Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 27 February 2015
Hanging or beheading - you choose
It was a bit sad to see the last episode of 'Wolf Hall' last night, but since it finished on a high with Henry embracing Thomas and showing no sign of wanting to smite his head off, we are probably in for a second series. Having not read the book, I don't know though.
The execution of Anne Boleyn seemed to be truthfully recorded in every detail, right down to her final speech, in which she says that Henry had treated her very well (so far), was a kind and considerate husband and she will not have a bad thing said against him, or words to that effect.
I find it amazing that all those Highwaymen etc. found it in themselves to be so magnanimous and eloquent on the scaffold, just before being killed. Many of them received ovations and took bows before the rope was put round their necks.
One little consideration that Henry showed to Anne at the last was the shipping-over of a French swordsman to do the deed. The Frenchman was renowned for his skill and efficiency, whereas the English headsman at the time seemed to be incapable of removing a head (using block and axe) in one blow, often botching it so badly that it took three or four strokes with the victim moving around and complaining of their discomfort. Nobles - especially Queens - were executed by beheading, which was thought to be a more dignified and less painful death than being hanged. I'm not sure I could choose between the two.
Anne's Frenchman had a few tricks up his sleeve, and the first was to dress as a nobleman witness so as not to scare her unduly with a bare chest and black mask.
Only when her blindfold was put on (by her band of loyal maidservants) did he reach down and extract the sharp sword from under the straw of the scaffold where it had been hidden with her sensitivities in mind.
He then took up position behind her and waited for her to put her arm down as she fiddled with her hairstyle. Then - and this really was clever - he shouted in a loud voice for someone to 'fetch his sword!'.
At this, she looked up a little and he took off her head before she knew it was about to happen.
The most inept executioner in England around that time was a man called Jack Ketch. Pirates of the Caribbean borrowed that name for their films.
At one execution, Ketch finally managed to remove a head from the victim, and then he bent down to pick it up to show to the crowd by dangling it by the hair. He fumbled and dropped it.
Some wag in the crowd of onlookers shouted out, "Butterfingers!"