Category Archives: Monarchy

Court Monarchy Woodcut

Woodcut: Charles I

Lovely woodcut of Charles I returning home from Spain to the great joy of his father, James I, and the general population. I love the little details, like the hats being thrown in the air, the pointy spurs, and the man fetching celebratory ale from the tavern. It illustrates the text The High and Mighty Prince Charles, Prince of Wales &c, The manner of his arrival at the Spanish court… [and] His happy returne and heartie welcome (1623)


Death Execution Monarchy

A handkircher out of the King’s pocket

This post comes from 1649 and concerns the dying confession purportedly made by the hangman who dispatched Charles I.

THE CONFESSION OF THE HANGMAN CONCERNING His beheading his late Majesty the King of Great Brittain (upon his Death bed) who was buried on Thursday night last, in white Chappell Church-yard, with the manner thereof.

Upon Wednesday last (being the 20. of this instant June, 1649.) Richard Brandon, the late Executioner and Hang-man, who beheaded his late Majesty, King of Great Brittain, departed this life. But during the time of His sicknesse, his Conscience was much troubled, and exceedingly perplexed in mind, yet little shew of repentance, for remission of his sins, and by-past transgressions, which had so much power and influence upon him, that he seemed to live in them and they in him. And upon Sunday last, a young man of his acquaintance going in to visite him, fell into discourse, asked him how he did, and whether he was not troubled in conscience for cutting off of the Kings head?

He replyed, yes! by reason that (upon the time of his tryall, and at the denouncing of Sentence against him) he had taken a vow and protestation, Wishing God to perish him body and soul, if ever he appeared on the scaffold to do the act or lift up his hand against him. Further acknowledging, That he was no sooner entred upon the scaffold, but immediatly he fell a trembling, and hath ever since continued in the like agony.

He likewise confessed, that he had 30. pounds for his pains, all paid him in half Crowns, within an hour after the blow was given, and that he had an Orenge stuck full of Cloves, and a handkircher out of the Kings pocket, so soon as he was carryed off from the Scaffold, for which Orenge, he was proffered 20. shillings by a Gentleman in Whitehall, but refused the same, and afterwards sold it for tens in Rose-mary Lane.

About 6 of the clock at night, he returned home to his wife living in Rose-mary lane, and gave her the money, saying, That it was the deerest money that ever he earn’d in his life, for it would cost him his life. Which propheticall words were soon made manifest; for it appeared, that ever since he hath been in a most sad condition, and upon the Almighties first scourging of him with the Rod of meeknesse, and the friendly admonition of divers friends, for the calling of him to repentance, yet he persisted on in his vicious Vices, and would not hearken thereunto, but lay raging and swearing, and still pointing at one thing or another, which he conceived to appear visible before him.

About three dayes before he dy’d he lay speechlesse, uttering many a sigh and heavy groan, and so in a most desparate manner departed from his bed of sorrow. For the buriall whereof, a great store of Wines were sent in, by the Sheriff of the City of London, and a great multitude of people stood wayting to see his Corps carryed to the Church-yard, some crying out, Hang him Rogue, bury him in the Dung-hill; others pressing upon him, saying, They would quarter him, for executing of the King: Insomuch, that the Church-wardens and Masters of the Parish were fain to come for the suppressing of them, and (with great difficulty) he was at last carryed to White-chappell Church-yard, having (as it is said) a bunch of Rosemary at each end of the coffin, on the top thereof, with a Rope tyed crosse from one end to the other.

And a merry conceited Cook living at the sign of the Crown, having a black Fan (worth the value of 30 shillings) took a resolution to rent the same in pieces, and to every feather tyed a piece of pack-thread dy’d in black Ink, and gave them to divers persons, who (in derision) for a while, wore them in their hats.

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Monarchy Tower Of London Women

I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower

Elizabeth I Coronation Portrait. 
Copy c.1600-1610 by an unknown painter of a lost original of 1559. 
Currently on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the desperate letter written by Elizabeth in one of her darkest hours to her sister, Queen Mary, in response to the order that Elizabeth be committed to the Tower of London. As everyone knows, the twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth survived the Tower, and subsequently went on to rule England for forty-five years.

March I6, I554

If any ever did try this old saying, ‘that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath,’ I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it to me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand, that I be not not condemned without answer and due proof, which it seems that I now am; for without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower, a place more wanted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I desire it not, yet in the face of all this realm it appears proved. I pray to God I may die the shamefullest death that any ever died, if I may mean any such thing; and to this present hour I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person anyway, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower, if it be possible; if not, before I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard of many in my time cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray to God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known. Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this truth I will stand in till my death.Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,


I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself.

 The original letter (held in PRO State Papers Domestic Mary I ii/4/2, fol. 3)

Further reading: Elizabeth I: Collected Works, eds. Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller, Mary Beth Rose (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
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Crime Monarchy Murder Witchcraft

They should kiss the Devil’s buttocks


Today’s post comes from a contemporaneous account of the North Berwick Witch Trials, which took place in Scotland in 1591-2. The case was an overnight sensation since it featured the attempted murder of King James VI (later James I of England) by witchcraft.


Agnis Sampson, which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliriud house before the Kings Maiestie and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the persuasions which the Kings maiestie used to her with the rest of his counsell, might not provoke or induce her to confesse any thing, but [she] stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge. Whereupon they caused her to be conveied awaye to prison, there to receive such torture as hath been lately provided for witches in that country.

By due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Devill doth generally marke them with a privie marke. The Witches have confessed themselves that the Divell doth lick them with his tung in some privy part of their bodie before he doth receive them to be his servants, which marke commonly is given them under the haire in some part of their bodye, whereby it may not easily be found out or seene, although they be searched. Generally, so long as the marke is not seene by those which search them, the parties that hath the marke will never confesse any thing. By special commandment this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shaven off in eache parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen [twisted] with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, being a paine most greevous, which she continued almost an hour, during which time she would not confesse any thing untill the Divels marke was found upon her privities, Then she immediately confessed whatsoever was demanded of her, and justifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches.

The saide Agnis Tompson was after brought againe before the Kings Maiestie and his Counsell, and being examined of the meetings and detestable dealings of those witches, she confessed that upon the night of Allhallows Eve last, she was accompanied as well with the persons aforesaide, as also with a great many other witches, to the number of two hundred. And that all they together went by Sea each one in a Riddle or Cive, and went in the same very substantially with Flaggons of wine, making merrie and drinking to the kerke of North Barrick in Lowthian, and that after they had landed, tooke handes on the land and danced this reill or short dance, singing all with one voice

Commer goe ye before, commer goe ye,
Gif ye will not goe before, commer let me

Agnis Tompson confessed that the Divell being then at North Barrick Kerke attending their comming in the habit or likenes of a man, and seeing that they tarried over-long, he at their comming enjoyned them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his Buttockes, in signe of duetye to him: which being put over the Pulpit barre, everye one did as he had enjoyned them: and having made his ungodly exhortations, wherein he did greatlye enveighe against the King of Scotlond, he received their oathes for their good and true service towards him, and departed: which done, they returned to Sea, and so home againe.

The witches demanded of the Divel why he did beare such hatred to the King, who answered, by reason the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the worlde: all which their confessions and depositions are still extant upon record. Agnis Sampson confessed before the Kings Maiestie sundrye thinges which were so miraculous and strange that his Maiestie saide they were all extreame lyars, wherat she answered, she would not wishe his Maiestie to suppose her words to be false, but rather to beleeve them. And thereupon, taking his Maiestie a little aside, she declared unto him the verye wordes which passed betweene the Kings Maiestie and his Queene at Upslo in Norway the first night of their mariage. Where at the Kinges Maiestie wondered greatlye, and swore by the living God, that he believed that all the Divels in hell could not have discovered the same: acknowledging her words to be most true, and therefore gave the more credit to the rest.

Agnis Tompson, by the Divels persuasion should have intended and put in execution the Kings Maiesties death in this manner: She confessed that she tooke a blacke Toade, and did hang the same up by the heeles, three daies, and collected and gathered the venome as it dropped and fell in an Oister shell, and kept the same venome close covered, until she should obtaine any parte or peece of linen cloth, that had appertained to the Kings Maiestie, and shirt, handkercher, napkin or any other thing which she practised to obtaine. And the said Agnis Tompson by her depositions since her apprehension saith, that if she had obtained any one peece of linen cloth which the King had worne and fouled, she had bewitched him to death, and put him to such extraordinary paines, as if he had beene lying upon sharp thornes and endes of Needles.

Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Maiestie was in Denmarke, she tooke a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each parte of the Cat, the cheefest partes of a dead man, and severall joyntes of his body, and that in the night following the saide Cat was conveyed into the midst of the sea by all these witches sayling in their riddles or Cives as is aforesaide, and so left the saide Cat right before the Towne of Lieth in Scotland. This done, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater hath not beene seene: which tempest was the cause of the perrishing of a Boate or vessell comming over from the towne of Brunt Island to the towne of Lieth, wherein was sundrye jewelles and riche giftes, which should have been presented to the now Queen of Scotland.

Againe it is confessed that the said christened Cat was the cause that the Kinges Maiesties Ship at his coming forth of Denmarke had a contrary winde to the rest of his Ships, which thing was most strange and true, as the Kings Maiestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the Shippes had a faire and good winde, then was the winde contrarye and altogether against his Maiestie: and further the saide witche declared, that his Maiestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their intentions.

As is clear from the account, Agnes Sampson was tortured in prison prior to her confession. She was probably forced to wear a scold’s bridle – an iron device which was fitted over the head and had sharp clamps which crushed the tongue, and sometimes spikes which poked into the face. She was also deprived of sleep, chained to the wall of her cell, and abused. It was only after extreme torture that Agnes confessed to witchcraft. She was eventually strangled and burned alive for her supposed crimes. Estimates suggest that up to four thousand people in Scotland were executed for witchcraft through the late sixteenth and seventeenth century.

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