The principal place of execution, normally by beheading, for the traitors, martyrs, who have been imprisoned in the Tower. About 125 people in all have been known to be officially executed here from 1388, Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to Richard 11 to 1747, the Jacobite Lord Lovat.
However the first deaths were in 1381 when during The Peasants Revolt the mob got into the Tower and dragged out Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lord Treasurer Robert Hales, John Legge, a Sergeant at Arms and notorious collector of taxes and John of Gaunt’s physician who were praying in St John’s Chapel
Edward IV erected the first permanent scaffold, which led to clashes with the City authorities who resented it being used as a permanent execution site as they would derive no benefit from the crowds who flocked to see executions. Edward granted the monopoly to the city and so when prisoners were led out by the Lieutenant they were handed over to the City sheriffs at the gate of Tower, and a receipt was given to the royal officer. The last deaths here were in 1780.
After Lovat’s death a gallows stood on the spot and the last to be hanged were 2 prostitutes, Mary Roberts and Charlotte Gardiner, and a one armed soldier, William McDonald, arrested during the Gordon Riots for leading an attack by a drunken mob on the tavern of a foreign Roman Catholic. Pillory and Stocks were also on the site at times.
Many spectators came to witness these events. At Monmouth’s execution the executioner Jack Ketch was exhorted by Monmouth to strike cleanly such was Ketch’s reputation. The first blow glanced off his head and the Duke struggled and rose from the block to look reproachfully at Ketch before sinking down on the block once more. Two further blows failed to sever the neck and some say it took 8 blows, the ower of London fact sheet says 5, and he had to use a knife to finally sever the head from body. He had to leave the scaffold under a strong guard, as the crowd was so enraged.
Lovat, the last man to be executed by beheading in England, exclaimed “God save us” when he saw the crowds. One stand overlooking the scaffold was so overladen a support cracked and broke, causing a few to be crushed to death. Lovat commented “the more mischief; the better sport”. He was highly amused and from this comes the phrase “laughing your head off”
Although most executions were be-headings there are recorded Lollards being burnt at the
Stake in the 1400’s, in addition to Wyche; 3 unnamed in 1532 for making counterfeit coins and five unruly youths hanged for causing a disturbance on Tower Hill in 1595.
1) 1388 – Sir Simon de Burley
2) 1397 – Richard Fitzalan. 11th Earl of Arundel
3) 1440 – Rev Richard Wyche, Vicar of Deptford
4) 1462 – John de Vere. 12th Earl of Oxford
5) 1470 – John Tiptoft, 1st Earl of Worcester
6) 1495 – Sir William Stanley
7) 1497 – James Tuchet. known as Lord Audley
8) 1499 – Edward Plantaganet. 17th Earl of Warwick
9) 1502 – Sir James Tryell
10) 1510 – Edmund Dudley
11) 1510 – Sir Richard Empson
12) 1521 – Edward Stafford. 3rd Duke of Buckingham
13) 1535 – John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester
14) 1535 – Sir Thomas More, Ex Lord Chancellor
15) 1536 – George Boleyn brother of Anne Boleyn
16) 1537 – Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy de Darcy
17) 1538 – Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon
18) 1540 – Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex
19) 1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
20) 1552 – Sir Ralph Vane
21) 1552 – Sir Thomas Arundell, of Wardour Castle
22) 1552 – Edward Seymour 1st Duke of Somerset
23) 1554 – Sir Thomas Wyatt.
24) 1554 – Lord Guildford Dudley
25) 1571 – Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
26) 1601 – Sir Christopher Blount
27) 1615 – Sir Gervase Helwys. Lieutenant of the Tower of London
28) 1631 – Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven
29) 1641 – Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stratford
30) 1645 – William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury
31) 1662 – Sir Henry Vane
32) 1683 – Col. Algeron Sidney
33) 1685 – James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth
34) 1716 – James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater
35) 1746 – William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock
36) 1746 – Lord Balmerino
37) 1746 – Robert Boyd, of Clan Boyd
38) 1747 – Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat
italicised names – denotes those not shown on Tower Hill plaque stone
n.b if you want fuller details of the executed – plse email
By Steve Welsh