If life is a drama, then for some men and women their most noteworthy moment on the stage has been at their unwilling exit. If Anne Boleyn’s memory lives on it is because her head was lost, and the same fate ensures Charles I a place unique among English monarchs.
The formal and deliberate taking of life has always aroused a fascination in those who have crowded in upon the scaffold or devoured the reports of dying speeches and dying moments, and provokes a morbid curiosity to this day.
In this study of execution and the English experience, Stephen Banks examines the fate of witches, gentlemen traitors and learned heretics whose names have long been remembered, but he also considers the victim of the majority of executions – from poor wretches who had stolen a few shillings, to hardened criminals who met the same end.
If the manner of death and the fortitude with which it was met varied, still the audience never tired of pushing and paying for the performance.
As this perceptive study shows, execution holds an important place in cultural and social history and its anecdotes and its atrocities offer novel insights into the nature of the English in the age of execution.