1592: Roger Ashton

Add comment June 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1592, Roger Ashton was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

Ashton is a minor martyr on the Catholic rolls, one of many in the age who (as Edmund Campion put it) were called by determinedly Protestant English crown to “enjoy your Tyburn.”

We’ll let the Catholic Encyclopedia take it from here.

He was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, 23 June, 1592. His indictment is not preserved. Challoner says it was for procuring a dispensation from Rome to marry his second cousin. Later evidence, while confirming this, shows that it was not the only cause.

In 1585 he had gone to serve in the under the Earl of Leicester against the Spaniards. Sir William Stanley having been placed on guard over the town of Deventer, which had revolted from the Spaniards, he, with the assistance of Ashton, gave the town back to Spain and went over to their side (29 January, 1587).*

Cardinal Allen published a “Defence” of this act** in the form of a letter addressed to one “R.A.”, whose letter to the Cardinal prefixed and under these initials it seems natural to recognize our martyr. Stanley next entrusted to Ashton the difficult task of bringing over his wife from Ireland, but she was already under arrest, and he is said to have been sent Ashton to Rome. At the close of the year 1587 he returned to England and was apprehended in Kent with the marriage dispensation already mentioned. In January, 1588, he was in the Tower, where he lay ill towards the close of the year, when he was transferred to easier confinement in the Marshalsea. From this he managed to escape and fled to his brothers in Lancashire.

He was seized later, at Shields near Newcastle, while trying to escape over the seas. Transferred thence to Durham and York, he was tried and sentenced at Canterbury, and died “very resolute”, making profession of his faith and “… pitied of the people”, though the infamous Topcliffe tried to stir up ill-feeling against him by enlarging on his services to Spain.


Executions at Tyburn in the time of Elizabeth. From Tyburn Tree.

* This event — an English commander betraying a city to the enemy during wartime (in fact, two English commanders, as Rowland York (or Yorke) handed the Spanish the fortress of Zutphen on the same day) — naturally raised a scandal in 1587.

Although this treacherous William Stanley is not to be confused with the contemporaneous fellow-noble of the same name who has a horse in the “who really wrote Shakespeare?” race, Lily Bess Campbell argues that the imprint of events in Deventer and the subsequent volley of pamphleteering informs a discourse of royal prerogative in the Bard’s Henry V, when the disguised monarch goes slumming with the common soldiery on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.

BATES

… wee
know enough, if wee know wee are the Kings Subiects:
if his Cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes
the Cryme of it out of vs

WILLIAMS

But if the Cause be not good, the King himselfe
hath a heauie Reckoning to make, when all those
Legges, and Armes, and Heads, chopt off in a Battaile,
shall ioyne together at the latter day, and cry all, Wee dyed
at such a place, some swearing, some crying for a Surgean;
some vpon their Wiues, left poore behind them;
some vpon the Debts they owe, some vpon their Children
rawly left: I am afear’d, there are few dye well, that dye
in a Battaile: for how can they charitably dispose of any
thing, when Blood is their argument? Now, if these men
doe not dye well, it will be a black matter for the King,
that led them to it; who to disobey, were against all proportion
of subiection

Henry replies that soldiers should look after their conscience on their own time and obey the prince of the realm in wartime. No doubt Queen Elizabeth approved.

if they dye vnprouided, no more
is the King guiltie of their damnation, then hee was before
guiltie of those Impieties, for the which they are
now visited. Euery Subiects Dutie is the Kings, but
euery Subiects Soule is his owne.

(As long as we’re digressing with Shakespeare and anti-Stratfordian candidates, here’s an argument that the jittery national mood post-Deventer and pre-routing the Spanish Armada — the time when Mary, Queen of Scots lost her head — makes a case for dating the Henry plays to that period, which in turn makes a case for Edward de Vere as their true author. Make of that what you will.)

** The obedience due a sovereign as opposed to the obedience due to an abstract standard of Right is a lasting modern question, so it’s no surprise that Cardinal Allen’s justification has a modern ring.

For that to revolt, is of itselfe, lawful or unlawful, honorable or otherwise, according to the justice, or injustice of the cause, or difference of the person, from or to whom the revolt is made … Whensoever thou art armed, & in readinesse for battayle, let this be thy first cogitation, that thy very corporal streingth itselfe, is the gift of God: whereby thou shalt stil be put in minde, never to use the gift of God, against God him selfe, that gave it thee.

Presumably he wouldn’t have supported the “only following orders” defense.

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1495: William Stanley, Lord Chamberlain

2 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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