1497: Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank, leaders of the Cornish Rebellion

2 comments June 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date* in 1497, two commoners who led an uprising against the Tudor dynasty were hanged at Tyburn.

Sore about a tax hike imposed to fight a Scots army supporting pretender Perkin Warbeck, Cornwall rose against Henry VII early in 1497.

“Henry Tudor’s” legitimacy on an English throne he had recently conquered was still a bit shaky, which is why he had to worry about pretenders to begin with (and also why his son would become so infamous looking for heirs).

Despite disappointingly finding no help for their cause in oft-rebellious Kent, the Cornish men decided to go it alone.


A statue of Michael Joseph An Gof and Thomas Flamank. Image (c) John Durrant and used with permission.

Under the leadership of blacksmith Michael Joseph (or Michael An Gof; An Gof simply translates as the man’s profession) and barrister Thomas Flamank (or Flammock) — injudiciously joined by one Lord Audley** — 15,000 or so marched to the outskirts of London, where they were trounced in the Battle of Deptford Bridge.

As commoners, Joseph and Flamank were condemned to the barbarous hanging-drawing-quartering death, but Henry commuted it to simple hanging with posthumous dismembering lest the popular leaders’ public torture spark fresh trouble in their native stomping-grounds. (Michael Joseph prophesied that posterity would confer upon these martyrs “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal.” The authorities still did the dismembering bits, only posthumously, and put the heads up on pikes.)

After all, the fact that these troublemakers had marched right up to London before anyone had opposed them underscored Henry’s own potential vulnerability. Even the noble that Henry sent out to whip the marchers might have had one finger to the wind before deciding which side would be the winner.

As events would prove, the king was right to worry.

First as tragedy, then as farce

Seeing how much latent disaffection had been readily converted to action in Cornwall, Perkin Warbeck decided to make his big move later that same year in 1497 by landing there near Land’s End.

A few thousand joined the ensuing Second Cornish Uprising, but it came to much the same end — and resulted, this time, in Warbeck’s own capture and eventual execution.

* Some Wikipedia articles assert June 24, but June 27 seems attested by better authorities. I have not been able to pin down primary documentation proving either date, but the maintenance of June 27th as “An Gof Day” disposes the case. (There was a big 500th anniversary march for the occasion in 1997.) Claims that all three were executed on June 28 appear to be simply mistaken.

** As a peer, Audley got the chop instead of the hemp: he was beheaded on June 28. The rank-and-file were generally pardoned.

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1461: Owen Tudor, sire of sires

3 comments February 2nd, 2010 Headsman

A Welsh courtier with the boldness to bed the queen lost his head this date in 1461 … but his career in usurpation was just getting started.

Owen Tudor’s coat of arms.

The House of Tudor that would come to rule England counted Owen its sire; the four-year-old grandson he left at his death grew up to become the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII.

Owen produced the root of this august line with Dowager Queen Catherine of Valois, the French princess Henry V had extracted as part of the price of peace after Agincourt.

That union was supposed to join the two great realms, but Henry V unexpectedly kicked the bucket in 1422, leaving an infant son who was not only unable to hold the French throne … he was too unstable to hold the English throne, either.

Unless he was a seer, suave Owen must not have been thinking dynasties when he took the Queen as his lover (and eventually his wife via a secret marriage in the early 1430s).

They produced six children, but it wasn’t the bedroom politics that did our prolific father in, at least not directly. Only decades later, when ownership of the crown was up for grabs in the War of the Roses and Owen loyally led Lancastrian forces at a battle he was unwise enough to lose, did he give up his head for the pedestrian crime of backing the wrong horse.

Owen reportedly thought he had stature enough to expect a reprieve until the very last moment, when the executioner’s ripping his collar caused him to sigh,

The head which used to lie in Queen Catherine’s lap, would now lie in the executioner’s basket.

In time, Owen’s descendants would get to pull the same trick, because the doomed cause in whose service Owen Tudor lost his life swept clear England’s political chessboard and made possible his own line’s accession.

Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton later versified Owen’s prodigious conquest in “Owen Tudor to Queen Catherine”.

When first mine eyes beheld your princely name,
And found from whence this friendly letter came;
Is in excess of joy, I bad forgot.
Whether I saw it, or I saw it not:

My panting heart doth bid mine eyes proceed,
My dazzled eyes invite my tongue to read,
Which wanting their direction, dully mist it:
My lips, which should have spoke, were dumb, and kist it,

And left the paper in my trembling hand,
When all my senses did amazed stand :
Even as a mother coming to her child,
Which from her presence hath been long exil’d,

With gentle arms his tender neck doth strain,
Now kissing it, now clipping it again;
And yet excessive joy deludes her so,
As still she doubts, if this be hers, or no.

At length, awaken’d from this pleasing dream,
When passion somewhat left to be extreme,
My longing eyes with their fair object meet,
Where ev’ry letter’s pleasing, each word sweet.

It was not Henry’s conquests, nor his court,
That had the power to win me by report;
Nor was his dreadful terrour-striking name,
The cause that I from Wales to England came:

For Christian Rhodes, and our religion’s truth,
To great achievement first had won my youth:
Th’ brave adventure did my valour prove,
Before I e’er knew what it was to love.

Nor came I hither by some poor event,
But by th’ eternal destinies’ consent;
Whose uncomprised wisdom did foresee,
That you in marriage should be link’d to me.

By our great Merlin was it not foretold,
(Amongst his holy prophesies enroll’d)
When first he did of Tndor’s name divine,
That kings and queens should follow in our line?

And that the helm (the Tudors ancient crest)
Should with the golden flow’r-de-luce be drest ?
As that the leek (our country’s! chief renown!)
Should grow with roses in the English crown –

As Charles his daughter, you the lilly wear;
As Henry’s queen, the blushing rose you bear;
By France’s conquest, and by England’s oath,
You are the true-made dowager of both :

Both in your crown, both in your cheek together,
Join Tether’s love to yours, and yours to Tether.
Then cast no future doubts, nor fear no hate,
When it so long hath been fore-told by fate ;

And by the all-disposing doom of Heav’n,
Before our births, we to one bed were giv’n.
No Pallas here, nor Juno is at all,
When I to Venus yield the golden ball:

Nor when the Grecians wonder I enjoy,
None in revenge to kindle fire in Troy.
And have not strange events divin’d to us,
That in our love we should be prosperous ?

When in your presence I was call’d to dance,
In lofty tricks whilst I myself advance,
And in a turn my footing fail’d by hap,
Was’t not my chance to light into your lap ?

Who would not judge it fortune’s greatest grace,
Sith he must fall, to fall in such a place ?
His birth from Heav’n, your Tudor not derives,
Nor stands on tip-toes in superlatives,

Although the envious English do devise
A thousand jests of our hyperbolies;
Nor do I claim that plot by ancient deeds,
Where Phoebus pasture his fire-breathing steeds:

Nor do I boast my god-made grandsire’s scars,
Nor giants trophies in the Titans wars:
Nor feign my birth (your princely ears to please)
By three nights getting, as was Hercules:

Nor do I forge my long descent to rim
From aged Neptune, or the glorious Sun:
And yet in Wales, with them that famous be,
Our learned bards do sing my pedigree

And boast my birth from great Cadwallader,
From old Caer-Septon, in mount Palador:
And from Eneon’s line, the South-Wales king,
By Theodor, the Tudors’ name do bring.

My royal mother’s princely stock began
From her great grandame, fair Gwenellian,
By true descent from Leolin the great,
As well from North-Wales, as fair Powsland’s seal.

Though for our princely genealogy
I do not stand to make apology:
Yet who with judgment’s true impartial eyes,
Shall look from whence our name at did first rise,

Shall find, that fortune is to us in debt
And why not Tudor, as Plantagenet?

Nor that term Croggen, nick name of disgrace
Us’d as a by-word now in ev’ry place,
Shall blot our blood, or wrong a Welshman’s name,
Which was at first begot with England’s shame.

Our valiant swords our right did still maintain,
Against that cruel, proud, usurping Dane,
Buckling besides in many dang’rous fights,
With Norway, Swethens, and with Muscovites;

And kept our native language now thus long,
And to this day yet never chang’d our tungue:
When they which now our nation fain would tame,
Subdu’d, have lost their country and their name.

Nor ever could the Saxons’ swords provoke
Our British necks to hear their servile yoke:
Where Cambria’s pleasant countries bounded be
With swelling Severn, and the holy Dee:

And since great Brutus first arrived, have stood
The only remnant of the Trojan blood.
To every man is not allotted chance,
To boast with Henry, to have conquer’d France:

Yet if my fortune be thus rais’d by thee,
This may presage a further good to me;
And our Saint David, in the Britons’ right,
May join with George, the sainted English knight:

And old Caer-merdin, Merlin’s famous town,
Not scorn’d by London, though of such renown.

Ah, would to God that hour my hopes attend,
Were with my wish brought to desired end !
Blame me not, madam, though I thus desire,
Many there be, that after you inquire;

Till now your beauty in night’s bosom slept,
What eye durst stir, where awful Henry kept ?
Who durst attempt to sail but near the bay,
Where that all-conqu’ring great, Alcides lay ?

Your beauty now is set a royal prize,
And kings repair to cheapen merchandise.
If you but walk to take the breathing air,
Orithia makes me that I Boreas fear:

If to the fire, Jove once in light’ning came.
And fair Egina makes me fear the flame:
If in the Sun, then sad suspicion dreams
Phoebus should spread Lucothoe in his beams:

If in a fountain you do cool your blood,
Neptune, I fear, which once came in a flood:
If with your maids, I dread Apollo’s rape,
Who cous’ned Chion in an old wife’s shape :

If you do banquet, Bacchus makes me dread,
Who in a grape Erigone did feed :
And if myself your chamber-door should keep,
Yet fear I Hermes coming in a sleep.

Pardon (sweet queen) if I offend in this,
In these delays love most impatient is:
And youth wants pow’r his hot spleen to suppress,
When hope already banquets in excess.

Though Henry’d fame in me you shall not find,
Yet that which better shall content your mind;
But only in the title of a king
Was his advantage, in no other thing:

If in his love more pleasure you did take,
Never let queen trust Briton for my sake.
Yet judge me not from modesty exempt,
That I another Phaeton’s charge attempt;

My mind, that thus your favours dare aspire,
Shows, that ’tis touch’d with a celestial fire:
If I do fault, the more is beauty’s blame,
When she herself is author of the same;

“All men to some one quality incline,”
Only to love is naturally mine.

Thou art by beauty famous, as by birth,
Ordain’d by Heav’n to cheer the drooping Earth :
Add faithful love unto your greater state,
And be alike in all things fortunate.

A king might promise more, I not deny,
But yet (by Heav’n) he lov’d not more than I.
And thus I leave, till time my faith approve,
I cease to write, but never cease to love.

Aficionados of old tyme history novelizations can also kick back with Owen Tudor: An Historical Romance.

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1495: William Stanley, Lord Chamberlain

3 comments February 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1495, the former Lord Chamberlain lost his head on Tower Hill for conspiring with the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

The politically nimble Stanleys — William and older brother Thomas — had adroitly navigated the Wars of the Roses with an uncanny talent for tacking to the quick-changing political winds.

Theirs had been a pivotal — and treacherous — intervention in the Battle of Bosworth Field, with William Stanley literally deciding the hand-to-hand encounter between his ostensible liege Richard III and the man who would that day become King Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch.

Lord [Thomas] Stanley took his station on one wing [of Richard III’s lines], and Sir William on the other, so that, thus disposed, they could flank either their own side or the opposed one. … the Stanleys, seizing the critical moment, wheeling round, joined the enemy, and fell on Richard’s flanks. This masterly manoeuvre struck dismay through the lines of Richard … His only hope appeared to be to make a desperate assault on Henry’s van, and, if possible, to reach and kill him on the spot. With this object … he broke into the midst of Henry’s main body, and catching sight of him, dashed forward, crying fantically, “Treason! treason! treason!” He killed Sir William Brandon, Henry’s standard-bearer, with his own hand; struck Sir John Cheyney from his horse; and springing forward on Henry, aimed a desperate blow at him; but Sir William Stanley, breaking in at that moment, surrounded Richard with his brave followers, who bore him to the ground by their numbers, and slew him. (Source)

For this service, Stanley enjoyed the lavish favors of the crown and an appointment as Lord Chamberlain, among other titles.

So it came as a surprise when an informant offered intelligence that one of such unassailable station had offered his services to the Flanders pretender Perkin Warbeck.

According to early 16th century Tudor court historian Polydore Vergil, Stanley was so far above suspicion that

at first [Henry] could not be brought to believe [informant Robert Clifford’s] words, but after sure proofs were shown him, then he ordered William to be arrested and put to the question. He denied nothing, but frankly confessed his guilt, if he had offended in any way. And they say his offence was this. When William and Robert were having a conversation concerning this Peter who falsely claimed to be Edward’s son, William announced he would never take up arms against the young man, if he knew for certain that he was indeed the son of Edward. This went to show that William was momentarily estranged from Henry out of anger, as happens, and hence these suspicions arose, to which were afterward added those things related by Robert. Meanwhile the king was doubtful what he should decide about William, and he weighed what counsel to take by considering outcomes. For he feared that by punishing the man he would offend Thomas Stanley, who was well deserving towards him. On the other hand, if he forgave the insult, he was afraid lest the others would attempt worse things, rendered bolder by that act of leniency. Therefore in the end he decided that severity should prevail, and so William was condemned of a capital crime and put to death.

They give this reason why William’s good will towards Henry later turned into malevolence, and likewise why the king’s affection for William was transformed into hatred. To omit the other favors they did each other from the beginning, in that battle in which he finally deprived King Richard of his life and his kingdom, when he, defended by only a few of his followers, was suddenly surrounded by Richard himself, so that his life was in immediate danger, William, sent with a strong band of soldiers by his brother Thomas, who had been sitting idle not far from the battlefield, came bearing quick and very timely aid and rescued him safe and sound from a slaughter. Richard was killed at the selfsame moment, as I have abundantly recounted in my preceding Book. This assuredly was the greatest benefit performed in human memory, by means of which Henry was freed from the fear of death and acquired a kingdom. For his part, as soon as Henry had gained the throne, not forgetful of this favor, which he freely remembered and spoke of, first made Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby, and then appointed William, loaded down with great gifts, his chamberlain and held him in the highest honor. But William, although he held a great place of friendship with the king, was more mindful of the favor he had conferred than that he received, and he still hoped, as the Gospel verse has it, to have more abundance, so that he put a low value on the rewards given him by the king. When Henry perceived these were cheap in his eyes, he began to be so angry that the both of them, their minds provoked, lost the fruit of their grace. Thus it often that happens that, because of an unjust valuation of meritorious deeds, great hostility often follows upon the conferral of great benefits.

Whether personal resentment or ambition really motivated Stanley is up for speculation; it surely appears remarkable that he would gamble his position on so doubtful a claimant as Warbeck. But then, Warbeck appears doubtful in retrospect; in the months to come, he would wreak considerable mischief on a crown that had not sat easy on a monarch’s head for many years.

Misplaced Yorkist loyalty also stands as a possible explanation, if one takes William Stanley’s guilt as a given.

Stanley copped to the charge of stating that “if he knew certainly that the young man [Warbeck] was the undoubted heir of King Edward IV, he would never fight or bear armour against him,” throwing him on the mercy of the king whose crown his arms had once assured.

Henry showed him no mercy, casting a dread pall over lingering Yorkists likewise disposed to entertain the young pretender’s aspirations and left the plotters “like sand without lime, ill bound together … not knowing who was faithful.” (Bacon) It also left Henry with Stanley’s colossal estate, confiscated to the crown by late lord’s attainder, from which the king generously contrived to pay his former chamberlain’s burial costs.

* There are some conflicting dates cited for William Stanley’s beheading, notably February 10, which is currently favored by Wikipedia. February 16 appears more broadly and credibly supported, but I have not been able to establish a determinative primary document.

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1302: Dante Alighieri condemned

6 comments March 10th, 2008 Jeffrey Fisher

(Thanks to Jeffrey Fisher [jeffreyfisher at me.com] for the guest post.)

On this day in 1302, the governing commune of the city of Florence condemned to death Dante Alighieri, statesman, philosopher, and above all, poet. Arguably the greatest mind of his generation, Dante is most famous for his authorship of the Divine Comedy, relating his journeys through, successively, hell, purgatory, and heaven.

Born in 1265 to a noble family of Florence that, while not the city’s most prominent family, had already seen several of his ancestors banished as a result of political turmoil, Dante could hardly have avoided becoming embroiled in public life had he even wanted to. In brief, a long-running struggle between pro-imperial (the so-called Holy Roman Empire) and pro-papal factions was finally won by the pro-papal forces, known as the Guelphs. Two decisive battles in 1289 established both Florence’s independence (particularly from their old nemesis, Pisa) and the rule of the Guelphs, Dante’s own party.

Dante is likely to have taken part in those battles and was active in city politics in the following decade, culminating in a turn in 1300 as prior (one of six key counsellors to the city, serving a two-month term). Florence prided itself on a tradition of democratic rule going back to the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1250.

Persona Non Grata

Giotto painted Dante prior to his exile — the oldest portrait of Dante known.

Unfortunately, by the time Dante took on the priorate, the old rivalries had reshaped themselves into new factions eerily parallel to their predecessors: the so-called “Black” Guelphs, who aligned themselves with the Pope (as of 1294, Boniface VIII), and “White” Guelphs, who took a more moderate political stance and saw themselves as defending an independent Florence from the Pope and his allies (namely, the Blacks).

Things got so bad that, at the time of Dante’s priorate, the city’s ruling body banished leaders of both sides in an effort to stabilize the city. The pope took the opportunity to send emissaries to Florence on the pretext of negotiating a peace. After more than a year of this maneuvering, the commune sent Dante and two others to have words with Boniface in Rome in 1301.

The Pope “invited” Dante to stay in Rome while his companions returned to Florence to try to bring the commune around. In the meantime, the Pope’s key man had got himself into Florence and helped the Blacks take power, whereupon they confiscated properties and levied fines.

Dante was ordered to appear before a tribunal to answer for his alleged crimes. When he did not show up, he was banished to two years of exile, permanently banned from holding city office, and ordered to pay a further fine of some five thousand florins–a staggering sum–within three days. When that did not happen, either (Dante was apparently in Siena, a short ways from Florence, when he heard this news), the commune confiscated all of his goods and condemned him to death by burning should he ever return.

Fortunately, there were others in Italy at the time who had more sense, but Dante spent the rest of his life–almost another twenty years–wandering from city to city with his sons. He was excluded from an amnesty in 1311, and when he refused the terms of another in 1315, his death sentence was not only reaffirmed, but extended to include his sons. Despite all this, he still held out hope of returning to Florence to be crowned as poet, declining to be so crowned in Bologna as little as a year or two before he died.

Art in Exile

It was over the course of that time in exile that Dante composed his political and philosophical works, together with what must be considered his single greatest contribution to letters, the three-volume Divina Commedia.

There is no way to do justice to any of these works, much less all of them, but in the present context it is worth noting that in three key works — the Commedia (Dante’s title is this simple), Il Convivio (or The Banquet), and De Monarchia (On Monarchy) — Dante develops a serious, even strikingly modern, religious political philosophy.

In contrast to many of his religious contemporaries, taking issue with the great St. Augustine even as he espouses positions derived from Thomas Aquinas, Dante argues in favor of a strong central secular authority, specifically an emperor, and even more particularly, that this authority should be understood by Christians as co-equal with, not subordinate to, the spiritual authority of the Church: “two suns,” he says, rather than the sun and the moon (which merely reflects the light of the sun).

Indeed, he held out an almost messianic hope for the return of an emperor who would restore peace and order. He even wrote public letters to the Emperor Henry VII requesting that he restore justice in Florence (and this is surely a factor in the commune’s treatment of him with respect to amnesty). When Henry died before accomplishing these things, much of Dante’s hope for imperial cohesion died along with him.

(Consider this Open Yale Courses podcast series for more Dante appreciation.)

He Knew Beatrice All Along

It would be nothing short of travesty to write anything of this length about Dante and not mention Beatrice, the love of his life from the age of nine, when he first laid eyes on her, to the day he died in exile. Beatrice, who only spoke to Dante once and who died an early death, directly inspired his poetic-explicatory work, the Vita Nuova (New Life), an exemplar of the dolce stil nuovo (“sweet new style”) movement in poetry. As a character in the Commedia, Beatrice sends Virgil to rescue Dante from a dark forest in the Inferno, and guides him through the spheres of Heaven in Paradiso.

“Dante and Beatrice in the Constellation of Gemini and the Sphere of Flame”, one of William Blake‘s (uncompleted) series of watercolors illustrating Dante’s magnum opus.

Despite two decades of exile, Dante never gave up hope of returning to Florence in his lifetime, and clearly hoped (perhaps “expected” is more accurate) to be united with his other true love in the next. His body remains in Ravenna, where he died and was buried in 1321.

Florentines wish they could have him back.

Part of the Themed Set: The Written Word.

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