1307: Murcod Ballagh, beheaded

Add comment April 1st, 2015 Headsman

“In the yeare 1307 the first of Aprill,” Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland records, “Murcod Ballagh was beheaded neere to Merton by sir David Caunton knight.”

First published in 1577, this document — heavily mined by Shakespeare for his histories — is silent as to the further particulars of the beheading. But the accompanying image depicting the execution surprisingly presents a guillotine-like device being employed for the task.

As John Wilson Croker’s History of the Guillotine observes, this one illustration 270 years after the fact scarcely suffices to establish that a guillotine precursor really was in use in Ireland in the first years of the 14th century. Were that the case, this might be the earliest quote-unquote “documented” execution by a beheading-machine.

(Executions in Halifax, Scotland, can be sourced as early as the 1280s, but it is not known if the famed Halifax Gibbet was in use at that early date.)

But it does at least establish the authors’ awareness of such technology — perhaps by familiarity with the Scottish Maiden, or perhaps by having caught wind of similar gadgets in France and Italy.

“This mode of execution was common on the Continent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” Croker concludes with a bit of overstatement. “And yet had passed into such entire desuetude and oblivion as to have appeared as a perfect novelty when proposed by Dr. Guillotin.”

“This is certainly a striking illustration of the proverb that there is nothing new under the sun.”

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guillotine,History,Ireland,Maiden

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1471: Thomas Neville, the Bastard Faulconbridge

2 comments September 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1471, Lancastrian commander Thomas Neville was beheaded in the War of the Roses.

“The bastard Faulconbridge” (Fauconberg, Falconbridge) got his illegitimacy from dad, the Earl of Kent, and like William Neville, young Thomas played both sides of the aisle during the decades-long dynastic struggle.

Thomas made his most famous mark in May of 1471, leading a Lancastrian column to meet up at London with another led by Margaret of Anjou. Unfortunately for Neville, Margaret’s army was trounced at the Battle of Tewkesbury, leaving the Bastard on his own.

Still, he made a solo go of attacking London — “stirring of coles & proud port,” in the judgment of Holinshed, “with hautinesse of hart & violence of hand thin|king to beare downe the people, as an innudation or flowing of water streams dooth all before it: yet he came short of his purpose, & pulled vpon his owne pate finall destruction: though he thought himselfe a man ordeined to glorie.”

Thomas Neuill, bastard sonne to that valiant cap|teine the lord Thomas Fauconbridge (who had late|lie before beene sent to the sea by the earle of War|wike, and after fallen to practise pirasie) had spoiled diuerse merchants ships, Portingals and others, in breach of the ancient amitie that long had continued betwixt the realms of England and Portingale; and furthermore, had now got to him a great number of mariners, out of all parts of the land, and manie traitors and misgouerned people from each quarter of the realme, beside diuerse also foorth of other coun|tries that delighted in theft and robberies, meaning to worke some exploit against the king.

And verelie, his puissance increased dailie, for ha|uing béene at Calis, and brought from thence into Kent manie euill disposed persons, he began to ga|ther his power in that countrie, meaning (as was thought) to attempt some great and wicked enter|prise. After the kings comming to Couentrie, he receiued aduertisements, that this bastard was come before London, with manie thousands of men by land, and also in ships by water, purposing to rob and spoile the citie. Manie Kentishmen were willing to assist him in this mischieuous enterprise, and other were forced against their wils to go with him, or else to aid him with their substance and monie, insomuch that within a short time, he had got togither sixtéene or seuentene thousand men, as they accompted them|selues.

With these he came before the citie of London the twelfe of Maie, in the quarrell (as he pretended) of king Henrie, whome he also meant to haue out of the Tower, & to restore him againe vnto his crowne & roiall dignitie …

The attack gave London a fright, but was eventually repelled; the Bastard fled town as King Edward IV, fresh from Tewkesbury, approached.* He seems to have copped a pardon, but he was beheaded in unclear circumstances (Holinshed says, after resuming his career in piracy — but royal perfidy seems equally likely), and his head shipped to London Bridge for pike-topping duty.


A distant spinoff of the dynasty is rumored to have founded the Falcon Crest estate.

There’s a bastard Faulconbridge in the Shakespeare canon; oddly enough he’s not found in the Henry VI series … but as the central character in the rarely-performed King John. Apart from the name, this fictional Bastard Philip Faulconbridge doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with our man.

* Just hours after resuming London, Edward’s party murdered the theretofore imprisoned Yorkist claimant that Neville had meant to liberate, Henry VI. Henry was wed to Margaret of Anjou, truly an ill-starred marriage.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1415: Bardolph, Hal’s friend

5 comments October 24th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1415, on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, the young English King Henry V approved the execution of his onetime boon companion Bardolph in William Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The fictional Bardolph had been the ruddy-nosed friend of Henry’s in the Henry IV plays (Part 1, Part 2), where the hard-drinking, rabble-rousing young prince is a disappointment to the father who fears his heir will never merit the throne.

By Henry V, the boy has become the ruler, and launched an audacious incursion into France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Hal’s willingness to own the rough decisions of statecraft — in this case having his friend put to death further to his win-French-hearts-and-minds policy — is part of his coming of age as Henry V.

Whether that means Hal’s maturation into regal dignity or the corruption of his humanity by power is up to the reader.

KING

How now Fluellen, cam’st thou from the Bridge?

FLUELLEN

I, so please your Maiestie: The Duke of Exeter
ha’s very gallantly maintain’d the Pridge; the French is
gone off, looke you, and there is gallant and most praue
passages: marry, th’ athuersarie was haue possession of
the Pridge, but he is enforced to retyre, and the Duke of
Exeter is Master of the Pridge: I can tell your Maiestie,
the Duke is a praue man

KING

What men haue you lost, Fluellen?

FLUELLEN

The perdition of th’ athuersarie hath beene very
great, reasonnable great: marry for my part, I thinke the
Duke hath lost neuer a man, but one that is like to be executed
for robbing a Church, one Bardolph, if your Maiestie
know the man: his face is all bubukles and whelkes,
and knobs, and flames a fire, and his lippes blowes at his
nose, and it is like a coale of fire, sometimes plew, and
sometimes red, but his nose is executed, and his fire’s
out

KING

Wee would haue all such offendors so cut off:
and we giue expresse charge, that in our Marches through
the Countrey, there be nothing compell’d from the Villages;
nothing taken, but pay’d for: none of the French
vpbrayded or abused in disdainefull Language; for when
Leuitie and Crueltie play for a Kingdome, the gentler
Gamester is the soonest winner.

This is Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version of the scene, with the commoner Bardolph well off-camera:

… and Kenneth Branagh’s more pathos-laden 1989 interpretation, with the king wavering a moment as he locks eyes with his doomed subject, and flashing back to bygone scenes of conviviality before delivering his troop the stern lesson of his friend’s strangling:

Although Bardolph himself and his prior relationship with his sovereign are fiction, the action of the scene actually proceeds from reality. Shakespeare has (as is his wont) cribbed Holinshed, who relates that Henry’s army was under strict orders not to pillage the countryside, and observed that discipline to a man —

except one, which was, that a souldiour tooke a pix out of a church, for which he was apprehended, and the king not once remooved [i.e., he halted] till the box was restored, and the offendor strangled. The people of the countries thereabout, hearing of such zeale in him, to the maintenance of justice, ministered to his armie victuals, and other necessaries, although by open proclamation so to doo they were prohibited.*

* As quoted in the very apt 1992 “Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth and the Law of War” by Theodor Meron, American Journal of International Law, vol. 86, no. 1.

Part of the Daily Double: Agincourt.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Fictional,France,Guest Writers,Hanged,Known But To God,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Political Expedience,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Theft,Wartime Executions

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