Misery of The King's Executioner

A man weeps, a woman faints as the head of Charles I is held aloft: a German engraving from 1649
A man weeps, a woman faints as the head of Charles I is held aloft: a German engraving from 1649

by Ray Setterfield

June 20, 1649Charles I was sentenced to death in 1649 for what the High Court of Justice described as his tyrannical rule as King of England. The monarch’s head was chopped off in a public execution that gratified the anti-royalists but appalled large sections of the population who held steadfastly to a belief in the “divine right of kings.”

Feelings ran so high that, to protect his identity, the executioner wore a mask as well as a wig and false beard. However, Richard Brandon held the post of Common Hangman of London at the time and is widely believed to have been the royal executioner.

After he himself died on this day the pamphlet reproduced here was published posthumously:

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.

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 exceeding∣y 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 Orange stuck full of Cloves, and a handkircher out of the Kings pocket, so soon as he was carryed off from the Scaffold, for which Orange, he was proffered 20 shillings by a Gentleman in Whitehall, but refused the same.

About 6 of the clock at night, he returned home to his wife 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 swear∣ing, 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.

Thus have I given thee an exact account and perfect relation of the life and death of Richard Brandon, to the end, that the World may be convinc’d of those calumnious speches, and erroneous suggestions, which are dayly spit from the mouth of Envy, against divers persons of great worth and eminency, by casting an Odium upon them, for the executing of the King; it being now made manifest, that the aforesaid Executioner was the only man that gave the farall blow.

One thing I had almost forgotten, which may give some satisfaction to the Reader, viz. That a little before the death of the aforesaid Richard Brandon, he being in some discours with a neighbour, touching his executing of the King, said, That euen at the very point of time when he was to give the blow, a great pain & ache took him round the neck, and hath ever since continued, and that he never slept quietly in mind saying, that his Majesties denying to forgive him, when he fell down upon his knees unto him, hath very much troubled his conscience, and that he was afraid to walk along the streets, or to go to his bed and sleep without a candle burning.

The other fellow that was upon the Scaffold, that went in the name of his man, was one Ralph Jones a Rag-man, who liveth in Rosemary Lane; and he who now takes his place (as Executioner) is one William Loe, a Dust carryer, and cleaner of the Dunghils.

Published: June 19, 2019

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