was sealed by the discovery of an anonymous (probably fabricated) letter of denunciation. On 17 September, her own name day, Sophia succeeded in luring Ivan Khovansky and his son Ivan to the royal summer residence at Vozdvizhenskoe outside Moscow. The charges against them centred on their ‘evil designs upon the health and authority of the great sovereigns’ which involved no less than plotting to use the strel’tsy to kill the tsars, Tsaritsa Natalia, Sophia and the patriarch, then to raise rebellion all over Moscow and snatch the throne. The lesser charges included association with ‘accursed schismatics’, embezzlement, dereliction of military duty, and insulting the boyars. The charges were full of inconsistencies and illogicalities, but their sheer weight sealed the Khovanskys’ fate and Prince Ivan and his son were beheaded on the spot … The strel’tsy were forced to swear an oath of loyalty based on a set of conditions, the final clause of which threatened death to anyone who ‘speaks approvingly of the deeds of late, or boasts of committing murder or makes up phrases inciting rebellion as before, or stirs up people to commit criminal acts.’ (Source)

He’s the subject of the Mussorgsky opera Khovanshchina.

* Old Believers wanted a rollback of religious reforms decreed in recent years; Sophia said no dice. Once Peter the Great took over, Sophia and Old Believers alike would end up in the same boat.

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1681: Donald Cargill, Covenanter rebel

Add comment July 27th, 2018 Headsman

Scottish Covenanter Donald Cargill ascended his Edinburgh gallows on this date in 1681 with the undaunted last words, “The Lord knows I go on this ladder with less fear and perturbation of mind, than ever I entered the pulpit to preach.”

This Cameronian radical had been a fugitive for many years, ever since he darkened a thanksgiving service for King Charles II’s restoration by voicing from the pulpit of his Glasgow parish what many feared in their hearts: that Presbyterians were about to get the rough end of the restoration pineapple.

We are not come here to keep this day upon the account for which others keep it. We thought once to have blessed the day wherein the king came home again, but now we think we shall have reason to curse it; and if any of you come here in order to the solemnising of this day, we desire you to remove.

That was the end of Cargill’s career as a licensed preacher. His remaining years were illicit services, ducking arrests, and a flight to the Netherlands; he was wounded in service of the Covenanter cause at the 1679 Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Back in Scotland by 1680, Cargill’s Queensferry Declaration* dared an open case for rebellion in pursuit of “the overthrow of the kingdom of darkness, and whatever is contrary to the kingdom of Christ,” for

now it cannot be called a government, but a lustful rage, exercised with as little right reason, and more cruelty than beasts; and they themselves can no more be called governors, but public grassators, and public judgements, which all ought to set themselves against, as they would do against pestilence, sword and famine raging among them.

The grassators finally got him the following year.

There’s a short biography of our man, The Life of Donald Cargill, available in the public domain which remarks (discount accordingly for hagiographical perspective), that Cargill was memorialized by an associate as

affectionate, affable, and tender-hearted to all such as he thought had anything of the image of God in them, sober and temperate in his diet, saying commonly, ‘It was well won that was won off the flesh,’ generous, liberal, and most charitable to the poor; a great hater of covetousness, a frequent visitor of the sick; much alone, loving to be retired, but when about his Master’s public work, laying hold of every opportunity to edify; in conversation still dropping what might minister grace to the hearers. His countenance was edifying to beholders; often sighing with deep groans; preaching in season and out of season upon all hazards; ever the same in judgment and practice. From his youth he was much given to the duty of secret prayer for whole nights together wherein it was observed that, both in secret and in families, he always sat straight upon his kneesk with his hands lifted up; and in the posturel as some took notice, he died with the rope about his neck.

* The thrust of this militant manifesto is similar to the Sanquhar Declaration issued by Cargill’s ally Richard Cameron, also in 1680.

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1683: Two lynched during the Ottoman siege of Vienna

Add comment July 14th, 2018 Headsman

Our “execution” this date is of the mob justice variety — said mob being panicked Viennese bracing for Ottoman investiture.

As is generally the case one has many ways to read this particular lynching; at least one victim has even been situated as a trans martyr. John Stoye in his The Siege of Vienna: The Last Great Trial between Cross & Crescent gives us the thread of causation, and it turns out that these two unfortunates owed their death to Vienna’s urban planning.

The military architecture of this period was designed to keep the besieger at a distance as long as possible. The ground in front of the main defences would be cleared of buildings, and even levelled — this was the ‘glacis’; along the outer rim or ‘counterscarp’ of the moat a well-protected walk, the covered way, was constructed — usually of timber spars and palisades — from which detachments of the garrison could command with their fire the open ground in front of them; and the covered way had to be laid out so that they could command it from a number of angles … Attackers on the glacis, those who reached the counterscarp, those even who got as far as the main wall, were all exposed to fire from artillery and marksmen on the bastions …

Clamped within the walls but expanding in numbers, the citizens of Vienna had tried to build upwards. They added an extra storey to some 400 out of 1,100 houses in little more than a century. But inevitably the suburbs also grew, spreading out into the countryside — and in towards the city. By 1680 there were large settlements in Leopoldstadt on the Prater island, by the right bank of the Wien on the east, round the hamlets of Wieden and St Ulrich south and south-west, and on the western side. Particularly here the new building approached very close to the fortifications. The government had over and over again ordered the demolition of dwellings within a given distance of the walls, but to little effect. If a maximum estimate of Vienna’s total population brings it to nearly 100,000 people, a sizeable proportion must have lived in these suburbs, which would in due course give accommodation and protection to a besieging army.

The foremost Ottoman raiders now appeared, and in the distance the smoke of burning villages in the neighbourhood rose skywards. [Vienna military governor Count Ernst Rudiger von] Starhemberg did not dare delay in performing one of his most disagreeable duties: the speedy and forcible clearing of the glacis. Since earlier demolition orders had not been obeyed, he began — on 13 July — to burn down everything in the area outside the counterscarp which would obviously hamper the garrison. Most of all he wanted to clear the ground west of the city, where suburbs came closest to the moat. More smoke rose skywards. The sparks flew. They flew over the walls as far as the roof of the Schotten monastery by the Schottengate, where a fire broke out in the afternoon of Wednesday, the 14th; and it almost altered the course of history. The wind blew sparks against the neighbouring buildings, an inn, and from the inn to a wall of the Arsenal, where supplies of every kind were stored, including 1,800 barrels of powder. Nearby, other powder magazines adjoined the New-gate. If the defence-works here were seriously damaged by explosion, or the stores lost, resistance to the Turks was hardly thinkable. The flames moved along a wooden gallery into the Arsenal. Townsmen and soldiers gathered, there was a muddle about keys which could not be found, but soldiers broke through a door and cleared the points of greatest danger. A hysterical mob, looking on, smelt treason at once and lynched two suspects, a poor lunatic and a boy wearing woman’s clothes. It also destroyed the baggage which an inoffensive mining official from Hungary, then in Vienna, was trying to get out of a second inn near the Arsenal; and it panicked at the sight of a flag flying unaccountably from a roof close to the fire, fearing some kind of a signal to the enemy. More effectively, the wind then veered. Flames swept towards and into aristocratic properties on the other side, away from the Arsenal, and proceeded to burn out the Auersperg palace where the ruins went on smouldering for days. The crisis had passed before the arrival of the Turks; but the danger of yet more fires, set off by Turkish bombs or by traitors and spies inside the walls, was to be a constant nightmare in Vienna later on.

Despite the nightmare, Vienna — scorched glacis, crazed mobs, and all — withstood the siege. It was indeed the siege’s Turkish military commander who was executed for his command failure before the year was out, after failing to complete the conquest.

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1681: Archbishop Oliver Plunkett, the last Catholic martyr in Great Britain

Add comment July 1st, 2018 Headsman

Archbishop Oliver Plunkett earned the last Catholic martyr’s crown in Britain on this date in 1681.*

Product of County Meath blood and Italian seminary, Plunkett had been back floating around Ireland as its chief prelate since 1670. In this decade, the English-imposed laws burdening Catholics had been relaxed; Plunkett was able to minister his flock, openly at first and after 1673 as a fugitive whom Irish authorities did not much wish to pursue.

Plunkett’s safety speedily expired with the emergence in England of the Popish Plot, a security panic catalyzed like its modern-day analogues by equal parts bad faith and malice.

The concoctions of an opportunistic fabulist caused the English populace to become convinced in 1678 that a vast and treasonable Catholic conspiracy menaced the land; in its day, it was a delusion held so widely and deeply as to cow into silence and compliance all skeptics, even King Charles himself. Charles’s Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, the Earl of Essex, cynically leaned into the hysteria by whipping fears of a Plunkett-hatched invasion of Ireland by the French, although he well knew that Plunkett was “of a … peaceable temper & … comforable to ye Government.”

Plunkett spent months in hiding, refusing to flee Ireland, until he was finally arrested in December 1679. After proceedings in Ireland collapsed, the prelate was moved to London for a more manageable show trial, the entire transcript of which can be perused here.

In it, the Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis Pemberton chastises Plunkett for soliciting time to collect his witnesses, and concludes with a denunciation of the enemy religion that would not look far out fo place in many a present-day comments section.

truly yours is Treason of the highest Nature, ’tis a Treason in truth against God and your King, and the Country where you lived. You have done as much as you could to dishonour God in this Case; for the Bottom of your Treason was, your setting up your false Religion, than which there is not any Thing more displeasing to God, or more pernicious to Mankind in the World. A Religion that is ten Times worse than all the Heathenish Superstitions; the most dishonourable and derogatory to God and his Glory, of all Religions or pretended Religions whatsoever, for it undertakes to dispense with God’s Laws, and to pardon the Breach of them. So that certainly a greater Crime there cannot be committed against God, than for a Man to endeavour the Propagation of that Religion; but you to effect this, have designed the Death of our lawful Prince and King: And then your design of Blood in the Kingdom where you lived, to set all together by the Ears, to destroy poor innocent People, to prostitute their Lives and Liberties, and all that is dear to them, to the Tyranny of Rome and France.

Now tormented that his opportunistic fear-mongering was actually going to lay the archbishop in his grave, Essex implored the Catholic-sympathetic King Charles to spare Plunkett. “Then, my lord, be his blood on your own conscience,” snapped Charles, politically constrained from a beneficence he would have dearly loved to grant. “You could have saved him but would not, I would save him and dare not.”

On the first of July, he was drawn to Tyburn (a stained glass depiction of it can be found in this post), where he was hanged and quartered. (The strange Anglo-Irish plotter Edward Fitzharris preceded Plunkett on the scaffold, as an undercard attraction.) “He won more credit and repute, as well for himself as for his country, by one hour of suffering, than he could have acquired perhaps by hundreds of years of life,” one observer wrote.

This might very well be so. Aside from being the last Catholic martyr in the Isles, Plunkett is among the most warmly remembered, as evidenced by his recent remit as the patron saint of peace and reconciliation in post-Troubles Ireland — not to mention the loving preservation of his relics at St. Peter’s cathedral in Drogheda.

Readers might enjoy this 68-minute lecture on Plunkett’s life and times.


St. Oliver Plunkett’s head preserved in a shrine at Drogheda, Ireland. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

* July 1 by the Julian calendar still then employed in England; by the Gregorian calendar adopted in most Catholic countries at this point, the date was July 11 — and some Catholic primary sources use the latter date.

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1685: Richard Rumbold, owner of the Rye House

Add comment June 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1685, Roundhead militant Richard Rumbold — known affectionately to his comrades from the English Civil War as “Hannibal”, since he shared with the great Carthaginian general the distinction of an eye lost on campaign — was beheaded at Edinburgh‘s Mercat Cross.


J.M.W. Turner watercolor of the Rye House circa 1793.

Rumbold was the owner of the Rye House in Hertfordshire, the manor which in the 1680s would become famous as a regicidal adjective: the titular epicenter of the Rye House Plot. Hannibal Rumbold had intended to station a force of armed men on his grounds with the intent to kidnap/assassinate King Charles II and his Catholic brother and heir presumptive, James as they returned to London from horse races at Newmarket. When fire struck Newmarket, the royal party’s plans changed and the plot never came off … but it was discovered some weeks later and yielded an ample harvest of heads. Rumbold escaped to the continent for a time but was none repentant about it when taken, saying “he did not neither durst repent for it, but on the contrair that if all the hair of his head were men, he would venture them all for the cause.”

In this instance, it also yielded some edifying scaffold oratory, and this man’s parting sentiment that “this is a deluded generation, veiled with ignorance … for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him” was of interest to British Whigs and American revolutionaries a century later. It plays much better lo these many years later with ellipsis in place of the “popery” stuff which occurs between, but judge for thyself: here follow Rumbold’s erudite owns in context via an open source volume which has the address titled “Against Booted and Spurred Privilege”

Gentlemen and Brethren: —

It is for all men that come into the world once to die; and after death the judgment! And since death is a debt that all of us must pay, it is but a matter of small moment what way it be done. Seeing the Lord is pleased in this manner to take me to himself, I confess, something hard to flesh and blood, yet blessed be his name, who hath made me not only willing, but thankful for his honoring me to lay down the life he gave, for his name; in which, were every hair in this head and beard of mine a life, I should joyfully sacrifice them for it, as I do this. Providence having brought me hither, I think it most necessary to clear myself of some aspersions laid on my name; and, first, that I should have had so horrid an intention of destroying the King and his brother … It was also laid to my charge that I was antimonarchical. It was ever my thoughts that kingly government was the best of all where justly executed; I mean, such as it was by our ancient laws; — that is, a King, and a legal, free-chosen Parliament, — the King having, as I conceive, power enough to make him great; the people also as much property as to make them happy; they being, as it were, contracted to one another! And who will deny me that this was not the justly-constituted government of our nation? How absurd is it, then, for men of sense to maintain that though the one party of his contract breaketh all conditions, the other should be obliged to perform their part? No; this error is contrary to the law of God, the law of nations, and the law of reason. But as pride hath been the bait the devil hath caught most by ever since the creation, so it continues to this day with us. Pride caused our first parents to fall from the blessed state wherein they were created, — they aiming to be higher and wiser than God allowed, which brought an everlasting curse on them and their posterity. It was pride caused God to drown the old world. And it was Nimrod‘s pride in building Babel that caused that heavy curse of division of tongues to be spread among us, as it is at this day, one of the greatest afflictions the Church of God groaneth under, that there should be so many divisions during their pilgrimage here; but this is their comfort that the day draweth near where, as there is but one shepherd, there shall be but one sheepfold. It was, therefore, in the defense of this party, in their just rights and liberties, against popery and slavery —

[Being here interrupted by drum beating, he said that they need not trouble themselves, for he should say no more of his mind on that subject, since they were so disingenuous as to interrupt a dying man. He then continued: –]

I die this day in the defense of the ancient laws and liberties of these nations; and though God, for reasons best known to himself, hath not seen it fit to honor us, as to make us the instruments for the deliverance of his people, yet as I have lived, so I die in the faith that he will speedily arise for the deliverance of his Church and people. And I desire of all you to prepare for this with speed. I may say this is a deluded generation, veiled with ignorance, that though popery and slavery be riding in upon them, do not perceive it; though I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him; not but that I am well satisfied that God hath wisely ordered different stations for men in the world, as I have already said; kings having as much power as to make them great and the people as much property as to make them happy. And to conclude, I shall only add my wishes for the salvation of all men who were created for that end.

After hanging, they quartered his parts and pinned them up as a warning.

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1680: William Howard, Viscount Stafford

Add comment December 29th, 2017 David Hume

(Thanks to Scottish Enlightenment titan David Hume for the guest post on William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford — a Catholic peer who fell victim to the hysteria of Titus Oates‘s “Popish Plot”. It takes some time to build into the execution itself, since Hume in his History of England narratively locates it in the proto-Whig party’s frustrated parliamentary efforts to exclude from the succession the king’s Roman Catholic brother, the eventual King James II who at this time was the Duke of York. -ed.)

Besides friendship for his brother, and a regard to the right of succession, there were many strong reasons which had determined Charles to persevere in opposing the exclusion. All the royalists and the devotees to the church, that party by which alone monarchy was supported, regarded the right of succession as inviolable; and if abandoned by the king in so capital an article, it was to be feared that they would, in their turn, desert his cause, and deliver him over to the pretensions and usurpations of the country party. The country party, or the whigs, as they were called, if they did not still retain some propensity towards a republic, were at least affected with a violent jealousy of regal power; and it was equally to be dreaded that, being enraged with past opposition, and animated by present success, they would, if they prevailed in this pretension, be willing, as well as able, to reduce the prerogative within very narrow limits.

All menaces, therefore, all promises were again employed against the king’s resolution: he never would be prevailed on to desert his friends, and put himself into the hands of his enemies. And having voluntarily made such important concessions, and tendered, over and over again, such strong limitations, he was well pleased to find them rejected by the obstinacy of the Commons; and hoped that, after the spirit of opposition had spent itself in fruitless violence, the time would come, when he might safely appeal against his Parliament to his people.

So much were the popular leaders determined to carry matters to extremities, that in less than a week after the commencement of the session, a motion was made for bringing in an exclusion bill, and a committee was appointed for that purpose. This bill differed in nothing from the former, but in two articles, which showed still an increase of zeal in the Commons: the bill was to be read to the people twice a year in all the churches of the kingdom, and every one who should support the duke’s title was rendered incapable of receiving a pardon but by act of Parliament.

The debates were carried on with great violence on both sides. The bill was defended by Sir William Jones, who had now resigned his office of attorney-general, by Lord Russel, by Sir Francis Winnington, Sir Harry Capel, Sir William Pulteney, by Colonel Titus, Treby, Hambden, Montague. It was opposed by Sir Leoline Jenkins, secretary of state, Sir John Ernley, chancellor of the exchequer, by Hyde, Seymour, Temple. The arguments transmitted to us may be reduced to the following topics.

In every government, said the exclusionists, there is somewhere an authority absolute and supreme; nor can any determination, how unusual soever, which receives the sanction of the legislature, admit afterwards of dispute or control. The liberty of a constitution, so far from diminishing this absolute power, seems rather to add force to it, and to give it greater influence over the people. The more members of the state concur in any legislative decision, and the more free their voice, the less likelihood is there that any opposition will be made to those measures which receive the final sanction of their authority. In England, the legislative power is lodged in King, Lords, and Commons, which comprehend every order of the community: and there is no pretext for exempting any circumstance of government, not even the succession of the crown, from so full and decisive a jurisdiction. Even express declarations have, in this particular, been made of parliamentary authority: instances have occurred where it has been exerted: and though prudential reasons may justly be alleged why such innovations should not be attempted but on extraordinary occasions, the power and right are for ever vested in the community. But if any occasion can be deemed extraordinary, if any emergence can require unusual expedients, it is the present; when the heir to the crown has renounced the religion of the state, and has zealously embraced a faith totally hostile and incompatible. A prince of that communion can never put trust in a people so prejudiced against him: the people must be equally diffident of such a prince: foreign and destructive alliances will seem to one the only protection of his throne: perpetual jealousy, opposition, faction, even insurrections will be employed by the other as the sole securities for their liberty and religion. Though theological principles, when set in opposition to passions, have often small influence on mankind in general, still less on princes; yet when they become symbols of faction, and marks of party distinctions, they concur with one of the strongest passions in the human frame, and are then capable of carrying men to the greatest extremities. Notwithstanding the better judgment and milder disposition of the king, how much has the influence of the duke already disturbed the tenor of government? how often engaged the nation into meaures totally destructive of their foreign interests and honour, of their domestic repose and tranquillity? The more the absurdity and incredibility of the popish plot are insisted on, the stronger reason it affords for the exclusion of the duke; since the universal belief of it discovers the extreme antipathy of the nation to his religion, and the utter impossibility of ever bringing them to acquiesce peaceably under the dominion of such a sovereign. The prince, finding himself in so perilous a situation, must seek for security by desperate remedies, and by totally subduing the privileges of a nation which had betrayed such hostile dispositions towards himself, and towards every thing which he deems the most sacred. It is in vain to propose limitations and expedients. Whatever share of authority is left in the duke’s hands, will be employed to the destruction of the nation; and even the additional restraints, by discovering the public diffidence and aversion, will serve him as incitements to put himself in a condition entirely superior and independent. And as the laws of England still make resistance treason, and neither do nor can admit of any positive exceptions; what folly to leave the kingdom in so perilous and absurd a situation, where the greatest virtue will be exposed to the most severe proscription, and where the laws can only be saved by expedients, which these same laws have declared the highest crime and enormity.

The court party reasoned in an opposite manner. An authority, they said, wholly absolute and uncontrollable is a mere chimera, and is nowhere to be found in any human institutions. All government is founded on opinion and a sense of duty; and wherever the supreme magistrate, by any law or positive prescription, shocks an opinion regarded as fundamental, and established with a firmness equal to that of his own authority, he subverts the principle by which he himself is established, and can no longer hope for obedience. In European monarchies, the right of succession is justly esteemed a fundamental; and even though the whole legislature be vested in a single person, it would never be permitted him, by an edict, to disinherit his lawful heir, and call a stranger or more distant relation to the throne. Abuses in other parts of government are capable of redress, from more dispassionate inquiry or better information of the sovereign, and till then ought patiently to be endured: but violations of the right of succession draw such terrible consequences after them as are not to be paralleled by any other grievance or inconvenience. Vainly is it pleaded that England is a mixed monarchy; and that a law assented to by King, Lords, and Commons, is enacted by the concurrence of every part of the state: it is plain that there remains a very powerful party, who may indeed be outvoted, but who never will deem a law, subversive of hereditary right, any wise valid or obligatory. Limitations, such as are proposed by the king, give no shock to the constitution, which, in many particulars, is already limited; and they may be so calculated as to serve every purpose sought for by an exclusion. If the ancient barriers against regal authority have been able, during so many ages, to remain impregnable; how much more those additional ones, which, by depriving the monarch of power, tend so far to their own security? The same jealousy too of religion, which has engaged the people to lay these restraints upon the successor, will extremely lessen the number of his partisans, and make it utterly impracticable for him, either by force or artifice, to break the fetters imposed upon him. The king’s age and vigorous state of health promise him a long life: and can it be prudent to tear in pieces the whole state, in order to provide against a contingency which, it is very likely, may never happen? No human schemes can secure the public in all possible imaginable events; and the bill of exclusion itself, however accurately framed, leaves room for obvious and natural suppositions, to which it pretends not to provide any remedy. Should the duke have a son, after the king’s death, must that son, without any default of his own, forfeit his title? or must the Princess of Orange descend from the throne, in order to give place to the lawful successor? But were all these reasons false, it still remains to be considered that, in public deliberations, we seek not the expedient which is best in itself, but the best of such as are practicable. The king willingly consents to limitations, and has already offered some which are of the utmost importance: but he is determined to endure any extremity rather than allow the right of succession to be invaded. Let us beware of that factious violence, which leads to demand more than will be granted; lest we lose the advantage of those beneficial concessions, and leave the nation, on the king’s demise, at the mercy of a zealous prince, irritated with the ill usage which he imagines he has already met with.

In the House of Commons, the reasoning of the exclusionists appeared the more convincing; and the bill passed by a great majority. It was in the House of Peers that the king expected to oppose it with success. The court party was there so prevalent, that it was carried only by a majority of two, to pay so much regard to the bill as even to commit it. When it came to be debated the contest was violent. Shaftesbury, Sunderland, and Essex argued for it; Halifax chiefly conducted the debate against it, and displayed an extent of capacity, and a force of eloquence, which had never been surpassed in that assembly. He was animated, as well by the greatness of the occasion, as by a rivalship with his uncle Shaftesbury; whom, during that day’s debate, he seemed in the judgment of all to have totally eclipsed. The king was present during the whole debate, which was prolonged till eleven at night. The bill was thrown out by a considerable majority. All the bishops, except three, voted against it. Besides the influence of the court over them; the church of England, they imagined, or pretended, was in greater danger from the prevalence of presbyterianism than of popery, which, though favoured by the duke, and even by the king, was extremely repugnant to the genius of the nation.

The Commons discovered much ill humour upon this disappointment. They immediately voted an address for the removal of Halifax from the king’s councils and presence for ever. Though the pretended cause was his advising the late frequent prorogations of Parliament, the real reason was apparently his vigorous opposition to the exclusion bill. When the king applied for money to enable him to maintain Tangiers, which he declared his present revenues totally unable to defend; instead of complying, they voted such an address as was in reality a remonstrance, and one little less violent than that famous remonstrance, which ushered in the civil wars.

All the abuses of government, from the beginning almost of the reign, are there insisted on; the Dutch war, the alliance with France, the prorogations and dissolutions of Parliament; and as all these measures, as well as the damnable and hellish plot, are there ascribed to the machinations of Papists, it was plainly insinuated that the king had, all along, lain under the influence of that party, and was in reality the chief conspirator against the religion and liberties of his people.

Portait of William Howard as a young man by Anthony van Dyck, ~1638-1640. Howard was born in 1614, and beheaded at the age of 66.

The Commons, though they conducted the great business of the exclusion with extreme violence and even imprudence, had yet much reason for the jealousy which gave rise to it: but their vehement prosecution of the popish plot, even after so long an interval, discovers such a spirit, either of credulity or injustice, as admits of no apology. The impeachment of the Catholic lords in the Tower was revived; and as Viscount Stafford, from his age, infirmities, and narrow capacity, was deemed the least capable of defending himself, it was determined to make him the first victim, that his condemnation might pave the way for a sentence against the rest. The chancellor, now created Earl of Nottingham, was appointed high steward for conducting the trial.

Three witnesses were produced against the prisoner; [Titus] Oates [conjurer of the Popish Plot panic -ed.], [Stephen] Dugdale, and [Edward] Turberville.* Oates swore, that he saw Fenwick, the Jesuit, deliver to Stafford a commission signed by De Oliva, general of the Jesuits, appointing him paymaster to the papal army, which was to be levied for the subduing of England: for this ridiculous imposture still maintained its credit with the Commons. Dugdale gave testimony, that the prisoner at Tixal, a seat of Lord Aston‘s, had endeavoured to engage him in the design of murdering the king; and had promised him, besides the honour of being sainted by the church, a reward of five hundred pounds for that service. Turberville deposed, that the prisoner, in his own house at Paris, had made him a like proposal. To offer money for murdering a king, without laying down any scheme by which the assassin may ensure some probability or possibility of escape, is so incredible in itself, and may so easily be maintained by any prostitute evidence, that an accusation of that nature, not accompanied with circumstances, ought very little to be attended to by any court of judicature. But notwithstanding the small hold which the witnesses afforded, the prisoner was able, in many material particulars, to discredit their testimony. It was sworn by Dugdale, that Stafford had assisted in a great consult of the Catholics held at Tixal; but Stafford proved, by undoubted testimony, that at the time assigned he was in Bath, and in that neighbourhood. Turberville had served a noviciate among the Dominicans; but, having deserted the convent, he had enlisted as a trooper in the French army; and being dismissed that service, he now lived in London, abandoned by all his relations, and exposed to great poverty. Stafford proved, by the evidence of his gentleman and his page, that Turberville had never, either at Paris or at London, been seen in his company; and it might justly appear strange that a person, who had so important a secret in his keeping, was so long entirely neglected by him.

The clamour and outrage of the populace during the trial were extreme: great abilities and eloquence were displayed by the managers, Sir William Jones, Sir Francis Winnington, and Serjeant Maynard. Yet did the prisoner, under all these disadvantages, make a better defence than was expected, either by his friends or his enemies: the unequal contest in which he was engaged was a plentiful source of compassion to every mind seasoned with humanity. He represented, that during a course of forty years, from the very commencement of the civil wars, he had, through many dangers, difficulties, and losses, still maintained his loyalty: and was it credible that now, in his old age, easy in his circumstances, but dispirited by infirmities, he would belie the whole course of his life, and engage against his royal master, from whom he had ever received kind treatment, in the most desperate and most bloody of all conspiracies: He remarked the infamy of the witnesses; the contradictions and absurdities of their testimony; the extreme indigence in which they had lived, though engaged, as they pretended, in a conspiracy with kings, princes, and nobles; the credit and opulence to which they were at present raised. With a simplicity and tenderness more persuasive than the greatest oratory, he still made protestations of his innocence, and could not forbear, every moment, expressing the most lively surprise and indignation at the audacious impudence of the witnesses.

It will appear astonishing to us, as it did to Stafford himself, that the Peers, after a solemn trial of six days, should, by a majority of twenty-four voices, give sentence against him. He received, however, with resignation the fatal verdict. God’s holy name be praised! was the only exclamation which he uttered. When the high steward told him, that the Peers would intercede with the king for remitting the more cruel and ignominious parts of the sentence, hanging and quartering, he burst into tears: but he told the Lords that he was moved to this weakness by a sense of their goodness, not by any terror of that fate which he was doomed to suffer.

It is remarkable that, after Charles, as is usual in such cases, had remitted to Stafford the hanging and quartering, the two sheriffs, Bethel and Cornish, indulging their own republican humour, and complying with the prevalent spirit of their party, ever jealous of monarchy, started a doubt with regard to the king’s power of exercising even this small degree of lenity. “Since he cannot pardon the whole,” said they, “how can he have power to remit any part of the sentence?” They proposed the doubt to both Houses: the Peers pronounced it superfluous; and even the Commons, apprehensive lest a question of this nature might make way for Stafford’s escape, gave this singular answer: “This House is content that the sheriffs do execute William, late Viscount Stafford, by severing his head from his body only.” Nothing can be a stronger proof of the fury of the times than that Lord Russel, notwithstanding the virtue and humanity of his character, seconded in the House this barbarous scruple of the sheriffs.

In the interval between the sentence and execution, many efforts were made to shake the resolution of the infirm and aged prisoner, and to bring him to some confession of the treason for which he was condemned. It was even rumoured that he had confessed; and the zealous party-men, who, no doubt, had secretly, notwithstanding their credulity, entertained some doubts with regard to the reality of the popish conspiracy, expressed great triumph on the occasion. But Stafford, when again called before the House of Peers, discovered many schemes, which had been laid by himself and others for procuring a toleration to the Catholics, at least a mitigation of the penal laws enacted against them: and he protested that this was the sole treason of which he had ever been guilty.

Stafford now prepared himself for death with the intrepidity which became his birth and station, and which was the natural result of the innocence and integrity which, during the course of a long life, he had ever maintained: his mind seemed even to collect new force from the violence and oppression under which he laboured.

When going to execution, he called for a cloak to defend him against the rigour of the season: “Perhaps,” said he, “I may shake with cold; but I trust in God, not for fear.” On the scaffold he continued, with reiterated and earnest asseverations, to make protestations of his innocence: all his fervour was exercised on that point: when he mentioned the witnesses, whose perjuries had bereaved him of life, his expressions were full of mildness and of charity. He solemnly disavowed all those immoral principles, which over-zealous Protestants had ascribed, without distinction, to the church of Rome: and he hoped, he said, that the time was now approaching, when the present delusion would be dissipated; and when the force of truth, though late, would engage the whole world to make reparation to his injured honour.

The populace, who had exulted at Stafford’s trial and condemnation, were now melted into tears at the sight of that tender fortitude which shone forth in each feature, and motion, and accent of this aged noble. Their profound silence was only interrupted by sighs and groans. With difficulty they found speech to assent to those protestations of innocence which he frequently repeated: “We believe you, my lord! God bless you, my lord!” These expressions, with a faltering accent, flowed from them. The executioner himself was touched with sympathy. Twice he lifted up the axe, with an intent to strike the fatal blow; and as often felt his resolution to fail him. A deep sigh was heard to accompany his last effort, which laid Stafford for ever at rest. All the spectators seemed to feel the blow. And when the head was held up to them with the usual cry, This is the head of a traitor! no clamour of assent was uttered. Pity, remorse, and astonishment, had taken possession of every heart, and displayed itself in every countenance.


Detail view (click for the full image) of an engraving of the trial and execution of Viscount Stafford. (via the British Museum).

This is the last blood which was shed on account of the popish plot: an incident which, for the credit of the nation, it were better to bury in eternal oblivion; but which it is necessary to perpetuate, as well to maintain the truth of history, as to warn, if possible, their posterity and all mankind ever again to fall into so shameful, so barbarous a delusion.

The execution of Stafford gratified the prejudices of the country party; but it contributed nothing to their power and security: on the contrary, by exciting commiseration, it tended still farther to increase that disbelief of the whole plot, which began now to prevail.

* Channeling Jacques de Molay, Stafford prophesied that Turberville, the perjured witness against him, would not outlive him by so much as a year. Turberville obligingly dropped dead of smallpox late in 1681, after falling out with his former Popish Plot conspirator Titus Oates.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Nobility,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Wrongful Executions

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