Famous Last Words
James Scott, Duke of Monmouth
July 15, 1685
“Do not hack me as you did my lord Russell.”
Monmouth was executed for treason after leading an unsuccessful rebellion against his uncle, King James II & VII (second of England and Ireland, seventh of Scotland). Monmouth was called the illegitimate son of Charles II, but more modern investigation has shown that Charles was married to Monmouth’s mother before Catherine of Braganza and was indeed the legitimate King.
The Duke’s executioner, Jack Ketch, was well-known for his poorly performed executions which required several swings of his axe, rather than one or two clean ones, to get the job done. Ketch had recently executed Monmouth’s friends, Lord William Russell, in a rather messy fashion and Monmouth requested his execution be carried out a bit cleaner, going so far as to offer the executioner money beforehand and promising more should the job be performed skillfully.
Unfortunately, the offer of coins did little to better his execution. One report of the execution, from The History of England: From the Accession of James the Second by Lord Macaulay, 1871, reads:
“The first blow inflicted only a slight wound. The Duke struggled, rose from the block, and looked reproachfully at the executioner. The head sank down once more. The stroke was repeated again and again; but still the neck was not severed, and the body continued to move. Yells of rage and horror rose from the crowd. Ketch flung down the ax with a curse. ‘I cannot do it,’ he said; ‘my heart fails me.’ ‘Take up the ax, man,’ cried the sheriff. ‘Fling him over the rails,’ roared the mob. At length the ax was taken up. Two more blows extinguished the last remains of life; but a knife was used to separate the head from the shoulders. The crowd was wrought up with such an ecstasy of rage that the executioner was in danger of being torn to pieces, and was conveyed away under a strong guard.”