Awful Executions Through History

Political correctness reared its head in the 19th century, when the English parliament decided, in response to public demand, passed a law banning all public executions. One section of the public, however, was outraged, because a good execution, along with pies and pints of beer, had always made for a good outing. Many years earlier, when executions took place at Tyburn all the time, the busiest gallows in England had been made to accommodate 21 victims at once, and execution days drew enormous crowds

Taken to the Tyburn Tree, prisoners from Newgate jail, sited where the Old Bailey now stands, would all get scented gifts from the several thousand spectators on hand. aA final, free drink was provided at the Mason’s Arms public house, still open today. Hanging, however, was not the only method of execution, and some were far more grisly.


Being boiled alive was a quite legal and acceptable method of execution in 1531, when Henry VIII was king, his having passed the relevant law that very year. One man who suffered this awful fate was Richard Rouse, boiled alive at Smithfield market in April, 1532. He had been cook to the Bishop of Rochester, found guilty of killing a dozen people in ridiculously trying to poison his boss. Another killer to suffer this fate was maid-servant Margaret Davy, in 1542, for poisoning people she had lived with.

In 1685 the executioner of Charles II’s eldest son was Jack Ketch. Convicted of treason and sentenced to death, this poor man was subjected one of the most botched executions in recorded history.

From Wikipedia: “The king took the unusual step of allowing his nephew an audience, despite having no intention of extending a pardon to him. The prisoner unsuccessfully implored his mercy, and even offered to convert to Catholicism, but to no avail. He was beheaded by Jack Ketch on 15 July 1685, on Tower Hill. Shortly beforehand, Bishops Turner of Ely and Ken of Bath and Wells visited the condemned man to prepare him for eternity, but withheld the Eucharist as he refused to acknowledge that either his rebellion or his relationship with Lady Wentworth had been sinful. It is said that before laying his head to the block Monmouth specifically bade Ketch finish him at one blow, saying he had mauled others before. Disconcerted, Ketch did indeed inflict multiple blows with his axe, the prisoner rising up reproachfully the while – a ghastly sight that shocked the witnesses, drawing forth execrations and groans. Some say a knife was at last employed to sever the head from the twitching body. Sources vary; some claim eight blows, the official Tower of London fact sheet says it took five blows, while Charles Spencer, in his book Blenheim, states it at seven.”

Bizarrely, history relates that the king, having no official portrait of his child, had the head sewn back onto the torso, so a sitting for such a royalportrait could take place.

French watchmaker Robert Hubert confessed to starting the Great Fire of London in 1666, for which he hanged from the Tyburn Tree. It is now known that he could not have committed the crime, not having even been in the city on the day of the fire. It is widely believed that this disabled man, who was mentally challenged, was the unwitting victim of an anti-Catholic conspiracy. Burning down even a single building, in those days, not to say over 13,000 of them, was punishable by death, remaining so through to 1861. It is now thought the confession was tortured from him.


The Scottish sailor who, through ill luck and misfortune turned to piracy, becoming known as the notorious Captain Kidd, was also to suffer an ignominious fate, when captured and put on trial in 1700. The whole case was a real sensation in the London society of the time, and it was felt that an example needed to be made. He was, as pirate tradition would have it, hanged from the yardarm at Wapping Stairs, where three tides were allowed to wash over the body before it spent twenty years hanging in chains at Tilbury docks.

Before 1772, wealthy people found guilty of capital crimes could elect to undergo ‘peine forte et dure’ , ‘hard and forceful punishment’ in French, which meant allowing themselves to be slowly squashed to death under a wooden board laden with heavy wieghts, suffering this hideous death because it was the only way they could avoid having their property confiscated by the Crown.

Roman Catholic Martyr St Margaret Clitherow, suffered this fate March 25, 1586, for harboring, at the time outlawed catholic priests. 15 minutes, beneath 700 pounds of dead wieght, was the time it took for her to die. Other victims of this cruel killing wereMajor Strangways , in1658, and John Weekes , in 1731, both of whom had refused to plead guilty, despite the torture, being killed by merciful onlookers, who sat on the boards to finish them off.

Henry, “Little Lord” Fauntleroy had the distinction of seeing the largest ever crowd for a public execution, on November 30th, 1824, outside Newgate to witness his slaying. 100,000 people were baying for his death. His crime had been to defraud the Bank of England in the sum of £250,000, the equivalent of perhaps £40 million today. The thing that really got the crowd incensed was his utter indifference to the way he had squandered the money, living a high life most could only ever dream of. Going cheerfully to meet his maker, he was the last person ever hanged in the UK for the crime of forgery. Some methods of execution, like the death oh a thousand cuts, shown below, were even more brutal, but the sad fact is that people always bay to watch. What perverse creatures humans are.