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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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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1681: Maria, Jack, and William Cheney

Add comment September 22nd, 2016 Headsman

[1681 September] 22. There were 3 persons executed in Boston[.] An Englishman for a Rape. A negro man for burning a house at Northampton & a negro woman who burnt 2 houses at Roxbury July 12 — in one of wch a child was burnt to death.* The negro woman was burned to death — the 1st yt has suffered such a death in N.E.

diary of Increase Mather

These three unfortunates were all three perpetrators of separate crimes, united by the logistical convenience of a joint execution date.

Maria’s claim on the horrible distinction of having been burned alive has been doubted by some,** but if Mather’s diary is correct it was undoubtedly done to mirror a crime so frightful to the masters: the firing of their own domiciles by their own domestics. The record in the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s court records assuredly elides a fathomless depth of human passion.

Maria, a negro servant to Joshua Lambe of Roxbury, in the county of Suffoike in New England, being presented by the Grand Jury was indicted by the name of Maria Negro for not having the feare of God before hir eyes and being instigated by the devil at or upon the eleventh of July last in the night did wittingly, willingly and feloniously set on fire the dwelling house of Thomas Swann of said Roxbury by taking a Coale from under a still and carried it into another roome and laide it on the floore neere the doore and presently went and crept into a hole at a back doore of thy Masters Lambs house and set it on fier also taking a live coale betweene two chips and carried it into the chamber by which also it was consumed. As by uour Confession will appeare contrary to the peace of our Souevaigne Lord the King his croune.

The prisoner at the bar pleaded and acknowledged herself to be guilty of said fact. And accordingly the next day being again brought to the bar and sentenced of death pronounced against her by the honorable Governor, yet she should go from the bar to the prison from whence she came and thence to the place of execution and there be burnt.

Thy Lord be merciful to thy soul.

Three days later a fugitive slave named Jack — “Run away from Mr. Samuell Wolcot because he always beates him sometimes with 100 blows so that he hath told his master that he would sometime or other hang himself” — torched a house in Northampton, seemingly by accident while foraging by torchlight. There can’t have been a connection between these two slaves and their seemingly very different acts of resistance, but where once is coincidence, twice is a trend: Jack was convicted of arson and taken from Northampton to Boston at some inconvenience to the colony (the trip took 15 days and cost £2) for exhibition at the same pyre as Maria. Jack was certainly burned only posthumously.

As for the white gentleman, we will give the word to Increase Mather’s chip off the old block, Rev. Cotton Mather:

On September 22, 1681, one W.C. [William Cheney] was executed at Boston for a rape committed by him on a girl that liv’d with him; though he had then a wife with child by him, of a nineteenth or twentieth child.

This man had been “wicked overmuch.” His parents were godly persons; but he was a “child of Belial.” He began early to shake off his obedience unto them; and early had fornication laid unto his charge; after which, he fled unto a dissolute corner of the land, a place whereof it might be said, “Surely the fear of God is not in this place.”

He being a youth under the inspection of the church at Roxbury, they, to win him, invited him to return unto his friends, with such expressions of lenity towards him, that the reverend old man their pastor, in a sermon on the day when this man was executed, with tears bewail’d it.

After this, he liv’d very dissolutely in the town of Dorchester; where, in a fit of sickness, he vow’d that, if God would spare his life, he would live as a new man; but he horribly forgot his vows. The instances of his impiety grew so numerous and prodigious, that the wrath of God could bear no longer with him; he was ripen’d for the gallows.

After his condemnation, he vehemently protested his innocency of the fact for which he was condemn’d; but he confess’d “that God was righteous, thus to bring destruction upon him for secret adulteries.”

A reprieve would have been obtain’d for him, if his foolish and froward refusing to hear a sermon on the day appointed for his execution had not hardened the heart of the judge against him. He who had been a great scoffer at the ordinances of God, now exposed himself by being left unto such a sottish action!

He had horribly slighted all calls to repentance, and now, through some wretches over-perswading [sic] of him that he should not die according to sentence and order of the court, he hardened himself still in his unrepentant frame of mind.

When he came to the gallows, and saw death (and a picture of hell, too, in a negro then burnt to death at the stake, for burning her master’s house, with some that were in it,) before his face, never was a cry for “Time! time! a world for a little time! the inexpressible worth of time!” uttered with a most unutterable anguish.

He then declared, that “the greatest burden then lying upon his miserable soul, was his having lived so unprofitably under the preaching of the gospel.”

* It is flatly incorrect that Maria’s arson killed anyone. She was indicted for arson, and there is no reference to an associated murder in the trial record or non-Mather accounts.

** Notice that the court order does not direct that Maria be burned to death. This letter, as an example of a possible rival interpretation, indicates that “two were this day Executed heer and Exposed to the flames for those Crimes,” implying an equivalence between the punishments of the two slaves: hanged to death, then their bodies burned.

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1681: Isabel Alison and Marian Harvey, Covenanters

Add comment January 26th, 2014 Headsman

We turn today to William Crookshank’s (certainly partisan) narrative of the hanging of two Scottish Covenanters on this date in Edinburgh, as told in his The history of the state and sufferings of the Church of Scotland.


On the 25th of December some of the students in the College of Edinburgh brought to the head of the Cowgate the effigy of the pope in his robes, with his keys, mitre, and triple crown; and, when they had excommunicated him, they carried him about in a chair, like that wherein he is elected at Rome, to the foot of the Blackfriars’ Wynd. The students, knowing the thing had taken air, gave out that they were to carry his holiness in procession to the Grassmarket, the place of the execution of criminals; whereupon the guards marched thither. Meanwhile the boys marched in procession by the Black-friars’ Wynd to the High-street, three of them going before with lighted torches. Being come thither they condemned his holiness to be burnt: accordingly the torchmen blew up the effigy with gun-powder, notwithstanding their being attacked by some soldiers commanded by Linlithgow and his son; whom they warned to beware whom he struck, since he had relations among them.

The Duke of York’s [the future James II -ed.] being now in Scotland sharpened the edge of the persecution; so that no less than twenty were executed in the course of this year 1681.

The sufferers had, it is true, declared against the king’s authority, for which many of them were hanged, and otherwise persecuted by their enemies, and’censured by their friends. They branded them as madmen, enemies to government and civil society; but it is very plain that they never opposed government or monarchy as such, but only wicked, perjured, and persecuting governors. These they did oppose, and that for the very same reasons that brought about the Revolution and the protestant succession.

I cannot express this better than in the words of the author of the Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, when speaking of the Torwood excommunication. Says he,

I desire the impartial reader to compare it with the memorials above-mentioned, [to wit, the memorial to the Prince of Orange from the people of Great Britain, to invite him to come to their assistance] and see if it be posible for any British protestant, who owns the justice of the Revolution, to reflect upon the zeal of these people, without blushing for himself and the whole nation, that they did not see and abhor the tyranny of those reigns sooner; then they had joined with those people instead of censuring their zeal; the Revolution had then been brought about without sovereign help at all; the Prince of Orange had then been called over, as peaceably as King George, to take possession of the crown; and the blood of near 20,000 people, who were one way or other murdered and destroyed by that now abdicated race of tyrants, had been saved. What a shame is it, says he, to us, and how much to the honour of these persecuted people, that they could thus see the treachery and tyranny of those reigns, when we saw it not; or rather, that they had so much honesty of principle, and obeyed so strictly the dictates of conscience, as to bear their testimony early, nobly, and gloriously to the truth of God and the rights of their country, both civil and religious; while we all, though seeing the same things, yet betrayed the cause of liberty and religion, by a sinful silence and a dreadful cowardice.

But suppose, through the treatment, the unacountable treatment they met with, they had gone a little beyond due bounds, and though sometimes their expressions were not so well chosen, can that either condemn the principles of religion and liberty upon which they acted; nay, or their actual disowning those tyrants, who, for nothing but the matters of their God and Saviour, had declared them outlaws, rebels and traitors? Besides, the blood of many was shed, against whom they could prove nothing, but what they extorted from them by their ensnaring questions. Nay, even some of the weaker sex were hanged or drowned on this score. But I shall relate the matters of fact as they happened in the order of time.

It was a dreadful affront to the Duke of York to find his holiness treated in such a manner, on that grand festival the 25th of December; and therefore the sycophant managers must not overlook such an indignity.

Accordingly, on the 4th of January, the masters of the college declared their abhorrence of what their scholars had done; and on the 6th, the council commanded the magistrates to order the college gates to be shut, and the classes to be dissolved. About this time several of the students were imprisoned, besides Mr Ridpath, which so exasperated the rest, that it is said, they threatened to burn the provost’s house at Priestfield, because the magistrates, who were patrons of the college, instead of protecting them, had acted violently against them; and in a few days the house of Priestfield was burnt.

Whereupon the council, on the 17th, issued a proclamation, offering 2000 merks and a remission, to any who should discover the actors: but it does not appear that any discovery was made …

The order of time leads me to the case of Isobel Alison and Marion Harvey, two young women, who were executed this month, to the perpetual disgrace of the bloody managers, who could have no acts of what they called rebellion, in the least, to lay to their charge.

When they were taken, I know not. Isobel Alison was apprehended at Perth, where she lived, only for speaking against the severity used to sundry good people there; for they could accuse her of nothing else. Marion Harvey was seized while going one day from Edinburgh to hear sermon in the fields, and was last year before the council. But though they had nothing against these two young women, they were resolved to shed their blood: and therefore upon what they owned at their examination they founded their indictment, and took away their lives. That the reader may have a specimen of the injustice of this period, that afterwards became common, I shall here insert the substance of their examination first before the council, and next before the lords of justiciary.

When Isobel Alison was before the council, she was interrogated as follows:

Q. Can you read the Bible?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know the duty we owe to the civil magistrate?

A. When the magistrate carrieth the sword for God, according to what the scripture calls for, we owe him all due reverence; but when they overturn the work of God, and set themselves in opposition to him, it is the duty of his servants to execute his laws and ordinances on them.

Q. Do you own the Sanquhar declaration? [a speech disavowing Presbyterian allegiance to the government]

A. I do own it.

Marion Harvey’s examination before the council was upon the same points with that of her fellow-sufferer … Only, among other tilings, they said, Will you cast away yourself so? To which shy replied, I love my life as well as any of you, but would not redeem it upon sinful terms. They said, the rock, the cod and bobbins, were as fit for her to meddle with as those things. They offered her the assistance of ministers, but she would have none of their pro. vidiug

On the 17th of January they were brought before the Lords of Justiciary; for it was the constant practice at this time, the one day to bring such as fell into their hands before the council, and there by ensnaring questions, to bring them into a confession of such things as they accounted treason, and next day to prosecute them before the criminal court. These two women were accused for hearing at field-conventicles, harbouring Messrs Cargill, Cameron, &c. owning the Rutherglen and Sanquhar declarations, &c.

When Isobel Alison was before them, she was examined as follows:

Q. Do you abide by what you said the last day?

A. I am not to deny any thing of it. She owned she had converged with David Hackstoun, and disowned their authority.

Q. Do you disown us and the king’s authority in us?

A. I disown you all because you carry the sword against God, and not for him, and have, these nineteen or twenty years, made it your work to dethrone him, by swearing, year after year, against him and his work, and assuming that power to a human creature which is due to him alone, and have rent the members from their Head, Christ.

… Then they said, Your blood be on your own head, we shall be free of it. She answered, So said Pilate, but it is a question if it was so; and ye have nothing to say against me, but for owning of Christ’s truths and his persecuted members. They made no reply, but desired her to subscribe what she had owned, and, upon her refusing, did it for her.

Marion Harvey, before the justiciary, owned the Sanquhar declaration, &c. and then protested that they had nothing to say against her as to matter of fact; but only that she owned Christ and his truth, his persecuted gospel and members; of which she said, Ye have hanged some, others you have beheaded and quartered quick. To this they said nothing; but called those who were to sit on the jury, who appeared with reluctance. One of them said, He did not desire to be engaged in this matter; but he was obliged: then he desired that the confessions of the two prisoners might be read, because he knew not what they had to say against them. When he was ordered to hold up his hand and swear, he fell a-trembling. The jury being fixed, the confessions were read, and the advocate in a speech, aggravated every particular, in order to prove them guilty of treason. Some of the jury urged that there was no fact proved against them. The advocate said, But treason is fact; and taking himself again, he said, It is true, it is only treason in their judgment, but go on according to our law; and if you will not do it, I will proceed. The jury brought them in guilty on their own confession; however, the passing of the sentence was deferred till the 21st, when they were both condemned to be hanged at the Grassmarket on the 26th.

Meanwhile, on the 20th, the council enlarged the powers of the laird of Meldrum for apprehending those who were in the rebellion. The many searches which were made in consequence of this were most oppresive. The same day the magistrates of Edinburgh were ordered to call all the masters of coffee-houses before them, and obliged them to come under a bond of 5000 merks, to suffer no news-paper to be read in their houses, but such as are approved of by the officers of state.

Next day all the students in the college of Edinburgh were ordered to retire fifteen miles from that place, within twenty four hours, and not to come within these bounds without leave from the council, under the pain of being treated as seditious persons. A fine protestant government, to make such a splutter about burning the pope! But it was decent to compliment his Royal Highness the Duke!

On the 26th, Isobel Alison and Marion Harvey were executed according to their sentence. The reader will find what passed between them and Mr Riddel in the Cloud of Witnesses, together with their respective testimonies. When they were brought from the prison to the council-house, in order to be carried from thence to the place of execution, Marion Harvey said, with a surprising chearfulness and heavenenly transport, Behold, I hear my Moved saying unto me, Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. When in the council-house, Paterson bishop of Edinburgh (such was the spirit of the man!) said, Marion, you said you never would hear a curate, now you shall be forced to hear one; and immediately ordered one of his suffragans, whom he had prepared for the purpose, to pray. When he began, she said to her fellow-prisoner, Come, Isobel, let us sing the 23d Psalm; which they did, and thereby drowned the curate’s voice, and confounded their persecutors.

Their behaviour on the scaffold is not to be omitted. Isobel having sung the lxxxiv Psalm, and read Mark xvi, cried over the scaffold, and said, Rejoice in the Lord ye righteous; and again, I say, rejoice. She was not suffered to pray till she came to the foot of the ladder. As she went up, she cried out, ‘O be zealous, sirs, be zealous, be zealous! O love the Lord, all ye his servants! O love him; for in his favour is life!’ And added, ‘O ye his enemies, what will ye do? Whither will ye fly in that day? for now there is a dreadful day coming on all the enemies of Jesus Christ. Come out from among them, all ye that are the Lord’s people.’ Then she concluded, ‘Farewell all created comforts; farewell sweet Bible in which I delighted most, and which has been sweet to me since I came to prison; farewell Christian acquaintances. Now into thy hands I commit my spirit, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’ Then the executioner threw her over.

Marion Harvey likewise sung Psal. lxxxiv. and having read Mal. iii, she said, ‘I am come here to-day for avowing Christ to be Head of his church and King in Zion. O seek him, sirs, seek him and ye shall find him: I sought him and I found him; I held him, and would not let him go.’ Then she rehearsed briefly the heads of her written testimony. Going up the ladder she said, 0 my fair one, my lovely one, come away. And, sitting down on the ladder, she said, ‘I am not come here for murder; for they have no matter of fact to charge me with ; but only by judgment. I am about twenty years of age: at fourteen or fifteen I was a hearer of the curates and indulged; and while I was a hearer of these I was a blasphemer and Sabbath-breaker, and a chapter of the Bible was a burden to me; but since I heard this persecuted gospel, I durst not blaspheme nor break the Sabbath, and the Bible became my delight.’ Upon this the commanding officer called to the executioner to throw her over, which he did accordingly.

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1681: Leticia Wigington, apprentice-flogger

Add comment September 9th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1681, Leticia, Letitia, or Laetitia Wigington was hanged at Tyburn for beating her apprentice to death.

A case that would presage the next century’s better-remembered Brownrigg outrage, the Ratcliff Catholic coat-maker Wigington and her lodger John Sadler took five quid from one of Sadler’s fellow-sailors to apprentice their daughter.

On Christmas Eve 1680, Ms. Wigington took exception to the 13-year-old Elizabeth Houlton’s performance or caught her stealing from them or something, and set about thrashing her. After taking an hour to fashion a cruel cat o’ nine tails so they could really give it to her, these two

stript the poor Child barbarously and immodestly stark naked, and [Wigington] held her and ram’d an Apron down her Throat, to prevent her crying out, and the foresaid [Sadler] most inhumanely whipt her for 4 hours or more, with some short intervals of their Cruelty, and, having made her body raw, and all over bloody, sent for Salt, and salted her wounds, to render their Tortures more grievous. Of which Savage usage she dyed next morning [i.e., Christmas].

Salted her wounds?

Sadler fled, and was on the run for nearly a month; he was sentenced to die on February 25 and specifically prohibited from pleading for royal pardon before his March 4 execution.

Wigington got off a little “easier”, pleading her belly after a January conviction and delaying execution all the way to September 9. That’s quite a wait — a suggestive wait, one might think, though no actual record remains to confirm that Wigington left a little bundle of joy behind her to the world’s cat o’ nine tails.

For her part, Wigington went to her death asserting her innocence — “as the Child unborn” — and denouncing her enemies for inducing her “Apprentice Rebecca Clifford by name, who was not full 12 years of age, to swear against me” falsely.

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