The Behaviour of the Condemned Criminals in Newgate
viz. William Rawson, Charles Buckler, Ralph Harrison, and Henry List, As Also The Last Dying Words OF Thomas Fallowfield for Murdering of Mary Smith alias Hunt, who was Executed at LEICESTER-FEILD, Joseph Coates for Felony, Cap. George Baker, George Saunders, and William Mullins, for Robbing on the High-way, was Executed at TYBURN. On Wednesday the 4th. day of March, 1684.
IT is sad to Consider, (that notwithstanding the frequent Examples of publick Justice on Capital Offenders, for the warning of all others, to Avoid the same Crimes, yet) that in the short Intervale of time from the former sessions, there should be such a Confluence of persons now Condemned. It is probable, that they did presumptuously hope for a General pardon at this sessions, tho they did Gracelesly antidate an Act of Royal Grace and Mercy to Incourage themselves in their Impieties.
This may convince obdurate Sinners of that Secret Atheism which Reigns in their Hearts, by Crying up false peace and safety to themselves, whereby they are frequently made Exemplary in a publick and shameful Death. 34. of Job 26. 27. Ver. He strickes them, as wicked men in the open sight of others, because they turned back from him and would not consider any of his ways.
Thus ye Hypocrite in Heart, such who are heartily in their Hypocrites, and thereby Confirm’d in Athism heap up wrath, so that they Dye in youth, and their Life is among the Unclean 36. of Job 13, 14th
After the Sentence of Death past on the aforesaid Criminals on Friday the 27th. Instant February, they were Visited on Saturday, to bring them to a Conviction; of their Sinful and Deplorable Convictions; and in order to their more serious preparation, for those Prayers and Exhortations, which were to Follow on the next Lords Day.
From which Text, the Ordinary offered to their Consideration, that self Judgment and self Condemnation, in the Impartial Acknowledgement of the Equity of the Divine Law-giver in his process of Judgment, tho most Severe, as the Righteous Demerit and result of the least. Sin, is the only ready and sure way to escape that Divine Wrath, which is Impendent over the Heads of Sinners.
In the Progress of that discourse, especially at the practical Improvement of it, to the present Condemned, they seemed to be much awaked from their Security in a Sinful state, to preserve Increase any signs of Contrition, the Ordinary Visited them again on Munday, and after Payer, for them, Exhorted them to search their own Hearts, that they might discover for what special secret Sins, God had been provoked to withdraw his preventing Grace, so as to leave them to commit those Hinous Crimes, in which, they have wilfully insnared themselves.
On Monday and Tuesday, the ordinary after Prayers, Inquired into their former manner and course of Life, and how they now stand affected under the Sentence of Death, and prospect of that Eternity into which they are Launching: whither they Repent of their Sine and the Excesses of their Youth and a Debauched Life, be as bitter and Loathsome as at any time before they were Delightful.
Of which Conferences with them apart, which are most affective of them, the Ordinary now proceeds to give a True and Impartial Account, taken from their own Mouths in Wrighting.
William Rawson, he was Born in Cumberland, is 27 Years of Age; he was Educated at School by his Parents, in order to have been sent to the University, as being of Good Natural Parts, and was hopeful in the Improvement of them: But his Parents not being afterward of Estate Sufficient, to perfect their Intention of forming him for an University, himself also growing Remiss in his Learning, he came to London, where he stayed for some time with a Gentleman of Good Repute: but not answering his Expectation, he went back into his own Country: where continuing for some good space of time; he lived in Idleness; yet presumed at last to Marry, tho he knew not how to provide for the necessary support of that Condition: so becoming very Poor, he faith he sought for Imployment in London; but about a Month past, he was so unhappy as to grow acquainted with Bad Company, who Tempted him to many Miscarriages; particularly to associate himself with them in Robbing on the Highway. He confess’d himself guilty of the Crime he stands Condemned for, yet being g’d to make Acknowledgement how long he had used Highway Robbing, and who Tempted him first into such a Dissolute course of Life, he made no other reply, but that they were fled beyond Reach and would not name any particular Person, tho he ought to have broke the Combination by a Discovery.
He said he had been many ways Sinful, but he hoped by Repentence through christ’s Merits, the Lord would Pardon him, and receive him to his Mercy.
George Saunders, he was Born in Ireland, of Protestant Parents, in Limbrick; by them he was sent to School, to sit him for future Imployment; but there he behaved himself like a very Unlucky Lad; afterward he was put an Apprentice to a Weaver, in whose Service he remained for some time, but leaving it off, he Waited on a Gentleman: whom deserting he eutred himself into the Kings Service, and was a Soldier in Tangier for the Space of four Year: after that, he Lifted himself in the Queens Regiment, but meeting with ill Company, he was enticed out of that Imployment; and said it is not past three weeks or a Month since he left that Service. He Acknowledged that he had been given to Intemporance, and had often taken God’s Name in Vain, yet he Prayed to God sometimes to keep him from Evil Courses. It repented him that he left the former Imployment of a Soldier, saying that was the occasion though Idleness of exposing him to be Tempted to Rob on the Highway. He also particularly confess’d the Crime he stands Condemned for. He much Lamented his illspent Life, and gave the ordinary very Hopeful signs of the Truth of his Contrition, earnestly desiring him to pray for him, and promised to be very Compliant with his Directions, in order to Eternal Life.
William Mullins, was Born in London, of Godly and Religious Parents; he was well instructed and Educated by them and thereupon Acknowledged his Sins to have been the Greater and more Aggravated because be had Sinned against much Light and Knowledge: for he said Where much is Given, there also is much Required. He Confess’d furthermore that he had been a great Neglecter of God’s Worship and Service on the Lord’s Day; a frequenter of and associate of ill Company; and for that he had omitted a due Attendance on those two great means of Grace and Salvation, Prayer and Preaching, he judg’d it was for that God had left him to himself, and suffered him to become Guilty of so great a Sin as that he was Condemned for. And being urg’d to a more Particular Confession of his Crimes, he said they had been so sundry and so many, that he could not enumerate them: but as for the particular sinful Fact for which he was now to Dye, he owned he was guilty of it; yet withal added that ’twas the first Felony he was ever engaged in. He Reproved one of his fellow Condemned Criminals for the lightness of his Spirit, in smiling when press’d to a free Ingenuous confession of his Offences, and said, I am afraid he has little sense of his Sins; ’tis hope of a Reprieve which makes him less Serious, but persons do ill who give him those Hopes, for it may make him backward in the works of his Conversation: and were he fit to Dye, he were the siter to Live, He said he acknowledged the Justice of a Righteous God, in bring in him to this his deserved Capital Punishment, and that he little mattered Temporal Death, so that he had Comfortable Expectations, that would prove, unto him an entrance into Eternal Life: and added moreover that he was now equally desirous of Inward Sanctification and Holiness, as of endless Glory and Happiness.
In short, he shewed great outward signs of a True and Internal change of Heart, and Godly sincere Sorrow for his manifold Transgressions; hoping for the forgivenes and remission of the guilt of is them, in and through the alone Merits and satisfaction of his Crucified Saviour.
Joseph Coates, was Born in York-shire, he is now 31 Years of Age; he was educated at York, and Tadcastle, as himself called it, where he went to School: afterward he lived in the Service of Squire Thyn for the space of six years; after that, he went with the Lord Orory into Ireland, and stayed with him only half a Year: after that he served the late Earl of Essex, as his Footman, in Ireland: afterward he came into England and Served, Col. Fitz Patrick, but left his Imployment Under him. Two Years last past he Was an Horse-Course; after he laid down that way of Livelyhoods he intended to go into Staffordshire for Imployment, but altering his purpose, he fell into bad Company, upon neglecting the Service of God, soon after he grew very Wicked, was given to Excessive Drinking and Swearing; at last he was acquainted with three Men, who Tempted him into the Burglary, for which he stands Condemned, but expressed not their Names to the Ordinary. Being asked what hopes he had of a future Happy State, he replied that he had been a great Sinner, but now his Heart was through God’s Mercy made to Relent, more for his Wicked Practices than for the fear of Death, and he hoped if he might be spared, that he should become a new Man: of which he gave at present very probable Signs.
Ralph Harrison, he was Born in Shoreditch Parish, being now about 20 Years of Age. He was placed an Apprentice to a Broad-Weaver, with whom he tarried two Years, and then Run away from his Master: he said that for two Years past he had been enticed into Bad Company, who brought him into the acquaintance of Lewd Woman, which was the cause of his breaking the Sabbath; and by that means gave himself over to all manner of Exceess; as Drunkenness, Swearing, &c. But if he might escape for this time, he would go to Sea to avoid such evil Courses.
Henry List, was Born in Stepney Parish, being now 19 or 20 Years of Age, he said that he was not educated upto Knowledge, and therefore could not so fully express himself in Religious Matters, he served a Weaver for some time, who gave him the residue of it, in which he was Bound to him: that his own Father being Dead, his Mother and Father in Law, gave him all the good Counsel they could, but he would not be ruled by them; for which, he said, God had justly brought upon him this Punnishment; which if he should Escape, he would amend those Evil course of Life: he farther said that he was not acquainted with Harrison till after the Burglary committed by him.
The next Person whom the Ordinary Visited as well in his Chamber, as exhorted and Prayed with him among the other Criminals, was Cap. George Baker, who did not make so large a Confession as the forementioned Criminals: yet this he acknowledged that he was Born of creditable Parents, who were of a plentiful Estate, and brought him up not to any Employment, only he lived a Life of Ease as a Gentleman, which was his Misery, especially his Parents declining afterward in their Estate: so being reduced to Straits for a Livelyhood he served formerly as a Voluntier beyond Sea, and so signalized his Valour, that meeting with six French, who Confronted him riding toward Nancy, he Killed one of them, and put the rest to Flight. The Ordinary asked him how long he had beset Travelors in England; he did not state the set time, but said, he had used that course of Livelyhood for some time, yet he never Murthered any Person: the Ordinary replied that he was more oblieged to thank God for his preventing him in such an horrid Act, than to impute it to any thing else. There was some Discourse used with him to convince him of the Heinous Crime of Robbery; tho it were occasioned out of Poverty even therein; a Person Assaulting another must first offer Violence to his own Conscience, and the Laws of humane Society: but it is an Aggravation to Rob out of Wantonness of Spirit, to furnish with Materials to indulge themselves in Luxury, and to follow the chase of Robbing as a Trade or accustomary Delight. He said he repented of his evil Life, but he had confess’d his particular Sins to God, and, hoped, had made his Peace with him, through the satisfaction of Chirst’s Death: yet he said that he feared not Death, for he was assured of Eternal Life. The Ordinary replied the Hearts of Men are apt to Deceive themselves, and therefore the surest way would be to mistrust his own Heart in such Assurances, in as much as he could never enough repent him of his Sins.
The next Person that confess’d to the Ordinary, was Tho. Fallowfield, who Murthered a Young Maid: see the ground of his Malice in his Trial. The Ordinary would have taken him apart to have made him sensible, but the Crime is very Soul hardning; and so it proved with him; for he refused to give any account of his former course of Life; and tho Exhorted to Repent, shewed little or no signs thereof; so he must be left to the Tribunal of God, to pass his deteminate Judgment upon him.
About 9 or 10 of the Clock in the Morning Thomas Fallowfeild, was put into the Cart at Newgate, he seemed very Penitent all the way he went to Leicesterfeilds, where the Ordianry [sic] Prayed with him and Sung a Psalm, after which he was Executed, the rest of the Prisoners where put into the Cart about 10 or 11 of the Clock, they all seemed very Penitent all the way they went; when they came to Tyburn Mr. Ordinary Prayed with them and Sung a Psalm, after which, they Exhorted the standers by to take warning by their Dismal Ends of the Effects of Sin; which had brought them to that Place. And they all Prayed earnestly to God that he would forgive them their Sins, and desired the People to Pray for them, after which they were all Executed.
Dated the 4th. day of March, 1685. Samuel Smith, Ordinary.
LONDON, Printed by George Croom, at the Sign of the Blue-Ball in Thames-Street, over against Baynard’s-Castle. 1684.
Generally understood in the context of Catholic hostility to reform denominations on the soil of the present-day Czech Republic, this dreadful affair started when a Vernirovice woman was caught sneaking the Host out of Easter Mass in 1678, intending to use it as a charm for a folk spell to enhance the fertility of her cows.
By 1679, that woman was burned at the stake — along with two others whom she was induced to accuse by the threat of torture.
These executions were the fruit of a witchcraft commission that had been empaneled to pursue the original desecration of the communion bread, but now that the witch team was an institution it began finding more and more necromancers, in a self-justifying spiral of accusations.
Lautner, a well-liked deacon of Sumperk, spoke against the witch hunt when it came to that city and for his pains he was arrested there in 1680 … then leisurely broken by torture over a period of four years until he was at last undone by accusations wrenched from the torture of the wealthy Sattler family. (Whose valuables the commission did not neglect to appropriate.) It was standard witchcraft fare: black sabbaths, incestuous orgies, pacts with Satan.
“Milder tortures were used against him initially” the records say. “But those he admirably resisted, and remained obdurate. Then came harsher steps. Lautner began to confess, but when he was removed from the devices he recanted his admissions. So he was put to torture again and again, to defeat the devil’s secrecy. He was interrogated in June 1684 — twelve days in a row, except Sunday.” The case progressed so deliberately in part because the prosecution of a clergyman required the signoff of church heirarchy** … and in part because Lautner’s own friends intervened to try to free him. (One such ally, the priest Tomáš König, wrote a letter to the bishop on Lautner’s behalf and thereby became an object for investigation himself; it’s thought that he was about to be arrested by the witchsmellers when he fortuitously died in 1682.)
In the end the cleric could not hope to withstand the pressure. 20,000 people are reported to have swelled Sumperk for his execution by fire.
His case — which has latterly been commemorated by public monumentscelebrating Lautner as a hero of conscience — was dramatized in the historical novel Witch Hammer by Vaclav Kaplicki. Otakar Vavry adapted the story for the silver screen; Kladivo na Carodejnice is available online in its entirety, but you’ll need to be up on your Czech.
It might have been this date in 1685* that the famously speedy highwayman John Nevison (or William Nevison) was hauled to York’s gallows on the Knavesmire and launched into eternity.
The 1660s and 1670s were his time, when the ex-soldier Nevison made the coachmen of the Great North Road stand and their their passengers deliver from York to Huntingdon. “In all his pranks he was very favourable to the female sex, who generally gave him the character of a civil obliging robber,” the Newgate Calendar would later memorialize. “He was charitable also to the poor, relieving them out of the spoils which he took from them that could better spare it; and being a true Royalist, he never attempted anything against that party.”
Not all that much is really known of Nevison, but he earned his place in outlaw lore with a reputed 1676 escapade. After the pre-dawn robbery of a traveler in Kent, in the southeast of Britain, Nevison hopped on a rocket horse and spurred it north all the way to York. Google Maps makes that 350+ km trip a nearly four-hour drive today, by the A1. Nevison miraculously made it on horseback by sundown, then cleaned himself up and strolled out to the bowling green to lay a friendly, and alibi-establishing, wager with the Lord Mayor.
Unfortunately for Nevison, Harrison Ainsworth appropriated the legend of the bandit’s impossibly fast ride for a later outlaw, Dick Turpin — who in Ainsworth’s Rookwood rides his famous mare Black Bess to death in a wholly fictitious sprint from London to York.
To be completely fair to that fickle muse Clio, it has been postulated that Nevison’s own legend was appropriated from yet another highwayman, Samuel Nicks, which would account for the nickname “Swift Nick” or “Swiftnicks” won by this feat of horsemanship. Nicks and Nevison might be one and the same man, but they might very well be two different humans whose legends were already conflated before Ainsworth was even a twinkle in his father’s eye.** If there was a distinct “Swiftnicks”, Nevison has the considerable advantage over him for our purposes of having some identifiable biography and an identifiable hanging-date. But it is to this other fellow, Nicks, that Defoe attributed the gallop in his A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, available online here:
it was about four a clock in the morning when a gentleman was robb’d by one Nicks on a bay mare, just on the declining part of the hill [Gad’s Hill, Kent -ed.], on the west-side, for he swore to the spot and to the man; Mr. Nicks who robb’d him, came away to Gravesend, immediately ferry’d over, and, as he said, was stopp’d by the difficulty of the boat, and of the passage, near an hour; which was a great discouragement to him, but was a kind of bait to his horse: From thence he rode cross the county of Essex, thro’ Tilbury, Homden, and Bilerecay to Chelmsford: Here he stopp’d about half an hour to refresh his horse, and gave him some balls; from thence to Braintre, Bocking, Wethersfield; then over the downs to Cambridge, and from thence keeping still the cross roads, he went by Fenny Stanton to Godmanchester, and Huntington, where he baited himself and his mare about an hour; and, as he said himself, slept about half an hour, then holding on the North Road, and keeping a full larger gallop most of the way, he came to York the same afternoon, put off his boots and riding doaths, and went dress’d as if he had been an inhabitant of the place, not a traveller, to the bowling-green, where, among other gentlemen, was the lord mayor of the city; he singling out his lordship, study’d to do something particular that the mayor might remember him by, and accordingly lays some odd bett with him concerning the bowls then running, which should cause the mayor to remember it the more particularly; and then takes occasion to ask his lordship what a clock it was; who, pulling out his watch, told him the hour, which was a quarter before, or a quarter after eight at night.
The public gallows, nicknamed “York Tyburn”, was torn down in the early 19th century. A worn stone labeled simply “Tyburn” today marks the former site of the fatal tree.
These adhered to James Renwick‘s subversive doctrine of Scottish presbyter control against the overweening Anglican Episcopacy, a conflict of characteristically comingling religious and political characters.
Since most of the Covenanter-killing was being done summarily by soldiers in the field, these Roberts were actually the rare gallows-birds to be condemned in civil court, for which trouble they strangled at the Gallowlee on the road from Edinburgh to Peith.
Their last testaments can be read here, along with those of many other such martyrs.
Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, and employ your strength in the holding up of the fallen-down standard of our Lord, and if ye be found real in this duty, ye shall either be a temple, which shall be a glorious sight, or else ye shall be transported, and be a member of the Church triumphant; so ye shall be no loser, but a noble gainer either of the ways.
The aged woman had evidently taken in the fugitives John Hickes and Richard Nelthorpe as a humanitarian gesture when they happened to show up at her door; despite her late husband’s part in the regicide of Charles I, Alice Lisle doesn’t seem to have been the political type.
So the fact that Lisle was charged with treason was a national (indeed, transatlantic) controversy … and the fact that she was the first of the thousand-plus rebel prisoners tried set the tone for the legal circuit this month that became remembered as the Bloody Assizes.
In an attainder later reversed under William and Mary, Lisle was convicted and condemned to burn (the sentence was commuted to beheading) by notorious hanging judge Lord Jeffreys.
If Lady Alice knew her guests to have been concerned in the insurrection, she was undoubtedly guilty of what in strictness is a capital crime … [t]he feeling which makes the most loyal subject shrink from the thought of giving up to a shameful death the rebel who, vanquished, hunted down, and in mortal agony, begs for a morsel of bread and a cup of water, may be a weakness: but it is surely a weakness very nearly allied to virtue … no English ruler who has been thus baffled, the savage and implacable James [II] alone excepted, has had the barbarity even to think of putting a lady to a cruel and shameful death for so venial and amiable a transgression.
Odious as the law was, it was strained for the purpose of destroying Alice Lisle … [T]he witnesses prevaricated. The jury, consisting of the principal gentlemen of Hampshire, shrank from the thought of sending a fellow creature to the stake for conduct which seemed deserving rather of praise than of blame. Jeffreys was beside himself with fury … He stormed, cursed, and swore in language which no wellbred man would have used at a race or a cockfight …
The jury retired, and remained long in consultation. The judge grew impatient. He could not conceive, he said, how, in so plain a case, they should even have left the box. He sent a messenger to tell them that, if they did not instantly return, he would adjourn the court and lock them up all night. Thus put to the torture, they came, but came to say that they doubted whether the charge had been made out. Jeffreys expostulated with them vehemently, and, after another consultation, they gave a reluctant verdict of Guilty.
Lisle was the only victim of the Assizes at Winchester, but her death would preview the wholesale slaughters to follow.
Jeffreys reached Dorchester the next day and his pitiless tribunal began its work of sentencing hundreds to the various modes of English execution, or else to convict transportation — a fate more lucrative for the crown, but little less terrible to its victims.
“More than three hundred prisoners were to be tried,” Macaulay noted. “The work seemed heavy; but Jeffreys had a contrivance for making it light. He let it be understood that the only chance of obtaining pardon or respite was to plead guilty.”
For all that, the Assizes greatly injured the Stuart cause, precisely because of indiscriminately butchering the likes of Alice Lisle.
Judge Jeffreys’ reputation as a vicious, politically-motivated jurist landed him in the Tower of London by 1689, when he, er, injudiciously stuck around after James II fled the country; reportedly, Jeffreys was lucky to make it to the Tower under guard from the mob that wanted to tear him apart.
To Tyburn thee let carrion Horses draw,
In jolting Cart, without so much as straw;
Jaded, may they lye down i’ th’ road, and tyr’d,
And (worse than one fair hanging, twice bemir’d)
May’st thou be maul’d with Pulchers Sexton’s Sermon,
‘Till thou roar out for Hemp-sake, Drive on Car-man.
Pelted and Curst i’ th’ road by every one,
E’ne to be hang’d may’st thou the Gauntlet run.
Not one good Woman who in Conscience can
Cry out,–‘Tis pitty,–Troth, a proper Man.
Stupid and dull, may’st thou rub off like Hone,
Without an open, or a smother’d groan;
May the Knot miss the place, and fitted be
To plague and torture, not deliver thee;
Be half a day in Dying thus, and then
Revive like Savage, to be hang’d agen.
In Pity now thou shalt no longer Live,
For when thus satisfy’d, I can forgive.
Yikes. Jeffreys actually succumbed to a kidney disease a few months into his captivity. Close enough.
On this date in 1685, the haughty Duke of Monmouth mounted the scaffold at London’s Tower Hill to suffer beheading for treason, and tipped the headsman with the words, “Here are six guineas for you and do not hack me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard you struck him four or five times; If you strike me twice, I cannot promise you not to stir.”*
Upon this tart public reminder of his recent and infamous failure of craft, the eponymous executioner Jack Ketch quite came apart.
Monmouth, certainly, would have appreciated the advance that would bring the guillotine. Beheading by a free-swinging axe was a ghoulishly inexact procedure: bad aim, insufficient force, an untimely flinch, or the tough neck muscles of a grizzled campaigner regularly complicated the process. Jack Ketch is sometimes reported a sadist, and sometimes a professional hangman so rarely summoned to give a nobleman the chop that he simply lacked proficiency. Either way, he’d been on the job for a generation by this time: his reputation for infelicity with the blade preceded him.
Historical fiction from the perspective of the Duke of Monmouth.
Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II, had cause to dread Ketch’s offices for the rebellious culmination of a long power struggle with his uncle, the future King James II.
The personal contest between these men for the throne of England was the echo of the decades-old struggles straining the English polity — the Reformation and the reach of royal authority.
As it became known that the king’s brother James had gone from Catholic sympathizer to Catholic convert, Protestants began maneuvering to keep him from inheriting the crown. For three years, Parliament pushed the Exclusion Bill, which would have excluded James from succession.**
Favor among the bill’s supporters settled on the Protestant playboy Monmouth — politically convenient rumors that he was actually a legitimate child began circulating. “Weak, bad, and beautiful,” this unfriendly-to-Monmouth free book has him; whatever he was, his allies in the House of Commons were handily outmaneuvered. The Exclusion measures failed, and in 1685, James II began his reign as England’s last Roman Catholic monarch.
Monmouth’s hopes had been raised, however, and he proceeded to invade England at Dorset with a somewhat ragtag army that was routed by the Protestant royal troops who remained loyal to James at the Battle of Sedgemoor — not quite the last battle fought on English soil, but the last consequential one (the last fought with pitchforks makes a livelier distinction). Monmouth was caught trying to get away in a shepherd’s disguise. Other fugitives of his cause were hunted mercilessly.
The defeated duke was reputedly not above begging the sovereign for his life; obviously, that didn’t work out. But his cause was a popular one, nearing reverence among some commoners. Jack Ketch may have had a case of the butterflies even before the duke undressed him … and as it turns out, Ketch almost left the scaffold worse than his victim.
The hangman addressed himself to his office. But he had been disconcerted by what the Duke had said. The first blow inflicted only a slight wound. The Duke struggled, rose from the block, and looked reproachfully at the executioner. The head sank down once more. The stroke was repeated again and again; but still the neck was not severed, and the body continued to move. Yells of rage and horror rose from the crowd. Ketch flung down the axe with a curse. ‘I cannot do it,’ he said; ‘my heart fails me.’ ‘Take up the axe, man,’ cried the sheriff. ‘Fling him over the rails,’ roared the mob. At length the axe was taken up. Two more blows extinguished the last remains of life; but a knife was used to separate the head from the shoulders. The crowd was wrought up to such an ecstasy of rage that the executioner was in danger of being torn in pieces, and was conveyed away under a strong guard.
In the meantime many handkerchiefs were dipped in the Duke’s blood; for, by a large part of the multitude he was regarded as a martyr who had died for the Protestant religion.
Just the sort of soil for posthumous tall tales — that his execution was bogus and he was in hiding to return again, or had been packed off to France to become the Man in the Iron Mask. One possibly better-founded legend is that his head was set back upon its stump to sit him for what must have been a pungent portrait.
Protestant opponents of James were much thicker on the ground than the Duke’s own person, of course. They soon succeeded where Monmouth had failed.
* Slightly different versions of this address from the Duke to the executioner are recorded. Macaulay omits the “if you strike me twice” clause but adds “My servant will give you some more gold if you do the work well”; a more polite (barely) construction suggests “Do not serve me as you did my Lord Russell.”
** The factions in this dispute — the “Petitioners” (supporting the bill) and the “Abhorrers” (supporting the king) — evolved into the Whig and Tory political parties.
On this date in 1685, a woman of 63 and another of 18 were staked to the tidal channel of Bladnoch River near Wigtown and drowned by the rising waters.
Margaret Wilson remembered in heroic — and sexy — marble at Knox College in Toronto, Canada. (Larger version.)
They were holdout Covenanters — Scottish Presbyterians resisting English Episcopalian control in a struggle both theological and political (here’s a backgrounder).
To skip over much meaningful history, the Covenanter movement of local presbyter control had at this point been defeated politically and militarily, if not spiritually. The due demanded by the British crown was prayer for the king — an oath, in effect, of submission to the Episcopal hierarchy and, by the same token, to London. Many Scots remained obdurate, including children — the 18-year-old Margaret Wilson was arrested with her 13-year-old sister, though their father managed to scrape together a bond payment to save the younger girl.
And fiendish penalties were deployed to force their capitulation or cow their sympathizers. In this case, a recent law prescribed public drowning for Covenanter women, and the two Margarets were duly condemned to be
ty’d to palisados fixed in the sand, within the flood mark, and there to stand till the flood overflowed them and drowned them.
The ploy on this day was to put the old woman further out, where she would drown first, in hopes of terrifying the teenager into submission. The young Margaret held firm.
Here is the women’s end related in The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland by Robert Wodrow, who dubbed the bloody suppression of the Covenanter movement in the 1680’s “The Killing Time”:
The two women were brought from Wigton, with a numerous crowd of spectators to so extraordinary an execution. Major Windram with some soldiers guarded them to the place of execution. The old woman’s stake was a good way in beyond the other, and she was first despatched, in order to terrify the other to a compliance with such oaths and conditions as they required. But in vain, for she adhered to her principles with an unshaken steadfastness. When the water was overflowing her fellow-martyr, some about Margaret Wilson asked her, what she thought of the other now struggling with the pangs of death. She answered, what do I see but Christ (in one of his members) wrestling there. Think you that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ in us, for he sends none a warfare upon their own charges. When Margaret Wilson was at the stake, she sang the 25th Psalm from verse 7th, downward a good way, and read the 8th chapter to the Romans with a great deal of cheerfulness, and then prayed. While at prayer, the water covered her: but before she was quite dead, they pulled her up, and held her out of the water till she was recovered, and able to speak; and then by major Windram’s orders, she was asked, if she would pray for the king. She answered, ‘She wished the salvation of all men, and the damnation of none.’ One deeply affected with the death of the other and her case, said, ‘Dear Margaret, say God save the king, say God save the king.’ She answered in the greatest steadiness and composure, ‘God save him, if he will, for it is his salvation I desire.’ Whereupon some of her relations near by, desirous to have her life spared, if possible, called out to major Windram, ‘Sir, she hath said it, she hath said it.’ Whereupon the major came near, and offered her the abjuration, charging her instantly to swear it, otherwise return to the water. Most deliberately she refused, and said, ‘ I will not, I am one of Christ’s children, let me go.’ Upon which she was thrust down again into the water, where she finished her course with joy.”
Update: Gravestone photos and maps of the area can be found here.