Friday, September 05, 2014

Question from Jane - Executions of husbands and wives

If both husband and wife were to be executed by beheading, would they be executed at the same time or not? Would it be up to King to decide that?


Roland H. said...

Lady Jane Grey and her husband, for example, were executed separately.

Foose said...

That's the only example I came across.

They were executed separately, Guildford on Tower Hill and Jane within the Tower precincts. Apparently they were originally supposed to be executed together. Here it becomes interesting and may address your query. I can't find any original sources on the reasons for this, but the secondary sources are divided among those saying that the Privy Council made the decision on grounds of "compassion," because they feared a "commotion" among the people at the shocking spectacle of spouses executed together, or because Jane alone was accorded the privilege of private execution because she was of royal blood. Sometimes Queen Mary is identified as the prime mover in the decision.

But again, I can't track a contemporary source. Maybe Ph.D. Historian, an expert on Jane Grey, might weigh in ...?

Foose said...

Just a note - the earliest report I could find on the Privy Council separating the location of the Dudley executions was in John Nichols' Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, written in the 18th century, but considered a valuable source for the Tudor period:

"It had been intended to execute the Lady Jane and Lord Guilford together on the same scaffold on Tower-hill; but the council, dreading the compassion of the people for their youth, beauty, innocence, and noble birth, changed their orders, and gave directions that she should be beheaded within the verge of the Tower."

The editors to this edition (Elizabeth Goldring, Elizabeth Clarke, Jayne Elisabeth Archer, Faith Eales) however footnote this statement with the following:

"Although this interpretation was widely reported by early modern commentators, it is more likely that Jane, due to her royal blood, was executed within the walls of the Tower."

I don't know whose these "early modern commentators" are - actual Tudor sources, or moderns commenting on the period? I checked all the sources I knew of for Queen Jane - The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Queen Mary, Foxe, Machyn, Wriothesley, Holinshed, and nada.

Candace said...

I know this is an old thread, but I just wanted to add that Tudor literature of the 1700s and 1800s, the Victorian era especially, often romanticized stories and obscured fact with fiction, and it's from there that a lot of our modern-day perceptions of various figures as "good" or "evil" (i.e. Frances Brandon as a monstrous woman who regularly beat and repressed her hapless, innocent daughter and eventually sent her to the block through her ruthless ambition) originate. Also other stories, such as that Guildford and Jane were in love, despite being in an arranged marriage for about two months before being arrested, or that Guildford carved Jane's name into the walls of his cell, seem to have started out as romantic embellishments and eventually accepted as "fact". So I would take interpretations like this with a grain of salt.

That being said, the order and combinations in which prisoners were executed could be used to send a message. Thomas Cromwell, for instance, Henry VIII's former minister, was executed right before Walter Hungerford, who among other things was accused of buggery (sodomy & other homosexual activity). The fact that Cromwell, who was once Henry's most trusted adviser, was executed alongside a commoner who had committed some of the most unnnatural crimes to 16th-century eyes may have been adding insult to injury, to highlight how low he had fallen. Obviously, this is a very different situation from the one mentioned above, but it does show that the permutations and combinations of executions could have a subtle meaning.